SUNRISE – Pancreatic cancer, although rare, is on the rise in the United States, but the disease is still typically unheard of in children and young adults. That’s what makes the case of a Sunrise high school student so unusual.
”I’ve always been active. I was a cheerleader, I was base lifting 100 pound girls in the air so I was a normal, healthy girl,” said 17-year-old Sophia Hurtado.
That was until late 2018 just after her 16th birthday.
”We noticed I had weight gain in my face and I got winded going up the stairs,” she said.
The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer came in early 2019 with word that it had spread to her liver.
”To hear cancer that was hard to believe, I mean I didn’t want to die but giving up to me just was never an option, it never crossed my mind to give up,” Hurtado said.
Her strength in the face of difficult odds has impressed her doctors.
”Her positive attitude is really an inspiration and she’ll be inspirational to anyone with pancreatic cancer, to any child with cancer, and to her physicians,” said Dr. Lynn Meister, Medical Director of the Pediatric Palliative Care and Hospice Program at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.
After multiple treatments failed to attack the cancer, Hurtado finally found benefit from a therapy that has never been tried on anyone her age in the U.S.
“I’ve had 4 rounds of it and we’re saving the other 4 in case I need it,” she said.
The treatment Hurtado responded to is called Peptide Radionuclide Receptor Therapy, which was approved by the FDA in 2018.
Her main tumor in the pancreas is shrinking and so are the metastatic tumors in her liver.
”Sofia has learned to live with her cancer. She does not let it define her. She lives with it, she has goals: goals to be in school, she’s gone back to school even in a wheelchair and now she is responding to treatment and her goal is to have a family and a career,” said Meister.
Hurtado continues weekly therapy sessions and is turning her focus to the future.
”Definitely something where I can reach out to people, tell my story and really connect with people. That’s what I see in my future,” she said.