SURVIVORS: Kimberley Leonard with her daughter Sophie, the fighter who is the face of Woolworths' Wall Token campaign.
SURVIVORS: Kimberley Leonard with her daughter Sophie, the fighter who is the face of Woolworths' Wall Token campaign. Rob Williams

'Friends died around her': Young Sophie survives cancer

ON THE cold floor of a children's ward, Sophie Leonard is painting with a young friend.

The normality of that joyful experience would serve as a contrast when, hours later, the young friend was rushed into intensive care.

He would die soon after.

To date, Sophie's 2727 days on earth have not been similar to those of other children.

At the age of three, when other youngsters were climbing, laughing and learning, Sophie was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma.

On her kidney a 7cm tumour was discovered; she was given a 40-50 per cent chance of survival.

For the next two years, Sophie would remain wrapped in tubes, enduring six cycles of chemotherapy, scans, pain medication and a biopsy to discover more about her cancer.

Her mother Kimberley Leonard recalls the terrifying moment her young fighter was given a 50-50 chance of living.

"We kept thinking that doesn't work for us, sorry we're not happy with that," she said.

"We went through every day in fight mode."

For about two years, nothing mattered outside the stale white walls of Lady Cilento Children's Hospital - even Sophie's sibling, to an extent.

"You neglect the other child who is not sick," Mrs Leonard said.

Despite the low survival odds challenging Sophie, they were not the toughest part of life inside the oncology ward.

"You move in with families and you watch their children die," Mrs Leonard said.

"The effect it has on you is devastating.

"It could be yours, you could be planning your child's funeral and you could be the one who can no longer breathe at all."

Mrs Leonard knows exactly how many children's funerals she has attended - but it's a number she refuses to share.

"Ninety per cent of those funerals were oncology children," she said.

 

Sophie Leonard is the face of Woolworths' and the children's hospital foundation's wall token campaign.
Sophie Leonard is the face of Woolworths' and the children's hospital foundation's wall token campaign. Rob Williams

It took a devastating toll on the young mother but for Sophie, death just became normal.

"She's very shut off from death," Mrs Leonard said.

"She's become that way because she did play with a lot of kids on the ward.

"She was painting with one little boy one day and then his leukaemia blood results came back. He was put in the intensive care unit and then passed away. She was just painting with him the day before."

"For her it's normal; they die and we move on and it's sad she has that perspective on life."

Watching her friends fall around her, the tears of families and the personal invasion by nurses has not affected Sophie's views of the world.

"Kids are so resilient, they just accept that's their life," Mrs Leonard said.

"Trying to hitch a ride on the stand that's holding their fluids becomes the new game, down the hallway."

This year Sophie is the face of Woolworths and the Queensland Children's Hospital Foundation's $2 wall token campaign.

After her journey at the hospital, it was a campaign she was happy to be involved in.

The end of September will mark three years in remission for the bright and bubbly seven-year-old Ipswich girl.

In typical Sophie fashion, the young fighter smiles and looks forward.

She is healthy, but still has problems with her bowel, hearing and feet.

When she gets older, there will be more challenges - having children might not be possible.

Despite challenges, the young fighter remains fierce, loyal and funny.

At school, reading club and lunchtime are favourite activities.

Her proud mother is not worried about the woman Sophie will become.

"She's going to have her bad days and her good but as long as we can keep her good days going," she said.

"You can look back and think, well I had cancer, poor me.

"She can look back and say, I had cancer but I survived."



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