by Jim Boyle
Breast cancer did not steal Chalase Peddicord’s sense of humor.
“It took away my boobs,” she says rather matter of fact-like. “But they did not define me. They were only a part of me.”
Peddicord says who she is as a person is about her life as a mother of two young girls, being the wife of a loving husband, a daughter of parents and a neighbor to her neighbors. It’s also about qualities like her sense of humor, which has made the inconvenience of a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent battery of tests, therapies, surgeries and healing processes easier. Not easy, mind you, but easier.
“Breast cancer is not the end of the world, unless you let it sit there,” she told the Star News.
This Elk River woman’s diagnosis did not lambaste her like a ton of bricks.
“I never saw myself as anyone but a survivor,” she said.
That’s her hope for other women who might have to contend with breast cancer during their life. Peddicord, who is now 36, offers a simple message to her peers. Be body-aware and when changes occur react.
In her case that meant responding to the realization last spring during a self-examination that she had a tiny lump on the side of a her right breast.
She was 35 years of age at the time with no history of breast cancer in her family. Maybe it was just a new birth control prescription. When a week or two passed and the lump had not subsided, she sought medical advice and attention.
An ultrasound and a mammogram were not enough to decipher what was going on, so a breast surgeon did a lumpectomy. When the surgeon later personally phoned, Peddicord said she knew that meant bad news. She learned on that July 2010 phone call she had cancer, but the type was unknown.
“What’s the next step,” Peddicord asked.
The answer was an MRI. It eventually became clear one breast would have to come off, but not necessarily both. There was, however, some “freckling,” so Peddicord chose to have a double mastectomy.
“I’m 35 with two young kids,” she recalled saying to herself. “I don’t want to wait for the cancer to return and be back in a couple years facing surgery again.”
The mastectomy was performed the end of last September.
She has since completed six rounds of chemotherapy and undergone weekly Herceptin treatments that will come offline on Oct. 12.
She will continue to go in for Tamoxifen treatments, which started after chemotherapy. They will be needed for five years altogether. She still has more reconstructive work to be done.
The process has not been worry free. Peddicord had at least one panic attack, but she assessed it later and decided to only worry about things she had control over and to let the doctors and the medical staff at the New River Cancer Center worry about what they had control over. The rest, she said, has been turned over to her faith. It’s an approach that has allowed her the ability to talk herself out of a few panic attacks.
“I wasn’t going to lock myself in a my room and cry,” she said.
She continued to focus on her family and doing the things she needed to do, which took the emotional sting out of cancer.
“Cancer is so inconvenient,” Peddicord said.
It has also been humbling for Peddicord.
The Roseburg, Oregon native, who prides herself on being the “domestic engineer” who keeps her household running smoothly needed the help of others.
Her mother, a nurse who still lives in Peddicord’s hometown, came out for three weeks at the time of her mastectomy. Her mother-in-law followed for another two weeks.
Peddicord couldn’t even lift things up for several weeks after the surgery, let alone pick up her children: Ellen, now 5, and Amelia, now 3.
When her mother and mother-in-law left, there were continued doctor’s appointments and therapy to contend with. Her husband’s employer was helpful giving Christopher the time off he needed, but there was the question of childcare.
“I was a stay-at-home mom,” Peddicord said. “I didn’t have child care providers to call upon.”
But her neighbors stepped up in amazing and humbling ways.
“We would have been lost without friends and neighbors,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to get through this. It makes me smile and gives me goose bumps what they did for us.”
And when Peddicord became cancer free they had a BBQ to say thanks and celebrate life. Cancer could still return, but the odds are less than 15 percent, according to her doctors.
“It’s unfortunate that (breast) cancer does take lives,” she said. “It makes me sad that some of those lives could have been saved.”
That includes her step mother’s mom, who was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, which had spread to her bones and lungs.
“Don’t wait,” Peddicord says. “I hear some people say they’re afraid to know. It’s better to know.”
The fact that Peddicord knew and did something about it gives her the freedom to joke about having lost her boobs, and had them replaced with those of a 25 year old.
“There are things in life that make you who you are,” she said. “If you let them, those things can defeat you. You can’t let them defeat you.”