October 12, 2022 at 4:43 p.m.
Peters draw strength from small community
Jeff Peters has been on the giving side for most of his life, serving the community of Sauk Centre as a member of the fire department and with the Lions organization. Lately, he and his wife, Melanie, and their kids, Ty, Emily, Leah and Avery, have been on the receiving end of things. Jeff’s cancer diagnosis in May has rallied the community around the family.
There have been several fundraisers for the family, including a car wash put on by the fire department and, last Saturday, a silent auction and spaghetti dinner held at Holy Family School. The outpouring of love has been tangible.
Community support in a small town is on full display for the Peters family.
“It’s overwhelming – it’s hard to describe,” Jeff said Oct. 10 at their home, as he and Melanie sat down to reflect on the past six months.
At Saturday’s event, volunteers wearing “Jeff’s Journey” T-shirts worked to serve 620 spaghetti meals and auction off more than 260 baskets that included things like an ice auger, metal signs, a fishing trip, a variety of meat packs and tools. Family and friends from all over contributed, and help came from all over the community and beyond.
“It’s definitely amazing how people are so generous,” Melanie said.
Jeff’s journey is a family journey, and it began from a physical in May. He had not been feeling well. A routine colonoscopy was scheduled at age 44 (almost 45), instead of the previously recommended guideline of age 50. A tumor was found, and the information was relayed to him immediately by the practitioner doing the test.
“I was shocked; how can it be me at 44 years old,” Jeff said. “This shouldn’t happen to somebody so young.”
When Melanie picked him up, he told her the news and, later, the family. They explained more testing would be done.
“That was May 18; it was Parents’ Day at Holy Family School,” Melanie said.
Next came what, to Jeff, was the most difficult part of the process.
“The biggest thing right away before treatment started is it took so long to get from diagnosis to starting treatment,” he said. “It was probably three to four weeks, but it felt like forever; that was the worst thing – waiting and not doing anything about it.”
Further tests revealed the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and liver, giving him a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer.
By mid-June, treatments began and as of Oct. 10, he has had seven treatments. Fortunately, they have not made him physically sick, but they have rather left him worn out and tired. The first four to five days after each treatment, he loses his appetite and sleeping is difficult.
Jeff has learned to listen to his body. Melanie, who has been a daycare provider for 21 years, has moved the kids downstairs so Jeff can rest and relax. When he can, Jeff will go out and drive tractor at the Jim and Carol Klaphake farm where he works.
Now, though, it’s about healing. His body is responding to the treatments and progress is being made.
“The tumor on my liver started at 18 mm, and after three treatments, it went to 5, and the last MRI, they said it’s almost gone,” he said.
The original tumor on the colon must wait until the lymph nodes and liver are clear. The family is hopeful, in part due to the doctor saying a previous patient has lived clear of cancer for many years after receiving the same diagnosis at the same age.
These days, the Peters take more time to relax and do less work than before. Jeff has even gone fishing a couple times. On Saturday, he enjoyed some games of bean bags at the Legion with former teammates he played softball with for about 25 years. Another highlight came Sept. 24 when, through a partnering of Chevrolet and the American Cancer Society, he was able to throw out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins baseball game.
“I was nervous as heck – I was shaking,” he said. “The only thought that ran through my mind was, ‘Don’t throw it in the dirt!’”
They will continue to draw strength from everyone around them – even the little ones. Melanie told the story of a special experience.
“This summer, a little neighbor girl came over with some money in a plastic bag and said, ‘My friends and I had a little sale and we sold some things,’” Melanie said. “They had made like $40, but they brought it over and said, ‘This is for Jeff’ … That’s probably the one thing that hit me the hardest. It just made me cry.”
There have been so many kindnesses shown, they feel unable to do them justice.
“I just want to thank the community and the extra families, you know, like the fire department, everything they’ve done, the Lions … it’s just overwhelming support,” Jeff said. “There’s no way to give enough thanks for what everyone has done.”
They hope to return the favor when they can.
“We’ve received a lot from the community, and we’re going to give back,” Jeff said “It’s not all about us; there are lot of other people fighting this, too. The ones that hit me the hardest were the other people in the community that have a family member suffering, yet they are choosing to give to us as well.”
At the back of their minds, the Peters know the cancer is still there, but they are united against it.
“Just to beat it,” Jeff said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”