Although most high schools hold homecoming celebrations on the football field and on the dance floor, American Heritage brought homecoming, complete with a marching band, cheerleaders and the football team, to their very own cheerleader, Sophia Hurtado, outside her home in Sunrise, Tuesday.
“It’s crazy. That’s what I’m thinking,” newly crowned homecoming royalty Hurtado said. “Just wow!”
“We had hoped to have her at school, but we couldn’t,” principal Elise Blum said, “so we brought school to her.”
Hurtado has been part of the Heritage community for 14 years, but instead of being at school with her cheerleading squad and her friends, she has been dealing with Cushing syndrome and cancer.
“There were all these signs for the last couple of years, but nobody really put it together,” Hurtado’s mother Maryanne said. “Upset stomach, body aches, unusual weight gain. We couldn’t figure it out.”
Hurtado’s family got her diagnosis in early February.
“They found that she had a huge pancreatic cancer mass,” Maryanne said, “stage four by the time they found it, unfortunately.”
Hurtado has been traveling back and forth between Boston and Miami for her chemotherapy treatments, where it didn’t yield the results her family and so many supporters were hoping for. But their latest trip to a cancer center in Tampa has them feeling more positive.
“She’s actually had this new procedure for nuclear medicine,” Maryanne said. “We’re hoping, with this new treatment, that she’ll actually have a better quality of life.”
Days like the homecoming pep rally on Tuesday help with that, too.
“It’s overwhelming, to be honest,” Maryanne said. “Sophia has been through a lot. This was amazing.”
“I like how they brought it to me in a way so I do feel welcome,” Hurtado said, “and I just want to say thank you to my coaches and everybody who did this.”
And by everybody, Hurtado means a lot of people, including the American Heritage community, Sunrise Police and Mayor of Sunrise Mike Ryan, who said he was moved by Hurtado’s classmates.
“It says something special about their heart as young people to celebrate her, who had been such an important part of the American Heritage family and continues to be and wanted to put this on,” Ryan said.
“It’s tough for us to see her in this state,” Hurtado’s best friend Colby Fleming said, “but I think, to put it in perspective, you just have to think about how tough it is for her and not how tough it is for us.”
“With Sophia being such a big fan of the football team, it was only right that we came here to try to lift her spirits, bring the boys out with the band and cheerleaders and just try to give her some encouragement,” Patrick Surtain, head football coach for the American Heritage Patriots, said.
Hurtado’s mom said when she can’t fight herself, others do it for her.
And as her 17th birthday approaches, this Patriot says that is her message.
“Just to keep fighting, never give up because it’s tough,” Hurtado said. “I’ve been through a lot, and I’m still here, so it means a lot.”
To help the Hurtado family with medical expenses for Sophia’s cancer treatments, click here.
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