To her family and friends, she is known as "Supergirl."

Leanna Ramirez, a Hilliard Davidson High School student, affectionately has been tagged with the nickname as she battles brain cancer.

Leanna, who will be a sophomore when classes resume in August, began experiencing headaches last December and, after undergoing an MRI, was diagnosed with ependymoma, a rare cancer that typically affects children.

According to the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network Foundation, approximately 1,340 cases of ependymoma are diagnosed each year.

Leanna, 15, was diagnosed March 15 and underwent her first surgery March 20 and her second March 30, both at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Her mother, Janet, said about 90 percent of the tumor was removed and that it now is about the size of a thumbnail, but the remaining portion is inoperable because it is too close to the cognitive part of the brain.

"I had thought a month stay at the hospital would've made me feel ... immune to it all," she said. "Instead, I walked around feeling out of place, maybe wanting, wishing someone would say a mistake was made and we don't belong here. But no one did because right now this was the only place for us to be, because my daughter Leanna has a grade 2 cellular ependymoma and she's fighting for her life."

Following the surgeries, doctors began a rigorous treatment schedule, including two rounds of chemotherapy and a blood transfusion.

Leanna underwent another MRI on June 9 to determine the status of the tumor. Her family was expected to receive the results June 13 and proceed with the next step, which could be more chemo, a third surgery or radiation therapy.

If radiation therapy is required, it would take place at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, or Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.

Undergoing chemo caused Leanna to lose most of her hair, which led to having her head shaved by her mother May 13, the day before Mother's Day. Leanna also has been fighting infections and nausea as a result of chemo treatments.

The surgeries also paralyzed her vocal cords, which led to hearing loss in her left ear and the ability to swallow. She can only whisper and must be fed through a tube, but her doctors expect her vocal cords, her hearing and her ability to swallow to return to normal in approximately a year, barring additional surgeries.

Leanna hoped to play for the Davidson junior varsity girls lacrosse team this spring, but was forced to miss the entire season because of her illness.

She was dubbed "Supergirl" by varsity girls coach Chad Smock because of the toughness she has displayed during her illness and her love of comics.

Smock has helped organize fundraisers while providing other support for the Ramirez family.

His daughter, Marisa, died May 6, 2015, from complications of severe asthma. At the time of her death, the 2014 Davidson graduate was a freshman at John Carroll University.

"They're a fantastic family and they're going through a lot, so I just do what I can to try to help out," Smock said. "I've unfortunately experienced losing a daughter, so I know what that feeling is. So doing whatever I can while their daughter is fighting this and trying to make it, I'm going to do whatever I can to support the family."

Leanna was well enough to attend the lacrosse program's end-of-season banquet May 22, during which she thanked Smock for his support, as well as his enthusiasm and positive attitude with the team.

"The team rallied around Leanna this season and became closer while supporting one of our own who is fighting cancer," Smock said.

Before her diagnosis, Leanna was expected to be the junior varsity's starting goalkeeper, and she took part in preseason workouts despite suffering from the headaches. Introduced to lacrosse while in eighth grade at Weaver Middle School, she hopes to resume playing the sport next season.

"It's too early to tell, but I think she plans on that," her father, John, said. "She will be a part of the team in one way or another. She'll do whatever she can."

Leanna's story has caught the attention of the community, with local businesses organizing fundraisers and friends helping with such chores as mowing the family's lawn, cleaning their house and providing meals.

"What allowed me to put off that question of 'Why us?' for so long was the continued outpouring of support, because every time we felt down, what it would mean coming home to someone dropping off dinner for us that evening because we didn't have time to cook or go grocery shopping," Janet Ramirez said.

The Ohio Machine, a Major League Lacrosse team based in Obetz, also showed support for Leanna by naming her an honorary captain. She was recognized June 10 before a home game against the Boston Cannons.

During one of her hospital stays, Leanna was visited by two Machine players, who presented her with team memorabilia. In addition, Machine coach Bear Davis has offered to provide her goalie lessons once she returns to the field.

"I'm really excited and a little nervous," Leanna said of being named an honorary captain. "He's also going to teach me goalie stuff when he has time."

Leanna also has received strong support from her family and friends.

Her 9-year-old brother, Julian, is her "No. 1 fan," according to John Ramirez.

"My best friends text me a lot and make sure I'm OK," Leanna said. "It helps me get through the day."

An upstairs room in the family's house has been dedicated to Leanna's battle. It is decorated with signed posters from friends, teammates and community members and features a "Supergirl" theme.

To help the Ramirez family with medical expenses, go to youcaring.com/leannaramirez-796117.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank