Dreaming Of A Cancer Radiation Center

Gail Tobin donates 10 percent from her bag sales to her effort to get a radiology department on Kaua‘i. Coco Zickos photo

Gail Tobin is starting small in trying to get a cancer treatment center built on Kaua’i so residents don’t have to fly off island. She hopes others will join her

Helping Kaua’i’s cancer patients receive radiation therapy without having to leave the island would be a dream come true for Gail Tobin. Patients must travel to Oahu for treatment, and Tobin wants to be the one who keeps them home.

“I would really like to see a radiology department here,” says Tobin, who has started raising funds in an effort to do so. “It’s just so important.”

So far she’s a one-woman committee, but she’s hoping others will join her in making this dream come true. She’s admittedly starting small by donating 10 percent of proceeds from her own line of handmade quilted Hawaiian handbags. But so far she’s been able to gather “a little here and there,” monetarily speaking, and hopes that others may want to join her crusade.

“My whole purpose is trying to get people interested in doing the same thing,” says the Poipu resident.

“This is a big project, but you know what, it’s well worth it,” she says.

Cancer patients not only have to leave the comfort of their homes to receive radiation treatment, the travel cost to Oahu is not always covered by insurance.

“Let’s make it easy for them and let them stay home,” urges Tobin.

The main reason she takes the mission so seriously is that she witnessed her sister-in-law, Cathy Meilock, suffer from breast cancer. And even though she lives in Michigan, Meilock still has to drive quite a distance to a radiation center, which can take an emotional and physical toll on everyone.

“It’s very scary and emotional,” says Tobin regarding the disease. “But Cathy’s been really strong and very helpful through all of this.”

In fact, Meilock was the one who gave Tobin the idea to start her handbag business about a year ago. She and another sister-inlaw, Laura Tobin, taught Tobin how to quilt and even bought her a sewing machine. Now the three women have patterns for all different sizes of machinewashable bags, including cell phone holders and makeup carriers, and 10 percent of all sales proceeds go toward the betterment of cancer patients. Word about Tobin’s bags is already out across the island, and she says she has long-distance orders from Maui and as far away as Iowa.

“It’s really not hard and it’s not time-consuming because this is a hobby, and why not make a hobby something that’s going to be good for someone?” says Tobin.

Originally from Michigan, Tobin moved to Kaua’i 16 years ago. Formerly in the hospitality business, she now works at Ocean Opulent Jewelry in Poipu.

“We came here sight unseen and have never been sorry,” she says of relocating here with husband John, general manager at Poipu Shores.

“Kaua’i has given me so much. Everyone here has been my home, family, my ohana. This is a special island.”

Her love for the island could explain why her charity work even extends to its four-legged creatures.

“I’m like a mother with a child,” she says as she shows a picture of a kitten that was dumped at her doorstep before being weaned from its mother. “We’re looking for a new home for her.”

The only challenge Tobin has found thus far in her mission to help those afflicted with cancer is finding local materials and supplies to create her handbags.

“Almost everything is from here and the time and the love,” she says.

But the possible longterm reward will make every initial imposition worth it.

“And if people know I’m really serious, I’m going to get a bigger response,” says Tobin, regarding the radiology department.

Considering most people have been touched by cancer in some way, their willingness to see through a project like this seems like more than just a possibility.

For more information, contact Tobin at 742-7624.