Benefits planned for 16-year-old Scottsbluff girl battling cancer

SCOTTSBLUFF — Growing up in the valley, Sofia Canchola enjoyed the life of a little girl, playing with friends and spending most of the summer at the swimming pool. Her life and that of her family forever changed April 9, 2018.

During the Christmas holiday, Canchola, then age 14, began to experience head pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Her sickness caused her to be in and out of school for the first two months of the spring semester.

While her initial trips to the doctor resulted in the diagnosis of an overdramatic teen who was trying to get out of school, her mother Valerie Harnish knew her daughter wouldn’t do that. So, they got a second opinion from an eye doctor, which is when they discovered swelling in her optic nerve. While Canchola had an MRI exam scheduled the following Monday, her mom made her visit the emergency room after Canchola collapsed.

After doctors read the MRI, Canchola underwent several surgeries to alleviate pressure in the third ventricle of her brain. Doctors took samples of the mass and diagnosed Canchola with a rare malignant brain tumor called anaplastic astrocytoma.

After a round of radiation and chemotherapy, she decided to shave her hair.

With most of her time taken up with treatments, Canchola was unable to complete her spring semester of freshman year or her fall semester of sophomore year. But, she returned to school this spring where she enrolled in three afternoon classes.

Canchola’s health was seeming to improve and she was getting back to enjoying life when pain returned.

“During a March snowstorm she was getting overwhelmed and in mid-April, she was in pain,” Harnish said.

Canchola’s January MRI scan indicated a black mass on her spine, but doctors decided to check on it at her next appointment in April. They did not make it back to the doctor until May due to weather.

“My rule with the hospital is they have to tell us at the same time,” Harnish said.

As they sat in a room waiting to see Canchola’s doctor, the door opened and nine people walked into the room, including her physician.

“I just knew it wasn’t good,” Harnish said.

Canchola’s tumor had almost doubled in size in 30 days and the cancer had metastasized to her spine.

“There’s not a lot I can control,” Harnish said. “We were no more prepared this time than when we found out last year.”

Canchola is currently in Denver going through another round of radiation and has five more treatments prior to two fundraisers that will be held June 29.

The first is Sofia’s Fight! Spike Out Cancer in Northwood Park in Scottsbluff. The benefit begins with pool play at 8 a.m. as two co-ed six-on-six teams play sand volleyball. The afternoon will feature a single elimination tournament. The cost to enter a team is $100. To enter, contact Jo Mikesell via Facebook. The event is noted on Facebook at https://tinyurl.com/SofiaSpikeOutCancer.

The second event is a poker run on Sunday, June 30. As part of the event, a 2003 Harley was donated. Funds are being raised to help the family pay for traveling, lodging and meal expenses. For more information, visit the event on Facebook at https://tinyurl.com/SofiaFightRide.

For people who are unable to attend the benefits, they can help with Canchola’s expenses by visiting Great Western Bank, where her mom has an account set up in Canchola’s name.

“The fundraising is the hardest part, besides finding out your child has cancer again,” Harnish said.

While Harnish said her daughter is still trying to find her purpose, Canchola approaches her situation with grace and poise for a 16-year-old.

“I think she is remarkable,” Harnish said. “I think she has a giving and loving heart.”

Despite being limited in her interactions with others, Canchola finds opportunities to be a blessing to others, her mom said. Homelessness is something Canchola struggles seeing, so her and her mom give the homeless money for coffee on a cold day and Canchola smiles and tells them to have a nice day. No matter how small the gesture, Canchola’s heart shines behind her circumstances and provides hope in her battle against cancer.

After being rediagnosed, Harnish said it was hard watching her daughter rip out her hair.

“She was completely bald after her first treatment, but it went down to her butt before she cut it,” Harnish said. “It had just grown out to a pixie, but last Thursday (June 13), she was sitting there ripping it out. That was hard, so I held her hand.”

As Harnish stays with her daughter and supports her medical decisions through this battle, she said it is nice to see her daughter walking again. Still, Harnish said she would take her daughter’s cancer just so Canchola could live a long, happy life.

“During our May car ride, she had to lay down because she was in pain. Now she’s walking and has more of her personality.”

Her next MRI is scheduled for July to see how well she responds to treatment.

“We’re buying time and we hope that she gets a miracle,” Harnish said. “It’s something we pray for everyday.”

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Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at lauren.brant@starherald.com.

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