Not a Statistic
Sandie Rossini shares her personal journey to beat brain cancer
After being diagnosed with a highly aggressive brain tumor at age 34, Sandie Rossini visited several local hospitals in 2013 and was told her malignant glioma was incurable. The mother of two felt like she was out of options—that is until she met a team of experts at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. They gave her something she had lost: hope.
BIDMC soon became a second home to Rossini. Physicians and nurses who were once strangers now treated her like family and answered all of her questions. Neurosurgeon Ekkehard Kasper, M.D., Ph.D., operated on her very large frontal glioblastoma and was able to remove the vast majority of it. Given that this tumor type is part of the fabric of the brain itself, however, some malignant cells remained behind and additional therapy was mandated. As soon as she recovered from surgery, Rossini came back to BIDMC to be fitted for a personalized radiation mask. Her care plan—created by the brain tumor clinic team under Eric Wong, M.D., director of the Neuro-Oncology Unit, Dr. Kasper, and former BIDMC radiation oncologist Anand Mahadevan, M.D.—included aggressive radiation and chemotherapy every day for six weeks. Rossini’s husband, Matt, and her father drove her into Boston daily. Another phase of chemotherapy followed, as well as a round of CyberKnife radiation at the Keith C. Field CyberKnife Center, more chemotherapy, daily preventive medications, and an infusion of a drug called Avastin (bevacizumab), a targeted therapy to attack the blood vessels of growing tumors. Throughout her journey, Rossini has remained hopeful and positive while continuing to work as a writer and photographer and raise her two daughters, Calla, 11, and Lili, 13. Her motto was and still is: “be happy, every single day.”
Today, Rossini is at home in Southborough with her daughters and Matt, her grade school sweetheart. She still visits BIDMC once every three weeks for chemotherapy, and though she is not yet in full remission, her cancer has shrunk significantly. Rossini and her family are devoted to giving back to BIDMC: to date they have raised more than $35,000 for A Reason to Ride, an annual bike ride to benefit cancer care and research at BIDMC. Additionally, she sells inspirational items, cards, and clothing on her website—where a majority of the proceeds go to BIDMC. To express her profound gratitude to her entire BIDMC care team, Rossini penned the following essays:
Essays from my Journey
by Sandie Rossini
Not a Statistic
From the start, Dr. Wong, my oncologist, always told me that I am not a statistic. That’s why I chose BIDMC for my care. In 2013 after I was diagnosed, I went to other hospitals to get second opinions, which is something I think you should always do. For me, these appointments always began with the doctor’s prognosis: at the most five years. As soon as I heard those words, I knew they weren’t right for me. You see, I needed a physician who understood that that I am not a statistic—because I knew I was going to beat the odds. Yes, use your numbers, get the facts, do the math, but don’t ever tell me how long I will live. I remember the day when my neurosurgeon, Dr. Kasper, carefully explained the surgery that I was about to have. He told me I had an aggressive brain tumor that was “the size of an apple.” He told me he would remove as much of it as possible, and he did—an incredible 97 percent. Dr. Wong and Dr. Kasper always gave and continue to give me hope, which has been invaluable along my journey.
My team of doctors and nurses at BIDMC is the best. My surgeon, Dr. Kasper, is a superhero in a white coat. He performed a miracle when he removed my brain tumor, which I called the monster in my head. My radiation oncologist, Dr. Mahadevan, beamed positivity into my soul, and my neuro-oncologist, Dr. Wong, is brilliant and continues to shield me from cancer to this day. My team of nurses are angels; Peggy Folan, Neely Beaulac, Tonia Hicks, Jeanne Agnew, Julie Mitchell, Melissa Soto, and Virginette Spencer fuel me with positivity, laughter, smiles, and of course, the vital medication that keeps my tumor from growing. I am positive I made the right choice with BIDMC because everyone on my care team treats me like a person. I am a person with a family, with two smart, beautiful daughters, an incredible husband, and three fun-loving dogs. At BIDMC, I am treated like a person. Not a statistic.
The Citgo sign, Boston’s signature landmark, has a very special meaning to me. While I used to associate it with Fenway Park, it means something different now. It’s what I see when I’m leaving BIDMC, when we’re finally heading home. While I’m thankful for the medical center and appreciate the amazing staff and everything they do to make me better, I really appreciate going home.
When we leave, we always go the same way. When we reach a certain spot on Brookline Avenue and I see that Citgo sign, I feel a great sense of relief. I made it through another appointment and now my reward is going home to see my babies. When I see that sign, I can breathe again. At that point I look over at my caring husband in the driver’s seat and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for everything that I have, including him.
Thanks to BIDMC, I have come so far in my treatment and remain eternally positive. At times, I even forget I have cancer. Every day, I close my eyes, put on some music, and picture myself somewhere amazing, surrounded by all my loved ones. Everyone is dancing and smiling. The energy is so positive, and I have never felt so good. I envision that we are all celebrating the fact that I am cancer-free. I think this moment—this positive energy—actually keeps me going. I truly believe that someday this vision will become reality and I will be cancer-free.
Be happy, every single day.