By Sara Bondell - December 06, 2018
Through all the pain and fear in her cancer battle, Vicki Peters found something precious: support. She faced breast cancer not once, but twice. Both times, the friends and family she dubbed “Vicki’s Soldiers” rallied around her: driving her to treatments, cooking meals and offering prayers and encouragement.
Now a two-time survivor, Vicki calls on her “soldiers” each year to contribute to her Miles for Moffitt team. This year, she wanted to inspire supporters by showing a different side of her cancer journey — her family’s perspective. For the first time, her four daughters and husband have publicly shared their feelings on Vicki’s cancer journey and why events like Miles for Moffitt are so important.
Husband Ted remembers meeting with his wife’s surgeon and the shock and sadness that came with her first cancer diagnosis in 2004. “As a husband, I wanted to protect her, trade places with her if I could,” he said. He worried how to tell their four children and keep their lives as minimally impacted as possible.
Like his wife, Ted was amazed with the outpouring of support his family received. “We had meals on our doorstep nightly,” he said. “Friends took Vic to her treatments so that I could maintain my office schedule and they made sure our family had everything covered so that Vic could focus on staying strong and fighting this battle.”
Their four daughters all agree their experiences were different the second time their mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Marin, the oldest, moved to Virginia for college during her mom’s first cancer fight. Vicki’s exhaustion from her treatment didn’t stop her from helping her daughter move into her dorm. But Marin worried: “How many other milestones would she reach?”
While Marin felt she “escaped” during this difficult time for her family, she made sure she was present 10 years later for her mom’s second fight. She was there while Vicki awaited the results of a full-body scan, terrified this time the cancer would be metastatic. “Then she smiled and gave me a big thumbs up,” said Marin. “We started screaming and giggling, jumping up and down shouting, ‘You only have breast cancer!’ ”
Rachel, the second oldest, says she doesn’t remember much about the first time her mom went through treatment. “Maybe it is because I was a self-centered teenager, or maybe because my mom very unselfishly tried to shelter us from what she was going through,” she said.
The second time around was more vivid for Rachel, who tried to be there for her mom in the way she wasn’t mature enough to be the first time. “Unfortunately, I have friends and family members whose own parents battled cancer and did not have the same outcome that my mom did, twice,” Rachel said. “I do not take this for granted.”
Twins Claire and Brynne are the youngest and were freshmen in high school when Vicki was first diagnosed. Both say they regret how they handled the initial news and wish they had hugged their mom more and been there for her more, rather than feeling angry.
“The treatments started and it was unbearable to watch,” said Claire. “It is still hard to think about. I remember it almost as a flipbook with each page turning: watching my mom’s hair fall out, pounds drop off, my arms being able to wrap around her more than usual, until finally, the last page, what became the new normal.”
Both twins say they admire their mom’s inner strength and how even in such a trying time she was still an understanding mother. “She didn’t pressure us to be present, she understood that we were all dealing with these emotions as teenage girls differently and she continued to be patient and love on us when really we should have been showing our love to her,” said Brynne.
When Vicki was diagnosed the second time, Brynne shared a spontaneous video with her sisters who couldn’t be there. It showed Brynne and her mom at the piano, singing about beating cancer — video evidence that their mom had the same fighting spirit as she did before. Claire was able to join the family for Vicki’s surgery and be there for her last radiation treatment. “We saw her ring the survivor bell and I can’t tell you how much pride I felt,” said Claire.
The family feels that same pride every year when it’s time for Miles for Moffitt. This year, their team has already surpassed its goal of raising $10,000 and they are hoping to continue to raise more. “We continue to support Moffitt Cancer Center’s research to find a cancer cure so that one day no one has to lose a parent to cancer,” said Rachel.