Defying The Odds Comes Naturally To Afflicted Woman

December 09, 1990|By Mike Nortrup | Mike Nortrup,Contributing writer

ELDERSBURG - Brenda Peters wants to write a book about her life someday.

But this Eldersburg resident's tale would tell two very different stories.

The first is her struggle with cystic fibrosis, arthritis and diabetes.

A congenital disease in which excess mucus forms in the lungs and digestive tract, CF usually leads to lung failure and death by the age of 24.

Peters has defied the odds so far.

She is 40, born in December 1949 in Baltimore.

And, despite a daily battle to keep her lungs clear using specialized equipment and physical therapy, the story of her life is anything but a tragedy.

"You have to take each day as being important and live it to the fullest," she said.

That philosophy has led her to act out Chapter Two, a full and active life, which has included many victories over her deadly adversary.

Peters, influenced by her second-grade teacher and her mother, decided by the age of 10 that she wanted to be a teacher.

When she was in her early teens, her family moved to Baltimore County.

Peters attended Sudbrook Junior High and Milford Mill High School.

At Milford, she nurtured her interest in teaching, tutoring other students in math and Spanish.

Peters later attended the University of Maryland at College Park, graduating in 1972. She received a master's degree in communicative disorders from the Johns Hopkins University in 1978.

But accompanying her throughout those years were chronic weakness, coughing, digestive difficulties, and other maladies that a succession of doctors and clinics could neither explain nor cure.

She was finally diagnosed as having cystic fibrosis when she was 21, an age when most sufferers of the disease have already passed away. She took the news calmly.

"Why should I have been upset because they put a label on it. I'd had it all those years," said Peters.

She remembers blandly asking the doctor, "If I get upset, does it go away?"

Undeterred by the diagnosis, she embarked upon a teaching career.

Peters quickly showed an interest and talent in working with learning-disabled children, beginning at Cherry Hill Elementary School in Baltimore, and later at other schools in the city and Baltimore County.

"The kids are neat to work with," she said enthusiastically. "It's so neat to see them progress and say, 'I did it!' " Then her voice hardened a bit.

"I don't want them ever to say they can't do it -- at least without trying."

But her illness was progressing; she was starting to miss days at school and, finally, at the urging of her husband, Randy, whom she'd met in 1985 and married two years later, she stopped teaching in 1987.

Peters said she missed teaching, but plunged into a raft of part-time activities, including needlepoint, country dancing, tutoring students in her home, managing three rental properties she owns, and involvement in a multitude of charitable and social organizations.

She has worked almost 10 years with the Maryland Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, chairing events and serving on its board of directors.

Peters has also been a worker locally for the Democratic Party, the U.S.

Census and the Sierra Club.

She recently became a certified scuba diver after conveniently failing to advise her instructors of her medical condition.

She completed a 10K race in 1982 "because my doctor told me not do do it, " she said with a laugh.

"No one can tell me what I can't do," she added.

"Brenda has been an example to all CF kids," said Mary Foote, of the Maryland Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. "She has gotten married, held jobs and shown that people with CF can have a normal life."

Peters says that life has a distinct purpose, and hers may be to write her autobiography.

"It would be about my experiences, doctors and hospitals, associations and friends," she said.

At the same time, she said, she shrinks from writing her story because she sometimes feels that her life's purpose might end with the book's completion.

And, wary about an uncertain future, she shrinks from optimism over reports that a cure for cystic fibrosis may be available in a few years.

"I'd like to believe it," she said, "but I'm not going to look that far ahead.

But that will never stop her from delighting in her todays.

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