Owls athletics sponsors local girl's journey to recovery after rare cancer

Caleb Youngblood
Sports Editor

The MUW Athletic Department has an extra-special assignment this year. She’s a bit young to be a college student, but she has captured the heart of those in the department.

Her name is Danica, and she suffers from a rare form of cancer.

“We understand that we can serve at a higher capacity with our resources,” said Jason Trufant, director of Athletics and Recreation here at Mississippi University for Women. “So once we heard about it, we wanted to see what we could do to help.”

Danica Duston is a 4-year-old resident of Columbus, Miss. On July 19, she was diagnosed with Wilms cancer, aka Nephroblastoma. This is a rare kidney cancer that is mostly found in children.

“It’s kind of tough to talk about, you know?” said Trufant. “They went to a doctor and found out she had a tumor wrapped around her kidney. He said it was the size of a grapefruit.”

Danica was at a playground on July 18 when she tripped and fell. Immediately she began to feel pain in her stomach. She was taken to the ER but was sent home after being diagnosed with Gastroenteritis and dehydration. She woke up the next day and the pain had increased. Danica received a CT scan at the Allegro Family Clinic in Columbus. From there she was driven to Tupelo NMMC ER. There, she was transported to Le Bonheur in Memphis, Tenn. On July 23 Danica was taken to St. Jude’s Hospital where she underwent surgery to remove the tumor.

The Owls Athletics Department heard about her story and is doing what it can to help Danica on her road to recovery. The athletics department decided to sponsor Danica and is working to help her family.

“It touched my heart hearing about her story,” said Lauren Smith, a senior member of the Women’s Cross Country team. “It may not be a lot, but we just want her to know we’re here for her.”

“We want to make her feel welcome and supported as much as possible,” said Gray Massey, the women’s soccer coach at The W. “We’re hoping to send her packages and memorabilia to make her feel a part of the team.”

The department plans to sponsor Danica at various games throughout the season. In the meantime, it has already made a video to welcome her into the Owl family. The video involves both student athletes and athletic personnel. It has received more than 17,000 views. It can be seen on both the Facebook page for Danica Duston and by going to the Owls Athletics website.

“One thing her dad said when she saw the video was that she loved the owl,” said Trufant. “So we plan on bringing our mascot to see her.

“This means a lot to us, and the student athletes are just proud to be a part of it. We had 16 girls on the volleyball team write individual letters to her, and it’s just an awesome thing to see.”

The women’s cross country team is scheduled to participate in a track meet in Memphis on Saturday, Sept. 15. After the meet, the members plan to visit Danica at the hospital.

“I don’t know if she realizes we’re coming, but I’m really pumped to meet her,” said Smith. “We plan on getting goodies together, and we’re going to give her a track shirt.”

The W community is excited for the opportunity to sponsor Danica during this time. To receive further updates during her journey please visit the Danica Duston Facebook Page. Donations can also be sent through a Go Fund Me link that can be found on this page, as well.