‘Cancer patients… don’t give up’

Continuing an ongoing feature series leading up to Knox County’s Relay For Life on April 27, this week’s spotlight is on a local woman who won the fight against lung cancer.

“I really didn’t know what was wrong with me, I just didn’t feel good,” recalls Peggy Helton, thinking back to 2000 when she first thought something might be seriously wrong. “Every weekend I would think, ‘Maybe I’ll feel better by Monday.’”

However, as time progressed, Helton’s symptoms only continued. When she started running a fever, she went to the doctor who, after performing an x-ray, diagnosed her with pneumonia. Several rounds of antibiotics later, Helton still wasn’t better.

“They sent me to the hospital for a CT scan and that’s when they found that I had lung cancer. They said the pneumonia had it surrounded is why it hadn’t spread. They caught it really fast,” said Helton.

Immediately after the lung cancer was found, Helton underwent a biopsy and surgery in Lexington, took six weeks off to recover and then started chemotherapy until November. For Helton, it was the support of her family and friends that got her through the darkest days.

“I had never even been really sick. It takes a whole family to get you back and forth to treatments and to doctor appointments,” said Helton. “There would be mornings I’d get up and think, ‘I just can’t go today.’ But I would go. Cancer patients, they don’t give up, they don’t quit. They keep fighting.”

Now cancer-free for 12 years, Helton continues to have regular CT scans. She won the battle but the anxiety from it has lasted all these years, citing the wait between visits often leaves her unable to breathe.

“I still worry. The worry is always there. You tend to think the worst but you’ve always got that hope, too,” continued Helton.

Much like others in the area, Helton credits the American Cancer Society for saving her life.

“If it wasn’t for the research through the American Cancer Society, there would be no chemo. The doctors knew exactly what I needed and how much to give me. That’s what actually saved my life,” credits Helton.

In return, Helton started her own Relay For Life team, called Team Happy Feet. Along with family and friends, Helton fundraises money every year for the cause.

“When I do Relay For Life, I keep thinking about [how] cancer patients can’t say, ‘I don’t feel like going today.’…you still have to go,” said Helton, who noted she’d especially like to see childhood cancer cured.

Helton encourages everyone with odd symptoms, no matter how scary, to go to the doctor and find out what is wrong. It could save your life.