On a Saturday morning in June of 2014, Peaches Gehman, then 59, planned to get up and go for a run. Having recently completed her first 5K, she decided to start training for a half marathon and looked forward to hitting the pavement. Her husband had just left for work and her son, who lived with her at that time, was in California—so she was alone. As she rose from her bed, pain hit her like a lightning bolt.
“I just ended up on the floor,” Peaches explains from a comfortable rocking chair in her Denver home. “I was paralyzed on the right side and I was by myself. The windows were open and I thought if I yelled, maybe someone would hear me.” But when she opened her mouth to scream, no words came out. She couldn’t talk. Her cell phone was downstairs, and she knew she needed to get there.
It took fifteen terrifying minutes for Peaches to drag herself out of her bedroom and down the hallway to the top of the stairs. When she tried to slide down them, the dead weight on her side caused her to roll down the steps. Miraculously, when she hit the bottom, she felt better. Her paralysis passed, and she was able to collect her thoughts, get to her phone, and call her husband who came home and drove her to the hospital.
Peaches learned she had suffered a stroke caused by a blockage in her carotid artery, which doctors treated with blood thinners. Her physicians told her to expect minor paralysis that would come and go due to brain swelling, but assured her it would pass and she would fully recover. However, by Tuesday morning, Peaches regressed to the point where her entire right side was paralyzed and she could hardly speak.
The characteristically upbeat Peaches knew something was wrong. “I told the nurse I was afraid to go to bed,” she says. Doctors ordered a CT scan and discovered that she had a critical brain bleed—intensified by the blood thinners she was taking as a result of her stroke.
Peaches spent the next few weeks at Hershey Medical Center, followed by several months in outpatient rehabilitation. Eventually, her insurance coverage ran out despite the fact that she had not yet recovered. Not wanting to quit, she decided to join a gym and continue her rehabilitation on her own.
“I’m still limited with some things I can do,” Peaches admits. “You know, I can’t run. I can’t ride a bike. It’s hard for me to walk a long distance… to climb stairs. It’s hard for me to do fine motor skills. But my doctor said it was so important to keep moving.”
She continues, “It was exhausting. I can understand why some people sit in a chair and don’t do anything, but I realized I couldn’t do that. My goal was to get out there and do what I could to get back where I needed to be.”
Not many stroke victims get through the recovery process with as much optimism and fortitude as Peaches. “I was determined that I wasn’t going to be bitter,” she says. “I wanted to become a better person.” She used, and continues to use, her experience to befriend and minister to other women who suffer from strokes. She also serves as a mentor in brain injury support groups.
Rather than take any credit for her positive attitude, Peaches looks at her ministry as “paying it forward” for all of the people who helped her during her own recovery— especially, she notes, the members of Lancaster Evangelical Free Church and her work family at Oregon Dairy, where she works as a cake decorator.
Unfortunately, a stroke is not the only curveball life has thrown at this courageous woman. In July of 2017, she received a breast cancer diagnosis after a routine mammogram. Instead of falling into a state of self-pity as she endured a lumpectomy and radiation, she again remained characteristically positive, thinking of others more than herself: “I felt very thankful. I have friends going through some very devastating cancer… but my treatment’s already over, and thankfully I only had to have 16 sessions [of radiation] instead of 35.”
Recently diagnosed as cancer-free, Peaches’ attitude seems superhuman. When asked if she has ever stopped to wonder, “Why me?” in regards to her health issues, she quickly and emphatically replies, “No. I honestly never did.”
“Sometimes I get discouraged,” she continues, “especially with the physical aspects from my stroke, when I can’t do what I used to do. But I can honestly say that everything that comes into my life is from the Lord, and they’re not bad things. They’re for a reason.”