When 12-year-old Daniel Colaner sits in front of the piano and plays Bach or Tchaikovsky, his mother, Marie, takes in every note and thinks about her blessings.
Daniel is a child prodigy on piano. But when he was 6 months old, Marie and her husband, Dan, feared their only child would not live to see his first birthday.
Daniel’s doctor had found an abnormality in his abdomen. An ultrasound at Akron Children’s Hospital revealed a mass above Daniel’s kidney, and further tests confirmed Daniel had stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve tissues that is most often found in infants and young children.
The malignant tumor was on Daniel’s adrenal gland and had spread to his bone marrow, liver, femurs, ribs and eye sockets.
Daniel was thought to have only a 1 in 4 chance to surviving to age 5. But then doctors gave the Akron family more reason for hope.
Tests showed Daniel’s cancer was a less aggressive type than was suspected, and would likely respond to treatment. His odds of survival jumped to 85 percent.
“It was the best of the absolute worst possible situation,” Marie said. “I was 40 when I had Daniel. The idea that we had him only for 6 months and this happened was overwhelming. But God chose us to be this child’s parents. We were called on to have this experience.”
In the last half of 2005, Daniel underwent 8 chemotherapy treatments, which successfully beat back the cancer. Then surgeons removed the remainder of the primary tumor.
The treatment put Daniel in remission. He would still need multiple transfusions and would need to be carefully monitored.
Through the ordeal and years of follow-up care, the family forged close bonds with doctors and staff at Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders.
“We’ve had the best support from everyone at Children’s. Any time, in any way, they really help you,” Marie said. “Every time we go back, we run into people who cared for him, who cleaned his room, people who work in the cafeteria. It’s like old home week.”
Today, Daniel is an amiable young man with an easy smile and a remarkable drive to learn. His parents were worried about developmental and cognitive problems, but Daniel learned to read at age 3 and he started piano in first grade.
This year, he started playing the organ – he had to wait until now so his feet could reach the pedals.
Marie and Dan were both opera singers, and Daniel clearly inherited the musical gene. He’s already an accomplished pianist and organist, and is frequently featured as an organ soloist at St. Sebastian and St. Hilary parishes in Akron.
Earlier this year, he performed on both piano and organ in the Stan Hywet Hall Murder in the Mansion production of An Opera to Die For. He also competes, and took third place in his age group in the 2016 Ohio Music Teachers Association Buckeye Piano Competition state finals.
Daniel loves sports and he’s a whiz with computers. He goes on YouTube to learn how to refurbish old computers, and he hooked up a home keyboard with a computer program to play sounds from different pipe organs of Europe.
“He went and found someone who did it on YouTube and posted the code, and he adapted it to our setup,” said his father, Dan. “Now we have a pipe organ in the living room.”
Daniel is in good health, but he’ll be monitored at Akron Children’s childhood cancer survivorship clinic until he’s 25.
Pam Jones, the clinic’s nurse practitioner, has cared for Daniel since he was a baby, and she now looks forward to seeing him at the clinic once a year.
“He’s very mature for his age, he’s polite and delightful,” Pam said. “I just enjoy him so much. I look forward to seeing him and hearing about the new things he’s doing.”
The clinic provides Daniel and other childhood cancer survivors with follow-up care, and guidance about the importance of healthy living. Daniel will always need to be especially vigilant about his health.
The discipline of music has helped him deal with such challenges.
“When Daniel was old enough, I said to him God has a purpose for you. Your life is a gift,” Marie said.
“It’s been a tremendous lesson in gratitude, patience and faith. We really hope that’s what we’re instilling in Daniel.”