SAN ANTONIO — Danielle Seabern left eighth-grade graduation to go to volleyball practice. At 14-years-old, she was bothered by an ongoing pain in her ankle.
"My ankles have always been bad, like ever since, like elementary school," Danielle said.
Paul and Rebecca Seabern thought their eldest's daughter's pain was simply overexertion from athleticism. Danielle had played a little basketball. But she had been in volleyball for half of her life.
"All the kids at some, you know, something taped up," Paul said.
According to his wife, Danielle's pain seem to shift. One day it was her shin, and the next day it was her back. Then, it was her back and shoulder.
"So it was never a true focus on that on the ankle," Rebecca said.
But Danielle dug a ball, and her foot popped. The Clark High School freshman said it was painful but relieving at the same time.
"And I was thinking, like, 'Did I fracture it? Did I break it?' Like, 'What is happening?'" Danielle said.
A trip to the doctor revealed a fracture and a mass on her ankle. The teen was unphased, and she wanted to get on with the healing to get back to her team. They were heading to nationals in Las Vegas.
"I didn't know what else to think but to get over this so I could go play," she said.
The journey to discover what was wrong with Danielle led the family to Orthopaedic Oncologist and Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Farbod Malek for help.
"The beginning of the diagnosis was this could be a less aggressive tumor or nonmalignant," Malek said.
Malek said he suspected from the beginning the teen was dealing with cancer.
"The first step is the hardest part when you tell them that they have cancer," he said. "There's a high chance we can save the leg or save the limb and most importantly."
He said Danielle's tumor was the size of an avocado, and he wanted to remove the tumor and freeze the area to kill cancer. Malek said the process is called cryoablation – which brings down the temperature to -140°.
"In that temperature, no cell can survive," he said.
The news had the Seabern's world spinning.
"The oncologist wanted to do the biopsy right away and said to prepare," Rebecca said. "This is a Thursday. And he said we could start chemo on Monday."
The family thought the diagnosis had to be a mistake. They traveled to Houston for a second opinion. But the options there seemed even more severe.
"I was so confused. I was just in shock," Danielle said. "I was angry at the doctor; I was just angry, like, why like?"
The second opinion offered to fuse her ankle to the foot – which would end her volleyball career. The doctor also suggested amputation.
"We were trying to get to the point where we were accepting of it, but we just couldn't get there," Rebecca said.
The family went back to Malek, who was in touch with a company from England. He ordered a 3D model of Danielle's bone, guides for surgery, and an allograft – transplanting an organ from one person to another.
"I'm confident that with this technology, we can remove the cancer completely without sacrificing your leg," Malek said.
Danielle's injury happened in June. She never stopped being present with her team, even as her parents and counselors tried to get the student to dial it back.
"She insisted on sitting there and supporting her teammates and staying in the hard classes," Rebecca said.
Her parents said their daughter became a source of inspiration for them as they prayed for her healing, especially with Malek's plan.
"What really sold me is when dr. Malek said that if this was his daughter and he has daughters, but this is what he would choose," Paul said.
By October, Danielle was on her way to Methodist Hospital for surgery, and Malek would remove part of her bone and replace it.
"He used a cadaver bone and carved it with a 3D printer to make a perfect match of the bone that was removed," Paul said.
Following five hours of surgery, Danielle was on her way to remission. The family didn't find out until afterward, she had osteosarcoma. Malek said it's a common but rare bone tumor in young patients.
"It was long as hard, but I'm happy that I'm walking," Danielle said.
She is now 15-years-old and walking. According to Malek, the naked eye won't tell what happened to the teen. But the Clark High students said her journey lifted out more than cancer, and the ordeal also removed taking things for granted.
"I was always at practice, always at tournaments," she said. "Now I have time to go to church or, at the very least, hang out with my friends."
Danielle said she could see things; now, in front of her, she didn't before. One of them is her career choice to be an Orthopedic surgeon since she had an up-close view.
"Even before all this happened, that was her thought process," Rebecca said, "That she wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon."