When Blanca and Yvette Perez set out all 54 Jenga pieces, the competition begins.
They take turns building the tower and removing one block at a time, trying to keep the stack stable.
It’s one of the few things that Blanca, 18, and Yvette, 29, like to do together.
“I don’t believe we have a lot of things in common,” Yvette said. “I believe we complement each other.”
In Nov. 2015, Blanca began to have excruciating pain all over her body. Doctors approached the situation almost like they would a game of Jenga, eliminating the possible causes without compromising her body.
They put her in an induced coma for weeks.
“I thought other people might get it, and I was afraid of it,” Blanca said. “It can’t be me.”
She was eventually diagnosed with Hemophagocytic Lymphohystiocytosis. HLH damages the patient’s own tissues and organs including the liver, brain and bone marrow, where blood is made.
While her parents worried about Blanca’s future, her sister Yvette did her best to keep Blanca rooted in daily life.
“I love her but I didn’t want her to feel sorry for herself,” Yvette said. “I would treat her like a normal person.”
Blanca received chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in March 2016, but HLH damaged her heart.
“I’m adapting to it, but I still get bruises,” Blanca said. “It’s noticeable I’m going through something but I have to keep going.”
Even with all the physical challenges that lie ahead, Yvette is going to continue building up Blanca into a tower of strength.
“I want to be protective, but give her space so she can grow and live her life,” Yvette said.
HLH is a rare disease and researchers are still learning about what causes it.
In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, ABC-7 has been featuring the stories of young cancer patients with the help of Candlelighters of El Paso.
Candlelighters, a nonprofit organization, assists families of children battling cancer by providing financial assistance, as well as summer camps, counseling, and other forms of therapy.
Walk of Hope, Candlelighters’ annual event honoring and remembering cancer survivors and those who succumbed to the illness, is being held on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Ascarate Lake. It is free to attend. Sign up here.