Cancer Warrior Daniel Copeland was a friend, a father, a husband, an
MMA and just an amazing spirit. He passed this morning in the presence
of his family. Our hearts are heavy but we smile as we say farewell to an amazing man.
Written by david Andriesen;
Published in GRACIe MAG Copeland said. "But I told him, ´I´m not here
for a funeral.´
No. Copeland was there to fight.
of training had given the 39-year-old father of two the mental toughness
he would need to battle a brain tumor. And if not for the sport, that
battle might have been over before it began.
It all started with a forearm to the head.
In October 2008, Copeland was caught by a stray blow from a fellow
student at Real World Martial Arts in Denville, N.J., during a forum on
takedowns. Copeland thought nothing of it – after all, he´d been hit in
the head many times during training. It comes with the territory.
But for the next week, Copeland had a headache that he couldn´t shake, one that finally sent him to a doctor.
"I was just looking for a vicodin," he said. "Then suddenly we´re talking about a craniotomy? It was unreal."
The diagnosis was a relatively minor subdural hematoma, a head trauma
in which blood collects in the outer lining of the brain. Doctors
decided to keep an eye on the hematoma through periodic MRI exams, and
over time it appeared to be getting smaller. Copeland would be back to
normal in no time.
Or so he thought until three months later, when,
while watching one of his sons play a computer game, he was struck by a
seizure that left him seeing lights and on the floor for 10 minutes. His
doctor did another MRI and scheduled a follow-up appointment four days
later. But after one look at the film from the test, Copeland and his
wife, Pam, were summoned to the doctor the next day.
the news wouldn´t be good, and it wasn´t. The test showed a glioblastoma
multiforme, an extremely aggressive and often deadly tumor that is not
often seen in someone so young.
Surgery was immediately scheduled to
attempt to remove the tumor, which was about the size of two golf
balls. The seriousness of the situation hit home when Pam, whom Dan had
met in college when they were 19, asked the doctor what would happen if
the surgeon went in and found something worse than they thought.
The doctor´s answer: "There isn´t anything worse."
But in a strange way, Copeland was lucky. Lucky for that blow to the head three months earlier.
"If I hadn´t gotten hit in the head in October, they never would have
been tracking me," Copeland said. "And when I had the seizure, I
probably would have blown it off. Knowing me, it probably would have
been three months before I actually went to a doctor, and by then I
would have been in deep (trouble). But as it happened I had a
neurosurgeon, I had a hospital, and I was ready to go."
was likely already forming when Copeland had his tests in October. The
head injury either caused a hematoma or caused bleeding from the tumor
site – either way, the blood obscured the tumor itself in the MRI exams.
Copeland exchanged his gi for a hospital gown, and surgeons cut open
his skull and removed the tumor. His sons, 5-year-old Mason and
4-year-old Carter, thought it was funny that dad had staples in his
head. "The doctor ran out of tape," dad explained.
The months since
the operation have involved chemotherapy, radiation and countless visits
to doctors. So far, all the tests have been positive. Copeland´s
prognosis is helped by his young age, his fitness and the relatively
early discovery of the tumor – glioblastomas often don´t produce
symptoms until they are large enough to make survival impossible.
"I have no intention of giving up," he said. "If this thing wants to beat me, it´s got a major fight on its hands."
George Sernak, Copeland´s jiu jitsu teacher, has no doubt Copeland is
up to the fight, thanks in part to the fitness and toughness he has
learned in training.
"These are benefits everybody receives in their training, but you never know where it´s going to benefit you," Sernak said.
Even in the best-case scenario, it´s going to be a while before
Copeland returns to practicing full-on jiu jitsu. But he still attends
class a couple of times a week.
"Those guys have been so behind me,"
he said. "It´s been great to have the class, where people aren´t asking
me what´s going on all the time. We´re all just there to train."
And when there is snow to be shoveled or heavy lifting to be done around
the Copeland household, his jiu jitsu friends are there.
school is like a big family," Sernak said. "If someone needs something,
we´re there. We love seeing Dan and his family. He´s just such a great
guy with a joy for living, and he´s been such an inspiration to all of