The fight against cancer: alumna shares battle with leukemia


Karen Andrews

This year marks the sixteenth year of Mia winning her battle against her cancer

Taylor Chronert, Staff Reporter

Before she was two years old, her life changed completely. Sixteen years later, she is sharing her story of hope to anyone who needs to hear it.

“I had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and I was diagnosed at 17 months, which is a little over a year,” Vandegrift alumna Mia LeBoeuf said.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells. ALL is one of the most common childhood cancers and occurs when a bone marrow cell develops errors in its DNA. After Mia was diagnosed, she underwent many different types of treatments to combat this cancer. She received a transplant in 2006, so this year marks her ninth year officially cancer free.

“The first thing you feel is fear because you don’t want your child to have a life threatening illness,” Mia’s mother, Loree LeBoeuf, said. “I know that fear doesn’t come from the Lord; it comes from the enemy, and it’s something you have to fight against. Mia’s battle with cancer strengthened my faith and helped me learn to put my trust in the Lord.”

Mia was very young when she was diagnosed with her cancer, but Loree said she remembered Mia being such a good patient. She never cried, and when she felt sick from chemotherapy, she still just wanted to go play and be a kid.                                                                                                                              

When struggling with her cancer, all Mia wanted to do was be a kid have fun (Loree Lebouf ).

“I only had a few upset stomach aches, but I would take the chemotherapy pretty easily,” Mia said. “I was a very young patient, and the times I did get upset, it really was when I was on steroids, or I was just having a bad day.”

To help with the recovery, Mia had to take medication, which included chemotherapy, spinal and cranial radiation, as well as a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant. Her older sister, Meredith LeBoeuf, was her donor. The girls’ mother said it was a tough experience for both of them.

“Meredith wasn’t really of an age yet to understand what was going on, which made it really challenging, and it required her to be put through surgery,” Loree said. “Meredith was on one end of the hospital having the apheresis done, and Mia was on the other end of the hospital going through intense chemo. It was awful.”

Due to her intense chemotherapy, Mia has permanent hair loss. When she was in third grade though, she got a new hair piece from Hair Club for Kids, and she said that having hair gave her more confidence as a child.

“I was being treated differently because I didn’t have hair,” Mia said. “A lot of younger kids would come and stare at me, and I didn’t really want to be the center of attention. I wanted to be treated as a normal kid and I didn’t want to be looked at any differently.”

Mia said she was part of many different organizations that help people like her with hair loss. Those organizations included Hair Club for Kids and Locks of Love. 

Mia in the process of getting her first ever wig put on (Loree Lebouf ).

“I have to wear wigs now instead of hair pieces because I aged out of the program I was in,” Mia said. “I tried out Locks of Love, which is common with most people. That didn’t work out for me, so then I transitioned into Hair Club for Kids. It was a free program until you age out at 18. I stayed with them for a long time from third grade up to high school, and I have my first couple of wigs now.”

When Mia put on her first wig, she remembered a change in her attitude that day, and she said it made her feel ecstatic.

“I was kind of depressed and was like, ‘This is taking a long time,’” Mia said. “As soon as they kept getting closer to the end, you could see my smile just getting bigger and bigger. It just made me feel really ecstatic, and I was like, ‘I have hair.’ Originally, I had brown brunette hair but then I transitioned to red and honestly, I love the color.”                                                                                                                                                                  

Mia models her first ever wig (Loree Lebouf ).

Mia said that when she was younger, she felt like an open book because she wasn’t wearing her hair pieces yet and didn’t have a problem with people knowing about her cancer diagnosis.

“Typically, I don’t go blabbing around that I’m a two-time cancer survivor unless it’s a conversation starter,” Mia said. “I mean my parents knew, and I would tell my friends. But today, it’s hard to tell since I now wear a wig.”

While fighting through her cancer, Mia took part in a lot of different organizations and events that support people who are fighting cancer, including “Light the Night Walk,” “Leukemia Cup Regatta,” and “Pennies for Patients,” which were all through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She also participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which she has been doing since middle school.

“I found out about Relay for Life through my older sister, Madeleine, who was in high school at Vandegrift,” Mia said. “The first time I went to Relay for Life was with my two sisters and my cousin, and then I always felt this urge to attend Relay, and [I believe] that it gives people hope. I just wanted to show that there is hope out there.”

Last year, Mia would’ve been able to share her story at Relay for Life during the “Luminaria” ceremony, but the event was canceled due to COVID-19. One of the things Mia would have mentioned was her team of nurses that took care of her when she was in the hospital.

“I wouldn’t have been able to share a whole lot because I was so young, but one of the things that I would’ve mentioned were my nurses and their importance,” Mia said. “I loved my nurses; I loved my medical staff. I would also talk about my experiences through ‘Camp Challenge’ because I met people who have now passed away, and I just cherish those memories of them.”

April 7, 2006 was the day that Mia underwent her stem cell transplant, so that is the day she and her parents call her “re-birthday.” This year marks her 16th re-birthday.

“For the first three years, it’s rocky because you aren’t really considered cancer free until you hit the five-year mark,” Mia said. “Once I finally got out of the hospital, nothing really went wrong for me, and now I am 16 years cancer free.”

Even though LeBoeuf beat her cancer, there were some side effects. It ended up stunting her growth and she has issues with her spine and other organs, so she now takes replacement hormones and other medications. She will take these for the rest of her life, but she said it is a small price to pay to have survived and have such a great quality of life.

Mia at her first Relay for Life event with her two older sisters Meredith and Madeleine (Loree LeBoeuf ).

“The doctors told me that she would lose anywhere from 15 to 20 IQ points as a result of the cranial radiation at such a young age, and I have often joked that they either didn’t kill off as many brain cells as they said they would, or she started out as a genius,” Loree said. “She was an A student all throughout high school. College has definitely been a little more challenging, but she’s doing really well, and we are very blessed.”

During her 16 years of being cancer free, Mia has achieved and done a lot. From winning Grand Nationals with the Vandegrift band and vision company, placing in the top 30 at state for the FFA wool competition last year, and currently she is working towards being able to look after service dogs while they are still in training.

“I enjoy learning and working with livestock and companion animals, and I would like to study abroad and do internships at a zoo, dairy lot, or even a research lab,” Mia said.

Right now, Mia is a freshman at Texas A&M University where she is studying animal science. She enjoys painting, dancing – after her time on the Vision Dance Company – and working with dogs, livestock and other animals.                                                                                                                                                                      

April 7, 2006 is known as Mia’s re-birthday (Karen Andrews)

“Cancer affects everybody, and nobody ever wants to go through it, especially when it is your child,” Mia said. “I think we should fight towards finding a cure for cancer because it affects so many of us.”