Survivor Spotlight: Beth Peck

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Survivor Spotlight: Beth Peck

Beating cancer to live a fuller, richer life

When 36-year-old Beth Peck found a lump in her breast in late December 2014, she went to her OB/GYN for an exam. The physician told Peck it was nothing to worry about, and sent her home. But she knew something was wrong, so she pushed for further testing.

“Insurance typically doesn’t cover mammograms for women younger than 40,” Peck said. “So I knew I’d have to make a big fuss about it—which I did!”

She was scheduled for a mammogram a couple of days later at the MSU Women’s Imaging Center.

“After I had the mammogram, I thought I was just going to go home,” she said. “But I was there all day undergoing numerous ultrasounds and needle biopsies. By the end of the day, they knew.”

On Dec. 31, 2014, Peck was told she had stage 3 triple negative breast cancer—the most aggressive form of breast cancer, which tends to occur more often in younger women. She also found out she had the BRCA (BReast CAncer) gene mutation.

 

Happy New Year! . . . You have breast cancer

“It was New Year’s Eve; I still went out and celebrated that night,” Peck recalled. “I don’t think the cancer diagnosis had sunk in yet.”

In mid-January, she began six months of weekly chemotherapy treatments in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she was living at the time.

“It was probably the toughest thing I’ve endured, physically, in my entire life,” she said. “I was terrified. The type of cancer that I had—I was not guaranteed survival, by any means. I took a deep breath and had to put my trust in the treatment I was given,” she said. Part of that treatment plan included carboplatin, a cisplatin analog.

“The addition of the carboplatin was a really big part of my plan; they did everything they could to ensure I had the best odds,” said Peck, who would not learn that carboplatin had been developed at MSU, her alma mater and employer, until after her cancer treatments had been completed.

 

Infusion center serves as “remote office”

Peck, who received her B.A. in journalism from MSU in 2004, had been in her full-time position in MSU’s University Advancement office for only four months before her cancer diagnosis.

“I continued to work during my treatment. I had no choice,” she said. “I was a single mother of two, newly divorced. I couldn’t lose my job. Everyone at MSU was really wonderful, and they were willing to accommodate me.”

Peck would spend every Friday at the infusion center. One week, she would receive the AC-T regimen—standard for this type of breast cancer. The following week, she would receive carboplatin. She was there for about 8 hours each time, often working while getting her chemo.

“I used to tell people that the infusion center was my ‘remote office,’” she laughed.

About a month after chemo, she had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Following that was 36 rounds of daily radiation.

“I’d use my lunch hour to go for radiation at McLaren Greater Lansing hospital,” said Peck, who by this time had bought a house and moved to East Lansing.

As Peck was going through cancer treatment, both of her sisters were tested and found out they also have the BRCA gene mutation.

“It was a really, really tough period of time for my family—and it continues to be tough. But it’s also brought us closer together in a really big way,” she said. “I took things day by day. I’ve kept that mentality about cancer, about life in general ever since.”

 

A new life

Prior to the start of Peck’s chemotherapy, she was informed that the potency of her “chemo cocktail” would most likely make her infertile.

“I recently found out that was not true!” said Peck.  In December 2017, the doctor who originally told her that the lump in her breast was nothing to be concerned about was her obstetrician for her third child, with her partner Ben Flietstra. 

Peck now works part-time for MSU as a regional director of development for University Advancement, and full time (remotely) for Project Koru, a nonprofit headquartered in Portland, Oregon, which focuses on young adult cancer survivorship. Peck, herself, participated in one of Project Koru’s adventure camps in Hawaii in fall 2016.

“It helped me heal myself emotionally from the trauma of cancer. The oncologists and the hospitals are really great at healing you physically, but you’re left to figure out the emotional and mental aspects on your own,” said Peck, who is Project Koru’s chief advancement officer. “I’m so happy to now be able to run the organization, to allow other survivors the opportunity that I had.

“Cancer has taught me how to live my life in a much fuller, richer way,” Peck continued. “I don’t have any free time; life is so busy. But I’m working for two organizations I’m insanely passionate about. I don’t want to say ‘no’ to anything; you never know how much time you have left.”