CORNER BROOK Rita and Mac O’Neil were dedicated volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society for about 15 years before the insidious disease finally invaded their lives four years ago.
© Gary Kean
Rita and Mac O’Neil of Corner Brook continue to volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society, despite Rita’s ongoing battle against the disease.
Now that they seem to have the upper hand in the battle for Rita’s life, they are still finding time to give back to the cause.
It was February 2009 when Rita began experiencing severe pain on the left side of her body. After three visits to the doctor, the fourth visit finally yielded the diagnosis.
Rita had a grapefruit-sized tumour on her colon.
That was on a Tuesday. On Wednesday of that week, the lengthy effort to make her better was on.
It would be far from easy. Rita spent the next 19 days on life support in intensive care.
Her son Pat, now 30 years old, came home from Ottawa to visit her, but Rita has no recollection of that. When he boarded a plane to go back to Ottawa, Pat told his dad that he didn’t think he would ever hear her voice or see his mom alive again.
The next time Pat heard his mom’s voice was an emotional moment. It was a phone call on his birthday just as she had finished her treatment.
In 2010, she was just finishing therapy and was still not strong, but made it to Ottawa to attend Pat’s wedding.
Rita still has to get tests and blood work done every three months, but is able to get around on her own and give back to the community once again.
She attributes her recovery to the unbelievable support of family — particularly her husband — and friends, the staff on the cancer unit at Western Memorial Regional Hospital and the help from the Canadian Cancer Society.
“They were right there,” Rita said of the Canadian Cancer Society, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
“Anything I needed, they were right there to give it to me. Any information Mac needed, they were right there to give it to him.”
Prior to her illness, the O’Neils helped out by selling, sorting and delivering daffodils during the cancer society’s annual spring fundraising campaign. Mac continued to somehow find time to help deliver the flowers during Rita’s illness.
On Monday, they both took part in a flag-raising and proclamation signing before attending a cake-cutting ceremony to kick off Cancer Awareness Month.
“As I started to get better, we started coming to help out a little bit more and do what we could,” said Rita. “I basically have no immune system, so I can’t be around a lot of people, but I will help out anyone who wants advice if they have been diagnosed.”
Mac said their volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society first started because of a few friends of theirs who had died from the disease. Now, giving their time and energy has a renewed sense of importance.
“It’s very important to have a good support system around you when you’re fighting cancer,” he said.
The highlight of Cancer Awareness Month, besides the selling of daffodils at various locations, will be National Daffodil Day on April 27.