Every day for 35 days, Beri Trestrail had a mask placed over her face and bolted to a table while she underwent radiation treatment.
The netlike mask was formed to the shape of the Vancouver woman’s face and kept her from moving as radiation zapped the cancer in her neck. When the course of treatment was done, Trestrail’s radiation therapist asked her if she wanted to take the mask home.
“Well, yeah, I want it,” she said.
Most patients who keep the masks talk about burning them, running them over with their car or otherwise destroying them and the cancer they represent, said Michelle McGavran, radiation oncology supervisor at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.
But Trestrail had a different idea.
“I’m going to embellish it,” she decided. “I went to Craft Warehouse, and I bought all of my favorite things. All those things I thought were beautiful.”
For Trestrail, the mask didn’t represent something she was angry about or wanted to forget. Instead, it was a symbol of the new life she discovered.
“There were so many wonderful things that happened on this trip,” Trestrail said.
Making the mask beautiful, she said, seemed like the perfect way to illustrate that.
Trestrail, 63, was diagnosed with tonsil cancer and breast cancer — two unrelated, primary cancers — in June 2016. Surgery in June removed the cancer in her neck, as well as nine lymph nodes. She declined additional treatment, hoping the surgery had eliminated the cancer.
In August, she had a lumpectomy. A scan after that surgery revealed more cancer in Trestrail’s neck. So Trestrail began a 35-day course of radiation on both her neck and breast. She also underwent three rounds of chemotherapy.
After her diagnoses, Trestrail and her sister, Jill Moore, a health coach, devoured as much information as possible about nurturing and detoxing the body as it endures cancer treatment. Through their research, Trestrail and Moore learned about Healing Strong. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to connect and support people facing cancer and other diseases with holistic, evidence-based therapies.
Together, the sisters purchased the support group curriculum and launched a Healing Strong group in Vancouver. The group met for the first time in March and meets monthly. (For meeting information, visit www.healingstrong.org.)
“We’re trying to help people make their bodies healthier as the solution,” Moore said.
While undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, Trestrail embraced the philosophy of the group and worked to make her body healthier. She adopted the keto diet — a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet — and began regularly using a hyperbaric chamber.
“It kind of evolved in a natural way,” Trestrail said.
And now, she said, she’s living a healthier lifestyle and in good health one year after her cancer diagnosis.
“My opinion is, I’m cancer-free,” Trestrail said, though she has foregone any traditional follow-up scans. “I’m very well.”
Trestrail wanted her decorated mask to represent her beautiful new life.
Over several weeks, Trestrail retreated to her craft room when inspiration struck and worked on the mask.
She used purple, pink and green spray paint to cover the boring tan color of the mask and attached fake eyelashes with rhinestones. She fastened a collection of pins and hair clips that belonged to her mom — some flowery, others sparkly — to the bottom of the mask and draped a necklace of her mom’s around the neck. She arranged fake ferns, leaves, flowers and branches into hair, adorning it with feathers.
Once complete, Trestrail took the mask back to Legacy Salmon Creek’s radiation oncology department to show off her work. McGavran had never seen — or heard of — anything like it.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
“She’s such a positive person,” McGavran added. “It’s great that she’s taken something some people don’t ever want to remember and made it such a positive part of her life.”