'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
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 --
There's BirdMom, also known as Judi Daunell, 49,
who drove three hours
from Kern County yesterday to finally meet her friend in
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
Before she could reset her emotions, in came
BirdMom's special surprise
-- a bagpiper in full regalia for a living room serenade. Schamber's
were opened wide, her mouth agape with astonishment, as she flung
in the wheelchair to the music. She drank it in as if standing 2 feet
a bellowing bagpiper was more powerful than any chemotherapy.
"Oh, wonderful," she said.
"Got you good," said bagpiper Jeff
"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
who probably never would have met were it not for DingBatAnnie's
diagnoses and a pet lover's discussion board on fool.com, the Motley
Besides the surprise visits, her fool friends are
going all-out to support
Schamber and her family. Gimmeaminute, otherwise known as Deannda
of Elmira, New York, started up an eBay site auctioning donated items
raise money for Schamber in the fight of her life. Another fool,
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,
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
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
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
in the world. But this whole board thing has turned me around. We're
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
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.
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
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
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
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
When the cough got worse, Schamber switched
doctors. The new doctor
found lung cancer. In the past month, it had spread to the
"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
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
"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
she went to Stagg High. But a teen pregnancy ended her education. She
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
Before she had seemed invisible. "Oh, my yes," she
said. "When I was
younger, even teachers would mark me absent. I was just
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
-- 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
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
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
"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
* To reach reporter Emil Guillermo, phone 546-8294
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org