My Journey
Living with a Brain Tumor

by Sandra Beardsley

Chapter 3


When I first heard the word radiation I had very little understanding of what that meant. I immediately thought of bald heads and gaunt faces. I began to ask questions, read, and look on the Internet. Knowing what you are facing is power. I know now that radiation is very different than chemotherapy. They both affect cancer cells but chemo is a treatment given through an I.V. or with pills while radiation is like an x-ray.

I found that people reacted to hearing that I was having radiation in the same way that I had. Confusion about the treatment. Always the question of whether I would lose my hair would come up. They would ask with a look of concern. My hair seemed so unimportant at this point.

ime of
Inner and

by Sandy

Create positive acronyms (from the book, You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought)

Our cat was getting thinner and we thought it could be a growth on his thyroid like he had before. Sure enough it was. The vet said we had 3 choices, give pills for the rest of his life, radiation, or surgery. When I started laughing, the vet asked why. I explained that I was about to begin radiation myself. Without missing a beat he replied, "Why not take the cat with you? Or better yet, you come here!"

It's nice when people can sense that it's okay to make a joke. "Laughter's the best medicine!" So the cat had surgery and we both had our stitches at the same time.

Oct.7, 1999

Today I had an x-ray, CT scan, and MRI in preparation for Monday's radiation treatment. I had thought it was just going to be a visit with the oncologist, and an MRI. The oncologist was very nice and was more than willing to answer my questions. My husband and I watched a video about the radiation process and I was able to check out a copy for the 6th grade at my school. I also gathered lots of materials including two books by Richard Bloch. He had been told he had 3 months to live and became a cancer survivor. He and his brother had started H&R Block Inc. and he now devotes his life to helping people with cancer.

Craig is one the people that delivers the radiation treatments. He is a young guy and very personable. I was surprised when he told me they had to make a mask. Before I could react a warm piece of plastic mesh was put on my face and it molded to my face. I have to wear it for every treatment so my head doesn't move.

The oncologist told me the tumor is approx. 3 cm. Even though that is very small it still seems big to me. He said the radiation is supposed to shrink it or stop it from growing. He said it would be a few months after the treatments before we would know the success of the radiation. I asked him the success rate for my type of tumor and this type of treatment. He said there was over a 50% success rate with this type of tumor.

Permission to Feel

At first I read about visualization techniques and tried to visualize the tumor gone. I became frustrated when I can't visualize. Instead I work on being calm and positive. I continue to read books on positive attitude and exceptional patients. This helps me confirm what I already know.

Sometimes I get sad or scared but it doesn't last for long. I give myself permission to feel and to express these emotions. I try to laugh and joke. Humor is so healing. When people comment on my weight loss I tell them I'm on the Jenny Craig Brain Tumor Diet.

I feel joy when I think of my son and his love for me. I remember the day I had the biopsy. I had insisted he stay home and go to school. The evening was to be the first home football game and he would be playing. I told him I would be thinking of him. Before we left home he handed me a note he had written. When I woke up from the surgery, I pinned his football button to my pillow and thought about how lucky I was. Later we talked and he told me he had tied the school record for 3 interceptions in a game. His season was undefeated, he made the all state team and I enjoyed every game I was able to attend. This is the important part of life.

Today I am feeling sad, melancholy, and quiet. I feel a need for solitude and reflection. The feelings are hard to describe: a sense of loss, grief, reality of what lies ahead with the radiation. I don't feel the positive attitude or my usual energy. I tell myself that it's okay. I take my dog for a walk on my favorite trail and lay across a flat rock feeling the sun's warmth. I drink green tea, burn cedar incense, disconnect the phone, and retreat. I listen to Indian flute music by R Carlos Nakai and write in my journal. I give myself permission to feel this way. It's part of this journey.


The First Treatment

I was scared when it came time to begin. I imagined a light beam like a sci-fi movie or a Star Wars light saber. I asked, "Will it hurt?" "You won't feel a thing." First I had an x-ray. Then it was time. I had a special handkerchief to hold, given to me by my Indian sisters. My heart was beating fast! When they left the room and the machine began humming, I still expected to feel it.

It surprised me how quickly it was finished. Less than a minute each for both sides and the top.

Photo of radiation room similar to the technology at Sacred Heart

The Rookie

When I arrived for my treatment today I felt so much calmer. I knew what to expect. They had me wait in the smaller waiting room. The chairs were almost all full. There were only two men. The ladies were talking like old friends. They commented on this being the best place to find outdated magazines. One of the women asked me if I was new here. "Yesterday was my first day," I replied. She introduced herself and told me she was a volunteer. Ever since her husband’s battle with cancer she volunteers once a week, sitting in the waiting room and offering support. The other women asked me questions. I noticed that most were wearing gowns for shirts and thought they probably were here for breast cancer radiation. One woman mentioned it was her last week and I said "congratulations!"

