It began more than 17 years ago-Clyde thought he had pulled a muscle. It turned out to be non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Clyde recalls, "I noticed a lump in my groin. I didn't think it was serious, but when the biopsy came back the doctor told me, 'You have cancer."'
Warren Robinson, MD, at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport, told Clyde there was good news: The type of cancer Clyde had wasn't going to kill him. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, the part of the immune system where tumors can develop from a type of white blood cell. There are many types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma-some are more aggressive than others. Luckily, Clyde had a type that, if monitored diligently, can be treated and sent into remission.
From the Air Force to Reptiland
Clyde was born in Muncy, Pa., and was raised in the nearby village of Clarkstown. Growing up, Clyde enjoyed snakes, reptiles, and biology. He dreamed of one day opening a reptile zoo, but first, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he served as an air traffic controller. That led to a second passion-flying.
After leaving the Air Force, Clyde bought some land on Route 15 in Allenwood, where he owns and operates Clyde Peeling's Reptiland. Reptiland opened in 1964, but has grown significantly over the last 50 years. The zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals from parakeets to Komodo dragons, and has an outdoor animatronic dinosaur exhibit. Today, Clyde and his sons run the expanded company together.
After Clyde was diagnosed with cancer, he underwent radiation treatments to kill the cancer and shrink the tumor in his groin. After several treatments, Clyde's cancer was in remission. "The type of cancer I have is treatable, so it is about getting the right treatment. I always felt like I was in expert hands at UPMC Susquehanna," says Clyde. "The hardest part for me is every time I underwent cancer treatment, I had to ground myself as a pilot. I love flying; it is an important part of my life."
Once Clyde was declared "cancer-free," he had to be mindful of a recurrence. The type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma he had will often come back in the form of a tumor. These tumors can appear anywhere on the body. Clyde gets checkups four times a year to ensure that the cancer has not returned.
Responding to Recurrence
A few years after the first diagnosis of cancer, Clyde found another lump that he thought could be the cancer returning. Sure enough, it was.
This time, Clyde received radiation with a new drug called Rituxan®, an antibody therapy that can attack the blood cells where the cancer starts.
"While I was on Rituxan, I needed to see a doctor weekly, as some people experience side effects," Clyde says.
"The drug did its job, and I was once again cancer-free."
Over the years, Clyde has had cancer a total of four times. But, because of his trust and confidence in the doctors and nurses at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, he hasn't lost one night's sleep.
"I was reassured right from the beginning. There is no way to express how much confidence I have in my health care team," says Clyde. "I live knowing my next diagnosis of cancer may be right around the corner. I also know that with their care and the latest treatments, I am going to be fine."
At 76, Clyde's attitude remains positive about living with the possibility of cancer returning. It is best summarized by paraphrasing his favorite evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins: "The chances of each of us coming into existence are infinitesimally small, and even though we shall all die someday, we should count ourselves fantastically lucky to get our decades in