Sophia Bonner-Armstrong is a typical fifth grader. She likes to read Harry Potter books and Shel Silverstein poems. She’s an avid crafter who fires up her glue gun regularly. She loves fashion and music and making her own videos with the popular social media app Musically. She’s a fan of “Stranger Things” and Steph Curry — she loves Steph Curry.
What’s not so typical is that since July 20, 2016 when she was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), Sophia has been in treatment for this rare type of cancer.
Sophia’s symptoms started with a swollen eye. Doctors thought she had cellulitis and at first, the swelling responded to antibiotics. But when the swelling returned and persisted, further investigation revealed a tumor located behind her eye. And attached to her brain’s outer membrane.
Less than two weeks later, after surgery to remove the tumor, Sophia started a 13-week regimen of weekly chemotherapy treatments, high-dose steroids and antibiotics., then chemo every three weeks for a year.
After the first five rounds of chemotherapy Sophia entered Pemberton Elementary for her first day of fourth grade.
“Some of the kids she went to school with didn’t even know she had cancer,” her mom, Debbie, says. “They found out at the end of the year at an awards assembly. I don’t think she knew how strong she was. She really is tough.” Sophia missed only a handful of school days and finished the year with all As and one B.
Deborah credits Alma Morgan, ASK’s educational consultant, for setting Sophia up for academic success. “Alma didn’t play,” Deborah says. “She got her plan together with Pemberton very quickly so they had a good understanding of what Sophia’s needs would be. Alma gave them everything they needed to know.”
Sophia began attending ASK’s after-school tutoring program which also helped her keep up with the fast-moving fourth-grade curriculum. Not only does tutoring help her academically, but through these weekly sessions, and through other ASK activities, Sophia has made friends who are also dealing with the challenges of childhood cancer.
“Sometimes it makes me see that I am not doing that bad,” she says. “I can relate to the other kids.”
Deborah also credits child life specialist Katie Barber with making the experience of cancer treatment just a little bit easier. “Katie was the first person with ASK that we met and she was such a blessing,” she says. When Sophia was scared about having a port installed, Katie introduced her to another child her age at clinic who showed her his port and told her it was no big deal.
“It eased her mind,” Deborah says. “From pretty early on, ASK was there for us. … It’s how we met some of our support people. I had never heard of ASK before, but now I tell as many people I can about it.”
Though the journey through cancer treatment is arduous, ASK provided some bright spots. Sophia is proud to be featured as a Kourageous Kid. Last year, she and he mother participated in the ASK 5K and Fun Walk, and will do so again this year. She’s also looking forward to attending camp this summer.
And Sophia even got to meet Steph Curry. The video of Sophia embracing him, in tears, on center court, went viral last year, and was shared by the NBA.
“Cancer puts things in perspective,” Deborah says. “It makes you decide what’s important.”