‘Village’ coming together to support borough girl with leukemia


By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Sophie Tzunum, front left, is pictured with her sister, Scarlet Tzunum, and parents, Miguel Tzunum and Mayerling Brice. Sophie has high risk lymphoblastic leukemia. A virtual gala is planned for April 30 to support Sophie and her family. -CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — The community is rallying around a borough family that is facing a fight against leukemia for the second time.

Sophie Tzunum, 6, of Naugatuck, was diagnosed with high risk lymphoblastic leukemia on Jan. 28, 2020. Sophie, a first-grader at Maple Hill Elementary School, is undergoing chemotherapy at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Sophie’s older sister, Scarlet Tzunum, 7, is a leukemia survivor and in remission.

“This is the second time our family is battling cancer. It’s been a very difficult journey due to COVID. It’s been very lonely,” said Mayerling Brice, the girls’ mother.

The Pediatric Cancer Awareness Organization at Southern Connecticut State University has chosen Sophie as its “Child of the Year.”

Olivia Zembruski, a Naugatuck resident and president of the Pediatric Cancer Awareness Organization at Southern, said the organization holds an annual gala to support a child battling cancer. The group also works to raise awareness about pediatric cancer.

Zembruski said the organization is holding a virtual gala April 30 at 7 p.m. to raise money for Sophie and her family. The event will be live streamed and feature a special message from Sophie and her family, and a musical performance by Taryn Papas, who was a contestant on “The Voice.”

The gala will also include keynote addresses by Lilly Bumpus, a cancer survivor and Girl Scout from California who broke the national record for the most Girl Scout cookies sold in a season, and Sarah Crawford, a professor of genetics and cancer biology at SCSU.

There will also be a raffle with over $1,000 worth of prizes.

The gala will conclude with a prerecorded video message of support from the community for Sophie.

Sophie Tzunum, left, is pictured with her sister, Scarlet Tzunum. Sophie has high risk lymphoblastic leukemia. A virtual gala is planned for April 30 to support Sophie and her family. -CONTRIBUTED

“Naugatuck is such close knit community that when it affects one person it affects us all,” Zembruski said. “When pediatric cancer impacts one child, it impacts the whole Naugatuck community.”

Tickets for the event are $15. There are also different sponsorship levels available. A bronze sponsorship costs $50, which includes a plaque. A silver sponsorship is $75 and comes with a plaque and a “Sophie Strong” facemask. Gold sponsorships are $100 and come with a plaque, and a “Sophie Strong” facemask and blanket.

The goal is to raise $5,000 for the family.

Naugatuck Public Schools will kick off the day of the gala with a pajama day. Students can donate a dollar to wear pajamas at school. The money will go to the fundraiser.

Brice said Sophie has another year and half of treatments remaining. Brice said she and her family are staying strong despite the adversity. She said her family has received support from the borough, schools, family members and close friends.

“We are thankful to all our village. They have provided so much strengths and blessings during these hard times,” Brice said. “This being our second time battling cancer with my youngest daughter, it has shown us that we are so much stronger than we thought. However, the pain as a mom going through this a second time, it is strong. I don’t think any parents should go through this once or twice.”

For information on the gala or to purchase tickets, contact Zembruski at 203-490-7270 or zembruskio1@southernct.edu.