Karen Diaz graduated from Glendale High School in June 2016, but planned to return in the fall to obtain credits needed to become a paramedic.
Her plans changed in early September when a blood clot was found in her brain. Karen was diagnosed with leukemia.
"The doctors are saying it's curable - that's what they told us - which is a good thing," said her cousin Romel Diaz, who with his wife Amanda adopted Karen in 2013. "We want to know that it's curable."
After spending 29 days at London's Victoria Hospital, Karen came home last Wednesday.
"Today was the first day in a month we had breakfast together like a family and I had tears coming out of my eyes because... I was just so excited," said Romel Saturday at RE/MAX on north Broadway where family and friends were holding a car wash, barbecue and bake sale to support Karen in her fight against leukemia. "She's a strong girl, she'll get through. She says she's still going to go to college."
"Life's not fair," said Susan Jones, who along with Caitlin Fulton and Becca Winn helped organize the fundraiser. "Karen's one of the nicest girls you'll ever meet. Yeah, life's not fair."
"A lot of people love her and we wanted to help," said Fulton, who did not set a fundraising target because "anything we raised was going to help, no matter how much.
"It's great to see the people come out to support her," said Fulton. "We've done well today."
"We're very grateful," said Romel. "Our friends and family are very helpful. I don't know what to say, just thank you very much for their support. Even a phone call asking, 'Hey, how are you? Do you need anything?' They bring everything to help... you name it. Just truly grateful."
Karen came to Canada from El Salvador when she was 11. Her father had passed away when she was little, and her mother, who had two other children, could not afford her any more.
Facing deportation back to Santa Rosa, Karen was adopted by the her cousins Romel and Amanda in Tillsonburg. It was a long, hard, costly legal battle that finally ended in 2013. Several fundraisers were needed to help cover more than $10,000 in immigration and international adoption lawyer fees.
"We were able to keep her from getting deported with the help of everybody here, and I thank everybody for it," said Romel. "Friends and family. Mostly friends because I don't have family here on my side. We were able to keep her here - it was a big battle - and all of a sudden, there's this. I couldn't even find where to stand. And my wife (Amanda) is the same. The first three weeks I didn't do anything besides cry.
"It's just difficult. It's just one more challenge that we have to take in life. She (Karen) is strong and she already knows what she wants to do. It's so hard to watch and listen, a person who wants to do so much in life for others. This is the person who shouldn't suffer because this is a person who has so many intentions for other people, not just herself.
"It's a test. They say God won't give it to you if you can't handle it. So if she can handle it, come through it and fight it... she's a very strong person. She's just a great, great kid. There's no words to describe her.
"She's always helping," Romel added, recalling times when Karen helped family members who were sick. Romel always told her 'when it's your turn to get sick, we're going to be there for you.'
"But we were hoping it would never be like this because she never gets sick. Never catches a fever, barely any headaches. All of a sudden she got sick."
Karen's chemo treatments will last two years, said Romel.
"It's coming along now and she's feeling better."