Naperville, IL || September 2016 - - Owen Elementary middle schooler Sofia Cabrera has always been inquisitive. The youngest of three siblings, she’s an honor student who loves math and science, enjoys problem solving, and discusses the workings of the human body with clear fascination. She aspires, when she grows up, to be a doctor. (Or a scientist. Or an author).
Her parents, Carlos and Nancy, are understandably proud of her precociousness and do what they can to encourage it. But still, when Sofia came home from school one day and informed her mother that for a school project on “A World Problem in Need of Fixing” she had decided to tackle pancreatic cancer, Mrs. Cabrera found herself taken aback.
Though, of course, she understood Sofia’s interest.
When Sofia was five years old, her grandmother, Graciela Cabrera, passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 69. “Sofia was very young when her grandmother went,” Mrs. Cabrera says, “but she was very aware of what was happening. I remember once, towards the end, Sofia had just learned a song for Mothers’ Day, and she sang it for her grandmother while she was in her hospital bed. It was incredibly caring.”
The idea for the project was exceptionally touching, and knowing her daughter, Mrs. Cabrera was certain Sofia would attack the assignment with vigor. Still, she was unsure what to expect. “Cancer can be a complex topic, and understanding its nuances can be difficult for anyone, let alone a 12 year old,” offers Mrs. Cabrera. Plus, the project was meant to be a presentation. Sofia would have to engage her fellow classmates, educate them, and propose ways in which they could contribute to solutions. “Initially, I wondered if it was too dense for her.”
"What made me really passionate is the fact that people don’t seem to know about it. It’s not in the news, and there are so many people like my grandmother, who might not know to look for it. It made me want to help them.” - Sophia Cabrera
But Sofia was determined. She read numerous articles about cancer and pancreatic cancer on the internet, visited her school library, and became increasingly impassioned about the topic the more she delved in. “I learned all these statistics,” she explains, before rattling off NCI survival rates and figures with astounding ease. “And what made me really passionate is the fact that people don’t seem to know about it. It’s not in the news, and there are so many people like my grandmother, who might not know to look for it. It made me want to help them.”
“It was very moving to see her commit so fiercely,” recalls Mrs. Cabrera, plainly impressed by her daughter’s drive. “She did a lot of work.”
Sofia found the Rolfe Foundation through her online research, and the focus on early detection spoke to her, as she imagined her grandmother would have benefited from a less advanced tumor. She decided on a whimsical fundraiser to benefit Rolfe – something fun and tangible that would capture her classmates’ attention: she would sell homemade, stuffed animals. Or, more precisely: she would sell homemade purple pigs.
“I love crafts,” Sofia explains, “and I like pigs (her favorite stuffed animal and longtime companion is a stuffed pig named Hammy), and my grandmother liked pigs! And I wanted everyone to be able to have something to hold. Something that would be a reminder of how important pancreatic cancer awareness is. Every time they’d look at it, they’d remember.”
So, Sofia got crafting. She set up a website charged $3 a pig, and aimed to raise $50. She ended up taking in three times that.
“Stories like Sofia’s are wonderful and admirable,” remarks Rolfe Foundation Executive Director Lynda Robbins. “It brings another spotlight to an issue that too often lives in the dark. And you never know whose mind will be illuminated. Perhaps one of Sofia’s teachers, or an administrator, or a parent is particularly struck – and perhaps one of those people decides to contribute to our work? My point is: I appreciate every link in the chain. Every effort, when added up, can equal big results.”
“Stories like Sofia’s are wonderful and admirable, [...] I appreciate every link in the chain. Every effort, when added up, can equal big results.” - Lynda Robbins
Since Pig Pals ended, school and gymnastics have captured most of Sofia’s attention. She still loves her crafts, and might even make one of her custom pigs for you (“as long as you donate to Rolfe!”). And her interest in pancreatic cancer and medicine continues unabated.
“The way the human body works is beyond cool!” she exclaims. “It’s so neat how your brain tells your hand to move, how your nervous system sends signals telling you how to work! This project made me even more interested in science, especially in the science of being a doctor.”
Sofia pauses, getting a bit ahead of herself, and then asks a question, “Who are the doctors who research cancer and help people like my grandmother?”
“Oncologists,” her mother suggests. “Right!” Sofia agrees. “Maybe I could be one of those?”
When the time comes, Sofia, the Rolfe Foundation knows where you can get your first grant.
Published: September 13, 2016
Get involved like Sofia!
Click below to explore Rolfe’s education resources; honor a loved one
with a tribute/memorial donation; and stay informed about community events like Sofia’s.
This article also appears as part of the
Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation’s electronic newsletter, The Catalyst
(Vol. 3, September 2016 – The Next Generation issue). To read more dispatches
from The Catalyst, please click the links below.