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SOUNDER Serving Orcas, Lopez and San Juan County

WEDNESDAY, October 17, 2012  VOL. 45, NO. 42  75¢

Facing the ultimate foe

Orcas Islander tells his story of cancer survival by COLLEEN S. ARMSTRONG Editor/Publisher

His life is one of extremes. Scaling mountain peaks, skiing beside the clouds, helping the disabled achieve their outdoor adventure dreams. And when Mark O’Neill was diagnosed with a devastating cancer, he met it with the same fortitude. “In my development as a mountaineer, you learn that getting stressed doesn’t help any situation,” he said. “One of my favorite authors, Corrie Ten Boom, said, ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.’” O’Neill was left with significant physical challenges after the treatment for his cancer. But he has learned that life is what you make of it. “A big part of cancer

survivorship is the quality of life,” he said. “You don’t get over cancer. It’s always with you. You’ve still got that blood flowing in your veins … but every day is a successful day if that’s how you chose to look at it. You choose how you see it.” O’Neill’s affection for the outdoors began as a kid in the Boy Scouts in 1969. It led to a life of loving – and teaching – mountaineering, skiing and rock climbing. One of his first climbs was Mount McKinley – or Denali – the highest mountain peak in North America. Located in Alaska, it’s a brutal climb. O’Neill was only 200 feet away from the peak but had to turn around due to weather conditions. He has rock climbed throughout Southeast Asia, Mexico, and the western United States, including scaling the famed El Capitan in Yosemite. Like many who are diag-

Contributed photo

Mark O’Neill during a climb to Hozemeen Peak, near the Canadian border. Both before and after his cancer diagnosis, O’Neill has been an avid outdoorsman. He is a ski and snowboard instructor and a mountaineer guide for those with disabilities. nosed with cancer, O’Neill thought his symptoms were from a minor ailment like an obstructed bowel. After an ultrasound in early 2000, it became clear that he was dealing with something much more serious. Just seven months after his father passed away from cancer, O’Neill discovered he had an enormous tumor nestled deep in his intes-

tines. It was both a carcinoma and a malignant fibroid cyst, a form of cancer that originates in the breasts. Measuring 14 inches long and weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces, it was the size of an infant. It was dubbed “Bertha the tumor” by the kids who O’Neill volunteered with on the island. Because the cancer was very slow growing, chemo-

therapy and radiation were not an option. The only solution was removing the tumor during a 13-hour surgery. And there was a 25 percent chance O’Neill wouldn’t make it off the table. “I had to sit down with my wife and kids and have a real heart to heart,” he said. “I told my kids: ‘I believe in you. I trust you to make the

Initiatives, candidate statements and more at forum by COLLEEN SMITH ARMSTRONG Editor/Publisher

Orcas Islanders know how to ask the tough questions. A large crowd gathered for the League of Women of the San Juans election forum on Saturday, Oct. 13. Lisa Byers moderated the event. Audience members heard from representatives on each side of the charter review propositions and candidates running for both Colleen Smith Armstrong/staff photo state and local positions. Audience members at the election forum on Sat., Oct. 13.

Charter Review Commission Propositions Charter Review Commission Member Steve Garrison spoke in favor of the amendments and County Councilman Richard Fralick, Orcas West, spoke against them. The propositions would cut the council from six part-time members to three full-time members (prop. 1); replace the executive county administrator position with a county man-


right decisions if something happens.’ It was the most difficult discussion I have ever had.” While the surgery was successful in removing


Sounder deadlines Display advertising: Friday at noon Classified advertising: Monday at noon Legal advertising: Thursday at noon Press releases, Letters: Friday at 3 p.m.

How to reach us Office: 376-4500 Advertising: advertising@islandssounder. com Classified: 1-800-3882527, classifieds@ Editor: editor@


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There is no time to lose | Guest column received a breast cancer diagnosis. Too sick to work full time, it is a challenge to just keep a roof over her daughter’s head, let alone affording her cancer treatments. A friend in Bellevue shared a story about her cousin who, lacking health insurance, couldn’t afford to pay for breast cancer screenings. She has just been diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer. When I hear these stories it touches me personally, and it reinforces the urgency of Komen Puget Sound’s mission. Women and families in our community are hurting today. We need to stop this madness, provide the support that they need today and find a cure for breast cancer now. Lives are at stake. There is no

by CHERYL SHAW Exec. Director, Susan G. Komen


very week, more than 100 women in Washington state are diagnosed with breast cancer. Being diagnosed with this disease is as scary as you can imagine. I would know. Two years ago, I was diagnosed. Because I had the unending support of my family, a great job with a compassionate staff, health insurance and – most importantly – an early diagnosis, I was fortunate. For far too many women – and men – in our community, this is not the case. I hear these stories every day. I heard about a woman in Renton, a single parent who

