Sofia – A Woman of Valor
by Emily Allen
She slipped into the kitchen where I was crisping bacon and flipping pancakes for a group of thirty people arriving to my house to share about life and faith and to learn about photography together. “Can I help you with anything?” she asked as she floated right into my heart, beginning a journey neither of us could have anticipated.
Not three months later, I stood with her in the hospital, 38-weeks pregnant with her third son, while her first son was diagnosed with Leukemia, unexpectedly fighting for his life at age six. She had no family in the country at the time, having transplanted from Europe as a result of her husband’s job. In those frightful days after Jacob’s diagnosis, Sofia and I went from being mere acquaintances to connected-at-the-soul friends.
She called me right from the hospital to tell me what the doctors discovered about her son, who had been a normal, healthy boy up until a few weeks prior. The first weeks were tear-stained and gut-wrenching, filled with heartache and uncertainty. Two weeks into this new cancer journey, Sofia gave birth to her baby while her husband was apart from her at Seattle Children’s Hospital with Jacob. I spent the hours following the birth with her, watching her struggle between rejoicing over her new, perfect baby and acknowledging her worst nightmare unfolding with her firstborn in a hospital not far away.
As those vulnerable moments turned into long vulnerable months, extended hospital stays with tubes, pokes, mysterious infections, and all kinds of unknowns, I witnessed first-hand Sofia’s courage in the midst of her situation. Coming face-to-face with the suffering of her child brought forth a compassionate and courageous artist.
When I met Sofia, photography was a casual hobby for her, but we've spent the past year sharing our passion for capturing people's love, relationships, and milestones. It has been inspiring to watch her develop her technical skills and pour out her soul through the lens, all while working hard to get her son well, keeping her household going, encouraging those around her to cling to hope. She has blossomed in the face of adversity, and makes beautiful images in the midst of an ugly situation.
It would be easy for her feel sorry for herself, and for Jacob’s illness and the long journey to recovery they still have ahead, because they are far from being done. But instead of living by grief, she pounds cancer flat onto the pavement beneath her feet. She is training to run a half-marathon to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this fall, and hopes to follow that with a full marathon at some point.
She also reaches out to offer comfort, hope, and friendship to other families who have this frightful journey in common. She heard that another cancer mama wanted to shave her head in honor of her young son battling neuroblastoma, so she offered to capture the hair-cutting event for the family outside their makeshift trailer-home parked near Seattle Children's Hospital.
Of the experience, she wrote:
I did not cry, not there, but later when going through the pictures of hair falling off.
It's just hair, you can say but no, it's so much more.
It's a statement.
It's a side-effect.
It's a mother’s heart.
Words are too small.
I have seen my son’s hair fall off, seen the chemotherapy side-effects, all of them.
It is hair, but it is a big deal It is part of our identity, a part we cut and style and color and pay for to feel prettier.
Without hair we look different, naked, people notice.
I know God was there, counting, every single hair that fell, every tear.
And he is there when new grows back, there in every moment.
When I think of Sofia, I see courage. I see strength. I see someone who will stop at nothing to find a cure for pediatric cancers, for her own son, and for the many children who are diagnosed every year. And when it would be easy to blame God or despair over the situation, instead she chooses to spread hope. To experience life in the midst of hardship. To love others in the midst of their trials while she struggles through her own.
Emily Allen is a wedding and portrait photographer who lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and four young children. You can find more of her work at http://solacearts.com. (All of the photos are used with permission.) She notes that “the family pictured in the black and white photos have a son who is fighting neuroblastoma and there is a video feature of them on this website, just in case that is of interest, because let's be honest, that mama is a woman of valor also, fighting for her son's life and raising awareness about his disease!”
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.
The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now. I enourage you to read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work.
I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)