Vegas legislator finds support for making her cancer fight public

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- When Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce took off her wig, she showed Nevada lawmakers she's determined to face life after breast cancer.

She also found a community of cancer survivors in the state Legislature building.

"I finally said, 'I don't care what I look like,"' said Pierce, D-Las Vegas, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery during her District 3 Assembly campaign in September.

She lost her hair in December, while undergoing chemotherapy that ended just before she took her seat Feb. 3 with 15 other Assembly freshmen.

Pierce, 48, is community liaison for the Culinary Union in Las Vegas and a Sierra Club leader in Clark County.

She told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that being herself again was an important part of her recovery, and said she found a community of cancer survivors in the Legislature building.

"Through the whole experience of cancer, people have been really wonderful and supportive," she said. "There are a lot of us out there, a lot of cancer survivors."

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, called Pierce a rising star in the Democratic party, for whom removing her wig "was in keeping with the legislator we are all beginning to know."

"She works harder than some people without cancer," Buckley said. "She shows a lot of guts."

Pierce grew up in Boston, the daughter of an Episcopal priest who marched with civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. At 18, she ventured to San Francisco to pursue a career as a jazz singer, and began supporting herself by working as a waitress.

Fifteen years later, she moved to Las Vegas to pursue her dream of singing, and ended up working 12 years as a waitress at the Desert Inn. She also became shop steward for Culinary local 226.

Her time in Carson City has been a learning experience.

Pierce lost a bid to defeat a seemingly innocuous bill to allow Lincoln County to form zones to preserve endangered species.

She argued that it really was a plan to help powerful legislative lobbyist Harvey Whittemore create a city of 50,000 at Coyote Springs, which Pierce said might drain the Muddy River.

The measure passed 26-16, and is under review in the Senate.

Pierce also maintains that big businesses such as Wal-Mart and Bank of America should shoulder more of the state's tax burden.

Because of the health care plan her union has with the gambling industry, Pierce has not had to pay out-of-pocket expenses for her medical costs.

"It breaks my heart to hear about people who have to worry about medical costs," she said, noting that many employees at Wal-Mart do not have health coverage.

Pierce is also pushing for passage of bills to protect senior citizens from being exploited by money managers, and to require background checks of people who work in senior citizen apartment complexes.


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