Luna’s ‘legacy of helping others’ continues

Family and friends of the late B. Martin Luna, a prominent Maui real estate lawyer who died this year after a two-year battle with cancer, are carrying on Luna’s legacy of helping others.

In recent months, they have engaged in a grass-roots fundraising effort to help the American Cancer Society build a Hope Lodge on Oahu that would house and transport cancer patients from Neighbor Islands, rural Oahu and Guam for free.

“My dad loved his community, and he loved Maui,” Kari Nunokawa, Luna’s daughter, said Friday. “We’d like to be able to continue that legacy of helping others. We just want to make sure everyone has the same access to care because everyone deserves a fair fight (against cancer).”

Luna, who was born on Kauai but lived on Maui for the last 45 years, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in May 2010, when he had gone for a checkup with his dermatologist who noticed the melanoma on the underside of his right toe. He flew to Oahu the next week for surgery, where they amputated the toe, but the stage 3 cancer had already spread to his lymph nodes.

Family members had heard of opportunities for a clinical trial on the Mainland, which Luna enrolled in. But eventually the then-experimental drug known as Ipilimumab, or IPI, had negative effects on Luna’s

liver and he had to stop the trial. He died Jan. 20.

The Lunas were fortunate to have family both on Oahu and in Seattle – where Luna stayed for the IPI trial – which helped lessen the financial and emotional stress of battling the cancer away from home, but they also understand how much more difficult it would be for someone who was not as lucky.

“If there was a Hope Lodge there when my husband was having surgery on Oahu, I would’ve stayed there, because we had to drive from my sister’s house in Hawaii Kai every day,” said Luna’s wife, Kay. With traffic, the commute would often be 1 1/2 hours each way, she said.

Kay Luna was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, and she flew to Oahu nearly every day for a month for radiation treatment. While she admits that she could have done her treatments on Maui, her oncologist and “everyone who knew my case” were on Oahu. At the time, Aloha Airlines (which is now defunct) had offered a discounted monthly pass, but travel costs have since increased significantly, she said.

“The reason we believe in this effort is to help make it easier for Neighbor Island people to go to Honolulu without incurring so much expense, because the treatment already costs a lot of money even if you have medical insurance,” Kay Luna said.

The proposed Clarence T.C. Ching Hope Lodge Hawaii would be a three-story, 22,300-square-foot complex with 19 guest rooms located in the heart of Honolulu, conveniently located near six health care and cancer treatment centers. It would include a kitchen for guests to prepare meals, a dining room, a living room, a library, a fitness room, laundry facilities and a “peace garden,” according to a news release. The Hope Lodge would be able to provide an estimated 460 cancer patients and their caregivers up to 6,935 nights of free housing annually and would provide free transportation to treatment centers and surrounding stores.

“When you’re battling cancer and your doctor tells you that you must go to Honolulu for treatment, the last thing you need is to worry about a place to stay,” said Raymond Tam, trustee for The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation, which donated $3.5 million to Hawaii Hope Lodge. “Hope Lodge will take that worry away so cancer patients can just concentrate on getting better. That is what the foundation is all about, helping people when they need the help the most.”

The American Cancer Society has launched an $11.6 million capital campaign that would provide the funds to not only build the facility on land donated by The Queen’s Medical Center but also to sustain operations for at least three years. The American Cancer Society has already raised more than $8.6 million – nearly 80 percent of its total campaign – from foundations and endowments, and is now launching a public campaign to raise the last $1 million before it can break ground, local representatives said.

“On Maui, there is the Infusion Center at Kaiser (Permanente) and the hospital (Maui Memorial Medical Center) that can offer a lot of services, but not everything can be done on Maui,” said Anna Mayeda, American Cancer Society senior representative and community engagement officer.

Mayeda said that the Hope Lodge, a “Ronald McDonald House for adults,” is scheduled to break ground early next year. The American Cancer Society currently operates 31 other Hope Lodges nationwide.

Each year, an average 554 people in Maui County are diagnosed with cancer, and 207 die from cancer, according to American Cancer Society data. There are only two full-time oncologists and three full-time radiation oncologists on Maui, and none on Lanai or Molokai. About 8 percent of county residents do not have insurance.

“Everybody has a cancer story; everybody’s family has been touched by cancer in some way,” said Greg Garneau, a lawyer who worked with Luna and is now getting behind fundraising efforts for the Hawaii Hope Lodge. “Hope Lodge is something we need to talk about; it’s a great idea we just need to get the word out.”

Molokai resident Lorilei Rawlins-Crivello, who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2008, knows firsthand how difficult it is to have to go off-island for treatments.

“I felt a lump on my left breast one day, and we don’t have the necessary facilities on Molokai so they sent me to Oahu to do an ultrasound biopsy, at which time they told me I had stage 3 breast cancer,” Rawlins-Crivello said. “Fortunately my mom had a place on Oahu so we (she and her husband) stayed there during my treatment because there’s no way we could’ve afforded to rent a place and a car. . . . My medical (insurance) doesn’t cover travel, which is so expensive, especially from Molokai, it wasn’t even an option to go back and forth. We needed a place to stay.”

Rawlins-Crivello stayed on Oahu for about a year for her treatment, and has since been in remission. She is now an advocate for cancer awareness and early detection, helping to lead fundraising efforts for the Molokai Cancer Fund and the island’s annual Relay for Life event. She said that she was lucky to have family on Oahu but knows of others who have foregone treatment because they didn’t have the insurance or means to travel off-island.

“I was very fortunate to have such a supporting and loving husband, family and friends, but not everyone has that. With Hope Lodge, those who are alone will have that support, love, that light to know that they matter and that they can have hope to battle this disease. It can be very scary and lonely, but I think Hope Lodge will help them know they’re not alone,” Rawlins-Crivello said.

For more information or to make a donation, email or call Mayeda at 244-5553.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at