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Mia defies the odds


Overcoming leukaemia and losing her mum to cancer when she was in Year 12 has only served to strengthen Mia Eliseo’s goal to study medicine.

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The Saint Ignatius’ College graduate achieved an ATAR of 98.55 and three subject merits despite missing nearly three years of school after she was diagnosed with cancer in Year 7.

Mia, 18, will this month be presented with a Governor of South Australia Commendation which recognises excellence in Year 12 SACE subjects and a student’s personal achievements inside and outside the school community.

Mia certainly meets the criteria, obtaining outstanding SACE results and raising more than $26,000 for childhood cancer through her ‘Hair with Heart’ initiative and other events. A house captain and college vice captain, Mia juggled her studies and volunteering with netball, water polo, touch footy and Aussie Rules footy.

But these achievements pale into insignificance when compared with her own personal challenges.

A keen netballer, Mia was experiencing lethargy and intense hip pain after a game in 2017. Six days after her 13th birthday tests revealed she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She spent long periods in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital while undergoing intensive chemotherapy that caused nausea, vomiting and other serious side effects.

During her treatment and recovery, Mia become an advocate for the Childhood Cancer Association, CanTeen, and Variety Children’s Charity. She spoke frequently at school assemblies and worked closely with another student whose mother had been diagnosed with cancer and together they developed successful college events.

In Year 10 Mia developed the idea of a fundraiser where students could donate their ponytails, shave their heads or colour their hair. The event grew to include a “commUNITY walk’ to enable more people to get involved.

Mia with her dad, Sergio, mum, Katrina (deceased) and younger sister Siena.

Mia was declared cancer free in 2022 but months later her mother, Katrina, was diagnosed with stomach lining cancer.

After an operation to remove the gastric cancer, it returned as stage four cancer in 2023 and within six weeks Katrina passed away at the age of 52.

Mia’s dad, Sergio, says it all happened “very fast”. Mia missed days of school to care for her mum but stayed focused on her studies and sport which were a “distraction” for her.

He says the Saint Ignatius’ community were very supportive of Mia and her younger sister Siena, who has been a “silent witness” to both illnesses.

When Mia was in hospital the college organised for groups of children to visit her and teachers helped her keep up with schoolwork.

A week after her mum’s death, Mia sat for the ACAT, the aptitude test for studying medicine. While her ATAR score was well above what was required for medicine, her ACAT score prevented her from gaining entry this year. She is hoping to push her ATAR even higher by studying Year 13 this year and she plans to re-sit the UCAT.

“I’ve wanted to do medicine since I was little and I was interested in paediatrics but after I got sick I started to move towards women’s health,” she says. “There’s a lot of advocacy involved and that’s an aspect I really like.”

Sergio says when Mia was on chemotherapy his wife made sure that the issue of fertility was considered, knowing that Mia would one day want to have children.

Gynaecologists were consulted and this experience had a lasting impact on Mia who went on to do research in this field as part of the Year 12 Activating Identities and Futures subject. She achieved an A+ for her investigation into the impacts of chemotherapy on female fertility (in particular in adolescent females).

Rather than be disappointed about missing out on entry into medicine, Mia is happy to combine more study with volunteering and spending time with her family and friends in 2024.

“Year 12 has taught me to consider that life is not about the opportunities you encounter but how you respond to them,” she says.

“I’ve also learnt that being vulnerable plays a significant role in shaping adventures full of growth, achievement and joy.”

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