Danielle Drake adorns her natural crown.
As October ushers in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, fighters, survivors and supporters proudly display pink ribbons to show solidarity. For one local Detroiter, a second bout with cancer was only made worse with the pandemic. Through faith, family and strength, this survivor was able to beat the odds and live to advocate for others.
Danielle Drake was just 13-years-old when she was first diagnosed with cancer. As a child, Drake was active in cheer, track and other extracurricular activities. The seemingly healthy child noticed an egg-sized lump on the side of her neck. Then, shifts occurred in eating habits and sleep patterns.
“I was also having really bad night sweats. Initially, my parents thought it was because I was so busy but really, I was actively dying,” said Drake.
After a trip to the doctor, tests would reveal the young teen was about to endure the fight of a lifetime. The diagnosis was Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The severity of Drake’s case warranted a house call.
“That night the doctor showed up to our door with X-rays,” said Drake.
As a child, the emotional trauma caused by the Stage 4 diagnosis was a tough course to navigate. However, it helped Drake discover the power of prayer.
“This was groundbreaking in my faith as far as totally surrendering to God. It was scary,” said Drake. “The things that have happened on this journey are things you would expect to see in a movie.”
In adulthood, the personal journey with cancer motivated Drake to obtain a Master’s degree in nursing. Wanting to provide the same level of care she received during her initial diagnosis, Drake was unaware she would again be on the receiving end.
In October 2020, Drake was diagnosed with Stage 2 Metaplastic Breast Cancer after noticing a lump in her breast. Due to her initial cancer diagnosis, Drake’s attentive nature towards her body and overall health led her to do regular exams.
“What was a pivotal moment for my journey with breast cancer, [was that] I was dealing with a cyst in my right breast since June  and I would often do exams on myself because of my past medical history,” said Drake.
The aggressive form of breast cancer is rare, accounting for less than five percent of breast cancer cases. Originally told the mass was a cyst and undergoing draining efforts, the cyst returned in a matter of days.
“When people hear ‘Stage 2’ they automatically diminish the seriousness of something as life threatening as cancer,” said Drake.
In addition to chemo treatments, the nurse also underwent a double mastectomy, removing both breasts. For this round of cancer and treatment, the emotional toll was rooted in the essence of life and womanhood.
“I’m older now. I’m more accountable. I’m a woman. I’m parting with things they make me such in the physical realm of being a woman,” said Drake.
A common occurrence in cancer treatment, hair loss has its own emotional effects. For women in particular, losing hair, in addition to other femininities, can lower self-esteem. For Drake, the opposite occurred.
“As a woman, I can honestly say going through this made me feel even finer than I was. My hair, that was part of my pride as a woman,” said Drake. “Now, I feel fine, I feel regal, I feel empowered. I feel fearless.”
A cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments strip the body of its immune system making a common cold lethal. COVID and its effects can render cancer patients unable to fight the virus. In January 2021, in the midst of chemotherapy treatments, Drake also contracted COVID-19.
“Around that time, I had just had chemo. Chemo takes its toll on the body. It’s to the point that you’re crippled. You don’t eat, you can barely think. You can’t even sleep because you’re worried about what’s to come,” said Drake. “With COVID, I already felt bad, but I felt worse.”
Now she has a clean bill of health: Drake’s breast cancer is in remission and there have been no noted long-term effects of COVID. Drake also received implants to restore her breasts. A two-time cancer warrior and COVID survivor, Drake now plans to give back in any way she can. Encouraging others in the fight, Drake believes it is important to enrich the mind, body and soul with scripture and believe in the power of prayer.
“People look at the battle and automatically see defeat, but forget to grant themselves the authority to have faith in spite of, regardless of what doctors say,” says Drake. “You defeat the odds.”