A year after being declared cancer free, a young girl is now in a second battle against a life-threatening disease — and her family is hoping she prevails once again.
Alayna Rodriguez, a Disney-loving girl from California, was only 4-years-old when she was diagnosed with Grade 3 Anaplastic Ependymoma. The disease is a rare type of tumor that affects the spinal cord and central nervous system, according to the National Institute of Health, and can often prove deadly because of how fast it spreads.
But despite the odds and after enduring her treatment plan, Alayna was declared cancer free in July 2019.
"Alayna is our beautiful little princess, she is our sunshine," her mother, Eugenia Rodriguez, tells PEOPLE of her 6-year-old daughter. "She has fought so hard for the last two years, [being] uncomplaining, resilient."
But Rodriguez and the family were given a devastating blow when Alayna began to experience side effects from her cancer treatment and underwent emergency surgery in May. She was transferred from a hospital in California to a PICU in Tennessee before she returned in August.
After coming back to California, doctors discovered that Alayna's cancer had returned and metastasized to her brain. Their battle with cancer had begun once again.
"Alayna is currently recovering at home from her complicated surgery in May and has a [long] road ahead," Rodriguez says. "Due to COVID-19 spreading rapidly, in-person appointments are discouraged and many travel restrictions including public health stay at home order in our area in California, making it a lot more challenging."
The experience has been difficult on the family, and Rodriguez is hoping to raise money through GoFundMe to help pay medical bills and housing costs as they do what they can to support Alayna in her fight.
"The last couple of years have been extremely difficult for the family," Rodriguez says. "We went from two full-time incomes to one."
"We want to stay positive," she adds. "Everyone can be inspired to take meaningful action. See things positively and try to make the best out of it."
Their GoFundMe has raised nearly $3,500 as of Wednesday afternoon. While the future is uncertain and the family is praying for the best, Rodriguez hopes her daughter's journey can also raise awareness around the experiences many families go through when a child is diagnosed with cancer.
"We want to bring awareness to the hardships families are facing with the pandemic and help save my little girl’s life," she says. "These are trying times with all the changes. The COVID-19 pandemic will end, but childhood cancer will still exist."
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