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Sophia may not have understood exactly what cancer was when she was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, but she knew enough to be certain she would beat it. Once they removed the “bad thing” from her belly, she would take whatever steps necessary to get better. Wise beyond her years, the youthful 8-year-old is now three years cancer-free after besting the disease with the help of her friends and family.
Sophia’s parents both work in healthcare at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas. Coincidentally that’s also where all of Sophia’s care took place. After being diagnosed just a month following her 4-year-old check-up, she went through a seven hour surgery to remove her Wilms’ tumor. Despite the lengthy procedure, Sophia came out of it with an atypical exuberance for a child following an operation.
“Sophia woke up and shouted, ‘I want chocolate milk immediately,’ and I told her you can’t talk to the nurses like that,” said her mother, Tiffany. “The nurses just started laughing and said ‘You know she’s supposed to be on a vent right?’”
Her parents appreciated that their daughter remained positive. They were also heartened by the fact they had a home field advantage with not only a hometown provider, but one where they knew most of the staff. That didn’t make the impending treatment any easier on the family though, as Sophia went through chemotherapy and radiation from September 2013 until her line was removed in April of 2014.
Throughout that time, her parents always tried to lift Sophia’s spirits. Whether it was driving through icy conditions for a personal penguin visit at the zoo or slipping away for several viewings of Frozen in the movie theater, their goal was to ensure Sophia remained upbeat.
“The most important thing when you have such a hard diagnosis is keeping faith and taking the good days when you get them,” explained Tiffany. “Even if you’re in a horrible treatment cycle, ask the doctor what day she will feel best and try to plan something fun.”
Thankfully, after the surgery and treatment, Sophia emerged cancer-free and has been for the past three years. Since then, she’s turned to helping others facing what she conquered. When a friend from church was diagnosed with an abdominal mass, Sophia leaped at the chance to encourage her.
She repeatedly told her how her hair will grow back, she’s tough, she’s brave and she can absolutely beat it. Sophia’s a boundless ball of positivity.
“Our hospital just started a pediatric oncology support group that has child and trauma therapists and she loves those support groups,” said Tiffany. “She will always talk to the other kids and their siblings to really encourage the kids that are still in treatment.”
Sophia’s family has been supporters of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) since her diagnosis. They’ve filled out patient surveys, helped at lemonade stands at a Firebirds restaurant and believe wholeheartedly in both raising money for childhood cancer research and advocating for more funding from the NIH.
“I appreciate everything that ALSF does for families and I read your whole website cover-to-cover when she got diagnosed,” Tiffany said. “Just knowing that there are other parents facing this was really helpful.”
The family continues to help others going through the difficult path they traversed just a few short years ago. Throughout that process, Sophia always knew she hoped to one day make that path easier for others.
“Sophia always said when she was sick she’s going to invent a chemo that only gets the cancer cells and not hair or stomach cells,” Tiffany mentioned. “And then she said she’s going to invent glasses that can just look at my belly and know the cancer is gone and I won’t need a CT scan.”
Hero Quote: “I’m one tough cookie!” – Sophia
Information provided by Tiffany Stepien, Sophia’s mom
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