Boy With Rare Brain Tumor Beats All Odds After Given a Year to Live

PHOTO: Boy Overcomes Rare Cancer

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 Research Hospital.

"Nightline" first started following Daniel's remarkable journey from survival to recovery in December 2007, when he was first admitted to St. Jude Children's Hospital for treatment.

Despite the odds against him, today Daniel is 17 years old and living a full life, with no evidence of disease, according to his doctors. "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden caught up with Daniel again this summer as he was graduating from high school.

"I feel great -- there's nothing really from any of my treatments that I feel inside of me that inhibits me," said Daniel, who graduated 12th in a class of 300 students.

He said his battle with cancer had shaped his life. "You can't ever forget about treatments, because they make you who you are," he said.

Daniel's journey began in 2007 when he 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" at the time. "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.

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 checked Daniel and his mother into the hospital in 2008. "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 were still investigating and perfecting treatment for AT/RT, and Daniel was soon introduced to his vast medical team: a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, a teacher and numerous nurses and doctors. The same size team works with every patient at St. Jude.

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