Australian teen packs positive attitude in dealing with osteosarcoma
By Theresa Edwards Makrush
A positive attitude has taken 14-year-old Sophia Gall far. Even through a tough year of cancer diagnosis and treatment, Sophia continues smiling and is determined to find the good in a bad situation.
Her desire to make others aware of proton therapy and encourage other cancer patients, especially teens, prompted her to start a YouTube channel. She has posted several videos since the first week of January 2016 that describe her medical journey.
“A lot of people go through stuff like this. And people don’t know what to expect and I want to show others about it,” she said following one of her last proton therapy sessions for osteosarcoma. “When you’re dealing with cancer, it doesn’t just stop you. You still get good things that happen.”
Because of the location of the tumor in her pelvis, Sophia was not a candidate for surgery. Her treatment option was a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Sophia’s dad began researching radiation therapy options and discovered the benefits of proton therapy. Unfortunately, it is not available in Australia where the family lives, so he sent Sophia’s records to six proton therapy centers around world to get their opinion on whether they would accept her for treatment and estimates for the cost of treatment. Sophia’s radiation oncologists recommended that he include UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and Dr. Daniel J. Indelicato in the review. The physicians were comfortable with Dr. Danny and the program at the Institute – the treatment and the facility.
At the same time, he wrote to the Health Minister and other elected officials to petition support of expediting review of Sophia’s case by the health agency that could approve funding for proton therapy abroad. Time was critical since the window to begin radiation following chemo was limited.
According to her parents Linda Fleming (Gall) and Mark Gall, their daughter spent seven months in hospital for 22 rounds of chemotherapy that took a significant toll. Prior to her illness, Sophia was physically active, playing soccer and swimming competitively. She was involved in the theatre arts dancing and acting. The chemotherapy left her very weak and she either walked with support or was transported by wheelchair. She was on a feeding tube for six months and bedridden for four months. Her weight dropped to 87 pounds, which for her height of 5’10” was quite low.
Things started to turn for the better in early October after Sophia began a new steroid medication to control the persistent nausea and her pain medication was better managed. She started gaining weight, regaining her strength and feeling more like her usual self. Even more reason for optimism, scans confirmed that the tumor was responding to the chemo.
She flew from her home in Australia on January 18 to the United States for proton therapy in Jacksonville, Fla., at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.
“If someone with cancer was coming here, I would tell them don’t worry about anything,” said Sophia. “Everyone is so amazing. You make friends for life. It’s almost like when you come here, everyone has been through the same thing. People get it.”
Her mom Linda added “There’s just no stress. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
While in Jacksonville, Sophia enjoyed shopping at the St. Augustine Premium Outlets, the St. Johns Town Center, the Avenues Mall and the shops in San Marco, which was within walking distance of the apartment they rented. Sophia remarked that she enjoyed being outdoors and even walked to her appointments at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care.
Ten weeks after arriving in Jacksonville, Sophia headed back home on March 27, looking forward to seeing her brother, friends and school. She is especially anticipating the eight-week school trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, that they have been planning since she was five years old. Her mom Linda said, “The school principal told us even if he had to carry Sophia on his back, Sophia would go.” Indeed, Sophia’s positive attitude is taking her far.