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From coloring to chemotherapy

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Diane Erjavec's granddaughter battles neuroblastoma at age three

By Lindsay Kriz

On June 18, Diane Erjavec of Lebanon received the worst news of her life: her granddaughter, Sophie Marie Solis, 3, of Birmingham, was diagnosed with cancer.

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The diagnosis just four days after Sophie's mother, Melissa Madison, took her to the doctor for a stomachache. The doctors examined the girl and believed that the pain was being caused by a urinary tract infection. Doctors released Sophie, but said if the symptoms continued she should come back the next day. The symptoms persisted, and Sophie returned to the doctor where she was x-rayed. Her doctor believed that Sophie was possibly having appendix issues. That was until they noticed a large mass in her abdomen.

Doctors completed CT scans, inserted a port into the mass and did blood work after they started to suspect that the cause of the lump was cancer.

On June 18, when test results came back, the doctors' worst fears were confirmed: Sophie was diagnosed with stage four Neuroblastoma.

Approximately 650 children a year develop the cancer.

Sophie is currently on her third round of chemotherapy in order to shrink the tumor so that doctors can remove it, according to Erjavec.

During her second round of chemotherapy, the tumor shrank 25 percent, she said.

Sophie will have to complete five rounds of chemo in total, each lasting five days.

"The first two rounds of chemo were sort of an introduction to the chemo," Erjavec said. "But these next three are going to be rough."

The doctors said some of the potential side effects that Sophie might experience are loss of appetite, possible permanent deafness because it's such a strong dose, loss of hair, a killed bladder, which may cause her to need a bag to urinate, and stomach problems.

At one point during her treatment, Sophie developed fluids that surrounded her belly button. The doctors didn't immediately drain the fluid, Erjavec said, because it would have simply refilled. Instead, they put Sophie on the drug Lasix until the swelling went down. During that time, Sophie stopped urinating, was running a temperature and didn't want to eat. As a result, she couldn't undergo chemotherapy treatment because a fever would leave her open for infection, Erjavec said.

Erjavec has kept up with her granddaughter's condition through updates from Melissa, which she then posts to her Facebook page, "Sophie's Fight."

Her son, Tony, is divorced from Melissa and currently lives in Joliet, Ill. He visits Sophie as often as possible.

Sophie has a cousin, Drake, who is nearly the same age, and Erjavec says that their different circumstances break her heart.

"I look at Drake, and wonder how God can make these kids suffer," she said. "I'm not supposed to ask. But I look at him and think about Sophie, and I just can't do it. I've got to do something else to distract myself."

Once or twice a week, Erjavec will mail her granddaughter letters, which include positive affirmation, such as, "Nana loves you."

She recently sent her a care package that included art supplies, as Sophie is naturally artistic just like her father, Erjavec said.

According to Erjavec, her faith has been restored during this experience with Sophie.

"I hadn't been to church in about three years," she said. "Then I went back about two weeks ago. Something told me I needed to go."

While Erjavec has faith that Sophie will make it through chemotherapy, realistically she doesn't know how to feel.

"She's got to make it," she says as she dabs at her eyes with a tissue, looking at a picture of Sophie with her long hair. "We haven't had enough time together."

If you wish to make a donation that will go towards expenses for Sophie's medical care, mail or deliver donations to James and Diane Erjavec, 140 Dogwood Street, Lebanon, KY 40033.

What is Neuroblastoma?

It's a cancerous tumor that is developed from nerve tissue, and it occurs in infants and children. It usually begins in the chest or near the spinal cord, but not always. The cause of Neuroblastoma is unknown at this time. Some potential symptoms in children are pain or tenderness of the bones, a chronic cough or difficulty breathing, red skin, a swelled stomach, constant sweating and a quickened pulse. Treatment depends on the age of the patient, where the tumor is located and where and how much the tumor has spread.

Source: PubMed Health

Benefit yard sale

A benefit yard sale will be held Aug. 19-20 at 140 Dogwood Street in Lebanon. (The subdivision past Gardners 68 on left.) Proceeds will go to support Sophia Solis and her family.