In face of adversity, family remains strong
By Laura Troiano
The Catholic Times
Diocese of Columbus, OH
October 9, 2005
For 18 months, it had gone undetected.
It metastasized to the lungs.
Peggy Peppercorn, wife, mother of four and
parishioner at Columbus Holy Family Church, had now become a cancer patient.
She was immediately hospitalized. A port was
placed in her chest for chemotherapy treatments. She was given a 40 percent
chance of survival.
Peppercorn battled the disease for several years.
She then met with Dr. John Soper, world-renowned
cancer specialist at Duke University, who told her that she needed to have part
of her lung removed, and that chemotherapy would be required before and after
"He also told me that I may never be free of this
cancer," said Peppercorn.
She had the lung surgery in the winter of 2002.
The cancer was removed. She continued with chemotherapy and regularly had blood
In October of 2002, Peppercorn had a check up with her oncologist.
"At my appointment, he informed me my numbers
were raising, which indicated the cancer was active again. He scheduled me for a
CT scan, and I knew the procedures would start all over again," said Peppercorn.
Another blood test was taken. And, although the
results revealed that Peppercorn's numbers had more than doubled, the cancer had
Instead, Peppercorn was pregnant.
"My and my husband's mind set at that point was
shock, fear and trust in God. ...We were relieved it was not the cancer
returning, thrilled that God blessed us with a child, but extremely scared," she
Out of concern, those in the medical field as
well as many extended family members "would try to talk us into aborting the
baby. There was a great deal of pressure. ...The doctors pressured us to have an
abortion because the type of cancer I have could not be monitored during
pregnancy. They told me I was risking my life," she said.
Since Peppercorn's cancer was of a fast-growing
type, if left unmonitored for nine months, it could kill her.
So, "keeping the baby was a threat to my life,"
she said, "I was told to abort him because it was too dangerous for me."
But, "abortion was never an option for us," said
It was a difficult time for the whole family.
"My other children were afraid. We all did
novenas and prayed as a family for God to help us. There were many nights I
cried myself to sleep because I did not want to leave a newborn baby, my other
children and my husband," she said.
The Peppercorns' youngest daughter, Amy, was 13
years old at the time. Even she started saying a novena to the Infant of Prague.
Yet, in spite of the fear, "we, as a family, grew
closer to God and each other," and within Peppercorn herself, there was also "a
peace and calmness always. There were times I was scared, but then I always felt
a peace.... I would wrap a rosary around my hand and hold the crucifix as I fell
asleep," she said.
Father Thomas Buffer is a professor at the Pontifical College Josephinum college
in Columbus and a priest from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is also a close
friend of the Peppercorns.
The Peppercorn Family is "remarkable," said
"They were determined to settle for nothing less
than a life of faithful discipleship. In their case, answering the Lord's call
to follow Him has called for exceptional courage and faith," he said.
"It has been quite moving to observe the
Peppercorns' witness to their belief in the sacredness of God's gift of human
life. Many people benefited from that witness," he said.
"At the same time, I was very troubled by the
reaction of some people, including some Catholics, who actually criticized
Howard and Peggy for having another child, as if they had done something wrong
or ignorant. The contraceptive mentality is both pernicious and widespread, and
a lot of rudeness and cruelty result from it," said Father Buffer.
But, amidst the criticism, news of the
Peppercorns' plight continued to spread, rallying support, from friends as well
from those they didn't even know.
"People I would run into would recognize my name
and say they were praying for me," said Peppercorn.
During the period leading up to the baby's
arrival, "we were all very nervous. Emotions were running high. Our Faith is
what sustained us," said Peppercorn.
But once the baby's lungs were adequately
developed and the heartbeat was strong, the newest Peppercorn was delivered by
caesarean section. He was 36 weeks.
Thomas Peppercorn was born on May 27, 2003.
As soon as he was delivered, doctors began
checking all Peppercorn's organs for sign of cancer. Her oncologist was on stand
by and ready to perform surgery if any cancer was present.
None was found.
"I cried out, 'thanks be to God,' "said
With that, the operation room filled with the
sounds of rejoicing, the likes of which hadn't been heard except maybe above the
streets of Times Square on New Year's Eve.
"There was so much joy in the operating room,"
she said. "My husband and I gave thanks to God. My other children waiting
outside were brought to me, and they were thrilled. The doctors and nurses were
joyful, some were crying. My oncologist called his office to let everyone know,
and the doctor said that all they could hear was screaming of joy. Everybody was
celebrating," she said.
While Peppercorn was still in the hospital, word
spread about her case.
"Everyone who came in contact with me in the
hospital knew the story, and would come in to see me and Thomas. They all were
calling him 'the miracle baby,' "she said.
"Nurses would stop in just to see me and ask
questions. One nurse came in, she was from Vietnam, and asked me questions. I
told her about God and the Church, and she would come in and visit with me daily
to talk about God," she said.
It was at the suggestion of Peppercorn's husband,
Howard, that the baby Thomas be named after the family's friend, Father Buffer.
"What I remember most keenly about Thomas' birth
is that the medical personnel referred to him as 'the miracle baby.' That shows
how many people benefited from the Peppercorns' fidelity," said Father Buffer.
Today, Peppercorn is "cancer-free." Her numbers
are currently in what is considered the safe zone.
She will be tested every six months until 2008,
then once a year for the rest of her life.
Thomas Peppercorn has since entered the
"I must admit that it feels a little odd to have
another little Thomas walking around. I do hope I set a good example for him. If
not, he will just have to settle for being named after several saints," said
"God has blessed us so much," said Peppercorn.