Danielle Harmon thought she was too young for cancer, but at age 31, she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer following a routine well-woman exam.
The mother of a 1-year-old boy, Sam, was shocked. "I just cried and cried. I thought, 'I'm going to die ... I'm not going to see Sam grow up.'"
Danielle was concerned that her husband Jason would have to raise their son alone. A Houston area resident, Danielle says her family felt blessed to live close to the best place for cancer treatment. Making an appointment at MD Anderson, she says, was a no-brainer.
"Immediately when you arrive at MD Anderson you get the feeling that these people are serious ... they know what they're doing. They make you feel like you have a fighting chance to survive the disease," she reflects.
Danielle's breast cancer treatment included a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, as well as six rounds of chemotherapy. "It wasn't an easy experience, but we got through it. I got a clean bill of health, and we were continuing on with our lives," she says.
An unexpected blessing from breast cancer
More devastating than the disease, though, was that that Danielle would not be able to have more children due to the need for long-term chemotherapy.
"I told my husband that I didn't mind getting breast cancer, that I didn't mind losing my hair. I just wished we could have a little girl who I could put bows on," she says.
Just hours after that tearful conversation, the Harmons received an unexpected phone call, asking if they could adopt a family member's unborn daughter. She was to be named Hannah Grace.
"We're very blessed that I went through cancer because, if we hadn't done that, we wouldn't be in the position where we were thinking about adoption," Danielle says. "Cancer was tough, but on the other end of it we got a beautiful little girl."
From survivor to cancer research supporter
Fourteen years later and still cancer-free, the family of four credits support from Jason's employer, Jason's Deli, for helping them through difficult times. After receiving news of Danielle's breast cancer diagnosis, the company transferred Jason to a restaurant closer to home, where he could care for his son and wife while she recovered from surgery and the effects of her chemotherapy.
"Jason's Deli is a family, more than anything, and during my breast cancer treatment they showed just as much compassion for us. It was always about what they could do to take care of us," Danielle says.
The Harmons' cancer journey, and that of other Jason's Deli employees, inspired the company to support MD Anderson's efforts to end cancer. Throughout the next year, Jason's Deli will donate 10 cents to cancer research from every specially marked water bottle it sells. The water bottles feature photos of Jason's Deli employees and their families who have been touched by the disease. The Harmons say they're privileged to share their story and have their family photo on Jason's Deli water bottle labels.
"All of us have someone in our lives who has been or will be affected by cancer," Danielle says. "It's a simple gesture that allows someone to give. Through buying a product, they can advance cancer research, supporting people who are going through cancer now as well as in the future."
For more information about Jason's Deli's support of MD Anderson cancer research, visit jasonsdeli.com/strike-through-cancer. Photo by Suzel Roth.