UA Beach Volleyball Player Continues Healthy Life Style After Childhood Battle with Cancer

As Mia Mason’s feet touch the compact sand to warm up for each match she stares down her opponent standing across the net from her. Chris Brown songs pump through her ears and her confidence grows. Mason knows she is always prepared for victory. She has already won a life-threatening match with Ependymoma, a type of brain cancer doctors diagnosed her with at 12 years old. Now Mason, a Manhattan Beach California native wants to help other children facing pediatric cancer. She has started the Mia Mason Fund to raise money for Immunotherapy research.

She is sharing her story to raise awareness and to help those facing the same struggle she once had. Mason wants pediatric cancer patients to remain hopeful. She sees her position as a collegiate volleyball player who has been through cancer as an advantageous platform to share her message. 

“Stay strong because you never know what could happen in the end. Take advantage of the resources you have. Love the people around you,” Mason said.

In November 2008, Mason’s mother, Jeannine drove Mia to a doctor after she had repeated episodes of severe headaches leading up to the day. Mia underwent a computed topography scan (CT) during the appointment. While driving home the Mason’s received the call they had not hoped for. Doctors instructed Jeannine to drive directly to Mattel Children’s Hospital at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) because doctors found an abnormal growth when Mia’s CT scan results came back.  Mia never expected her world to change as it did the following day when doctors confirmed the cancerous tumor after performing surgery.

“The whole thing happened so fast and came out of nowhere. {The day was} definitely one to remember,” Mason said.

Mason says that her community made the rough days a little bit better. “My entire city got together and rallied behind me. They made bracelets and t-shirts in support of me. They also made donations,” Mason said. The UA indoor volleyball team visited Mason while they were in Los Angeles to play against UCLA. She regards it as one of the standout hospital visits she received. In March 2009, Mason was given remission status and a wave a relief washed over her. Mason was happy to get to see her friends and back on the volleyball court a game she had been around ever since she could remember.  She carries lessons she learned from her time undergoing treatment.

“Love the people around me. Be my true self. Love life as it is,” Mason said.  Mason sees the positive attitude that she kept while undergoing treatment as a key to her success in the court where she must rely on a single teammate to win a beach volleyball match. Jeannine Mason, a former indoor volleyball player at UA says her daughter was “super active” as a child. She never had to encourage Mia to make the beneficial dietary choices necessary to achieve the athletic success Mia desired.

“She always ate her vegetables first before her bread. I have no idea how a kid does that,” Mason said.

Mia’s treatments did not alter her diet but the nausea Mia’s treatments caused made eating more difficult. As a result, Mia lost 40 pounds. Doctors encouraged her to eat anything she could keep down in order to put weight back on.  Jeanine says her family used Mia’s positive energy to get themselves through her treatment process.

“Kids are so resilient. It is amazing to see how the body can heal itself. To see how Mia healed after surgery was remarkable,” Mason said.

Jeannine says that the loved ones of pediatric cancer patients should trust medical personnel. She adds that finding the right doctors may require multiple appointments. Jeannine also learned to be skeptical of internet articles. “One of the best advice they gave me does not look on the Net because the messages are confusing and scary. Every case is unique,” Mason said.

Jeannine says that Mia had to undergo magnetic resonance imaging scans every three months after her treatments concluded. It took extended time for Mia to fully regain her vision and ability to balance. Mia’s nausea lingered for a couple years after her treatment.  Mary Baron Nelson is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA). She was a member of Mia’s treatment team at CHLA. Baron Nelson appreciates Mia’s willingness to help medical professionals and research scientists by starting the Mia Mason Fund. 

 “It is incredibly touching and valuable to us. We are so proud of her,” Baron Nelson said. Baron Nelson explained that doctors are now able to test brain tumors to identify genetic links to brain cancer. They could not do this at the time of Mia’s illness.

Steve Walker is the head coach of the UA beach volleyball team. He has high praise for Mason. “When it comes to community service and the message that our student-athletes are active in support of great causes, UA does a great job. I am proud of all of my players when they support a great cause, but this is extra special,” Walker said.

Walker notes that Mia is not a person who boasts about her achievements. “Mia is so humble, but she is such an inspiration. What a success story,” Walker said.