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Champion by Choice

Sophia Stogiannis Jones, Champion by Choice | Written by Liz Barker

I first met Sophia when I attended a Femfessionals luncheon. Typically at our networking  luncheons we all share our “30 second Elevator Pitches” about what our business’ are. What I learned about Sophia was that she is a founding board member of the Philadelphia FF chapter and that she is a personal stylist for quality clothing manufacturer, J. Hilburn. My first impressions of Sophia during our short introductions were her healthy and energetic demeanor and her happy smile.

What I didn’t know was that Sophia had a personal truth behind her title of wife, mother, and business professional that no one could see. The “truths behind our titles” was a kick-off exercise that we did at a recent Femfessionals weekend workshop, where we each pulled back our curtains to reveal our hidden challenges. Doing this exercise is the opposite of our “30 second pitches”. I actually find it to be more personal and intriguing because it puts us all on common ground of challenges, vulnerability and perseverance.

I found out about Sophia’s “truth” and our much deeper connection when I later attended a volunteer meeting for the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer organization and surprisingly encountered her there. I found out that we have much in common besides Femfessionals. We are both breast cancer survivors – she for 2 years and I for 25 years. Sophia’s personal truth is a championship story.

Like me, Sophia is an example of a BC myth buster. She was just 35 years old at diagnosis, with no family history and was in good health. She and her husband Jay were excitedly expecting their first child after enduring some past difficulties with miscarriage. 5 days before Christmas and 34 weeks into her joyous pregnancy, the “C bomb” was dropped and everything changed. Can you imagine this twist of fate and the sharp change of emotion from happy joy to fear and worry?

Because she was near her term, Sophia’s prescribed treatment was to induce her delivery of her baby daughter at 37 weeks and to harvest and preserve some of her eggs to shield them from chemo for later. I, on the other hand, was only about 20 weeks along when diagnosed, much too early and risky to induce a preemie. My course of action was to have my mastectomy and chemo while in my 3rd trimester while carrying. All the while worrying what the fate of my son would be.

Sophia’s outcome was perfect but it required her courage. She delivered her beautiful baby girl Katerina and then went on to start treatment just 1 month after Katerina’s birth. She had chemotherapy, double mastectomy and radiation treatments.

Both Sophia and I faced a life threatening fate that was a double jeopardy, for us and our babies. Thankfully today, we and our children are all healthy survivors and thrivers.

As I interviewed her for this blog, Sophia and I felt like kindred spirits. We both were dealt a bad hand of fate but we refused to back down. We made a choice to carry on and to fight for ourselves and our loved ones. Like me, Sophia told me that what kept her going was looking at her precious daughter. Katerina gave her the strength to persevere.

We talked about the numerous valuable life lessons that we learned from our adversity:

That we had an amazing support group of family and friends to give us positive energy. That we felt that we were never alone in our battle. That a life altering event can change your paradigm of life. It gives us gratitude for the precious gift of good health and a full life.

But the most important lesson that we both share is what I call the “90/10 Rule” –

Life is only 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it.

 Sophia and I both concurred that it made no sense to throw a pity party and to question why. We simply had to accept and deal with the hand that we were dealt.  Attitude is everything.

I plan to make “Champion by Choice” a regular feature where I can shine the spotlight on other life champions to hear their inspirational stories regardless of what their obstacles or adversities were. As evidenced from the past successes of other “cinderalla stories”, I am confident that sharing these championship stories will inspire others.



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