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West Hall High teacher finds value in her cancer journey
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West Hall High teacher Danielle Deraney was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma while earning her master's degree in 2014. - photo by Scott Rogers
When Danielle Deraney prepared to receive a biopsy, she said the surgeon told her someone at her age “shouldn’t have to deal with this.”  

“I was like, ‘I’m 22, you’re right,’” Deraney recounted. “My parents were starting to tear up, and I told them we can’t lose it because it won’t help. We have to figure out what comes next, take the next steps and do our best.” 

Deraney said her doctor found a mass sitting above her heart and between her lungs. She remembers preparing her parents for the worst before the biopsy.  

“I told my mom that night, let’s just assume it’s cancer because if we assume the worst, then we can't be upset,’” Deraney said. 

After her doctor examined her results from the Mayo Clinic, she was told that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer that forms in the lymphatic system. 

“I asked, ‘Can we just do surgery and knock that guy out?’” Deraney recounted. “He said, ‘No, with where it’s at, that’s a terrible option. We’re looking into chemo and possibly radiation.’” 

In a little over a week, Deraney had her chemo port implanted, a catheter that attaches to the vein of the neck. She started chemotherapy in October 2014 while completing her master’s in teaching at Georgia College & State University. Each time she would go in for treatment, Deraney would have to drive from Milledgeville to the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center in Gainesville.  

At the time, she worked as a student teacher for ninth and 10th graders at Georgia Military Academy College’s prep school. 

“The hardest part was sitting down with the kids I was teaching and explaining my situation, especially when my hair started falling out,” Deraney said. “I told them, ‘I just want to let you know I’m getting a haircut, and if it looks really bad, please lie to me.’” 

To her surprise, she said her students and host teacher were kind to her as she underwent treatment, helping out whenever they could.  

If it wasn’t for her student teaching job, parents, friends and husband, who was her boyfriend at the time, Deraney said she doesn’t think she would’ve coped as well with the chemotherapy. 

"Having that support system and having just chosen to see it for the positives that it could be, I think that’s what made the difference,” she said. 

Deraney describes the treatment as “feeling like a semi-truck has backed over your body 27 times.” On several occasions, she said she felt like giving up, but she persevered, not wanting to waste the life she had. 

While battling her cancer, Deraney said she had a tough conversation with her parents.  

“I remember sitting them down, and I told them, ‘I need you to understand that if I die, it’s going to be OK,’’ she said. “I don’t think my mom liked it at the time. My mom was like, ‘No, it’s not.’” 

In May 2015, before her graduation, Deraney said she finished her chemotherapy and the cancerous tumor disappeared earlier than expected. She beat her cancer. 

“I’m thankful for having gone on the journey because I learned so much about myself, and about people and how to truly be there for them,” she said. “It really comes down to you and how you choose to perceive everything. You can choose to let cancer stop you from living your life, or you can choose to see the benefits and the good things that have come from it.” 

Today, Deraney, who is now 28, lives in Gainesville with her husband Brandon and teaches English courses for all grade levels at West Hall High School. Although pregnancy didn’t seem like an option because of the cancer treatment, Deraney said she is expecting a baby girl. 

“I’m about six months along and doing really well,” she said. “We’re very excited.”