It felt good to talk with them. It made me realize how strong people are and how silly it is that people complain and fret over small things. I felt like I was the member of a new club or team. The rookie!

My husband and I noticed that suddenly we are seeing cancer everywhere! On TV, in the newspaper, and meeting people who have survived or are battling it. It's funny... like when your are pregnant and you notice all the pregnant women. My husband describes it as filters. We have a new filter that allows cancer through.

Next week I'm going to bring some current magazines for the waiting room.

Hotel Necessities Kit

We are staying in a hotel in Spokane while I have the six weeks of radiation treatments. We travel home on Fridays and return on Monday because the radiation is delivered five days and then weekends off. We are lucky enough to have our hotel rooms free, thanks to the many hotels that participate in a program sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Each week we go to a different hotel, and the hotel give us a free room. We are so appreciative of their generosity and kindness. This gives me the ability to concentrate on healing instead of financial concerns.

Here are some ideas if you are away from home:

  • Spray bottle with natural scent such as lavender, orange or vanilla.
  • Many hotels have strong perfume smells, which affected me while I was having radiation.
  • Small coffee maker for boiling tea water
  • Water- I found myself very sensitive to smells and tastes due to the radiation. Having bottled water was helpful.
  • Items from home that give your hotel room of hospital room a homey touch. I brought a quilt, photographs, plants, special soaps and lotion etc. while in the hospital I hung photographs on the wall facing my bed. I had family, my cat, and a view from my favorite trail. I also brought a special box that I filled with treasures, including favorite photos of my son. I also hung a Tibetan prayer flag,a gift from friends, at each hotel room.
  • Travel alarm clock -not all hotels have these
  • Small Ice chest - the hotel may not have a refrigerator but there is always ice. I became a fan of cold 7UP because it helped my nausea.

Oct. 20, 1999

I don’t know what happened today but I was a complete wreck. It started with being late to my radiation appointment. I was all stressed and had to fight back a wave of emotion. When I arrived, the radiation technician asked if it would be okay for a group of employees to watch my treatment. Of course I said sure. It was part of a program that allows employees to see certain procedures that relate to patients they will be caring for.

After my treatment and post-op visit with the neurosurgeon we went to the park and I proceeded to cry for a half-hour. I felt upset because the doctor had said if the MRI showed no tumor, it still didn't mean that the tumor would be gone forever. I am so confused! I don’t know what to hope for. Is there anything that will be the end of this? Will I ever be cured or do I have to change my whole way of thinking. Does every normal event in my life have to have such great significance? Every birthday, every family get-together, like it’s the last.


My head had begun to feel like I had sunburn on top. I mentioned this to the oncologist and he gave me some gel to rub on it. I was talking to a B.J, a volunteer, and she said she remembered feeling the sunburn symptom just before her hair started falling out. Sure enough that night when I was in the shower my hair began to fall out when I scratched my head. It was all over my hand and in the water. I started to cry. It wasn't the fact that I would have some bald spots. The hair loss represented a symbol of cancer to me. Just another dose of reality. Later that evening my pillow was covered with hair. I talked with my husband and he hugged me and we joked about his bald head and that now we were going to look alike. I am going to try to picture the hair loss as my body's way of getting rid of the bad, unhealthy stuff, a cleansing of my body.

Effects of the radiation, my haircut and the scar from needle biopsy.

The Haircut

I was getting tired of waking up to a pillow covered with hair. It made me feel unhealthy to have it falling out in the shower. I was spending too much time looking in the mirror, trying to comb the hair I had, to cover the bald spots. I felt like an old man trying to do a comb over! I wanted control over an uncontrollable situation so I decided to get a haircut. I went to Steve, the man who had cut my hair the day before my biopsy, when I had a similar urge and insisted on getting a haircut.

I told Steve I wanted it all shaved very short so I could quit focusing on it.He was very understanding. He convinced me to keep my bangs and a little around my face so I would have great hat hair. "Only my hairdresser knows for sure!" It felt so good to do this! I now had some control again!

Letting Go

I wrote a letter and sent it to all the health care professionals I had seen over the last two years. My purpose was to share information about my health that might help with future diagnosis of patients with similar symptoms. I also had another motive. I wanted to let go of some of the anger I was feeling about my experiences with them. I sent the letter to six people.

One of them had told me I didn't have a brain tumor when I mentioned my husband’s worry. He said I would have balance problems and I would know it by now. Another hinted that some of my symptoms could be related to my sensitivity. When I asked the neurologist and orthopedic surgeon about a cranial MRI instead of the cervical one that was ordered, they felt that my symptoms were neck related.

I had anger about this later and about no one picking up on the headaches, visual/visual memory symptoms. They were the experts. I believed in what they told me. The letter was written in a positive tone and helped me say what I needed to and let go of the negative feelings. Now I realize that they are only human and that ultimately no one is to blame.

Go to Chapter 4