Daniel Ellis
Daniel Ellis (BSBA '15), who was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkins Lymphoma in December, addressed Heavener Leadership Challenge members on Wednesday.

Warrington graduate details his fight against cancer

Daniel Ellis may have left UF Warrington in December after receiving his degree, but he’s still feeling the support of The Gator Nation—especially those involved with the College’s Heavener Leadership Challenge.

That’s why Ellis (BSBA ’15) is so eager to show his gratitude despite facing the most difficult challenge of his life.

Ellis was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma two weeks before Commencement last fall. His dreams of pursuing a business career were replaced with disbelief.

“You certainly don’t expect to hear news like that, especially at such a young age,” said Ellis, 21. “The first 24 hours after hearing the diagnosis were hard, but I’ve received plenty of support.”

A significant portion of that support has come from the Heavener Leadership Challenge, which Daniel was a member of. The organization is a career and leadership program designed for sophomore, junior and transfer students, and is raising funds for Ellis’s treatment.

Ellis returned to campus Wednesday night to speak with Heavener Leadership Challenge members. Ellis’s visit was designed to help “put a face on cancer.”

“What I want to do is give them a glimpse into my life, and see what cancer looks like on a day-to-day basis,” Ellis said. “Hopefully, they’ll understand what it’s like going through that situation, and the importance of having a support group.”

Ellis experienced what he categorized as “mild” chest pains last fall, and visited UF’s Infirmary on Dec. 3 where the medical staff performed an X-ray and CT scan. A biopsy later confirmed Ellis has Stage 3B Hodgkins Lymphoma, which has a five-year survival rate of about 80%.

Once news of Ellis’s diagnosis reached the Heavener School of Business, he saw his support network materialize. Dave Sullivan, Assistant Director of Career & Leadership Programs and Director of the Heavener Leadership Challenge, was one of the first to call offering help. Dr. Brian Ray, Associate Dean and Director of the Heavener School, offered to assist Ellis with his career search when his treatment concluded. Dr. Jen Day Shaw, Associate Vice President & Dean of Students at UF’s Division of Student Affairs, helped alleviate his academic burden with finals looming.

And, of course, members and alumni of the Heavener Leadership Challenge began fundraising. Ellis said he was not surprised by the group’s efforts considering the strong connections the Heavener Leadership Challenge produces.

“Anytime you spend that much time with people, close bonds develop,” Ellis said.

Ellis, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments every other week for the next four to six months, is taking a positive approach to his cancer. He said he views his affliction not as a challenge, but an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Daniel showed us how quickly life can change, and I think that hit home for a lot of us,” said Alex McDuffie, a student in the Master of Science in Information Systems & Operations Programs and President of the Heavener Leadership Challenge’s Alumni Council. “It helps put life in perspective.”


• On Dec. 30—only seven days after his first chemotherapy treatment—Daniel became engaged to his girlfriend, Gabi Willis, a senior political science major at UF. The couple plans to marry in the fall.

• Daniel was a member of the Heavener Leadership Challenge’s Alpha Class in Spring 2014, the first-ever class to complete the program.

• Daniel has visited Brazil twice as an international volunteer. In 2012, aided women who were rescued from sex trafficking, and assisted in the development of a U.S. non-profit organization to combat sex trafficking in Brazil. In 2013, he instructed English classes for Brazilian students.