Mia Loizeaux, whose four-year struggle with a rare form of cancer shaped her determination to become an oncology nurse and help others similarly afflicted, died Thursday of the disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Canton resident was 31.
The daughter of a businessman and a homemaker, Mia Loizeaux was born in Baltimore and raised in Phoenix, in Baltimore County.
Ms. Loizeaux attended the Bryn Mawr School and graduated in 1999 from the McDonogh School, where she had played field hockey and lacrosse.
She graduated in 2003 from Vanderbilt University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics and was a member of Pi Phi Sorority.
Ms. Loizeaux worked in advertising for five years, first at Planit Advertising in Baltimore as an account manager.
"Mia and I met at Planit Advertising 10 years ago, where she was an account manager," said her friend Devon Alessi. "She was an awesome all-around person and had such a great smile and was so personable."
In 2007, Ms. Loizeaux took a job as an advertising account manager at Harvey & Daughters Inc. in Sparks.
"She had big accounts like McCormick & Co. The clients absolutely loved her and we loved her. She was a genuinely nice person," said Kathy Harvey, president of the agency.
"Mia was incredibly bright, good on follow-through, and just a great all-around employee. She was fun-loving and very personable when it came to working with clients," said Ms. Harvey. "They were very upset when they heard that she had passed away. It is a horrible loss."
Ms. Loizeaux was diagnosed five years ago with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a form of blood cancer rarely found in a person as young as 27. She battled the illness for almost two years and went into remission after a 2009 bone marrow transplant.
"When she first found out, she sort of cracked, and then she really didn't want people to know because she didn't want them to worry or be sad," said Ms. Alessi. "Mia was the strongest person I ever met, and she never complained or would let you know that she was in pain. She was 31 and had a cancer that people who are in their 60s and 70s get, but she kept fighting to the very end."
Ms. Harvey said Ms. Loizeaux had to stop working at Harvey & Daughters in 2009 because of her illness.
"She was worried about losing her hair from her chemo treatments. You're a girl, your hair defines you, so rather than wait for it to fall out, we had a head-shaving party," said Ms. Alessi, who shaved, too. "We one-upped the process."
In 2010, Ms. Loizeaux participated in the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, an annual benefit at Sandy Point State Park for the Maryland Special Olympics, and when she returned the next year, met Chris Leverenz, who also was a participant.
"We met at Towson Hot Bagels and rode the bus down to the plunge and talked along the way. After the plunge, we were getting dressed and Mia didn't have a pair of dry socks," said Mr. Leverenz, a former advertising salesman for The Baltimore Sun who now works for The Washington Post. "I had a second pair, which I gave her, so you can say it was a pair of socks that brought us together."
That evening, the couple shared a drink at a bar before Ms. Loizeaux left to give a speech for the Ulman Cancer Fund For Young Adults.
"I had to literally chase her out of the bar to get her phone number," said Mr. Leverenz. "On our first date, she said, 'I have to tell you something. I have cancer.' And I told her, 'I don't have a job, so now everything is on the table.'"
The couple eventually moved into a home in Canton, where Mr. Leverenz helped care for Ms. Loizeaux.
"She was having cancer treatments four or five times a week and tried to remain as active as possible. She publicly never complained about anything that was going on," he said. "When her mother or father came over, she wouldn't mention it. She was always good at putting her best foot forward. She didn't want anyone to worry."
Because of her experience, Ms. Loizeaux decided on a career change and planned on becoming an oncology nurse. She had received a scholarship to the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
"She wanted to help others who were going through what she had gone through," Ms. Alessi said.
"Did she have courage? Nothing fazed her, and I can't tell you how much she went through," said Lori Parker, a Hopkins oncology nurse who cared for Ms. Loizeaux. "She'd come for treatments wearing either her Ravens or Capitals jersey, and never lost her dry, sarcastic sense of humor."
Ms. Loizeaux relapsed last summer and had to withdraw from school because of her illness.
A little more than a month ago, Mr. Leverenz asked Ms. Loizeaux to marry him.
"I tied the ring on a string to the collar of her Boston terrier, Lucy, who took it upstairs," said Mr. Leverenz. "I said, 'Let the dog do it.' When Mia saw the ring, she completely lit up."
"I was going to be her maid of honor, but I think Mia was afraid to plan too far ahead," Ms. Alessi said. "But she was trying to give people something to be hopeful for."
Ms. Loizeaux was an accomplished cook and a fan of the shabby chic interior decorating style, friends said. She enjoyed attending concerts and sporting events, and was a Baltimore Ravens, Washington Capitals and University of Maryland basketball fan.
In addition to the Ulman Cancer Fund, she had volunteered at Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, where she had adopted two cats.
A family gathering will be held Sunday and Monday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.