Interview with a brain cancer survivor & founder of My Hometown Heroes Scholarship Fund
Hi Guys! So, if you’re familiar with my story, you already know that I underwent 6 months of chemotherapy for hodgkins lymphoma. I’m a college student – and as if finding money for college wasn’t hard enough already, cancer just made it harder. Luckily for me, there are awesome people like Danny Heinsohn generous enough to give me a helping hand. I’ve been given one of three $1,000 scholarships from the My Hometown Heroes Scholarship Fund, and I am so incredibly grateful.
A little bit about Danny…
Prior to his diagnosis, Danny enjoyed a variety of activities in college through intramural sports, attending concerts, and road trips. He was a senator in the college of entineering, and loved to mountain bike and play volleyball. He was a college kid who worked hard in every aspect of his life and had fun doing it.
He was diagnosed with Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates in the brain with a 5 year median survival rate. His symptoms were ongoing headaches similar to a migraine, microseizures, and kaleidoscope vision on a few occasions.
Cancer affects every aspect of an individual’s life. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it – it sucks. No matter what the prognisis is, it throws you for an unexpected loop, forcing you to rearrange your life. Danny, like so many other cancer patients, grew more positive through the experience.
“Without a doubt it made my relationships stronger. They were my anchor. I’m an only child, so the toll was immense on my parents. Things got so bad at certain times there was no certainty that I’d survive much longer beyond my third craniotomy.”
Not only did Danny have an amazing support system, but he was there to support them as well. Having cancer puts you in a position to show the world that you are so much stronger than a disease, and that you won’t let that disease define you.
“Parents and close loved ones need support too, and I’ve been learning that there is a gap that needs to be filled. Friends, family, peers, and various people in the community were my heroes, and I couldn’t let them down.”
He underwent three craniotomies, memory and speech therapy, and 12 months of chemo. A craniotomy is a surgical process in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull to access the brain. He had a tumor the size of a racquetball removed from his skull.
After his first craniotomy, he had seizure so severe that it temporarily blew a pupil out of whack in his left eye, he slurred his words when he spoke, his short term memory was completely wiped out, and he lost his ability to write, play the piano, & guitar. He had to relearn how to do everything except eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom.
Due to the steroids he was on, he couldn’t sleep more than maybe 3 hours a night.
“I read 20 books that year, found therapy through music, spent countless hours on the Playstation, maintained a 10 hour per week fitness regimen, and wrote a lot of journal entries to help me cop; all of which were vital in rewiring the neurons in my head.”
His primary treatment was called Blood Brain Barrier Disruption, a form of chemotherapy to the brain in hopes that radiation won’t be an option. The BBBD team at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland has a great program pioneered in 1982 by Dr. Edward Neuwelt. Danny believes this truly preserved his quality of lif eafter treatment and preserved his cognitive mind.
I’m not the only person who can attest to the fact that after cancer, everything changes. I, myself, am a completely different person than before my diagnosis – I’m more organized, motivated, and positive than I’ve ever been. Danny learned one of the most important life lessons from his experience:
“Family matters most. I”m an only child – but a brother, nephew, uncle, and in some ways a son to many.”
Danny and I both experienced a revelation due to our experiences that made us change our career paths. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, but by the time he got back in the job market, it quickly became apparent to him that hta the didn’t want to be doing draft work and sitting in a cubicle. The fact that we were in a recession didn’t help much either. No matter what career path he chose, it was important to work in a position where I could leverage my time to help others. He really had wanted to become a writer for RollingStone or National Geographic. Due to a few coincidences, he built a very successful career in the sports industry through a start-up company called Access Pass & Design, which you can learn more aobut when his book is released later this fall. :)
Danny on the Daily…
Danny enjoys building My Hometown Heroes, training for marathons and triathlons, sports marketing, and public speaking.
What is My Hometown Heroes??
It’s a scholarship fund for young adult cancer survivors between the ages of 17 and 39. They raise money and awareness through awesome initiatives and promote surivvorship thorugh passions and active lifestyles.
Danny founded MHH in 2010 to celebrate 10 years of remission from brain cancer. He also trained to compete in Ironman Canada that year to raise $10,000 to help get the foundation off the ground.
“I want to inspire others and help other young adult cancer survivors realize their dreams to live a happy and productive lifestyle.”
In the future, along with scholarship money, the foundation wants to work towards providing awesome and priceless lifetime experiences to its recipients like going backstage with their favorite band, meeting celebrity athletes…it’s a work in progress! They will be running a different campaign theme every year. This yeair’s current theme is Road to 2013 “likes”, designed to increase social awareness about the foundation.
You can help out by liking the facebook page here!
Advice from Danny…
“Harvest as much information as you possibly can. Information and knowledge is power. For young adult cancer patients, I recommend learning about the available resources that weren’t available in 1999/2000 during or after I went through my experience. Stupid Cancer (www.stupidcancer.org) and The Sam Fund (www.thesamfund.org) are fantastic national recources. My hometown of Reno has the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer foundation and they are exceptionally serving our local young children’s cancer community.
For health enthusiasts, set lofty goals. Join an active fitness community/organization such as tri club, running group, Cross fit, etc. The motivation within those communities and the friendships to be made will last a lifetime.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. NEVER GIVE UP!”
Questions for you:
Has cancer ever affected your life or the life of someone you know?
- Yoga May Help Cancer Survivors Sleep Better (washingtonian.com)
- Cancer survivors: the pain of the people that inspire us (alifemoreinsured.wordpress.com)
- VTM: Hometown Hero Kim Newlen (wtvr.com)