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Danielle Thompson has never been afraid of a challenge.
The 38-year-old, San Diego-based broker and TriSon RoeCo Investments owner has spent the past decade building her real estate career by any means necessary, even living in her car for nearly two years as she put every cent from a part-time job into getting her license and earning a spot at her first brokerage.
“My grandmother was a victim of predatory lending in 2010 and, unfortunately, lost her house. That propelled me to get into the industry,” she said. “So I went back to school so that I could take the necessary prerequisites to get my [sales] license.”
“My first six to nine months in real estate, I was still living in my car, and I was like, ‘How can I help people buy homes if I don’t have a home?’” she added. “I just kept going. I’m a learner. No matter what challenges I encounter, I know they make me stronger.”
Thompson’s efforts — which included furthering her education, earning her broker’s license and launching TriSon RoeCo in 2019 — came to a screeching halt in the summer of 2022. The broker discovered a growing bulge in her abdomen that began to wreak havoc on her ability to comfortably sleep on her stomach.
“I just noticed that there was something protruding from my stomach,” she said. “When I tried to lay on my stomach, I felt something that I knew was weird. It shouldn’t have been there.”
She scheduled an appointment with her primary care physician and found out she had a 14-centimeter endometrioma, a cystic lesion caused by endometriosis, a disease that causes uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus. More than six million people in the U.S. have endometriosis, and although Black women are half as likely to be diagnosed with the disease, they often have poorer outcomes than their white counterparts due to what the American Medical Association has termed medical racism.
Thompson had her first surgery in August, at which time she thought doctors would remove the cyst; however, they’d decided to drain it and test the fluid, leaving the cyst’s sac behind. Thompson’s doctors told her the decision kept her reproductive organs intact and they’d simply follow up with her in three to six months to see if the cyst grew again.
“I was so disappointed. Four weeks after that surgery, the cyst was back to 8 to 10 centimeters,” she said. “I had to advocate for myself and they referred me to a gynecologist oncologist and that was Oct. 18. He did an exam and I was back to where I started. It had grown to 14 centimeters. They scheduled another surgery for the following month.”
A terrifying turn
As she waited for her second surgery, Thompson’s health took another terrifying turn — she began struggling with severely swollen legs, ankles and feet. Worried about what was happening, Thompson called an urgent care clinic for advice, but the attending doctor told her the swelling likely wasn’t serious.
Thompson waited two more days for the swelling to subside, but with her second surgery days away, she decided to go to the ER. There, doctors discovered her blood pressure had climbed to 186/125, a number that put her at risk of a stroke.
“I should’ve gone to the urgent care clinic. I shouldn’t have waited,” she said. “They did all these tests and an ultrasound on my upper thigh. That’s where they found deep vein thrombosis. They put me on blood thinners and canceled the surgery. I yelled, ‘No no, I need them to get this [cyst] out of me.’ But I couldn’t do anything.”
Thompson’s ER visit in November 2022 set off a series of surgical delays as doctors kept her on blood thinners to treat the deep vein thrombosis. Wanting to avoid the risk of experiencing a life-altering stroke, Thompson tried to remain patient and advocate for herself, even attempting to find another doctor who’d be willing to work around her clotting issue and perform the surgery sooner rather than later.
“I’m with Kaiser [Permanente] and my healthcare plan didn’t leave me with another option. I felt my original doctor wasn’t listening to me, and the only other person I could go to was his partner,” she said. “I felt a little bit more comfortable with her, but she still said I had to wait until January .”
Thompson’s health rapidly declined throughout December, as the continued swelling made it impossible for her to stand or walk.
“The only thing I was trying to do at this point was manage my excruciating pain. It was just very hard to do anything; I ended up being so malnourished,” she said. “I finally took myself to the hospital and they did a CAT scan. Another tumor was growing. I was devastated.”
For another month, Thompson battled to get her pain under control as the tumor continued to grow to the point where she looked six months pregnant. A COVID infection and bowel issues pushed the surgery timeline back even later, and when the surgery day came, Thompson’s relief turned into even more pain as doctors confirmed her worst nightmare: she had Stage II ovarian cancer.
“I didn’t know how to digest that. The doctor walked in the room, told me I had cancer and left,” she said. “I was going through a financial hardship in dealing with this surgery, now you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis. I am not married. I don’t have children. I have family that can help from time to time, but I’m mainly doing this on my own.”
“I have a company, but I run it myself so everything stopped. I was wheelchair-bound after the surgery,” she added.
Keeping hope alive
In the 11 months since getting her diagnosis, Thompson has faced more hurdles with her healthcare. One doctor told her she didn’t require further care since both tumors were removed during the surgery and her CA-125 test results (a biomarker associated with ovarian cancer) were normal. Thompson asked to be retested every month, but her request was denied.
A test in September revealed her CA-125 biomarkers have skyrocketed, and a subsequent CAT scan showed new tumor growth.
“It wasn’t until Sept. 27 that I went in to have [my biomarkers] tested. My levels were at 156 and then a week later was tested again. It was at 199,” she said. “I physically feel fine now, but [the tests] aren’t good. So now again, I’m trying to just … I don’t know. I’m trying to make sense of all this.”
Thompson has decided to forgo chemotherapy, in hopes she can heal without facing the short-term and long-term side effects that come with cancer treatment, including an elevated risk of developing the same — or a different cancer — in the future. She’s found a reputable alternative cancer care center that’s willing to create a holistic treatment plan, but her insurance company won’t cover it.
“I’m trying to save my life at this point,” she said amid a swell of tears that left her nearly unable to breathe. “I’ve lost so much. I’ve been told that I won’t be able to have children. I’ve been trying to keep my joy. I know the Lord is teaching me something, and if nothing else comes out of this, I know my relationship with Him has gotten even deeper. Although I’m crying, I truly have nothing but pure joy.”
Thompson has continued to build TriSon RoeCo Investments, even writing a real estate course for new agents.
“While I was going through this whole situation, I built a course for new agents. I built a course based on the 11 years I’ve been in the business, and what I saw was missing was a course that can truly give struggling new agents a real foundation,” she said. “I don’t have any agents who hang their license with me, but I still wanted to offer things of value to agents. I’m not just strictly after money. I always believe that the more that I give, the more that will come back to me.”
Thompson has a GoFundMe to help fund her treatment, but she’s only received $3,180 of her $100,000 goal. The last donation was five months ago, but she still believes she’ll reap the generosity she’s sown throughout her community.
“I don’t even call it my story. This is the testimony that the Lord has given me so I can help so many people keep going in life. There’s a purpose for all of this stuff. I just look at it as a way to be able to encourage others,” she said. “I’m always trying to have a positive outlook on these types of things. I see life after cancer as abundance.”
If you’d like to contribute to Danielle’s care, click here.