An editorial by Gary Nager
As many of you already are well aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and of course, there are always plenty of events in our area — and across the U.S. — to commemorate the event. Professional and amateur athletes everywhere wear pink all month long in honor of those who have been afflicted with the disease — and of course, to honor the memory of those who have lost their battle with this dreaded scourge.
To be honest, because I have known so many people who have battled other malignancies, I never really understood why breast cancer was so singled out to have its own special month, especially when there are now about double the number of women who die from lung cancer (about 70,000) as from breast cancer (around 35,000) every year.
At least that’s how I felt until about ten months ago, when I found out that one of my closest friends, long-time New Tampa resident Pegah Stegeman (the owner of the Alteration & Tailoring Studio in the Redfern Professional Park, behind Dunkin’ Donuts on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Wesley Chapel), was diagnosed as being in an early stage. Even though a few people I was close to had previously lost their respective battles with breast carcinomas, with Pegah being such a young mom, I suddenly had a new perspective on how important it is to keep the public educated about this illness.
The only thing I knew for sure was that if anyone was going to “beat” breast cancer, it would be Pegah, who has always been one of the happiest, most positive people I have ever met.
I met Pegah a year or two before she met and married her husband Adam, who definitely matches her smile-for-smile and positive-for-positive. The Stegemans today have added two beautiful daughters, Zayda & Donya, to the mix, the younger of whom was only months old when Pegah’s cancer was diagnosed, which made the news even that much harder for them, their family and all of their friends to bear.
And yet somehow, despite having to deal with chemo, radiation, hair loss and surgeries, the thing that moved me to tears every time I saw Pegah was that she seemed to never even once consider the possibility of losing her battle. I’ll never forget the first time she said, “The doctors told me I’m going to beat this and I told them I already knew it.”
Those doctors included USF Breast Care oncologist Dr. David Wright, surgeon Dr. Charles Cox and radiologist Dr. Harvey Greenberg, all of whom, Adam says, called Pegah’s optimism and gratitude “powerful” throughout her ordeal.
She attributes a lot of her ability to block out the possibility of death because of her husband.
“If you’re going to write anything about this,” she warned me with a smile, “You’d better give ‘mad props’ to Adam. I don’t think as many people would lose their battles if they had someone like him keeping them positive and doing everything for them so they could just focus on getting themselves better.”
For example, early on in the process, Adam gave his wife a beautiful sunflower bouquet with a card that read “You’re not sick at all, you’re just not getting enough sunshine.”
In other words, the fact is that there are still tragically thousands of women (and a few men) who don’t beat back this horrific illness year after year and I am aware that many of them also have similar support systems.
But, I still firmly believe that Pegah and Adam both “knowing” from Day One that they were not going to fail had a lot to do with why Pegah recently had her final radiation treatment.
And, even though she’s not blind to the statistics about possible recurrences, when I asked Pegah how she felt, she said, “I feel amazing! How would anyone feel after kicking cancer’s…butt?” (She may have used a different word, but you get the general idea).
And, as I said, I know there are walks, marches, golf tournaments and other events this month to keep up the fight against breast cancer. If you or your group are involved in any such fund raiser and want to submit info and pictures (to NTNeighborhoodNews.com) about how things went, we would be happy to tell 23,000+ households of your `closest friends’ all about it.