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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 the surgery.

"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 work done.
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 not returned.

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 said.

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 Peppercorn.

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 Father Buffer.

"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 Peppercorn.

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 terrible-twos.

"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 Father Buffer.

"God has blessed us so much," said Peppercorn.



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