I grew up in a small town with a big family. This meant going to school with all my siblings, all my cousins, teachers that reminded me that they taught my dad or my aunt or my uncle YEARS before…..safe to say I didn’t love this concept. I loved having a big family but I hated the feeling of a small town where everyone seems to know or want to know everyone’s business. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to develop a true appreciation for my home, I reframed that it isn’t a small town it’s a community and there’s a distinct difference. This community comes together in hardship, it’s a place with families and friends, it’s a home. Why do you care about this? Because for the next two weeks of Tuesday Takeaway’s we’re headed to my hometown; Marshfield, Massachusetts!
In early 2017, a local family, Dan and Natalie Sheehan, received news that every parent fears. The Sheehan’s 4-year-old son, Danny, was discovered to have Pineoblastoma – an aggressive and cancerous brain tumor. Pineoblastoma’s account for 0.5% of all brain tumors, this means limited research and treatment options. Also due to the aggressive nature and location of tumor development it is often challenging to target and treat. It later was discovered that Danny also has Leptomeningeal Disease (a rare complication of cancer where cancerous cells spread to layers of the brain and spine or to the cerebral spinal fluid or both); which further complicated his circumstance. This diagnosis came only four years after losing Danny’s twin brother at birth. The family looked at an unknown future yet they’ve turned this into an opportunity to seize every day, every moment. What began as a story of heartache, turned into a movement in a community, bringing people together for years to come.
Dan and Natalie Sheehan are sources of true inspiration, they manage their son’s daily life with grace and joy. Natalie and Dan began sharing their son’s journey with the hopes of raising support, raising hope and raising funds. To have a terminally ill child is a emotional journey, it is a battle that can lead to financial ruin for many families, it can lead to loss of income, exorbitant co-pays and treatments not covered by insurance. The family has put together numerous auctions, fundraisers, events, etc.; outreaching our community seeking support in order to gain as much time with their child as possible. Today, they’ve been able to have extra time with Danny and our community has been able to reap the benefits of his charismatic spirit.
Natalie discusses openly motherhood and processing the events with her son. She writes after one year of enduring this journey that she realized despite reading articles and educating herself she could never be prepared to apply that information to her own child. How this, with each disappointing scan, has led to decisions that allow for Danny to have joy, happiness, a quality of life, and time as a family. In 2017, Danny was only 4-years-old. Natalie spoke that it takes a village in this journey and that while Danny doesn’t understand much of what’s taking place around him, he definitely understands getting a card in the mail with some pretty cool stickers inside. The family has brought us all on their journey of ICU admissions, medication shortages, emergency surgeries, allergic reactions, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, ER visits, stem-cell transplant; the good days and the bad days.
Let’s flash forward to 2019. Between 2017 and 2019 there had been endless scares, turns in Danny’s status and uncertainty. Danny had been able to use his “wish” through Make-A-Wish Foundation and have time away with his loved ones. On July 3, 2019 Danny was sworn in as a Marshfield Police Officer by our Chief of Police. Following this ceremony, the Sheehan’s were outreached by Tim O’Connell, the founder of Tommy’s Place (stay tuned), gifting the family a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. Upon arrival, the Tisbury Police Department welcomed Danny to the island and escorted them to where they would be staying. The Edgartown Police Department stated “it was a special day for us to be able to give this young man a special memory with his family. His battle gives us all perspective on what is important, and how lucky so many of us are”. In October 2019, the Sheehan family had their first sigh of relief in years. Following significant treatment efforts they saw shrinkage in the tumors. Later that month, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy gifted Danny an 11ft. Great White Shark tagged off the Cape to be named Danny; Danny will now swim the local oceans for years to come. Our High School Hockey team named Danny an honorary team member, and Danny was a highlight of the annual Cops for Kids with Cancer fundraiser. This fundraiser is something close to our family’s heart and in 2019 the fundraising efforts surpassed any expectations our Marshfield community had, reaching almost $100,000!
