Siusan Peek was just 32 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had not begun receiving yearly mammograms and had no family history of breast cancer that would indicate that perhaps she should. She found the lump herself and ignored it because in her mind, “32-year-olds don’t get breast cancer.”
Peek assumed it was a hormone change or due to stress. She works full-time at Wallace State Community College as an academic success coach.
“I work with students who are in my Freshman Seminar class teaching them problem-solving skills, of all things, and how to overcome obstacles,” she said.
Peek finally made an appointment to see her nurse-midwife at Princeton (Brookwood Baptist Health) in Birmingham, and the results were inconclusive. She was referred to a clinic in Hoover Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. After another mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor wanted to do the biopsy that afternoon.
The doctor told her, “I don’t feel comfortable letting you leave today. I’ve asked my staff to stay so we can do the biopsy today.”
In Peek’s mind, she thought the doctor was “just being nice.” She had a trip already planned to attend her best friend’s wedding and the holidays were fast approaching, so she felt the doctor was simply fitting her in to avoid a delay in results.
The doctor had warned Peek not to panic if she received a call asking her to come in for those results. The following Tuesday, the doctor’s office called and wanted her to come in that day. Peek said she thought, “No, that’s an hour and a half drive and I am at work.”
She went down the next morning, Wednesday, Dec. 12, and she learned the test results were not good. By the 19th, Peek was seen by an oncologist at UAB. She started chemotherapy Jan. 30 of this year.
Peek was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive and rarest form.
“This is how little I knew about breast cancer,” she said. “When she said that it was hormone negative and it’s (HE)R2 protein negative, I said, ‘Oh good!”’
The subtype of triple-negative breast cancer Peek was diagnosed with occurs in only 1% of breast cancer diagnoses.
Peek explained, “That was the 1% I wanted to be in. It is slower growing, less likely to spread and more receptive to chemotherapy. That was the one positive.”
She continued, “I took my mother-in-law with me on the 12th. We are very close. She’s my rock. There are no words…I can’t imagine and wouldn’t have been able to get through this without her.”
Peek said she knew her mother-in-law, who is a nurse, would have better insight from a medical perspective.
Peek remembers her one day of falling apart.
“I was in the shower and it was the night before we went down to UAB to meet the oncologist,” she said. “I was on the floor of the shower crying. Then I just got up and put it all back together.”
She said she had one other moment during a particularly uncomfortable day after chemo, but that was it.
“The rest of it, there was such a peace. I was on the floor of my shower and I was crying, praying, and then there was such peace. This is why I have the faith I have because I don’t have to be afraid of the outcome. I have a responsibility to do what I need to do because I believe God gave us medicine for that reason. The outcome beyond that is outside of my own hands, and no matter what, I knew he would work it together for my good and my family’s good and that he would provide for us every step of the way.”
She came home the day of the diagnosis and went straight to her church group’s meeting at Christ Covenant Presbyterian in Cullman. She said the love and support she received from her church continued throughout her treatments and today.
“They kicked into high gear!”
She was able to continue working and continued in graduate school part-time.
Of her husband Drew, Peek said, “He had a harder time than I did, I think. I think so often there’s so much focused on the person who is going through it and not their support network. I would think it has to be harder for him because if I died, I died. He would have two small children and have to manage them as well as himself.”
She continued, “So that my husband wouldn’t have to take off work unless it was necessary, our church family, by the time I had my first chemotherapy date, they had organized drivers for me for every scan, every test and every chemotherapy appointment.”
Peek and her husband have two young girls. Faith is 6 and Clara is 3.
Clara, her “diva,” went shopping for a pink dress for her mother. The girls found a pink sparkly cocktail dress. After much begging, Peek found herself back at TJ Maxx buying the pink cocktail dress. She proudly wore the dress to all her treatment milestones.
Peek’s girls had to adjust to new routines during the cancer treatments. Faith struggled with the new normal more that her little sister.
“She had some very emotional moments. Any given day a different person could be picking her up. There was a point where she asked me if I was going to die. Kids are smart, and she’s smart. We had to talk about the fact that I could die any day. We could all die any day, but that’s where our faith came in and that’s why we trust Jesus with our life and future.”
Both girls were at Little Lambs Preschool last year.
Peek said, “Having teachers who were reinforcing the same things I was trying to teach her at home that when we were feeling upset about things we could talk about them, pray about them and that God was in control of everything, it was such a gift to have them in that setting that year because the teachers were reinforcing those things.”
Her family, church, friends and school were all reinforcing Peek’s beliefs.
The girls weren’t sure about the hair loss.
Peek laughed, “The younger child would say, ‘Oh momma, lemme rub your bald head. Oh momma, lemme kiss your bald head.’ I’d bend down, she’d rub it and kiss it.”
When her hair first started coming out, Peek said, she reached out to a good friend and said she wanted a party.
“We had a party. A bunch of almost middle-aged and middle-aged women all dancing to crazy songs, eating junk food and just generally laughing. I had a wig and hat try-on party. We were silly and I came home with my hair buzzed. I got really good at tying those scarves and making them look very gypsy like and stuff.”
Peek underwent chemotherapy followed by a clinical trial drug. The trial drug caused arthritis-type of side effects.
“It was to the extreme. There would be days that I couldn’t hold things in my hands due to pain in my hands, arms and my back.”
The only pain medicine Peek could take was ibuprofen for several reasons, including poor liver function from the study drug.
“I managed it with heat packs, lots of Bengay, ibuprofen and hot baths. That was just the theme through the whole thing is no matter how hard it was, I had peace. There were days that I felt it would be easier to die, but it was just OK, whatever it is, it’s OK.”
Following 14-16 weeks of the study drug, Peek underwent a lumpectomy and radiation. She finished her radiation treatments.
“It was the longest, hardest 10 months of my life, but I don’t know if I can tell you why. Every step of it, I saw God’s grace. Every time I was discouraged, there was someone who texted, called, sent me a card, letter, book or a gift. Every time I felt anxious, there was a verse.”
Peek said she will never hear the words “cancer-free.” She has been told she has “no evidence of active disease.”
Peek wants others to learn two simple lessons from her story:
“Young women can and do with increasing frequency get breast cancer. Younger women are more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage because they don’t go in, like I did. If you feel something weird, go get it checked it out. Even if it’s probably nothing, get it checked out.”
“In all things, God is good. He just is. That’s the most important thing that I want people to hear from my story is hope.”
Peek gets emotional when talking about her doctors, family, coworkers, church family and others who supported her.
As for that pink cocktail dress?
Peek mailed it to a friend she met on Facebook who is going through breast cancer treatments and admired Peek’s journey with her pink sparkly dress.
Copyright 2019 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.