When Dani Cuevas was just 13 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Before her diagnosis, she was just a girl getting ready to start eighth grade and, as her mom Yolanda Gamel tells Romper, "thinking about all of the things 13-year-old girls think about." After, however, the incredibly brave 13-year-old girl battling cancer decided to shave her head and began to see the world differently. And more importantly, according to her mom, "she really learned to love herself."
In the summer of 2019, Dani's mom took her to see her primary care physician because she wasn't feeling well. After running some tests, Gamel tells Romper her physician "told us to go right to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and head directly to the emergency room." Not long after they arrived, the family was given the diagnosis that Dani had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood and bone marrow cancer that is the most common in children, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Fortunately for Dani's family, Gamel says the doctors and nurses at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta were "as comforting as they could be," under the circumstances. And efficient in starting Dani on chemotherapy. According to Dani's mother, "Within two days she had been diagnosed and set up with a port."
While Gamel was reeling from the news, she knew the one thing that was really bothering her daughter: "The first thing she said was, 'I don't want to lose my hair.'"
Hair loss in children undergoing chemotherapy tends to start around three weeks after treatment begins, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, and sadly this was true for Dani. Gamel took her to cut her hair shorter, something she tells Romper was already a struggle because she "loved her long hair."
After Dani's hair started to fall out at the dinner table one night, Gamel says that they decided to shave her head. "First she shaved her dad's head when he got home from work," Gamel tells Romper, "and then he shaved Dani's head."
The whole family of nine was there to support the 13-year-old girl, who found the experience transformative in more ways than one. "We all cried, and then it was like a weight lifted off her shoulders," her mom says. "It was very freeing. Everyone was able to move on." So much so in fact that Dani didn't feel she needed to use any of the wigs or hats she had in the house.
"She rocked the bald head," Gamel says, "and I think it made her love herself in a way that I don't think she would have without the cancer. Family and friends were all so supportive of her, everyone told her she was beautiful without hair. And it gave her confidence. She grew up quickly, but she was able to focus on what mattered to her."
Her future. Her family. Her health. At 13, she already learned that beauty is more than hair.
One year later, Dani is feeling better. She is a high school freshman studying remotely and excelling. She even designed the 2020 Childhood Cancer scarf for the Atlanta United soccer team and met some of the players.
Gamel tells Romper that Dani experienced a milestone moment when she allowed her father to shave her head that taught her lessons she will keep with her all her life. "She knows she is strong, she knows she is a survivor," she says. "And she knows what's important. Her family, her future, and loving herself."