Fighting to live
• C.J. Dube has been battling leukemia for three years and he plans to win the war
By Faye Ellison
C.J. Dube dreams of being a baseball player.
With their youngest son Matthew swinging from the door knob in a meeting room, Chris and Kelley Dube do not look like they have a care in the world.
But, the longer you talk to them, the more apparent the lines of worry in their faces become. Those lines have been etched partly by their oldest son's dreams, by their dreams for him, and by the disease which over the last few years has threatened to take them all away.
As four-year-old Matthew and six-year-old C.J. walk in the room, their parents' faces light up. They have realized how much for which they have to be thankful.
C.J. is in his third year battling leukemia, in his case an acute neoplastic disease of the bone marrow in which white blood cells are produced at a rapid rate. In so many ways the average kindergartener, minus the leg brace since February, is only been able to attend school half a day.
As more and more lives are touched by this disease, C.J.'s battle becomes less of a rarity, but for each family the battle is personal.
This family decided to make C.J.'s battle further, to use it to help educate others and fight for a cure.
It was in February of 2004 that Chris noticed his oldest son had not been feeling quite himself. C.J. suffered from a distended stomach and flu-like symptoms.
"We would give him medicine, but it didn't straighten out," Chris explained. "When we took him to the pediatrician, they would say it was a stomach virus or constipation."
A week after his fourth birthday, the symptoms of what his parents thought to be a child still suffering from a sugary cake had still not gone away.
"We had just had the party," Kelley said. "He was saying 'my stomach hurts,' and we thought he was still excited from the party."
"We finally got a referral to the Medical College of Georgia," Chris added. "We met with Dr. Howell, the head of pediatric surgery; he was the first one to tell us. He knew immediately that C.J. had leukemia. Turns out that the distended stomach is a classic symptom; for whatever reason, it wasn't picked up on his initial visits to the doctor."
The distended stomach comes from the swelling of organs, such as the liver or spleen.
At the time they didn't know it, but that week was crucial.
"We had lost a lot of time in five days," Chris said. "His condition worsened."
"The doctor said it had probably been in his system for about six to eight weeks," Kelley said. "When we looked back during the holidays, he was napping a lot. He was bruising more easily and getting up at night with a stomachache."
Doctors explained to Chris and Kelley that C.J.'s leukemia has a viral background and turned into cancer after one cell mutated.
"Kids with leukemia, it is pretty much guesswork," Chris said.
The diagnosis was a shock. At first they did not and could not hear the truth.
"It is like getting pushed out of an airplane without a parachute," Chris said, the pain clear in his face. "You're in a tunnel and you can't hear anything. Nothing makes any sense."
After admitting C.J. to MCG, his pain and swelling worsened. His family had to wait two days before starting him on chemotherapy treatments.
"We had to just sit there for two days trying to get him well for his chemo," Kelley said. "Those were two long dark days for us."
The Dubes spent 22 days straight at MCG. During that time, their son Matthew had to come to grips, as much as a small child can, with his big brother's disease.
"Matthew was really scared; he not only lost a brother, but he lost us," Kelley said. "He went to the family unit, between grandparents and other relatives. He kind of went through some resentment at that time."
"But now Matthew understands 'C.J. is sick and I'm not,'" Chris said. "Now when C.J. has a doctor's appointment Matthew fears that C.J. would end up in the hospital."
During those 22 days, doctors worked to kill all the cancer cells to hopefully put C.J. in remission.
The intense chemotherapy treatments that C.J. received by i.v. and by mouth caused his organs to nearly fail on several occasions.
"We were trying to kill the cancer with chemo, but trying to keep him alive the first weeks," Chris said. "It was the only way he could survive."
Later C.J. had a port placed in his chest to receive the chemo treatments. This kept the doctors from having to stick his arms over and over. For three years he has received chemo agents. In that time he has had 25 spinal taps to prevent the cancer from going to his brain or spinal column.
C.J. is now in remission and has not seen a cancer cell in his years since beginning treatment. The Dubes are hoping that none will appear again. Chris said that remission is step one and that C.J. could still have a relapse.
