Lt.JG Patrick O'Neil
Even into his sixties, Patrick O'Neil was not ready to stop. He loved
his job, which he helped forge in 1973 as one of the founders of O'Neil,
Cannon, Hollman, DeJong, S.C., a law firm that represents parties in major
domestic and international business transactions. His colleagues agreed
that Pat was "unparalleled in creativity and passion" making
him "one of the best in the business." With Pat's help,
the firm grew over the years and is now one of the largest firms in the
Milwaukee area. As the firm's elder, Pat was instrumental in guiding
the firm. However, he was never concerned with growth. At the end of the
day, Pat just wanted to be with his family, his loving wife, Barbara,
and two children, son Michael and daughter Regan.
Pat's love for law extended from his practice to the classroom where
he lectured frequently and occasionally served as an associate professor.
It was all "fun" for him and even on vacation he longed to get
back to work. Barbara said that he couldn't be away for more than
a week, "he wasn't one to sit around a club house with the boys.
He wanted to do things." Pat was strong, independent, and self-reliant.
He enjoyed staying busy and feared retirement because he "wouldn't
know how to do nothing." Always on the move, when Pat wasn't
working, he was outside playing. He was an avid golfer, water skier, hiker,
and downhill skier. At one time he was an elite level racquetball player.
Recreation was a way to keep in shape, and Pat was always concerned about
his health, never overweight and always physically fit.
Despite his tough-guy exterior that he put on at times, his friends say
that underneath he had a heart of gold. Everyone knew his family was his
first priority. Pat and Barbara were true companions and they enjoyed
everything together from traveling to their vacation spot in Florida to
attending local plays and social events around town. Pat lived for his
two children who loved sports when they were young. That's why, in
1985, Pat helped found the Mequon Soccer Club. He was always in the bleachers
at Michael's soccer games and cheered Regan on as she hit the ball
out of the park in softball. When his own children had kids of their own,
Pat and Barbara found a new joy in life. He adored his grandchildren,
Jack and Caitlyn.
Vim and Vigor
Even though Patrick was a grandfather, Barbara saw her husband as only
perfect health. She said, "if you lined up twenty 61 year-olds, Pat
would be the last you'd predict to come down with cancer." However,
in the fall of 2004, when Pat was 62 years old, he began having problems
breathing. Eventually it worsened, and Pat saw his primary care physician
who ordered an X-ray to better detect what might be hindering his breathing.
The chest films revealed a pleural effusion, and Pat quickly found himself
at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he underwent
a thoracentesis to remove the 3 liters of fluid build up in his chest
and a talc pleurodesis to prevent further fluid accumulation. After more
tests such as a chest film and biopsy of the mass, Pat was diagnosed with
malignant mesothelioma. Pathologists later confirmed the diagnosis at
the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. His family lost no time in finding
the most qualified doctors to treat Pat.
Pat's son Michael is also a lawyer in Milwaukee and while researching
treatment options, he found Dr. David Sugarbaker, surgical oncologist
at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. By November
2004, Pat met and consulted with Dr. Sugarbaker who felt that Pat was
a good candidate for the tri-modal therapy program which included an extra-pleural
pneumonectomy (EPP). Under this protocol, Pat would have the radical EPP
to remove the affected lung entirely and then follow up with chemotherapy
and radiation to further eradicate the mesothelioma.
Patrick's family physician thought the surgery was in fact too radical
and did not encourage him to proceed. Still, Pat thought he might be able
to get at least another four years if he got the treatment. So, on December
22, 2004, he underwent the EPP in Boston. Afterwards, Dr. Sugarbaker assured
them that "everything look[ed] like we got longevity. Went very well.
Very successful." However, all was not well. Patrick remained in
Boston for two months. He was hospitalized on and off over eight weeks
due to repeated events of atrial fibrillation. According to Barbara, the
eight weeks were "hell."
Once Pat built his strength up, he began several rounds of chemotherapy
and radiation treatments. In March 2005, Pat and Barbara returned home.
Soon Pat began to gain more strength and returned to work for a period
of time. This was short-lived though. In August, he began to have discomfort
in his stomach. After undergoing additional tests, Pat's oncologist
informed him that the mesothelioma had spread to his stomach.
A Wake-up Call
This was devastating news. According to Barbara, Pat was reading at the
time of the telephone call (he loved to read; it was his escape from his
own grim reality). When he got the news, he said "I can't believe
I don't have more time. I thought I had at least three years. But
I've got only a few months." Pat was never one to dwell on the
negatives, and so he said nothing more about it. Instead, he tried to
immerse himself in work even more to avoid thinking about what might happen.
Pat continued to worsen rapidly. On November 30, 2005, nearly one year
after his diagnosis, Pat passed away. His absence has been hard for the
entire family. His wife feels alone and like many others who have lost
their loved ones too soon, she is angry about a pain she can't seem
to touch or heal or avoid. The O'Neils had planned on growing much
more grey together. They had looked forward to years of travel and play
with their grandchildren.
Barbara fills the void by staying busy with family. She seeks solace with
her children and grandchildren. Spending time with them has proven to
be a light through this difficult time.
The O'Neil Family
Left to right: Barbara, son Michael holding grandson Jack next to wife
Heather, daughter Regan and Patrick O'Neil
***POSTED DECEMBER 28, 2006 ***