Patient Care

Andrea Peterson

Jun. 21, 2018
Breast cancer

When Andrea Peterson learned in early 2018 that she’d need chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer, she had to stop working.

A preschool teacher for 12 years, she couldn’t risk being exposed to the many germs that come into the classroom. But in all the upheaval and anxiety of cancer treatment, she vowed to hold onto what makes her who she is — her creative ideas and her positive outlook.

“I’m going to take the energy that I can’t use at work and direct it at my cancer,” Andrea recalls thinking, finding inspiration for her creativity in her lifelong Christian faith.

And that’s how she ended up singing karaoke at one of her weekly chemo sessions.

Every Thursday, she came to Wilmot’s infusion center at Highland Hospital with a theme. She started with Praise Week, reflecting her strong faith in Christ and helping her stay in her attitude of thankfulness. She brought a video to watch and a themed snack, dried fruit that she renamed “praisins.” Every week, she would also create a Zentangle tile, a simple drawing that uses structured patterns, to pass the time and match her theme.

Week 2 was all about wizards, then it was Swedish Week, followed by St. Patrick’s Day. Andrea and her husband, who always accompanied her, started dressing the part and bringing a themed treat for the staff.

The infusion center team soon started asking what the next week would bring.

“They were onto me by then,” she jokes. “There was no going back.”

As winter dragged on, Andrea had an island-themed week — complete with Hawaiian shirts and fruit drinks with little paper umbrellas — and a spring-themed week for Easter.

Then came the karaoke. One day, while waiting for an appointment, she started rewriting the lyrics to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.” She turned the song into an anthem about taking on her cancer: “You’re Going Down … HER2!”

Andrea, her husband and their younger daughter treated the infusion team to a performance that week, along with star-shaped snacks. They were a hit.

As the weeks went on, Andrea was feeling more exhausted by her treatments, but she kept the themes going.

“It just gave me something good to think about,” she says. “It kept it normal for me. My focus was not always on cancer and was positive.”

Garden Week brought flowers. Camping Week featured trail mix and notes that said, “Thanks for helping me tell cancer to hit the trail!” When she needed to simplify, she decided to have a Too Cool for Cancer Week focused on the color blue. She asked her oncologist Alexander J. Solky, M.D., and his team to dress in blue that Thursday and felt impressed by all the staff who participated.

She rounded out her treatment with themes on chocolate, fish and fruit. Her final week was, of course, Party Week. The infusion center team surprised her by putting up a sign in her pod that said, “This is my last chemo!”

“I’m grateful I’m still going back to see them,” says Andrea, who still visits the infusion center regularly. “They’re a fantastic group of nurses.”

The themes helped her get through her treatments, but they also helped her family, who offered ideas and participated in the activities. Andrea was also glad to share the themes and their energy with those around her.

“It was something that cheered people up,” she says. “It was an opportunity to be a light and bring joy into a place that can be dark.”