mya thibodeau continues cheerleading

Teen Patient Continues Cheerleading Through Proton Therapy Treatments

Mya Thibodeau is a 15-year-old young woman passionate about cheerleading and exercise. It was a shock in December 2023, when Mya was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She feared her cheerleading days would have to end, but with proton therapy at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, Mya found hope and returned to cheerleading while undergoing part of her treatment for brain cancer.

Diagnosis and Whirlwind of Treatments

Mya was experiencing dizziness and headaches in December. She was finding it increasingly difficult to cheerlead. Her gym's physiotherapist discovered symptoms in her vision and encouraged Mya’s family to consult a doctor. Mya was diagnosed on Dec. 23, 2023, with a four-centimeter tumor in her cerebellum. Mya and her family spent Christmas in the hospital, and she had brain surgery to remove the tumor on Dec. 26. One month later, Mya and her mom Lorie arrived in Jacksonville for proton therapy.

Cheerleading Through Cancer Treatment

Mya has been a cheerleader for eight years. Her mom says it is her passion, and it is also her life’s dream to join a World Cheerleading Championships Team. Before cancer, Mya trained more than 20 hours a week with two teams. She was in a sports-study cheerleading program and was on another competitive Allstars team.

When they arrived in Florida, she started exercising again at the gym – treadmill and soft weight training. Then, two months after surgery, she was feeling in great shape, despite the proton treatments. She got the go-ahead from her doctors to resume more serious training and gymnastics.

“We first spent an hour at a trampoline center, and it was bliss. She really needed it,” said Mya’s mom Lorie Caouette.

So, Mya’s mom started looking for cheerleading clubs in the area to see if any of them would take Mya for a few weeks. They discovered Hybrid Cheer, an individual training and development center for cheerleaders. They have a schedule of classes, and Mya could book and pay by the hour and choose certain classes. She was able to rework her tumbling under the watchful eye of Deon, a trainer specialized in the field.

Proton therapy treatment is less invasive, targeting the tumor with minimal damage to healthy surrounding tissue, and patients often find they can continue normal activities on the same days they receive treatment.

Mya’s mom explains that since Mya was able to rehabilitate in Florida and get back in shape, it meant that she was able to return to her team when she got home. She even got to take part with her Allstars team at a national championship event in April. This is Mya’s favorite competition, and it gave her energy and hope to know she would be able to compete. In May, Mya underwent chemotherapy, taking her away from cheerleading temporarily, but she still has her eye on that big goal to one day cheer for a World Cheerleading Championships Team.

Mya’s Proton Therapy Experience in Jacksonville

Mya and her mom enjoyed residing in the San Marco neighborhood and found the waterways calming and beautiful. In addition, other family members visited Mya and her mom while they stayed in Florida. Mya’s dad and two brothers spent their spring break in Jacksonville.

mya thibodeau riding scooter downtown jacksonville

As for the treatments, Mya said, “At first, it was a bit intimidating - this big machine. It was a lot of unknowns and stress. I was afraid it would hurt, but in the end, I barely felt a thing.”

“Over time, it became routine,” she added. She explained, “Every day I did my treatments with the same team of technicians. They were really nice and did everything they could to make those moments as light as possible. The first part of my treatment was more difficult, as I received radiation all over my brain, which made me nauseous. But the second part of the treatment—more focused on the location of my tumor—(proton therapy) was much easier, and I quickly regained my energy.”

“I also lost all my hair. Before this ordeal, I would have thought that it would have been the worst catastrophe. I loved my long blond hair so much. But when the time came, I was ready. I had a lot of fun shaving it all off, an experience I'd only have once in my life! I love my new look; it doesn't go unnoticed,” Mya added.

Mya and her mom felt reassured and cared for throughout their visit to the Institute. There were many staff members who were a constant part of their care team that they got to know—from Jasmine Miller, child life specialist, recommending fun activities in the area, to Tamara Sorrye, social worker, who helped Lorie through an especially emotional day.

Mya had been looking forward to ringing the chimes on her last day of treatment since she arrived at the Institute. “It was a whirlwind of emotions, a moment I'll never forget,” she said.

“Everyone was so kind and pleasant throughout the treatments. We really felt well cared for and supported throughout this adventure,” Lorie said.



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