COLUMBIA FALLS — She thought it was a canker sore at
It was in June when Taylor Peterson, then a sophomore
at Columbia Falls High School, noticed the growth above one of her
“It just kept growing. It started growing over my
braces and it hurt when I touched it,” the 16-year-old said.
No surprise, it wasn’t a canker sore.
It is spindle cell carcinoma — jaw bone cancer.
Peterson, a middle blocker for the Columbia Falls
Wildkat volleyball team, had just gone through August tryouts when
the tumor was removed.
It was believed at first to be benign. A biopsy has
since shown otherwise and she has a Nov. 15 date at the Mayo Clinic
Peterson, along with her aunt and her grandmother,
will leave Columbia Falls Nov. 12 or 13. Her dad, Charles, is a
diesel mechanic working in the North Dakota oil fields. They’ll
pick him up there.
She expects the Minnesota stay to be
about three days. The procedure will include removing part of her
jaw bone and replacing it with bone from her hip.
So far, she said she has been told she won’t have to
have chemotherapy or radiation.
“I guess I’m kind of scared. Chemo is the main thing
that I was worried about. But I’m scared I’ll go (to Mayo Clinic)
and they’ll say I have to have it. (The fear) is mainly when I
think about losing my hair,” she said.
The hardest part has been facing her schoolmates.
“Some of them ... they just don’t comfort me.
“If they ask me if I’m going to die ... it gets me
upset,” she said.
Through all of this, the volleyball court has been an
oasis for Peterson.
The sport is her passion and she is determined to
“Volleyball is just my only sport
I’m fully good at. I love it. I practiced really hard this summer
and I don’t want this little thing ... big thing, to ruin
“Cancer has ruined a lot. I can’t do all the things I
want to do in the weight room -- and I like to lift weights. I
can’t run — I like to run. I can’t eat. It’s stopped me from doing
a lot of active stuff.
“(Volleyball) is one thing cancer won’t keep me
from,” she said.
The season hasn’t been easy, although she has played
pretty well. Peterson ranks third in the Northwestern A in blocks
with 27 on the year and is eighth in the conference in serve
receive with a 1.96 ratio.
Those are darn good numbers, especially for someone
who admits she’s tired a lot, she’s often out of breath and she’s
even blacked out. Eating too much or too quickly makes her sick to
her stomach and she’s lost a lot of weight.
“I get sick in the morning a lot and I’ve been losing
weight like crazy.
“My body just feels weak.”
She thought when the tumor was
removed and she missed a week of practices that she might lose her
place on the team.
“I was really worried. I thought I wasn’t going to be
able to play at all,” she said.
But the doctors have cleared her (“They said just
take it easy”) and the Wildkat coaches have been accomodating.
Wildkat coach Addy Connelly wants
Peterson to be able to enjoy her friends and enjoy the
“Volleyball was kind of a bright
spot in her life. She just loves the game. It’s her thing,”
“I’ve played the heck out of her, as much as her
little body can take.I want her to do something she loves to
“She doesn’t want to be any different. She doesn’t
want to be the kid with cancer,” the coach said. “At least on the
volleyball court, she can just be herself.
“She’s a good kid, a hard worker. She has a lot of
spirit and drive. You can’t find anybody who has anything negative
to say about her. I just love her.
“Some days, she’s down, but her
teammates have been really supportive.”
When the rest of the team is running lines -- and
Peterson isn’t -- “nobody has said anything or held a grudge,”
“They act the same as when I was healthy,” Peterson
“Sometimes they are comforting. I
think Shaun Rowe (Wildkat libero) is the most comforting. She comes
up and gives me hugs and stuff.
“(Setter) Erika Nelson asks me if I’m feeling ok, how
Peterson and Rowe have built a great working
relationship since Peterson doesn’t play as much back row as she
“They watch each other,” Connelly said.
As a back row specialist, Rowe is ready to spell
Peterson when she needs a breather. But “(Rowe) lets Taylor have
her time when she’s feeling good,” the coach added.
“My most comforting friend is Catie King. She goes
through everything with me. She’s just always there and she just
doesn’t want anything bad to happen to me,” Peterson said.
The Kings are “like my second home. I basically live
there. They’re just like my parents to me,” she said.
The support she’s gotten has been overwhelming to
“At first, I didn’t like (the attention). I didn’t
want people to know and I don’t want people to feel bad for me,”
A volleyball benefit organized by the Columbia Falls
High School student council raised $1,800 on Tuesday.
The doctor at the Mayo Clinic is taking on some of
“At first Minnesota wasn’t going to
take me. But the doctor said he’d pay for it. They just want to get
it done because I’m so young,” she said. “I just wish it was gone.
I just want to be healthy again.”
Donation buckets have been placed in
businesses and schools in both Columbia Falls and in Kalispell. A
spaghetti dinner/auction is also planned for Nov. 6 at the Blue
The money raised will help with
travel expenses and help pay for some of Taylor Peterson’s