Peggy Fleming, breast cancer survivor and former Olympian, shares lessons learned

Written by Community Health Network on 2/5/2014 1:15:00 PM

Figure skating was not always a part of the Winter Olympics. The first figure skating events were performed at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. It wasn't until 1976 that they were added to the winter lineup. From that time on we've watched the speed, agility and gracefulness of skaters like Peggy Fleming.

At nine years old, Peggy had her first experience skating and felt an immediate thrill and comfort on the ice. She had some hard knocks as she began competing, but decided that she liked winning more. 

Picking herself up and getting back on the ice, she developed the confidence and perseverance to win first place at the 1964 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the age of 15. In her first Olympics (1964 Innsbruck, Austria) she placed sixth. In 1966 she won her first World Championship. By the 1968 Olympics, Peggy had learned to rely on muscle memory and focus under extraordinary pressure. That year she took home gold. (Peggy is clad in green in the picture below.)

Thirty years later, in 1998, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now 66 and cancer-free, Peggy speaks publicly about her battle with cancer and 15-year journey as a survivor. At a Pink Ribbon Symposium in 2012, Peggy shared her story, which was reported in the Florida-Union Times.

Peggy noticed a lump on her breast in 1998, initially dismissing it as a pulled muscle. A month later when it had not gone away, she made a doctor’s appointment. Initially, due to the small size of the lump, the cancer specialist couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until Peggy pointed it out that they saw it. A biopsy confirmed that it was a malignant cancer tumor.

After the diagnosis, Peggy decided to have a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tumor and surrounding tissue. Radiation therapy followed.

Peggy was quoted as saying, “I was devastated getting that diagnosis, but I was very, very fortunate that I did catch my cancer early. I was very fortunate it did not travel into my lymph nodes.”

Peggy also added that the lesson learned is to “pay attention and participate in your health. Know your personal risk factors.”

She was also thankful for her experience as an Olympic skater because it helped her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She thought of her cancer doctors and nurses who, like her coaches, had prepared her for that Olympic gold medal. “You don’t win the Olympics by yourself and you don’t survive cancer by yourself,” Peggy remembers.

A month after she completed the radiation, Peggy and her husband Greg Jenkins planted a vineyard and nurtured it. As the grape developed into wine, she selected the rosé aptly named Victories Rose. Proceeds from this wine have been donated to breast cancer research.

The Fleming Jenkins Vineyards and Winery in California was recently sold, but Peggy still keeps busy and now paints. “The surface of the ice used to be the place I could express myself,” Peggy said. “Now I have a canvas.”

To learn more about the importance of early detection of cancer or schedule a mammogram screening, visit eCommunity/breastcare.


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