Fair warning: If you are a person who wakes up in the morning and thinks…What am I doing in this town? Well, turn the page because this is not the column for you.
Every so often, I like to exercise my right as a ‘columnist’ and share my opinion on how I feel about this town. I am not a native of Oakdale. I am a native of California, but not Oakdale and to some, well, that matters.
During the course of the last 10 years I have been fortunate enough to meet some truly amazing people in this town. A handful of them happen to be natives and the rest happen to be people who ‘chose’ to live here because of the quality of life it offers their families.
So recently when I learned of my friend Jagada’s baby being sick, I wondered — was this town as amazing as I believed it to be?
Jagada and I ‘shared a desk’ back in the day when I returned to the Leader after having my second child. As ‘roomies’ we shared a sibling-like connection. He manned the Sports Desk and I the Living Section, which meant we worked opposite hours in the office. In essence we were more passing ships than true co-workers yet somehow we formed a bond.
To say I was saddened when he was assigned to our sister paper the Manteca Bulletin, would be an understatement. He was my guy and while I knew it was best for him, I was truly sad for our community and myself. Not to mention he always provided our office with a good laugh and an often-needed smile.
In early September of this year, when I learned of his sweet son’s brain tumor and their sudden trip to Oakland’s Kaiser Hospital for surgery…first - I prayed and then I wondered. I have seen this town rally before to help families stricken by illness, but would they for a Stockton family?
While I prayed the tumor would not be cancer, it was (see B-1 story.) The idea of my friend, The Sports Reporter and his wife the School Teacher now being faced with caring for their baby with cancer - overwhelmed me.
As I prayed and thought on this, a conversation I had with a girlfriend earlier this year continued to play in my head.
One night on my way home from a late night of work, she and I passed one another on the road. I could see in her face she was tired, drained really, and I wondered what could be wrong. As we pulled to the side, windows rolled down, she began to speak and as she did emotion followed.
Her family had been touched by cancer and the post cancer bills had gotten the best of her on this day.
“Cancer is expensive,” she said. “When you’re living through it, the support is amazing and overwhelming but the expenses don’t go away.
“You grow up, go to college and expect to have student loans to pay back. You get a job, a house, insurance for your house, your cars and medical. You can never plan for the expense of cancer.”
For the first time in my adult life, I suddenly saw cancer and what it does to a family in a whole new way.
In all fairness I must add I am an American Cancer Society volunteer. I know of the services, the research and the mission - but this is not about an organization and what they can offer.
This is about the real life of a friend who opened up to me in a way no one ever had. The pain, the fear and the sadness in her face that night will sit with me forever.
Now months later as I lay in bed with my four-year-old in the wee hours of the morning I could not help but think of my buddy and his family. “Cancer is expensive,” played in my head again, again and again.
So I prayed…again, again and again. Hoping that the right person would catch wind of this misfortune and run with it.
What I soon came to learn, is that I was not the only one who had this special family in extreme circumstances on my mind.
Chatter was happening at the Quarterback Club as well and a T-shirt fundraiser was born.
As I texted my friend advising him to get out of the way and let this happen, I felt so proud. I always knew this was an amazing town. I always knew the people here were special, ‘like minded’ in a way I not only find acceptable but inspiring.
Most importantly, I always knew this town was the real deal. I always knew they loved my roomie and were genuinely sad (as I was) when he took that drive west.
So now as a town, a community, we ‘do what we do.’ We rally for a family in need, not because anyone has anything to gain or lose, but most importantly because it is the right thing to do.
As I first heard in 2002 and I can honestly say today…‘Only in Oakdale.’
If you are interested in helping the Chambers family please visit the website which has been set up for them at www.helpjagada.org. An account has been established on their behalf, complete with a Taxpayer ID.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.