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How service became the silver lining in a terminal cancer trial


As Patti Evershed Peterson made the long drive from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Salt Lake City for cancer treatments, she had a thought come to mind that changed the rest of her life.
“I heard a talk about in your own trials, in your own troubles, the best way to get around it is to serve,” Peterson said. “I can’t have this journey just always be about me. I need to be serving others to get my mind off my own troubles.” 

Peterson, a wife, mother of five and grandmother of 12, discovered she had cancer in January 2017. A lump on her back turned out to be a rare subdermal melanoma. The cancer was also in her lymph nodes, back, brain and lungs. She started making the trip to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for treatment every three weeks. 

Joy in the journey

Peterson went on JustServe.org to find any flexible service projects she could do during those long drives and her time in treatment. She found a project to sew pillowcases for Festival of Trees, which is a yearly fundraiser for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. She developed a network of good friends, including members of her ward — the St. Rose Ward in the Henderson Nevada Carnegie Stake — but also many others who wanted to know about the project, and it snowballed from there. Soon she had a room full of pillowcases to donate.

“It changed the way I felt about my cancer. It was fun, believe it or not; my cancer journey has been joyful and fun,” Peterson said in a video from JustServe in October 2021.

In that video, Peterson became emotional when speaking about her situation: “I have about two or three months left of my life, and I still gather things, I still talk to people, and it is joyful to me to continue to do that work when I feel pretty bad.”

A core of service

Patti Peterson works with family members in Las Vegas, Nevada, on a service project in October 2021. They used JustServe.org to find service projects they could do together.

Patti Peterson works with family members in Las Vegas, Nevada, on a service project in October 2021. They used JustServe.org to find service projects they could do together.

Credit: Screenshot from JustServe video

She worked on the pillowcases, but also texted people, wrote notes, tied quilts and tried to reach out every day. She said if she hadn’t had cancer, she never would have had the opportunity to perform that service.

“If you’ve been given only a few months, what would you do?” Peterson explained. “When I told my family, I said, ‘Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.’ Just that core of service has made all the difference in the world with this journey.”

Peterson had a lifetime of service before cancer — she mentioned she didn’t grow up with wealth, but she grew up with a great deal of love. Therefore she developed a need to give to others, because she had been given so much. She found out about JustServe when it started in 2012, and found projects to do as a family. Her service for the Festival of Trees grew into joining its executive board in 2020 and 2021.
Primary Children’s Hospital produced a video in November 2021 about Peterson’s service to the Festival of Trees. In the video, Peterson spoke of all the joy that service gave her in her last years of life: “I’m leaving with a great deal of joy and gratitude,” she said.

Meeting the Savior

Patti and her husband, Clayton Peterson, are surrounded by family at the unveiling of the Elf Emporium at the Festival of Trees in November 2021. Patti Peterson served on the executive board of the Festival of Trees in 2020 and 2021.

Patti and her husband, Clayton Peterson, are surrounded by family at the unveiling of the Elf Emporium at the Festival of Trees in November 2021. Patti Peterson served on the executive board of the Festival of Trees in 2020 and 2021.

Credit: Screenshot from Primary Children’s Center YouTube video

Peterson made it to the Festival of Trees for the very first time in November 2021, and spent Christmas with her family. She died Jan. 20, 2022, in her home in Las Vegas, five years after her initial cancer diagnosis.
Her family wrote in her obituary: “Patti was passionate about serving others and truly believed that helping others was the best way to live a happy life and be closer to God. Even when cancer made it difficult for her physically, she still followed through with her goal to do a small act of service every day.”

The memorial will be held in Las Vegas in February. Her family requested, in lieu of flowers, people make a donation to Primary Children’s Hospital.

“Patti’s legacy is the impact she had on the lives of everyone she met. Her loss leaves an immeasurable hole in the world, but we can all make that hole a little bit smaller by serving those around us,” says her obituary.

As Peterson said in the JustServe video three months before she died: “When you have something that can take your mind off your own situation, it changes everything. It changes how you feel, it changes how you feel about seeing the Savior, and saying, ‘I hope I did a good job.’ Because I certainly tried.”

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