Had I known in advance the challenges I would experience in getting Trials published, I’m not sure I would have begun this journey. There was no way of foreseeing the future, of course, so I set out in 2008 to tell this remarkable story.
The basic premise of the book, the unlikelihood that my wife and her sister would each have a son with the same leukemia, had been on my mind since our nine-year-old son, Chris, was diagnosed with the disease in 1996. The idea of writing this story became even more compelling when I learned about the amazing advances doctors had made in treating childhood leukemia between the time our nephew, Aaron, was diagnosed and when we received the shocking news that our son had the same disease.
When I retired in 2008, I immediately began researching the history of acute lymphocytic leukemia, the disease that had attacked both Aaron and Chris. My research took me to the Seattle-Tacoma area, where the story began, and where much of it takes place. It had been more than thirty years since Aaron was diagnosed, so it took some time to track down the doctors and nurses that had treated him in the 1970s. It was even more challenging to find Aaron’s kindergarten teacher and friends of Judy, Keith, and Doug who still lived in the area. “Dr. Dan Niebrugge” had relocated to St. Louis, where I traveled to interview him.
I was very fortunate to find some of the nurses who had worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute at the time of Aaron’s bone marrow transplant. They were eager to share with me the details of working in the field at the time, and described to me their pride in working alongside Dr. E. Donnall Thomas when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
I interviewed family members and close friends who might add their perspective to the two cousins’ journey. Most importantly, both Judy and Mary Lou shared their written journals with me, providing not only an accurate timeline of events, but an unedited view of their most personal thoughts during the worst times of their lives.
Through Mary Lou’s leadership role in Candlelighters for Children with Cancer, I had come to know many of the moms who had kids with cancer. They shared their personal stories with me, from the moment of their child’s diagnosis to the present state of their journey. If I have one regret in reviewing at the finished product of Trials, it is that I couldn’t include the complete stories of each family and their child, each of whom is deserving of a complete book of their own.
After I had nearly completed the research for the book, and I was beginning the actual writing process, the Great Recession hit. Our family did not escape the financial calamity suffered by so many. I had to return to work. I boxed up my research materials. I wouldn’t be able to return to them for another nine years or so. In 2018, I retired again. I immediately unboxed all the transcripts from my interviews, reread the books I had acquired, blew the cobwebs off my copious notes, and set about writing the book with a new purpose.
Nearing completion of the manuscript, I decided to travel to Western Europe, where Chris lives with his family. I lived there for three months, during which time I helped with the care of my then two-year-old granddaughter. While she was in daycare during the work week, I completed the final edits of Trials, hoping to be ready to publish on my return to Oregon.
Then, two weeks prior to my homecoming, I did the unthinkable. I accidentally deleted my manuscript. The details on how it happened, and why I failed to have adequate backup, are not important at this point. Suffice it to say that my literary world came crashing down. I returned to the US in a funk. I searched locally, regionally, and nationally for someone who could restore my files, all to no avail. I spent the first month after my return repeatedly, and reluctantly answering the question, “So how is your book coming along?” (Many times followed by, “How could you let that happen?”)
I knew I had to start all over. Too many people had shared their life stories with me for me to give up. Had it not been for the personal commitment I felt toward the people who had shared their stories, I think I may have thrown in the towel. I owed it to them to finish the book. However, after deleting the results of twelve years of work, I had trouble getting up in the morning, let alone trying to figure out the first step in starting all over. And that is when the miracle began to take shape.
After a month, I had begun avoiding coffee meetings. My friends always asked the inevitable question about my book status. Each time I repeated the story it took me further into my depression, which is what I expected when I met my good friend, Joe Cavanagh, for lunch for the first time since my return. I successfully avoided the subject of my book for our entire time together. As we concluded our meeting, almost as an afterthought, he asked me, “By the way, how did your writing go while you were gone?” I reluctantly gave him an abbreviated version of my calamity. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said. Being the kind of friend he is, I could tell he carried some of my burden with him as we parted.
An hour later, he texted me with an urgent message. Evidently, on his return to the office, he ran into Dan Schroeder, an IT guy Joe outsourced some of his work to for his business. He had shared my story with Dan, who told Joe to have me call right away. The long and the short of it is that I met Dan later that day to hand over my laptop to him. He called me the following morning and asked if I could meet him for coffee. Once we sat down, he pulled opened my laptop, pointed to a file on the desktop, and asked, “Is that it?” I clicked on the file and there it was, all the years of work bundled into a 350-page manuscript!
I spent most of 2020 polishing the manuscript and going through the publishing process. Like most of us, I have experienced much loss and disappointment during the past year. But as Trials is published and 2021 awaits around the corner, the setbacks I experienced in getting making this story available to the reader gives me faith that we will endure in the end. My wish for 2021 is that everyone has a Joe and a Dan to dig them out of the depths of 2020 and help them move forward into the coming year.