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Meet Mia, Pediatric Cancer Survivor

Meet Mia, Pediatric Cancer Survivor

Ask any mother and she’ll tell you her intuition is one of the greatest tools in her parent toolkit. When Penny Yeo’s vibrant, active, overachieving young daughter, Mia, began to exhibit excessive thirst in addition to suffering from nausea and hair loss, Penny sensed something was amiss. A requested MRI showed a lesion on Mia’s brain, which lead the family on a path they never expected. In the end, it changed their perspective on what is most important in life.

Following the MRI, Mia and her parents had an urgent meeting with a doctor at Seattle Children’s to discuss the need for a biopsy. Due to the proximity of Mia’s tumor to her optic nerve and pituitary gland, she faced a risk of blindness and the possibility of impacting her growth. Although two biopsies were inconclusive, the diagnosis was ultimately made using chemistry tests of the fluid around her brain. Mia had a non-germinomatous germ cell tumor, a very uncommon brain tumor that more often affects boys. A second small spot in the back of her brain indicated that the tumor may have spread to other parts of Mia’s central nervous system.

Mia’s medical oncologist, Dr. Geyer, recommended six cycles of chemotherapy as the first step in fighting the tumor. As she underwent chemotherapy, Mia and her family met Dr. Ermoian, who explained that Mia was a great candidate for proton therapy. With this precise form of radiation, Mia’s treatment could be concentrated on her tumor, preserving the surrounding healthy tissue. “Mia had been a star student and we wanted to do everything we could to continue that,” says Mia’s mother, Penny. “Learning the treatment would be localized helped us make the decision.”  

Although chemotherapy was hard on Mia’s young body, she breezed through her proton therapy, visiting the Center five days a week for six weeks. She was able to go to school in Bellevue during the day and have proton treatments in the afternoon. “We were fortunate that the proton center was so close to home, so Mia was able to go to school and continue her daily activities,” says Penny. Mia experienced some side effects from her treatment, including headaches, mild nausea and a skin irritation. With the help of medication these side effects were manageable and she was able to continue to go to school during treatment. Following proton therapy, Mia underwent the gamma knife procedure at Harborview Medical Center with Dr. Rockhill, a colleague of Dr. Ermoian’s at the proton center, and an expert on brain tumors.

Today Mia is in remission and a normal sixth grader. Always an overachiever and top performer in school, her parents worried her treatments would affect her academically. Happily, she is excelling in school and her parents no longer worry. “We truly believe that continuing normal activities, like running and playing the piano, in addition to our faith, were instrumental in getting Mia through this ordeal,” explains Penny. “Her little sister Sarah was very protective and supportive of Mia throughout the whole journey. Sarah was selfless and never complained. She understood why we spent countless days and nights at the hospital, and so much time was focused on Mia during our battle with the cancer. We are so thankful Mia is happy and healthy today.” Reflecting back on the experience, Penny advises others to follow their intuition. “You know your child best,” she says. “If something doesn’t seem right, fight to have your child seen by a specialist.”