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One Ambitious Girl, and Wares That Care

May 13, 2010 By:
Daphna Berman, JE Feature
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Cancer survivor Sophie Freedman, 12, with Daeja Newman, 8
Sophie Freedman is a typical sixth-grader in many ways. She loves animals, the color pink, dissecting things in science class and making jewelry. And so, when it came time to prepare a Bat Mitzvah project, beading bracelets and then giving them to children with cancer seemed like a great idea.

But for Sophie, who set up shop at the oncology unit at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on a recent day to give away her wares, the project was far more personal.

"I wanted to give back," said the 12-year-old, who at the age of 2 was diagnosed with cancer and treated at CHOP.

"I come here every year" for checkups, "and I see the kids. I want them to have the bracelets and see themselves as beautiful. Each bracelet is unique and different, just like them," she added.

Together with a batch of her friends, Sophie -- who has a shock of curly, bright-red hair -- made dozens of bracelets of all sizes and colors, including boy-themed jewelry with baseballs and other sports paraphernalia. Each bracelet took about a half-hour to make, she said.

"I don't remember so much about being sick because I was young, but it was a hard time, I survived it, and now I am perfectly healthy," she said, citing the message she wants to send to the other kids.

At Sophie's table, bracelets were separated into sizes as she sat in the oncology playroom, waiting for her customers. As the morning went by, children began to stream in and make their choices. Some, like Kyler VanNocker, 5, deliberated for what seemed like days before finally settling on a selection, while Maddox Malavé, 5, quickly zeroed in on a bracelet with three baseballs.

"He's really into baseball," said his mother, Jeanette Malavé.

"Mom," whined Maddox, who at age 5 was clearly a bit embarrassed.

Meanwhile, Daeja Newman, 8, picked a red-and-gold bracelet, as well as an extra one for her sister. Afterward, she lingered to ask Sophie about her own battle with cancer.

"Yeah, I used to be here, too," said Sophie.

"Just looking at Sophie is positive," said Daeja's father, Duane Newman. "It motivates me even further to overcome this."

'Come Full Circle'

According to Dr. Jill Ginsberg, director of the cancer-survivorship program at CHOP, children like Sophie -- who have been cured of cancer and live normal lives -- still require an annual checkup.

"We like to monitor for any effects there may be as a result of their chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but as you can see, Sophie is doing beautifully," she said. "Kids who are cured of cancer can go on to live very full lives and, like Sophie, can really give back to the community. She has really come full circle."

"There is no greater mitzvah than making kids smile," Ginsberg added, "and she has done that several times today."

Sophie's mother, Melissa Hubsher Freedman, a psychologist, vividly recalls the time the family spent at CHOP. Sophie was 2 when doctors found a tumor at the base of her spine, which blocked her gastrointestinal system. She underwent surgery soon after, and then underwent a rigorous chemotherapy treatment program. Sophie responded well, and in the years since, has returned to CHOP annually for blood tests as part of the hospital's follow-up program.

In photos at the time, Sophie's hair might have fallen out, but she's seen smiling at the camera.

"She used to go around to the other patients and make faces at them so that they would smile," recalled Freedman.

The idea to give out bracelets was Sophie's, but her mother explains it this way: "Every kid here has a tube in one arm, but we don't want them to focus on that, so we wanted them to have a bracelet on the other hand."

Sophie, who has an older brother, is scheduled to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah on May 30 at the family's synagogue, Congregation Beth El in Yardley.

In the meantime, another good thing came out of Sophie's Bat Mitzvah project.

Her class at Princeton Day School was scheduled to dissect a cow's heart on the day she gave out the bracelets, but when her teacher heard that, the dissection was rescheduled for another day.

After all, Sophie likes making jewelry, but science, she says, is still her favorite subject.

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