Boy's Brave Battle Against Brain Cancer at 'the Best Place'


When Daniel Biljanoski was 12 years old, he had a cancerous brain tumor the size of a goose egg removed from his head. His doctors in upstate New York weren't initially hopeful about his prospects for recovery, but Daniel and his family weren't about to give up without a fight, and neither was the staff at St. Jude Children's Hospital.

Daniel was diagnosed with atypical teratoid/rhabdoid Tumor, or AT/RT, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that occurs most commonly in children. The tumor involved a quarter of his brain.

"The chief of neurosurgery, his neurosurgeon, told us that if it is the AT/RT, we could be looking at 12 months [to live]," Daniel's mom, Lisa Biljanoski, told "Nightline." "It was terrible. It was horrible. Nobody should ever have to hear that -- about a child, nonetheless."

Daniel asked his oncologist what he would do if his child were diagnosed with AT/RT, and the doctor recommended that Daniel seek treatment at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. So 15 days after brain surgery, Daniel and his mother left the rest of their family in Auburn, N.Y. and traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to the largest research hospital in the world for childhood cancer.

St. Jude: Treating Cancer With Teamwork

A cancer diagnosis can be a huge financial burden for many families, but St. Jude covers the cost of treatment for every patient.

"You will never get a bill from St. Jude for anything," said Joanna Jackson, the registrar who welcomed Daniel and Lisa and checked them in. "If the insurance company says we'll only pay 20 percent, St. Jude will cover the balance. What can I say? It's a wonderful place to be."

And strangely perhaps, it is also a happy place: a hospital that encourages sick kids to still be kids. Toddlers ride tricycles in the hallways, there are parties for the patients and uncomfortable needle pricks are rewarded with a trip to the toy chest.

On his first day at St. Jude, Daniel displayed his usual positive attitude. "I honestly feel awesome," he said.

The hospital's researchers are still investigating and perfecting treatment for AT/RT, and Daniel was soon introduced to his team of professionals. There seemed to be an awful lot of people involved in the care of one little boy: a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, a teacher and numerous nurses and doctors. The same size team works with each and every patient at St. Jude.

"I think it's different because the whole infrastructure is different," said Tabatha Doyle, a registered nurse who is the coordinator of the brain tumor program. "It's a teamwork perspective. Everybody works together to make sure the patient is completely taken care of -- there's not anybody who feels like they are a more important member of the team than anyone else, even the physicians."

Daniel's primary physician, Dr. Amar Gajjar, described his role.

"The best way I can describe it is that I'm the conductor of the orchestra, so I make sure everything we've got designed for Daniel and his care is coordinated and everything is going as we expect it to go."

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