Before starting medical school, Daniel Bral, OMS IV, was a mentor to a teenager who was fighting cancer in a hospital that only had an adult oncology ward. Seeing the young man’s emotions all over his face, Bral asked the patient’s parents to step out of the room for a few minutes, when he let his mentee vent and cry about the struggles only a fellow cancer survivor would understand.
Bral finished chemotherapy at age 14 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T-cell lymphoma three years earlier. During this trying time, he discovered that young adults with cancer are frequently misunderstood.
“We take a 15-year-old with cancer and put them in a pediatric ward surrounded by 3- and 5-year-olds,” says Bral. “You would never imagine a 15-year-old in an adult daycare or on a kindergarten playground, and yet this is exactly what we do in medicine.”
These days, Bral is helping to improve teen cancer treatment through his leadership positions with Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) and Teen Cancer America (TCA). The treatment and recovery disparities that extend from misconceptions about this unique population are what led Bral to med school. He’s a DO/MPH candidate at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale.
Designing the future of teen cancer treatment
Teen Cancer America, a charity founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who to help health care professionals better understand teen cancer, named Bral chairman of its Young People’s Advisory Committee in part because of his instrumental role in developing an oncology unit at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center in Santa Monica designated specifically for teens and young adults.
As part of a teen cancer survivor advisory group at UCLA, Bral and his colleagues advised a chief architect and an officer of operations in regards to the new ward’s design.
The advisory group made suggestions like nixing metal chain link designs as they reminded survivors of the metallic taste of heparin drips. They banned colors like orange and red that are too often associated with cancer treatment and advised against posters of action sports when they reminded one survivor of how his battle with cancer left him unable to use his legs.
“Any time a consultant was involved, their plans had to be cleared by our advisory board,” says Bral. “It was very meaningful that a well-respected hospital system was saying the patients know best.”
In his role at TCA, Bral is conducting research on alternative therapies for teen cancer treatment.
Empowering patients through martial arts
Cancer treatment is complex, and relief doesn’t always come in the form of a drug. Bral sits on KKC’s board of directors and helps younger cancer patients and youth with other chronic illnesses to learn martial arts and breathing techniques that help these patients gain a sense of power, peace and purpose throughout some of their hardest treatment procedures.
“Living with a chronic illness means your decisions are made by doctors, your meals are often planned by a nutritionist, and where you’re going every day is decided by your parents or the disease itself,” says Bral.
Martial arts and breathing exercises help the kids to feel more empowered, and they gain even more confidence by teaching their breathing techniques to others, Bral notes.
“The youth that go through the program become the frontline of the organization and eventually go out and teach board members of Fortune 500 companies how to use these breathing techniques to focus,” says Bral. “These adults rocking the world are giving these youth standing ovations, and they gain purpose by not being some forgotten person in the hospital, but by realizing the world is developing and becoming a better place as a result of the struggle they’re going through and the efforts they’re putting forth.”