Clyde Peeling’s battle with cancer

Clyde Peeling has held many titles in his lifetime: Air Traffic controller for the United States Air Force, pilot, founder and owner of Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland. Roughly 17 years ago Peeling earned one more – cancer survivor.

Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Peeling has not only experienced the highs and lows of chasing his passions, but he now can speak to the roller coaster ride of fighting cancer a total of five times since his first diagnosis.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the tiny network of vessels throughout your body. In order to help fight infection and disease, the network of vessels, or the lymphatic vessels, carries a clear fluid from the body’s extremities and organs back into the blood circulation, according to UPMC Susuqehanna’s career center.

An individual is put at a higher risk of developing this form of cancer if they have an immune deficiency, autoimmune diseases, prone to infections, or old age. There are common symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin or armpits – which Peeling originally assumed was as a pulled groin muscle over 17 years ago.

“I thought I had pulled a muscle, because I had a lump on my groin,” explained Peeling. “I let it go for about a month or more. It got larger so I thought ‘Okay, something is not quite right here.’ So I went in and had a biopsy and it turned out to be non-Hodkin’s lymphoma.”

Fortunately, Warren Robinson, MD, at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center reassured Peeling that it was not a cancer that would take his life.

“I really don’t recall that I was totally worried about it, and maybe that is just through ignorance,” laughed Peeling. “But, when I did consult with an oncologist, he assured me that if you’re going to have cancer, that is a good one to get.”

After Peeling’s initial diagnosis, he underwent radiation treatments to shrink the tumor on his groin. Several treatments later left Peeling in remission. A few years later, Peeling found another lump that indicated the cancer had returned. Since his initial diagnosis, Peeling has faced cancer and the treatment that followed a total of five times.

With multiple visits to the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Peeling has been completely confident in the care he received and support from the staff.

“I have nothing but positive things to say about them,” said Peeling. “I now have a new oncologist since Warren retired and I have tremendous confidence in him. He is a very nice man and he certainly conveys a great deal of confidence in his patients.”

According to Peeling, the hardest part of the returning cancer is the effect it has on his passion. With a passion for both reptiles and flying, Peeling decided to pursue both after his years in the Air Force.

“In the Air Force, they put you where they need you and usually it was a job that fit your potential,” said Peeling. “So I ended up in air traffic control, which I did not have much interest in. However, I subsequently decided after I got out of the Air Force that I wanted to be a pilot.”

Already knowledgeable on the system from the “ground side,” he soared in his journey to get his pilot license. Now, aware of how air traffic works from both sides, Peeling is able to participate in the traveling exhibitions that help continue to develop museums in need of reptiles.

“It’s been a very useful tool, because we have traveling exhibitions that go to museums primarily throughout North America. We will send some components on tractor trailer and then I will actually fly the animals in our plane to the destination,” said Peeling.

Peeling added that the only true annoyance of his recurring cancer is that with each new round of treatment he must “ground himself” until he finds himself cancer free again.

Now 76 years old, Peeling has experience in both chasing his passions and in fighting cancer that has allowed him to remain positive in his outlook on life and the possibility of cancer continuing to return.

“Well, I have always said nobody gets out alive and I have been very lucky. I have done many, many things that I have wanted to do in life and traveled all over the world to see wild animals in their natural habitats,” said Peeling.

Peeling added, “I guess I take it philosophically. If it’s over tomorrow, I have no complaints. That would be me speaking for myself though, I’m not sure what my wife would say.”

For those hoping to follow their passions, Peeling emphasized that the road is rough and the journey is not easy, but that does not mean it is impossible.

“If you have a passion, follow it. Don’t let someone talk you out of it,” said Peeling. “In my case, it was a struggle for many, many years. It was through sheer determination and ego that I stuck with it to allow it to pay off… If you’re going to do it, do it when you’re young so you are naive enough to not realize or fear the problems that might lie ahead.”

For those with the symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, both UPMC Williamsport and UPMC Wellsboro oncologists are available to help fight the cancer. Treatment is based on the stage of lymphoma and the health condition of the patient and UPMC oncologist are prepared to make a personalized care plan to allow the safest treatment. Learn more by finding a provider today.


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