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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Guam visitors face double hardship

 •  Flight crew tells of Guam recovery

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

KAHULUI, Maui — The small group of Guam residents had no choice but to leave after Supertyphoon Pongsona battered their island in the Western Pacific.

Anna Garcia traveled from Guam with her husband and granddaughter, Vantaysha, 3, to receive radiation treatments at Maui's Pacific Cancer Institute.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

With sporadic phone service and no electricity to run computers to exchange e-mail, they are mostly cut off from family members left behind to deal with the devastation that damaged or destroyed some 8,500 homes and left 35,000 homeless.

And it's Christmas. And they have cancer.

Having arrived Dec. 15 and settled in at the Roselani Place assisted-living center in Kahului, the 13 patients — once strangers — are passing the holidays together away from home and in need of support as they

undergo the physical and emotional challenges of cancer treatment.

Antoinette Quintanilla, 49, an assistant bank manager who lives in Santa Rita, Guam, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September after finding a lump.

She had just returned home from a three-week stay in California, where she underwent a lumpectomy at the Loma Linda University Cancer Institute, and decided to have radiation therapy on Guam, near her children, especially her young sons, ages 8 and 10. Then the typhoon hit, and she learned she would have to leave again, this time for Maui.

"There was no water, no power.

I felt guilty about leaving them back there," Quintanilla said. "On one side I was relieved that I was going to get treatment, but on the other side my sons were saying, 'Mommy, why are you leaving again?'

Antoinette Quintanilla of Santa Rita, Guam, receives cancer treatments at Maui's Pacific Cancer Institute. Diagnosed with breast cancer in September, she had surgery in California and returned home when Supertyphoon Pongsona hit, closing Guam's cancer treatment facility.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"They are still very young to be dealing with the 'C' word and what it's all about. I told them I had to go to make Mommy feel better so that I could do things with them again."

Quintanilla, who is here with her 19-year-old daughter, Enid, had her first radiation therapy yesterday at the Cancer Institute of Maui run by Dr. Bobby Baker, who also operates the Guam treatment center. She said she won't be able to go home until mid-February.

Retired plumber Godofredo Nillos, 74, of Dededo, Guam, accompanied his wife, Corazon, 66, to Maui, where she is undergoing six weeks of treatment. "I'm not homesick as long as I'm together with my wife," he said.

Although it was unclear initially where the 13 patients, 10 family members and four Guam clinic employees would stay, the cancer institute was able to arrange housing for them at the newly opened Roselani Place. The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for their air travel and the American Red Cross is providing food and housing.

The Maui community also is sharing aloha with them. Nine people offered to open their homes to the patients, said Jackie Kenyon, cancer care coordinator for the cancer institute and Maui Memorial Medical Center. The four Guam staff members were offered a rental cottage in Kihei that the owner put at their disposal. Others volunteered to provide food and bottled water, and to drive them to church or shopping.

Christmas presents and checks have been dropped off, and Unity Church of Maui, which already was planning to donate gifts for the patients' children, enlarged its holiday project to include the Guam visitors. The Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation also is providing gifts.

One Maui family with a Guam connection invited the group to its home Christmas Day to celebrate a novena, a cherished tradition in which devotions are recited to a statue of the baby Jesus. Another family is organizing a Guam-style barbecue.

After hearing about the patients, Doug Halbert, 70, of Wailuku, called the cancer institute to see how he could help. Halbert and his wife, Kay, are now hosting a patient and his wife who arrived several days before the group.

Halbert said he had a special reason for wanting to reach out to the visitors: He was diagnosed with prostate cancer after a routine physical in August 2001 and underwent surgery and a series of radiation treatments that ended in July.

"Having been through the experience he's going through, I can relate to it. If there's anything I can do to help, why not? It's Christmastime," Halbert said. "After all, God's been good to me. I don't see why I shouldn't be good to others."

Kenyon said two other Guam patients in need of radiation therapy would be arriving in the next two weeks. After suffering the loss of $2 million to $3 million, it is unlikely the Guam cancer treatment center will reopen, she said. Given the frequent typhoons and earthquakes, "it's too risky."