time to lose. All of us at Komen Puget Sound bring this personal sense of urgency to the work we do every day, as we have for nearly 20 years. Komen Puget Sound is the single largest provider of breast cancer services to women in Washington state and the largest private provider of free mammograms to low income women. Last year, Komenfunded mammograms resulted in a breast cancer diagnosis for more than 240 women in our community. Our Komen Patient Assistance fund provided financial assistance to over 500 local, low income breast cancer patients, covering their basic needs while they undergo treatment. While I am proud of what we

have accomplished, I am even more mindful of all that still needs to be done. Too many of us have lost a wife, a sister, a mother, a daughter, a friend to breast cancer. While we at Komen certainly had our share of setbacks early this year, the setbacks have only strengthened our sense of urgency. We refuse to be distracted. There is too much work to do and too many women who rely on our support. Most importantly many of our donors, sponsors and volunteers understand our urgency and continue to help during this critical time. But it is clear that we need increased support to ensure that every woman faced with breast cancer is not a victim of the setbacks we have experienced.

Mercy flights ease the burden by CALI BAGBY Staff reporter

The aftermath of a cancer diagnosis can be a web of grief, fear, confusion and financial worry. Add the trouble of living on an island far from major hospitals and the web becomes more tangled. That’s when Mercy Flight pilots can ease the burden. The Mercy Flight program, which started about 10 years ago, makes around 60 flights a year for islanders undergoing cancer treatments or who have an injury that is not life threatening. The pilots donate their time, but the Mercy Flight program, administered through the Orcas Aviation Association, reimburses them for their fuel. A handful of local pilots participate and often make numerous trips throughout the year. Some volunteers fly up to twice a week. About 95 percent of the patients on Mercy Flights are dealing with radiation treatment, so they have to be at the hospital five days a week.

Once on the mainland, patients can use a courtesy car at the airport to get to appointments. Pilots often go the extra mile and drive passengers to the hospital and then sit in the waiting room. Pilot Dwight Guss said many of the patients he has transported throughout the years have become like family. And seeing those people struggle with cancer, makes the “donation” of piloting the flight seem small in comparison. “Anybody who was with people who are facing a lifethreatening disease are not thinking about themselves,” Guss said. For Guss, flying is all about helping the community. “I’m a people person, I’m also a volunteer firefighter and paramedic,” he said. “I mainly do it because I am enjoy it.” The Sounder thanks the sponsors for this week’s cancer awareness section – 10 percent of the proceeds will go toward the local mercy flights for cancer patients.

15 years in remission

Marilyn Erly In Honor of a Survivor. All my love John

Tricia Erly A caregiver extraordinaire. We could not have done it without your tender loving care. Love Dad

Island Hardware I will never be able to thank you for your support. John Erly

In honor of mercy flight pilot Pat Muffett – Cherie Lindholm Real Estate

Madrona Bar and Grill

Mandy’s Hair Haven

Anita Boldman Age 91

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 • The Islands’ Sounder

contributed photo

Above: Cheryl Shaw is executive director of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure – Puget Sound.

Together we can win our fight and end breast cancer forever. To learn more about Komen Puget Sound and our mission, please visit us online at And please do so today. There’s no time to lose.

Support for cancer survivors by SUE LEWIS

Special to the Sounder

The Orcas Island Cancer Support Group was founded in July 2010 by Sue Foulk, a stage four cancer survivor, and Bogdan and Carol Kulminski, organizers of a cancer support group in San Diego. They came together to form a group where people whose lives had been touched by cancer could come and share their feelings. It a no-cost, confidential group that provides a safe place to share for cancer patients and their families, friends or caretakers. The group meets at 5 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Community Church. “It is hard to describe or define the cancer support meetings,” says Carol. “Each month, there is a topic or discussion that touches the heart of the matter and we are left changed by the experience.”

Michael & Jeffri Crow Valley Pottery The support of friends is hard to put to words. Love John

Robin Erly In Honor of a Survivor. Love Dad

Ray’s Pharmacy Over the top!! Thanks for your fantastic support. John Erly

Been there, done that. Support it to help others – Therese and Scott Lancaster, Orcas Island Hardware

Staff of the Islands’ Sounder

In loving remembrance of Connie Hanson Bagby

In Memory of: Fran Steele and Galynn Toombs from Bob and Gail Toombs

Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce

Orcas Island Community Church

Orcas Island Family Medicine, P.C.

