11 years later: Mia Ware and her lasting impact

Back in April, as my mother and I roamed around the St. Louis airport before our flight to August, Ga. to watch The Masters, we stopped in one of the myriad shops/bookstores located throughout the terminal. Looking for some in-flight reading material – for me. Typicaly the latest Sports Illustrated or ESPN the magazine – I came across a book titled “Every Day I Fight”, written by the late Stuart Scott with the help of author Larry Platt.

For those who are unfamiliar with him, Stuart Scott was the most colorful sports journalist of the last 20 years, gaining fame as an anchor for ESPN’s SportsCenter starting in the mid-to-late 90s. Diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions (first in 2007, a return in 2011, and again in 2013), Scott was honored with the Jimmy V award at the 2014 ESPY’s on July 16 of last year. During his speech, Scott told the audience, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” Less than six months after his memorable speech, Scott passed away on January 4, 2015. He was 49 years old.

When I was told that I’d be writing a story about Mia Ware, the words of Stuart Scott were the first thing that popped into my head. It’s been just over eleven years since Mia Ware, after a five year battle with breast cancer, passed away on August 21, 2004 at the age of 36. Now, more than a decade later, the memory of Mia Ware – of her smile, courage, and persistently positive outlook – is stronger than ever, thanks in large part to the initiative taken by those most directly affected by the loss, namely Ware’s widower, Brad Ware, and the couple’s only son, Jayden Ware.

Shortly after her passing, a group comprised of Ware’s family and a few of her closest friends, headed by Brad Ware, established the Mia Ware Foundation for Cancer Research and Education, a not-for-profit organization committed to educating, raising awareness, and supporting all of those who have been, or will be, touched by cancer.

(My Dad), and a lot of the friends who supported him, they just kind of got moved by the whole situation, and kind of wanted to pay it forward to the rest of the community. Just give back so that no one else has to go through what we had to go through.”

Among those who showed great support for the Ware family was Michele Gebhardt, a close friend of Mia Ware’s and one of the original board members of the Mia Ware Foundation. Gebhardt served as the organization’s secretary for 10 years, and although she is no longer on the board, still continues to volunteer for the foundation.

We talked about the Mia Ware Foundation before she had passed. When Mia was no longer able to write, I would write her Thank You cards for her and she would tell me what to write,” said Gebhardt of her friendship with Ware. “She was compassionate about her community, helping others and she never knew a stranger, always gave a smile freely to others even in her last days. She truly changed my life and made me a better person. Her smile was contagious.”

Since its formation in late 2004, the Mia Ware Foundation has worked to organize a number of events throughout the year in which the community of Jacksonville can come together in support of those fighting cancer. And with October being National Breast Cancer Awareness month, the annual arrival of autumn signifies the most important, yet trying time of the year for those closest to Ware and her foundation. On Monday, October 5, the annual “Volley For a Cure” game between the volleyball teams of Jacksonville and Routt Catholic High School was played at Routt’s school gymnasium. Fans and players from each school put aside their traditional school colors for a night, instead sporting pink jerseys and pink t-shirts in support of breast cancer awareness.

It means a ton to my family,” Jayden Ware said about the outpouring of support. “It’s definitely a tough time for us, but it means a lot that the community, and even the country for that matter, cares about everyone who’s had something like this happen to them.”

Through their organization, Jayden Ware, his father, and the other board members of the Mia Ware Foundation, have greatly contributed to the further education regarding breast cancer awareness in the city of Jacksonville. Recently, on September 12, they held the Be Aware Wellness Fair at Jacksonville’s Community Park, where people could come to learn and gather more information about breast cancer awareness. Other annual events include the Relay for Life Survivor’s and Caregiver Dinner – which Ware liked to call her “family reunion” – cancer information tables at various local functions, colorectal screening kit handouts, and other Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities.

Jayden Ware, now a senior at Routt Catholic High School, was only 6 years old at the time of his mother’s death. And often times, when someone loses a parent at such a young age, they’re forced to grow up faster than they otherwise would. Jayden Ware is no exception. Eleven years later, Jayden has grown into one of the most mature, well-grounded 17 year-olds that you’ll ever come across. And when asked about the impact his mother’s death had on him and the rest of his family, Ware said, “It definitely brought me and my dad closer. He’s pretty much the reason I am who I am today. He was both a mother and a father to me, and I have him to thank for that.”

Who Jayden Ware is today is what any parent would want their teenage kid to be, polite and well-spoken, a young man more mature than his age might indicate. Aside from being a member of the Routt Rockets’ golf team, Jayden Ware has also attained the rank of Eagle Scout through the Boy Scouts of America program. Although this time of the year is tough for the Ware family, Jayden says that he still appreciates the outpouring of support.

It definitely means a lot to me,” said Ware. “It just shows I had a great mom.”

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