Face of Defense: Marine Beats Cancer, Gains New Outlook
By Marine Corps Cpl. Katherine M. Solano
2nd Marine Logistics Group
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2011 At age 18, 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 Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Botero, it was a reality.
Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Botero stands at the entrance of the embedded partnering lot at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2011. The cancer survivor soon will celebrate his 21st birthday. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Katherine M. Solano
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Colombia, South America, native said he decided that at 18, he was going to give back to the country that has given him hope and opportunities in life by enlisting in the U.S. military. With a four-year commitment on his shoulders, Botero already had done more than most of his peers.
But just as he was about to begin training to become a combat engineer, Botero was faced with a prospect that some adults cannot even fathom. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in February 2009.
On top of that, doctors told him the cancer had spread to his liver, lungs and brain. As a new Marine and a new adult, Botero added new cancer patient to his life’s résumé, while putting his Marine Corps career on hold. He began an aggressive course of chemotherapy that left him weak, without hair and unable to do simple tasks without tremendous effort.
After his first surgery, neither Botero nor his doctors were 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,” he 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 finally could begin his life as a Marine, a life that only a year earlier held no guarantees. In less than two years, he had become a Marine, been diagnosed with cancer, and had faced the very real possibility of dying before his 21st birthday. 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, he said, 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 involved with the Wounded Warriors Battalion at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. While working with the wounded warriors, Botero said, he 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, Botero said.
“The whole thing was a good experience, because I appreciate every little thing now,” he added. “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, Botero took what he learned with him on his deployment to Afghanistan with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group’s Combat Logistics Battalion 1 Embedded Partnering Team. The positive attitude he had before his cancer diagnosis has only expanded since then, he noted.
“I’m a joker -- always smiling,” he said. “That is what held me up through all of this.”
Botero said his outlook on life has improved, but that 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 explained.
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.”