CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
At 18 years young, many men are thinking about their first year of college, their high-school sweetheart, their favorite sports team or even their impending adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it. For many, the furthest thing from their mind is a cancer diagnosis – for Cpl. Daniel Botero, it was a reality.
The Colombia, South America, native decided that at 18, he was going to give back to the country that has, in his own words, given him hope and opportunities in life, by enlisting in the military. With a four-year sacrifice on his shoulders, Botero had already done more than the majority of his peers.
Fast forward through training and, just as he was about to begin his military occupational specialty classes to become a combat engineer, he was faced with a prospect that some adults cannot even fathom. He was diagnosed with cancer in February 2009.
Not only was he diagnosed with testicular cancer, but doctors told him it had spread. His liver, lungs and brain also had cancerous cells. A new Marine and a new adult, Botero now added new cancer patient to his life’s résumé, while putting his Marine Corps career on hold.
The new Marine began an aggressive course of chemotherapy. The treatment left him weak, without hair and unable to do simple tasks without tremendous effort.
After his first surgery, both he and his doctors weren’t sure if he would make it through a necessary second surgery. “I was so weak from the chemo, we didn’t even know if I would survive the anesthesia,” Botero said.
“I told them I needed a month to just rest, eat and try to gain some strength. My odds were still bad going into the second surgery.”
In July 2009, doctors successfully completed his second surgery. Fourteen months later, his doctors told him his cancer was in remission.
Botero could begin his life as a Marine, a life that only a year ago held no guarantees. In less than two years, he had become a Marine, been diagnosed with cancer, had faced the very real possibility of dying before his 21st birthday, and now he was a cancer survivor.
He jumped back into his Marine Corps training with zeal. With most of his family still living in South America, the cancer survivor admits that the Marine Corps had become his family.
“The Marine Corps was all I knew, so I just wanted to get back into it,” Botero said. “I begged them to give me something to do while I was in treatment.”
That’s how he became heavily involved with the Wounded Warriors Battalion aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. While working with the Wounded Warriors, Botero developed an even more positive outlook while surrounded by those he came to consider as family.
The common bond that the Marines formed by enduring various injuries, diseases and treatments, is one he will cherish forever. “The whole thing was a good experience because I appreciate every little thing now,” Botero began. “Instead of always being mad, we learned to be thankful. Everything is glorious.”
When he left the Wounded Warriors Battalion and began his work as a combat engineer, he took what he learned with him on his deployment to Afghanistan with the Combat Logistics Battalion 1 Embedded Partnering Team, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward). The positive attitude he had before his cancer diagnosis has only expanded since then.
“I’m a joker, always smiling,” Botero said. “That is what held me up through all of this.”
Botero’s outlook on life has improved, but he says the biggest change came in his outlook on the Marine Corps.
“It made me realize the Marine Corps is a path, not just a job,” he stated.
His appreciation for the Marine Corps and life itself is evident as he discusses the harder days of treatment.
“Going through this changed my outlook on everything,” Botero said. “I realize you have to enjoy every minute. A lot of people think of their future, but I believe in living your future as you’re building it.”