Community Rallies Behind Well-Known Resident Diagnosed With Breast Cancer
By Alanna Bradley
For years Peggiann Combs has given herself to the community of Okemah in numerous ways. Now, residents of Okemah are looking for a way to give back to Combs as she battles a grim cancer diagnosis.
“They gave her three months (to a year) at the most and that was (a few weeks ago). She does not have life insurance or burial insurance,” said friend and coordinator Kathleen Davis. “We want to do as much as we can for her now.”
Davis said accounts have been set up at BancFirst and American Exchange Bank in Okemah to help Combs and her husband, Neal, with these projected costs. Residents can contact either bank and request donations go to accounts under Combs’ name. There is also a GoFundMe account set up at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/peggiann-and-neal-combs-help-with-medical-expenses (https://gofund.me/83b99c34).
Combs was diagnosed in April with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) which has progressed rapidly. IDC is a type of breast cancer that originates in the milk ducts. Over the span of three weeks, Combs has lost much of her mobility and has undergone multiple procedures and doctor’s visits, most being in Shawnee. It has now spread to her back, left breast, her sternum, her pelvic bone and in her bone marrow.
“It has metastasized to my back, they found spots on my MRI and that’s how we found it,” said Combs. “I was having trouble with nerves always being inflamed in the sciatic nerves. Due to how it was acting I thought it had something to do with my joints. I had hip surgery last year.”
“Dr. Dean had x-rays done and it didn’t look like anything was wrong in the x-ray so she suggested I go back for my yearly check-up for my hip early and so I called them and they got me in that day and they did the MRI and that’s when they found it in my back. It was suspicious spots there. Those spots now we know are the invasive ductal carcinoma,” said Combs.
She said that due to the type of cancer it is, and the fact it’s in her bone marrow, doctors told her that fractures in her bones are not uncommon. She’s had pain in her left shin bone too, due to a possible fracture. She said her hips are in pain too.
“I’ve prayed about it and I gave it to God and I know he will do whatever is in his will to make it be what it needs to be. I’m okay that way. Of course, I will miss all my dear friends and family of the community. We have no relatives here. We came here because of how warm and welcoming and friendly everyone was when we were traveling through,” she said.
Combs and her husband Neal came to Okemah in 2014 from Turpin, Oklahoma in the Panhandle. Combs said that they discovered Okemah when they were traveling back and forth to Henryetta to help the family of a friend of Neal’s who had passed. Combs said they quickly fell in love with the city of Okemah after meeting people during that time.
“We just loved the people right off. They were just so friendly,” said Combs. “We’d stop in to have coffee or eat at a restaurant and the next time they saw us they remembered our names. So that’s how we met them. Then (we) decided to move here.”
Combs, whose maiden name is Miller, is originally from Washington state and went to Tumwater high school and Rochester high school where she was the majorette at both schools. Graduating in 1972, she is a former competitive national and world baton and twirler. She taught gymnastics, baton twirling, and dancing in several public school districts, including in Turpin and in Pampa, Texas. She worked with cheerleaders, drill teams, and as a substitute teacher. She also worked with students preparing for pageants.
“I have students who have called or messaged me and told me how I changed their lives or helped them in some way or another that helped them grow up in a positive way,” said Combs. “That kind of thing is nice to hear. You want to know that you left the world a better place by your being there.”
Neal and Peggiann married in 1981 after meeting at a positive thinking seminar in Texas she helped teach and he participated, she said. The couple have three sons. One lives in Kansas, one lives in Texas, and the other lives in Washington. Other family is scattered around, she said.
“He promised me life would never be boring,” she said. “He said I’m not going to promise you a bunch of fancy material things. But I promise life will never be boring and it never has been. He’s always ready to go and try new adventures and so am I,” she continued. “We have always gotten along. We’re best friends,” said Combs.
In their time in Okemah, Peggiann has quickly become a well-known person who manages The Holiday House on Broadway that provides a market for local vendors and customers to connect with Christmas themed merchandise. Combs is also active in the Okemah Garden Club, a member of the Okfuskee County Home and Community Education, 4H and FFA activities, provided art projects for Kids Café summer of 2017, she’s been a member of the Okfuskee County Historical Society board, played an instrumental role in getting the Art Studio built and set up art classes for all ages to be held in the new Studio, a community organizer for a variety of Okemah Chamber of Commerce events, and has also taught basket weaving classes for students of all ages. These are just the few of the activities in which Combs has participated.
Combs says she still has a lot of things on her ‘to do list’ before she says goodbye to family and friends.
“One is to go to a beach house where you can stay and play at a beach,” she said. “The other one is to go stay in a treehouse with my boys, grandkids, and Neal. It has to be a treehouse with a ramp bridge across it.”
She shared these words for others who have become friends and family during her time in Okemah.
“Live in the now. Make sure you tell the people you love that you love them. Make time for them so that there are memories they can hold on to and feel close and enjoy those memories so that you’re never far from them,” said Combs.
According to breastcancer.org, IDC can affect women at any age, but is more common in women as they grow older. The American Cancer Society reports that about two-thirds of women are 55 or older when they are diagnosed with IDC. Combs is 67. The condition can also be found in men.
Breastcancer.org reports that often IDC may not cause any symptoms but is often detected through a mammogram or an early sign is a new lump or mass in the breast that can be felt.