The Sunday Magazine·The Sunday Edition

Breast cancer doctor remembered in play for radical discoveries

A Karin Wells documentary on playwright Charles Hayter's play "Radical", about the pioneering medical breakthroughs of Canadian doctor, Vera Peters.
Dr. Vera Peters teaching at the University of Toronto

When Charles Hayter's play Radical opened in Toronto, the lineup ran round the block. There were doctors, scores of them in that line - particularly women doctors. There were former cancer patients - even a member of Parliament. The playwright was overwhelmed. He knew he had a good story, but never imagined that Vera Peters would be such a draw. 

Dr. Peters - radiation oncologist, class of '34, University of Toronto - is in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. The citation calls her "an outstanding clinical investigator who changed the management of Hodgkin's disease and breast cancer". That citation only hints at the quiet battles she waged. 

When she was still in her thirties, Vera Peters turned Hodgkins disease from a death sentence to a treatable illness. The international Hodgkins medical hierarchy didn't like sharing the spotlight. She was shut out and sneered at. "Go back to Toronto and do your women`s work," was the message. 

Thanks to her pioneering scientific work at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, the "lumpectomy" became a viable option for women with early stage breast cancer. This could have been the stuff of Nobel Prize nominations. Charles Hayter decided it was the stuff that plays are made of. 

Karin Wells is the producer of our documentary, "Vera Peters, MD", which first aired in January.


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