Peggy Fiedler – Rectal Cancer Patient Story

Image of Peggy with friends.

In her upcoming book, Permission to Live, Peggy “Peg” Fiedler discusses her cancer journey and stresses the importance of the human factor in healing. From her friends to her health care providers, they were right by her side – offering her compassion.

And it was exactly what she needed at the time. Peg, 55, learned she had cancer just three weeks after her husband, who had myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer, passed away. She was also coming off the heels of caring for her husband and elderly parents for a decade.

In 2014, the year leading up to her husband’s death, Peg started experiencing symptoms, which included bleeding and pain. She thought it was a hemorrhoid and would take care of it when she had the time.

On March 30, 2015, Peg, made an appointment with James Baran, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at UPMC. She says Dr. Baran was almost certain it was cancer when he examined her. Peg needed a colonoscopy and during the procedure, Dr. Baran biopsied a part of her rectum. The results revealed she had stage II rectal cancer.

Tailored Treatment

While Dr. Baran could serve as Peg’s primary care provider throughout her treatment journey, he referred her to David Medich, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at UPMC with expertise in the management of colon and rectal carcinoma, Stanley Marks, MD, a medical oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and a radiation oncologist.

“He sent me to the A-team. I was getting the best of the best,” she adds.

During the next two and a half weeks, Peg’s schedule was consumed with doctor’s appointments and getting tests done. Dr. Medich advised radiation treatment and chemotherapy to shrink her two-inch sized tumor.

The traditional surgical treatment for Peg’s type of cancer would have required Dr. Medich to remove her rectum, and Peg having to use a colostomy bag.

“I practically collapsed onto the floor when I heard that,” she says.

Because Peg’s cancer hadn’t spread, and with the approval from Dr. Marks, Dr. Medich offered her the option of the “watch-and-wait approach” to preserve her organ. This would require Peg to receive additional rounds of chemo after the initial six weeks of treatment to see if that would remove the tumor.

Advanced Cancer Care, Close to Home

Peg lived in Shadyside at the time and received treatment close to home at Mary Hillman Jennings Radiation Oncology at UPMC Shadyside five days per week while taking an oral chemotherapy regimen. The double treatment protocol lasted for six weeks.

Once complete, Peg received three 72-hour chemotherapy infusions over a nine-week period at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside. She used a chemotherapy pump that allowed her to receive treatment on-the-go so she could continue to work. She wanted to keep her mind occupied with the work she loved and keep her professional colleagues close, who championed her along the way.

“Dr. Medich was on the cutting-edge with the watch-and-wait approach. It wasn’t yet popular in the U.S. at the time,” says Peg. “He had to have a lot of trust in me that I would come back for all my appointments. Giving me this option was my salvation, it truly gave me hope.”

Peg endured fifteen weeks of treatments. During this time, her friends supported her by sending music playlists so she wouldn’t be alone at night, and this gave her daily encouragement.

“My friends were right by my side celebrating life,” says Peg.

A positive outlook was also crucial for getting through. “I started to look at houses because it was important to move on with my life and have a new beginning,” she adds. “I started to see a therapist and I allowed people to care for me. I was heavy into faith and prayer, and I surrounded myself with all things beautiful – like making sure consistently, I had fresh flowers and music in the house.”

Cancer Free

On the final day of August 2015 after all her treatment, Peg had her second exam with Dr. Medich where it was determined that he needed to obtain a biopsy. The procedure was set for September 21.

Following the procedure at UPMC Presbyterian, Peg woke up to a smiling Dr. Medich who said, “Your body had the perfect response.” After the returned biopsy results, it was confirmed Peg was cancer free.

Nowadays, Peg returns to the office every three to five years for a colonoscopy. Looking back, Peg says her UPMC care team was kind, loving, compassionate, and available.

“The staff were fabulous throughout my entire journey. They showed me nothing but kindness,” says Peg. “Dr. Medich is sensitive to the needs of his patients. He’s intuitive and has a big heart. As a doctor, he has a great bedside manner and cares for all his patients.”

Peg was so touched by the kindness of her care team that she now supports UPMC Hillman Cancer Center through the Stanley M. Marks, MD Endowed Research Fund.

“I made my first donation after I heard about the passing of Dr. Marks’ mother Mary in 2021. Because Dr. Marks not only treats the cancer, but the full person sitting before him, we tended to exchange personal stories throughout the years. I heard about his mom, who he loved dearly and was beloved by many as a tremendous woman,” says Peg.

While she never had the opportunity to meet Mary, she saw in her obituary that donations could be made to the fund.

“Each Thanksgiving, I find the most loving Thanksgiving Day card and put a personal note of thanks to him and let him know my on-going gratitude and send a check to the fund in memory of his mother,” says Peg. “My donations, hopefully, allow me to positively impact the lives of other individuals who are facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Preventing as well as finding a cure for cancer is a huge endeavor. If I can help in that fight, that brings my life meaning and joy.”