“Cancer sucks and it's okay to be sad or cry. When you are done crying your heart out just remember that life is always worth fighting for.”
Those are the words of breast cancer survivor, and locally known “Alaska Queen of Metal,” Sarah Pederson.
Pederson is and has been actively involved in the Alaska music scene for over twenty years — maybe even hyper-actively.
She runs the concert promotions company, ‘Family Tree Presents,’ that features local and national acts performing in Alaska. Pederson co-owns the popular Spenard bar/night-club and music venue ‘Koots.’ She handles social media for metal bands 36 Crazyfists and Glass Halo, and is also the host of the ‘Queen of the Damned’ radio show airing on KONR 106.1 FM, featuring playlists from Alaska’s hard-rock and heavy metal bands. She is one dedicated woman.
Before all that, Pederson was a Minneapolis, Minnesota girl who moved to Alaska right after she completed high school in 1993. When she arrived, she dived straight into Alaska’s culture and enrolled at UAA, graduating in 1999 with a BA in accounting.
During those years is when Pederson became etched into Anchorage’s local music scene. In 2001, she and some friends even gave Portland, Oregon’s thriving music scene a chance.
It was in Portland where she began working for the band 36 Crazyfists. In 2002 they were signed to Roadrunner Records with Pederson working promotions. It was a nice run in a new, exciting place, but like many people who have lived in Alaska — something called her back.
In 2004 Pederson moved back to Anchorage, where she realized how much it was lacking live performances from national acts, and by 2007 she decided it was time to do something about it.
That is when she started her concert booking company, ‘Family Tree Presents.’ Through the assistance of 36 Crazyfists’s old manager, Jeff Hill, and Doran Powell, general manager of Koot’s, ‘Family Tree Presents’ was off the ground and running. Credit was also given to lead singer of 36 Crazyfists, Brock Lindow.
“Because of Brock's recommendation, Doran gave me a shot [at Koot’s] and the rest is history.” Pederson said.
Doing concerts over the years at Koot's is what led Pederson to becoming an owner.
When the former owner wanted to sell "Chilkoot Charlie’s” — as it was known then — Powell put together a group of employees, including Pederson, to buy the bar. They succeeded, rebranded it to ‘Koots,’ and they all took over in August 2015.
Pederson said, “I worked there full time doing the accounting and live music bookings, but it was only eight months later that I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
During an annual routine check-up in 2016, Pederson’s primary care physician found a lump in her breast.
“I'm vigilant about getting my physical exams every year.” Pederson said. “To be honest, I wasn't worried at first because she [Dr. Illona Farr] had found something a few years prior that turned out to be nothing. After I found out it was cancer, I was in shock and not really sure what to think.”
Pederson kept calm through the help of some friends and continued seeking advice and treatment from her doctors.
Pederson said, “I had another appointment with Dr. Farr. She was very caring and gave me some stats on her patients and it was very positive. She referred me to a Surgeon, Dr. Karen Barbosa at Alaska Breast Care Specialists, and an Oncologist, Dr. Mary Stewart at Alaska Oncology.”
Dr. Barbosa’s treatment approach was not what Pederson expected. Due to the large size of Pederson’s lump, Dr. Barbosa recommend chemotherapy first in order to shrink the lump, possibly having less to remove during a surgery, and from there continuing on with chemotherapy.
Dr. Stewart, the oncologist, was also on board with the treatment plans that began in May 2016. Pederson said, “I had 16 doses of one set of chemo drugs once a week. Then I switched to a different set of drugs, 4 doses every other week.” This routine lasted May through October.
“Chemo was difficult.” Pederson admitted. “I had severe stomach pains, loss of appetite, and nothing tasted good, even when I wanted to eat.”
What followed was severe fatigue, hair loss, and her immune system taking a nasty beating. The effects of her treatment became so severe that she required a blood transfusion.
“I want to thank everyone who donates to the Blood Bank of Alaska — you are life-savers.” Pederson noted.
During this time, Pederson was home much more and unable to work. This is when friends overwhelmingly stepped in.
One of Pederson’s closest friends, Bleu Roesbery, recalled, “To me it seemed that Sarah’s main struggle was completely changing her social life. She is very active in the local music scene so it was depressing when chemo fatigue kept her away from all the events. She always put on a brave face and was quick to share any positive news.”
Roesbery was there for Pederson from the beginning of the diagnosis, along with other friends and family.
“My brother Bill drove me to my chemo appointments most weeks and when he couldn't, my close friends took me; Bleu, Lindsay Nielsen, Michelle Powell, and Brock Lindow, just to mention a few.” Pederson said.
Ryan and Heather LeBlanc also helped by introducing her to chaga tea — a natural cancer fighting mushroom remedy, high in antioxidants that Pederson regularly drinks now as a part of her sustained recovery.
Pederson said, “I had so much support that I don't even know where to begin.”
A deluge of action was evident for Pederson in support of her cancer battle.
