Monica Sandoval had her 21st birthday party in an unusual venue last week.
The West Hall High School graduate is receiving chemotherapy at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston hospital for acute, undifferentiated leukemia. She turned 21 Monday, her 26th consecutive day in the hospital, and her family and a few special friends threw her a party in the hospital to celebrate.
“I don’t think I could have had a better party not in the hospital,” Monica said.
Jeff Dauler and Jenn Hobby, from “the Jeff and Jenn Show” on Star 94.1 radio, met Monica at Egleston and were moved by her generous and optimistic spirit.
“They talked about me on the radio and told people to send me these SmileGrams,” Monica said. “Since they said that on the radio, I’ve received over 2,000 SmileGrams. And I get more and more each day.”
SmileGrams are notes submitted online through the hospital’s website. Monica said she is still going through the massive stack that continues to grow in her room, but she loves reading the messages from strangers. Dauler and Hobby also attended Monica’s birthday party, along with friends and family, in a meeting room on the ground floor of the hospital.
Monica was first diagnosed in November 2009 when she was a 14-year-old freshman at West Hall High School.
“She was diagnosed with acute, undifferentiated leukemia with monosomy 7,” her mother Jeannie Sandoval said. “Basically, the leukemia somehow altered her DNA, and it required her to have a bone marrow transplant.”
Monica’s younger brother Cody, 7 at the time, was her willing donor. But 20 months later, she relapsed.
Monica received additional treatment, only to relapse again this year.
Despite the difficulty, the Sandoval family has rallied to support their only daughter. Her brother Bubba, 19, delayed college a year to help get now-14-year-old Cody to and from school. Jeannie stays at Egleston with Monica while their father works.
The family lives in Winder, but Jeannie Sandoval has taught at West Hall Middle School for 19 years, and all three children went to Hall County schools.
“What we always used to say is we sleep in Winder, but we live in Hall County,” Jeannie Sandoval said.
Jeannie Sandoval said the school has “stepped up,” collecting things for the family and sending support and prayers. They collected jars of change that added up to more than $6,100 in one day.
“I am humbled, but not surprised, by the support given Monica and her mother, Jeannie,” said Rodney Stephens, principal at West Hall Middle. “In all, our community has raised over $10,000 for this family in the past month, not only through the Change for Monica campaign, but also through a GoFundMe page that was created by a retired West Hall Middle School teacher. Our school considers itself to be a family, and every time there is a need, we rally together.
“This is just another example of that.”
Jeannie Sandoval said she’s set up a www.carepages.com site under the name “monicascleukemiajourney,” and the GoFundMe site, started by friends at the school, is https://www.gofundme.com/2ghz9bg.
“I was speechless,” Jeannie Sandoval said. “The love that the kids showed and the support the faculty’s given me personally is mind-boggling.”
Monica said while she has good days and bad days, her chemotherapy this time around has “been actually easier.”
“I’m not as sick as I was the last time, when I relapsed before,” she said. “I have more energy this time, and I’m thankful it hasn’t been as hard as it could be and as it was.”
She is waiting on more information about another possible bone marrow transplant. Jeannie said Cody has already volunteer to be his sister’s donor again, if she needs.
Monica said she “honestly has the world’s best brothers,” and she is grateful for their support and the support of her mother and father, Victor.
“Even though what’s going on right now is not the ideal situation, it’s going to be OK,” Jeannie Sandoval said. “I’m just thankful we’re in this all together.”