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Childhood Cancer Survivor Starts College

Childhood Cancer Survivor Starts College

Eight years ago, the Yeo family, originally from Bellevue, had their lives turned upside down. Mia, the 10-year-old daughter of Serge and Penny Yeo, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. The diagnosis came as a shock to their entire family because of Mia’s age and the fact that she was in otherwise great health.

They initially noticed that something might be wrong when Mia began losing hair, was constantly thirsty, and feeling exhausted. They took Mia to her primary care physician once she experienced alarming symptoms such as throwing up and chest pains.

Mia’s primary care doctor did not find anything medically wrong with her, but her parents pushed for an MRI just to be safe. When the MRI revealed a brain tumor, her parents say they felt like their world collapsed. Although Mia did not initially understand what was going on, when the severity of the situation settled in she felt sad and scared. But the family made it their mission to fight this together.

Determining the type of tumor was difficult due to its location within her brain. However, after multiple biopsies, they discovered it was a non-germinomatous germ cell tumor (NGT). They immediately started her treatment, including six months of chemotherapy.

Following chemo, Mia needed radiation. As a family, they decided on proton therapy radiation because it is a more targeted form of radiation with the goal of minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. This was particularly important to them because Mia, a good student, was still so young and her brain was developing.

Mia was treated by Dr. Ralph Ermoian, who specializes in childhood cancer treatment at the Center. He was very transparent with the Yeo family about the side effects they should expect.

“It’s important for me that I prepare my patients and their parents with all the possible side effects of treatment so that there are no surprises,” he says. “While we do everything possible to avoid negative outcomes, in Mia’s case, due to radiation effects on her brain, there could be substantial effects on future learning, school and work.”

Despite concerns about her cognitive abilities, Mia found a lot of joy during treatment in solving a Rubik’s cube and other puzzles. Today, eight years since her treatment, solving Rubik’s cubes is still a hobby that Mia enjoys. She continues to excel academically and is now settled into her own apartment in Irvine, CA, where she will begin her studies as a biology major this fall at the University of California Irvine.

“I plan to major in biology because I want to pay it forward and find a way to help other cancer patients in the same way that the SCCA Proton Therapy Center helped me,” says Mia.

Mia and her sister Sarah pose for Snapchat.