Hazen Graduates The Sweets and their supporters prepare for Seattle Brain Cancer Walk

Heather Sweet, here with her husband Ryan in their Highlands home, was waged a nine-month battle against brain cancer. Treatment has shrunk the size of the tumor. - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Heather Sweet, here with her husband Ryan in their Highlands home, was waged a nine-month battle against brain cancer. Treatment has shrunk the size of the tumor.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

For Heather Sweet, it started with light headaches last fall.

She went to a doctor, who recommended she see one who specializes in headaches.

Then, at dinner with a friend, her neck stiffened, her ears plugged and her eyes blurred.

She and her husband Ryan rushed to the emergency room at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. Tests were done. They thought this "was no big deal," she said.

A doctor whom she hadn't met approached them. He looked "horrified," she said. Then, he gave them the test results.

"It's really bad news, but you have a brain tumor," he told Heather.

In a life-changing instant, Heather became one of about 1,200 people in the Northwest and about 22,000 nationwide diagnosed with brain cancer every year. This Saturday, Heather and her family and supporters will join hundreds of others for the Third Annual Seattle Brain Cancer Walk at the Seattle Center to raise money for cancer research.

At the Overlake ER, Ryan cried and Heather's motherly instincts kicked in.

"What do I need to do?" she asked. She was in the "fix-it mode."

First, that same day, there was another MRI, this one at the University of Washington Medical Center. Another MRI followed and a three-day wait for a biopsy.

Those three days were "strange at home. We weren't sure what to think. No one had much to say," Heather said.

Finally, doctors removed a small piece of the tumor from her brain for the biopsy. The results would come back within three days. The call came early Thursday and an appointment was made.

They met with one of the doctors who did the biopsy. The news wasn't good.

Heather has Stage 4 Glioblastoma, a rare cancer of the brain, and it's inoperable.

"They explained that it was the worst you can have," Heather said, with a life expectancy of just a year.

Treatment needed to begin immediately. Her age, 28, worked in Heather's favor and she was to take some promising new drugs. Those drugs so far have added up to six years to the lives of those in a similar age range who take them.

For six weeks, she underwent radiation treatments every day. The monthly rounds of chemotherapy at home haven't stopped.

What hasn't stopped, too, for Heather in the last nine months is the support of her family, friends and the Sweets' church, the Highlands Community Church. Ryan's co-workers with the City of Issaquah donated six weeks of vacation time to spend with Heather and their children. Ryan's medical insurance through his work has paid for most of the cost of her treatment.

Their parents, Karen and John Murph and Gordon and Sherrie Sweet, were at the ready to help with babysitting and fundraising for the Brain Cancer Walk. The Sweets, graduates of Hazen High School, have two children, Collin, 7, a first grader at Kennydale Elementary School, and Hannah, 3.

From the night in October when she was diagnosed all the way through Christmas, the Sweets' church made sure they had a dinner waiting. "They were amazing," Heather said.

The monthly MRIs have brought good news. The tumor is shrinking and she's able to continue her chemotherapy.

The doctors didn't expect the tumor to shrink, bringing a reaction, "Wow. You are doing really good," she said of her doctors.

"If it wants to be gone, that's good, too," Heather said.

Forced to do so, Ryan has learned a lot about the relatively rare cancer that his wife is now fighting.

"It's emotionally and spiritually draining," he said.

Brain cancer has been called the orphan of cancer research because it is rare, he said. The biggest supporters of the research are those who suffer from the disease and their families and supporters, which is why Saturday's walk is so important, Ryan said.

Just last Sunday, the Sweets beat their goal of raising $3,000 and more was coming in.

The Sweets' faith has brought them through these nine months.

"If it wasn't for my faith, I would be a mess right now," Heather said.

How to contribute

The Third Annual Seattle Brain Cancer Walk, hosted by Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, is Saturday, June 26, at Seattle Center's Mural Amphitheatre. Heather Sweet has raised more than $3,000 and contributions for her and others who are helped by the cancer research are being accepted.

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