'Fools' rush in after cancer shock
Cyberchums offer extraordinary support to dying woman 
By Emil Guillermo Record Staff Writer

Published Saturday, April 26, 2003 

 The Internet is full of hoaxes. This is not one of them. 

DingBatAnnie is dying of brain cancer, and it's for real. 

Now DingBatAnnie's Internet pals are going off-line, showering the Stockton woman with an undying love -- in real life. 

It's all a bit overwhelming to 39-year-old La Vona Lynne Schamber -- DingBatAnnie. 

There's BirdMom, also known as Judi Daunell, 49, who drove three hours from Kern County yesterday to finally meet her friend in person. 

But not in some ordinary way. Because one of Schamber's dying wishes is to visit Scotland, BirdMom presented Schamber with a lap blanket in her own Clan Campbell plaid. From her wheelchair, Schamber clutched the blanket tightly to her face and wiped off happy tears. 

"I feel the hugs and kisses," Schamber said. 

Before she could reset her emotions, in came BirdMom's special surprise -- a bagpiper in full regalia for a living room serenade. Schamber's eyes were opened wide, her mouth agape with astonishment, as she flung herself in the wheelchair to the music. She drank it in as if standing 2 feet from a bellowing bagpiper was more powerful than any chemotherapy. 

"Oh, wonderful," she said. 

"Got you good," said bagpiper Jeff Campbell. 

"Yes, you did," she said. 

For one hour, the bagpiper made west Stockton feel like west Scotland. And Schamber was in heaven. 

It's typical of the outpouring of affection among perfect strangers, who probably never would have met were it not for DingBatAnnie's terminal diagnoses and a pet lover's discussion board on fool.com, the Motley Fool Web site. 

Besides the surprise visits, her fool friends are going all-out to support Schamber and her family. Gimmeaminute, otherwise known as Deannda Neufer of Elmira, New York, started up an eBay site auctioning donated items to raise money for Schamber in the fight of her life. Another fool, Jelamar from Downey, started a fund. 

"We've come together, because we know the family's gone through the last of their life's savings to pay the medical bills," said Neufer, who was present at the bagpipe surprise via cell phone. Everyday, she takes in more auction items for the eBay site. "We've raised over $3,000 for them." ::: Advertisement ::: 

Schamber is overcome by the love. "I have known these people for four years online," she said. "But when we told them we went through our savings because of co-pays and medicine, they set up a money fund, and I didn't know they were going to do that. ... They are so wonderful." 

Schamber's husband, Kenny, 41, has known her since she was 11. His father called her Dingbat one night when she burned the spaghetti for dinner. It stuck -- the pasta and the nickname. Annie is a name she got in Germany, where Kenny was stationed during the Army. She had the orphaned look -- a big perm and big glasses. 

But this new phase of their lives is testing them. Kenny Schamber, a clutch and tranny man, has taken time off work at the local Clutch Mart to care for his wife. He can't believe the power of the Web. 

"This whole Motley Fool board's kept her spirits up and renewed my faith in the human race," he said. "It seemed like there was no compassion left in the world. But this whole board thing has turned me around. We're getting calls from all over the world." 

Bobbie Hopper, Schamber's mother, flew in from Missouri to help them last week. Her ticket and ground travel all were covered by generous friends from the pet lovers board. 

"I was going to come out by bus, but these people were there to help," said Hopper, 57, who has been diagnosed herself with breast cancer the past five years. Now she's back in Stockton to care for her daughter. "She needs total assistance," she said. "She's losing use of her hands. Her body is just shutting down quickly." 

Schamberg, at 5 feet 3 inches, 218 pounds, can no longer walk and is in a wheelchair. 

As she called over to Gussie, her 120 pound Boxer and muse and the subject of much of her posts on the discussion board, her voice is slurred from the brain cancer. 

Each day she gets radiation -- but not to cure her, only to ease the inevitable. 

Last week, the cancer took over her face. "The tumors in my brain don't make my jaws work very well," she said. The smile she once had has swayed and frozen in a lopsided smirk. Her eye that stays open and won't close is covered with an eyepatch. 

In real life, DingBatAnnie is breaking apart. 

La Vona Schamber's medical journey started in November 2001 at Kaiser in Stockton. She complained of a cough and visited one doctor 24 times. Schamber said the doctor told her she had allergies and did not do a chest X-ray. 

When the cough got worse, Schamber switched doctors. The new doctor found lung cancer. In the past month, it had spread to the brain. 

"She had no symptoms before," explained Dr. Abbas Ghadialy, an oncologist at Kaiser who was the last to see Schamber. 

But could they have beaten the cancer if they caught it earlier? 

"In her case, not likely," Ghadialy said. 

Still, the fools group is investigating legal action on behalf of Schamber against Kaiser, especially the first doctor she visited. 

"I try to forget her," Schamber said of the first Kaiser doctor she visited. "I get upset with people who do not do their jobs, especially a doctor you are supposed to trust." 

Real life has not always been kind to La Vona Schamber. 

"I did not have many face to face friends," she said, as she wondered if it was her family's poverty or her K-Mart clothes. Born in French Camp, she went to Stagg High. But a teen pregnancy ended her education. She had two sons whom she gave up for adoption. Another two children are grown and in their 20s. 

Four years ago, Schamber went to San Joaquin Delta College to learn about computers. It was her path to redemption. And connection. 

Before she had seemed invisible. "Oh, my yes," she said. "When I was younger, even teachers would mark me absent. I was just invisible." 

She was flying below the radar. If you saw her, you'd walk right by. But using the Internet -- and especially the pet lovers board at fool.com -- helped her build a confidence that changed her life. 

"When people you never met face to face tell you they love you and you know they mean it, that tiny piece of doubt -- that says I don't deserve it -- goes away," she said. "They make me believe I deserve that love. And I return it with all my heart. It's a great feeling." 

Seven weeks away from her 40th birthday, Schamber finally feels like a whole person, more alive than at any time she was on the Web. Or in real life. 

And yet even as she knows she is dying, she says she feels a certain happiness and satisfaction. Thanks to her friends online and now off. 

"You know how I define success?" she asked. "It's when what you feel inside you is bigger than what's outside. That's success in life. I feel that now." 

* To reach reporter Emil Guillermo, phone 546-8294 or e-mail eguiller@recordnet.com