Tara Daniels sat next to the stage during graduation ceremonies last month at Stonehill College in Easton.
When her name was called, the Bellingham resident stepped onto the stage with some assistance, as she was having difficulty walking on her own.
She walked slowly to conserve her strength, stopping every few steps to catch her breath.
Upon receiving her diploma, she was escorted off the stage.
Having officially graduated with honors in Communications with a minor in Journalism, Daniels returned to her family seated next to the stage. They then escorted her back to the car and drove her to Boston Children’s Hospital.
"I actually don’t remember much of graduation," said Daniels, who had pneumonia at the time. But she was being treated for something far more severe.
Daniels was receiving treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that affects white blood cells. Graduation occurred in the middle of treatment, but she was given permission to leave the hospital and attend the ceremony.
This wasn't the first time she battled the disease. In January 2009, Daniels’ mother, Angela Daniels, thought her daughter looked pale, but she let her finish her high school midterms before taking her to a doctor.
Blood tests indicated a problem and Tara Daniels was admitted to Children’s where she learned she had leukemia.
Tara spent a month at Children’s followed by two years of chemotherapy that ended in October 2011.
At that time, her family believed the battle was over, but that changed in May 2012, when Tara had just started an internship at Boston Sports Desk.
A strange lump on her neck signaled the leukemia had returned.
At this point, Tara was a sophomore at Stonehill College. And, "She didn't want handouts from the teachers as far as grades go," said her sister Jaime Becker.
Tara had a full course load and was allowed to use Skype to talk to professors during her treatment.
Two years later, Tara had special accommodations during the graduation ceremony, including her family seated next to the stage and a security guard to ensure her safety. Also, her boyfriend, Gian Calandrelli, escorted her onto the stage.
"When I learned that Tara wanted me to help her walk, there wasn’t room for much thought," said Calandrelli. "I was consumed with keeping her safe, getting her diploma and getting her off the stage. Once it was our turn to walk, I stopped thinking and just acted."
"Stonehill College was incredible," said Tara’s father, Don Daniels. "They were right there for her. The head of security was there for her. He was fantastic. The professors were fantastic."
Although Tara has battled cancer twice, she lives her life like any other college graduate. And she has a job.
Now out of the hospital and recovered from her bout with pneumonia, Tara works at DigitossLBI, an ad agency located in Boston’s financial district.
"She's an amazing person, and I may be the older sister, but I often find myself looking up to her," said Becker.