By Matt Artz
Saturday, March 12th, 2011 at 11:31 pm in Uncategorized.
We’ll have an obit in Monday’s paper.
Click where it says to click for two fairly recent stories I wrote about him.
Ohlone College board Chairman Bill McMillin had been ill for weeks when he finally went in for a bone marrow test Monday.
Before the doctor inserted the needle, McMillin asked how often the results showed leukemia.
“When he said 25 percent, I said, ‘Oh, the odds are with me, ‘ ” McMillin recounted. “But it turns out I’m in the 25 percent.”
McMillin has been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells.
Although his doctors told him they need to conduct more tests before determining his chances for survival, McMillin knows that this illness is far more serious than the prostate cancer he beat five years ago.
“Some of the things I’ve read said (recovery) is 50/50, ” he said. “But what they define as recovery is to live another five years. I’m still planning to live 30 years.”
McMillin, 66, said he expects to be admitted next week to Stanford Hospital, where he will stay for about a month while undergoing chemotherapy. He hopes to be chairing Ohlone board meetings again in February.
A former grade-school teacher and principal, McMillin came to Newark more than 20 years ago to work in commercial real estate. Before he was first elected to the Ohlone board in 2002, he helped broker the deal for the college to buy the land that is now its Newark campus.
“Bill has always given 100 percent to the college, ” trustee Garrett Yee said. “We are all concerned for Bill and will be keeping him in our thoughts and prayers.”
McMillin knew something was wrong about a month ago when his feet were so swollen and his body so achy that he had to cancel his regular tennis match.
He went for blood tests, which pointed to cancer. Finally, he had the definitive bone marrow test.
Despite the diagnosis, McMillin said he feels a little better recently than when his symptoms first appeared.
“Right now, my left leg feels like someone kicked me in the back of it, ” he said. “I’ve lost 11 pounds in the last month. Unfortunately, it wasn’t where I was trying to lose it.”
McMillin, who recently had his barber give him a crew cut, is now preparing himself for chemotherapy. If that doesn’t put the cancer into remission, the next option could be a bone-marrow transplant, he said.
Although this is his second bout with cancer in five years, McMillin takes comfort in knowing he comes from sturdy stock. His father lived to age 90, one of his grandmothers lived to 97, and his 90-year-old mother is still alive.
“I’ve got strong reasons to live, ” McMillin said. “I’ve got two great kids and two great grandkids. I still plan to live to be 90.”
Ohlone College Trustee Bill McMillin is tired.
His feet feel like they’re wrapped in bandages; his hands feel like they’re covered in latex gloves with sand inside; and there’s a bump on his bald head the size of a silver dollar where doctors administer chemotherapy to his brain.
But McMillin is still fighting the severe form of leukemia he was diagnosed with more than a year ago, and he’s determined to beat it.
“I’m getting a little bit better every day, just not real fast, ” he said from his bed Wednesday afternoon.
It’s been nearly 18 months since McMillin, 67, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a fast-growing cancer of the white bloods cells that kills most patients within five years.
During that period, he has lost 32 pounds, lost some of his hearing, and gone from playing tennis three times a week to using a walker. McMillin also has had to deal with a cancer relapse last year after signs pointed toward a recovery.
After months of intense full-body chemotherapy, including direct shots into his spine, McMillin last June showed no signs of cancer. At that point doctors allowed him to get a transfusion of stem cells from his sister with the hope that they could reproduce and replace the cancerous ones.
But in November, McMillin became “ultra fatigued” and couldn’t walk. Tests showed that the cancer not only had returned, but that it also had spread to his brain, requiring doctors to drill through his skull to administer chemotherapy.
McMillin was in a wheelchair for a month after the surgery, but now is able to walk on his own indoors.
“I can put my hands on the wall or furniture if I feel like I’m going to fall over, ” he said.
The cancer has slowed McMillin’s movements and speech, but it hasn’t dulled his intellect. McMillin — a former teacher and principal turned real estate professional — spends several hours a day online, often reading e-mails from Ohlone College.
He has participated in all but two board meetings, mostly via speakerphone from his home.
As for McMillin’s prognosis, the cancer no longer appears to be in his brain, but it still might be in his blood, where it can spread quickly. One doctor told him he had a 10 percent chance to beat the cancer; another told him that new drugs gave him somewhat better odds.
McMillin said he’d already be dead if not for his two children, who have been taking care of him. For six months last year, McMillin lived with his daughter, Maya, who flushed out tubes inserted into his chest and boiled all his drinking water to limit his chances of getting an infection. McMillin’s son, Mike, is now living with him.
If there’s one thing he’s learned from cancer, McMillin says, “It’s good to have kids who live near you.”