Beloved advocate reached out on cancer


POSTED: Friday, December 11, 2009

Christopher “;Chris”; Pablo, Hawaii's most prominent role model and advocate for people with cancer and a beloved community leader, died Wednesday at Saint Francis Hospice in Nuuanu. He was 59.

“;He actually told me, 'I am blessed to have cancer because it gave me the ability to go out and reach other people,'”; said Roy Yonashiro, donor recruitment coordinator of the Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry.

“;He always made time to speak to kids in hospitals or young mothers diagnosed with leukemia and give them words of encouragement. It was never about him. It was about other people.”;


Pablo gave hope to countless others with cancer while he dealt with three bouts of the disease in 14 years. He maintained a positive outlook and remained active with many community, professional and business organizations.

“;He died from cancer, but he really knew how to live with cancer,”; said Jackie Young, a cancer survivor and chief of staff for the American Cancer Society in Hawaii. “;He really believed in miracles. His life was just a wonderful miracle.”;

When she bent down to say goodbye to him, she said she started to cry and he gave her a shaka sign and said, “;Don't cry. Life is good.”;

 Pablo joined Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel in 2007 as a partner focusing on areas of government relations and health policy law after 15 years as Kaiser Permanente's director of public affairs.

Before joining Kaiser, he was government affairs director for the Hawaii Medical Service Association and a special assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

“;Hawaii and the world have lost a good friend,”; Inouye said, noting he watched Pablo develop from a youth “;into a compassionate community leader who stressed the virtue of hope. His unselfish work providing comfort and relief for those afflicted with cancer is heroic. There are thousands of men, women and children throughout Hawaii and the world who owe much to his words of comfort.”;

During dinner one night in May 1995, a cut on Pablo's tongue didn't stop bleeding when he bit it accidentally. He was diagnosed with myelogenic leukemia, cancer of the blood.

Doctors said the only cure would be a bone marrow transplant, and his family organized many organ donor drives because of a shortage of Asian and Pacific Islander donors. More than 30,000 people registered when Pablo sought donors for Alana Dung, who died Oct. 14, 1997, at age 3 after an 18-month struggle with a rare form of leukemia.

He had a bone marrow transplant more than a year after his cancer diagnosis when the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., notified him a donor was found—Roger Ariola of Kauai.

Pablo was not expected to survive the transplant, but he did—his first cancer miracle, said his wife, Sandy. But although he was free of leukemia, he was diagnosed in July 2008 with tongue cancer. About one-fourth of his tongue was removed, she said. “;They thought they got it all, and on New Year's Day 2009 we discovered tumors in his face, cheek, neck and jaw.”;

He underwent seven hours of surgery by four specialists, she said. “;There was such a slim chance he would even survive. They were certain he wouldn't be able to speak anymore, but he survived it beautifully”; and still was able to give talks.

He made a “;miraculous recovery,”; but “;the cancer was so aggressive and virulent, it just kept coming back,”; she said.

Still, Pablo continued to go to his office, attend community events related to his causes and give talks. “;His illness wasn't going to get in the way of what defined him as a person,”; she said.

Among the hundreds of people who visited him in recent weeks at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center and at the hospice was Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena), who said he was “;really a class act.”;

“;Chris was such a role model for how to work with people and help people, and such a leader in the fight against cancer. He will be remembered by everybody as just a gentleman with incredible integrity and love of life.”;

Pablo was born in Honolulu and graduated from Saint Louis School and Santa Clara University in California, where he earned a law degree. He worked in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii and state courts in Hawaii and Pennsylvania.

He was a familiar figure at the state Capitol, working on legislation concerning a Patients' Rights and Responsibilities Act, indoor smoking, anatomical gifts and funding of breast and cervical cancer treatment for uninsured women. He helped develop legislation to create a managed care workers' compensation system, known as “;coordinated care organizations.”;

The Pablos were approaching their 22nd wedding anniversary March 12.

“;I am so grateful for the extra years we've had and for all the love and support of this community, from our dearest friends to anonymous people sending love, prayers and messages,”; Sandy Pablo said.

Other survivors include his mother, Rufina of Honolulu; brother Michael of Nashville, Tenn.; and sons Chris Enderton, 35, an Army major at Fort Irwin, Calif., Nathan, 20, and Zachary, 17; and one grandson.

A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held in mid-January at St. Andrew's Cathedral.