APPLING, Ga. (WJBF) – From the outside looking in, 15-year-old Ella Cassedy is just your average teenage girl.

She loves hanging out with her friends, being on her high school cheer team, and spending time with her family and pets.

And she’s been doing all of it while battling cancer.

“No one thinks that it’s going to happen to you or someone you know until it actually does,” Ella said.

Back in May 2021, Ella started noticing some pain and numbness in her lower lip and jaw. 

After multiple visits to dentists and her X-rays and scans coming back clear, they originally chalked it up to soreness from her braces.

But, the problem persisted, and she started noticing other symptoms as well.

“I lost my taste, well I didn’t really lose it but everything tasted really bad, and I was just tired all the time when I got home from school,” she said. “And I would just sleep all the time even though I was getting a good night’s rest.”

When a painful bump formed on her gums at the beginning of December 2021, her parents took her to the Dental College of Georgia at AU and had it biopsied.

The result: T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL leukemia for short.

“Me and her daddy just kind of sat there, really in shock, and just felt like we were in a dream,” Ella’s mom, Angie, said. “So a nurse at the children’s hospital spoke to me and said, ‘Mrs. Cassedy, the dream time is over. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve gotta battle this and you gotta keep up with what’s going on with her because people are human, mistakes can be made, and you’ve gotta be her advocate.”

Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer, and according to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, about 4,000 children are diagnosed each year.

“One of the initial symptoms was that she started having a numb jaw, and speaking with some of the neurologists, it’s not a typical sign,” said Kevin Cassedy, Ella’s dad. “Especially in kids. It’s more seen in adults, but it’s an early indicator of malignancy somewhere.”

Since her diagnosis, Ella has been through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, injections, infusions and surgery.

“I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t really move my arms, I couldn’t write or anything, so I kinda laid there,” Ella said. “It was kinda hard.”

After going through physical therapy, Ella gradually rebuilt her muscles and was able to try out for the Harlem High School cheer team.

“And then I made the team, thankfully,” she said.

Her parents tell me her strength and determination have helped them keep a positive outlook.

“I just gotta hand it to Ella because when people ask who I look up to, it’s my daughter,” Kevin Cassedy said. “Because she’s been so strong throughout the whole thing, and it’s kind of helped her mom and I get through everything.”

And most of all, their faith has been the glue that’s held them together.

“I learned real quickly, I just gotta pray and I gotta give it to God,” Angie Cassedy said. “That means really give it to him, and not keep holding it in. And that has really been our strength.”

Ella was recently nominated to be the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Student Visionary of the Year.

“You get a team together and you just really go out and fundraise and just spread the message about what it’s for,” she said. “It’s a seven week campaign, and at the end of it there’s a bid gala that I’ll speak at and tell my story.”

There is also an adult LLS Visionary of the year, and the dentist’s office where Angie Cassedy works, Jordan Family Dentistry, also put a team together.

“Our team is called ‘Going the extra Smile’,” Angie said. “There are different teams around the CSRA that are running for visionary of the year, and we’re going to be raising money for about ten weeks.”

Ella still has about one and a half years of treatment left, and wants her story to be something that uplifts others.

“She has just been a ray of light through of all this, and she’s handled it so gracefully,” Angie said.

“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” Ella said. “Just persevere through it, because even though it’s hard, and it will be hard, it will get better.

The LLS Student Visionary of the Year Gala is on March 11th, and the campaign for the adult LLS Visionary of the Year starts on March 9th.