BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - For Christmas, Sophie Chhowalla, a third grader at Woodruff School who was recently diagnosed with cancer, wished for her entire family to visit for Christmas dinner.
Sophie, the daughter of Jill and Jig Chhowalla, is battling stage IV neuroblastoma. She is currently undergoing treatment at the Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Thanks to family, friends and neighbors -- and the coordination of Karen Cassels-Foote, a family friend -- Sophie’s wish came true. Local caterer Michael Ramella of Devour Catering agreed to make the meal, despite the fact he was completely booked, said Sophie’s aunt Krissy Huetz. And, Anything Floral generously provided the Christmas centerpiece. In addition, a group of well-wishers set the tables and left quite a few gifts. “I don't really have the words to say how grateful we all (especially the Chhowallas) are,” said Huetz.
Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Chhowalla Family enjoyed dinner with 35+ family members from both sides of the family. This was the best gift Sophie could receive.
Sophie's parents, Jill and Jig, are slowly adjusting to their new normal. “It was a terrific blow when the diagnosis first came through. The raw pain and devastation were like nothing I've ever seen, but they are determined to keep their little girl in a happy place and patiently get her through everything,” said Huetz.
Positivity and grace have been key ingredients in Sophie’s fight. She is just a naturally positive person. “She's so smart and charming, people can't help but fall in love with her. Her first day in the hospital, she won over the entire staff with her humor and infectious smile,” said Huetz.
Sophie’s parents try to keep things happy -- and keep jokes to a maximum. “We laugh, sing, play, and are generally silly as much as possible. Jill, Jig, and Maya (Sophie's sister) continue to maintain as much normalcy as possible,” said Huetz.
Sophie’s schoolmates were made aware of her medical condition just before the holiday break and were introduced to the VGO robot that will allow her to attend class remotely. She will start attending class through VGO after the holiday break. She has been keeping up with her school work thanks to her principal, Patricia Gasparini, the school nurse, Debra Ruetsch and her teacher, Karen Calabrese -- as well as many other members of the school and hospital staff. “They have been amazing and made sure Sophie could even order gifts from the school's special holiday sale so she could give gifts to her family,” said Huetz.
When Sophie learned she was going to lose her hair due to treatment, she saw it as an opportunity to have some fun so she asked for purple highlights. Mercedes, who owns M Crescimbeni Beauty Beauty, made it happen. As her hair started coming out and making her scalp itch, she decided to just get it cut off. She went to Hair Body and Soul in New Providence, where they slowly and patiently removed layer after layer, letting Sophie decide when to stop, said Huetz. “She chose to shave it all off, after which she was given a ‘scalp facial,’ which she loved. Then she got a lovely holiday manicure.” Her father also shaved his head in solidarity.
Her sister, Maya, is of course concerned for her sister, but has been a great support. She and some friends put together a wonderful care package before Sophie went for her first treatment. It was filled with all Sophie's favorite things. Maya's Girl Scout troop put together two jars of messages of love and encouragement for Sophie to read when she goes in for treatments. Although Sophie can’t attend her own Girl Scout meetings, her troop pooled together to get her a subscription to Little Passports.
The community has provided a huge helping of support for the family. A food train has been set up through the Berkeley Heights YMCA and a gofundme page [https://www.gofundme.com/f/xdt8z-sweet-sophie] has been set up to assist with some of the family’s financial burden, including medical expenses. The hope is that enough money can be raised that Sophie's family can concentrate on caring for and healing Sophie, without the added burden of stressing about finances.
Both Jill and Jig have been so moved and humbled by the incredible outpouring of love from friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers.
Sophie has a long road ahead with many months of inpatient treatment. She currently is back at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown for her next treatment.