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A father’s heartbreak, a girl’s last wish

November 29, 2012
Northwest Montana A Conference


A father’s heartbreak, a girl’s last wish

Community supports teen with incurable cancer


Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 10:00 pm | Updated: 5:55 pm, Wed Nov 28, 2012.

Not a moment goes by that Chuck Peterson doesn’t wish it was him instead of his only daughter, Taylor, in the final throes of cancer.

“If I could, I’d trade places with her in a heartbeat,” he said.

Moments are so very precious right now for the Peterson family.

Taylor, 17, a senior at Columbia Falls High School, has been battling spindle cell carcinoma — jaw-bone cancer — for about a year and a half. But her doctors at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recently determined her cancer is no longer treatable.

They sent her home with a devastating prognosis.

“She has so many tumors. They give her a couple months to live,” her father said, the heartbreak evident in his voice. “As a parent, you never want to hear something like that. I strongly believe our children are supposed to outlive their parents.

“We’re pretty much hoping for a miracle.”

A community fundraising effort is under way to grant Taylor her last wish: a trip to Hawaii.

It was June 2011 when Taylor noticed a growth above one of her teeth that she thought was a simple canker sore. It kept growing, though, invading her body at a fast clip, and by November she was headed to the Mayo Clinic, where surgeons removed three of her teeth and part of her jawbone. A second biopsy after that showed the cancer already had manifested itself in the area around her jaw.

Taylor then was transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she underwent eight months of extensive radiation and chemotherapy. The routine was five days in the hospital, then nine days out. She and family members stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in between treatment sessions.

“The radiation made a big blister at the base of her tongue that went through her throat and into her chest,” Chuck said. “At that point she had to have a feeding tube.”

By July she was finished with exhaustive treatment and back home.

“Here’s the sad part,” her father confided. During a follow-up appointment in Seattle in August, Taylor had a lymph node that was “puffy, turning hard; it was tender and stinging,” he said. Her doctors didn’t do another CT scan, though.

“They thought it would go away,” he said.

Not long after that Taylor was back at the Mayo Clinic, where doctors discovered tumors in both lungs, her jaw and her spine.

She has a considerable amount of pain, her father said, mostly in her back and on her side where a drain port allows fluid to be drained from her lungs.

Desperate for anything that could prolong her life or even offer a miracle cure, Taylor is working with a local specialist who has put her on a special diet.

“She has ups and downs because of the pain, but all in all, I think she’s doing OK,” Chuck said. “She talks a little bit [about the prognosis], but she’s overwhelmed by people talking to her about it. She’s trying to live a normal life.”

Taylor, a middle blocker for the Columbia Falls Wildkat volleyball team, tried to play with the team this fall but wound up having to bow out of the sport.

She’s still attending classes, spending as much time at school as she can until the pain gets too severe, her dad said.

“We’re trying to keep her busy and positive, not only for herself but for me as well,” he said. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”

Chuck works as a diesel mechanic in Williston, N.D., and said he’s thankful his employer, McCody Concrete, is giving him as much time off as he needs to be with his daughter in the coming weeks.

“They’re behind me 100 percent,” he said. “They’re really family-oriented.”

McCody Concrete just ordered 70 of the special T-shirts the Columbia Falls Key Club has had made in support of Taylor. The shirts carry a powerful message of support: “Courage Matters, Strength Matters, Taylor Matters.”

The outpouring of support from the Columbia Falls community has helped make this worst-case scenario a little easier, he said.

Tien’s Place Oriental Dining in Columbia Falls is staging a fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday to raise money for Taylor’s last wish, a trip to Hawaii with her best friend and her father.

The restaurant will have a limited menu that day and all of the proceeds will go to help the family get to Hawaii. Across the street from Tien’s Place, Laurie’s Deli will be open for overflow space.

Maureen Windauer, who owns Tien’s Place along with her husband, Tien Windauer, also has set up an online auction atwww.32auctions.com/taylorraepeterson, where people can bid on items to help raise money for the trip.

The auction will run through next week, and people wanting to donate items to be auctioned can still do so be dropping them off at Tien’s Place or getting in touch with the Windauers through the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“The community is so incredibly supportive,” Windauer said. “People have volunteered to do dishes and bus tables” during the benefit. An anonymous resident who owns property on the Hawaiian island of Kauai has donated the use of his accommodations there for the Petersons’ stay.

Another event planned for Taylor is a gathering for family and friends from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at Columbia Falls High School. It’s open to the public. Shortly after that gathering, the Petersons plan to travel to Hawaii and be back in time for Christmas.

“I want to come back and give her a good Christmas,” Chuck said.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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