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The call nobody wants to receive
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Life has been compared to many things but for me each day represents a door at which a friend or foe comes knocking.

On Monday, Oct. 10, the knock at the door came in the form of a frightening and hideous beast, a very unwelcome figure. I had never hoped a grotesque monster like this would ever darken my door. But it did and Leukemia was its name. The dreaded visitor set up residence in the body of my wife, Karen, and sits off in the corner of my life, not letting me rest for its troubling presence.

For about a month Karen had shown signs of shortness of breath and losing strength. We stuck to plans to get away on a New York vacation Sept. 23-Oct. 2 to celebrate our 30th anniversary but it was apparent something was terribly wrong with her. She struggled to enjoy the trip, which was booked in the spring. She panted up simple stairs. We came out of the subway in New York City at Columbus Circle and she looked at the stair case before her as though it were as daunting as Mount Everest. She trudged up slowly and I remember feeling irritated that she was slowing us down as we were packing lots into nine days. Just two days before she was covering her nose to keep from breathing the rather unpleasant musty air of the Franklin Roosevelt mansion at Hyde Park. This day she was only able to get to the different levels in the pedestal of the Statue of Library by use of the elevator.

I won't ever forget, however, the way she looked coming up out of the BART station in San Bruno after we flew back to San Francisco. Karen looked winded, as if she ran a marathon. We both sensed something very troubling.

The next day Karen called me at work, unable to get to work herself. She figured it was a sinus infection and that a shot would do it. She was pronounced a "very sick" woman and the hospital immediately began an IV and start blood transfusions. No signs of virus nor signs of bacteria infections. Her blood was very poor and there was initial talk of leukemia.

I'm a pretty even keeled man but I was growing very scared and feeling a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach for her. I went home that night to an empty house, broken and sobbing uncontrollably for the shameful way I was impatient with her.

The hospital found nothing and released her to a more ominous appointment that Thursday where a bone marrow sample was taken. I hope to never see her take one of those again without sedation.

By Monday the dreadful words came in the form of "I wish I had good news for you." As I sat in my car parked in front of the Courier, the doctor explained she has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, commonly known as ALL.

A freight train couldn't have delivered as much shock as I endured.

I was unable to work. I had to do one of the heaviest hearted things I have ever had to do before. My soul was as clouded as the sky as I drove home to tell her in person that she had cancer in her blood. I won't write about that moment for fear that I will lose my composure at the keyboard.

That night 46 people from our church filled our home to pray for an hour long emotional but comforting time. Two days later we were grateful that a bed opened up for her at the UCSF Medical Center. Her Modesto oncologist misspoke when he said it would be several days in the hospital. Try a month, followed other extended periods of treatment. Overall treatment will last nine months with three years of follow up.

I am now immersed in a world of medical technicalities, where white blood cell counts are followed like sports scores. Googling terms that are foreign doesn't allow one to grasp the magnitude of the disease. I am no stranger to halls shared by bald patients holding onto IV poles and confined to an indoor world.

I've learned how rare leukemia is, with only about 43,000 annually getting it in a country of 311 million people. Her form of leukemia pops up in about 4,000 annually, mostly children. Treatments have vastly improved over the decades with overall survival statistics for people with ALL at 66.4 percent (all ages) and 90.8 percent for children under 5 years old, according to the National Cancer Institute.

My world and that of my wife have been rudely interrupted but adjustments are being made daily. As a man I want to spare her of what she's going through, but I am completely helpless beyond prayer and my positive presence. Managing life is only day by day now. It's changed perspective, for sure, as I read a poignant piece of embroidery framed on the wall of the 11th floor where my wife's cancer is being fought. It reads: "Cancer may rob you of that blissful ignorance that once led you to believe that tomorrow stretched forever. In exchange, you are granted the vision to see each today as precious, a gift to be used wisely and richly."

A lesson for especially the healthy.

Thank God for your health, and do it daily.