The life-changing phone call came at 4:30 in the morning on Christmas Eve.
All of a sudden, Ashley Peddle went from making final preparations for the holiday season to planning cancer treatments that had to start within days.
The East Greenwich resident, 37, had been experiencing fatigue, shortness of breath and headaches for some time, but when her husband Ryan encouraged her to get checked out, she chalked it up to being a busy mother of four kids 10 and younger. Finally, in the week leading up to Christmas, her symptoms became too much to bear as she could not even climb the steps in her house and was falling asleep on the couch around dinnertime.
She saw a doctor and later some troubling results of blood tests led to the early-morning phone call to get to the hospital immediately.
“We rushed right to the emergency room and in about an hour or two, our world was kind of rocked with the diagnosis of leukemia,” Ryan Peddle says. “(Penn Medicine) was great and started her treatment right away because the type of leukemia she has is very aggressive, so the sooner she started, the better.”
Two months and two rounds of chemotherapy after being told she has acute myeloid leukemia, Peddle’s prognosis is good, her husband said, “but she is not out of the woods yet.” She recently returned home after a six-week hospital stay but will soon go back to receive a stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant, which will help restore her bone marrow, produce healthy blood cells and strengthen her immune system. In turn, she will be better suited to fighting the leukemia and preventing a reoccurrence down the line.
The best donors for stem cell transplants are usually a family member such as a sibling, but if they are not a match, an unrelated volunteer whose tissue type matches that of the patient may be used. Not only have Ashley and Ryan become educated about the process throughout their ordeal, but so have a group of Ashley’s friends, who decided to take action when they learned how badly donors are needed.
Shawn Keating, also of East Greenwich, took the lead and helped organize a drive-thru bone marrow registration event in Peddle’s honor, which will be held this Saturday, Feb. 20, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., at Samuel Mickle School, 559 Kings Highway, in Mickleton. Sponsored by Be The Match — which runs the largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world to help people battling blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma — the event will allow adults between the ages of 18 and 44 to join the national list of potential donors.
In addition to supporting Peddle, who she has become friends with through their children’s sports and school activities, Keating had two other reasons for getting involved.
“Her kids are the same age as mine and when you see this happen to somebody, you realize it could happen to anybody,” she said. “The other thing was, I went to sign myself up for Be The Match and I realized that at one point I had already requested the kit and in the busyness of things, I must have forgotten to send it back. So I reached out to them, got to talking and thought this was the best option, especially for busy people. … It’s as easy as driving through, getting swabbed and being done. I just thought it would be an easier way to get as many people on the registry as possible.”
Bree Amborn works for an organization called The Icla da Silva Foundation, which is a recruitment center for Be The Match, and she will be running Saturday’s event. She said people can expect a simple process to getting registered, as they just need to fill out some forms on their phone and do a swab in each cheek for 10 seconds without even leaving their car.
Those who cannot attend but still want to join Be The Match can text PeddleStrong to the number 61474 or visit join.bethematch.org/PeddleStrong and have a kit mailed to their home. Amborn added that it is especially important to increase the numbers of donors in the African-American community, as Black patients’ chances of finding a match are only 23%, compared to 77% for white patients.
“The need is super, super high to add more people and to work in diverse communities and increase those populations on the registry as well,” she said, “so if a patient is a person of color they have the same chances of finding their match as if the patient is white.”
Amborn will be able to answer any questions people have on Saturday. She was actually a donor herself while in college; after signing up she found out she was a match for a 50-year-old woman battling myelofibrosis.
“It was an extremely easy process and Be The Match was awesome,” she said. “They pay for everything, they organize everything and they schedule everything, and as the donor you just show up. You’re literally able to change someone’s life.
“I think people have a misconception of how the donation process works, but 80% of the time the donation is actually taken from your bloodstream. It looks very similar to donating platelets, where you have a needle in each arm, they take blood out of one arm, they separate your stem cells from your blood and give you your blood back in the other arm. There’s a couple more steps to the process but that’s really the basics. You’re awake the whole time and it’s not a surgery.”
Keating is hopeful that when people hear that, their fears will disappear and they will be eager to register. She doesn’t know what to expect for Saturday’s turnout, predicting, “we could get 50 people or we could get 300.” But already the response in East Greenwich has been impressive, with more than 50 volunteers slated to be in attendance.
Some, like Keating and Jacqueline D’Angelis, are bringing their teenaged children to help as well.
“Like I told my daughter, we can’t cure cancer, but we can certainly help others by collecting these swabs,” said D’Angelis, a neighbor of the Peddles who has known them for seven years.
“There’s going to be a lot of people from our community out there this weekend to support Ashley and support this mission to increase that number. Ashley is such a wonderful part of the community and it’s nice to see how everyone can band together and try to make something good out of this difficult and trying situation for her family. It’s nice to see so many families – parents and their teenagers – coming out to volunteer in the cold in the middle of a pandemic to do something nice.”
Although the Peddles have been quarantining since Ashley returned home because her immune system is compromised, Ryan plans on stopping by the event and showing his appreciation for the volunteers and those joining the list.
“I didn’t know anything about the registry beforehand or else I’d have been on it,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re pushing this drive, to get as many people on the registry as we can. They may not help Ashley but they’ll help someone just like her.”
He said his wife’s spirits have remained high during her treatment. One of the toughest parts was when she was in the hospital and could not get in-person visits from their daughter and three sons, ages 10, 8, 7 and 4. They were able to FaceTime frequently, however, for much-needed emotional support.
The family is also grateful for the outpouring of assistance from those around them.
“We’re honestly overwhelmed by the support we’ve received,” Ryan said. “Our kids are pretty active in sports and other activities in the township, and through that we’ve made a lot of really good friendships and met a lot of really great people. So many of them are stepping up, not only for this drive but to give blood, to donate platelets, to cook meals, to drop off little things for the kids like Valentines. It’s just been overwhelming and we couldn’t be more proud of the town we live in.”
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