The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

October 28, 2010

Survivors of breast cancer credit social support in their recovery

JOPLIN, Mo. — Beth Peacock is a 9-month survivor of breast cancer.

It hasn’t been an easy journey (goodbye, camping trips; hello, sickness). But Peacock, who is the facility and events manager for Joplin’s Memorial Hall, is determined to make life after her January diagnosis better than ever.

“It’s going to be a year that turned my life around,” she said.

Before her diagnosis, Peacock, 45, knew of no family history of breast cancer. But she had followed the American Cancer Society’s recommendations and had gotten a mammogram each year since turning 40.

One morning in January, knowing that she had an appointment with her doctor that afternoon, she did a breast self-exam and found a lump.

She underwent a lumpectomy on Jan. 27, and two days later her doctors determined the lump was cancerous. She was formally diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

Peacock said her first reaction to the diagnosis was one of shock.

“I have two daughters,” she said. “I immediately thought of them. It’s something they’re going to have to be concerned about for the rest of their lives as well.”

In February, Peacock had a second surgery to remove a lump that was found under her arm. She began chemotherapy treatments in April and radiation treatments in September; both are ongoing, but the end is in sight, she said.

So what happens to life after the diagnosis? It will likely be different -- a little slower, perhaps, or more complicated. But for Peacock, who joins roughly 2.5 million breast cancer survivors across the country, life does go on.

“It’s not necessarily a death sentence,” Peacock said. “Life will never, ever be normal again. We will have a new normal, but it can be just as exciting and just as full of love.”

Adjusting

Peacock admits her new life has been a struggle. She was used to being in charge of her life, which had been hijacked by her medical treatments and the side effects that they caused. Camping trips, family vacations, even working late at the office -- all had to be put on hold temporarily.

“Some of the medications I was on, I couldn’t let my feet or hands get hot, so I couldn’t help my husband do the dishes,” she said.

Support from family, friends and other cancer survivors has been vital to Peacock since her diagnosis. Of particular importance to her is Hope 4 You Breast Cancer Foundation, a Joplin-based group that provides outreach and awareness. The foundation launched Surviving Together With Hope, a support group for breast cancer survivors, earlier this year, and Peacock remembers going to its inaugural meeting.

“They took me under their wing, and they’ve just been my support through this whole thing,” she said. “We’re able to talk about drugs we were on, how it happened É It’s just so transparent that you can talk about emotions and frustration.”

Social support might be one of the most important resources for women living with breast cancer. Support from family, friends or therapy groups can reduce anxiety, distress and depression, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. It can also improve one’s mood, self-image and sexual satisfaction.

The foundation notes that research has not shown whether strong social support can lengthen one’s chances for survival or reduce the risk of recurrence.

Kristi Seibert, a three-year survivor and member of Surviving Together With Hope, said negativity is not an option when dealing with life after breast cancer.

“We are a very positive support group,” she said. “We are just women trying to get on with our life. We still have kids and house chores to do and all of the other normal things. Just because we have cancer, life does not stop.”

Staying positive

Seibert, of Joplin, said she has adjusted to life with breast cancer by staying grounded in her family and by continuing to exercise, which keeps her body healthy. She said she also is strong in her religious faith and involved in fundraising and awareness efforts for breast cancer.

“What keeps me going and positive is just getting out there and getting involved and getting the message out about early detection, just to be there for (survivors) with a big, fat smile on your face and say, ‘You’re going to be OK,’” she said.

Peacock is slowly but surely finding her new normal. Driven by a desire to impress upon women the importance of early detection, she has thrown herself into raising awareness of breast cancer by volunteering with Hope 4 You. She is the spokesperson of the foundation’s pink-ribbon bagel campaign this month through Panera Bread, and she has attended other local events to increase the foundation’s visibility in the community.

“By being out at all these different events and wearing the pink, it gives everybody the opportunity to come talk to us,” she said.

A self-professed lover of the outdoors, she is planning an upcoming vacation to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. She is also working to rebuild her strength, just recently walking a 5-kilometer race in Springfield for the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” fundraising event.

Peacock urges other survivors not to give up hope during their own battles with cancer.

“You’ve got to fight for your life so that when it’s all done, you have a better quality of life,” she said. “It is a little mountain to climb, and when the sun rises on the other side, it’s just phenomenal.”

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