ATLANTA - A brave, beautiful 21-year-old from Winder, Georgia is in need of prayers as she battles leukemia for the third time.
Monica’s first battle with cancer began in November 2009 when she was just 14-years-old. That’s when doctors diagnosed her with Acute Undifferentiated Leukemia with Monosomy 7.
Following the initial diagnosis, the young teen went through three intensive rounds of chemotherapy which required hospital stays of over four weeks at a time. Then, in April 2010, she had a successful bone marrow transplant, thanks to her then 7-year-old brother, Cody, who was a perfect donor match.
Twenty months later, at 16-years-old, Monica relapsed. She went through four more rounds of tougher chemo, six rounds of total body irradiation and a second bone marrow transplant.
“Thankfully, Cody was used as donor again,” mother Jeannie Sandoval told FOX 5's Katie Muse. “Recovery was slower this time due to the harsh treatments required to keep her in remission, cancer free but it was worth it. She was alive.”
Monica went on to graduate high school and was finally able to enjoy being a “normal” teen.
“Everything was going great,” Sandoval said.
In July, just a few months shy of her 21st birthday, Monica was preparing to transition to Emory's young adult program, but learned devastating news at her final survivor clinic appointment at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“During the examination a mass was discovered on her chest,” Sandoval said. “Two days later, we learned it was a leukemia mass and it was back for the third time.”
Treatment began within five days and Monica ended up spending her birthday in the hospital.
“Devastation doesn't even cover how we all felt,” Sandoval told FOX 5. “She spent 40 days inpatient until her labs were good enough to go home.”
Sandoval said nine days after her final chemo treatment, Monica developed a fever which resulted in an immediate trip to the emergency room. She was eventually moved to the PICU, where she went into septic shock within 30 minutes of being transferred. According to Monica’s mother, her blood pressure was quickly falling and doctors worked rapidly to save her life.
“Later that evening, she went into septic shock again and they had to intubate her,” Sandoval explained.
Several days later, doctors learned Monica’s left lung had collapsed after a blood infection caused her to get double pneumonia. She spent 22 days in the PICU and was eventually moved to the regular oncology floor, where she continues to recover.
Last week, Monica started back on chemotherapy and on Monday she received a lymphocyte infusion from her brother to pump up her white blood counts.
“For the third time, he is helping to save his sister,” Sandoval said. “Monica’s other brother, Bubba, gave up a semester of college to help care for Cody while I stay at the hospital to care for Monica.”
Sandoval, who took a leave of absence from teaching, said she’s thankful for the support of her family.
“Bubba is a hero,” Sandoval said. “Monica’s dad, Victor, has jumped in to care for all of us by supporting our family financially and physically .
Since July 27, Monica has been inpatient for more than 80 nights. Her current hospital stay has lasted more than 40 days, but her mother said she's doing great and will be discharged on Friday.
"We definitely believe in the power of prayer," Sandoval said on Monday. "There is no way we could go through this without our faith."
Monica's family asks that you keep her in your thoughts as she battles leukemia. She will most likely undergo another three to four more rounds of chemotherapy, combined with the lymphocyte infusions, in hopes of becoming 100% donor again and avoiding a third bone marrow transplant.
“Our family's faith sustains us when we feel low,” said Sandoval. “We might be scared, but we are not afraid because we are not alone in this journey. Monica will beat cancer once and for all because third time's the charm!”