Dana Scatton, 17, is wise beyond her years – and she seems to epitomize perfection.
She’s beautiful, funny and confident, with incredible faith in God and a smile that shows her strength.
On New Year’s Eve, Dana sits on a bed, wearing black leggings with pink flowers that matched her pedicure. Her parents, Lenore and Robert Scatton, and brother, Josiah Gundry, are in the room, laughing, crying and reflecting with her on the past year.
They look back at last summer.
“In June, Dana found out she was pregnant,” Lenore says. “She had an orthodontist appointment to get braces that day – and I met her there. That’s when she told me. She got out of the car, grabbed me, hugged me, and told me in my ear that she was pregnant.”
Understandably, Dana was afraid – but her family embraced her, assuring her that things would be OK.
“I was shocked when I first found out I was having a baby,” she recalls, “but I was happy. I knew my life would change, I would grow up a little faster … but that gave me more motivation.”
Last fall, Dana started college in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, where she completed one semester before time froze – and her entire world was turned upside down.
On Dec. 10, at 7.5 months pregnant, Dana was diagnosed with a DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma), the most deadly form of brain cancer.
Currently, there is no cure.
I sit with Dana on New Year’s Eve, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and it quickly becomes clear that there is something very special about this young woman.
She lounges in her hospital bed, rubbing her belly, talking to her baby girl and smiling, despite the horrific beast that's quickly taking over her body.
This incredible young girl is facing death without fear, and it’s no surprise that she’s inspiring millions around the world.
Something wasn't right
In November, Dana started noticing some strange symptoms, but everyone assumed they were due to the pregnancy.
“I was really overtired,” she explains. “But things kept getting worse. I was forgetting to swallow, and my speech got weird. Then my legs started not responding to things – when I would walk, my legs would drag. That’s when I really got concerned.
After going to the emergency room at a hospital near their Pennsylvania home, a CT scan showed a lesion on Dana’s brain.
An MRI revealed the 2.3-centimeter cancerous brain tumor.
The family was in shock.
On Dec. 12, they headed to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a full assessment and to discuss plans for treatment. Dana and her mother speak very highly of Dr. Jean Belasco, a pediatric oncologist who is known for her bedside manner and honesty when dealing with terminally ill children.
Dana asked her about the survival rate.
“And she said there is none.”
But the family didn’t lose faith.
“It was a lot to take in,” Lenore says. “But we prayed and thanked God in the office that day.”
Counting her blessings
The week before Christmas, Dana returned to CHOP for radiation mapping and additional appointments. At that point, she had decided to deliver her baby early and start radiation immediately after that.
But Dana’s symptoms rapidly progressed. She could no longer go up and down the stairs at home and her breathing was becoming compromised.
On Christmas Day, she was admitted to the hospital – and the next day, doctors decided to start radiation without delivering the baby early.
“I feel like God just directed the doctors to help decide what I should do,” Dana says. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start radiation without having the baby because I didn’t want it to hurt her. But I couldn’t decide what to do – it was too hard.”
Doctors were very reassuring that the radiation wouldn’t harm the baby.
And they were right.
On Jan. 3, after several rounds of radiation, Dana’s symptoms were getting worse, and plans were made to perform a C-section one day later.
Aries Marie was born on Jan. 4, weighing 4 lb. 6 oz. – and she’s perfect.
Dana’s brother, Josiah, was over the moon.
“She was crying and once they put her on Dana’s chest, she stopped,” he explains. “The baby is doing really well … I told my boss about the birth, and he said, ‘One miracle down … one to go.’ ”
Josiah, 27, continues to be blown away by his little sister’s strength.
“When Dana was going in for the C-section, we were all anxious and stressing,” he says. “And she was just calm. She told us, ‘Listen, it’s gonna be fine.’ I said to her, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing this.’ And she said to me, ‘I just try to trust in God.’”
Dana, who’s getting radiation five days a week to alleviate her symptoms, refuses to waiver, despite facing death in the face as she welcomes a beautiful new life into the world.
“God has been taking care of so much,” she says. “Like with the whole radiation thing, I was so worried about the baby, but when I was in there, I felt like he was holding my belly. I feel like I am just going along with him. My choice is to trust God with everything.”
How does she find the strength that it takes each day to process a terminal diagnosis?
“It was such a wake-up call,” Dana explains. “Getting death thrown in your face … it’s so real. It really shows you what’s true. This world doesn’t matter, it’s temporary, you know? When I found out, I immediately let the world go. It’s like, that doesn’t matter anymore. We have to look at the eternal life. We all think we have so much time … honestly, I feel thankful that I have this time to wake up and realize what’s right. And I want everybody to see that. Even though others didn’t get the news that I did, I want them to wake up. I feel blessed that I have this time to make things right – others don’t get that time – death happens in the blink of an eye.”
'I always felt like people would remember my name'
Dana’s positive attitude is contagious. So much, in fact, that she’s building a worldwide following on her Facebook page, “Pray for Dana,” started by her brother, Josiah, last month. Currently, she has close to 12,000 followers – and that number is growing by the day.
This teen seems destined to change the world – and it’s something she’s felt strongly about for quite some time.
“For the past four or five years,” Dana says, “I always felt like people would remember my name … that I was gonna do something super big for everyone else. I thought maybe I would be a singer and spread the word. But that wasn’t God’s plan. But … I realize that this is what it was about. I never knew you could feel so strongly about something, that you’re gonna do something, and you don’t even know what it’s for. I always wanted to figure out what it was. Now that it’s here, I am trying to figure out what God wants me to do with it. But he’ll tell me.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help offset medical expenses and raise funds for a clinical trial only offered in Monterrey, Mexico, and not covered by insurance. For more information, visit Dana's Facebook page or www.gofundme.com/prayfordana.