The Mercury News: Teen who inspired JW House would appreciate families’ connection

(from left) Mackenzie Keller, Nicole Keller, Sophia Copley, Racy Copley

The guests at Wednesday’s Celebration of Hope breakfast in Campbell — a fundraiser for JW House – are about to be treated to an amazing story about the surprising connection between two families. It’s a tale that would have been appreciated by the teenager who dreamed of creating JW House as a home away from home for families whose kids were undergoing medical treatment.

For Racy Ming Copley, the story started last year when her 12-year-old daughter, Sophia Copley, discovered a lump on her side that was diagnosed in December as Ewing sarcoma — a cancerous tumor that grows on the soft tissue around bones. In Sophia’s case, the tumor was on one of her ribs, and doctors wanted her to begin chemotherapy right away, scuttling plans for an end-of-year family vacation to celebrate the 50th birthday of her dad, Myles Copley. “Instead of going to Hawaii, we went to chemo,” Racy Copley said.

Sophia is on a compressed chemotherapy schedule, meaning every other week the family takes her from their home in Scott’s Valley to Santa Clara Kaiser where she spends the next six days in the hospital. Copley estimates they have spent 40 percent of 2023 at the hospital — which would be hard for anyone, let alone a seventh-grader missing her friends at school. And at first, there seemed to be no one else her age at the hospital when she was there, either.

“For whatever reason she had this expectation that she would meet kids who were going through this, too,” said Copley, who asked the child life specialist on Sophia’s care team if there were any other patients around her age she could talk to. It turns out there was. A 14-year-old named Nicole Keller was also undergoing treatment for bone cancer. Nicole and her mom, Mackenzie Keller, lived just five minutes away from the Copleys in Scotts Valley. The girls met and hit it off immediately.

“They’ve been a great support for each other all the time,” Copley said. “They’re cheerleaders for each other.”

Racy and Mackenzie support each other, too, sharing experiences and advice. In particular, they’ve bonded over JW House, which is on the Kaiser Santa Clara campus on Homestead Road. It opened in 2008, three years after Jan-Willem Knapen, its namesake, died from brain cancer at age 16. He wanted to create a home away from home for families going through what his did, and that’s exactly what JW House has been for the Copleys and Kellers.

Racy Copley said her family has stayed overnight in the rooms but often use it as a place to get work done, grab a homecooked meal, do a load of laundry or just spend a few minutes on the exercise bike. It’s also a place of comfort for Mackenzie, too. “She goes over for meals or we’ll bring each other bags of snacks,” she said.

Sophia Copley recently underwent surgery at Stanford to remove her tumor, and her mom said it was all removed. She still has seven more sessions of chemotherapy — but with a new friend in Nicole, she won’t be going through it alone.

by Sal Pizarro

Read the Mercury News article HERE