Danielle Gillespie is the type of young woman who catches your eye immediately. Maybe it’s her long, thick dark brown hair. Or her bright eyes and warm smile. Certainly it’s her radiant and friendly disposition. Nothing at all about Danielle, upon first meeting her, reveals another truth: that at just 26-years-old, she is brain cancer survivor.
Five years ago, in May 2009, Danielle, already a college graduate, was just three days into her nursing program. While driving from class — thankfully with other students she had met in her program — this healthy young woman with no prior warning signs, suffered a seizure.
“I started feeling weird,” Danielle explains. “I pulled over to the side of the road, a few houses before my own, took a drink of water, and that’s all I remember. I woke up to EMS taking me out of the car.”
An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the right front side of her brain. Further tests identified the mass as a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive malignancy more typically found in men over 60. Fortunately for Danielle, close to home was the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where she became patient of their Hermelin Brain Tumor Center under the care of neuro-oncologist Dr. Tom Mikkelsen. “He is absolutely wonderful,” shares Danielle.
Her treatment began immediately, starting with a total resection craniotomy to remove the tumor at the end of May. Danielle spent just three nights in the hospital after her brain surgery, and went home to finish her four week recovery with nothing stronger than Tylenol 3 for her pain — a testament to her strength and grit. Once recovered, she began a six-week treatment of radiation and oral chemotherapy. The timing was just right.
“I finished chemo and radiation on a Monday,” recalls Danielle, “and I got married that Friday. I did this funky comb-over with my hair!” she remembers with a smile. Surgery and radiation were causing her to lose her hair.
Following her wedding and a four-week break from treatment, Danielle’s chemotherapy continued for a year. She took that year off school, and returned to her nursing program in May 2010, just one year after diagnosis, Cancer for College scholarship in hand. By May of 2011, Danielle was a college graduate, a wife and mom, a registered nurse, and a brain cancer survivor.
Danielle is approaching her five-year mark — an important milestone for survivors. We are so proud of her strength of character and her positive and generous spirit, and extremely honored to be a part of her journey.