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Gators stand 'Sands Strong'
Sands 1
Bulloch Academy coach Beth Sands (facing away from camera) shows off her '# Sands Strong' shirt while surrounded by Lady Gator players. - photo by Special to the Herald

    Beth Sands is known for her spikey blonde hair, colorful clothes and ever-present smile. She has coached and trained young athletes through the Parks and Recreation Department, is a water aerobics instructor at Splash in the Boro, and has been a softball and basketball coach at Bulloch Academy the past seven years.

    Sands has also been battling a brain tumor for the past year.

    On Friday night, her Bulloch Academy girls basketball team honored her fight by surprising her with neon green warm up shirts with '# Sands Strong' displayed across the back.

    “I was in Pooler at the Under Armour store and noticed the bright green shirts which made me think of Beth,” said Gator coach Hal Wilson. “I asked the girls what they thought about it and they were so excited. She means so much to them.’

    The recognition took a while for Sands to realize.

    “Coach Wilson told me to check out our new pre-game we’ve been working on,” Sands said. “I saw the fluorescent green and thought ‘That’s my favorite color.’ Then I looked and saw they had something on the back and I thought ‘Is that my name?’ When I finally saw it I said, ‘Oh my gosh!’ It was really sweet.”

    Sands has worked through this difficult time by continuing her busy daily life, albeit with a little help, and moments like Friday night’s gesture help her remember why she does it.

    “It’s exactly what I needed,” Sands said. “These girls are like life, they’re my heart. I have these high school girls, I have my middle school girls, the coaching staff, my family, they are there for me all the time, no matter what.”

    Her diagnosis came in early April after sinus pressure under her left ear and on the left side of face had her visit the doctor thinking it may be water in her ear from all her swimming.

“Dr. Kevin Purvis called for an MRI,” Sands said, “At 7:15 the next morning he told me I had a brain mass and was sending me to the Mayo Clinic. I was there within two weeks.”

Sands was diagnosed with a rare non-malignant brain tumor on the seventh cranial nerve, a growing tumor which was inoperable due to the size, location and type.

“My only option was brain radiation,” Sands said. “I would be the only patient with this tumor to undergo the five-day process. For others it was done over five weeks.”

Sands spent one week at Mayo with treatments every day. A successful treatment would show the tumor to be the same size at her six-month follow-up.

“My follow-up was last month and the good news was the tumor had not grown,” Sands said. “The doctors don’t expect it to shrink or go away. My symptoms will remain.”

The symptoms include her face “freezing” in a palsy type way on the left side. She also has facial tingling, numbness, hearing loss in her left ear and trouble with balance.

“The hearing in my left ear is almost 100 percent gone now,” Sands said. “I also have my new swervy swagger due to challenging balance issues.”

Sands’ family has always been a tight-knit group but her health issues have brought them even closer as she needs help getting places, and even walking at times.

“I go to the middle school games, and most of the high school games,” said husband Dub. “We still workout and exercise together. She has an elliptical machine that she can hold onto, and she can swim with no issues.”

“I know sometimes it can be overwhelming for her,” said daughter Mikay. “But I know how important is is for her to be around the girls at B.A. they really keep her going. I am glad I can be there for her, like a security blanket.”

The Bulloch Academy girls have drawn inspiration from Sands’ attitude.

“She is an awesome person,” said senior Mattie Wynn Hendrix. “Through all of this I’ve never seen her down. She’s always lifting everyone up around her.”

Sands hasn’t let her illness define her, but did use her situation to help motivate the team during their holiday tournament in Charleston.

“The kids were a little down and not playing well together,” said Gator assistant and long time friend Beth Burke. “She reminded them that when they stand for the National Anthem I put my hand on her in case she falls I will be there to catch her.”

“She went on to tell them it’s the same thing on the court,” Burke said. “If you fall or are having a bad game, your teammates are there to pick you up, you can lean on them.”

One of the reasons the Sands family has been able to stay positive through what Beth has been going through is their strong faith.

“I think our faith is a big deal for us,” Dub Sands said. “We don’t dwell on it, we know there is a plan and it’s not the thing that defines her or us.”

“My family and friends are my heart and soul,” Sands said. “God has blessed me in unmeasurable ways. For me the tough part isn’t the tumor, it’s watching the people I love watch me live with it.”

“I’m happy and thankful for what I’ve got,” Sands said. “I’m surrounded by love, and I’ll take every bit of it.”