Family House Stories: Danielle Rodriguez
Published on March 30, 2021
Danielle Rodriguez was 13 years old and in 7th grade, in 2006, when she fell on her left knee playing basketball with her friends. The fall caused some swelling and pain, but she didn’t consider it to be a significant enough injury to worry her family. The next day, the pain escalated and developed into a limp when she was running the mile in PE class. After icing and pain medications failed to ease the pain, her family thought it would be best for her to see the pediatrician, especially to ensure they could proceed as planned for their trip to Disneyland.
After an x-ray determined no bones were broken, the doctor gave the all-clear for Danielle to head to Disneyland. This relief, however, was temporary. While off enjoying their long-planned trip to Disneyland, her family phone rang off the hook and filled up with voicemails from her doctors. The news was shocking—a tumor in Danielle’s knee.
As soon as they heard the news, she was rushed to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, California, near their home. Within the week, Danielle was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer with low survival rates. After her diagnosis, Danielle quickly started chemotherapy. The effects of her condition and treatment were difficult, and she started waking up to see chunks of hair scattered on her pillow that had fallen out overnight. After her first chemotherapy treatment, she asked her Dad to shave her head.
Following a few “hard hit” months of chemotherapy, Danielle went to UCSF Medical Center to get a biopsy in the hopes that her tumor had shrunk. The tests delivered bad news—the chemo wasn’t working quickly enough. Danielle’s father asked for a second opinion from another USCF physician who thought the tumor was small enough to be removed via surgery. Dr. Goldsby suggested a different chemotherapy protocol, which had more promising outcomes. It was then Danielle’s tumor shrank enough for surgery at UCSF.
Living far away, Danielle’s family needed a place to stay closer to UCSF while Danielle received her needed care. Money was tight already, Danielle and her brother were raised by their grandparents whom they lovingly call Mom and Dad. Thankfully, Family House stepped in to help provide, “a place to be at and not worry about expenses, and just focus on the surgery and appointments.” This made all the difference for keeping their tight-knit family together, during an uncertain and worrisome time.
During her surgery, and every time she had an appointment in San Francisco, Danielle and her family stayed at Family House at either the 10th Avenue facility or the original house on Irving Street. When her tumor was removed, she was in the ICU for two weeks due to the intensity of the surgery. Her family was able to stay close by at Family House the whole time and Danielle joined them for another week at Family House following her discharge from the hospital to give her more recovery time.
Her surgeon successfully removed the tumor from her knee. The nature of her tumor, however, required her bones be connected by titanium metal in their sockets. Most of Danielle’s leg is numb, but she was fortunate to keep it since she had stopped growing.
While Danielle doesn’t remember much about her experience at Family House 15 years ago, she still speaks very fondly of it.
“Everyone was welcoming and friendly, asking how I was doing… as a cancer patient not having hair, they didn’t look at me differently.”
Danielle remembers the space as small, but comfortable, and was excited to hear the news of the expansion to a new house in Mission Bay. Thankfully the follow up chemotherapy after her surgery was close to home at Valley Children’s in Madera, CA, and for annual checkups at UCSF, they always had a place to stay at Family House.
Family House has also been an advocate for Danielle’s care throughout her health crisis. Danielle and her father remember Paul Goold, then the resident house manager, being one of the staff in the family’s corner, helping them to advocate for a wheelchair when she was discharged, in order to get back to Family House easily.
Danielle has been in remission now for nearly 15 years. And though she has some limitations (can’t run, jump, dance, or do any twisting due to the surgery on her left knee), she is still living a full life with her family.
Her experience at Family House inspired her to pursue a career in the medical field. “My Dad was with me at every chemo treatment, sometimes going on 5 to 7 days. He had such good relationships with the nurses.” Danielle loves being with people and it was Family House’s advocacy that “made me feel safe, that I could trust them. I wanted to do that as well for others.”
After earning her high school degree and finishing treatment, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from California State University, Fresno in 2018 and went on to become a Registered Nurse in 2019. Danielle now works at St. Agnes Medical Center, on the surgical floor, taking care of five to six patients at a time. During her residency at St. Agnes, she worked 12 to 14-hour shifts for 7 days at a time, every two weeks. She speaks highly of her residency’s work environment, her managers, and the mentors who helped her. She feels very humbled to work there.
In March of 2020, Danielle’s work came to halt due to the unfortunate and sudden COVID-19 pandemic. After speaking with her physicians, it was recommended that she isolate because of underlying conditions. After being vaccinated in early 2021, she hopes to return in September, and continue her nursing career.
Danielle comes back to San Francisco every summer to see her doctor. Things are looking good for Danielle now: her cancer is at a point where it isn’t likely to return.
Danielle’s story reminds us of the impact that Family House provides for families with children who have serious illnesses such as hers.
“We’re worried, scared, not sure what will happen. But a friendly face conversing with us to help me forget my worries, even for a moment… [is] so very kind. It is genuine and you [Family House] don’t ask for anything in return. Just want us to be well and progress in life. That’s what I feel and I can’t thank you enough.”
She knows her experience is a story of perseverance and a heartwarming reminder of the difference a good community makes.
“Don’t let this negative part of your life stop you or give up. I didn’t let it stop me, and I still have my family. Now it’s my turn to take care of them.”
Family House San Francisco is an independent non-profit organization led by a professional staff and board of directors dedicated to providing residential services free-of-charge to qualifying families. Since we receive no financial support from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, or any other public entity, we rely solely on the generous contributions of individuals, corporations, and foundations.