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Production crisis due to personal one
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Perhaps last week's Courier looked a little bit different to you. That's because the production of the Sept. 19 edition was done by, well, not me.

Normally I'm the one who each Tuesday produces the layout of the paper in the InDesign program. I wasn't available last Tuesday; I was in San Francisco, certainly not of my choosing for my wife's leukemia has returned.

Those of you who have followed me over the years may remember that last October I wrote a column about Karen being diagnosed with leukemia. We were plunged into a world of cancer treatment at one of the finest facilities in the United States - UCSF Medical Center on Parnassus Avenue in San Francisco - so fast it made our heads spin.

Her aggressive treatment called for chemotherapy drugs administered in rounds that lasted weeks to months, punctuated by brief respites at home and back to UCSF. As doctors predicted, the cancer of her blood would quickly go into remission. She achieved that in early November and indeed about 80 percent of leukemia patients achieve this state. Treatments continued until June.

During treatment, she was robbed of the experience of seeing our son graduating from the Defense Language Institute, robbed of attending our daughter's baby shower, and nearly missed our grandson's birth but the timing was perfect for her on that.

The trick has always been staying in remission since acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) has a tendency to return in patients who achieve remission. Treatment for children with ALL is much more successful, with 90 percent of youthful patients living long lives. For adults, the prognosis is poorer.

With all her treatments over in late June, the UCSF team sent her home with a song and a party in her honor, hoping she'd be rid of this horrible episode. That gave us a summer to do things, like visit Yosemite Valley, camp with family, take a road trip through Nevada and Utah on the way to Colorado and most recently a three-day visit to Disneyland where Karen braved the Tower of Terror, something she never before would dare try. After years of avoiding the ride, she decided "You only live once" and joined me and two of our sons on the ride. We laughed at her overreaction to the "elevator" drops. When it was all over she admitted, "It wasn't that bad."

Karen enjoyed 10 weeks out of the hospital thinking all would be good. But the disease has reared its ugly head.

It started with dark bruises, fatigue - much like last year - and blood counts that were alarmingly low.

I drove her to UCSF Medical Center on Monday of last week. We learned after a painful bone marrow extraction the following day that her leukemia had returned. The treatment now calls for her bone marrow to be blasted with intense chemo, and an introduction of someone else's bone marrow in the hopes that her marrow learns how to produce the right kind of cells, not the immature ones her body has mistakenly learned to make through a defect in DNA.

The treatment is rough for patients but is her only hope of defeating this disease.

During the emotional week, I needed to be at Karen's side. I had to make a difficult call to my manager who reassured me everyone else could pick up the slack at the Courier.

From my laptop, I wrote stories for last week's paper and helped write captions on deadline. I was disconnected, however, from the process of actually laying out the pages on the computer. Thus, things may have looked different last week since the same brain wasn't doing the work.

However, production was a difficult one since everyone had to step in and figure out things that I was familiar with. But that's where the merger with the Turlock Journal staff was of great benefit; they were able to get the paper out to you, on time. I appreciate the sacrifice they made for me, so that I could deal with a family emergency.

It's been terrible to see Karen struck by this disease, one which separates her from her work routine, life at home and family. There is little one can do other than "just be there" and offer what words of comfort you can as you sit as a prisoner of a hospital 100 miles from home.

Last week as I watched Karen faced terrible news, I felt her own sense of feeling trapped in the hospital, tapping into my own coping mechanisms and seeking comfort through some of my favorite cable TV programs, including Pawn Stars (which Karen and I had a chance to visit while in Las Vegas in late July). But unlike her, I was able to stroll outside into the crisp Bay breezes and stroll through beautiful Golden Gate Park where I ran earlier this year when she was there the first time. A sort of comfort came to me wwhen I entered a glassed-in building opposite the hospital where a farmer's market was selling produce. I was drawn to peaches and plumbs when I learned the ladies were from J&J Produce in Hughson. I struck up a conversation to tell them I am from their neck of the woods. The peaches I bought were a connection to home.

So was the smell of warm bread at the Subway across the street.

My eyes spied the Golden Gate Bridge from her window, thinking about two recent walks across the bridge in happier times.

I so appreciate all of your support, prayers and understanding as we deal with the challenges this disease presents us.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at