A Survivor on 'Survivor'
- Daniel Strunk is a contestant on the newest season of the hit reality show Survivor, and this childhood leukemia survivor plans to make the most of his time on the show calling it “a lifelong dream.”
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but general symptoms for the disease include: Fever or chills, persistent fatigue, weakness, frequent or severe infections, losing weight without trying, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged liver or spleen, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), excessive sweating as well as bone pain or tenderness.
- Cancer will change your life, but we’ve seen survivors thrive time and time again. Ovarian cancer survivor Marecya Burton, for example, found her new passion after beating the disease. And breast cancer survivor Fernanda Savino says that cancer brought her a new appreciation for her relationships and her body.
Strunk, a 30-year-old law clerk who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, made his reality tv debut this week as the first episode of the season premiered on Wednesday. The show, now in its 42nd season, brings castaways to a remote island to battle it out physically and mentally in a quest to win $1 million and the title of “Sole Survivor.” For Strunk, it’s been “a lifelong dream” to finally end up on the reality series.Read More
But a dislocated shoulder was not going to stop this cancer survivor from playing the game he’s watched since he was little. In fact, he revealed that it was the show that helped him get through grueling cancer treatments.
“At age 15, I was diagnosed with leukemia,” he said during a monologue portion of the first episode. “I went through like 3 years of chemotherapy, and one of the things that helped me through all this was watching survivor. It was just a way of enjoying something that brought me to a different world.”
He’s still cancer-free today, but seeing how far he’s come since that “rough” time in his life has only made him appreciate the experience more.
“The idea to now go from a hospital bed where I could not support myself and have the strength to like brush my teeth to like being on an island about to have the adventure of a lifetime – it’s surreal,” he said. “And how could I not say ‘yes’ to that opportunity.”
He also made sure to explain the main reason why he wanted to be on Survivor in the first place.
“The number one reason I am here is because there is like some kid out there in some hospital bed longing to have an adventure of this sort or just like leave the hospital, and I am out here because I’m playing for that kid,” he said.
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including red blood cells and platelets.
“One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” she said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
Thriving as a Cancer Survivor
A cancer diagnosis will change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Strunk, it is more than possible to thrive on the other side of your cancer journey.
Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.
“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”
She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.
“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”
Other survivors, like Fernanda Savino, have said that cancer gave them a whole new perspective on life – one that has allowed her to appreciate both her body and her relationships more than ever.
“I’m a lawyer, and I used to be such a workaholic,” Fernanda previously told SurvivorNet. “I would work for long hours, and I would never make room for doctor appointments or anything like that.
“I started to take care of my health and be more respectful to my body, to me. I started to exercise more.”
Like so many others, Fernanda also said she relied on a lot of support from her loved ones – something she’ll always be grateful for.
“I had all the support … my family, my friends, even the ones that weren’t so close, they always were present,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this without them.”