Story by Era Sundar, Editor in chief
Photos courtesy of Daniel Gardner
More young people are surviving cancer than ever before. ACC student Daniel Gardner is one of them.
Like many busy ACC students, 36-year-old graphic design major Daniel Gardner takes advantage of the flexible scheduling provided by hybrid classes.
Gardner attends class at the South Austin Campus once a week and receives the rest of his instruction online. This gives him time to recover from his chemotherapy.
In 2009, Gardner was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was successfully treated but then returned in 2012. He is now undergoing his second round of treatment.
Until a few years ago, a cancer diagnosis was viewed as an automatic death sentence. Although one in four deaths in the United States is due to cancer, a recent study by the American Cancer Association reports that cancer death rates have dropped 20 percent from 1991 to 2009.
When Gardner was first diagnosed, doctors told him he had about 18 months to live. When the cancer returned nearly two years later, he was told that survival under similar circumstances was only a month.
Now, almost four years after his initial diagnosis, Gardner is living life on his terms and enjoying the person he is now.
At 32, Gardner was in transition. With a bachelor’s degree in math from Cornell University and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, he seemed on track to a promising career.
However, after trying various engineering jobs, his career was not settled. Then one day strange things started happening to his body.
“My left thumb became numb and the left side of my face started drooping. It was pretty clear something was wrong, but I was in denial,” he said.
His condition went from bad to worse in the months that followed. He couldn’t chew and lost mobility. One day he collapsed and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Within two days of being admitted, Gardner had his first brain surgery.
For six weeks following the surgery, he went through what he describes as an exhausting, daily ritual of radiation and chemotherapy. And then there were the side effects.
“I couldn’t sleep, the steroids made me hungry all the time and I gained about 60 pounds. I need a cane to walk, my left hand is completely disabled and I can’t drive,” Gardner said. “But the scariest thing for me is when they say this disease has no cure. So we’re just delaying. Maybe it’s five months or it’s five years.”
Despite everything that has happen to Garner in the last four years, his experience with cancer has given him a new outlook.
Gardner’s older brother, Ben, has seen the change in his brother and the difference in the family dynamic.
“With so many people caring for him, his personality became more relaxed. Before he was more of a loner,” Ben said. “The last three years since everything happened, our relationship is way better than it was before.”
Gardner has refocused on his artwork and a new career at ACC.
“This was the gift I couldn’t have asked for. I wasn’t really living my life before, and now I am,” he said. “For me this crystallized my attention and opened up possibilities. I wouldn’t change anything. Getting close to death helped me break through personal roadblocks.”
**UPDATED 2/17/2014** On Feb.12, 2014 Daniel Gardner passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. His will and determination remained strong throughout.