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“It just kept coming back,” Cheerleader back on the field while battling leukemia

MARIETTA, Okla. - It's football night in Marietta and, if you look closely among the cheerleaders on the field, you'll see a young girl with distinctive purple close-cropped hair.

She and the other cheerleaders are enthusiastic as they belt out a cheer, "Let's fight, let's fight!"

It's an appropriate chant for 11-year old Emma Barrientos, who is personally in the middle of a fight against high-risk leukemia. She is thrilled to be well enough to be back on the football field with her friends, and her parents are smiling and watching her from the stands.

Earlier this week, she was back at Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer where doctors and nurses were complimenting both her purple hair-style and her purple unicorn tennis shoes.

Her parents, Manuela and Tony Barrientos, think back to her diagnosis.

She kept getting fevers and, one day, they noticed one side of her face was drooping.

"It just kept coming back until she got Bell's Palsy on the side of her face," Manuela said. "We didn't know, but it was already the leukemia in her central nervous system."

"We started treating her with intensive chemotherapy and, within a month, another lab result came back," said Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Suraj Pratap. "Her genetic studies show she had a mutation called Philadelphia chromosome, which is a bad factor."

Tony said hearing about that genetic complication "changed our lives."

Pratap said the light in the tunnel for the family is a clinical trial they enrolled her in. An experimental drug is working wonders for Emma's leukemia since standard chemotherapy wasn't enough to beat it.

"She's getting better, and she's just a lively child. You meet her entire family, and they just make your day," he said.

When 'Make A Wish' asked Emma what she really wanted, it wasn't a trip far away but a sanctuary close to home. They built a playhouse in her backyard.

"She apparently wanted to get away from us," Manuela laughs. "When she first got it, I think she lived in it for two days straight."

Emma said sometimes she plays with friends and sometimes she draws in her "happy place." She appreciates the down-times in her cancer battle, and her family said Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer is also a calm place in a storm.

"If you ask a question and need something, they have answers right away," Tony said.

The team at Jimmy Everest and Emma's team of family and supporters at home are cheering Emma on and excited about bright days ahead.

If you'd like to help kids like Emma beat cancer, consider making a donation to JECKids.org.

'Kids With Courage' is sponsored by the Jimmy Everest Center.