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Cancer awareness special section • Pages 12-13 The Islands’

Sounder Serving Orcas, Lopez and San Juan County

WEDNESDAY, October 17, 2012 n VOL. 45, NO. 42 n 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-

See elections, Page 7

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

See O’NEILL Page 13

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Islands' Sounder, October 17, 2012  

October 17, 2012 edition of the Islands' Sounder

Islands' Sounder, October 17, 2012  

October 17, 2012 edition of the Islands' Sounder