16-Year-Old Defies Odds With Battle Against Pancreatic Cancer

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16-Year-Old Defies Odds With Pancreatic Cancer Battle

Written By Miranda Leah Wainberg
July 29, 2020

When 16-year-old Sophia Hurtado started experiencing strange symptoms, her mother wasn’t immediately alarmed.

Most parents of teenagers know that the one thing they can expect from their children is change. Maryanne did not realize that her young daughter was developing pancreatic cancer.

“She had stretch marks in odd places,” said Maryanne. “Swelling of face and feet, mood swings, shortness of breath, joint pain, lethargy.”

The symptoms soon became too much for Sophia to bear. After a few days of missed school, Sophia and her mom headed to the ER.

“They came into her hospital room and told me they found a 16 cm tumor coming out of her pancreas and metastasis in her liver,” said Maryanne. “My knees buckled.”

The doctors acknowledged that Sophia’s situation was grim.

“It is worth understanding why Sophia’s initial diagnosis and status was so challenging,” said Center for Adrenal Disorders Director Anand Vaidya, MD MMSc. “She was a teenager confronted with the diagnosis of an advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine malignancy that was also causing Cushing syndrome… Causing a whole host of metabolic, physical, and emotional changes that were extremely challenging to control and were life-threatening.”

“My body was just so sick and out of control,” said Sophia. “I literally was fighting for my life. It was hard for me not to just give up.”

Surrounded by the support of her family and community, Sophia persevered. Her medical team simultaneously treated her with prescriptions, chemotherapy, and surgical intervention.

“This complex treatment regimen is daunting and terrifying for any patient, but particularly for a young teenager,” said Vaidya. “I will never forget how brave and stoic Sophia was in the face of these difficult challenges.”

The severe diagnosis and complex treatment took an emotional toll on Sophia and her family.

“My best friend, Sophia’s godmother, consoled me by saying, ‘Maryanne, when you hear statistics, you may hear that 98% of the people don’t respond to treatment. But that means 2% did. 2% are miraculously cured. Why can’t Sophia be that miracle? Why do you assume only others can experience a miracle?’ So, during the darkest days, I would say to myself, “Let Sophia be the miracle.”

It’s been an uphill battle, but nearly two years later, Sophia is responding positively to her treatment. To the medical community, Sophia’s case is nothing short of miraculous.

“With the help of her dedicated family she has been able to live with her disease while maintaining an excellent quality of life,” said Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital’s Medical Director Lynn Meister, MD. “Sophia loves all things Hamilton and she is ‘not throwing away her shot!’”

When asked where she gets her strength to keep fighting, Sophia credited her family– specifically her mom.

“She is my rock,” said Sophia. “Even when I could not fight, she fought for me. I want to inspire people with my story and help people in any bad circumstance find a way out of it.”

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