For more than half of her short life, Bella Rodriguez-Torres fought a vicious cancer that doctors thought would kill her before she reached first grade.
But Bella, born Dec. 12, 2002, outlived Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma until Tuesday, when she died at home in Miami in hospice care. She was 10, an inspiration to thousands of supporters who followed her on social media.
Among her fans: Miami Heat stars Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, who inked the Twitter hashtag #LiveLikeBella on their shoes for Tuesday night’s game.
Bella lived with parents Raymonda and Shannah Rodriguez-Torres, sister Rayna, 8, five dogs, two birds and two rabbits.
Ralph Rodriguez-Torres of Parkland, her uncle and Godfather, said Bella captured the public’s heart because “she was defying the odds time and time again.’’
Not only did she fight an aggressive cancer, but coped with development delays stemming from oxygen deprivation at birth that required special therapies.
“She was defiant,’’ her uncle said, “and she did it all without complaining.’’
Sister Rayna “loved and protected Bella,’’ he said. “She could clearly understand her delays and she cared for her.’’
Bella’s bio on CaringBridge.com, a fundraising site, says Bella “loves to play with Play-Doh, Legos and loves everything with Sponge Bob Square Pants, Justin Bieber and Disney. She loves music and watching DVDs. She loves to fish in the lake with her daddy.’’
Without warning, on July 17, 2007, Bella became paralyzed. Doctors found a spinal tumor and diagnosed Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer.
After 54 weeks of chemotherapy and 16 weeks of radiation to seven tumor sites, something happened that her parents called a miracle: Bella went into remission. She could walk again, and life returned to something like normal.
Until April 2009, when doctors found a brain tumor, which they hit with radiation, chemo and an antibody treatment.
There followed a litany of recurrences and metastases.
Sept. 28, 2011: tumor, right ovary. Removed, and area radiated.
Jan. 12, 2012: three new tumors, abdomen. More chemo and an antibody treatment.
August 2012: four more tumors, pelvis. More chemo.
January 2013: tumors found to have grown during chemo; 16-hour surgery in Houston to remove tumors, uterus, ovaries. Abdomen “washed’’ in hot chemo.
“I am still recovering from the side effects and issues of the surgery. Please pray for me as I undergo my treatment and receive God’s full healing. Love, Bella,’’ she wrote on the website.
Because of his daughter’s condition — and her spirit — dad Ray Rodriguez-Torres, healthcare executive and lapsed Catholic, returned to the church.
He also wrote an inspirational book: Why Not Me? A True Story About a Miracle in Miami (Westbow Press), donating all profits to pediatric cancer research.
In addition to her parents and sister, Bella is survived by grandparents Dr. Ramon and GulyRodriguez-Torres, Myles Hornreich and Amparo Mejia, all of South Florida.
A viewing will be held 5-11 p.m. Thursday at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Funeral Home, 11655 SW 117th Ave., Kendall. Mass of Resurrection will begin at 1 p.m. Friday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, 12125 SW 107th Ave.
In lieu of flower, the family suggests donations in Bella’s memory to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds research on childhood cancers. For more information, visit bella2013.com.
On June 4, members of the Miami Police Department will shave their heads to honor Bella before kicking off a Miami-to-Key West bicycle ride the next day, to raise money for St. Baldrick’s.