Sister starts GoFundMe in cancer fight for Sophia and Stan Linenberger

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Sophia Linenberger, right, with her sister, Holly,  were guests with their mom and dad of Fort Hays State University Coach Chris Brown for Saturday's scrimmage, as the Tigers show support for Sophia in her fight against cancer.
Sophia Linenberger, center, with the Fort Hays State University Tiger football team, as the Tigers show support for Sophia in her fight against cancer.
Sophia Linenberger, left, with her sister, Holly,  right, and their mom and dad, Stan and Jenny Linenberger.

If Tuesday had been a normal day for Fort Hays State University junior Holly Linenberger, she would have been in class. Her dad, Stan, would have been at work as a battery assembler at EnerSys. And her mom, Jenny, and her younger sister, Sophia, would be driving to Kansas City, Mo., for Sophia’s chemotherapy treatments at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Instead, the whole family was planning to take the four-hour trip from their home in Hays to Kansas City, this time not only for 17-year-old Sophia’s treatments, but for 62-year-old Stan as well.

In a shock to the family, Stan was diagnosed earlier this month with lymphoma, and now faces seven months of chemotherapy at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Now Holly worries not only for Sophia and her dad, but also for her mom.

“She’s gonna have to travel back and forth again, but with my dad and my sister this time,” Holly said. “It’s going to be hard for her to be kind of at two places at once, you know, with my sister having her chemo and my dad having his.”

GoFundMe

During breaks at Fort Hays State University, the 20-year-old Holly said she can go along. 

That’s the case this week, with FHSU on spring break. The plan Tuesday was to load up the family’s 2006 Buick Terraza with food for the motel and everyone’s luggage and be there in time for Stan’s first treatment on Wednesday.

The Linenbergers have been very public with Sophia’s fight against her cancer, which was first diagnosed in January 2019.

Stan’s was just discovered after he went to the doctor for a chronic cough and weight loss.

“It was something that was completely unexpected,” said Holly, who’s accustomed to him being home with her during the week.

To help, she has set up a GoFundMe to try and raise $250,000 for her mom and dad.

“I created it because it’s hard for me to watch them go through this hard time, and especially my mom, you know,” said Holly. “She’s had problems with her vehicle, and it’s gotten worse recently … And now with his diagnosis, they’re going to be going up there more often, and the vehicle has so much wear on it, and so I wanted to do something to try and get them a new vehicle with the money. So it can be one less thing that they have to worry about.”

As of Wednesday morning, Holly had raised $15,060 at the link, https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-a-father-and-daughter-with-cancer

“With my dad’s diagnosis, I think it really hit me hard and overwhelms me,” Holly said. “Our whole family is so close. We’ve always been a close family. We do everything together.”

For inspiration, she looks to the signature yellow bracelet that says “Sophia Strong” that everyone in the family wears, as well as many others.

“My sister’s message, she always tells people, if they’re going through a tough time that they think they can’t get through, to look at the wristband and to stay strong. It’s just a reminder to never give up,” Holly said. “So when I’m in school, and I’m worried, I just look at the wristband and it just makes me think positive, and just to know that everything’s in God’s hands.”

FHSU’s coach Brown lends support

Holly describes this past Saturday as a great thing that happened for her family.

Fort Hays State University Tiger football coach Chris Brown invited the family to watch Saturday’s scrimmage with Southwestern Oklahoma State from one of the private skybox suites at Lewis Field Stadium.

For a couple hours, it was a good distraction from the world of cancer that has enveloped the family since 2019.

“That was a pretty great experience, I think it made all of us happy,” said Holly. “Everything was still on our minds, but it was kind of taken away and distracted for a little bit while we got to watch them play.”

The FHSU football team also showed its support last year for Sophia, a junior at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, who’s been battling the rare Ewing sarcoma. The tumor was removed from her spine through multiple surgeries, and the cancer went into remission for nine months. But it came back in August 2020.

Before Saturday’s game, Sophia met with the Tiger players outside the Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility next to the stadium.

“My sister gave them a pep talk,” said Holly. “She just told them that throughout everything that they’re going through, they just need to stay strong … just keep going and keep fighting, because she fought hard.”

Good news

In January, Sophia had radiation, some 30 treatments in 15 days. They have received some good news that the chemotherapy and radiation are working.

“So it has shrunk a little bit,” Holly said, “but she still has to undergo her chemotherapy until August of this year.”

A student majoring in interior design, Holly through it all is trying to stay on track with school.

“Actually I do pretty well in my classes,” she said. “I just got my mid-term grades and I kept all A’s in my classes. It’s just always been important to me. And I’ve always just wanted to make my family proud.”

Since the original diagnosis in 2019, Holly’s mom would drive Sophia up every week, leaving at the start of each week, and not returning until the end of the week or the weekend.

While many people are supportive, they haven’t been able to actually step in because of COVID-19 and the danger to Sophia’s and Stan’s weakened immune systems, said Holly.

Scheduling cancer management is no simple task for Sophia’s mom.

“It’s hard to go by that schedule, because anything could change, you know,” said Holly. “Like having side effects from chemotherapy, and if something goes wrong, and they have to put off the chemo.”

Now that will be the case for her mom times two.

“It was kind of a comfort for them to come home, or to travel up to them. It was kind of a stress reliever,” Holly said. “But now my dad’s got to be going up there too. So it’s just hard, but she’s so strong.”

Sophia Strong

Both Sophia and Holly’s mom are an inspiration for her, said Holly.

“A lot of siblings fight, but not me and my sister,” she said, “We have like a twin relationship, even though we’re three years apart in age. And so we’ve been best friends, and we do everything together, so that’s what was heartbreaking for my sister’s diagnosis. But knowing that she was always positive and had a smile on her face made it better.”

Sophia is fighting harder the second time around with her cancer, Holly says.

“She’s determined she’s going to get through it again,” said Holly.

On Saturday Sophia gave one of her signature “Sophia Strong” yellow wrist bands to the new players on the Tiger team, just like the ones she gave the players last year, and the one that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes wears for her. 

“She told them she’s their No. 1 fan,” Holly said of Sophia’s pep talk to the Tigers. “What she wanted to teach them and have them remember is to never take anything for granted in life, because your life can change so fast. And we learned that with her, and now with my dad, with his diagnosis being completely unexpected. So just enjoy every day.”

Holly said she’ll miss her dad’s company during the week now.

“It’s going to be harder now that my mom, dad and sister have to be up there, and I’ll be at home,” Holly said. “When I’m out of school or have a break I’ll be able to go up there and help them.”

That’s the case this week.

“We’ll be together during spring break,” she said. “It’s just great to have all of us together.”