LAKEWOOD RANCH — McNeal Elementary kindergartner Edgar Mendoza has aspirations of becoming a doctor one day.
Every night, the 5-year-old puts on a pair of gloves and reaches for a bottle of saline and heparin solution. He carefully administers the proper dosage to flush out the line, making sure the catheter remains open and free of any clots.
But Edgar’s patient isn’t that of a typical 5-year-old. He doesn’t spend his evenings bandaging up an old doll or a teddy bear. Instead, Edgar’s patient is his 4-year-old sister, Aracely, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer this past Thanksgiving.
“His sister calls him her doctor,” the children’s mother, Maria Loredo says with a smile.
From the moment she first learned how to walk, Aracely has been a constant bottle of energy. Whether it’s playing with her older brother or running around outside, the 4-year-old is constantly on the go.
“She’s really fun,” Maria says. “When she was younger, I always had to keep my eyes on her, and if it got too quiet I knew I had to go look and see what she was doing.”
But when Aracely began complaining that her right foot was hurting her for the third time, Maria knew something wasn’t right. The pain soon became so intense Aracely couldn’t walk.
Maria took her daughter to the hospital Nov. 26 and urged doctors to run some tests. A CAT scan revealed that Aracely had a 5-inch tumor on the side of her stomach by her kidney.
Aracely was immediately transferred to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, where she underwent more tests.
“I was scared, but my little girl … she’s strong,” Maria says.
The next morning, Maria and her husband, Ezequiel Mendoza, learned their daughter had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. Doctors described Aracely’s cancer as a smart cancer because it copies those illnesses and injuries that are common in children her age.
“I was mad, but at the same time I felt hopeless to help my daughter,” Maria says.
Aracely immediately underwent her first round of chemotherapy, which was followed by a second round of chemotherapy at the beginning of the year. Following her second round of chemotherapy, doctors ran Aracely’s scans again and determined that the tumor had shrunk a few inches and was no longer in her bone system.
However, it’s still too large for doctors to operate.
Aracely underwent her third round of chemo last week and is scheduled for her fourth Feb. 12.
With each round of chemotherapy, Aracely spends four to five days in the hospital.
During her visits, Aracely passes the time by watching movies, painting with water paints and doing puzzles. She also enjoys spending time with her parents and her older brother. But as with most cancer treatments, the chemotherapy takes its toll on Aracely.
“It really took her down,” Maria says. “She couldn’t eat and she would constantly throw up, so we kept her at home.”
Aracely also had a broviac line inserted into her chest, which she calls her transformer.
When she’s not undergoing chemotherapy, Aracely travels to All Children’s twice a week for clinic appointments. Eventually, Aracely’s doctors plan to start stem cell therapy and bone marrow testing. The goal is make sure that all of the cancer cells are gone and everything is clear, so t when Aracely undergoes a bone marrow transplant she’ll only receive clean blood.
In between visits to the hospital, Aracely spends most of her time playing with her older brother.
TAKING ITS TOLL
Aracely’s diagnosis also has taken its toll on her parents. When he isn’t working out at the fields at Falkner Farms, Ezequiel watches Aracely, while Maria works a few days a week at a local gas station. But when it comes time for Aracely to undergo chemotherapy, Maria spends the week up at the hospital with her daughter.
The couple has received support from their family, the faculty and staff at McNeal and Maria’s employer, who have supplied the family with gift cards, Christmas presents, a bike for Aracely and money to help pay for gas, so the couple could get up St. Petersburg to be with their daughter.
“For me, I’m still dealing with it,” Maria says. “It’s hard, but we keep going to church and keep our faith up. Now that Aracely’s starting to run and walk again, she goes around saying ‘God cured me.’ She’s a really good strong little girl.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].