Stricken by a rare auto-immune disease that hits only three in a million young children, Willoughby’s Sophie Finn hasn’t let it diminish her athletic drive.
In fact, the 13-year-old holds fast to a desire to be play soccer through university – and maybe even one day compete professionally.
But that dream seemed permanently unattainable last fall, when the Grade 7 student from Langley Fine Arts School suddenly started suffering unexplained weakness and pain.
Over the subsequent three months, her health problems escalated, and for a time around Christmas it caused such inflammation in her muscles that she had to depend on a wheelchair to get around most places.
“She really couldn’t walk,” recalled her mother, Mia.
“There’s been a lot of hard days,” Mom added. “We didn’t know if this would end… it was scary times for sure.”
After several months and numerous mis-diagnoses, it was finally determined Sophie was living with juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM). And now, following an aggressive regimen of steroids and other drugs, she is regaining her strength and her life.
So much so, that this “avid athlete” is not only back on the soccer field practising with the Fraser Valley U13 Metro soccer team (although for limited lengths of time), but she’s also back at school full-time and excelling academically, and she was recently crowned Fort Langley’s May Queen 2018.
That means that both she and her royal party will be front and centre in this Monday’s May Day parade and pole dance ceremonies in Fort Langley.
Getting to this point
Without question, it’s been a rough journey to her JDM diagnosis, but a growing experience as well, mother and daughter agree.
“She wears it with some pride now, but the struggle has been immense” and wouldn’t likely have been possible if not for all the cheerleaders who Sophie had in her corner, Mia elaborated.
That list extends from her younger brother, Daniel, and father, John, to her classmates, friends, and all the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who have been there for her.
There were actually a lot of people who stepped up to help boast Sophie’s morale, when she wasn’t having great days.
“They’ve been amazing,” Mom said of the Metro team – coached by Chesley Hannessen – recalling how teammates, parents, and coaches went out of their way to visit her when she was confined to hospital for almost three weeks in November, hang out with her at home, or wheel her across the field whenever she could attend games.
“With the support of everyone, she’s staying positive and looking forward,” Mom added.
And that said, Sophie admits she has been looking for ways to give back for all she’s received.
Still unable to play soccer, and still looking to fully regaining her strength with weekly physiotherapy and doctor’s appointments, she’s using some of her “down” time constructively.
For instance, she signed up to be part of the Fort Langley royal party.
Since Sophie had volunteered at the annual royal tea for the past few years, she was familiar with the royal party activities. So, when a family friend noted their applications for 2018 had been slow to come in, and asked Sophie to sign up, she agreed.
While she didn’t hesitate to sign up, Sophie never expecting to win. But, her name was drawn for queen in a random draw.
She was a little nervous when she first learned of her new title, but excited at the same time, Sophie told the Langley Advance.
Upon further reflection of her new duties, Sophie said she’s now hoping to use her public appearances as the May Queen – as well as any other chances that present themselves – as a chance to champion for the BC Children’s Hospital.
Likewise, she hopes to also share with anyone who will listen, the realities of auto-immune diseases, like her’s, and what it has meant to her life.
“I’m a lot better now, and not weak anymore,” she said. While doctors are describing her as an average kid again, she must continue to take immune suppressants and fight to build up her endurance and strength.
Tuesday night, when talking with the Advance about her experience, she was also working on her speech for May Day and trying to figure out how best to present her own story and the eight-month quest that brought her to today.
Mo m stepped in to summarize: “Our hope is that no other kids with auto-immune disease will go through the months of mystery, the unknown, and get a faster diagnosis,” Mia said. That can only come with more awareness about the disease, and her daughter Sophie is just the determined young girl to help achieve that.
Royal party contenders
Sophie is expected to be joined by other members of the royal party at this weekend’s May Day festivities: May Queen 2017 Emerson Curtis, Miss Canada Hailey Jesiak, maids of honour Grace Kortus and Marley Rutherford, as well as princesses Bianca Chris, Taneesha Wilie, and Hailey McIntosh.