After childhood cancer: program helps survivors 'live their best life'

Sophia Wohr was just nine months old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, she's six and cancer-free, but she still requires regular check-ups and health monitoring. KATU photo

When kids survive cancer -- and advances in medicine are helping more and more people do that -- the celebration is like no other. But a survivor's life after cancer is a whole new battle.

Sophia Wohr loves playing with all kinds of dolls, especially nurturing babies.

"Wow, so big!" Sophia coos to the baby doll, holding him closely.

The six year old is healthy, five years after doctors diagnosed her with an aggressive form of leukemia.

"My heart dropped," her Mom, Danielle Wohr, recalls of getting the diagnosis when Sophia was just nine months old. "I'm now worrying about, does she have enough blood in her body to pump to her heart? Am I going to be losing her in the next 12 hours?"

After a painful, long year, and a bone marrow transplant, Sophia beat cancer.

"She's doing great, she's been thriving," Wohr says of her daughter.

Helping her thrive is Dr. Sue Lindemulder oversees Doernbecher's Cancer Survivorship program -- from physical to mental health -- their mission is to help survivors live their best life.

"People think the story is over when the treatment ends but it really doesn't, it's really a lifelong impact for many children," Dr. Lindemulder explains. "We play to your strengths and we want to try to reduce the impact of your weaknesses... and the way you learn and in the way you function."

"We're finding out things, we're finding out side effects," Wohr says. "It gives me that peace of mind -- knowing the line between this is abnormal and we can blame this on the cancer or this is a normal childhood thing."

They treat adults, too. Christy Gilbert is 42, but had cancer when she was 4.

"I never had any specialized cancer aftercare," Gilbert explains.

Dr. Lindemulder's team found some heart damage, and helped discover her thyroid cancer - that she beat a few years ago. She's still struggling with arthritis from her radiation treatments to this day.

"Now I just feel, so relaxed," Gilbert audibly sighs. "If I have any questions I can ask Dr. Lindemulder. If I need to know screenings I need I can look at the long-term follow up guidelines. There's just so much more information."

Sophia's family feels the same relief.

"He fell asleep," young Sophia says, leaning over the doll crib.

With baby doll okay, Sophia wanted to take care of KATU reporter, Jackie Labrecque, and give her a check-up.

She checked Jackie's heart, eyes, reflexes and temperature.

"You're fine!" she declares.

"Oh, is this going to hurt?" Jackie asked about the shot.

"No, it's just fine. 1,2,3 smile for me!" Sophia says.

Sophia's natural inclination to nurture, to care for others, just as she's experienced in her young life is very apparent.

As is her ability to just be a six year old girl, playing with her dolls. She especially loves the LOL dolls, and Fierce is her favorite.

When asked why, Sophia responds, "because she's really brave."

Fierce sounds a lot like a little girl who survived childhood cancer.

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