Featured MassKicker

Sandy Petersen

Try to listen to your body and brain- and be kind to yourself. It is a traumatic experience and it feels like you can't control anything about your recovery but you can. You can control your reactions and you can decide to treat yourself as well as you would treat your family member or friend.

Sandy Petersen is a Canadian mAss Kicker joining us from Ottawa. Sandy recently changed her job to get back into ‘hands on nursing’ where her skills and compassion for others will be warmly received! She is a loving wife and mother with a positive and grateful outlook on life, which was heightened by the journey she went through after being diagnosed with her brain tumor. We are so honored that she could join us to tell us more about her journey with her brain tumor.

mK: Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Sandy! How did you find out about your diagnosis?
SP: I found out twice, actually. The first time, I was 17 years old. I had 2 seizures in one day (and then never again!). My family doctor sent me to a neurologist and after an MRI, the neurologist told me that I had a “cyst on a sinus cavity” that was nothing to worry about. I was discharged with no follow up needed. Keep in mind, this was before the Internet AND he never used the term colloid cyst OR third ventricle so I just forgot about it.

The second time was as an adult. I was 38 and had been having problems with my pupils. I had been referred to a neuro-ophthamologist and had seen many opthamologists trying to definitively diagnose it. The problem was in my left eye – the pupil would lose its shape, become tear shaped, and then I would get blurry vision until it constricted again. One day, the kids and I were in the car when my right eye started feeling weird and blurry. I looked in the rearview mirror and the pupil was completely cat-eye shaped and it was hard to see out my eyes. After picking up my husband, they dropped me at the ER where they did a CT scan and the ER doc said “you have a colloid cyst in your brain and I’m referring you to neurology but it is at a size where they usually like to take them out”. Ironically, the eye issue is a separate neurologic disorder (also rare) that is benign and has nothing to do with the tumor!

mK: What were your symptoms?
SP: Headaches, anxiety, visual disturbances, heavy fatigue/sleepy periods (could have been intermittent cerebrospinal fluid blockages)

mK: Are you involved with any organizations? If you aren’t at this stage, are there any that you would like to get involved with and why?
SP: I’m not involved yet. I have thought of doing things like crocheting hats for the neuro patients at the local hospitals…doing the 5K runs …so far, I haven’t managed to fit it in…I left my long time management job a year ago to get back to ‘hands on’ nursing so I have had a lot to learn!

mK: What motivates you?
SP: Definitely my family. I felt like I had to stay positive and act like I was confident in a good outcome for my kids but this helped me too. It helped me to think that my kids would not care if I was quite as ‘sharp’ as before or if I was not as quick a learner. As long as I was there.

mK: Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
SP: When I think of heroes, I think of people like Steven Biko, Nelson Mandela…people who stand up for what is right.

mK: Let’s find out more about you, What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
SP: Laugh: almost anything…strangely, my sense of humor was one of the last things to come back to me after my surgery. That and my love for music and reading. It was when I started to find everything humourous again that I felt the most like ‘me’. What gets me angry…well, as I recovered, I got back my short fuse but now I get over stuff so much quicker. I used to get angry then hold grudges but now I realize life is too short so I just get over it …I do not sweat the small stuff , which is such a relief!

mK: What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
SP: I think it is adjusting to recovery and accepting help and being patient with yourself. I personally found that really tough but I had to do it. I became a lot more accepting of myself in the process and it ended up being very positive for me. As I got skills back, I was grateful for them whereas before, I took things for granted. And by skills, I mean the ability to read, retain information, learn new things, and tolerate noise, light and activity, etc. I was fortunate to have no physical limitations to recover from. My husband was very helpful with this as he always encouraged me to take my time and be patient with myself and respected my need to rest and/or have quiet.

mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
SP: Internet surfing! I can waste SO MUCH TIME 😉 I start off researching something serious (like for work!), and before I know it, I’m reading vines, blogs, watching videos, tutorials, learning a new language, reading recipes, anything!!!

mK: If you could live the life of any person (alive or dead – yourself excluded) who would it be + why?
SP: The funny thing is, if I were asked this before, I would have a million answers but now I don’t. I am just so thankful to be living my life! This gratitude is a huge gift and has totally changed my life for the better.

mK: What is next on your agenda?
SP: As I’ve changed my career just a year ago, my next immediate goals are personal, not professional. One big goal is to declutter our physical environment and another is to get to the gym more regularly…

mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
SP: I think that something that is challenging and terrifying may also improve your life. I can say with certainty that I am a happier and more grateful person now than before. I enjoy life more, I am more loving and definitely more compassionate to others…because now I am so aware that you can never know what a person is going through…any person you see could be struggling with something difficult. And try to live in the “now”…nobody is promised tomorrow, whether you have a serious illness or not- anything could happen! Maybe this sounds fatalistic but I find it helpful and realizing this allows me to stress less about the future and try to just be present now.

mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
SP: I think a lot of people don’t know that I married very young (at 20!) because we waited 11+ years to start our family.

mK: What is your favorite song and why?
SP: So many but Three Little Birds by Bob Marley is a good one when I’m feeling stressed…I repeat it like a mantra … Say Hey by Michael Franti is another one I love…I guess I am more into positive songs now…

mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
SP: Just that it is important to recognize that everyone is different. I know some people who had my same surgery who were back in the gym a few weeks after their operation. I was in no shape to do that!! I was exhausted! I couldn’t even watch TV with the volume on! So don’t compare yourself to others. Try to listen to your body and brain- and be kind to yourself. It is a traumatic experience and it feels like you can’t control anything about your recovery but you can. You can control your reactions and you can decide to treat yourself as well as you would treat your family member or friend.

Sandy Petersen: Nurse, brain tumor survivor, Cybersurfer, and loving mom, Canadian mAss Kicker and believer in the power of gratitude. After connecting with you and hearing your story, we know that the people you connect with both personally and professionally will be all the more enriched for it! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and words about survivorship with us today!

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