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KC Star: Young cancer survivor’s magnetic smile is inspiring others

Sophi Eber

Bethany and Zac Eber thought very hard before posting a photo of their 7-year-old daughter on Reddit.

Did they really want to share their daughter with the world like that?

“Ultimately we thought people could use some hope right now. They get bogged down by negative news cycles,” Bethany Eber of Parkville.

“We didn’t know how inspiring it would be. It really took off quickly.”

The internet has indeed taken adorable cancer survivor Sophi Eber to its heart. The photo came from teachers Emily Herod and Becky Adler at Renner Elementary in the Park Hill School District.

It shows Sophi on the last day of school, holding a photo of herself from the first day of school. The then-and-now is striking.

Sophi on the last day had a crown of wavy brown hair and a wide, magnetic grin. She wore a shirt that said, “little warrior.”

Sophi on the first day was bald with a tube stuck in her nose. But even then she was grinning.

People looking at the photo see joy.

“Thanks for this inspiring message today and reminding me that there is light in this world,” reads one of nearly 2,500 comments posted on Reddit.

Eber also shared the photo on the Sophi Strong Facebook page, where she has been keeping family and friends updated on Sophi’s journey, which began last year.

“What a difference a school year makes! This picture shows how much your girl has gone through and she continues to just blow us away… her strength, determination, and amazing attitude inspires us,” Eber wrote.

The Ebers discovered cancer had invaded their family through a fluke. During a warm snap in February 2016, the family went on a nature hike.

Sophi found a little pile of fluff that her mom thinks might have been deer hair. She rubbed her eye after she picked it up and might have gotten a bit of hair in her eye. When she seemed to have a reaction to it, her mom took her to urgent care.

Sophi was fine, but her blood pressure was uncharacteristically high. A trip to the pediatrician led to an appointment at Children’s Mercy, where the Ebers learned Sophi had a tumor the size of a grapefruit. She showed no signs or symptoms.

Diagnosis: Stage IV neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that occurs most often in infants and children under age 10, according to the American Cancer Society.

Cancer had followed Eber home. She runs oncology clinical trials for United BioSource Corp.

Neuroblastoma can move rapidly, so they were lucky, Eber said, to have found the tumor before it could infect bone marrow and spread through Sophi’s body.

“We caught it before that happened just because of this little thing in her eye,” said Eber, who was 12 weeks pregnant with her third child when Sophi was diagnosed.

Since February 2016 Sophi has endured, according to her mother’s calculations, six rounds of chemotherapy, 14 rounds of radiation, a nine-hour surgery to remove the tumor and five rounds of immunotherapy.

Doctors declared Sophi cancer-free on July 10, 2016, but her fight wasn’t over. Because her chances of relapse are high she’s in a clinical trial receiving shots that act as a vaccine to help her body beat back a recurrence.

Every three months Sophi travels to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, where she receives shots and scans. Her dad, who works in IT for Hallmark, takes her. Mom stays behind with the couple’s two other children, 5-year-old Jude and 9-month-old Desmond.

“Through this process we’ve gotten to know so many other families, and there’s no rhyme or reason why it worked so well for Sophi and it doesn’t work for other kids,” said Eber.

“And it’s really hard to balance celebrating my daughter and her positivity and her indomitable spirit knowing it goes differently for other families.”

Eber has found it therapeutic to post her thoughts, photos and videos to her daughter’s special Facebook page. But it’s also a record Sophi can look back on when she’s ready, she said.

She hopes her daughter won’t remember the pain.

This summer Sophi wants a big, cancer-free party. “She said, ‘I want to have a pinata that is cancer and we all get to take a whack at it,’” Eber said.

Maybe, Sophi said, the pinata can be shaped like a bottom “and we can kick cancer’s butt.”

Mom is still pondering that request.


Read the story via the Kansas City Star.

Learm more about the Cancer Center at Children's Mercy.