A UNMC miracle story, times two

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After surviving a battle with lymphoma, Peg Ricketts wanted to give back to the place that gave her life back

The nurse called at noon.

Be at the office in an hour, she said.

“I don’t want to come,” Peg Ricketts replied.

The Omaha woman hadn’t been feeling good. She knew something was wrong. She knew the nurse had bad news to share. But she did go to the office, accompanied by her husband, and she learned she had lymphoma.

An acquaintance referred her to UNMC. He told her that the world’s leading lymphoma researchers were right in Omaha, at UNMC.

One of them was Dr. Julie Vose in UNMC’s Division of Oncology and Hematology, who told Peg that she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Stage 4.

“How many stages are there?” Peg asked.

“Four,” the doctor said.

Peg was close to death, and scared to death. That was a dozen years ago.

Now, she says, she’s a miracle – thanks to UNMC.

It was back in the spring of 2000 when Peg first felt ill. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I just thought, ‘This isn’t me,'” the 65-year-old recalls. Then, that August, she developed a lump in her breast. Peg remembers vividly that phone call she received from the surgeon’s office on September 1, after having the lump removed – that phone call from the nurse.

Meeting Dr. Vose at UNMC was a turning point.

Three days after being diagnosed by Dr. Vose, Peg began treatment and chemotherapy. It was frightening, she says, and there were times she wanted to give up, “but that’s when you turn around and tell yourself, ‘I have a lot to live for.'”

By March 2001, Peg’s cancer had gone into remission. But four years later, the disease recurred.

When her doctor began telling her the options for treatment, Peg interrupted, saying, “We’ll go back to UNMC. Dr. Vose will take care of this.”

Because the lymphoma had come back so aggressively, Dr. Vose recommended Peg have a stem-cell transplant, which she received in March 2005.

It worked – the lymphoma is again in remission.

“I really think I’m a miracle, twice-over. I truly do,” Peg says. “I’m kind of a poster child for the good work they do at UNMC.”

Today, she continues to frequent UNMC. She’s not there for herself, though.

Peg volunteers each week at a support group for stem-cell patients, caregivers and survivors. She is also a first connection volunteer through the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, where she meets newly diagnosed patients and offers encouragement.

One night a month, Peg co-hosts the “Look Good…Feel Better” workshop at UNMC. She offers tips and suggestions to female cancer patients on how to cope with their changing appearances due to treatment. In 2007, she was one of three women to win the National Sunrise Award for her extraordinary work with the program.

This year – seven years after her stem-cell transplant – Peg decided to raise $777 through the University of Nebraska Foundation for Dr. Vose and her research. (Peg calls this year her “Lucky 7 Year.”)

She ended up raising more than $2,500.

The time and energy she invests at UNMC is her way of giving back to the place that gave Peg her life back.

“It’s so important to invest in the future, until we find a cure. We all need each other.”

Cancer research is a top priority for the Campaign for Nebraska as well as for the university’s “Building a Healthier Nebraska” initiative, which will include the building of a research tower as part of a proposed comprehensive cancer center. If, like Peg Ricketts, you also would like to help UNMC reach its goals for cancer research, please consider giving online or contact the foundation’s Tom Thompson at 800-432-3216.

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