When life gives you multiple myeloma, you make wreaths.
You do, at least, if you’re Beverly Pedersen.
The 70-year-old Modesto resident, diagnosed with the cancer in June, is no stranger to struggle. From age 5 or 6 to age 12 or 13, she and her mother and brother were homeless – “We traveled wherever, picked fruit, slept in parks” – and then Beverly went into foster care. She didn’t meet her father until she was 16, and he died about two years later, when he was 45.
She doesn’t know whether her brother is alive. He was a serious alcoholic who never overcame their childhood, she said.
Her husband of 52 years, Ken, suffered the first of his seven strokes when he was 48, and hasn’t been able to work for 20 years.
Beverly also suffered a stroke, years ago, when the couple were living in Arizona. Her appendix ruptured, too. Oh, and she was diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease lupus.
Even on her bad days, she still makes most of us look pretty bad if we’re not doing much. ... She’s a go-getter.
Dwayne Pedersen, son of Beverly Pederson
There’s no hint of complaint in her voice when, occasionally coughing because of a case of pneumonia, she lays out her history.
“She’s always been a fighter,” said her son, Dwayne Pedersen, a Tracy police officer. “Her story alone when she was a child, she had a really hard upbringing, from foster home to foster home and whatnot, and they always struggled.”
Growing up with his sister, Vickie, “we were always taught value in everything we got,” he said, adding that in sickness or health, his mother always has worked hard to support her family.
Not only does she not give up, she rises to challenges, Dwayne said. His mother always has been creative, so not long after her cancer diagnosis, his sister suggested to her that she turn her long love of wreath-making into a business to help offset her medical costs.
For Beverly’s birthday, her son and daughter paid to have the website bevswreaths.com set up, and Vickie, who lives in Arizona, manages the site.
“This is her outlet now to deal with the pain,” Dwayne, a Salida resident, said of his mom. “She can’t sleep, so she stays up at night, and this gives her something to do.”
She’s an amazing woman – I wish I had about 10 of her. She’s a tireless worker, she does a great job and keeps us all in line.
Ted Fernandes, general manager at Alfred Matthews
Beverly said she often sleeps just until 1 or 2 in the morning, then works on her wreaths for a few hours before going to her job as customer-relations manager for the Alfred Matthews Buick GMC Cadillac dealership on McHenry Avenue.
She’s been in the car business 34 years, she said, and even before costly chemotherapy came along, she had no plans to retire. With Ken’s and her own medical costs over the years, “I really don’t have a choice but to work.”
She said she told her doctor recently how tired she is and how much she wished she could just rest. He gave her a pep talk, reminding her that “what’s keeping you moving is moving.”
She had to agree. “If you stop, you’re done. Moving is everything,” Beverly said. Looking at her husband across the kitchen table in their two-bedroom apartment in north Modesto, she added, “With his stroke, I tell him that all the time. I kick him in the tail – ‘Keep moving, don’t quit.’ ”
Still, the fatigue caused by chemotherapy is “unbelievable,” she said. She’s on four drugs: two orally, one by weekly injection and one every other week by IV drip.
Beverly’s latest chemo addition is Revlimid, which costs $11,000 for a 21-day supply, her co-pay being $2,800. “He (her doctor) said without this drug, I wouldn’t make it longer than four to six months. With it, there’s hope, depending on how my body reacts. There’s only one other drug beyond this” that could be tried.
Other chemo drugs she takes run her $1,400 a month out of pocket, she said.
Sleeping is a big problem, because the pain is ongoing. I just kind of manage around it. I try not to take pain medication because I don’t want to be a zombie.
Her bosses and co-workers at Alfred Matthews have been wonderfully supportive, she said, insisting she accept monetary gifts and buying some of the many wreaths she’s made.
She makes faux, not fresh, wreaths because they last much longer and are less prone to damage. She shops the sales at places like Hobby Lobby and Michaels, but large wreaths still can have $60 to $75 worth of quality materials in them, she said. Most of her wreaths run $110 and up, she said.
Business has been slow, but she said she feels much better working for her money than she would turning to a crowdfunding site like gofundme.
“I don’t and I won’t,” she said of having a fundraising page. “I just don’t want to get out there having a feel-sorry kind of thing – I really don’t. That would embarrass me more than anything. And I think it would let a lot of people down because they don’t expect that from me.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327