Watch CBS News

Davis community rallies to help professor fight stage 4 breast cancer: "I am going to beat this"

Davis mother battles stage 4 breast cancer, turns to innovative treatments
Davis mother battles stage 4 breast cancer, turns to innovative treatments 02:33

DAVIS -- Every year hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with breast cancer. Research shows the number of cases in younger women under the age of 40 is on the rise.

Danielle Heard Mollel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 at the age of 42 at her first mammogram. 

"But at that time, I was considered too young to go in for a routine mammogram, or at least, I wasn't advised by my doctor to go in for one," said Mollel. 

The only reason she went in was because she felt a pea-sized lump while breastfeeding her youngest child at the time. She wanted to ignore it but saw a woman's similar story on the news and felt it was a sign. 

Mollel was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, underwent a single mastectomy and followed with reconstructive surgery. In scans that followed the reconstructive surgery, it was clear something was off. 

"I had extensive metastases through my skeleton already," said Mollel. "At that point, it's diagnosed as stage 4. I did not ask my doctor about a prognosis. I just immediately went into problem-solving mode."

In January of this year, Mollel discovered that despite aggressive hormone-based treatment of her cancer, it has since spread even further to her liver. 

She and her oncologists decided at this time she would start chemotherapy. Mollel has her final treatment this week, praying that the progression has slowed down. 

"You know, I have my three children to think about. They are very young. They are barely old enough to understand what's going on," Mollel said through tears. 

Mollel knows she has a lot to live for and that fuels her fight. The mother of three is also a passionate professor of English at Cosumnes River College, formerly a professor at UC Davis. 

She won't go down without giving cancer everything she has. 

"My immediate response was 'OK, I am going to beat this. What do I need to do to beat this?' " said Mollel. "When you're in the battle, you have to focus on survival. You can't imagine there's any other option."

Mollel is hopeful her body will respond to chemotherapy, but she feels she has few options left to stop the aggressive stage 4 cancer. 

That's why she decided to step outside the box of traditional therapies and see what else was on the table that could help her. 

"I've been trying to compliment the conventional medicine with what I can find in other areas," said Mollel. "This is me tapping into my intuition to know when a conventional treatment is the right option for me or when I should explore something else."

That includes cutting-edge, innovative cancer therapies that she has extensively researched hoping to find more options for potentially life-saving care.

She landed on wanting to pursue oxygenation therapy through a Bay Area clinic, Anatara Medicine, hoping it would help her body fight cancer. 

These cutting-edge, innovative approaches to fighting cancer are, in most cases, not covered by insurance. 

"The sooner she can get access to some of these alternative treatments the better," said Laurie Lambert, a close friend of Mollel's. 

Lambert organized a fundraising campaign online to try and raise $250,000 for Mollel to get the oxygenation therapy and possibly proton therapy in the future. 

The Davis community has rallied behind Mollel, chipping in nearly $40,000 so far. 

"If it's not a standard course of treatment, then insurance companies are not likely to want to pay for it. That really leaves patients in a bind when you know this potential care exists," said Lambert. "It's not that there's not proof that they work. There is proof they work, but the standard of proof for your insurance company is going to be something different."

Mollel said she'll fight on by juggling her options, daily life and questions from her kids. Her oldest daughter recently asked her an emotional question when she saw her mother's thinning hair thanks to chemo. 

"She asks, 'Mom, I have a question about cancer.' 'What is it, hun?' 'Does it ever go away?' I said, 'Well for some people, it does,' " said Mollel. 

She is determined to try anything that will make that her destiny. She's also already planning for the day she can pay it forward. 

"I always dreamed that when I beat cancer, in part thanks to these treatments, I'd like to start a scholarship fund so others can pay for these options," said Mollel. 

She encourages all women to get routine mammograms as soon as possible and to be the loudest voice in every room advocating for their bodies and health. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.