Steffanie Peterson is a warrior. Her scars and battle wounds are hidden from plain sight, and the physical signs of her past illness have now faded. Looking at her now, you wouldn’t know this young, vivacious woman who is a nurse practitioner nearly met her maker. The mother of three was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. The diagnosis nearly shattered her world, until she found the inner strength to fight, courageously putting on a brave face for her kids. Through her journey, she learned to love herself again…refusing to wear wigs to cover her bald head.
HER Magazine™ grabbed a moment with this mother, survivor and warrior, who has made peace with the big C.
When were you diagnosed with cancer, and what was that experience like when your doctor told you?
Stephanie Peterson: I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer on August 2nd at age 37. I found the lump myself and immediately I had a feeling overcome me that it was bad. I listened to my gut feeling and began preparations to ensure the best possible outcome.
My mom was with me at the time of diagnosis. It was sad to think that while my classmates were celebrating our 20 year class reunion I was in the doctor’s office getting a diagnosis that would change my life. While I was sitting in the waiting room I felt a heavy nervous feeling overcome me. My mom and I were directed to the patient room and my basic vital signs were taken. I knew immediately when the doctor came into the room that things were bad. It isn’t until the confirming words come out of the doctor’s mouth where it starts to set in. Immediately I was in disbelief as if I didn’t hear a word he said. I was okay for a moment and then I broke down in tears. I am a medical professional and know the successes and failures of many illnesses. I know that the treatment for cancer these days have a better success rate; however, the diagnosis is not any easier. I knew the extent of the battle I was about to endure. I began to think to myself, “Why me?” I quickly replaced that thought with “Why not me?” I am strong and able to fight a battle this size, besides, I would much rather go through this myself than to have my children go through it.
HER: What was the journey through cancer like? What was your lowest moment and how did you overcome it?
SP: The journey through cancer was like an emotional roller coaster. I was a single mother at the time, recently lost my job, after building a new house, for which I moved into just two months prior to being diagnosed with cancer. I landed 4 out of 5 top major stressful life changing events. I knew that the diagnosis and treatment would not only affect me but all my friends and family who were there to support me. My heart went out to my children. I knew I would be okay; however, I wasn’t sure how my children would be able to see me suffer through the treatment.
The lowest part of my cancer therapy was at my 4th round of chemotherapy. I had a new drug called Taxol which caused severe pain throughout my whole body. It hurt so bad that I didn’t want to be touched. I did not want to go to the bathroom because each step I took it felt like I was walking on glass. It was challenging to maintain a positive attitude especially during that time. It is easy to slip into depression when you have an illness and are bed bound. It seemed like the time stopped while I was in pain. I would make small goals to get through the first 5 minutes and then increased the length of time until I could make it through the hour and then the day. My youngest daughter, Shylo, would draw me pictures for which I would hang on the wall next to my bed to remind me of the love she had for me. My older daughter Aspen would take on the household, making dinner, shopping and taking care of Shylo. My children were my biggest strength through it all. They are a blessing in my life.
HER: You’re still alive and now cancer free. Do you believe your positive attitude helped shape the outcome of your recovery?
SP: I believe that a positive attitude leads to success and happiness in all areas of life. It can help you achieve your goals, give you strength, recognize opportunities, create a successful career, overcome an illness, inspire others and instill confidence.
HER: When you went through chemotherapy, you contemplated wearing a wig but decided you didn’t need to hide your bald head. Why?
SP: The biggest challenge for me was facing the thought that I soon would be bald. In order to overcome my fears I went out and bought two wigs. No matter how much you prepare for the outcome it seems that you are never truly prepared. The first day that my hair started to fall out I was in tears. It began falling out 10 days after my first chemo treatment. I decided to take control of the situation and have my children shave off my head. I felt it would be easier for all of us if we made it a fun event. I think that was the best way for us to cope with the problem. My children enjoyed the opportunity to cut off my hair creating crazy hairstyles along the way.
The reason I was sooo afraid of losing my hair is because I thought that my hair defined who I was. How would I look without hair? What kind of person would I be? Would I still be beautiful? After the hair came off I started embrace the beautiful person I was inside. I could put on a wig; however, I quickly realized that the person inside didn’t match any of the wigs I purchased. I was imperfect and that was enough for me. I loved not wearing a wig or a hat. I loved going home and letting my scalp breathe. Once the hair was off; the eyebrows and eyelashes slowly fell out. I could purchase eyelashes and eyebrows; however, I didn’t want to deal with all the maintenance of it. I decided that once I loved who I was then everyone around me loved who I was. I didn’t need the eyelashes, eyebrows or hair to be complete. It was a stage in time that helped me develop the true love of myself and for that I am thankful.
HER: What words of wisdom do you have for women who are battling cancer, or battling anything challenging in their lives?
SP: We are all imperfect, love who you are, embrace yourself and stay positive. We all have a battle to fight which would be easier if we believed in ourselves. Most importantly don’t give up on you.