DUBLIN (WCMH) – They call her “Supergirl.”
Leanna Ramirez, 16, has been fighting cancer for the last year, and as of early December, she is considered to be in partial remission.
Ramirez is a sophomore at Hilliard Davidson High School. She began experiencing severe headaches and fatigue as a freshman in the fall of 2016, which continued for several months.
“I pretty much just had a migraine all day long,” Leanna said. “I took Tylenol or ibuprofen to try to help with it, which it usually did.”
Her parents, who said Leanna had always been a healthy child, knew something was wrong and took her to see several doctors.
“Always very healthy and just always going,” said John Ramirez, Leanna’s father. “She never missed school, she loved school. Happy-go-lucky, everything was great until that pain started.”
At her father’s insistence, Leanna went in for an MRI in March. It revealed an irregularly-shaped tumor in Leanna’s brain stem, about the size of a golf ball.
Leanna, the goalkeeper for the school’s junior varsity lacrosse team, was crushed.
“I was so mad, cause like, it was just like I thought they were just headaches,” Leanna said. “I wanted to play in the first scrimmage so badly.”
She underwent two surgeries in the weeks that followed.
Leanna was diagnosed with a type of cancer called ependymoma. Her hearing and ability to eat were affected during all of this.
Doctors discussed a third surgery with the family, but Leanna and her parents opted instead to go through chemotherapy and radiation, because the surgery would have been complex and risky.
“You feel completely helpless,” said Janet Ramirez, Leanna’s mother. “You want to take it away, you want to fight it for them and you can’t do any of it.”
Three months of chemotherapy didn’t eliminate the tumor, but radiation treatments helped it to stabilize. In early December, the family learned she was in partial remission. Total remission was not a possibility, since Leanna did not have the third surgery.
Through a difficult and uncertain journey, Leanna was supported by her parents and younger brother Julian, countless other friends and family, and her communities at church and school. The family said they relied on their faith in God to get through this time.
Julian Ramirez recalled visiting Leanna at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and trying to cheer her up.
“I just couldn’t believe that it was actually happening, that every day she had to go through that,” Julian said.
The support from the people around them was critical to the Ramirez family.
“It was unbelievable,” John Ramirez said. “It was uplifting and a guiding force in everything we did.”
For Leanna, support from some of her closest friends was extra special.
“I don’t know if I would have even made it through it, cause it was really tough, without all the support,” Leanna said.
This fall, Leanna was recognized at homecoming as a sophomore representative to the homecoming court. She also made a speech to players and staff, who her father said fell silent as they listened to her speak.
“The ability to speak to the players and the staff was a moment, I know, it was even bigger than she anticipated,” John said. “It was intense and beautiful and everything all in one.”
“Not a whisper in the crowd,” Leanna said, laughing. “It was like really shocking, cause they’re teenage-high school boys.”
The recognition is bittersweet.
“It’s amazing for what it is, and we are so appreciative, but then when we’re home and we’re leaving and it’s over, we’re back to still facing this terrible monster,” John said.
The family knows there’s a 50 percent chance the cancer could return. Five years from now, those odds drop to 30 percent and the prognosis improves. They hope people hearing about childhood cancer will fight to raise awareness and funding to help however they can.
For now, as Leanna and her family celebrate her healing, those around the teenager recognize the quiet strength within her with the nickname “Supergirl.”
“For a 16-year-old girl to be in the middle of all of this uncertainty and negative health and just-it’s amazing,” John said. “We are amazed by her, we really are.”
While Leanna’s parents said they would rather not be talking about the family’s experience with cancer, they hope to make it their own story of triumph and hope.
“It’s here and it’s changed us and in a lot of ways, we’re better because of it,” John said. “We refuse to curl up and die and give up, and she sees that, and sometimes she’s leading us, sometimes we’re leading her and sometimes this community’s leading all of us. And that’s how we choose to look at it.”
Leanna said she has changed her career goals of being a veterinarian and now wants to be a pediatric oncology doctor.
“I want to help like other little kids through this,” she said.