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Life is like a ball rolling down a hill

Struggle to save home faces family after mom dies
by: Cliff Newell, Greg Gates and his daughter Jessica display the pink wristbands they wear to commemorate his wife and her mother, Patti Gates. The Lake Oswego family has struggled ever since Patti was diagnosed with cancer more than three years ago.

Greg and Jessica Gates would like to grieve the loss of Patti Gates to cancer.

But they don't have the time.

Right on the heels of this devastating event, which happened on May 27, Patti's survivors - husband Greg, daughter Jessica, son Devin - are faced with the loss of their Lake Oswego home. If they don't come up with $200,000 by mid-July, they will be forced to leave and move to an apartment.

So no relief from their ordeal is in sight.

'It's been like a ball rolling down a hill,' said Greg, 'It's been a quadruple whammy. We couldn't sell the house because Patti was in it and she was dying. I lost my business literally overnight. It's going to take a couple years to sue the company responsible. We have huge healthcare costs to pay.'

Under normal circumstances, the Gates family would be doing fine right now, maybe even living the American Dream. Greg's business was on the verge of earning a million dollars; Jessica is a college sophomore at the University of Oregon and a young woman beautiful enough to dream of a career in modeling; Devin is a talented actor and entertainer, good enough to be considered by UCLA and Northwestern, two of the finest colleges for the lively arts.

But three and a half years ago, Patti Gates was stricken with IBC Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a severe form of cancer.

While that was extremely onerous, Greg was able to keep everything above water and pay the big bills because his Internet jewelry company was doing very well.

That is until he got up one morning and found that the Internet site, on which his company was totally dependent, had been lost by a huge corporation.

'It was literally gone in one night after it took Dad seven years to build it,' Jessica said. 'We used to complain about him being on the computer too much.'

'We went from being able to pay our bills to not being able to pay the mortgage,' Greg said. 'Patti lost her job at the end of last year and she lost her health insurance. There was a lapsed period until we were able to get state health coverage. We still owe $20,000 or $30,000 in medical bills. We have $1,000 in funeral expenses. Jessica is in college. Devin will be going soon.

'My credit rating is below the floor and no one will help us. All the stars are aligned and they sent down laser beams.'

Of course, dealing with Patti's deteriorating health was a crushing burden. Greg had to ease up on his desperate struggle to save his business when Patti's condition grew perilous and he became her fulltime caregiver.

'I've been working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week,' said Greg.

Her mother's condition caused Jessica to make the most difficult decision of her life - to leave the University of Oregon with only a few weeks left in the semester so she could help care for Patti.

'I finally called my dad and said, 'I shouldn't be down here,'' Jessica said. 'It was fine in the fall and winter, but in the spring I could tell that my mom was getting much worse and focusing on school was a lot harder.

'My boyfriend called my dad and said, 'Jessica shouldn't be down here.' It was too stressful for me to see how dad had to do everything alone. I was able to be there for the most critical two weeks.'

In that sad time, Jessica was able to give her mother some peace.

'There is no doubt I will be returning to college,' she said. 'Now I want to major in social work so I can be a family life specialist. I want to help children who are in the same situation I am. You can only understand it if you've gone through this.'

'When Jessica told her mother that, Patti got a big smile on her face,' Greg said. 'It's something I can't forget.'

Yet now they must face losing their home. The prospect is overwhelming.

'Our house is worth at least $350,000,' Greg said. 'We could get up to $425,000 for it. But as soon as people hear about the upcoming foreclosure, they leave. Why not wait and pay only $200,000? The market on foreclosures is absolutely cruel. It's absolutely frightening.

'We've got to find a place to live, but even getting into an apartment will be tough. If there's a foreclosure, we won't get one penny of equity from our home. This is like something you hear about on the news, not in Lake Oswego.'

'All this on top of everything else,' said Jessica, shaking her head. 'Living in Lake Oswego with no money is a difficult journey for a kid. On top of losing my mom, it's been unbelievable.'

As difficult as the problems are that the Gates family must face, it is the perceptions of others that may hurt the most and bring the pain of their ordeal to the surface.

'I just want Lake Oswego to understand what is going on,' Jessica said. 'I want to explain ourselves. It's a big issue for LO. They say we're having money problems because my dad isn't working, but it's 100 percent not true! He's worked his butt off the entire time my mom was sick. It's tough to erase the image that you are these poor people.

'This has been such a tough journey. What are we supposed to do now?'

'We feel like white trash, but we're not white trash,' Greg said. 'We're not looking for a handout. We're too proud and we've worked too hard.'

The Gateses do not want to ask for help. But they do have a good friend who will ask for them.

Sal Parisi is the manager of a non-profit 501© organization TheCharity

GroupFoundation. The address to donate is www.tcgfoundation.org/gates.php .

'If angels don't step up they could lose their house in July,' Parisi said. 'I know lots of people want to help them. TheCharityGroupFoundation's mission is to provide money to non-profit clients like the Gateses.'

A long shot? Maybe. But Parisi said his organization was able to raise $100,000 for one Lake Oswego family in a situation similar to that of the Gateses.

'We can do some neat things,' Parisi said.

With all that has happened to him, his wife and his children, Greg Gates says he has reason to be grateful.

'Lake Oswego has been wonderful to us,' he said. 'I've seen more care and love from the administration of Lakeridge High School than I could wish for. The way they've counseled my children and treated them like the wonderful individuals they are.'

Now, ardent do-it-yourselfer that he is, Gates just wants a chance to lift his family out of its time of troubles.

'I'm trying to find an angel to bring back my business and save my house,' Greg said. 'I need someone to invest in me.

'If that happens, we'll do fine.'

To read more about the Gates family, go to the Web site www.ringdesigner.com .