Terminally ill teen hopes to celebrate 18th birthday with Bruno Mars

Heaven Sanchez’s mother wanted to surprise her with a Bruno Mars concert, but COVID-19 cancelled the event.

Heaven Sanchez has been fighting a rare cancer for years and overcoming the odds with a larger-than-life personality.

San Antonio(UPDATE 4/5/21) WATCH: Heaven Sanchez marks major milestone with graduation celebration

A teenager diagnosed with terminal brain cancer recently marked a major milestone with a special graduation celebration at Gustafson Stadium, and the Precinct 2 Constable's Office made her an honorary constable.

(Original Story)

A San Antonio mother has dedicated her life to making her terminally ill 17-year-old daughter’s dreams come true. She’s hoping her story inspires other families going through hard times to never give up.

Heaven Sanchez, 17, was diagnosed with ATRT in 2008 when she was only 5 years old.

ATRT is a brain cancer that came abruptly in Heaven’s life.

Without knowing what was wrong, Stephanie Sanchez said they found Heaven unresponsive at times.

“You know, just like any situation happening in the central nervous system, doctors can’t tell what the outcome really is whether good or bad,” said Stephanie Sanchez, Heaven’s mother.

“It first started because she would go into these blank stares and then started complaining about having headaches. Then a nurse decided to do a CT. It all happened so fast. No parent ever thinks they are going to end up being told your child has a small orange sized tumor in their brain when they are five. All you could think is that their little brains can’t handle that. She pulled through it and moved to survival status for six years with no reoccurrence.”

Sadly that survival status would end shortly after that.

“In 2014, just shy of her six years, the cancer returned in her spine,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “We did 15 months of chemo and got it stable to where it wasn’t growing. It just sat there. Pushing six or seven years and the cancer started doing what the cancer does which is it started acting aggressively and growing fast. It is not reacting to any treatments.”

Stephanie Sanchez said her daughter has been a fighter, defying the odds her entire diagnosis.

“Since day one, Heaven has always been that low percentage of, ‘She is probably not going to make it through this,’ and she has made it through every single time,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “Everyone her doctor has talked to have said that is a miracle in itself to be 13 years out. Five years was a miracle.”

Stephanie Sanchez said the first time Heaven made a recovery gave her hope.

“At the time we thought, there was no chance of surviving a brain tumor,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “We put all of our hope and prayer into God and he answered that by giving us five years before anything reoccurred. The second time hit me a little harder because it starts to make you realize as much as your heart wants, your mind starts to rationalize things. That is when I decided to dedicate making the rest of whatever time we have left, definitely every moment happy and every dream of hers come true.”

Heaven Sanchez has always had a spunky, fun and larger than life personality.

“She has a huge family bond with everybody,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “Anytime someone comes to visit, she brightens up and gives them a show. She starts singing and dancing and she talks with these little saying. Everyone becomes some type of food like donuts or coconuts.”

Heaven Sanchez loves Bruno Mars.

“You can’t name one song that she doesn’t know the words to,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “I actually wanted to surprise her with concert tickets last year for her birthday. I wasn’t even going to tell her. We were just going to get on the plane and head to Las Vegas where he was performing. Unfortunately, that is around the time COVID-19 hit. I got the email saying the concert was cancelled.”

While Heaven loves to sing and dance, she also loves to draw and write letters.

“She would do that every day for hours, but it went from Monday drawing pictures, to Tuesday difficult to hold the pen tight, to Wednesday not even being able to hold the pen.”

Leaving her job to tend to Heaven 100% of the time, Stephanie Sanchez said she started to see the rapid health decline her daughter was going through.

“When we took her to the doctor I knew what he was about to say,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “I know she had to battle the hard battle, we were just her cheerleaders. We were her support and made sure she laughed and smile and I think that was the ultimate medicine to really push her through for so long. A part of me feel that because we didn’t give up on her, that is why she kept fighting.”

Stephanie Sanchez was informed that the best thing for Heaven to do was to be placed in hospice care.

She said it was the hardest decision she has ever had to make.

“I think we held off long enough and because I have held off long enough, she is in a little more pain,” Stephanie Sanchez said through tears. “Because of that, I think that it is time I need to stop being selfish and give her that comfort she needs. Now is the best time to keep her comfortable.”

Stephanie Sanchez said she is heartbroken her daughter will not experience the things she’s always wanted to experience in life.

“She had been talking about a car and she wanted it pink,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “I know she could never get behind the wheel but I wanted to make that happen this year. Even if that meant putting her in the driver’s side or in my lap and going to a parking lot to drive around. She talked about graduation and how she was going to move out and get her own house. I wanted her to experience everything she could.”

Though doctors have said Heaven’s time is limited, Stephanie Sanchez said she is going to do her best to make Heaven’s top dreams come true.

That dream includes having an 18th birthday and graduating from high school.

“She has been looking forward to her 18th birthday for so long,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “She always talked about graduating saying she was going to get up there and throw her cap. I want to make sure that happens.”

Heaven’s birthday is April 30, but her family is planning a big early 18th birthday bash Saturday at 4 p.m.

The plan is to have a parade where people drive by her home in the 4000 block of Majestic Drive.

Her mother is also in talks with her teacher at Holmes High School, and even though Heaven is technically a junior, that teacher is expected to bring a cap and gown for Heaven to graduate at home.

Stephanie Sanchez said she hasn’t told Heaven of the possible outcome of her life.

“How can you say those words,” Stephanie Sanchez said through tears. “I can’t even say those words. There is no right or wrong way to say that especially to your own child. So I haven’t said anything like that. I just tell her eventually she won’t be in any pain,” she cried. “There is going to be a day when I am going to wake up and I am going to say, ‘Heaven let’s start our routine,’ and one day I am not going to have that and I am not going got know what to do. A life without her, I just don’t picture it. She is my everything, she is my world, she is my purpose.”

Most of all, Stephanie Sanchez said her daughter’s name has a deeper meaning to it.

“When I would post something it would always be ‘My Heaven, my miracle, my blessing,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “She is my blessing because I miscarried before I had her so she was a blessing when I was able to conceive. She is my miracle because she made it 13 years after she wasn’t suppose to make it past 6. She is my Heaven because that is where I want to be with her one day.”

To add to Heaven’s big event, the family hopes her story is shared enough times to have a special visit from Bruno Mars, her idol who she has always wanted to dance and sing with.

Regardless, the family is inviting everyone to come out and to celebrate Heaven’s big day.

“To other families going through a hard struggle such as this, be sure to fill your home with joy and happiness,” Stephanie Sanchez said. “Look at Heaven’s story and be inspired to never give up.”

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.