On the inside, Richard Matsubara resembles something of a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of missing pieces. He’s lacking a kidney and part of his lung, since both were removed due to cancer.
CANCER SURVIVORS EVENTS
Where: Hilton Hawaiian Village
What’s not missing is a positive attitude and sense of humor.
Attitude is everything, he explained. Matsubara admits that his wife got him started on the path to positive thinking after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer at the age of 59. During an appendectomy, doctors found a tumor the size of a golf ball in his right kidney, which had to be removed.
"My wife had ovarian cancer, so she understood what I was going through," he said. "My family was very supportive of me.
The 74-year-old Pearl City resident suffered a subsequent setback when cancer was found in his lung. Matsubara, a retired store director at Foodland Supermarkets, underwent more surgery and chemotherapy, and has been cancer-free for eight years.
During most of that time, he has been a primary caregiver for his 7-year-old grandson. "I’ve been taking care of him since he was 8 months old. People can’t believe I’ve been doing it for so long," he says.
After participating in clinical trials for new treatments and having a portion of one of his lungs removed in 2004, he says he’s "feeling good." He had to give up his golf game, but says, "I can do just about anything else."
Matsubara says he can’t overemphasize the importance of attitude. "Always look to the bright side; there’s always tomorrow," he said. "Laughter is the best medicine. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. That keeps me going."
In honor of this month’s National Cancer Survivors Day, two events are planned for Saturday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for anyone whose life has been touched by the disease. At the first session, "Quest for a Cure: Progress in Cancer Research," sponsored by the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and taking place from 8:30 to 10 a.m., experts will discuss new therapies for cancer and how science has improved the survival rates.
Afterward, the Hawaii Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition will present "Journey Together: The 2011 Quality of Life Cancer Survivorship Conference" from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., covering topics such as caregivers, complementary and alternative medicine, financial issues and nutrition.
Cancer survivor Leimomi Golis of Nanakuli says she plans to attend. She was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1998 at the age of 38. Her participation in a clinical trial that included a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy sessions and full-body radiation allowed her to celebrate her 12th anniversary of being cancer-free.
Although it was a rough experience, the responsibility of being a single mom kept her going, she explains. "My inspiration for getting better was my 12-year-old son. He was severely disabled, and I was the primary caregiver for him," Golis said.
He died in 2003.
Finding support is extremely important for cancer patients, says Golis, who has been involved with a support group ever since her diagnosis. "Everyone is going through the same thing. … They become like family," she says.
Golis is an advocate of participation in clinical trials, which are studies that evaluate new treatments or prevention methods.
"I feel blessed. I met new people, found new opportunities and went back to school to become a nurse," she says. "I’ve been a caregiver for most of my life."
She is now a registered nurse for a home-care agency and was recognized at the UH School of Nursing & Dental Hygiene’s Faces of Nursing Awards gala last year. Golis also volunteers with the American Cancer Society and is a co-facilitator of weekly support group meetings at Pali Momi.
"Sometimes things happen for a reason, to give us a purpose. Now I’m able to give back."