Alexa’s story began on May 1st, 2023, with a simple fall off a slide at school. “It was so minor, she didn’t even think to tell her teacher,” said Veronica Urquilla, mother of survivor, Alexa Contreras.
Two days later, Veronica found it strange that Alexa was still limping from her fall. “We had a trip planned to El Salvador,” explained Veronica, “I noticed at the airport that she couldn’t even walk on her foot.” Alexa was taken to see a medic in El Salvador, where after some testing, she was urgently encouraged to visit her pediatrician upon their return to Las Vegas due to suspicions of Osteosarcoma.
“That was May 30th,” recounted Veronica, “within 30 days of her fall off the slide, I was being told that my child might have cancer.” Veronica did as she was instructed, and on June 19th, Alexa was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma at the age of 7.
“You start to think of death,” Veronica responded when asked what went through her mind upon receiving the news. “Alexa was old enough to do her own research about what cancer is. She started to tell me that she wasn’t going to see me anymore, and to ask me why she had gotten cancer, why her hair would fall out… you feel like the whole world is just falling on top of you.”
Alexa started receiving chemotherapy on June 30th, and has been in treatment ever since. On September 20th, Alexa underwent a rotationplasty procedure wherein a portion of her left leg was removed, and her foot was rotated and reattached so as to be used as her joint with her future prosthetic.
Like all of our families, a child’s cancer journey is not only physically painful, but emotionally-taxing and expensive. When asked about how she was introduced to Candlelighters, Veronica noted that initially, all she knew was that they provided complimentary taxis to treatment appointments.
“When I called to schedule a taxi, I was greeted with a warmth that I hoped to someday meet. Soon enough, Candlelighters was at the hospital, holding a craft corner for the children in the unit” described Veronica. “Alexa never really liked doing crafts, but after the weekly visits from Candlelighters, I noticed Alexa began to enjoy being creative and even began to open up to the other children around her” Veronica added.
Prior to being diagnosed, Alexa’s dream career was to be a professional dancer. While her successful rotationplasty and new prosthetic will certainly allow her to achieve that goal, Veronica disclosed that Alexa has decided on a new career path. “After seeing Candlelighters come by the hospital every week, and bring joy to her and her room, Alexa has decided that she wants to help other children like her when she grows up” Veronica said proudly.
“Candlelighters has changed our lives more than they know,” Veronica expressed. “I cannot put into words how thankful I am - they saved our lives,” Veronica said. “In the beginning, family surrounded us with support, but as time passes, that goes away – Candlelighters made me feel like we are not going through this alone.”
Although Alexa’s cancer journey continues, the family remains hopeful and fortified as she completes her chemotherapy. When asked what the first thing she wanted to do upon completing her treatment, Alexa told her mother that she cannot wait to go swimming! “She loves to move and dance, now that she has had her rotationplasty, she is so happy to be able to move again,” responded Veronica.
“To all other parents that are barely beginning their journey,” said Veronica, “my only advice is to continue to rely on your faith. Personally, my faith in the Lord is what helped me get the courage that I needed to be the parent that I needed to be for Alexa.”