When asked about his interests, Phil O'Hara says he likes to "tinker" around the house and do some yard work. Almost as an aside, he says, "I like to walk."
For the past several years, O'Hara, of Howland, has been a 24-hour walker in at least one of the Trumbull County Relay For Life events. One season, he did all five of them.
"It's my understanding that the idea of the 24-hour walker is that the cancer patient goes through it 24 hours - there's no break," he said.
Phil O’Hara, chair of the Warren Relay For Life, is shown at a previous Relay. For the past several years, O’Hara, a prostate cancer survivor, has been a 24-hour walker in at least one of the Trumbull County Relay For Life events. One season, he did all five of them.
He estimates that it's a distance of about 40 miles.
"It's a lot of walking," he said. "But if it brings awareness to the event, then it's worth it."
O'Hara was not among the 60 or so walkers who conquered the entire Warren Relay For Life this year (there were 120 at the beginning). Instead, he was busy serving as volunteer co-chair for the event.
Editor's note:?This story is part of a series about local cancer survivors. This series will run throughout the month of May in recognition of local Relay For Life events held throughout the Mahoning Valley. If you or someone you know would like to be profiled in this series, contact Mary Beth Wyko at 330-841-1738 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relay For Life
Cortland: June 3-4, Lakeview High School Stadium
Lordstown-Newton Falls: June 10-11, Newton Falls High School Stadium
Austintown:?June 10-11, Austintown Fitch High School
For the first time, he also could have walked in the survivor's lap this year, but he was too busy clearing traffic for that one.
This past fall, O'Hara went in for a physical, which he hadn't had "for quite a while" - 20 years or so. Everything looked good, except that the doctor felt some nodules during a prostate exam.
Six months later, they were still there.
Now, for the men who are a little nervous about that particular exam: "It's not fun, but it's not terrible," O'Hara said. "I guess maybe the thought of it is worse than anything."
The cancer was found as early as possible. In fact, so early that it took two biopsies to find it.
"I thank the doctors for being diligent and doing extra even though they didn't feel there was an issue," he said.
He had surgery, done robotically at St. Elizabeth Health Center, so it was minimally invasive. He did not need further treatment such as chemotherapy.
"Part of the reason it was so easy for me was that I did do what I was supposed to do," said O'Hara, who recently turned 50.
He was off from his job as a CPA with Hill, Barth and King for about three weeks. It will take about a year for complete recovery, and he'll have tests to measure the levels of prostate-specific antigen in his blood every three months for that year. He can't have children, but this father of two sons in their 20s said he was done with that, anyway.
O'Hara has seen a lot of cancer in his immediate and extended family. Among those in the survivor lap were his parents and one of his sisters, Kathy Gibson of Warren.
Gibson has been a survivor of cervical cancer for more than 30 years. Even then, it took awhile to diagnose. She had a Pap test done at Planned Parenthood. Nobody called, which usually means no news is good news. Over a year later, she went back and was denied birth control because that test had abnormal results.
With a young son for whom she wanted to be around, Gibson chose to have a partial hysterectomy.
"Then I met my husband," she said. "It did impact our lives throughout the years in a different way."
Although the experience gave her a lingering fear of doctors and cancer, Gibson, now 59, considers herself one of the lucky ones and has been problem-free ever since. She figured she was done with it.
But her brother thought otherwise, especially when it came to the Relay For Life.
"He said it does count. That's what we need, people like you that have been through this," she said.
Gibson said people do take it to heart when she tells them she survived, and she understands their point of view. Shortly before she was diagnosed, her grandfather had died of colon cancer.
"Everybody I knew that had cancer had died," she said.
But her aunt's neighbor had breast cancer, she found out, and she survived.
"Ever since then I kept that in my head that this woman survived cancer," she said.
O'Hara and Gibson both said they are inspired by the Relay participants, he in particular by Leslie May, a Warren resident, wife and mother of a 10-year-old daughter who at 36 has been battling melanoma for over a dozen years.
"You see what the people go through. She's been kind of an inspiration to me - she's been fighting it so much," O'Hara said. "It's good to see people that have beat it or continue to live through it."
His involvement is evidence of how strongly he feels about the cause. He started as a walker and team member, became team captain, then joined the board and is now a chair.
"It just seemed like the thing to do," he said.