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Hero Fund

Team Z for Phi

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Sophia’s mom signed up for her first St. Baldrick’s event in 2015. She didn’t know any kids with cancer but hoped to make a difference. All that changed just twelve days later, when Sophia was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The Zematis family, known as Team Z, is committed to funding quality research of alternative treatments that are less toxic so our kids can not just survive but thrive.
Funds Raised in 2024
Funds Raised in 2023
Total Funds Raised
Since 2015

On January 20, 2015, eight words changed our lives forever - “Your daughter has a mass in her brain.”

Sophia is now 5 years old and has been in treatment for an inoperable low grade glioma for half of her life. She has endured 80 chemo infusions of three different regimens. She has had 8 surgeries and over a dozen MRIs. Countless hours of occupational, physical and speech therapy. She has three different foreign objects embedded in her body (a VP shunt, a port and a puberty suppressing implant). She has optic nerve atrophy and has lost her vision in one eye.

And yet, she smiles. She's growing. She makes us laugh. She has taught us about strength, attitude and endurance. We are so grateful we have her here to fight with and for.

We know we have been lucky. The harsh reality is that fifty percent of the children who have a brain tumor lose their lives. We have made deep friendships at the hospital, only to have those precious children ripped away from this world. We also stand witness to the struggles that survivorship entails - the kids who arrive on the other side of their initial diagnosis, only to face an uphill battle, as they navigate the multitude of handicaps, caused by the very treatments that saved their lives. We can do better. We must do better.

We have so many questions and there are so few answers. This is due mainly to a severe lack of research funding. When people become aware of the critical circumstances these children face every day, we know the tide will turn.

As Sophia was taken into emergency surgery to save her life that first night, our pediatrician told us, “There will be good that comes out of this. You will learn how loved you all are.”

Truer words have never been spoken. As the word spread about sweet Sophia’s diagnosis, the love came flying at us and it has only grown over time. Our community celebrates each victory with us and carries us during the tough times.

What we didn’t (and couldn’t) know, is that diagnosis is just the beginning. It comes in waves, kind of like sinking in quicksand. There are pauses where everything stops and seems like it may be okay. Then, a sudden shift and we find ourselves sinking again. Each time the sands feel like they will swallow us whole, there they are - our community, holding out a guide rope so we can surface and rise.

Our community’s efforts have been varied and we really know how to throw a great party! We have partnered with Donna’s Good Things and Chiaravalle Kids Conquer Cancer, raising big bucks during four different Brave the Shave events. Our friends at M Burger created the Sophia shake and donated the proceeds for an entire month. Through online voting, Team Z for Phi earned $15,000 from Harlequin Publishing. Other organizations who have partnered with us to throw “Parties with a Purpose” include Hewn Bakery, Little Beans, Andy’s Frozen Custard and Emerald City Theatre Company.

Together, we have committed to having fun while making a real difference for all the children, by funding research into less toxic treatments so our children can survive and thrive!

We can do this. We must do this. Your dollar may be the key to unlock the answers we so desperately need.

Thank you for joining Team Z for Phi!

Team Z for Phi Highlights & Happenings

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life

Author Megan Stielstra’s new book titled “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life” includes an inspiring essay about choosing kindness over fear, featuring Sophia, titled, “We Say and Do Kind Things.” Learn more about the book here.

2nd Story Podcast

Sarah, Sophia’s mom, weaves together a tale of grief, hair, and fundraising in the wake of her child's cancer diagnosis. Listen to her 2nd Story podcast here.

Tiny Cancer Patient Cheered On By Cubs' Anthony Rizzo

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is a special friend of Sophia. Read about more about her cancer fight and connection with Rizzo here.

Photo Gallery

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Where does the money go?

Donations given to the Team Z for Phi fund go directly to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund lifesaving childhood cancer research around the world. The Foundation is guided by a Scientific Advisory Committee, comprised of leading experts in the childhood cancer community, to ensure that every dollar makes the greatest impact for kids with cancer.


Who's involved

These people make us smile - they’re the doers and money-raisers on behalf of the Team Z for Phi Fund. They’re shaving their heads, hosting events, starting fundraisers and more to make childhood cancer research possible.

See who’s raising money

2024 Events for Team Z for Phi

Chiaravalle Montessori Event Photo
    Chiaravalle Kids Conquer Kids' Cancer
    • Feb 25th, 2024
    • Evanston, IL
    • 46 participants
    • $77,663.94 raised

    This event is private.

    Private events are for people at the company, organization, school, etc., where the event is taking place. Please don't crash the party.

    Do you want to continue to register for this event?

    No Yes

    Get involved your own way:

    Start your own St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event to raise money on behalf of our Hero Fund! You’ll be paired with a staff member who will walk you through every step of the process, and you’ll have fun knowing you’re doing a great thing for kids with cancer.

    Register to shave your head and raise money for our Hero Fund at any St. Baldrick’s event happening around the world! Not finding an event near you? Register as a virtual shavee and shave your head anytime, anywhere.

    Head-shaving not your thing? You can start a fundraiser to raise money for our Hero Fund with St. Baldrick’s in a way that interests you! Like biking? Bike a marathon. Like baking? Start a cookie baking fundraiser… You get the picture.

    Need help? Email us at Funds@StBaldricks.org

    Thank you to our 2024 donors

    $1,000 - $2,500

    This event is private.

    Private events are for people at the company, organization, school, etc., where the event is taking place. Please don't crash the party.

    Do you want to continue to register for this event?

    No Yes

    Private events are for people at the company, organization, school, etc., where the event is taking place.