By JACKIE MOE
Published in: OC Register/LA Daily News/Press-Enterprise
The “Real Housewives of Orange County” is about halfway through its 12th season with the standard overabundance of emotional escapades that has kept its viewers hooked, including friendship feuds, surgical renovations and a new face to the group of O.C. royalty: Peggy Sulahian.
The season so far has mainly focused on the ongoing quarrel between veteran housewives Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge, former friends who have been at war with one another since Gunvalson mentioned Judge’s husband may be gay in the last season. However, this round of women have also had their own stories going, including Kelly Dodd undergoing breast reduction surgery, Meghan King Edmonds’ new mom struggles, Shannon Beador’s marriage and weight-loss issues and Lydia McLaughlin’s constant attempts at finding harmony between the fighting friends as the self-titled “friendship whisperer.”
Although the newest housewife Sulahian – who originally entered the show as McLaughlin’s friend – has made her way into the drama at the group’s various parties and events, she also has taken more of a backseat in comparison to the rest of the group. The Armenian-descent mother of three and wife of Diko Sulahian, owner of Santa Fe Springs-based luxury wheel company Giovanna Wheels, said she had a lot of private commotion happening at the same time she was filming the season.
What the 12th season has presented so far is the Crystal Cove resident preparing for breast reconstructive surgery following a preventative double mastectomy – steps she has taken after a lump was found in her breast, and her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 51. In episode 11, viewers saw Sulahian get fluid pumped into her chest to expand her breast-tissue to eventually get implants.
What the viewers did not see, Sulahian shared, is that just a month before her reconstructive surgery (which took place in January), her father had become very sick and died on December 5, 2016. Around this same time, she had received the news that she had cancer – but kept it private from everyone, including her family, because of her sick father.
“My dad was a healthy man and losing him was so unexpected. I remember I could barely get up from my chair when he passed away; it was hitting me so hard. Even with his funeral, nobody knew I had cancer,” said Sulahian, “I had to pull it off. Nobody knew about it, I barely knew about it; I was in a different world with my dad.”
Sulahian said she postponed her double mastectomy for January 2017, so she could have Christmas and New Years with her children, without worrying them. During this time, Sulahian said she was still in filming for the reality show, so she kept most of her personal life private while she dealt with both her grief and recovery.
“When you see me at lunch with Shannon on the show, I wasn’t speaking clear. I don’t even know what I said because prior to that I had been in bed for six weeks… it wasn’t a two hour surgery; it was a seven hour surgery… I was drugged out in the hospital for three days. I was on medication during the whole process of filming, that’s why you hear me stuttering; I was in pain the whole time.”
Sulahian added that she did not reveal her pain to the group of women or the viewers, because she did not want that to be the focus of her story. She also said she herself did not come to terms with the cancer diagnosis.
“I was in denial, and I don’t want to sit there crying, because it hasn’t hit me yet, because I was still dealing with my dad’s death. So it’s been a mess. I was on medication. I was in pain; my face color is different, my tone is different,” said Sulahian, “You can hear me stutter, because my breasts were hurting so bad… they were expanding it and that pressure, it feels like metal in there, and I was just not a happy person.”
Sulahian said she shares this part of her private life now, because she wants to spread the word of how important it is for women to get their yearly mammograms. She said in terms of the show, the most difficult part was the lack of support she felt she received from Judge and Beador in particular; but she does not hold it against them anymore.
“I needed support and so that’s where the disappointment came from was when they were interrogating; I get so upset about it. I don’t care because that puts them where they are, and I can overcome it. God forbid they get diagnosed with something; I would be there for them. But that’s not what I got from them.”
When asked if she currently keeps in touch with the women on the show, she laughed:
“It just depends on who you’re talking about. With Lydia, yes. Vicki and Lydia I’m very close to. And Tamra, you know, I think when Tamra is around, I think she likes me; she just doesn’t want to say it, I think. It is what it is.”
Over the last few months, Suliahian said she has received an outpour of support from fans and the Armenian community via her Instagram, and she said that while it is up to the fans, she hopes she will be able to return for another season. As for favorite moments of the season so far:
“(I love) telling the women how it is, with no ‘ifs, ands or buts’ about it. Those are my favorite moments; there is no running away from it,” said Sulahian. “I made sure that I put it straight out and say what I needed to say, which I think is embarrassing for them. That’s how I’ve always been; it doesn’t matter if there are cameras there or not. That’s why my motto is, ‘It is what it is’… that’s how I was raised.”
‘The Real Housewives of Orange County’
When: Season 12 premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, July 12