Local couple realizes true friendship through rough journey By Michelle Gregory
"Leukemia is a death sentence, isn't it?"
The words hung in the air like an unpopped bubble.
Lila Townsell, cashier at Western Sizzlin'' looked up at her usually smiling boss, general manager John Hoban, and gave a
knee-jerk response, "not today, maybe 20 years ago. Besides, who do you know with leukemia?"
"Peggy," he said.
words sunk like Aunt Betsy's tuna surprise. Peggy is John's wife of 20 years. Townsell grappled with what she was hearing.
In the days before, Peggy, 53, was rushed to the emergency room at Russellville for what she believed
was kidney stones. She had an intense pain in her side. What else could it be? The answer was an enlarged spleen.
spleen essentially houses white blood cells, used to help fight off infections.
Hoban was released four days later
and four days after her release, she was experiencing intense pains near her back. Hoban has back problems, so she said she
reluctantly took to pain medication. The next thing she remembers is being on the floor and "flopping around like a fish,"
Hoban's mother, Darlas Andrews, called 911. Hoban was transported to the emergency room in Johnson County
where she learned her spleen had ruptured.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rama Desikan of Arkansas Oncology Associates, got the results
of the blood tests and immediately ordered a bone-marrow test.
"In his 25-plus years of practicing, he had never seen
blood look like mine. He knew something was not right," Hoban said.
The bone marrow tests discovered a very rare form
of leukemia called T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia.
There are four major types of leukemia: acute myelogenous, acute
lymphocytic, chronic myelogenous and chronic lymphocytic. Hoban's leukemia doesn't really fall under these four types. What
made her blood work different than most is the white blood cell counts were off the charts.
Normal white blood cell
counts are 7,000-25,000; leukemia patients average 50,000. Peggy's was more than 980,000.
"The lesions were horrible.
I was looking like a leper," Hoban said.
Desikan contacted MD Anderson, a renowned cancer center in Houston. He also
stayed in communication with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). He urged Peggy to go to Houston for treatment;
however, she would have nothing of it. She didn't want to leave where she was most comfortable. Peggy had already started
researching this type of cancer on the Internet and didn't find anything hopeful. If she was to die, she was not going to
in Texas or Little Rock, for that matter.
This type of leukemia is so rare there have been very few clinical trials
on treatment options. Because of this, Desikan won't give a prognosis - there just isn't enough information - but he refused
to give up and neither did Peggy.
Meanwhile, John has been keeping his employees informed about Peggy's condition.
she started chemotherapy in January, she developed a bad case of the rigors [severe shaking, or shivering, as the body's way
of warming up and bringing down a fever]. Her fever reached 105 degrees, and she was rushed to Saint Mary's Regional Medical
Center in Russellville.
"I nearly died. As my temperature was going up, my blood pressure was coming down to dangerous
levels. I remember being in and out of consciousness. At one point, I remember a nurse being happy that my blood pressure
was 60/40," Peggy said.
Peggy and John said both hospitals were amazing and credits both for bringing her back from
the brink of death not once, but twice.
"The emergency room in Johnson County moved like a ballet with everyone knowing
what each person needed and wanted. And I can't say enough about the nurses in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Saint Mary's;
they kept everyone informed about any changes in her condition," John said.
Her treatments have been agonizing. Desikan
has tried several treatments all with varying results, but the constant is there isn't much change in her white blood cell
count. The best they can do is manage the levels. He's in constant contact with Houston and Little Rock, getting treatment
recommendations and staying positive.
Peggy said the nausea is the worst, besides not knowing if this therapy or that
will be the miracle they're all looking for. She's avoided some of the other side effects.
She still has her halo
of blonde hair and the brightest blue eyes. Her complexion is ruddy, like she's been in the sun all day, and has what could
be described as hives across her forehead. The rigors and nausea leave her uncomfortable and tired. Just recently, she was
able to ride her beloved horses for the first time in a couple of months.
Peggy has a Painted Horse farm, Hobans Painted
Acres, and also runs an embroidery business from her home, Hobans Embroidery. Peggy isn't one to sit still and said she gets
frustrated when this cancer grounds her. She refuses to let it take over her life.
Ironically, Peggy thought her worst
worry would be heart problems or rheumatoid arthritis as there is a family history of both. She said she does have leaky heart
valves, stemming from using diet pills several years ago. Today, she would welcome either one.
She credits her good
spirits to her husband, John, who has been "wonderful" throughout this whole ordeal. She's also very close to her mother,
Darlas, her two children, Angela, and Brian, her stepdaughter, Jennifer and her grandson, Keith.
"I hate I can't spend
the time with [Keith] that I use to," she said.
She said she also hates that her and John's dreams are on hold, probably
permanently. The treatments are expensive. John jokingly commented he could have bought several pickup trucks with what her
weekly treatments cost. John explains how confusing insurance was to him, until this, and now he's almost an expert. There
are co-pays, deductibles, stop-losses.
It all adds up to being a drain on resources.
"It's literally like playing
roulette - you get the therapy and wait and see what the outcome will be," said John of the treatments Peggy gets almost weekly
and how they never know if the side effects will actually be worse than the symptoms.
Peggy is more overwhelmed at
the outpouring of prayer and hope she gets from friends, family and strangers.
When Peggy was first diagnosed, John's
employees leapt into action. While they all made prayer requests with their respected churches, Lila and manager Teresa Wesley
started organizing a benefit silent auction and bingo in an effort to raise money to help offset the cost of the treatments.
couldn't believe they were doing this," Peggy said, trying to hold back the tears. John added that he couldn't believe they
were doing all this for them.
"I'm their boss; they're not supposed to like me," John said.
After spending just
a few minutes with them both, it's easy to see why there is such an outpouring of love for them.
"For the last 10
years, I've had this beat-up old trailer. I went to competitions and last summer was finally able to get a new one," she said
with a glint her eyes. "I had the best summer and won first place in several of my competitions."
The leukemia struck
The Hobans don't know if this leukemia will be a death sentence, so they look at each day for what it
is - another day.Benefit for the Hobans
A benefit for John and Peggy Hoban will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday
at the Hughes Center, 1000 E. Parkway. There will be bingo and a silent auction.
Proceeds will go toward Peggy's medical
Auction items and bingo prizes donated by local businesses and individuals include Pre-1878 Non-Commissioned
Officer's sword, arrowhead collection, quilt, Milwaukee drill, ceiling fan, restaurant gift certificates, massages, hair cuts,
oil changes, transmission services, top soil, plants and more.