FLOWER MOUND — She doesn't look it... or live like it... but Adrianna Mogollon is ill.
"I don't know what cancer is supposed to feel like, but I definitely don't feel sick," she said with a smile and a little laugh. "I mean, it affects me, but I know I'm going to come out on top in the end."
Mogollon is the perfect picture of physical health and mental strength.
"Sometimes I kind of think, 'Why me?' or, 'How could this happen to me?' But then again, I really couldn't think of it happening to anyone else," she said.
Mogollon was athletic. She ran track in high school, and loved to wakeboard in college.
Back pain sent her to a doctor, who diagnosed her with a muscle strain. But that pain got worse, and Mogollon couldn't take it any more.
"On a scale of one to 10, it was a 13," she said. "It was terrible, honestly. The pain wrapped around to my rib cage. It was hard to even get out of bed."
She went to the emergency room last November. An MRI found a tumor on her spine, which was compressing her spinal cord. She was told she needed emergency surgery the next day — a delicate surgery with paralysis being a possibility. But she came through with flying colors.
Surgeons removed some of the tumor, but couldn't get it all. They sent it to be examined by pathologists, and in December came the worst news possible: It was cancer, but no one knew what kind.
The tumor sample was examined by pathologists in California and at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, yet no one could pinpoint the exact type of cancer Mogollon had. So there could be no treatment — no chemotherapy, no radiation — until they knew more.
All of this happened while Mogollon was uninsured.
"I mean, I knew I probably needed insurance, but I didn't think it was such an urgent time to get it, so I put it off," she said.
At just 21 years old, she is left not only battling a life-threatening disease; she is also now deep in debt.
"Over $200,000," she said. "It was just a nightmare getting all the bills for that stuff."
Mogollon was able to get insurance in 2014 through the Affordable Care Act. That covered part of the cost of a second procedure to put metal rods in her spine at MD Anderson in Houston.
The insurance will also cover part of her next visit there in May. She is hoping MD Anderson pathologists — who have also done gene mapping on her — will be able to give her a definitive answer on what kind of cancer she is fighting and what kind of treatment is an option.
But when Mogollon returns to Houston, she will not have her biggest cheerleader by her side.
On March 19, Mogollon found her 52-year-old mother unresponsive on the floor of her home. She had suffered a sudden brain aneurysm.
She was dead.
"When I found my mother I was thinking, 'How on Earth could I have cancer and then the Lord take my mother away from me?' I didn't know what else I could possibly be going through," she said.
Somehow, Adrianna Mogollon is smiling through it all — the disease, the debt, and the loss.
"You know, what really helps me find peace is that my mother was one of the strongest people I know. And she's up there looking down on me and is the strongest guardian angel I could possibly have. And she's going to be there every step of the way and make sure I come out on top of this," Mogollon said.
The Adrianna Mogollon Cancer Fund website has raised almost $23,000, but that's just a fraction of what she owes.
There's also a Shred for the Cure fundraiser at 10 a.m. Saturday at Hydrous Lake Lewisville in Little Elm.
Mogollon never says "if" she wins this fight; it's always "when"."
If attitude is even half the battle, she can't lose. Sunday is her 22nd birthday.