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Atwater youth in battle of his life

ATWATER -- In many respects, David Jeffrey Jr. is a normal 20-year-old. He loves to cruise around town in his customized Chevrolet pickup, hang out with his friends, listen to heavy metal music and go to concerts in the big cities.

However, life is anything but normal for Jeffrey. Afflicted with serious ailments off and on since birth, the Atwater youth now is in the battle of his life with lung cancer and isn't sure what the future holds. His doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, told him he has a year to live.

A fundraising dinner-dance is planned Saturday for Jeffrey, and the family just returned from a four-day cruise to Mexico. His former school counselor and classmates also have rallied around Jeffrey, who values his friends more than ever and doesn't like to stand out or call attention to himself.

"Every day is whatever happens," Jeffrey said. "I still live like there's no tomorrow. I don't let stuff get me down or bother me like it used to. I look at normal problems and wish I had them."

Jeffrey is taking an experimental oral chemotherapy medicine and doctors hope this will at least delay the advance of cancer. It took him five months to recover from the October 2006 surgery that removed 10 spots from his lungs. Last October, he learned the cancer spots were back, including one on his ribs.

"I definitely live differently than a lot of people," Jeffrey said. "I don't know what to feel; it's good and bad. I'm not scared yet and don't feel it yet. I don't know what to expect."

Jeffrey said his illness has made him a better person and "changed who I am." His father, David Jeffrey Sr., said his son's friends are a strong support group that look out for him and protect him in many ways.

Some of the students at Yosemite High School where Jeffrey graduated in 2005 have rallied around their fellow classmate. His counselor there, Jeff Hammar, helped raise $500 for Jeffrey, including dyeing his hair pink and blue.

Jeffrey's mother, Georgia, said some days are more difficult than others. She said her son has "been really strong for all us. If he wasn't, it would make it more difficult for all us. The doctor gives him a year to life and I hope he's wrong."

Jeffrey said it's easier for him to go through his illness than watch his 17-year-old brother Travis or other family members suffer. He said he tries to be careful what he says to people and wants to keep his same circle of friends.

Someday Jeffrey would like to attend an automotive training school. He is more interested in design than mechanics and wants to create cars with personality, ones that match their owners' personalities.

Jeffrey owns a 1969 Chevy Fleetside half-ton pickup that has been lowered, has custom front and rear roll pans, a custom interior, chromed tachometer and aftermarket tires and wheels. The truck is painted a flat-black color and has a 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine that Jeffrey, his dad and grandfather rebuilt. He wants to upgrade the motor once more before springtime and do more of the hands-on work himself this time.

"I like wasting gas, cruising around town with nowhere to go," Jeffrey said. "I do a lot of standing around with friends in the garage and I'm happy with that."

Caroline Avila is a member of the volunteer committee putting on Saturday's dinner at Buhach Hall. She said they have had a very good response from the community, with nearly 1,000 $20 tickets sold for the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. event. Tickets will be available at the door.

Avila can identify with the Jeffrey family's struggles. Her father died of cancer in 1986 and her sister was claimed by leukemia. Avila, her husband Joe, her brother, Marty Tolleson and his wife Roxanne are the nucleus of the committee planning the deep-pit barbecue, silent auction, disc jockey, dance and music by two bands.

"We can stand up with them and help them through this," Avila said. "It's hard on a family. The costs involved with cancer are so astronomical. It (cancer) affects the whole family. You don't come out unscathed emotionally or financially. Our main goal is to help David, even if he only has a year."

Jeffrey spent his first birthday in the hospital and it was determined he had no immune system of his own. After several bone marrow transplants and rebounding from other health reverses, Jeffrey was fine until he was 8 years old. About three years ago, osteosarcoma (cancer) was found on his foot and leg and it was amputated.

"If I'm there (in the hospital) for more than six or seven days, I get agitated with everybody. Still I see other kids there and feel bad for those who can't leave."

Jeffrey said he got through the leg amputation easily but breathing hard or laughing after the lung surgery was painful. One of the highlights of the Mexican cruise was a chance to go parasailing about 500 feet in the air; he said he is ready to go on another cruise.

Jeffrey thanks Steve Kidwiler for giving him several tattoos. One of them on his forearm is an old Ford hot rod done in "rat-rod" style.

Georgia Jeffrey said Saturday's dinner is becoming much bigger than she thought it would be. She is amazed and grateful about the community's giving nature.

She said their friends are a great group of people. The Jeffreys are members of the Valve Burners car club.

"We ask God for strength, hope and love to hold everyone in our family together through these trying times," Mrs. Jeffrey said. "We want David to live the best life he can by trying to keep it as normal as possible. David has been a miracle from the day he was conceived and will forever be a wonderful blessing to his family and friends."

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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