DELPHOS—Cancer is a word that carries heavy implications — all of which are frightening. So when Laura Peters was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, she was surprised that she never felt her life was in danger.
“When you’re first diagnosed, there’s a numbing effect. The world stops and then you have to put everything into perspective,” she said. “Since then, I’ve had people ask me if I was ever afraid I was going to die. To be honest, I never felt that way. It never crossed my mind. Breast cancer isn’t considered a life-threatening disease anymore. They’re calling it a chronic illness. Early detection is still the best thing.”
Peters was diagnosed with stage 2 infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. After the lumpectomy, Peters says all her treatments were preventative.
“I had moved my yearly mammograms to October and last year when I went in, the girl who examined me thought she felt something,” she said. “My mammogram was on Oct. 27 of last year and on Nov. 8, I was diagnosed.
“After my surgery, I had four sessions of what they call AC chemotherapy. Then I did 12 treatments of Taxol. Dr. Gerad at St. Rita’s does those weekly. After that, I did 33 daily treatments of radiation and the ride over to the hospital actually took longer than the treatments. I was there maybe 15 minutes and that includes getting everything ready. I think the radiation itself took 30-40 seconds and the last five treatments were about eight seconds.
“It’s hard to nail down a date for when I was considered cancer-free because they tell you that you start to recover the day you’re diagnosed,” she continued. “My treatments were all preventative. They removed the problem with the surgery, so everything after that was just to make sure it didn’t go anywhere else and to keep it from coming back. Aug. 20 was my last treatment.”
Even though cancer treatments are nothing to look forward to, Peters says she feels fortunate things went as well as they did.
“Some people have a terrible time of it with infections and fevers,” she said. “I mean, with the first four treatments I would be up around midnight sick to my stomach but then I was able to fall back asleep. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to deal with all of that.”
Peters said the worst part of the whole experience was losing her hair.
“Most people weren’t even aware that I was wearing a wig,” she said. “I got several compliments with people saying things like, ‘Oh, you got your hair highlighted!’ I never knew what to say with things like that because you don’t want to embarrass them by saying it’s a wig.”
Once Peters got past the shock, she began to see the silver lining.
“It’s so low-maintenance. All I do when I get out of the shower is run a towel over it and run a comb through it and I’m done,” she said. “I got to sleep in an extra half hour because I didn’t have to do anything with it. Some people have asked me if I’m going to keep it short. It was horrible at first but now I kind of like it.”
Peters says her experience has made her realize what a great support system she has.
“My relationships with my husband and my daughters have grown so much closer,” she said. “My daughters Rachel and Michelle designed a shirt for me. They both live out of town and that was their way of helping me get through it. My husband Chuck was really good about not letting me over-do things around the house. I haven’t picked up the sweeper in a year.
“You really learn who your true friends are when you go through something like this,” she added. “I received so many notes from people I don’t even really talk to. Even at St. Rita’s, the nurses and staff were wonderful, kind, caring, compassionate. The second time I went in there they all knew me by name. You’re not just another number to them.”
Peters, who works as assistant treasurer for Delphos City Schools, says she kept working throughout her treatment.
“I would come in and work in the mornings and then go to my treatment. Sometimes, I wouldn’t come in the day after, just to rest and keep from running myself down,” she said. “Everyone here was so supportive and understanding.”
No matter how long or hard the battle is, surviving cancer teaches important life lessons.
“My friend Becky Berelsman is a breast cancer survivor and she’s been an inspiration for me. She said this is never something you want to do but it’s something you can get through,” Peters added. “In the last year, I haven’t done a lot. I’ve just tried to get through it. There were things I missed that I would like to have gone to but I didn’t want to be around crowds. I figure I’ll get to make up for that later. You learn to put what’s important first and the rest can wait.”