At first it just looked like a small red mark on two-year-old Eli Vela's face, possibly a spider bite. Antibiotics seemed to stop it from spreading. But when he continued not feeling well, his family took him to the emergency room for more testing.
The night before June 23, Eli's test came back clear. When he was tested again in the morning, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His mother, Crystal Vela, said the news was devastating, but she immediately became determined to fight the cancer and raise awareness about the illness.
"It was a big eye-opener for us," Vela said. "... It can happen to anyone. Our whole world has been completely changed."
Although every three minutes one person in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer, the Velas have had a difficult time finding other people in the area with Eli's diagnosis.
"It's just not something that you hear about every day," Vela said.
One of the first things the Velas did after Eli's diagnosis was start researching leukemia. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, leukemia is actually a general term for four different types of blood cancer. Symptoms and treatment vary depending on the type, but all four types begin in a cell in the bone marrow.
Eli began receiving chemotherapy and medication right away, and he will have to continue chemotherapy for three years. It has been challenging for the family to adjust to the "new normal," but Eli is a fighter and continues to have a positive attitude, still running around and playing.
Vela said she is grateful for the support from family and friends, including her husband and other two children, ages eight and nine.
From 5 to 8 p.m. Sept. 5, the Hesston Sonic is hosting a fundraiser for the Velas, donating a portion of sales to Eli's leukemia fund. On Oct. 23, Eli also will have a team at "Light the Night" at Exploration Place, a walk to raise awareness about leukemia.
Vela hopes that sharing her story will help others to learn about leukemia and motivate them to support the fight against childhood cancers. September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
"It's something that no family should have to go through or deal with," she said.
Find "Team Eli" on Facebook for more updates.