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August 31, 2014
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Publisher's Notebook: If you have to fight cancer, Roseburg is the place to do it

As a member of the Umpqua Community College Foundation and Roseburg Community Cancer Center boards, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy talking about health care.

And those thoughts and discussions don’t end when I get home at night.

My wife has been battling cancer ... again. And it’s back with a vengeance.

The good news — and there are always silver linings — is that we moved to the right place two years ago. This community has embraced us and we have fallen in love with it.

True love, they say, transcends all of the superficial imperfections. Let’s be honest. Roseburg isn’t the prettiest place on Earth. It’s rough around the edges and has taken its share of beatings over the years.

Kind of like me, come to think of it. We’ve both reached that magical stage of, “What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it!”

There is nothing pretentious about Roseburg.

Within that rough, calloused exterior beats a strong and passionate heart, and I’ve been fortunate to meet some of those folks who help keep it beating literally and figuratively.

As a member of the UCC Foundation board, I’ve listened to a table-full of people discuss ways they can help shape a better future. Fifty years ago this community decided it wanted its own college and my fellow board members are working to keep that vision alive, amid growing financial concerns.

Our latest venture is the planned Health, Nursing and Science center the college would like to build. The state has offered $8.5 million toward construction, provided the college is able to come up with its own $8.5 million by Feb. 1.

The hope is that the center plays an integral role in helping to create a stronger health care industry that could generate the kind of jobs we need in order to attract and keep young families. Our school enrollments are dropping and our service sector is suffering because younger people have left in search of better lives in Eugene, Portland and beyond, leaving behind a labor force that is insufficient to support the kind of companies that might relocate here.

As a result, the median age continues to climb, creating a quasi-retirement community lacking a solid foundation.

At the end of the line we’ll need enough people to change all the bedpans an older community will certainly fill.

My unwanted intimacy with cancer has shown the front lines of that battle in Douglas County and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have the Community Cancer Center right in our own backyard.

We just had our second round of daily radiation treatments and I’m not sure how we would have managed those if we had to drive to Eugene, or even Portland, every day.

The same goes for the chemotherapy treatments, which began again last week. If you’ve ever been through chemo, or know someone who has, you know it’s about as much fun as being beaten with a baseball bat. The chemicals are designed to kill everything but you, so it’s like spraying pesticide around a rose bush.

I’ve been equally impressed by the great people who work at the beautiful Mercy Medical Center next door to the Community Cancer Center. I had a meeting with one of Mercy’s key executives, Kathleen Nickel, late last week to discuss plans for a special event to honor our area’s health care providers (more on that later).

Kathleen is one of those quiet heroes who serves on various boards that work behind the scenes to make our lives a little bit better.

Following our meeting I walked down the hall to visit my wife, who was sitting through another hours-long blood transfusion (the blood was from Iowa, so we know it’s got a good work ethic!) and I got there just in time to hear her sharing life stories with one of the nurses.

The people who succeed in the health care business are the ones who really are vested in their patients.

Dr. Joshua Weese at the Cancer Center is another of those quiet heroes with impeccable bedside manners. When he is discussing the next plan of action with my wife he is always 100 percent “in the moment.” It’s a good trait to have in someone who deals with life and death conversations every day.

Our investment in a new Health, Nursing and Science building at UCC is one of those “no brainers” I enjoy so much these days. The question isn’t whether we should make that investment, it’s, “what happens if we don’t?”

Each one of us has our own life challenges. I’m willing and able to share mine as a real-life appreciation for what we have and what we’ll need to maintain the quality of life we enjoy.

I hate cancer more than I’ve hated anything ever. I hate talking about it. I hate living with it. I hate what it’s doing to my beautiful wife and the impact it’s had on my kids.

But without it, we may never have known the beauty that has come in the compassion and unsolicited support we’ve received from our new community. That compassion has brought me to tears on more than one occasion and I will never forget it.

I love this community and I’m proud to be among so many heroic citizens who remind me what community service is all about.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or

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The News-Review Updated Aug 31, 2014 12:06AM Published Aug 31, 2014 12:06AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.