Dani Shotel's uncle gave her a pair of boxing gloves. Her former softball coach Matt "Ski" Boratenski and his wife brought her cookies just as they had years five years ago before Wootton High School softball games. And hundreds of friends and acquaintance — even strangers — have brought her love and hope.
"It's even more amazing than I could have ever expected," said Shotel, a preschool special education teacher. "I feel so incredibly lucky to have people like this in my life."
Shotel, a 1998 graduate of Lafayette College, was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 11, 2002. Shotel is 26 years old.
"I could have cried with tears never ending, but instead the worst news of my life turned into a time of utter amazement due to the unpredictable amounts of kindness and compassion shown by so many," wrote Shotel on a self-portrait painting she made following her diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) last September. "I will beat this for me and for everyone who loves me."
SHOTEL REQUIRES a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, scheduled for mid January, 2003. Friends, including college softball teammate Liz Lichtman and longtime family friend Sandy Davis, have already helped organize bone marrow drives in Arlington and Rockville to try to find a bone marrow match for Shotel.
By registering potential donors, a match could be found for Dani Shotel, and also for others of the more than 3,000 leukemia patients currently searching for donors.
"The most important thing is don't come to the drive for me," said Dani Shotel. "By coming to the drive, you're helping 3,000 people, you're not just helping one person."
"She tries to put other people ahead," said Lichtman. "If there were more people like her, we'd be living in a lot happier world."
ANOTHER DONOR DRIVE is scheduled at Temple Beth Ami, 14330 Travilah Road, Rockville, on Sunday, Nov. 17 from 11:30-5 p.m.
"We've learned more about leukemia in the last two months. We all got really involved because that's a good way to cope," said Lichtman.
"When you're around her you can't help but be happy and can't help but see that spirit," said Davis. "She doesn't want people to feel sorry for her, she wants people to give her strength and to love her and to give her encouragement."
"She's a fighter," said Boratenski, who taught softball for 25 years at Wootton, including the three varsity years Shotel pitched for him from 1992-1994.
"I think those were hallmark years for me as a coach. I never had a pitcher like that before," he said. "She established every pitching record that still holds at Wootton."
Boratenski said his wife always brought his team cookies before games. "It became a jinx thing, we couldn't win if we didn't bring cookies," he said. So they brought cookies to Shotel in the hospital after hearing of her diagnosis.
SHOTEL LOVES teaching, loves to work with the families of the two-year-old toddlers that she teaches in Arlington County. She earned a M.A. in Education from George Washington University in Special Education, Early Childhood. She has had to put teaching on hold to keep her immune system strong and will stay in Seattle following her transplant.
Shotel's colleagues in the Arlington County school system have donated sick leave so that she is covered at least through March, said Dani Shotel.
"The support has been incredible," said Jay Shotel, her father.
"When we were in the hospital, she'd have so many visitors. There was standing room only in the room," said Sue Shotel, her mother. Cards covered all the walls of the room.
A bone marrow drive was set up in Arlington last week. Jay Shotel said 315 people were tested to see if they could be matches with Dani Shotel. Those willing to be screened need only give a drop of blood. Tests are run to determine if a given potential donor is a close enough match to a waiting patient.
"WE'RE ALL very focused on this. Everyone is helping so much," said her mother.
"You want to do anything you can to help Dani and she's not asking anybody to do anything," said Davis. "She's so grateful for any effort that is being done for her."
Davis and Lichtman say that despite what Shotel is going through, she still thinks about helping other people.
"When we started talking about what we could do to help, Dani first said, 'If you can't help me on the bone marrow drive, you have to do something because we need to help other people," said Davis.