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"Think of it as the flu times 100," Forni said. "That October I consider Hell Month. And I have a fear of needles."

Beginning in November 2011, Forni received Interferon injections three times a week from his wife. That was to continue for 11 months. Forni asked off the medication after four months.

"I felt so broken down," he said. "I either slept or stayed on the couch. It was no way to live."

By February of this year, when he stopped Interferon, Forni's weight had dropped to 157 pounds.

But he never missed a Casa basketball game.

"Those two hours were something I looked forward to," he said, "because it was a return to normalcy. I would sleep all day, then go to the games or to practice."

<b>&‘Here we go again'</b>

Forni missed three practices when his white blood cell count dropped. He had to be rushed to Kaiser's emergency room. During one of those visits, Forni turned to Mary and said, "I'm still alive, right? I'm still here?"

Forni has no memory of saying that.

"I was so out of it," he said.

By June of this year Forni, 33, had regained some of his weight and was feeling, in his opinion, "90 percent healthy." He was on a camping trip at Lake Pillsbury when he awoke one morning to find himself really sore and achy throughout. He found two lumps under his left arm.

"Here, we go again," Forni said. "Round Three."

Another 27 lymph nodes were removed. All tested positive. Forni rejected Interferon treatments, as well as others. He didn't want to go through feeling so depleted again.

"That's not what I call living," Forni said. "It was like near-death. That's the last thing I want to do (undergo again such disruptive treatments). I'm a teacher, a coach. I want to go on adventures."

<b>Strong support system</b>

His weight now up to 180 pounds, Forni feels healthy, coaching his kids in summer leagues as well as being on the Casa bench now. The last five years of his life have redefined how he views today, tomorrow and the next day.

"I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me," Forni said. "That's not why I am telling my story. It's about helping people. Maybe if there's someone out there who's going through stuff, who reads this, maybe they can learn something from what I've gone through. If I can help just one person it (by going public), it will be worth it."

Yes, he admits, dark moments have visited him. Sure, despair and depression are there for the taking, for absorption, the temptation ever-present. That, said Forni, is where he found himself in others.

"What this disease doesn't take into account," Forni said, "is the army behind you. And I've got one hell of an army behind me. I couldn't have made it this far without all the support."

Support? Forni doesn't even try to list the names, they are so plentiful. Mary is at the top of the list, along with Ron Petroni and O'Brien at Casa. Family, friends, friends of friends, he said "even friends of friends of friends, people I have never even met" have reached out to him. Alaska, Japan, New York, Texas, these disparate regions all have one thing in common — James Forni. He has received cards, letters, phone calls, texts, tweets, e-mails from near and far.

<b>&‘Each day an opportunity'</b>

In a world occupied with plenty of suspicion and violence, Forni has found a community that has propelled him in the most unlikely of directions.

"It may seem ironic," Forni said, "but I look at each day as an opportunity. What adventure is in store for me this day?"

He thanks sports for that.

"Athletics has prepared me for this," Forni said. "You know that old line in sports — &‘Don't let success go to your head and failure to your heart'? It's true. Sports teaches resilience. Life knocks you down, but you can bet your last dollar I'll get up and keep fighting. That's what sports has taught me. You fight. You adapt. You adjust. You find out how tough you are."

The result, for him, is absolutely spectacular.

"I couldn't be happier," he said

(For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.)