Joe Daniels: Surviving cancer and staying healthy

Daniels (left) with former student Marc von der Ruhr at the Green Bay Half Marathon

For his first run after being diagnosed with cancer, Joe Daniels made it to the end of his neighbor’s driveway. It exhausted him.

“I felt terrible,” he said. “You’re starting from zero and you’ve never been there before.”

Daniels, an economics professor in the College of Business, was 46 when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma in 2006. Today he is cancer free — and determined to do everything he can to stay healthy.

“I want to stay in good shape, because if something like this happens again, I’m healthy enough to fight it,” he said. “That’s a good motivator.”

Daniels first noticed something was wrong in 2005. He didn’t know why he was feeling ill, but he knew running and exercise made him feel better. So he kept doing it.

Eventually, he started getting sick to his stomach and experiencing lower back pain while running, so he switched to attending pilates class with his daughter to strengthen his core.

When he was diagnosed, he was in great shape despite the cancer attacking his blood. His condition was already advanced, so his doctor opted to start aggressive treatment. The doctor said he could take it because of how he had trained his body.

“They just pounded me,” Daniels remembers. “They said, ‘We’re going to go at this fast.'”

The chemo caused him to shrink to “skin and bones” and he said he “looked 80-years-old.” He had no hair, not even eyelashes. The chemo caused complications like blood clots and burned the skin off his hands so he had to wear protective gloves.

But he continued to work through his treatment and said colleagues and students were supportive and energizing. Daniels has been decorated with honors, including the Marquette Gettle Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence and the College of Business Administration Faculty Teaching Award, and continuing to focus on teaching was important to him.

“In the 20+ years I have known Joe, he has always demonstrated the Jesuit idea of a care for the person,” said Marc von der Ruhr, Bus Ad ’92, Grad ’94, a former student of Daniels and now a professor at St. Norbert’s. “The respect he has on campus clearly reflects this. His time fighting cancer was an opportunity for colleagues and friends to return that favor.”

Having been a runner, Daniels said he treated his road to recovery like getting stronger with each workout.

“You know it’s going to get better,” he said. “It’s all building blocks.”

For Daniels, running provided not just a physical benefit, but also a mental and emotional boost.

“Having that past as a runner was a real gift while coming back,” he said. “You know you’re doing something positive for your body and you’re accomplishing something. That’s something I could hang my hat on.”

In 2007, Daniels joined the econ student association’s Al’s Run team. They recruited 20-30 people, tail-gated and printed shirts with slogans on the back like, “Think running an 8K is hard? Try running a regression.” They team up with the alumni association and have fielded a team every year since.

Five years to the day he was diagnosed, Daniels was the keynote speaker for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society chapters’ gathering of more than 1,000 people who ran the Green Bay Half Marathon and Marathon. Daniels has now run that race the last two years with von der Ruhr, his former student.

“He’s 11 years older than I am and ran the races really, really well each year,” von der Ruhr said. “The scars of cancer and its treatment are not trivial. I really admire the way that Joe takes on new physical challenges.”

This fall Daniels will be on sabbatical at McMasters University in Ontario, Canada, where he’ll bring a bike as his only form of transportation. To get ready for that he bike to work, rides the Hank Aaron State Trail and joined the MU Employee Wellness team in the national bike challenge.

His advice to others is that if he can start over after beating cancer, anyone can start where they are and get in shape.

“We do get busy and get out of shape, and there’s that intimidation factor when you’re trying to get back in shape,” he said. “But it’s not a mountain.”

Anyone can sign up here for MU-TeamEcon for Brigg’s & Al’s Run. 

2 Responses to “Joe Daniels: Surviving cancer and staying healthy”


  1. 1 Dr Inderpreet Singh August 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Nice one !! The story is truely inspiring and depicts the human’s tendency to win against all odds…and cancer is now one among them now…Thumps up professor Daniels…

  2. 2 Kate Novotny August 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Great story of perseverance. Joe is a true role model to so many of us!


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