Just five games into her freshman soccer season at UC Irvine, Jenika was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The rare form of cancer would require a blood stem cell transplant for the 19-year-old Encinitas native.
In the weeks before her diagnosis, Jenika’s new friends and coaches expressed concern about Jenika’s atypical behavior. Her teammates and coaches knew something was wrong when the effervescent jokester became unusually lethargic and languid. Her roommates grew concerned when she spent more time in bed and suffered a loss of appetite. When the team trainers noticed unexplained bruising, they gave her a blood test that revealed AML.
Upon hearing the diagnosis, the UC Irvine women’s soccer team sprang to action, partnering with Be The Match to help pair their teammate with a donor. During a UC Irvine basketball game, they screened attendees with a simple cheek swab and found 97 potential donors.
Their work paid off; a donor with a matching blood type was found last spring. Jenna underwent four rounds of chemotherapy: three rounds before finding the donor and one round after finding the donor.
While Jenika’s diagnosis prevented her from playing soccer, she was the inspiration for the Anteaters claiming their second consecutive Big West Conference championship. The team hung her #39 jersey on their bench and wrote “JD39” on the tape around their wrists.
Just six months after her blood stem cell transplant, Jenika is exercising, running, and, most importantly for her, spending time with her teammates.
“I never would have been able to get through what I did without the amazing support systems I had,” said Jenika. “My doctors, teammates, and family all provided such overwhelming support that I had no doubt I would bounce back. It is great to be back with the team, but my journey will truly be complete once I am able to get back on the field.”