Daniel, 16, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (Bereaved Family)

Daniel Valencia was a born warrior.  He dreamed of becoming one of the few and the proud—a United States Marine.  As a star football player and Junior R.O.T.C. cadet in high school, Daniel learned the importance of service and leadership—key attributes of any good Marine.Daniel, 16, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (Bereaved Family)(2006) – Still, the handsome teenager faced an enemy that even the toughest leathernecks will never face on the battlefield—cancer.

At 16-years-old, Daniel was diagnosed with acute myloid leukemia (AML), a blood cancer rarely seen in adolescents.  Accompanied by his mother, Serena Contreras, Daniel left his home in San Diego and headed to Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston to begin treatment for his cancer.

Daniel began intensive chemotherapy treatments upon his arrival at the Cancer Center.  Serena said that Texas Children’s staff treated them like they were family.  Soon, the mother-son duo called the Cancer Center, and the Bayou City, their second home.

“Being here with Daniel and without my family—I couldn’t have made it without the Texas Children’s staff— particularly Bonnie, who was our social worker at the Cancer Center,” said Contreras.

“She was instrumental in locating a house in Katy for my family to move to from our home in California. She was also my shoulder to cry on, and she still is, even today,” she said.  “Texas Children’s was always wonderful to us, everyone we met from the doctors to the cleaning staff genuinely cared about what Daniel was going through.”

Over the course of his fight against cancer, Daniel befriended physicians, nurses and patients alike.  One of Daniel’s nurses brought him a special surprise—tickets for two to a rock concert—that she purchased herself.

“For Daniel, getting to see his favorite band in concert was one of his happiest moments during that time.  I’ll never forget how much fun we had, and the look on Daniel’s face, when he got to meet the band backstage,” said Contreras.  “And it was all thanks to a Texas Children’s nurse who truly cared about Daniel.”

Sadly, Daniel succumbed to his cancer in 2005.  After he passed away, Melanie, Daniel’s younger sister and closest friend, discovered a notebook of Daniel’s poetry hidden in the back of her bedroom closet.

“I couldn’t believe that I found it. His writing shows me what courage Daniel had,” she said.

A born leader, a kindhearted friend, an introspective poet—Daniel was many things to the many people who knew and loved him.

Melanie’s one-word summation of the brother she considered her personal hero, “Daniel was—everything, yep, he was everything.”