Donna Daniels grew up at a time when most people thought that little girls love to wear pink, dress up, paint their nails and have their hair done. And her mother definitely wanted Donna to be the perfect debutante and for her to “marry well.” On the other end were the girls who would rather play sports, dig in the dirt, and never dress up. Donna actually enjoyed being both. She could play softball, plant flowers, just get down and dirty. But then she wanted to come home, take a shower, put on make-up, a dress and heels and go out. She was and still is a Tommy Girl.
By turns humorous and heartbreaking, Daniels shares her life as she tries to live her truth and find how she fits into the world. She honestly describes her fears and failures as she navigates her sexuality in high school and college, falls in love and marries a man outside her race, struggles with depression and eventually divorce, leaving her to raise a young daughter on her own. In her journey to find herself, some of her choices will come across as reckless, even self-indulgent. But she doesn’t shy from sharing them and the lessons she learned from those experiences so that perhaps someone else can avoid that pain.
With her self-esteem at an all-time low, Daniels marries a second time and is faced with domestic violence that takes every ounce of fight she has to get her and her daughter out safely. Just as things are looking up she loses her beloved father, her mother’s Parkinson’s disease progresses and she dies. Suffering grief, depression, and trying to claw her way back to life, Daniels is next diagnosed with a brain tumor and undergoes several surgeries and rehab over the next few years.
With her life finally back on track and her daughter an adult with a career of her own, one more trauma is visited on her body when she is diagnosed with Stage4 rectal cancer at age 62. Over two years she endured nineteen surgeries, radiation, and countless time in rehab facilities before she could even begin to step back into some semblance of everyday life again.
Daniels continues to fight with her health and, when she is able, she advocates for cancer sufferers and strives to educate the public and medicine about taking a wider view of health and healing. Her no-holds-barred glimpse into the life of a woman who continues to survive, no matter the odds, is something to celebrate. Perhaps we can all learn something from her fight and her love that will help us live and appreciate our own lives.