News from Illinois CancerCare

Pickleball Saved My Life

Although Peggy Smock says that pickleball saved her life, she also gives credit to her faith, family, and the team of compassionate providers of Illinois CancerCare.

Pickleball is taking the nation by storm and has become extremely popular right here in central Illinois. Described by the USA Pickleball Association as fun, social, and friendly, the game’s rules are simple and  easy for beginners to learn. Using elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, pickleball is played on a modified tennis court with paddles and a small wiffle-like ball.

One of the main reasons 4.2 million Americans love this game is because it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. Shortly after Peggy and her husband Craig got hooked on pickleball, she was hit by an errant ball while playing — and was surprised at how much it hurt.

She soon realized she had more than just a mark from the ball, she felt an actual lump. Her primary care provider missed the lump; she had a clean mammogram in March of 2021 and the lump was discounted at an appointment in August.

And then, one of Peggy’s friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. Between that eye-opener and the fact that Peggy’s mom has had breast cancer twice, she decided to have her gynecologist look at her lump in November 2021. That’s what got the ball rolling, leading to Peggy’s stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis on December 8, 2021.

Peggy’s Progress

Peggy recently completed her 16th (and final) chemotherapy treatment. She had been keeping her eye on the prize, which was to ring our PATH of hope Celebration Bell on August 3rd — which she joyfully did surrounded by family and dear friends after completing her last chemo appointment!

Peggy is quick to offer credit to those who helped her walk through the days of breast cancer treatment with strength and optimism. She shared how various individuals and groups were like “pieces of the puzzle” that helped keep her whole.


Peggy’s husband of 32 years, Craig, and her three adult children provided — and continue to provide — unending love, support, and encouragement. One of the most beautiful expressions of support was their first-ever professional family photo, which one of their daughters secretly arranged.


Peggy believes that God used the hard hit during a pickleball game to point her in the direction of the cancerous lump that had been missed. Three days after her surgery, Peggy turned 52 years old. Her father passed away at age 52, so reaching that milestone was bittersweet. Peggy said the Lord helped her get through the difficult anniversary of her father’s death — and that God has been by her side her throughout her cancer journey.


“It’s important to remain active, if you can, while going through treatment,” Peggy states. In addition to the physical benefits, she craved the normalcy of being with her friends. Her time on the court (or on the sidelines when she was too tired to play) was her opportunity to be herself and not a cancer patient. And on those days when treatment felt especially hard, she would think about her pickleball pals and look forward to their next meet-up.


Peggy feels extremely blessed by the people that have come into her life as a result of her involvement with pickleball and says they’ve been her biggest supporters. Many of them have become dedicated friends who have been by Peggy’s side, with or without a pickleball paddle in their hand. Whether it’s a “How are you?” text or a friend who plops down on the couch to just pass the time together, Peggy says it’s hard to express how much these friends mean to her.

Illinois CancerCare

Her appreciation for the team at Illinois CancerCare is difficult to describe in mere words. From those who bring warm blankets and snacks during chemotherapy to the lab staff, APNs and physicians who put together her treatment plan, each one delivers encouragement and hope. Illinois CancerCare’s compassionate and skilled professionals shine brightly each day.

Beyond Treatment

Every patient’s journey is unique, but Peggy’s pickleball pals have been by her side throughout her breast cancer experience.

As we wrap up our story, Peggy explains that it’s important for patients to get away from “the fight” and to focus on something that nourishes your soul — whether that’s a sport, crafting, a class or gardening —so you have something to look forward to on those difficult days, as well as a place to connect with others.

Peggy found pickleball. What will you find?