"We have been in a two-year waiting period," Chris said. "We are hoping and praying that the cells don't grow back. C.J. is still monitored intensely. After all this, then they would say he is cured."
When C.J. first came home, Chris said he was a four-year-old child with the capacity of an 18-month-old.
"We had to hand feed him because his muscles had deteriorated," Kelley said. "He slept most of the day and had to have help going to the bathroom."
The first year C.J. was kept quarantined from other children.
"He couldn't go to birthday parties or the McDonald's playground," Kelley said. "We couldn't risk an infection. It would put him in the hospital for 48 to 72 hours."
In 2005, the Dubes began to regain some normalcy in their lives, but yet another obstacle was presented to them--fractures and the chance of another break that still plagues him today.
"We had to go back to carrying him around," Chris said. "He was in a cast, but it was incredible to see how well he adapted. We couldn't stop him. It was difficult for us because we have to restrict his movements so he doesn't have any rebreaks."
In August 2005, C.J. began his first day of school.
"C.J. went to kindergarten for one day, but had another fracture," Kelley said. "He wasn't able to start until February."
During C.J.'s hospitalization and subsequent visits to the doctor, Chris and Kelley have remained pillars of strength for each other and their boys.
The side effects
"We support one another," Kelley said. "We still try to attend doctors' visits together."
Having caring coworkers has also made the transition into C.J.'s disease and needs easier.
"Chris is lucky that he has his own business and a partner like Tyler that did double work," Kelley said. "I am a pharmacist at Publix and I took a leave of absence. My partner worked double as well. We are both fortunate that we did not lose our jobs or have jobs where you have to be there."
Other foundations of support were formed when both Chris's and Kelley's parents moved back to Georgia.
"We get a lot of support from our parents," Kelley added. "Both sets of parents moved here within a year of C.J. being born. Both were semi-retired living in Florida. Now we know why they moved back. They are a big part of the Relay with us."
This is not the first time Chris and Kelley have dealt with cancer, as Chris's father had battled prostate cancer.
"It was different than now," Kelley said. "You deal with it, and since you don't live with them, you just think 'Oh, he is in remission.'"
But C.J.'s family found another way to support their little man in his battle.
"Matthew, Chris and his dad all shaved their head with C.J.," Kelley said. "They did that for the first year pretty much. It was amazing that Chris's dad did that. He had just lost his hair, was growing it back and was willing to shave it again."
With other leukemia patients just now becoming teenagers, doctors are beginning to see the effects intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments have down the road.
Kelley said that the chemotherapy agents predispose C.J. to liver or lung cancer and he will have to live a very healthy lifestyle.
"We are just starting to see the long term affects and their impact," Chris said. "They are just beginning to get the information now. Like C.J. is showing signs of osteoporosis and he is very young to show signs of it. The steroids are causing a bone density loss. Doctors tell us he has bones of an 80-year-old."
One of C.J.'s legs has suffered multiple fractures. He suffered through five leg breaks in 2005 in the femur, ankle and tibia. Chris explained C.J.'s injuries as non-traumatic.
"He could step out of the bed the wrong way or slip on the floor," Chris said.
"C.J. doesn't understand his cancer and he is just happy he is not in a cast," Chris said. "He goes to school and gets to be with other children."
Against what doctors may wish, it is hard to keep a six-year-old who loves whiffle ball down.
"We are starting to let him do more because he is six," Chris said. "We have to let him do things kids do, even though the doctors don't want him to.
"I think it is best that he doesn't realize what cancer is. A child doesn't have that capacity. An adult may throw in the towel, where being able to do the basics may be motivation to him. All in all, we compare him to other children and what they are doing. There are plenty of worse case scenarios than us."
Kelley supports Chris in saying that this experience has granted them a new lease on life.
"It gives you a new perspective," Kelley said and smiled. "I will never look at our lives in the same way. It is talking about it that makes it feel like it was yesterday, it is so raw. We have constant concerns like should he be doing that? We don't want to draw the line, but maybe he won't have the opportunity to do it again. The small things seem a lot less important."
