Keeping Cancer On The Ropes

Dottie Copeland and Tina Nelson i i

Dottie Copeland took on Cancer like a prizefighter. She's shown here with her daughter Tina Nelson. Courtesy of StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of StoryCorps
Dottie Copeland and Tina Nelson

Dottie Copeland took on Cancer like a prizefighter. She's shown here with her daughter Tina Nelson.

Courtesy of StoryCorps

Whether you're battling unemployment, financial woes or illness, 68-year-old Dottie Copeland's story should help you stand a little taller.

When Copeland was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, she left the room, found her husband waiting for her and said, "I got cancer. Let's go get a hamburger, I'm hungry."

Copeland was not going down without a fight, she told StoryCorps in St. Louis.

"I dealt with it by saying to myself that I would fight this cancer as a boxing match. I loved the movie Rocky. And so I went out and I bought the tape. For two weeks, I played that theme song 24 hours a day. I trained myself mentally," Copeland says.

And physically: "I would run in place, I jumped rope." Copeland even practiced punching pillows.

Not only did Copeland get in shape, but she dressed the part. "[The] day before my surgery, I went to Wal-Mart, bought myself a camouflage hat, I bought myself a camouflage T-shirt, and I went to the hospital.

"I felt so confident," Copeland says. "I felt like kicking the door down.

"And I walked up to the desk, and I said to the nurse, 'My name is Dottie Copeland, and I'm here for surgery, and I want you to bring it on. I'm ready.' "

Copeland's doctor even piped the Rocky theme into the operating room.

Today, she says, "I beat cancer for nine years. Will it come back tomorrow? It sure might. I've got to live my life as if it could end tomorrow — but everybody should live their life that way."

Copeland says she wants to be remembered as "a woman that had a fighting spirit that raised three wonderful human beings. And I want them to remember that when I do pass on, they can say, 'She was one hell of a woman, and she had one great ride!'"

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The Senior Producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo. Recorded in partnership with the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

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