Roesbery organized a benefit show for Pederson at Williwaw. Many bands donated their time and talents for the cause. ‘Lost Marauders’ from Los Angeles paid their own way up to come and perform alongside other artists like Rebel Blues Band, Transitions, Mike Gorder, and Josh Olsen. Bands that Pederson brought up to Alaska through ‘Family Tree’ in the past donated merchandise and packages for silent auctions. Then the kicker was when Roesbery and promotions manager at Williwaw, Susynn Snyder, arranged a secret surprise for Pederson — many out of state friends were invited and showed up, filling Pederson’s heart with joy.
Friends also got together and started a meal train website for her, consistently bringing food to her home when she was unable to cook. “That was one of the most amazing things I could have had.” Pederson said.
Mary McCubbins started a youcaring.com page for Pederson where people donated funds for her medical expenses.
“This, too, was overwhelming because people from all over the world donated; bands I had brought to Alaska for shows, people I met touring with ‘36’, and even 36 Crazyfists’ fans who I had never even met contributed as well as friends and family from far away.” said Pederson.
Another benefit followed when metal band, ‘All Hail The Yeti’ came up from California to play at Koot’s with other local bands. Pederson said, “Doran and my Koot's family rallied around me for that show. They sold breast cancer pins and bracelets and supported me every day through the struggle.”
The support kept on coming.
Kurt Riemann from Surreal Studios got together with Marty Rathbun from ‘Part Time Super Heroes’ who put together a compilation CD of local bands which they sold through various methods, all contributing toward Pederson’s expenses that were piling up. Rathbun and his wife, Brandi, also put together a profitable benefit show at Anchorage Community Works.
Then there was the wild one — the 36 Crazyfists benefit show at Koot’s.
Lead singer of the band, Brock Lindow, spoke of how he and some friends displayed their love for Sarah. He said, “When we first found out [about the cancer], myself and other friends got together and shaved our head with Sarah as a sign of our friendship and our dedication to her that she wouldn’t be alone in this.”
Then Lindow talked about his fundraiser, “That show was really a special display of the power of friendship and community. Sarah has been a big supporter of 36 Crazyfists for damn near our whole career and we really wanted to raise some awareness for her and encourage her during her fight.”
36 Crazyfists played a dedicated set to Pederson featuring all of her favorite songs. They brought her up onstage, gave her big hugs and gave her room to say thanks, where the people gave nothing but love and thanks right back to her.
“There was definitely a vibe in there that you could feel.” Lindow said. “Made me proud to have been born in this city and came up in this scene where the people genuinely care about their own.”
By October 2017, Pederson’s lump had shrunken drastically from the chemo.
She had a lumpectomy in November that indicated the lump was much smaller than anticipated, and then after December's surgery, Person met Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Aaron Kusano, at Anchorage Radiation to begin radiation.
Pederson said, “Compared to chemo, radiation was a breeze. My skin where the radiation was targeted did burn but it wasn't as bad as expected.”
She finished up radiation in March 2017 and visited Dr. Barbosa again for a check-up.
It was at that appointment where they decided what steps to take next.
Normal practice is to get a Mammogram or MRI once a year, however, Pederson was once given some interesting insight to share with her doctor.
“I have a very good friend in Minnesota whose mother died from breast cancer. She had been given a positive prognosis after her treatment ended so she didn't go back for a scan for a year and by then it was too far gone.” said Pederson. “I explained this to Dr. Barbosa so she agreed that I could alternate with an MRI and a mammogram every six months.”
Soon after that plan was set, Pederson was receiving news that there was no residual cancer in her breast. Pederson left the hospital that day the happiest she had been in a long time.
Pederson called family and friends, and posted all over her social media pages to share her news. The response triggered all kinds of warm words and reactions. “The love I received was tremendous.” she said.
Pederson’s last MRI was in November 2017 which reaffirmed the cancer was gone, and her next mammogram is scheduled for May this year.
“Cancer was the most difficult thing I have endured, aside from losing my Mom, but I was not going to give in and let it win,” Pederson said. “With love, support, and determination, I stayed positive, fought for my life and won.”
Roesbery summed it up best when she said, “It’s been a long road back to normal. She still gets fatigued from time to time but I feel she has a new appreciation for life and more motivation to make every moment count.”
Looking back, Pederson wouldn’t change a thing. The effects of defeating something like cancer changes a person — it makes them stronger. Today, Pederson is a woman with a new outlook on life. She said she wants to focus on becoming a mentor, inspiring and guiding other women going through breast cancer.
In support of the American Cancer Society (ACS), she participates in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Via Koot’s, she donates packages for silent auctions for every ACS event. Koot’s also donates bartending staff to ACS events, where Pederson herself poured wine at a benefit on April 7th.
Later this year ‘Family Tree Presents’ will start an annual concert at Koot's with local bands and artists to be held every October for Breast Cancer Awareness month to raise funds for local organizations helping cancer patients, survivors, and their families.
Robert’s work can be followed on Facebook @ Foran Brand Journalism and @ foranbrandjournalism.com