Moviegoers know Bradley Cooper for his breakout roles in The Hangover trilogy and Silver Linings Playbook, but to those who truly know him, he’s just a “very cool and normal guy” who likes to “kick back,” says 24-year-old Anthony Daniels.
When Daniels was 19 and a sophomore at Fordham University in New York City, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Since his devastating diagnosis, he’s survived four relapses, undergone over 30 rounds of chemotherapy and gained Cooper as an unexpected, but “great friend.”
Introduced through Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, the largest bone marrow donor center in the world, Cooper and Daniels went on Good Morning America in May 2015 to raise awareness for becoming a bone marrow donor – something Daniels needed at the time.
Although Daniels wasn’t able to find a bone marrow match for himself, his efforts have helped more than 50 cancer patients successfully find donor matches.
“I don t think there could be a greater accomplishment in my entire life than to know I have given people the opportunity to get their final chance to survive,” he says. “Everytime I think about it, I cry.”
Since their introduction, the two have become very close.
“I never thought I was going to look up to him the way that I have, but he’s become a really big role model in my life,” says Daniels. “He’s like my older brother. It’s been like that since I met him.”
It’s been the same for Cooper, who sees Daniels every time he’s in New York, and has gotten to know his family, as well as his girlfriend.
“He’s one of the coolest guy I’ve ever met,” Cooper tells PEOPLE of Daniels. “He’s just a great guy. We have a blast together everytime we do something.”
Cooper, whose father died from lung cancer in 2011, is also inspired by Daniels.
“The thing I love is that you never feel sorry for him,” he says. “He doesn’t allow you to feel sorry for him. He’s a really special person.”
Cooper has also shared a few high-profile perks with Daniels, including seeing Adele in concert and attending the US Open.
At the US Open, they got to meet Daniel Day Lewis and John McEnroe, and “we were both tripping out over it like little kids,” Cooper says. “We had a common sort of jovial attitude of like two kids who snuck into a candy store.”
“We just hang out, the way friends hang out,” he continues. “Sometimes we don t even need to talk. It’s kind of funny how easy it is to be around each other.”
They share advice, talk about life, relationships, work and their families.
“You can’t force those things,” Cooper says. “I guess its called chemistry, really. It just sort of happens. I know that I turn my brain off when I’m with him. That’s always a sign you’re with a friend, when you don t have to think about anything.”
In January, Daniels, who also co-founded Got Cheeks, a campaign aimed at getting people to sign up as potential donors for stem cell transplants, received uplifting results from his most recent PET scan.
“For the first time in four years, I actually received great news,” says Daniel. “It looks like my cancer is going away. I might actually survive. I can see my future now and it’s looking good.”
The results also cleared him for an alternative transplant that was scheduled for the end of March.
“I might now survive. I can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he says.
As Daniels looks to the future, he can’t help but think back on all the times his friends and family have supported him in his journey.
Last Christmas, Daniels, who is an avid boxer, was sick in bed from a round of chemotherapy when a package was delivered to the front door of his Ridgewood, New Jersey, home.
“Bradley sent me Mike Tyson’s boxing gloves that were signed and given to him in 2010,” he says. “When I met him, he was saying how much the gloves meant to him. He talked about it so many times.”
Along with the gloves, Cooper wrote a note that said he couldn’t imagine giving them to anyone else.
The selfless gesture made Daniels realize that it’s “just the kind of person that he is.”
In return, Daniels sent him a card, a new pair of gloves and a boxing bag – because “he boxes now,” Daniels says.
“I’m lucky to have someone like that in my life,” he adds.