True love helps woman survive the fight of her life

Abbey Thulin

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift.”

That’s how Libby Peck, 60, of Carthage, Mo., lives her life these days.

In 1999, Libby had surprisingly stumbled upon a new love in longtime friend, LeRoy Peck, 61. Libby was a divorced mom for many years, having raised three children and putting two of them through college, and LeRoy had recently lost his wife to complications of pancreatic cancer.

“We were very good friends, and then all of a sudden we were in this whirlwind relationship,” Libby said.

Early in 2000, the couple began to talk marriage.

“Wow, everything was wonderful,” Libby said. “All our children were enjoying our relationship as much as we were enjoying each other, and they were pleased with our thoughts on marriage and life was good. What more could you ask for?”

Then one morning, Libby – who has worked at Leggett and Platt for 30 years as an executive assistant – woke up and thought her bra was not fitting right. She said she didn’t think much about it except that the next day it grew worse. And on the third morning, one of her breasts was larger than the other and was warm when she touched it, so she called her doctor.

Dr. Jeff Jones knew immediately it was bad. He immediately called to get Libby a mammogram, in which he accompanied her. Libby quickly grew from scared to terrified.

“I had just had a mammogram six months prior and was wondering why he had to go with me,” she said. “Then they called for an ultrasound mammogram to get more detail, and I quickly became frightened.”

The tests indicated Libby had inflammatory breast cancer, but it could only be confirmed with a biopsy – which was scheduled for the next morning.

“I was thinking ‘The next morning?’ I can’t do that,” she said. “I had to go to work, LeRoy and I had a dinner date planned for that night and a big shopping trip for the weekend. This could not be happening to me. I was much too busy and much too much in love.”

But Dr. Jones insisted and the biopsy confirmed the bad news, and in July of 2000, Libby was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer, which is an advanced and accelerated rare form of breast cancer that requires immediate aggressive treatment and chemotherapy prior to surgery.

It was then time for Libby to have a heart-to-heart with LeRoy to tell him he did not have to go through this again, and that it would be best if the two went their separate ways.

A teary-eyed Libby said she will never forget what LeRoy responded.

“Libby, this is only a bump in the road, and I will stay by your side forever,” Libby remembers LeRoy saying. “We will spend our lives together, and however long that ends up being is up to God.”

So instead of planning her funeral, Libby began planning her wedding and opted to get a second opinion.

“I figured if my cancer was as rare as everyone said it was – and I was only given six months to live – I should give it the fight of my life,” she said.

Libby elected to go to Houston, Texas, where her illness had been seen and treated before. She was immediately enrolled in a clinical trial and started treatment that week.

Libby said she refused to let the chemotherapy rob her of her many blessings.

“I had a great job, many, many wonderful co-workers and friends, a great family, a new soul mate and, most importantly, my faith in God,” she said. “When I lost my hair, my co-workers and friends had a hat day at work and everyone wore a baseball cap. I was very touched.”

In March 2001, a “bald as could be” Libby and LeRoy got married.

Soon after the wedding, Libby finished chemotherapy with “flying colors” and was expecting to schedule surgery at her next appointment, when her doctor told her the chemo had not entirely worked and they were going to try something new with her.

They were going to schedule her radiation next and her surgery last.

“I was willing to try anything to survive, so I said yes,” she said. “Then they told me I would have radiation two times a day. That would mean I would have to stay in Houston for five weeks. I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Libby said this is where her co-workers and friends from the beauty shop came to her rescue.

“I received donations of many different things and for that I am so thankful because I am here today to tell about it,” she said. “Without them, this would not have been possible.”

Libby went through with her radiation, had her surgery and quickly began her new life as a cancer survivor.

“I am a survivor,” she said. “I am the only survivor from my clinical trial, but hopefully I have helped someone else down the road with the same rare type of inflammatory breast cancer.”

Libby said her cancer experience has given her the opportunity to meet many new people, and she would like to thank everyone that is dedicated to Relay for Life.

“It is such a worthy cause and a very important event in my life,” she said. “It is so much fun, especially if you’re a survivor like me.

“It is the most wonderful feeling to walk that first lap with your family by your side or having them wait to greet you when you finish that first lap. To know that I was only given six months to live, and yet I can stand here today with much appreciation and a survivor story is a blessing.”

But she said her rock has been LeRoy.

“I could not have gotten through this without him,” she said. “He made this ‘bump in the road’ much easier for me. Blessings come in strange packages, and I am living proof of that.

“I would like to say that this cancer experience has not made me a better person, but it has. I look at each new day with more appreciation and have a hunger to help others, no matter what their need.”

Carthage Press