When you finally finish 3½ years of chemotherapy, you want to celebrate. Ethan Daniels expected to take his last chemo pill surrounded by family, considering his treatments leave him medically vulnerable and there’s a pandemic happening.
But Ethan’s mom, Kelli Daniels, had other plans. With the help of Ethan’s best friend, Peyton Evans — who has been by Ethan’s side every step of the way — they planned a socially distant parade for the 14-year-old.
“It was super hard,” to keep her son from finding out, Kelli Daniels said, “but I used my resources.”
She also had help from Aflac. Ethan spent 40 months being treated for lymphoblastic lymphoma at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Lymphoblastic lymphoma is a cancer of immature lymphocytes, cells of the immune system, called lymphoblasts. It is a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphoblastic lymphoma primarily affects children and accounts for about 35% of all non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas in children.
Ethan isn’t on social media, his mother said, and the only people he had contact with knew about the secret.
When Friday rolled around, so did about 30 cars.
“I was very, very surprised. I had no idea,” Ethan said. “It was a lot of fun.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Is that real?' Then I realized, ‘This is real. This is epic. I love this,' " he added.
Cancer treatments are rough, but Kelli Daniels said Ethan was determined to find joy every day.
“He made it a point, even on the hardest days, to find something in that day to give him joy, even if it was just eating or taking a walk down the hall,” she said. “At the beginning of treatments, he said a strong mind makes a strong body. So he stayed positive and surrounded himself with others who were positive. It made him stronger, made him tackle his battle head on.”
That’s one thing Ethan wants other kids with cancer to know.
“You aren’t ever alone,” he said. “No matter where you are, people are always there, even if you can’t see them in person.”
He said he also wants to remind patients to take life and their illness one day at a a time.
“Enjoy every moment,” he said. “Today may be a good day, but tomorrow may be a bad one.”
Kelli Daniels said the family is blessed and lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing community, family and friends who helped to support them and hold them up.
“We are so lucky and so grateful for everyone,” she said.
Ethan said his favorite part of Friday’s parade was “seeing everyone close to me coming to celebrate the same moment with me. It meant a lot.”
Now that Ethan’s treatments are over, the family is looking for ways to pay it forward. They haven’t made any final decisions, but say Ethan will likely spend time with other childhood cancer patients, letting them know what he went through and being positive for them. Kelli Daniels said she and husband Brady can do the same for parents who “have heard the same terrifying words” they heard.
But what’s the first thing Ethan wants to do once he gets out of quarantine?
“Probably travel, go somewhere. I just want to go somewhere.”
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