C.J. now goes to school five half days each week. The Dubes are proud that their son will pass kindergarten "easily" with the help from his teacher who came to the house to tutor him.
"Socialization is what he needs to learn now instead of academics," Chris said. "Even though he is unable to participate in recess or P.E., he asks to go watch them."
Though living through almost losing a son has torn other families apart, this fight is one that the Dubes want to win together.
"I think you go through stages," Chris said. "First you are incredibly angry. Then you have a stage when you are upset and sad. Then the third stage is when you rally together to beat this disease and that is where we stand today."
"The Relay for Life is a time to come together for our family and to put all our energy into awareness," Kelley said. "It brings us all together to support this cause. We were charitable before, but this is something we will be involved in for the rest of our lives. We see the results, we see the studies and we know this is not a death sentence. There are many survivors and C.J. will be one of them."
"We hope our participation will in some way help a child or family," Chris said.
This is the second year that the Dubes have led a Relay team called C.J.'s Animals. In 2005, the first-year team raised $10,900, placing fourth out of 16 teams, and would like to raise the same again. Chris said they are closing in on that amount.
Not only do C.J.'s Animals raise money for the Relay, they find other ways during the year to help others linked to cancer. During Christmas, the team raises funds to buy items for the oncology unit at MCG. They personally deliver toys, DVD players and videotapes to the unit. In 2005, they bought 24 wagons so that the children could be transported around the hospital.
"By being there ourselves, we saw the needs that families and children have," Chris said. "We like to think C.J.'s Animals in a way is trying to find a cure for cancer."
The Dubes are also involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"We would like to thank Jefferson County for all the help they have given us," Chris said.
"Even though we live in Columbia County, we choose to participate here; this is our family," Kelley added. "The amount of money raised here is just amazing for the size of the county."
Candidates qualify for primary
• Jefferson County has two commission districts up for grabs after qualifying last week
By Ben Roberts
Qualifying for the June 18 General Primary took place across the state last week, in a precursor to November's election that could bring massive changes to Georgia's current political scene.
Two Jefferson County Commission seats are up for grabs, but without a single Republican candidate qualifying last week, those seats will be decided by the July Primary.
District 1 Democratic incumbent Gonice Davis, 57, of Wadley will face opposition from Don E. Hall, 67, also of Wadley. Hall's qualifying information form lists his occupation as banking/flower shop. Davis is a school bus driver.
District 3 incumbent Sidney Norton, 63, of Wrens is being challenged by Dave Hastings, 53, also of Wrens, in the Primary. Hastings lists his occupation as service manager. Norton's is sales, lumber and hardware.
The Jefferson County Board of Education has three seats up for reelection in November; however, they are nonpartisan seats. Qualifying for those three offices will be June 26 - 30.
Glascock County will only have two local races in November's election for two nonpartisan Board of Education seats as well. Qualifying for those positions is June 26-30 also.
Incumbent Senator J.B. Powell, 44, of Blythe, will not face another Democratic challenger for his District 23 seat, which encompasses all of Jefferson County. Instead, his opposition will come from Republican challenger George DeLoach, 65, a funeral director from Waynesboro.
Jim Whitehead Sr., 64, of Evans, whose District 24 covers all of Glascock county, will retain his seat without opposition from Democratic or Republican challengers.
Glascock County's State Representative, Democratic Incumbent Helen "Sistie" Hudson, 55, of Sparta, will keep her seat without being challenged by anyone either.
Jefferson County lies in State House District 142, currently held by Democrat Jimmy Lord, 70, of Sandersville. He will face opposition in November from Republican Napoleon Jenkins, 30, a director of sales from Tennille.
While Georgia's 12th Congressional District, which covers 22 counties including Jefferson and Glascock, may have changed its shape, two familiar faces will once again be vying for the same office.
Democratic incumbent John Barrow, 50, will face Republican Max Burns, 57, of Sylvania, in November.
It was Barrow who defeated the one-term Burns in 2004 to win his first term in Congress.
There are numerous state offices up for reelection this year, the biggest of which is Governor.
Republican incumbent Sonny Perdue, 59, will square off against one Republican candidate in the Primary before the General Election.
