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Danny’s story — A young father’s journey fighting cancer

Published: Friday, July 5, 2013 2:44 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 5, 2013 2:45 p.m. CDT

Editor’s Note: Danny Gelsomino is the recipient of the Jay Braida Memorial Golf Open to be held on July 13)

“I will tell you when you are dying.” — Dr. L. Horvath, oncologist

Christmas 2011

“Danny, you really need to get that cough checked out.”

“I will, Mom, after I get back from New York.”

February 2012

“Something’s going on, Mom, because my left eye is blurry, and I can’t use my right hand. I also have pain in my right leg.”

“Danny, call your doctor right away.”

“My doctor wants me to have a brain MRI and CT scan.”

“Vince, I think our son had a stroke.”

“Mom and Dad, you have to come as soon as you can. I have to go to the hospital … There’s something seriously wrong.”

On Feb. 6, Danny Gelsomino, a Princeton native, began a very unexpected and devastating journey.

“Danny, you have incurable Stage 4 Adenocarcinoma (lung cancer), and the cancer has spread to your spine and your brain,” Dr. Horvath said as she calmly explained what her words meant.

Danny’s primary physician also confirmed the diagnosis and said Danny’s cancer was “all over,” and only God knew how long he would live.

No parent should ever have to hear the words that their child has incurable cancer.

Our lives would be forever changed.

Danny’ sister, Amy, a long-time nurse, knew the seriousness of Danny’s cancer. Phone calls had to be made to family and friends. There was total disbelief.

Danny never questioned God’s plan for him but was determined to do everything possible to live and fight his horrific disease because of his children, Kasey, 13, and Nathan, 10.

The days in the hospital and the days that followed were filled with constant fear, countless tears, heart wrenching realities and so many unanswered questions.

How could this happen to Danny … so young and so good?

How could this happen to such a great father whose life revolved around his kids?

How could this happen to a man who worked so hard to provide for his family in a career he loved?

How could this happen to a loving and devoted son and brother?

How could his family and friends face a life without Danny being a part of it?

How could he have lung cancer? Danny never smoked.

Radon, which is a cancer causing radioactive gas, was considered a possible cause because the home he lived in for 11 years had twice the amount of radon when it was tested.

The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.

Radon is colorless and odorless. It forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements, such as uranium, which are found at different levels of soil and rock.

However, the cause of his cancer will probably never be determined for sure.

Danny’s oncologist had to take a medical leave of absence, so he was assigned to another oncologist, Dr. Linda Ferris.

After extensive testing at Central Dupage Hospital in Winfield, Danny began an aggressive treatment plan.

He had 10 radiation treatments for the tumors in his brain. Hair loss and fatigue were side effects from those treatments.

Following radiation, Danny had two targeted infused chemotherapy treatments.

The treatments caused constant nausea, fatigue, emergency trips to the hospital because of dehydration and a five-day critical hospital stay. At this point in time he weighed 123 pounds and was very weak.

His immune system was constantly compromised, and his white blood cells and red blood cells were consistently below normal. He was always prone to infection.

He had a tooth abscess and had to have a root canal. Due to the fact that his horrific pain was in his head, he had to have another brain MRI before a root canal could be performed. It took five days before the tooth could be treated.

His oncologist determined he could no longer have infused chemotherapy because of the serious negative effects.

Danny continued to worry about his health but was more concerned about what his cancer was doing to his children.

Their lives had changed drastically, too.

Danny was too ill initially to do the things he so enjoyed doing with them like taking long bike rides, playing cards and board games, shooting hoops in the driveway, attending Kasey’s Irish dance competitions, attending Nathan’s games, going to movies as a family and attending school activities.

The laughter in the Gelsomino household was almost non-existent.

During the summer of 2012, Dr. Ferris recommended Danny take experimental chemo pills which were approved in the winter of 2011.

He began taking two chemo pills a day, and his oncologist finally found an anti-nausea pill to control his constant nausea.

Weekly blood tests, frequent brain MRIs, CT scans and routine doctor appointments became Danny’s way of life.

And — day by day, week by week, month by month — Danny’s health improved.

According to Dr. Ferris, most of the patients who took the same experimental chemo pills didn’t have positive results.

Although Danny’s results have been good, he knows the pills can lose their effectiveness at any time, based on current statistics.

Danny firmly believes the power of prayer has also been vital in containing his cancer because so many people have offered prayers on his behalf.

He always has been and continues to be a source of strength for his entire family and friends.

During a routine brain MRI on May 6, another brain tumor was detected.

Danny simply said, “It is what it is.”

A team consisting of his oncologist, radiologist and a neurosurgeon determined the tumor needed to be addressed quickly.

Danny had a Stereotactic radiosurgery procedure done on May 14.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a highly precise form of radiation therapy that focuses high powered X-rays on a small area of the body.

Some types require a frame attached to the scalp. The frame is anchored with pins that go through the surface of the skull.

Following the procedure, Danny said it was the most “overwhelmingly intense” thing he ever experienced.

Danny had a follow-up brain MRI on June 25, and the procedure was successful. The tumor is still there, but it’s contained. He will have another MRI in three months.

Danny continues to take one day at a time and is focusing on creating lifetime memories for Kasey and Nathan.

During art class, Nathan had to draw a self portrait. His T-shirt had the words — I Believe.

Nathan believes his dad will win his battle with cancer. His drawing was framed and hangs on a kitchen wall to remind all of us to continue to believe.

Needless to say, however, Danny’s journey is ongoing.

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