WAIPAHU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When everyone was in the holiday spirit and looking forward to receiving their Christmas presents, 18 year-old Angelica Ponce was given heartbreaking news that would turn her world upside down.
December 16, 2014, Angelica Ponce was diagnosed with Lupus.
Since then, Ponce has endured many painful symptoms of the autoimmune disease in which her immune system attacks normal healthy tissues which would otherwise be left untargeted.
Ponce suffers from arthritis in her legs, loss of appetite and bouts of weight loss.
In spite of the ongoing challenges Ponce faces each day, the Waipahu High School senior remains positive and continues to make her family and friends proud.
As a National Honor Society and Leo Club member, Ponce was accepted to Concordia University on her birthday in February.
Acceptance into her "dream-school" was a momentous and emotional occasion for Ponce.
"I was full of tears, speechless, and felt very blessed" said Ponce.
After receiving her acceptance, Ponce's wish to see her dream-school before she graduated was granted. Through a partnership between the Make a Wish Foundation and United Health Foundation, Ponce traveled to Portland, Oregon for a grand tour of the campus, all expenses paid.
Ponce, her parents and her cousin arrived at Concordia to a celebratory scene of balloons, leis and signs reading "#AlohaAngelica" and "808 to 503".
During her stay, Ponce met with counselors, sat in on a class and stayed overnight in a freshman dorm.
Ponce plans to major in psychology and behavioral health and eventually get her doctorate.
Her ultimate goal is to move back to Hawaii and open her own counseling/developmental psychology office in order to give back to the community.
After overcoming adversity for over a year now, Ponce sees high aspirations as something very much attainable.
A week after returning back to the islands, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan Hawaii hosted a "welcome-home" party for Angelica and her family at Big City Diner. Honoring Angelica and her perseverance, the whole meal was put on the house.
What could have been a very troubling future following Ponce's diagnosis has yielded very positive events and in turn a new perspective on life.
"I've learned small things are a big blessing...I no longer hold lupus as a darkness monster, but a lightened candle that guides me through life" Ponce said.