Finding Inner Peace Through Inner Beauty
Published: May 20, 2019
Cancer. She knew she had it all along.
“I just hadn’t been feeling well,” said survivor Leslie Peterson. “I was out at a party, enjoying the evening, and I felt like I just got hit in the back with a hammer or something. I just felt terrible, and I didn’t feel well the rest of the night.”
She made an appointment with her doctor, and after a few misdiagnoses, “I finally said, ‘You need to do a cancer lab workup. I think I have cancer.’”
As soon as it was confirmed, Leslie made calls elsewhere and was eventually referred to Dr. Stefano Tarantolo, a hematologist and oncologist with Nebraska Cancer Specialists who cares for patients at Methodist. This was Leslie’s first introduction to Methodist Health System, and she was diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells and usually presents no obvious symptoms to the patient.
“I never asked what stage of cancer I was in, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.”
Discovering Inner Beauty
Leslie underwent more testing at Methodist Hospital and began chemotherapy. Only a couple of weeks into treatment, she began losing her hair. That’s when a friend reached out and suggested that she go see Lori Fuchs, clinical cosmetologist and coordinator of Inner Beauty Salon at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. Leslie made an appointment with Lori to get her head shaved.
“It was something,” Leslie said.
She took a deep breath, shook her head and continued: “You couldn’t imagine. While you’re having your head shaved, you don’t see what’s happening. Lori has you turned away from the mirror. You’re looking at your sister and your friends – and I could tell they were trying to be really strong for me.”
“The moment you turn the patient around to see themselves in the mirror without their hair for the first time, it’s surreal for them,” Fuchs said. “Because as women, we never see ourselves that way.”
“I had a couple of tears, for just a minute,” Leslie recalled. “I didn’t really cry.”
A baby blanket for the scalp and soul
After Fuchs shampooed Leslie’s scalp, she showed her a special type of beanie she could wear at night.
“It’s a little baby blanket for the scalp,” Fuchs explained. “It’s very thin. It’s very comforting. They can roll over on any side, and what happens is those little hairs continue to fall out, but they get captured in these hats instead of getting all over the bed and pillow.”
“I have one that I kept,” Leslie said. “It’s in my clothes basket. I look at it when I fold clothes, and sometimes I feel it in my hands. I don’t know – there’s something about it. It’s a good memory. I know it sounds strange, but it’s a memory of someone who was looking out for me.”
A memory of someone who knew exactly what she needed at exactly the right time. Leslie credits everyone at Inner Beauty for giving her a sense of inner peace.
“How you look isn’t that important,” Leslie said. “It really isn’t. But when you look so different from the way you used to – you have no eyebrows, no eyelashes, no under lashes, no hair, your skin doesn’t look the way it used to – and they tell you you’re beautiful? You know you’re in a safe, welcoming place where nobody judges you.”
Only good memories following stage 4 cancer
When Leslie was finally ready to learn the stage of her cancer, she asked Dr. Tarantolo to be frank with her. Stage 4, he said. And she’ll never forget the way his next few words made her feel.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s not very good.’ He lowered his chin, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘That’s the kind I cure.’”
And because of Dr. Tarantolo, Fuchs, Cindy Nelson – her chemo nurse – and many others, Leslie has only happy, hope-filled memories of her cancer journey. She said everyone involved in her care has eclipsed the bad memories.
“I’m grateful I ended up here,” she said. “Very grateful. I know there are a lot of choices in Omaha and in our area in terms of care for folks with cancer, and I don’t think I could have landed in a better spot.”
After 24 weeks of treatment, Leslie was declared cancer-free. And while she may not have cried much throughout her journey, Leslie, certainly gets emotional now.
“Because everything after chemotherapy and everything after cancer is a gift,” she said. “I have friends in Minnesota, and I’d go up there and look at the lake, and then I’d cry. Or I’d go up to the mountains because we like to go hike all the time, and then I’d cry. Or doing something with my sister or my granddaughter, I’ll think, ‘How lucky am I to have my life back?’ And for that, I will be eternally grateful.”