Mia Sharp was a typical 13-year-old who loved to play tennis. That passion may have saved her life.
The Friendswood teen was competing in a tennis tournament in 2013 when she was hit in the head by a racket. Mia was dizzy and seeing double, so her parents took her to the emergency room.
Their world stopped when the MRI showed a mass in Mia’s brain. After a biopsy, Mia was diagnosed with a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a type of brain tumor.
“It was pretty rough. I honestly couldn’t believe it,” Mia said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
Thanks to that wayward tennis racket, they caught it early.
Doctors kept a close watch on the inoperable tumor with regular MRIs. About a year later, it started growing.
Experts at MD Anderson treated Mia’s tumor with Proton beam therapy, a very precise radiation that minimizes the damage to healthy tissue.
“We were very blessed, especially that we are here in Houston,” said Mayra Sharp, Mia’s mom.
When the tumor swelled because of the radiation, Mia started seeing double again so doctors put her on steroids. That turned out to be the toughest part of her journey.
“It wrecked her body. Her hair fell out. She gained 30 pounds in three months,” Mayra said. “The pain in her joints was horrendous. She couldn’t sleep. It was very tough to see her in so much pain.”
Photos: Mia on prom night at MD Anderson
Mayra said the weight gain and swelling was especially difficult for a girl Mia’s age.
“Looking like a different person. She wasn’t Mia anymore,” Mayra said.
Mia said some of her high school friends didn’t understand what she was going through.
“I was losing a lot of friends because of the treatments and I didn’t have any time to spend with them.”
There were nights when mother and daughter would cry themselves to sleep. But the next morning, Mia would bounce out of bed, ready to tackle the challenges of another day.
Photos: MD Anderson patients get prettied up for the prom
“She just wanted to get through it… to make it all matter,” Mayra said.
Three months of chemo followed the steroids. Through it all, Mia stayed in school and stuck with tennis. She even won district her junior year.
Her mom said faith played a key role in their journey.
“We know the purpose and plan was bigger than us,” Mayra said. "It definitely took a village to get through it all, and we couldn't be any more grateful to have great family and friends and church that helped so much and unconditionally."
Mia, now 17, finished treatment in time to enjoy the fun and festivities of her senior year at Clear Brook High School. She even got to go to two proms -- one for school and another for MD Anderson patients.
Prom pics: A magical night for MD Anderson patients
This Saturday night at Challenger Stadium, there will likely be more tears for the Sharps when Mia receives her diploma. But this time they will be happy tears.
“Just to see her walk, it’s amazing,” Mayra said. “Her struggle, the will to survive and overcome cancer is unique, amazing, courageous and inspiring. She’s my hero.”
It will also be a time for Mia to reflect on the friends she made at MD Anderson who didn’t survive. The young patients there share a special bond based on the struggles only they can understand.
“Three of my closest friends have passed away,” Mia said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
As she closes one chapter and begins another, Mia will attend Texas State University. She plans to become a child life specialist and her goal is to help pediatric cancer patients. What advice would she give to other young patients?
“Just don’t give up. Live your normal life every day.”
Mia finished treatment a year ago but the tumor is still there. MD Anderson appointments and MRIs will be a regular part of her future. Doctors say her prognosis is good.