There were many charities at the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club Christmas Tree Festival to donate to this past weekend, but none were as urgent as five-year-old Sophia Chartier’s cancer battle.
A decorated tree was auctioned off to help Chartier, a former Fort Myers Beach resident undergoing chemotherapy treatments in Philadelphia.
Sophia’s father Marcel works for DiamondHead Beach Resort as their restaurant and beverage manager, although these days he commutes fewer hours from the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital when not attending Sophia’s medical treatments.
Sophia was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer that is most common in children.
Known in her family as Princess Sophia, she had already beaten cancer once before, but last summer it resurfaced in her lungs with two tumors – one of which is close to her heart, her mother Milda said.
The family is preparing for another round of ICE chemotherapy this week. “We’ve just been waiting to hear if they find improvements,” Mr Chartier said.
“She’s wonderful,” Chartier said of his daughter, who sounds more lively and cheerful over the phone. “This has been going on since she was three.”
Despite the cancer relapse, Chartier said Sophia is “a pretty tough guy.” She’s learning more about what she’s dealing with, he said.
Sophia’s mother, Milda, said the problems started a few years ago when Sophia felt pain in her stomach. After going on a flight this summer, Sophia got a little dizzy and fell off her chair. A scan of her chest and biopsy revealed the tumors. Sophia is being treated with a chemotherapy regimen known as ICE, which doctors hope will shrink the tumors so they can be removed. Sophia may need to have a bone marrow transplant, her mother said.
Neil Hopgood, general manager of DiamondHead Beach Resort, said Mr Chartier has worked at the resort for more than 15 years and has been given time to care for Sophia in Philadelphia, which has one of the best children’s hospitals in the country. “It’s her best chance now,” said Hopgood.
Chartier moved to Pennsylvania temporarily a few months ago so she could be treated in the hospital. They lived on Fort Myers Beach for ten years before moving to Fort Myers.
Sophia’s first treatment was at Golisano Children’s Hospital in southwest Florida. After the recurrence, the family “didn’t want to take any chances. We wanted to go to the best hospital for children with a doctor who specializes in her type of cancer,” Ms Chartier said.
“It’s a pretty intense regimen,” she said. Sophia’s normal routine is to have three days of chemotherapy followed by two to four weeks of rest. “When she does chemo, she gets depressed. She usually stays on the couch for a week,’ said Mrs Chartier.
Dan and Megan Allers donated and decorated a Christmas tree to raise money to help the family with their expenses. “Marcel was one of the first people I met when I moved to the island nine years ago,” said Mr Allers.
“We felt this was the most worthy goal of the year,” said Ms. Allers.
In addition to the tree that was auctioned off in favor of the Chartier family, DiamondHead Beach Resort donated gift cards and stayed at the hotel. Gift vouchers for The Islander, Gift Gallery & Boutique were also part of the auction.
The tree almost never made it to the auction block. Tim Ryan, of Chicago, bought the tree for the full asking price of $2,500 but didn’t want to keep it, so returned it to auction where he raised another $660 for Chartier for a total of $3,160, Ms. Allers said. .
A Gofundme page has been set up to help the Chartier family, Hopgood said.
“My work has been very good to me,” said Mr. chartier. “My staff is great.”
More than $14,000 was raised for all nonprofits through trees sold and auctioned over two days.
The other local nonprofits that benefit from the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club Christmas Tree Festival were the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, Friends of the Mound House, Fort Myers Beach Art Association, Turtle Time, Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches, Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, Fort Myers Beach Little League and the Estero Island Garden Club.
Mr.’s bison chili Allers won the chili cooking competition from multiple winner Reid Freeman’s smoked pork chili verde.
As for Sophia, as of Monday she was “right after the end of halftime, so she’s feeling great,” Ms Chartier said. “We are not used to life in the big city. We make the most of it.”
The family enjoys going to parks and the theater to relieve the stress of the treatments. Sophia “loves ballet,” her mother said. She went to ballet class when she was in school. ‘Her favorite pastime is being a princess and a mermaid,’ said Mrs Chartier.
The family has been assisted by the Fort Myers Beach Kiwanis Club and through a fundraiser run by the DiamondHead Beach Resort.
“We felt just as much love from the Beach community,” said Ms Chartier. “We can’t wait to come back and get her life back. Hopefully Sophia will be a happy and healthy girl.”
Sophia Chartier, a five-year-old daughter of DiamondHead Beach Resort Restaurant and Beverage Manager Marcel Chartier and his wife Milda, is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for two cancers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her family. A Christmas tree at the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club Christmas Tree Festival raised $3,160 in donations to help her family. / Photo provided