Childhood Leukemia Survivor Finds Beauty in Life

Written By:Stacy Simon

"I try to live life to the fullest. I'm grateful to be able to run and go outside and eat in restaurants. All the things I never used to think about, I think about now."

Sophia Anagnostou

Sophia Anagnostou appreciates the big things in life. That includes doctors and nurses who take care of her at Texas Children’s Hospital, family and friends who love her, and the ability to go to school. She also appreciates the little things. “I try to live life to the fullest,” said Sophia. “I’m grateful to be able to run and go outside and eat in restaurants. All the things I never used to think about, I think about now.” Her mother, Tara, says Sophia is a happy girl who is always smiling. But it has taken time, effort, and determination for Sophia to learn to enjoy life during her long treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Sophia was just 12 and finishing 6th grade when she began having shortness of breath, pain in her wrist, and headaches. She had also become pale and was growing paler. Her pediatrician at first thought she had a virus or an infection, so when tests showed she had leukemia, it was a shock. “I don’t even remember how I handled it, except that I was completely numb with fear,” said Tara.

Sophia has been in treatment for about a year and a half now, and has another year to go. Her main treatment is chemotherapy, but she’s also endured spinal taps, surgeries, blood and platelet transfusions, and life-threatening infections.

A single mom to Sophia and her younger brother, Tara juggles Sophia’s medical appointments with her full-time job and the kids’ homework and after-school activities, all while trying to have a normal life. She says she’s been helped by her faith in God, her parents, her community, and Sophia’s doctor.

“My whole outlook on life is different now,” said Tara. “There is a lot of beauty in our lives to appreciate the little things and the things that are authentic and real. It opens your eyes to a lot of truths that were probably in front of me the whole time, and I just didn’t realize it. Never take one day for granted, because you just never know.”

‘Strength is in the Soul’

Sophia was unable to attend school for all of 7th grade. She missed seeing her friends every day and missed playing volleyball. Her hair fell out and she had to wear a face mask to lower her risk for getting sick. “Every day I was saying, ‘Why me?’” said Sophia. “I was depressed because I was trapped in my house all the time. If I did go somewhere I’d get stared at.”

But it got better. Her hair began to grow back. The clinic nurses cheered her up, and so did friends who came to visit.

One day, she met Anita Kruse, founder of Purple Songs Can Fly, a program that helps kids at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers write and record their own songs. In “Strength is in the Soul,” Sophia sings about strength, hope, love, and beauty. Kruse worked with Anne Hill, a producer of the TV reality show, “The Little Couple,” to create a video from Sophia’s song and story. The process helped Sophia express her feelings and share them with friends and family, and with children all over the world.

“People wrote that I was inspirational and that this will help their daughters and sons get through their illness. It makes me feel like I did something good. I feel like I helped people,” said Sophia.

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