As 2019 came to a close, the Sheehan’s received what they thought was their miracle, Danny was accepted to receive clinical trial treatment in New York through Sloan-Kettering. Unfortunately, as the Sheehan’s landed in New York Danny fell ill, Danny contracted bacterial meningitis. He was intubated and placed in a medically induced coma, quickly becoming septic. Danny’s family’s ability to find gratitude continued to radiate with mom stating “Danny is facing a long road to recovery and every day on that road is a day lost battling his aggressive cancer. But, over the past three years, we’ve faced many valleys only to ascend to peaks. So I’ll put away my worries about our tomorrow and rejoice in today, in Danny’s gaze, and in hearing him say ‘I love you'”. Danny’s battle with meningitis continued for two months and this left him with a resurgence of his tumor growth. By the end of February 2020, the Sheehan’s were told the road would be short from there. Danny returned home in March 2020 the week before our journey against COVID-19 began. Danny began chemotherapy again and due to complications he began radiation treatments in April 2020. Danny completed his radiation treatment on May 21 and on May 30 was rushed into emergency brain surgery. Danny continued to fight, our community continued to pray.
On July 3, Marshfield Police Department issued a congratulations to the first officer to complete a one-year probationary period without working any shifts! They acknowledged the adversity Danny faces on a daily basis and reported no officer has been known to show such resolve or toughness. As the summer season continued, Danny’s condition worsened yet his family’s light remained, Natalie making jokes within her heart-wrenching updates on his condition. Natalie puts forth a beautiful reality within her posts on October 8th noting “lately when asked by people who love D how he’s doing, my quick answer has been that he has good days and bad days. It’s easier than explaining the unpredictable hell of terminal cancer. How some days D can chat away happily and other days he falls down randomly, stares off, and just sleeps. So, I’m repeating that same response to myself today – there are good days and bad days. Today was a bad day but that means there are good days to follow“.
On October 31, the Marshfield Board of Selectmen deemed November 1-7th “Danny’s Week”. This week entailed local restaurants having “Danny Specials”, a fundraiser for Tommy’s Place, a special showing at our drive-in theater of The Goonies (Danny’s favorite) with a police escort for Danny to arrive at the showing. Mid-November, a local photographer provided Danny’s parents with a free holiday photo session to celebrate this season. Danny opened a gift at this time of his favorite action figure, Aquaman. The cheers of Aquaman spread far, and Jason Momoa outreached Danny via facetime. The two shared laughs and talked about swimming with dolphins together (watch their chat here). Soon after, hometown hockey heroes, recognizing November as #HockeyFightsCancer month, acknowledged Danny’s battle. Patrice Bergeron, a Boston Bruin, outreached Danny via facetime and was able to spend time with him; naming Danny one of Patrice’s Pals. Danny put forth the tough questions “Do you think Aquaman talks to my shark?”, sharing moments with their dogs and laughing at jokes “What do you call cheese that’s not yours?” “Nacho-cheese”.
The community around us is amazing. Not only has Danny connected with and brought our local community together through some hardships he’s made connections with his own heroes. Through these connections come miracles. After speaking with Aquaman, a stranger outreached the Sheehan’s with information on another clinical trial drug that might help Danny at this phase. A pure stranger lending a hand of hope. This is the season of giving and hope is the most beautiful gift of all.
The takeaway this week is that of community. Now is a time to come together, this is a story of a young boy bringing a community together, making hearts soar and smiles wide. Danny may never realize the impact that his strength, charisma and ability to see joy throughout his journey has had on our community. His parents, Dan and Natalie, may forever hold in their hearts all that their son brought to our world in just a short time. He’s reminded our small town that through it all we have one another, we have a home in our town and this home is filled with family. Our town has come together to ensure that Danny’s days are bright and his family is supported. It’s a token of the gratitude we feel to be just a blimp in his journey. In this years unique holiday season, take this story as a moment of pause, we each have so much joy we can derive from our days if we’re willing to see it and Danny is the perfect person to teach us how. Hold your loved ones close, find some joy and cherish the smiles.
Next week’s Tuesday Takeaway will focus on Tommy’s Place – a vacation home for children battling cancer located in Falmouth. A room in the home will be named “Danny’s Room” and Fanny has the ability to design the room to his liking. You often see people donate to the GoFundMe page writing notes that Danny’s spirit brightened their day – this boy has created a community of joy during our worlds darkest days and he may never realize the extent of his impact. That is purity at it’s most natural.
Here you can find Danny’s GoFundMe page for donations if you’re so inclined. The journey doesn’t end here as Danny continues to fight, the cost of a child’s life has no bounds in our hearts.