Marit Peterson may be genetically predisposed to melanoma, but the disease was no match for the 10-year-old and her team.
She was 4 years old when her mother, Candy Peterson, explained her own breast cancer diagnosis. Marit’s upbeat reaction: “We match, Mommy!” melted Candy’s heart and reminded her of Marit’s courageous spirit that saw her through tough times in early childhood.
Marit, of Dallas, was born with a small bump on her finger. Pediatricians dismissed it as nothing, but it started to resemble a melanoma lesion Marit’s grandfather had. Candy followed her motherly instincts and insisted on a biopsy. The results were inconclusive, and doctors recommended a visit to MD Anderson.
Soon the Petersons met Jeffrey Lee, M.D., chair of Surgical Oncology, who’s become like family to them. Lee diagnosed Marit with stage IIIB metastatic melanoma and started treatment immediately. After surgery and a year of Interferon injections, Marit, then 2, was deemed a survivor.
“I love Dr. Lee. He saved my life,” Marit says. “He took all of my cancer away, and he’s looking for clues to take the cancer away for everybody.”
Overcome with gratitude and determined to contribute to the fight, the Petersons decided to support Lee’s research into the inherited genome for melanoma. They founded the Marit Peterson Fund for Melanoma Research and started a benefit golf tournament, which in eight years has raised more than $1 million. Lee and his staff attend the Richardson, Texas, tournament every year to provide skin cancer screenings.
“When melanoma gets cured someday, I’ll be really happy,” says Marit. “It’s important to help MD Anderson and Dr. Lee because it takes money to complete the research they need to make people better.”
The success only strengthens the Petersons’ commitment to the institution.
“All of the players on a football team can’t be exactly the same. You need the best people at every position, and that’s what MD Anderson has,” says Candy. “We had the surgeons, the dermatologists and the pediatric oncologists, all working together for the win, which was getting our little girl back.”
The Petersons' support has facilitated genetic testing on 1 million variations across the melanoma-causing part of the genome. Test results have identified several genes that may pose an increased risk for developing the disease.
Marit and Candy, who call themselves best friends, continue to "match." Both are cancer-free: Candy for six years and Marit for eight.