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Ronan coach and teacher fights cancer

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TULSA, Okla. - Life threw Ronan softball coach and teacher Tom Peterson a curveball on May 2, a day he will never forget. Peterson knew something was severely wrong when he noticed blood while using the bathroom. After seeking advice from medical professionals in Ronan, he had further testing done in a Kalispell hospital.

Following blood work and a CT scan, a tumor was discovered in Peterson’s descending colon, with the tumor spreading to his lymph nodes and liver. The cancer was already stage four, the most advanced phase. With the news, he saw an oncologist who recommended chemotherapy and surgery, followed by more chemotherapy, and surgery. This didn’t sit well with Peterson, so he decided to give an alternative treatment center in Tulsa, Okla. a try.

The alternative treatment center offers methods, along with radiation and chemotherapy. During the road trip to the treatment center, his health took a turn for the worse.

Upon arrival in Tulsa, a PET scan revealed that Peterson’s tumor was larger than first thought.

“It had closed off my colon completely,” Peterson said. “It wouldn’t let anything pass through.”

For safety precautions, doctors insisted surgery must be done the following day. Peterson underwent surgery to remove part of his colon with the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes. Doctors weren’t able to remove all the lymph nodes, and nothing was done with the area of the liver that the cancer had spread to.

Peterson has begun traveling the long road to recovery and the beginning of his alternative treatment of two, 20-day sessions through the Camelot Cancer Center in Tulsa. Petersen spent the next 11 days at the center. Due to the nature of the treatment, Peterson returned home on June 4, where he can administer the therapy himself.

Also included in his treatment will be an anti-cancer diet that has been used for 50 years with a 90 percent cure-rate by Johanna Budwig. The diet is rich in flaxseed oil, mixed with cottage cheese and milk, and meals high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber.

Forty days into his therapy he will be reevaluated with a PET scan to monitor progress.

Peterson says that the battle has been tough but he is grateful for all the support that has poured in.

“Parents, coaches and players have been a big help,” Peterson said. “Before I left, a friend raised $1,800 in one day to help with my travel expenses.”

Last year Ronan School District changed their insurance policy and Peterson decided to opt-out.

“I just couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” Peterson said. “I’m lucky to have great friends, staff and players help me out.”

Without insurance Peterson piled up $30,000 in just a few weeks, in treatment costs. 

A few days before leaving Tulsa, he received news that his sister Stephanie and her husband Jim Conkel found an insurance plan that would insure Peterson right away. The plan will cover him even though he has this preexisting condition. Peterson says this is a huge help, but it wont pay for anything before June 1, leaving a large expense to be paid.

That’s where the supportive community has picked up the ball, he says. 

A number of fundraisers will be held to help pay down expenses incurred. 

Assistant softball coach Steve Woll says both he and the team took the news hard. 

“At the beginning Tom was laughing it off,” Woll said. “He knew something was wrong but put it off as not a big deal. After his second visit he told me how serious this was and it felt like a dream, like it wasn’t really happening.”

Once Peterson began missing practices is when the team became suspicious of what was going on. 

“After awhile I ran out of good excuses,” Woll said, “I told Tom that he needed to tell them.”

After a few days, Tom finally broke the news to the team.

“I’ll never forget the look on their faces,” Woll said. “ They looked shocked and in disbelief.”

Woll stepped up to guide his team while Peterson left for treatment, as he tried to make the best of the situation.

“We wanted to play for Tom and nobody else,” Woll said. “We wanted to keep the ship moving forward.”

After the team’s final victory over Whitefish, the players called Peterson to tell him the news. 

“We’ve been using “damn” all season long, so the girls yelled “we won the damn game,” Woll said.

Senior Marissa McCrea helped support her coach by organizing royal blue jerseys for their game against Polson on May 20.

“It was kind of a last minute thing,” McCrea said. “The whole team was really excited to do this.”

As Peterson continues his long journey he encourages those interested to donate and follow on his website, www.care4tom.com.

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