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A little beam of light

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — In the midst of treatment for a brain tumor, Emily Beamer's spirit remains untouched.

In fact, Emily — in typical fashion — inspires good morale among her family members by staying positive and strong, says mother Malinda.

The recent graduate from Fancy Gap Elementary and rising Woodlawn sixth grader keeps on smiling, despite being diagnosed with pineoblastoma in March.

"Emily's always smiling, she's always bright and positive," Malinda said. "She's always been that way."

Though she's been out of school since March, Emily kept up her studies and her grades with help from teacher Anita Semones and celebrated graduation with her class May 14.

She probably won't appear at Woodlawn until January, though, after going through a chemotherapy regime at Duke's hospital in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Family members realized something was wrong when Emily started having headaches March 7, which lasted six days.

"On the way to Radford to the pediatrician, she had a seizure," her mother recalled.

So Malinda, who along with her husband John works at the Radford Arsenal, pulled over outside of Dublin and called for emergency medical help.

Pulaski Rescue Squad responded and took Emily on to Radford.

Things started happening quickly — the hospital immediately did a CT scan and found that a tumor was the source of the problem.

Hospital workers had a pediatric team take Emily on to Roanoke for emergency surgery, which consisted of putting a temporary shunt in to relieve the pressure in her head, Malinda said. "And she hasn't had a headache since," Malinda noted.

A later MRI confirmed that a tumor about the size of the end of your pinky had blocked the place where excess spinal fluid drained out of the brain.

That was in the area of the pineal gland, and it was affecting Emily's breathing.

A biopsy at Roanoke followed, and doctors tried to remove all they could of the tumor at the time, and they put in a permanent shunt.

The biopsy results, and a second opinion from the University of Virginia, confirmed the diagnosis as a rare kind of cancer.

Though a history of cancer exists on both sides of the family, Malinda noted that they would not be related to pineoblastoma.

Doctors aren't sure what would have caused this in Emily. It can be an aggressive form, but, luckily, it is contained right now, Malinda said. Bone marrow and other tests have shown that it is not spreading.

Emily returned a couple times to Roanoke — with a school trip to Williamsburg in between — but her doctors there referred her for treatment to Duke.

(Emily's coincidentally a big Duke fan.)

The North Carolina hospital, Malinda explained, has partnered with St. Jude Hospital to offer a kind of treatment that few other facilities can.

To assist with her treatment and recovery, doctors circulated her blood through a machine that took the stem cells out, Malinda said.

Her stem cells were frozen to reintroduce into her body to help her regain strength between her four rounds of chemotherapy treatment, on top of radiation that will finish shortly.

The process takes about 2 million stem cells for each of the four cycles.

During these cycles, Emily will have to stay a week in the hospital, and then she'll rest for three weeks in a nearby apartment that the family can stay in.

There will be no trips back to Hillsville during this time, so Malinda's looking forward to the four weeks of normal life she can spend at home before the chemo starts.

"The success rate of this protocol is about 80 percent," Malinda said. "We've heard nothing but good, so that what we're looking at.”

The Beamers are anxious to see how she will respond to treatment. "We'll jump on it and see, as she says, 'knock it right out of there,'" Malinda said.

That's something that hasn't changed — Emily's as "bright, smiling and positive" as ever. Her mother finds that inspirational.

"She helps us, I guess you would say," her mother said. "If she wasn't so positive it'd be hard to deal with."

The Beamers have been surprised and overwhelmed by community support for Emily. So much help has flooded in Malinda would have a hard time compiling a list of everyone who's contributed.

It's ranged from people opening up a bank account at Grayson National Bank to benefit Emily; their co-workers who raised $8,000 by selling hot dogs; there's a big box full of cards that have come in expressing best wishes; a bass fishing tournament at Claytor Lake; the fundraising challenge at Fancy Gap Elementary that resulted in teacher Shane Reed shaving his head; Malinda's classmates from Giles County getting involved and helping, though she hasn't lived there for around there for 18 years.

A lot of people have contributed, but possibly the most precious one was from another child who gave 25 cents that had come from the tooth fairy.

"That's pretty cool," Malinda said. "It's touching."

How do you say thanks, she wondered, to all the friends, family, businesses, churches and strangers who gave to help Emily through?

It's been nothing short of amazing.

"There's no way we can individually thank everybody," Malinda said. "It's made it so we could concentrate on taking care of Emily."