At just 26 years of age, Danielle Papano is living proof that one person alone can make a huge difference to a great many peoples’ lives. When her beloved boyfriend Jake, was diagnosed with brain cancer on Christmas Eve, 2013 there was no way she wasn’t going fight for him. Danielle called on all of her creative resources and launched her company, Pearl Meets Crystal, a jewellery company largely based around Swarovski crystals, with the profits heading straight to Brain Cancer Research.
Here, she tells her story to The Carousel’s Lifestyle Director, Shonagh Walker
“My boyfriend Jake had been on a date night at an outdoor cinema in Burswood. Later that night, after we drifted off to sleep, I was woken with a startle, a Jake hitting me in the back. He was having a seizure.
“We called for an ambulance, and Jake was taken to the local hospital. After many doctors, nurses, scans … we finally heard those life changing words: “it’s a brain tumour.”
“At just 24 years old, Jake was diagnosed with brain cancer. We had been together for just over a year and never once was there any indication that anything serious was ever wrong. The surgeon explained to us how there was tumour the size of a fist pushing his whole brain to one side and that it needed to be removed immediately.
“On that Christmas Eve, he was then taken into surgery to remove as much of the tumour as they could. The surgery went well and in no time at all Jake was back on his feet. He returned to university to study law and we picked up our little puppy Elzee, which we had initially had to delay because of his diagnosis.
“Unless you were told, you could never tell Jake was sick. He never lost his big smile and continued to put everyone else first. I cannot remember a time when he let his prognosis stop him from living his life. Every time there was a setback with his health, he took it in his stride. His strength, courage and determination had me thinking he was going to challenge the devastating brain cancer odds.”
The Gamut Of Treatment
“Jake underwent two brain surgeries, numerous chemotherapy treatments, radiation sessions, and oncology appointments. The tumour would shrink right down and then months later, begin to grow back again. Each time, more aggressive than the last. In its final form, it returned as a Glioblastoma Multiforme: the most aggressive and dangerous type of brain cancer there is.
We had heard many life expectancy prognoses by this point, but we sure weren’t expecting to hear he had around six to 12 months left. He tried absolutely everything the doctors threw at him, but at the end of it all, there was nothing more they could do.
As someone who needs to be prepared, I searched the internet high and low to prepare myself as much as I could for Jake’s impending death. However, I could never find the answers I was after. Nothing could have prepared me for what was going to happen.”
A Fast Downfall
“Within a matter of weeks, Jake grew increasingly weaker. He was forced to defer from uni and simple activities such as taking the dog for a short walk became too much for him.
Soon after, Jake lost his ability to move the left-hand side of his body. Then he required a walking frame, then a wheelchair and later a hospital bed was put into his bedroom.
This is where he stayed for the remainder of his life, where he faced almost complete paralysation from his neck down.
Then, Josh slipped into a coma, from which he never woke, As I sat by his bedside watching him tragically slip away, I knew I had to help fight this disease. I promised him I would. In the early hours on Saturday, October 22, 2016, Jake peacefully passed away after battling brain cancer for just under three years. He was 27 years old.
A Strong New Direction
I couldn’t influence the outcome of Jake’s prognosis, but I could control what I did after. I chose to transfer my experience into a driving force that raises money for vital brain cancer research and awareness. This was how I was going to help.
‘When I was grieving, jewellery making helped keep my mind distracted. One day, I created this bracelet that I loved. Staring at it attentively, it suddenly crossed my mind what was needed of me now.
“I set up an Etsy store, an Instagram page and started an online shop – Pearl Meets Crystal, which features handmade Swarovski jewellery. Crystals for cancer, if you will. I’m thrilled to say that in just a few years, I’ve been able to raise over $12000, to help fund vital brain cancer research and support the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. While my fund raising efforts won’t bring my Jake back, it will always make me feel good to knowing and helping others travelling the same rocky path.”