A Hays teen undergoing treatment in Kansas City for a rare cancer got some special visitors last weekend including singer Selena Gomez and actor Paul Rudd last weekend and was featured in a report Monday on “The Today Show.”
It was all part of The Big Slick, a celebrity fundraiser for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City started in 2009 by Kansas City-area natives comedian Rob Riggle, Rudd and actor Jason Sudeikis.
Sophia Linenberger, 15, was diagnosed in January with Ewing sarcoma, a cancer that grows in the bones or soft tissue surrounding the bone. Only about 200 children and young adults are diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma each year, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Sophia is in her second week of radiation therapy at Children’s Mercy, her mother, Jenny, told The Hays Daily News in a phone interview Monday from Kansas City.
At the same time, she is continuing chemotherapy treatments that consist of three-week cycles, receiving chemo two days the first week, five days in the second week and one day the third week.
She also undergoes physical therapy to strengthen her legs.
In the five-minute report that aired on NBC’s “Today” Monday, Al Roker is seen visiting with Sophia in her hospital bed, playing cards with her and taking pictures.
Roker asks if it was her first Big Slick.
“I was looking forward to it because they told me a month after I was diagnosed, and I’ve just been counting down the days,” she told Roker.
“I couldn’t believe they put that part in the show,” Jenny Linenberger said. “I said ‘I haven’t laughed for a very long time.’ And he made me laugh. Al Roker is very outgoing, so cool and so very funny.”
The interview was Saturday morning, she said, and the report included events from the weekend including a celebrity softball game, bowling tournament and auction that raised $2.5 million for Children’s Mercy.
Sophia got visits from more than the “Today” host, however. Actor Zachary Levi of the movie “Shazam” walked into Sophie’s room.
“I was actually looking for him, and then when he came in her room, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to sing to Sophia.’ He said ‘OK,’ ” Jenny said.
Levi also voiced Flynn Rider in the Disney animated film “Tangled,” and sang a song from that movie to Sophia.
Gomez, Rudd, CNN’s Jake Tapper, and actor Adam Scott also joined Sophia, her mom and sister, Holly, for a photo.
“I’m glad they chose her, because you know, she’s been through so much and just for that little bit, she got to forget about it for a little bit,” Jenny said.
“It picked her spirits up, it picked mine up,” she said.
In addition to the Big Slick celebrity visits, Sophia got another celebrity visit and souvenir from Robert Hight, a drag racer for John Force Racing.
“I actually went to high school with him,” Jenny said. “He popped in unexpectedly and gave her an autographed ball that he had thrown out that day at the Royals game. It was the first pitch.
“We had Al Roker sign it, too,” she said.