Daniel Tavernaro just turned four. And his birthday party was a smash! Dozens of friends celebrated at the Chuck E. Cheese’s in Daniel’s hometown of Weir, Kansas.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, he spent his third birthday with family in a St. Louis hotel room. He’d been discharged the night before from St. Louis Children’s Hospital after six months of aggressive chemotherapy to treat neuroblastoma – a rare childhood cancer.
Doctors first diagnosed Daniel in April 2002. His parents had noticed a growing bulge in his right eye and a CAT scan confirmed their fears. It was cancer. Tests had shown that it had spread to several parts of his body, including his eye.
Immediately, Daniel began treatment at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He underwent six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Then, he received an auto stem cell transplant. That means he received a transplant of his own stem cells that he’d donated several months earlier.
It was a grueling process, but Daniel handled it like a champion.
"They give the kids such strong chemo that it just wipes everything out," said Daniel’s mom, Genny Tavernaro. "But things have slowed down a lot now. We were visiting St. Louis Children’s Hospital every three months for the first year. Now that he’s a year out we only go to the hospital every six months. And his last scans were perfect!"
Daniel’s Doctor, William Grossman, MD, says Daniel’s attitude was a tremendous help. "He was always a pretty joyful kid. These kids go through so much during that year of treatment. It always amazes me how these kids do so well."
And his parents did well, too. "They had a good support network," said Dr. Grossman. "It’s very important to have that support group. It makes all the difference in the word."
Genny Tavernaro agrees. "Ask a lot of questions and make friends. There were other kids that had the same diagnosis as Daniel and it helped being able to talk to them about things."
It also helped that the Tavernaros had faith in Dr. Grossman. "He’s great. He is so smart," said Genny Tavernaro. "He was really good with Daniel – relating to him."
Dr. Grossman says Daniel is getting fitted for a hearing aid, to offset some hearing loss caused by the chemotherapy. And the mass behind his right eye did cause some vision loss. But Daniel is cancer-free.
"It’s like nothing every happened," says Genny Tavernaro. "He looks great. We just can’t believe how well everything turned out"
Now Daniel is back to being a typical kid. Playing with his friends, setting an example for his younger sister, Norma. His mom says he likes "boy stuff – guns, cars and trucks."
She says he especially likes superheroes.
That makes sense, Daniel. It takes one to know one.