Keeping Cancer On The Ropes Dottie Copeland found out she had cancer and decided to fight it — literally. She prepared for battle like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. Ten years later, her cancer is still down for the count.
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Keeping Cancer On The Ropes

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Keeping Cancer On The Ropes

Keeping Cancer On The Ropes

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It is Friday morning, which is time for StoryCorps. We're going to listen today as a mother talks with her daughter about the unorthodox way that she fought a deadly disease. The StoryCorps project records meaningful conversations with loved ones and friends. And today's story begins as Dottie Copeland is telling her daughter, Tina Nelson, what happened ten years ago when she discovered she had breast cancer.

Ms. DOTTIE COPELAND: I had a needle biopsy. This guy takes this needle and he pulls out some tissue. And when he got done, I said to him, what do you think? He says, well, I think your doctor will tell you. I said, no, I think you should tell me. And he said, are you sure you can handle it? And I said, of course I can handle it. He said, I think you have cancer. I said, fine.

I went outside, your father's sitting there, and I said to him, I got cancer, let's go get a hamburger, I'm hungry. 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. I played that theme song 24 hours a day. For two weeks I trained myself mentally.

I would run in place, I'd jump rope. Tina would hold up a pillow, I'd punch it. And so 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 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.

Ms. TINA NELSON: And didn't you tell the surgeon to play the tape?

Ms. COPELAND: Yes. I said to him, I want to go under with that tape playing, and I went under to the tune of "Rocky."

Ms. NELSON: So how has this experience changed your life?

Ms. COPELAND: 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.

Ms. NELSON: How do you want to be remembered, Mom?

Ms. COPELAND: 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.

(Soundbite of song, "Gonna Fly Now")

INSKEEP: That's Dottie Copeland with her daughter Tina Nelson at StoryCorps. Their conversation and all the others in this project are archived at the Library of Congress. This conversation was also made in collaboration with a study on cancer survivors at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University in St. Louis. And you can find a picture of Dottie and Tina at NPR.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Gonna Fly Now")

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