There are four Democratic candidates for the office. Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, 48, of Albany, and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, 47, of Decatur, are expected to be the two front runners for their party's nomination.
Other state offices to be decided in the Primary and General Election are Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor and two Public Service Commission seats.
Relay for Life to be held on May 5 and 6
• Locals remember cancer victim Mindy Milburn as Relay for Life kicks off
By Faye Ellison and Jennifer Flowers
Staff Writer and Apprentice
As locals saddle up their horses and loop their lassos in preparation for this year's rodeo-themed Relay for Life, they remember a fellow cancer-fighter, Mindy Milburn, who recently succumbed to synovial sarcoma.
For two-and-a-half years, Mindy battled the cancer located on the left side of her chest.
After her initial surgery, in which the first mass was removed, she persevered through six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.
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Her hopes of effective treatment were disappointed, however, as the cancer returned in a different location, just under her left shoulder blade.
After a second surgery accompanied by radiation, the sarcoma continued to grow.
Still, Mindy’s spirits were high as she kept up hope and focused on the knowledge that she was in God’s hands.
“Mindy never gave up one time,” said her mother, Vicky Gingery. “She was always smiling.”
She shared her hopeful outlook with others as she participated in Relay for Life efforts as a survivor, one year carrying the Relay banner and another walking the track as a member of the PAC team.
Only recently did the illness get the best of her.
“She’s gone to be with the Lord and she’s in a much better place,” said Gingery. “No more suffering, no more pain.”
Gingery noted that many people were to be thanked for their love, prayers and support.
“We would like to express our appreciation and thanks to everyone,” she said.
One of the most effective things people can do to show love and support to cancer victims and survivors and their families and friends is to participate in fundraising events to remember the brave warriors who have gone before, honor those still in the heat of the battle and combat this deadly killer.
This year’s Relay for Life will be held May 5 beginning at 6 p.m. and May 6 ending at 2 p.m. at the walking track beside Wrens Middle School.
Renee Borum, who is one of the organizers for the event, said that many of the traditions from past years will continue this year.
“The survivor lap will be the kickoff,” she said. “Then the luminaries will be lit at dark.”
The baby stroller laps will begin at 7 p.m. and there will be entertainment throughout the day.
Last year, $110,000 was raised for the American Cancer Society with help from residents and workers in Jefferson County.
“This year we are shooting for around the same amount,” Borum noted. “I will be pleased if we meet it or surpass it.”
Relay teams are currently raising money for the cancer event, with several offering food, entertainment or raffles as a way to make money to help find a cure for cancer.
“The teams are wonderful,” Borum said. “They really take care of getting ready for the Relay for Life.”
Again this year there is a raffle for a 52” television from Regions Bank’s Relay team, which was donated by Davis-McGraw, and another for a golf cart, also with tickets available from a Regions Bank team member. Anyone wanting tickets can contact a team member.
The luminaries are $5 to honor or remember a loved one with their name on a luminary bag. The bags will line the track. As night falls, a candle in each bag will be lit as participants honor those whose names are represented. The gold luminary bag is $25.
One new event this year will be the lighting of “Torches of Hope.” For a contribution of $50, a tiki torch will be placed on the track to be lit during the luminary ceremony. The torch will have a plate attached inscribed with the Relay for Life logo and the name of the person who is honored or remembered.
After the Relay, the torch plate will be available to take home. Forms for the Torch of Hope should have been received by April 13 to allow time for engraving.
For more information on the luminaries or tiki torches, contact a team member or Chris Anderson at (706) 547-3355 or 547-6745.
Other ways to get a head start on your Relay spirit are the Relay for Life magnets $5 which can be purchased from a Wrens United Methodist Church Relay for Life team member.
Teams this year include Matthews Community, Wrens United Methodist Church, Firstate Bank, Disciples for Life, Schoolhouse Rockers, Jefferson Energy, Regions Bank, Carver Elementary, CJ’s Animals, The PAC, Wrens Middle School, Jefferson Hospital, Crystal Garrer Team of Hope, Heritage of Old Capitol and Glit/Microtron.