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January 13, 2013

Man battles rare cancer

Community rallies support for family

SUTTONS BAY — Jeff Peplinski was healthy just four months ago, a young man who looked forward to a new job and raising his toddler daughter with his fiance.

Now Peplinski, 33, of Suttons Bay, is in a fight for his life.

Peplinski was diagnosed in October with a particularly rare and often lethal form of brain cancer. On Friday, Peplinski said he's determined to win his battle and is astonished at how Leelanau County residents are rallying behind him so he can live to watch his daughter grow.

"You have no idea: it's amazing," Peplinski said of the community-wide support. "I want to say thank you so much to everyone."

Peplinski was born and raised in Leelanau County. He was living in Montana with his fiancée, Breanan Gale, this fall when he noticed periods of light-headedness and a tingling sensation and numbness in his hand.

"I thought I had a pinched nerve, but I kept dropping things," Peplinski said.

Peplinski went to the emergency room, doctors did a CAT scan and within days doctors told him he was dying from a pontine glioma cancer on his brainstem.

"They said, 'Jeff, you have a brain tumor and you have three months to two years to live'," Gale recalled. "Go home, take steroids and make a video for your daughter."

Peplinski, his fiancée and his parents, Fred Peplinski and Rhoda Johnson, are not willing to accept a terminal diagnosis. Peplinski now has difficulty walking and struggles to use the left side of his body.

The family is trying to find a specialist willing to perform a risky surgery. They've been rejected for surgery by prominent medical facilities, but the family is pushing forward, and faces immense future medical costs with no guarantee that medical treatments or surgery will be covered — or if they will work.

"They don't want to do a biopsy," Peplinski said. "They are afraid it could kill me, but I'm going to get through it."

Hundreds of Leelanau County residents are supporting Peplinski. More than 500 people showed up at a November fundraiser at the VFW Hall in Lake Leelanau.

"The place was packed shoulder-to-shoulder," said fundraising organizer Ronda Coleman. "Jeff means a lot to everyone. His parents are staples in the community. Everyone knows Jeff."

Another fundraiser is scheduled for February 23rd in Lake Leelanau. A Praying for Jeff Peplinski Facebook page is up and running, and a Jeff Peplinski Benefit Fund is set up at Traverse City State Bank for anyone interested in donating.

"This community has been so amazing," Rhoda Johnson said. "We are going to do everything we can to help Jeff."

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