MANDEVILLE, La. - This could easily be a sad story about a young girl with cancer, but it's not, because then it would just be about a disease, and Adrianna Ponce is so much more that.
Perhaps that's why she's gaining such a following, from New Orleans to Atlanta, New Jersey and even on the other side of the world.
Video and written messages come in daily to her website, from LSU cheerleaders to the members of the local band The Chee Weez and even New Jersey firefighters and soldiers in Afghanistan.
If you haven't guessed by now, Adrianna's nickname is Tootie, as in ‘Cutie Patootie,’ something her mother called her years ago and stuck.
“Everybody calls me Tootie - everybody,” she explained.
Just four months ago Tootie celebrated her 13th birthday. Photos show her all smiles at her backyard luau, completely unaware of the disease that would reveal itself just one week later.
“The whole time, I was just so tired and everything and didn't do all the other stuff the other kids were doing like playing kickball because my leg was hurting really bad.”
Tootie's mom took her to the Lakeview Regional Medical Center, which sent her to Children's Hospital, where within hours, blood tests and biopsies revealed the worst.
“He came out and said, ‘She will need chemotherapy.’ So that was how I found out it was cancer,” said her mother, Donna Mendoza.
It's called osteosarcoma and it's eating away at the bone in her leg and now nibbling at her lungs.
Tootie recently started chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. The hope is that by next month, doctors will be able to remove the tumor and replace Tootie's bone with one from a cadaver. That'll be followed by six more months of chemotherapy, at least.
Tootie blogs about her journey on her website and in the same breath that she describes the chemo "eating her hair," she celebrates the beautiful wigs she'll wear instead. The message is always positive.
“The other day we were on our way to get another treatment and she said, ‘Mom, you've had a hard life. When you're older, I'm going to be the one taking care of you and making sure you never have to work again,’’ her mother explained.
That's the kind of kid she is: more worried about her mom, who quit her job as a cleaning lady to stay home with her, than the cancer within.
So when you see the teen in the cotton candy wig, don't see sad. See a well of inspiration pumping out hope with every post. And maybe think about those EMTs in the New Jersey fire house, and consider tooting your own horn.
For more on Tootie, or to show your support, click here for the website.