University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Reflections on Living with Glioblastoma

By | November 9, 2020

Reflections on Living with Glioblastoma

More than four years after a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM), Susan Sandler shares her experience of living with the challenges of brain cancer.She chronicles her personal journey and revelations in her newly published book, a collection of essays titled When I First Found Out I Had Cancer.


Susan Sandler
Susan Sandler in 2016.


In 2016, Sandler was diagnosed with grade IV GBM, after a series of intense headaches and nausea sent her to the emergency room. Doctors at UCSF later confirmed that the tumor was located in her right parietal lobe, an area of the brain involved in processing sensory information. 

Mitchel Berger, MD, Director of the UCSF Brain Tumor Center, performed a surgery to safely remove the tumor while sparing critical brain function. Since then, Sandler has undergone a second surgery and has had success with a variety of therapies, despite tumor recurrence. 

Here, Sandler describes the motivation for sharing her cancer experience, together with candid reflections on how she has learned to live and thrive with a serious illness. 

“I am not sharing my story because I think I have some answer or path that helped me work through how painful this situation is,” she writes in her essays. “I don’t have an answer. But I do hope there is something in my story that some people might find relevant or helpful to their own situations.”

Q: What inspired you to document your story?

A: Having a disease as serious as GBM made me feel like I was going through a profound experience and that I should have something profound to share about life. I kept thinking that I should have these profound thoughts. I would say to myself, “Life is…” but there was never an end to the three dots where the sentence trailed off. What profound statement did I have to say? 

I also avoided talking to friends because I was very anxious and fearful about my diagnosis, and didn't want to make them feel the same way. I was protective of them. Over time, I developed a comfort level with my disease.