Cook named as 2004 Honorary Relay for Life Chairperson

Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Peggy Cook

"It's was just such a tragic thing - to hear the big "C" word. You think you're going to die," said Peggy Cook, the Honorary Chairperson for the 2004 Clay County Relay for Life.

Cook, a survivor of breast cancer, said she was very shocked when she found out she had been selected for the position during this year's kick-off dinner at Outdoor/Indoor. "It is an honor to be selected," she added.

Cook has worked with the Clay County Relay from the beginning. She is a member of the Piggott Community Hospital Relay team, Team 911. She is employed at the hospital as the housekeeping and laundry manager.

She also participates in the Reach to Recovery Program for breast cancer patients in Clay County. "I get a phone call from the coordinator, she fills me in on the patient's background, history and gives me the phone number and address of the patient. Then I call them and set up an appointment to go visit with them," Cook said.

Reach to Recovery volunteers have to go through a certification process and must be breast cancer survivors who have been in remission for a year.

During the visit, Cook provides the patient with information about assistance the program can provide, such as wigs, bras, informational booklets and some transporation to doctor's appointments. She said that volunteers give the patients all the support they possibly can and that the patients can call their volunteer back for a repeat visit at any time.

Reach to Recovery is a program based out of Jonesboro in conjunction with the American Cancer Society.

Cook was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. She underwent a lumpectomy, which was performed by Dr. Steve Pu. Pu originally felt sure that the mass would be benign, but it wasn't.

"Early detection is the key," she said.

The mass, which was about the size of an english pea according to Pu, led to another operation a week after the lumpectomy to remove her lymph nodes. Thankfully, the disease had not invaded them yet.

Cook said she went to her appointment for the results alone. At first she was shocked and once the shock wore off she said, "I just bawled."

Cancer has deeply affected Cook, not only through her own experience, but through the loss of family members as well. She lost both parents to the disease. Her mother's cancer originated in her mouth and spread. Her father died of lung cancer. She also lost a nephew, Marty Hoggard, to the disease a week ago.

She said, "My biggest inspiration through all this was my parents, because they taught me to be strong."

The night of her diagnosis she received a call from Judy Wells, who is also a breast cancer survivor. Wells called to say that she understood and knew how Cook was feeling because she had been there.

Cook said she was unaware of programs that are available to help cancer patients at the time of her diagnosis.

Unable to sleep that night, she finally came to a decision. "You can lay down and die, sit around feeling sorry for yourself, or you can say I'm gonna beat this. That's what I decided and that's what I did," she said.

She stressed the importance of a positive attitude in the face of adversity. Cook said one of her doctors said that beating the disease is 95 percent attitude.

Cook underwent radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks at the Ben E. Owens Cancer Treatment Center at St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro. Her oncologist was Dr. Loverd M. Peacock.

Due to the fact that her lymph nodes were cancer-free, she did not have to undergo chemotherapy. If the cancer had spread to them, she would have undergone chemotherapy and radiation.

"When you're going through all your treatments you have to stay positive and stay focused," Cook said. February of this year marked the eight years since her diagnosis. She has been in remission for seven years.

Facing cancer has changed Cook's view on life in a major way. She said, "Some of the things I used to think were important aren't anymore. It made me realize not to take life forgranted. It makes you look at life differently." Her participation in programs that benefit other cancer patients is also part of her new view. "One thing it's made me want to do is help others through this. It's why I joined Reach to Recovery - because support is the most important thing when you're dealing with cancer," Cook said.

Cook had high praise for the Relay for Life. "I think the Relay is the best program around. There's so much community involvement. I'm just glad to be a part of the Relay - to help in the past years," she said.

She concluded, "If I find out I have helped just one person, then everything I've been through was worthwhile."

The 2004 Clay County Relay for Life will be held from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Heritage Park in Piggott.

The day will end with the traditional luminaria ceremony. Luminaries may be purchased from any Relay for Life team or at the Piggott Times office.

All proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society.

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