Orcas Family Health Center

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 • The Islands’ Sounder

O’NEILL FROM 1 “Bertha,” it also took out portions of O’Neill’s intestines. His body cannot assimilate vitamins or digest food the way it used to. He takes weekly vitamin shots and medication to control his digestive process. He eats a highly restricted diet, as he can only consume 18 to 20 grams of fat per meal. Also, any kind of scarring (skin, bone, tendon) creates cells in O’Neill’s body that could develop into cancer. If that occurs, he has to undergo CT scans to make sure he is cancerfree. O’Neill says he must

be mindful and careful to avoid any injuries. “It took me five years to adapt to my new body,” he said. “Now on my expeditions, I plan my meals very carefully … I am never going to get over this, but I get to choose my quality of life.” O’Neill hasn’t slowed down as a result of his physical changes. He is employed at Orcas Sewage Design and is a volunteer firefighter. He also works with Lance Armstrong’s Live Strong Foundation and is a ski and snowboard instructor and a mountaineer guide. He continues to teach summer and winter sports to chil-

CANCER AWARENESS dren and adults with a range of disabilities from brain damage to spinal injuries to amputations from war. Prior to his cancer diagnosis, O’Neill had an understanding of what it meant to live with physical challenges from his work with disabled athletes. One of his favorite skiing partners is blind and his grandfather Jack Barfoot lost an arm as a teen in a motorcycle accident. “I learned that if I wanted to do something, I can,” O’Neill said. “It just might be a little different. I have a very different life than I had before. But it feels great because I am alive. I am here.”

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Above: Mark O’Neill skiing on the southwest face of Mt. Adams in Washington.

contributed photo

Under 30 and diagnosed with cancer Emotions ricocheted. I can’t leave my sweet new baby without a mommy. I can’t leave my beloved husband as a single father. I did my own pounding on the gates of heaven. I’m not leaving. Okay, I’m not leaving unless you promise they’re going to be okay without me. But like a strong current beneath our grief ran an impossible, inexplicable and illogical peace that all would be well. Not that I would necessarily live – but that all would be well. I could fill a book with the kindnesses of that time. I have never felt so loved. Friends came over to gather around me and pray. They brought vitamins, a juicer, cards, flowers, meals and supplies to clean our bathroom. I was told that hundreds of praying people around the country were asking for my life. Islanders held a bake sale and started a bank account to help with medical bills. Our landlords refused payment.

We found out it was lymphoma, and began chemotherapy with an overnight antibody infusion. After a hellish reaction, I found the next morning that I could walk almost normally. The first miracle. The next few months were a revolving blur of surgery to install a port to my jugular, rounds of chemotherapy that left me too weak to hold a phone and $6,000 injections of a white blood cell-boosting drug that felt like getting hit by a truck. The best way to cuddle my baby was to let her crawl on me. Seattle pals were gracious when I puked on their floor. When my hair fell out, a friend on a pilgrimage to Santiago shaved her head. If the tumors weren’t gone after eight chemo cycles, my last chance would be a desperate and risky bone marrow transplant. During this time, a friend wrote, “Mer, you have always had a warrior in you, and now is the time to let

her rise to full height. All of the strength of will, focus, passion and love that you’ve always known was in you must now rise, converge and storm this cancer.” That December, after my last chemotherapy, scans showed no trace of malignancy. I’ve been in remission now for six years. If I hadn’t such a thick skull, I would wake up daily dazzled and thankful instead of chafing at my limited energy. When I happen to remember, the realization of grace shoots through me and I am floored again by the kindness we have been shown. I don’t know why I am alive; but I know that every day is an incredible gift. Because in truth, we are all dying; our limited days are precious. To you who are now fighting for your lives in the dreadful, horrific immediacy of cancer, I pray that you will find immeasurable peace in the valley of the shadow. Fight this with all

Art of the Salish Sea and Orcas Island Eclipse Charters

Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast

Chimayo en el dia and Sazio di notte

Crow Valley Pottery

Island Market

Jerry Noesen, CPA

Orcas Medical Center

Orcas Spa & Athletics and Orcas CrossFit

Sircely Marketing and Design

Tanbark Marine, Full Yacht Services on Lopez

West Sound Café

Windermere Orcas Island

by MEREDITH M. GRIFFITH Sounder contributor

It is a rare gift to be told you are dying. In May 2006 I was diagnosed with stage IV nonHodgkins lymphoma and given a 25 percent chance of being alive in five years. I was 26, and our baby girl was 10 months old. I’d been in excruciating pain for months, unable to walk normally, laying awake nights shaking and sweating despite narcotic painkillers. Finally, an MRI turned up tumors scattered throughout my body, with a six-inch tumor growing through my pelvic bone. I was sent immediately to St. Joseph’s for a biopsy. I phoned my family in shock. On Orcas awaiting biopsy results, spring was surreal. The doctors feared it was fatal.

that you are and with every good thing you love. I found strength in everyday acts of kindness and the support of our faith community.

And to you who are fighting alongside, your strongest weapon may be to show your survivor that they are loved.

Get Fit ~ Fight Cancer

Join Orcas Spa and Athletics for our October Group Fitness Launch and we will donate all ticket proceeds to Cancer Support.

Saturday October 27th 8:30am – 12pm $5 per Class

9-10am Water Aerobics 9-10am CrossFit 9-10am Ball Pilates 10-11am Group Ride 10:15-10:45 Zumba 11-12pm Group Power 50% of the new membership enrollment fee will also be donated to local Mercy Flight Pilots

Cancer awareness  

Cancer awareness section in the Islands' Sounder

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