Woman, 22, who thought red blotches on her hand while vacationing in Mexico is diagnosed with rare CANCER

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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A 22-year-old woman’s Mexico vacation turned into a struggle for survival after she noticed red blotches had appeared on her wrists.

Johanna Mendoza wasn’t concerned when she first saw the spots on her body, thinking it was brought on by an allergic reaction to something she ate.

But when it spread to the rest of her body, she was rushed to the hospital where, 24 hours later, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

ALL is a progressive cancer in the blood and bone marrow and accounts for less than one in 200 of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

Johanna Mendoza (left) found out she had acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) after she developed red spots on her hands while on vacation

ALL affects less than .5 percent of all people diagnosed with cancer in the U.S.

ALL affects less than .5 percent of all people diagnosed with cancer in the U.S.

The majority of ALL cases occur in children, but most deaths – roughly four out of five – occur in adults.

Symptoms of ALL can include feeling tired, weak, dizzy, experiencing lightheadedness, bruises or red spots, and recurring infections, among others.

When Mendoza found out she had ALL, her overnight stay at the hospital turned into a two-month stay as doctors worked to get her platelet count up through numerous blood transfusions.

The spots showed up on Mendoza’s body because the leukemia causes blood vessels to break and were bleeding under the skin. 

The platelets are blood cells developed in the bone marrow to form clots to stop or prevent bleeding, and without them, the blood vessels can’t heal.

Once Mendoza’s platelet count was high enough, she was sent home and told she would need to undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

For two months, Mendoza underwent around-the-clock chemotherapy and was put on a bone marrow transplant list after her twin sister and brother were both considered to not be a viable match, but said she was surprised at how long it took to find a match.

‘We actually found one really quickly, which was shocking,’ Mendoza told NBC5, adding: ‘I thought it was going to be a longer process.’

Johanna Mendoza was able to go home on Christmas Eve and at 25 years old she's now cancer free

Johanna Mendoza was able to go home on Christmas Eve and at 25 years old she’s now cancer free

A bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, is an important addition to chemotherapy because aggressive rounds of chemo can severely damage the bone marrow which is needed to create new, healthy blood cells, according to the American Cancer Society.

Finding a donor, however, can be a difficult and lengthy process, with only 30 percent of patients having a family member who can be a donor, to some people waiting years to find a match.

The person’s ethnic background plays a role in how quickly a match is made, ranging from Black people who only have a 29 percent chance at finding a match to White people who have an 80 percent chance.

Meanwhile, Asian or Hispanic people, like Mendoza, fall in the middle with just under a 50 percent chance of finding a match from a donor list.

‘There’s a big gap in the likelihood of finding what we would have historically considered to be a perfectly matched donor,’ Dr. Steven Devine, the Chief Medical Officer at the National Marrow Donor Program, told Today.com.

There is now the option of getting a donor who almost is an exact match to bridge the gap for people who can’t get access to a perfect-match transplant.

If a bone marrow transplant isn’t a perfect match, the patient can develop graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) which is caused by the immune system attacking the donated stem cells.

Mendoza’s transplant donor had to match her human leukocyte antigen – a protein found on most cells in the body – by exactly half.

After the transplant, Mendoza became part of the clinical trial for a post-transplant drug cyclophosphamide.

Doctors are looking at whether taking the drug in the third and fourth days after receiving a transplant will prevent GVHD by preventing the immune system from reacting to the donor’s T cells and thereby rejecting the transplant.

After the procedure, Mendoza had to stay in isolation for two to three weeks to avoid infection, but on Christmas Eve, she received the news that she could go home.

Mendoza had a biopsy 100 days after her transplant and is now 25 years old and cancer free.

‘Life throws you a curveball, but just because it throws it at you doesn’t mean you have to give up,’ Mendoza told TODAY.

‘Keep going and keep crushing it.’

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