Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

It's Back to School for Briana

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

It's Back to School for Briana

Article excerpt

FORT LEE -- Rarely are children as excited to go to school as 12- year-old Briana Lopez is. After a diagnosis in January of acute myeloid leukemia, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy, two trips to the intensive care unit and an outpouring of support from neighbors and friends, she is expected to rejoin her classmates at Lewis F. Cole Middle School on Monday.

And on Saturday, the borough's Church of the Madonna will host a 5K to benefit the Lopez family and the Tomorrows Children's Fund, a non-profit that assists families with children battling cancer. Briana will walk the course and Justin Tuck, a former defensive end for the New York Giants, will serve as the event's grand marshal.

Briana's cancer was declared in remission Friday, the 100th day after an emergency bone marrow transplant for which her mom, Yanine, was the donor. The risk of life-threatening infections is highest in the days following the procedure. During that time, Briana had to wear a medical mask in public and avoid crowded places.

Her family celebrated the 100-day milestone by dining at a hibachi restaurant and visiting the mall. Briana's assessment: "I want to go again because I like the mall."

Despite the good news for the Lopez family, though, "they're not out of the woods yet," said Max Almenas, a family friend and the director of religious formation at the Fort Lee church .

"Yes, she's in remission now," he said, "but it's a long journey to get better, not just physically but financially, because it's taken such a toll on the family."

Almenas and his church are organizing the 5K on Saturday to help the Lopez family defray some of the expenses associated with Briana's illness. Both Yanine and Briana's stepfather, Francisco Contreras, quit their jobs earlier this year to take care of Briana and their 1-year-old daughter, Leyla.

In turn, Yanine has vowed to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Tomorrows Children's Fund, which she said has been a tremendous help throughout their ordeal. …

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