Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Framed mementos are displayed in the home of Bernardine Joel of Lilburn. Bernardine's daughter Daniela, 14, passed away due to a brain tumor in 2010. Daniela who could not talk near the time of her death communicated with hand written notes, text messages, social networking and blog posts.
"I told my mom this morning that I don't think God intended for me to die. I'm here to do this. To inspire people and to keep them going." -- Daniela Joel's blog, Wednesday, July 15, 2009
LILBURN -- The night before she died, Daniela Joel did her homework. For 14 years, 8 months and 25 days -- no more, no less -- she did things her way.
She wanted no one's pity. She kept people in check. She made them laugh, and demanded joy.
"Something about her was angelic from the moment she was born," her mother, Bernadine, said this week, almost two years after her passing. "Always laughing, always smiling. Everything in life was good."
Daniela Joel was an accomplished student, singer and pianist. At 10 years old, she was the state of Georgia's top-ranked tennis player for her age group. But on the day before Thanksgiving 2008, the 12-year-old was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She was told nine months of life were about all she could expect.
She made it 22 months -- bouts of blindness, the inability to walk, scares in the ICU. During that time Daniela kept a blog, maintained (and excelled at) her studies at Trickum Middle School then Parkview High School, and taught her mom not to blame God.
She refused hospice (twice). She also met Archie Clark, another Lilburn teen with a brain tumor.
"Just a few months changed me so much," Clark, now a senior at Parkview, said.
Clark was diagnosed with his own tumor in August 2009. It was benign, but still required surgery and months of rehab. Somewhere along the way he found Daniela, a grade younger, on Facebook.
They became fast friends, exchanging daily text messages about life and obstacles and school. They kept each other going.
"I just quickly started thinking a lot more positive, and just kind of thought, 'What am I complaining about?'" Clark said this week in the Joel living room. "It was a benign brain tumor, I had surgery about two weeks later and removed all of it ... Seeing all of the obstacles she had to go through and how strong she was through those, it just inspired me so much."
Said Bernadine Joel: "She adored Archie."
On July 21, 2009, Archie Clark made what would be his only trip to see Daniela in person. Like the majority of her waning days of life, Daniela sat in the right section of her family's reclining couch, looking out large windows to the front and back yards. The two shared stories and talked like normal teenagers.
"Losing her was probably the hardest thing I've ever experienced," Clark said. "Even more than being diagnosed with a brain tumor."
Exactly two months later Daniela died in that spot on the sofa. She was in her mother's arms.
"I'm just heartbroken," Bernadine Joel said. "There's a void that will never be filled. But life is a journey, and this is our journey."
The next step of the journey, for both the Joels and the Clarks, is to become crusaders for the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children. In Daniela's honor, both families have been fundraising and will participate in the group's "Tumor Troopers" run/walk Saturday in Alpharetta.
Formerly known as "William's Walk and Run," the event will begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at 7730 North Point Parkway in Alpharetta. For more information or to donate, visit braintumorkids.org.