by Shaina Hall

The notion of good health and longevity reigns widely in the United States, often overlooking those struggling with poor health and disease. Many may not realize how fortunate they are to have the certainty of next year, or even the promise of tomorrow.

In the absence of such luxuries sits Daniel Opuni Mensah, an immigrant from Ghana who has endured a difficult journey over the past ten years. “I developed a tumor on the left side of my neck,” says Daniel, reminiscing. “It was very visible.”

An up-and-coming accountant with a family to support, Daniel suddenly had to put his life on hold to search for answers as to what the tumor was and how it could be dealt with. When local doctors couldn’t diagnose his underlying illness, he found himself traveling to the United States in September of 2012.

Daniel Opuni Mensah

It was a long two weeks of testing and anticipation before Daniel was told that he was suffering from Stage 4 Nasopharyngeal Cancer, a rare type of head and neck cancer. What began as a quick visit to the U.S. to gain insight quickly turned into a nightmare. “They said we had to fight it aggressively with chemo and radiation at the same time,” Daniel explains. 

Once he discovered the severity of his sickness, he had to uproot his entire family. “All of a sudden, you’re fighting for your life overnight. But the Lord has been good to me.” When his treatments began, it was an intense experience. “I could barely drink water,” Daniel says, grimacing. “If I had to eat anything, I needed to take a medication that would numb my throat and mouth because swallowing was a pain. Even swallowing my own saliva was extremely painful and I couldn’t bear it.” 

Fortunately, the radiation and chemo proved to be successful and he was able to complete the treatments within six months. However, Daniel soon found himself facing another lion in the den. “My main concern became money and finances,” he explains. His doctors had told him that he should stay in the states for further monitoring instead of returning home, and he now struggled with how to build a new life for his family. “It was another headache. [I thought], ‘if I stay, what do I do?’ Because I didn’t plan that. Back then, I wasn’t even sure I was going to last. I didn’t see myself [living] beyond five years,” Daniel confessed. “But, that’s how La Sierra came into the picture.”

Encouraged by friends who recommended La Sierra University as a helpful community, Daniel decided to try going back to school. “It became a transition for me,” he says. Craving a challenge but also wanting to apply his existing knowledge, Daniel decided to pursue a master’s degree in Accounting with the Zapara School of Business. Understandably, the biggest trial for an international student was financing life in America, especially school. Daniel was forced to pay uncovered medical costs out of pocket, leaving him with nothing. “I got a lot of support with scholarships and from faculty. Professor Webster has been a huge support for me since I started at La Sierra,” Daniel says, also mentioning his gratitude to the Office of International Students. After graduating from the School of Business, Daniel moved to the School of Education where he is now earning an additional degree in school psychology.

Like most things that have happened to him over the last ten years, Daniel never saw himself in this situation—studying psychology and finding it to be a blessing. “I’m not really sure why the Lord sent me here to get a degree, but I feel strongly that the classes are speaking to me. They are rewriting me and restoring my hope,” he says confidently. 

“When I sit in the classroom, I realize that these are godly people that were sent into my life,” he says, describing his new studies in the School of Education as a wonderful experience. Despite his painful journey of fear and sickness, he was led to an unforeseeable place that changed his entire perspective. “It really speaks volumes to me. A class that I am studying to prepare me for work impacts me in my own life.”

Daniel and his Wife

Among the people he’s grateful for, Daniel mentions “God, my wife, the wonderful teachers, the lecturers and administrators I have met along the way, and La Sierra University.” Despite all the struggles and hardships Daniel has faced, he still claims God to be the center of his life. “God has been very good,” he says. His faith has never wavered. “If I had to describe La Sierra, I would say it’s been very inspirational to me. Every student who walks around has their own story, and I think that says a lot about this school.”