Jackson County

First-grader forgoes birthday presents to help Sophia battle cancer

Alyssa Kate Lewis, a first-grader at Oak Park Elementary, wanted to do something this year to help her friend and classmate Sophia Myers in her battle with an inoperable brain tumor.

The 7-year-old girl decided to forgo her birthday presents to help her friend.

“I got donations instead of toys,” Alyssa said, “because if I was Sophia, I would be hoping someone would be willing to do that for me.”

Alyssa asked for the donations in a message on her birthday card. She raised over $400, all of which was deposited into the Sophia Myers Benefit Bank Account. The account is set up at any branch of Coast Community Bank and a GoFundMe account is set up to help her and her family with expenses.

Alyssa and her friends and classmates have been selling Sophia bracelets, writing cards, saying prayers and crafting artwork for Sophia since her Feb. 22 diagnosis with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, known as DIPG.

Alyssa said she knows Sophia is “feeling bad” but she is “praying she will get better.”

Sophia is the daughter of Josh and Angel Myers.

Sophia, whom her parents affectionately call Bug, first underwent treatment at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at University Medical Center in Jackson. Her family later consulted with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston before selecting a team at Emory Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to treat her.

The inoperable tumor on a child’s brain stem affects their basic functions, such as swallowing, breathing, vision and speech. Sophia is experiencing many of the issues, including loss of feeling in her right side and issues with balance and double vision, but she is making the best of her condition, her mother said.

Sophia has also completed radiation treatments and doctors surgically implanted a shunt into a cyst in her brain that formed along with the tumor, Angel Myers said.

“She is really amazing,” Angel Myers said. “If she isn’t hurting, she is keeping us laughing. The other day, she told me, ‘to get some perspective.’”

Over the weekend, Sophia and her family were able to get away from the hospital to take a trip to a log cabin a family friend allowed them to use near Pine Mountain, Georgia. By early Friday morning, Sophia had gotten the opportunity to go fishing with her family.

“She is adapting,” Angel Myers said. “I don’t know any adult who could go through what she is going through and handle it the way she handles it. She can’t use her right hand and now she can write with her left hand. She is just adapting. Children are so resilient.”

Still, Sophia’s parents are asking everyone to continue praying for Sophia.

“I just pray people will sincerely wholeheartedly petition God on her behalf for a miracle,” Angel Myers said. “I am asking everyone to pray for her. It means so much to all of us. I don’t want people to forget her.

“We have had amazing support from our family. We have had amazing support from our friends,” she said.

Angel Myers said Sophia has received cards, toys and other gifts from her supporters in South Mississippi and elsewhere. She even received a card from a family in the United Kingdom.

Jennifer Pope, principal at Oak Park, said everyone misses Sophia, whom she describes as “one of those kids who just love life.”

It wasn’t unusual, Pope said, to see Sophia, show up for school with some pink dye in her blonde hair and a big smile on her face.

Alyssa is just praying and waiting for her friend to get home.

She also had a message for Sophia.

“I love you,” Alyssa said. “We hope you get better.”

Numerous fundraisers are also planned, including a May 6 “Love for Sophia Benefit 5k Run/Walk” at Fort Maurepas in Ocean Springs, the “Swinging for Sophia” golf tournament May 12 at the Hollywood Casino, a May 20 benefit for Sophia as part of the Second Annual Marjorie Williams Charity Softball Tournament in Ocean Springs, and a May 13 fundraiser to collect donations for pets at Sophia’s request at Island Winds Title Co. on Convent Avenue in Pascagoula other events.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45