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When calamity comes calling

Holley Wade remembers the day clearly.

Last year, just before Thanksgiving, she and her husband Bill were at a fundraiser football game. Tampa police officers were battling Tampa firefighters in a game dubbed the Badge Bowl. It was a benefit for Taylor Dumke, a 9-year-old girl who had a brain tumor.

Mrs. Wade, mother of two, watched Taylor's mother on the sidelines that cold November night.

"How in the world is this woman keeping it together?" she thought.

Today, a year later, Mrs. Wade has a different thought.

"Now I look in the mirror," she said. "And it's me."

Her son Daniel Frydrych is 9. He has a brain tumor, just like Taylor.

Doctors discovered the tumor in August, and immediately started using phrases like "aggressive," "high dose chemotherapy" and "high risk." Since then, Daniel has had 19 CAT scans, five surgeries and countless finger pricks to test his blood. Those are the worst of all, Daniel says. He cries at the very idea of them.

Holley and Bill Wade are used to dealing with disaster. Wade, who is Daniel's stepfather, is a fire captain and the department's public information officer. He is well-known on Tampa Bay television, the calm face and steady voice at at the scene of fires, car crashes and other calamities.

Mrs. Wade is an emergency planner with Hillsborough County. She reviews hurricane, tornado and hazardous material plans.

But none of their training prepared them for this.

"It's still not real," she said. "I had to move into disaster mode."

In May, Daniel started to feel sick to his stomach in the mornings. The nausea would go away, and he always went back to his normal activities.

For Daniel, that meant excelling in school at Tampa Downtown Partnership Elementary and studying ballet. He has danced since he was four, and recent videos of his performances show a young man with poise and precision.

In June, he danced gracefully onstage at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center during a recital for his dance school.

In July, he sometimes had to hold onto a wall to steady himself. By the time the Wades got him to the doctor's office, he was his old strong self again. His head hurt, but the doctor and his family chalked that up to a long family history of migraines.

By August, Daniel couldn't ride his bike. He climbed on the seat and toppled over.

Wade was determined to show the doctor the full extent of Daniel's symptoms, thinking it might be an inner-ear problem that made the boy lose his balance. Wade grabbed the family's video camera and taped Daniel falling over on his bike.

They played the images for Daniel's doctor.

"His expression changed," Wade said.

The doctor told the Wades to take the boy to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Hours later, they got the news: Daniel had medulloblastoma, a kind of cancer that usually affects children, most often boys. It strikes about 300 children a year in the United States.

"The whole room went dark," Wade said. "I couldn't hear anything they said after the words "brain tumor.' "

That was a Monday. Three days later, Daniel had his first surgery.

Life has not been the same since.

Daniel's father was living in Vermont, but he moved back to Florida to be near his son.

The Wades lived at the Ronald McDonald House for a month, and became well acquainted with All Children's Hospital. They have met other children with cancer, and are overwhelmed by their stories.

They have gotten to know Taylor Dumke's family, and are happy to report she is doing better.

"Despite the sadness, there's a lot of hope," Mrs. Wade said.

"This battle is far from over," said her husband. "But we're getting there."

Radiation has left Daniel weak. He occasionally needs help walking from room to room, but will sometimes gain enough strength to chase his older brother around.

The family showed a visitor a video of Daniel, dancing on a stage.

"That normal is now gone," Wade said. "We are striving to find a new normal."

Daniel recently finished four weeks of radiation. The family is now bracing for four months of chemotherapy, which will start this month.

The Wades try to be upbeat around Daniel. They tickle his bare feet and make him laugh. They have promised him a few Tampa Bay Lightning games _ hockey is his favorite sport _ and there's something else on the horizon.

The Badge Bowl.

This year's game is a fundraiser for Daniel.

_ Tamara Lush can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or at lushsptimes.com.

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