Support helps woman with aggressive brain cancer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By Mark Wineka
ROCKWELL — Nancy Beaver was maybe in the best shape of her life.
By walking, weight-training, taking Zumba classes at the Y and watching her diet, Beaver had shed more than 20 pounds to win a “Biggest Losers” competition at Thorlo.
She looked maybe 40 years old, hardly the 51 she was.
But that was early in the summer.
“You never know one day to the next what will happen,” Beaver says.
The last five months have challenged Beaver like no other period in her life. And that’s just it, she’s fighting for every day now.
Beaver has endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She has lost her hair. She’s taking blood thinners for clotting. The steroids she has been given to keep up her strength have the side effect of puffing her up, making her gain weight no matter how little she eats.
Her left hand is still not working properly.
Brain cancer does these things.
You may not readily recognize Nancy Beaver today from the outside, but inside she’s the same, maybe stronger.
“She always has put everybody else first in her life,” says Tony, her husband of 15 years.
Over lunch June 30, Nancy traveled home from her job at Thorlo to check on her dog, Shasta. She realized something wasn’t right when she bent down to open the dog-gate door.
One side of her body wasn’t working, and she was slurring her words.
Was she having a stroke? Was it Bell’s palsy?
She tried to call her mother-in-law, Carol, who lives next door. But Carol couldn’t understand what Nancy was saying over the telephone. She quickly went over to Nancy’s place and decided they should head for the hospital.
Carol thought Nancy was having a heat stroke.
An MRI later determined Nancy Beaver had masses on the right side of her brain. By July 11, surgeons at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center removed some of the tumor — the part not rooted in — and a biopsy confirmed she had Grade 4 glioblastoma (GBM), one of the fastest growing brain cancers.
It wanted to spread through her brain like a star and would kill her without immediate treatment.
Because she possessed a certain gene, Nancy qualified for Cilengitide, a chemotherapy still in the clinical trial stage. It so happened Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is one of only a handful of hospitals in the United States where the treatment is available.
The treatment would aim at halting the cancer’s growth, but it meant 43 straight days of traveling to the Winston-Salem hospital for a regimen that included Cilengitide two times a week, Ondansetron and Temodar every day and radiation five times a week.
The Cilengitide tries to keep tumors from making new blood vessels and attempts to keep the cancer cells from spreading.
Ondansetron is used to prevent nausea and vomiting for people taking chemotherapy and radiation. Temodar is a cancer-fighting chemotherapy used in conjunction with Cilengitide.
On the days Nancy faced having all four treatments, she and Tony would leave their house in eastern Rowan County about 7:30 a.m. and not return home until late afternoon.
Every day, the journey back and forth was 100 miles. Because he was laid off, Tony had the time to drive her to Winston-Salem daily.
Beaver received her first dose of Cilengitide Aug. 1, and the continuous trips to Winston-Salem began a week later, lasting until Sept. 19.
Since then, she has continued to receive Cilengitide two days a week and will have to continue on that pace with the drug the rest of her life.
The good news is that her latest MRI Dec. 5 showed her tumor to be about nickel size — the same as it was after the July 11 operation.
Help for Nancy has come from all corners of her life — Tony, daughters Dixie and Misty, stepdaughter Kristin, mother-in-law Carol, her five grandsons and coworkers at Thorlo.
Some of her friends at Thorlo have held bake sales and donated vacation days to help Nancy until she qualifies for disability.
Forever Dreams Photography in Salisbury plans a special fundraiser Saturday. (See the accompanying box.)
Tony’s unemployment will run out early next year, and he hopes he can return to Carolina Building Solutions, if the economy picks up.
The brain surgery in July cost $34,000, of which Nancy’s insurance paid everything but $2,400. They face other expenses for medicine, and the constant driving to Winston-Salem has cost money.
Tony Beaver says Nancy’s cancer has opened their eyes to how neighbors, friends, coworkers and family also deal with the disease.
“It changes your life, it really does,” Tony says.
Dixie Harrison Jones says her mother’s strong will and faith in God has allowed her to fight the cancer and push on.
The next scan is scheduled in seven weeks.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or

Photos with Santa
Forever Dreams Photograpy will be host Saturday for picture sessions with Santa Claus as a way to raise money for Nancy Beaver, who is fighting brain cancer.
When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 17
Where: 1121 Old Concord Road, Salisbury, Suite 16.
Cost: $10.
Proceeds: Will help the Beavers cover Nancy’s medical expenses.
Donations: If you can’t attend but would like to make a donation, contact Summer Pethel at 704-202-6625, or email
Raffle: Raffle tickets also are being sold for $5. One of the prizes is a 16-inch bicycle. Other prizes also will be give away through the raffle. You do not need to be present to win.