Sophie Varney was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) in December of 2018. She turned 16 on May 17 (2020), which happens to be DIPG Awareness DIPG, as she closed out her sophomore year of high school. She had a 4.0 GPA, took advanced classes, and was the freshman Homecoming Princess the previous year.
“She was popular, funny, and sporty,” her mom, Kim Varney, said. “Not only did she maintain her 4.0 GPA since her diagnosis, Sophie made the JV softball team and started every single game.”
Sophie played competitive softball for much of her life – and her club softball coach was the reason doctors were able to diagnose her with DIPG. A slight movement of her head to the left to see the ball when she was swinging – that’s all it took. Her coach advised her parents to have it checked out “just in case.” Shortly after, doctors found the tumor.
After her diagnosis, the softball community rallied around Sophie. Her travel coach organized a fundraiser shortly after she was diagnosed. Three thousand people attended and raised money for Sophie’s treatment. Her travel softball team, Elite out of Grand Rapids, continued to host fundraisers to support her, dedicating a page on their website as “Sophie Varney’s Fundraiser.”
At the beginning of each game, her softball team passed out #SophieStrong wristbands to the other team. “One time, one of the coaches on the other team came over and said she wanted to meet her. And she just told her how strong she was and how amazed she was by her. It’s just such a tight-knit community,” explained Kim.
Not only did her teammates, other softball teams, coaches, and others in the softball community rally around Sophie, her influence reached as far as the University of Michigan women’s softball team. They invited Sophie out for dinner and gifted her with a personalized jersey.
With the diagnosis came devastation. “It’s such a shocking diagnosis,” her mom explained. “But we just hoped and prayed that this medicine and experimental trials continued to work, and that they would keep fighting to reverse this prognosis and develop new treatments.”
“Sophie participated in a clinical trial that was only available at four hospitals,” Kim Varney explains. “The only reason she was there was because of the Carr family. During her treatment, we’d pick her up from school, shoot over to Ann Arbor for her treatment, and come back home in time for dinner. It was so important to us to keep things normal, for her to stay in school, to play softball, and to keep on living like normal.”
“The Carr family made the ultimate sacrifice. Without them, none of this research would have even started with DIPG. Sophie would have had to leave school to go somewhere else to do an experimental trial,” Kim says. “Instead, Sophie was able to stay in the comforts of her home, surrounded by her family, with some of the best treatment in the country right in our backyard.”
Mark Varney, Sophie’s dad, said that resilience isn’t the common notion of “bouncing back” but rather “bouncing forward” after a crisis. “Since Sophie’s diagnosis, we were constantly working on taking the wisdom we had learned about ourselves, about Sophie, and our friends and community, which were so helpful and awe inspiring in terms of the support we received from them collectively, and ‘bouncing forward’ because I would not want to give up that wisdom by just bouncing back to the way it was. What I’ve learned about us all, I wouldn’t give up for anything.”
The World Is Now a Little Less Bright
With heartbreaking sadness, we announce that Sophia Marie Varney passed away on December 20, 2020 from pneumonia linked to her underlying health issue of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).
She was born on May 17, 2004 in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Mark and Kim (Shewchuk) Varney. Sophie was a junior at Portage Central High School and active in Student Council as an elected official, National Honor Society, JV and Varsity Softball, and most recently The Optimist Club. She carried straight A’s and was on the aggressive and demanding IB Diploma track at her passing. She loved to play cards and board games with her family, and go camping and fishing with her dad. She was a huge fan of MSU, Grey’s Anatomy, TikTok, and the Bachelorette. She was very passionate about all her activities and took her commitments seriously, even as her disease started to progress.
Throughout her illness, Sophie continued to thrive and grow and had a determination to beat this cancer. She was laser focused and never let her cancer define her. Her strength and courage in the face of a terminal illness will serve for years to come as a shining example. She was loved by many and will be missed terribly. The outpouring of support from the softball community and her various friend groups has been so humbling.