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For most 12-year-old girls, their biggest challenges might be making friends and succeeding in school. Briana Lopez has gone through more before she hits her teen years than most teenagers see by the time they head off to college.

After being diagnosed in March with acute myeloid leukemia, Lopez's doctors told her over the summer that the cancer was in remission. But that all changed in October, when bumps were found on the back of her head and on her forehead.

Those bumps, doctors said, were chloroma tumors, which they said only happen in around 1 percent of patients with AML. Her left eye, meanwhile, had started to droop.

"We were completely devastated," her mother, Yanine Lopez Contreras,  said, adding that they did not know how to tell the young girl that her cancer was back. "We did not want to lie to her so we told her, and she did not take it well."

Two of the tumors were able to be removed, but one, on her left eye could not, which necessitated starting radiation therapy. Doctors then told the family that she would need a second bone marrow transplant to help fight the disease.

Despite the bad news, Lopez Contreras said her daughter did not let it keep her down for long.

"She was very sad and disappointed at first, but then it was as if something got into her and her positive energy just poured out one morning. She told me, 'Mom, we are going to get through this, and if you believe in God then you should not worry.'"

It has not been an easy 10 months for the family, but Briana's strength has been a point of pride and inspiration for the family.

"Her strength is simply remarkable," she said. "Seeing how strong she is inspires me and helps us all as a family keep it together and strong."

"People constantly tell me how strong I am, but all I can think is how strong she really is."

Briana's story in March brought a huge outpouring of support with more than 500 people registering to be donors. Her mother said she is hopeful the second effort, scheduled to be held Saturday at Jersey's Finest Barbershop in Rockaway, will be just as successful.

Whatever the results of the drive are, she said she hopes more people than just her daughter will benefit.

"We would like to do the same this time and try to find Briana a match and anyone who is also waiting for a match. We want to raise awareness about childhood cancer and about registering to donate bone marrow."

One potential problem in finding Briana a match is that only 6 to 10 percent of the national bone marrow registry are Hispanic donors. Lopez Contreras said that with her Hispanic heritage, finding a match is more likely with people from similar backgrounds. The Icla da Silva Foundation is helping to organize the drive.

"We want people to know the importance of being on that registry," Lopez Contreras said. "You can save a life of a child just like Briana or anyone who is currently battling any blood disorder or cancer."

UPDATE: A pair of bone marrow drives will be held on February 12. The first will be at the Fort Lee Recreation Center from 12-4 p.m. A second drive will be held at the Park Theater PAC in Union City from 2 to 6 p.m.

Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or

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