Comfort on the Court

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Taylor Peterson

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

in Minnesota.

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,”

Connelly said.

“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,”

Connelly said.

“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

I’m doing.

Peterson and Rowe have built a great working

relationship since Peterson doesn’t play as much back row as she

once did.

“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,”

she said.

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

her expenses.

“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.”


How to


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


Taylor Peterson

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