“It was hard to get through, but the silver lining was having an immense support system.”
–Janai, Sophia’s Mom
Four-year-old Sophia is feisty and opinionated—an energetic tomboy who loves superheroes. She’s also a survivor, diagnosed with a rare type of eye cancer before she was even two years old.
“I’m not sure if Sophia was inherently like this, or if this ordeal with cancer made her who she is,” says her mother Janai Bryand. “We are so thankful for her health and the little person she’s becoming.”
It started with a routine eye exam during an 18-month well-baby check. Sophia’s pediatrician noticed an abnormality in her left eye and advised that Janai and her husband, Johnny Escobedo, follow up with a specialist as soon as possible.
“My alarm bells went off in full force,” Janai says.
Soon after, she learned that Sophia had a rare type of cancer that affects the retinas in both eyes called bilateral retinoblastoma.
They were immediately referred to a specialist. “With both eyes affected, the doctor said he couldn’t risk removing her left eye,” Janai explains. “So instead, Sophia underwent months of aggressive targeted chemotherapy on both eyes.”
Around that time, Janai joined a Facebook group for parents of children with retinoblastoma. One of the moms suggested getting a second opinion from the pediatric oncology specialists at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.
“We were able to get in right away, and the care Sophia received was so streamlined and coordinated,” recalls Janai. “The team met with us frequently and provided all kinds of information.”
The staff also did a great job of keeping the toddler entertained during lengthy procedures and treatments.
“The Center for Child Life was so helpful in keeping her engaged and busy,” says Janai. “Her chemo could last for hours, and it was hard to keep her still when she wasn’t feeling well. All the different programs that kids can do, like bingo, made a world of difference.”
Unfortunately, Sophia’s condition continued to worsen, and the tumors grew into an area within Sophia’s left eye that couldn’t be treated with chemo. The only choice was to have it removed.
“Thankfully, we were able to have the procedure at the children’s hospital in San Francisco, where we felt so comfortable,” says Janai.
Sophia has officially been in remission since March 2016 and has settled back into life in her family’s Shasta Lake home and recently started attending pre-school.
Looking back on Sophia’s cancer battle, Janai feels thankful not only for the skilled treatment Sophia received but for the emotional support.
“Now we look forward to going back and seeing the nurses and other people we’ve connected with along this road,” Janai says. “It was hard to get through, but the silver lining was having an immense support system.”