Editor’s note: This is part of a series profiling East Texas high school graduates.
Kenzie Sondrol will be celebrating a lot more than the end of high school when she participates in Sabine ISD’s graduation ceremony on June 6.
She’s cancer free, after her second battle in four years with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“At first, it was rough, because you never think that you’re going to be the one with it,” said Sondrol, recalling what it was like the first time she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, when she attend Pflugerville schools, near Austin.
Sondrol celebrated her 18th birthday on May 23 after being declared free of the disease for the second time just a few days earlier, on May 20, she said.
“I was just a 14-year-old girl, freshman year of high school, so I was excited and all of that,” she said. “At first, it was rough, but it changes your outlook on life. I guess you start to see things differently after you’ve been through something like that. You see how easy it could have taken you away, so you’re grateful for everything.”
Sondrol had just been chosen for the varsity golf team in Pflugerville, which she said was a “big deal” because she was a freshman.
Then, she noticed a lump above her collarbone. It took six weeks, with visits to several kinds of doctors before a biopsy revealed the cause.
“It was just a lump, and that was it,” she said. “They were really surprised, because I didn’t have any of the symptoms that a normal person (with Hodgkin lymphoma) would have. It was kind of like a puzzle. They couldn’t figure it out.”
She was away from school for the rest of that semester and part of the spring semester while she underwent chemotherapy to treat the tumor in her chest and a couple of spots in her neck, followed by time to allow her immune system to recover.
“They said it would be an easy cure,” and that the cancer wasn’t likely to return, Sondrol said.
“But life happens, I guess,” she said.
Sondrol said she has an aunt who teaches at Sabine ISD, and her grandparents, Ken and Pam Sondrol — her mother’s parents — moved to the area during her freshman year. She and her mother, Sarah Sondrol, followed to be close to family.
“After going through it the first time, I kind of wanted to switch things up, kind of start over, start a new life and put it behind me,” Sondrol said.
She liked what she found at Sabine ISD.
“It was really fun. I was cool that it was a smaller school compared to Austin, and I started making friends there,” Sondrol said. “I was having a good time. I was on varsity track, and yeah, it was fun.”
At the end of her junior year, though, her cancer returned.
“I felt another lump come up in my neck. It just didn’t feel right,” Sondrol said. A CT scan showed a mass in her chest she didn’t know about.
Just before her 17th birthday, she received the diagnosis that the cancer had returned. The teen has been under the care of an oncologist at Medical City Dallas, with months of chemotherapy and then proton therapy.
“It was definitely harder the second time, because I have a job at Journeys,” and she had been looking forward to a promotion at the teen-oriented clothing store at Longview Mall at the time of her diagnosis, Sondrol said.
She finished her time at Sabine through home-school with help from her teachers, she said.
“I have never seen someone so young — with so much adversity to face — do it with the strength and grace like Kenzie,” said April Washburn, who is, among other things, head track coach at Sabine. “Before her cancer came back, I was blessed to be her coach, and I was able to witness her determination and maturity when dealing with the small stuff in sports. Watching her beat cancer for the second time was no different. She handled it with courage and poise. She is a light to others. She is a warrior and an amazing young lady that will steal your heart.”
A PET scan on May 20 confirmed the cancer was gone from Sondrol, in time for her to celebrate her 18th birthday. Also, she just was promoted to co-manager at Journeys. Sondrol said her co-workers there have been her “No. 1 supporters.”
“My work ethic — I strive to do good at everything,” she said.
She said she’s holding off continuing with school until she knows more about what she wants to do, but she knows she wants to continue working at Journeys, with hopes of one day managing a store of her own.
She knows that her illness “could have been a lot worse,” and her experience made her mature faster, Sondrol said.
“It made me appreciate everything a lot more,” she said.