Summiting Adversity and Conquering Mountains: Sophie's Cancer Story

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Life’s fragility can be jarringly evident in the wake of an unforeseen diagnosis, altering the course of everything we know. We often spend too much time worrying about trivial matters instead of focusing on all the simple blessings that surround us every day. This holiday season, hug your loved ones a little tighter, check in on the people you care about, and cherish the small things that make life beautiful.

At the vibrant age of 21, Sophie von Dehn embraced life with enthusiasm. She moved from Kamloops to Victoria to undertake a biology and geology degree at the University of Victoria. While her loving family and friends cheered her on back in Kamloops, Sophie forged new connections in the place she now called home. For Sophie, the possibilities in life were endless, and she was fearless when it came to embarking on new adventures. No one could have predicted the life-changing diagnosis that was just around the corner. On June 9th, 2022, Sophie was diagnosed with stage III nasopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma – an extremely rare form of cancer for a woman her age.

In the months preceding her diagnosis, Sophie detected unusual swelling in her lymph nodes. Concerned, she visited the emergency department in Victoria, where doctors initially suspected she may have had mononucleosis or strep throat. Despite undergoing multiple tests, all results returned negative, prompting Sophie to patiently wait for her symptoms to resolve naturally. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Sophie then saw another physician at the University of Victoria who ordered an ultrasound and after seeing some concerning results, referred her to an ears, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. When Sophie moved back to Kamloops for her summer break, her care was transferred to local Otolaryngologist (ENT), Head and Surgeon, Dr. David Kramer. Under his informed direction, the necessary biopsies were ordered that ultimately led to her diagnosis.

One moment, Sophie was looking forward to spending the summer working and catching up with friends and family, and the next moment, she was discussing treatment options with specialists and having to make life-altering decisions that could ultimately decide her fate. Sophie’s medical team recommended that she undergo aggressive induction chemotherapy followed by multiple rounds of concurrent chemotherapy and radiation. It was unknown how the chemotherapy would affect Sophie’s chances of having children in the future. As a result, Sophie underwent the process of harvesting and freezing her eggs before any chemotherapy commenced.

Sophie received the first half of her chemotherapy at Royal Inland Hospital under the direction of GP Oncologist, Dr. Liz Ewart. Chemotherapy was like nothing she had ever experienced. In the days following treatment, Sophie had to contend with unimaginable pain, nausea, and fatigue to the point she could not get out of bed. Soon, she barely recognized the girl staring back at her in the mirror. Amidst the countless hours spent in the cancer clinic, Sophie found reassurance and hope in the compassion and expertise offered by RIH’s medical team.

“Facing a rare form of cancer at a young age requires numerous tests and the collective efforts of a dedicated medical team to reach a diagnosis. I will be forever grateful for Dr. Kramer’s unwavering advocacy and determination in overseeing my care. Dr. Ewart, who meticulously oversaw my entire cancer journey, extended her undivided attention to me and my family. No matter what time of day it was, whenever we needed her, she stood by us. To the compassionate nurses and healthcare staff in RIH’s Cancer Clinic, your kindness gave me the hope and strength to push forward and continue treatment.” – Sophie von Dehn

When it came time for radiation, Sophie made the move to Vancouver to receive the rest of her treatment. Sophie’s parents moved down with her, and were by her side every step of the way. Radiation introduced an entirely new set of challenges, but Sophie’s determination coupled with the support of her loved ones propelled her forward. Sophie’s treatment concluded on November 10th, 2022. She had to come to terms with her new physical state of being, and that her road to healing had just begun. After many difficult months, Sophie got the news that she was cancer-free on February 14th, 2023.

The von Dehn family with Dr. Kramer, Otolaryngologist, Head & Neck Surgeon, Royal Inland Hospital
The von Dehn family with Dr. Ewart, GP Oncologist, Royal Inland Hospital

Reaching new peaks – This past summer, Sophie embarked on a solo journey across America, conquering ten peaks from her bucket list. She is set to graduate from university this December and has her sights set on pursuing a mountaineering certification. Sophie’s zest for life remains undiminished as she looks forward to exploring and savoring all the beauty this world has to offer. Today, Sophie embraces her loved ones, holding them close, and with a heart filled with gratitude, she cherishes the people and the remarkable body that fought to get her where she stands today. Sophie’s journey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of love and determination.

As Sophie reflects on her journey, she explains, “Cancer is isolating – it felt like the world had turned against me. Life for others continued while mine came to a screeching halt. But thankfully, I was never alone in my fight. My parents were there for me every step of the way. My friends and family always checked in, sending me gifts, words of encouragement, and endless love. My friend Kyra, who once battled cancer herself, instilled in me a sense of optimism and hope for life post-remission. It touched my heart to know I was in so many people’s thoughts. I am eternally grateful for my incredible network of support and the medical teams who have got me to where I am today.”

We hope you have enjoyed this heartfelt story. If you would like to support the invaluable services that helped to save Sophie’s life, consider making a donation to the RIH Foundation today. Wishing you and your family a season filled with warmth and wellness.