Neighbors: Profiles of our community
“What do you need?”
Those were four words Frank and Hilda Forbes needed to hear.
In January 2017, the couple’s then-5-month-old son, Sully, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare and deadly form of eye cancer that affects young children. He needed lifesaving treatment — and as quickly as possible. After a flurry of frantic phone calls, the Forbeses reached Dr. Carol Shields, chief of the ocular oncology department at Wills Eye Hospital, who agreed to see Sully right away. Located in Philadelphia, the hospital treats patients with common and rare cancers, including nearly half of all children diagnosed with retinoblastoma in the U.S. every year.
As they reeled from the emotional gut punch of their son’s diagnosis, Frank and Hilda were dealt another blow: Their insurance company would not cover Sully’s treatments in Philadelphia. Frank took to social media to appeal for help, and within minutes received a message from Nancy LaJoy, executive director of the Pacific Cancer Foundation, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free support services to Maui’s cancer community.
LaJoy’s message was straightforward. “She asked: ‘What do you need?’ “ Frank recalled.
In the months that followed, the nonprofit arranged transcontinental round-trip flights for the entire family — Frank, Hilda, their then-5-year-old daughter Indy and Sully — as well as overnight accommodations in Philadelphia. “I don’t know what we would have done without them,” Frank said.
Now a happy, curious 3-year-old, Sully is cancer-free but must undergo a surgical eye exam every six months in San Francisco until he is 6. (The procedure ensures there are no new cancer cells in his eye.) Frank and Hilda say they are eternally grateful for the outpouring of support they received from the Maui community. And they are especially grateful to the Pacific Cancer Foundation for helping them navigate such a difficult journey. “It’s a top-notch organization,” Frank said. “It helps families when they need help the most.”
Founded in 2005 by a group of concerned health care professionals and cancer survivors, the Pacific Cancer Foundation provides a variety of services, including transportation assistance to and from cancer treatments; weekly support groups; wellness programs; a nutritional support program; and trained and certified patient navigators who give individualized support and guidance to patients and their families. The nonprofit also sponsors visiting specialists, including a high-risk breast cancer specialist and a gynecological oncologist (specialties that are currently unavailable on Maui).
And all of these services are provided free of charge.
That’s one of the many reasons why Frank, Hilda, Sully and Indy, who turns 8 next month, will take part in the 11th annual Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai on Oct. 12 and 13. During the two-day event, hundreds of cancer patients, survivors and supporters will paddle six-person outrigger canoes in shifts across the ‘Au’au Channel from Lahaina to Lanai (a 34-mile round-trip journey) to raise money for the Pacific Cancer Foundation and honor those whose lives have been touched by cancer.
There may be team members wearing matching T-shirts, but there are no race bibs, timers or prizes. The noncompetitive event is a physical, emotional and spiritual feat — one that parallels the journey experienced by cancer patients and survivors.
It will be Frank and Indy’s third consecutive Paddle for Life; Hilda and Sully will be joining them in the canoe this year (Indy became the event’s youngest paddler at age 5 in 2017 and it’s very likely Sully will snag the title this year), along with several friends and family members. When it came time to pick a team name, the choice was easy. “It’s ‘Sullybrate Life,’ “ Frank said. “Because we Sullybrate life every day.”
There are many ways to support this year’s Paddle for Life. Apart from making a donation to the Pacific Cancer Foundation, you can sponsor a paddler, team, safety boat or the event itself (corporate sponsorships are still available). All of the money raised will stay in Maui County and help the organization continue its important work. Whether it’s Paddle for Life or another fundraiser for the Pacific Cancer Foundation, Frank said, “There’s no better place to donate your money. They use it the right way and for the right reasons.”
For more information about the Pacific Cancer Foundation and its services, visit www.pacificcancerfoundation.org or call 242-7661. To learn more about the 2019 Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai or to inquire about donor, sponsor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.pacificcancerfoundation.org/paddleforlife. To support the “Sullybrate Life” team, visit paddleforlife2019.myevent.com/participant/1070481.
* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.