Article - Office of College Advancement

Cancer battle not stopping Ohlone trustee

By Matthew Artz, Oakland Tribune.

Friday, April 9, 2010—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Bill McMillin.Fremont—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."

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