Komen for the Cure

Meredith College employee vows to never give up fight against cancer

Posted May 20, 2016

— Peggy Ross uses a walker to deal with vertigo. It is the result of the three mini strokes she suffered after having surgery to remove tumors from her brain.

Loss of coordination, difficulty walking and constant chemotherapy are just a small part of her four-year ordeal.

Ross is a stage-four cancer survivor who faces an aggressive, unrelenting disease first discovered in March of 2012 when she stopped by the Meredith College Health Center for a routine visit.

“Four years ago, Peggy was a healthy, vibrant woman,” according to Anne Smithson, campus physician at Meredith College. “She didn’t even have a doctor. She came in for a visit because she had some funny feelings in her body. In the course of a week she went from being super healthy to finding out she was filled with cancer.”

Ross' diagnosis was bleak. Cancer had spread to her breast, her liver, her lymph nodes and her C2 Vertebra, which had essentially disintegrated due to an aggressive tumor in her neck. Ross was put in a brace immediately. There was so little left of her vertebra that if she had turned a certain way, her neck would have snapped and she would have died.

“When people get a cancer diagnosis it’s scary, it’s terrifying and it’s devastating,” Smithson said. “For stage-four cancer, to see the way Peggy reacted, it was truly inspiring. I know she had bad moments, but as soon as that passed, she said ’I am fighting this, bring on the cancer, bring on the radiation, bring on surgery… bring it on.’”

“I cried a lot, but then I decided that I was going to fight,” Ross explained. “I was not going to die. I was not going to make this a death sentence.”

Ross' determination inspired many, including Smithson. In addition to being her campus physician, Smithson was also a fellow breast cancer survivor and captain for the Meredith College team participating in the 2012 Komen Race for the Cure. Ross' spirit was such an inspiration that Smithson dedicated the race in her honor.

There were buttons, shirts and signs with Ross' name, not to mention throngs of people who showed up to support her.

“That experience was wonderful,” Ross said. “It was also surreal to wear a pink survivor shirt. In the past I always came out to support the breast cancer survivors, then suddenly, I was the one with breast cancer.”

Despite dealing with the draining toll of chemo, plus constant treatments, procedures and therapy, Ross continued working full-time at Meredith College in her role as Assistant Director of Student Leadership and Service. During this time she became an on-campus advocate for breast cancer awareness, founded a support group and eventually organized and chaired the Meredith team for the Komen races in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

“You can tell by how many people join the Meredith team that it’s an experience they want to have year after year,” Ross explained. “I think Meredith Cares is a wonderful name for the team because we do care about the disease. Our team is a really good mixture of students, alumni, survivors, non-survivors and others on campus who have come together to make it work.”

Although Ross is not able to physically participate in the Komen race this year, she is serving as a co-captain for the Meredith team. She is eagerly anticipating the event because she knows first-hand the inspiration it provides.

“The survivor walk. That’s what I can point to,” Ross explained. “Being in the walk and seeing all the support and slapping hands with people in the audience is a very, very emotional time for me.”

As a survivor, Ross' fight has been harder than most. She has endured multiple brain surgeries, a double mastectomy, liver surgery, a fused spine and regular infusions of chemo, yet her inner strength is unshakeable. And her desire to be part of the Race for the Cure is undeniable.

“When I put on that pink shirt in the morning, I know that I am a survivor,” Ross states. “I know that I will be in this race next year. I will get rid of the walker, and I will put on that pink shirt again next year.”

Ross will never be cured of cancer. It has metastasized in her bones. She leans on her family, her friends and her church for support, but she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her. Ross is unwavering in her belief that cancer will not prevail.

“I don’t want to die. I wake up every morning and I live that day. I have too many people to talk to and to many people to inspire. I’m not going to give up the fight. Ever!” she said.

Help the fight against cancer by joining Team WRAL at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Saturday, June 11.


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