Sophie Gil wasn’t sure what was happening. As a sophomore in high school, she and her doctor knew that some headaches and nausea could be a normal part of puberty. But something just didn’t seem right, and Sophie’s symptoms got worse. She started seeing black spots, and, eventually, Sophie’s doctor sent her for a CT scan at 2 PM on a Friday afternoon.

A few hours later, Sophie—a drummer on her high school’s drumline—was about to meet the bus to head to a football game.

“My Mom sat me down and said, ‘they found something. We’re talking with people about where to go.’ We broke down. It was horrible, and we didn’t know what to do.”

A doctor friend of the family told them to get in the car and drive, right away, to Texas Children’s Hospital. So, they left Louisiana and drove directly to the emergency room at TCH.

“We showed up in the ER with a scan of the CT,” Sophie recalled. “By the next day, I had a biopsy.”

During what would become a three-week stay, Sophie had a craniotomy during which doctors removed 100% of the tumor from her brain. They officially diagnosed her with pinealoblastoma, a malignant tumor of the pineal gland. After outpatient radiation every day for six weeks, Sophie got to go home for Thanksgiving. Then, she entered the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at TCH. That’s when she met HGF.

“We went into our room for the first time and there was this basket of stuff!” Sophie said. “They were such good things—everything we needed. I was amazed. Y’all didn’t even know us and y’all cared that much to give that to us.”

Sophie still uses the fleece blanket that HGF gave her every day. It’s a zebra-print with a green underlay, and she continues to find it comforting just like she did in the hospital.

“Y’all didn’t know us but it didn’t matter. You supported us.”

Sophie recalled that the breakfasts hosted by HGF encouraged her mom to leave the hospital room every once in a while, eat a full meal, and talk with others.

“She was so thankful for it,” Sophie said. “It was a big deal.”

Sophie underwent four rounds of inpatient chemotherapy between September 2013 and May 2014. Now, seven years later, she just moved into the “long term survivor” category. Sophie is grateful and hopeful and ready for the future. She also wants people to understand the lingering effects of a critical illness.

“A lot of people, once you have your hair back [from chemotherapy], they think you’re fine. But that’s not true for a lot of us. I have a lot of health issues from treatments. I have liver trouble. The pineal gland is right next to the pituitary and affects the thyroid. I don’t produce hormones. It’s been seven years, and just last week I went to the endocrinologist and needed new medication. This is my life and this is how it’s going to be.”

Despite these personal challenges and a global pandemic, Sophie just graduated from nursing school. Eventually, she hopes to practice at TCH, serving patients right where she was.

“I’m ready to start working,” Sophie said. “This is what I was meant to do.”