Refusing to accept ‘incurable’

A year after being diagnosed with a malignant tumor, sophomore Sofia Canchola battles on


Sofia in 9th grade

Sofia Canchola poses for the Flashes of Hope event at Denver Children’s Hospital


“Do you know what incurable means?”
For sophomore Sofia Canchola the response to that weighty question was much more positive than her doctor’s reality.
“I told her (the doctor) that I’m not going to be able to be cured. I was always going to have some part of this and it’s not going to be out of my life ever,” Sofia said. “She said no, incurable means you will die from this.”
The “this” in Sofia’s life is a rare malignant brain tumor, Anaplastic Astrocytoma, that she was diagnosed with April 9, 2018.
Her symptoms began in early 2018 when she experienced headaches, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. January and February were long months of being in and out of school due to illness.
“I would miss whole weeks at a time because I was so sick with headaches and nausea, just over stimulation; I couldn’t stand the lights of computer screens or noises in class,” Sofia said.
A trip to the doctor resulted in a claim that Sofia was just an overdramatic teen trying to get out of going to school.
In an effort to find relief from the pain, Sofia’s mother, Valerie, took her to an eye doctor. The examination started to solve part of the mystery as doctors told her the optic nerve was swollen which is a sign of intracranial pressure. An MRI was scheduled for the following Monday.
Sofia stubbornly refused to go to the ER multiple times before her mom didn’t give her the option when she collapsed on Saturday, March 3, just two days after her eye appointment.
The MRI revealed a mass but the doctors were unsure what it was or why it was there.
During her first surgery, a hole was punched in the third ventricle of her brain to allow the cerebrospinal fluid to start flowing again and a piece of the mass was taken for examination.
Ten days later another surgery was done to perform a second biopsy because the first did not give enough information.
On April 9, 2018, Sofia was diagnosed with the rare genetic mutation and the doctor told her she only had a short time to live.
“When we walked out of the appointment, Sofia said to me, ‘Who does she think she is? She doesn’t even know me. I’m going to show her,’ and I said ‘Okay let’s do it,’” Valerie said.
On April 13 Sofia began chemo and radiation. Throughout the process Sofia stayed positive and was determined to live.
“Positivity is good and negativity is actually damaging so I kept that positive energy throughout, or at least tried to,” Sofia said.
Sofia decided to shave her head after her hair was causing her needle like pain on a bald spot due to her radiation.
“She has handled herself very, very well with all things considered,” Valerie said. “I mean I could never walk around with a bald spot and you’d see her at the pool this summer with a bald patch from ear-to-ear just where the radiation hit.”
Sofia and her mom didn’t return home for good until July.
“Sofia is so smart, she just doesn’t get to do everything to the best that she can,” Valerie said. “I’m just trying to get her graduated; when everything happened she told me all she wanted was her diploma.”
Although Sofia was unable to attend school for the majority of the second semester of freshman year, and all of first semester her sophomore year, she has been able to take three afternoon classes this semester.
““I only take three classes in the afternoon and that’s enough to tire me out. I want to go home and sleep right after. It’s exhausting in a good way,” Sofia said.
In her body’s weakened state, it is especially important she get plenty of rest.
“I have to allow my body to get the rest it needs. Like if I’m tired I have to take a nap or else my body will crash and it ends up being more brutal than anything,” Sofia said.
The physical toll on her body has been exhaustive.

“Physically my body is like an old lady’s because my joints pop and my hips crack and my elbows snap and get stuck. My muscles swell up really easily. The chemo has weakened me a lot,” Sofia said.
This event has affected everyone around Sofia and her mother.
“It affects everything,” Valerie said. “It turns your world upside down.”
Sofia is set on surviving and doesn’t want anyone else to dictate her life.
“She may very well have been given a miracle and be cured, but we don’t know,” Valerie said. “She’s just going to have to have scans now every three months until she’s stable for a couple of years; but they definitely won’t ever say cured, or anything like that.”