Local cancer patient Hawaii bound

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 27, 2003

Monday afternoon, Opal Estep finally turned the corner.

Estep, a 49-year-old Ironton resident and a retired dispatcher for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor 13 years ago. Chemotherapy will not help, and radiation will make it worse, she said. Upon first hearing the news, she was told the longest she would live is 6 years. Also, she has lost three brothers, one to an accident, another to diabetes, and another drowned.

Employees of the Hot Spot in Ironton recently raised funds for Estep, a beloved 7-year customer. On Monday, owner Heather Montroso presented Estep with plane tickets that will take her on a seven-night trip to Honolulu. Even though her family knew what was happening, Estep thought she was coming for a sale.

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"I've had so many bad surprises," she said. "Now, I finally have a happy surprise. I finally turned the corner. I love happy surprises."

For the past year, the employees have been raising money through bake sales, help from Holliday's BP on State Route 243 and customers and Montroso's 9-year-old daughter Savannah making necklaces. Since doing a book report about Hawaii in the fifth grade, Estep has had a love affair with the island state.

"I can be having the worst day, but she can make it a wonderful day," Montroso said about Estep.

After jumping up and down screaming, Estep declared, "Dreams really can come true!"

Estep will say "aloha" to Ironton April 1 and will be accompanied by her mother. However, one special friend will not be able to go with her. She used to serenade Willis, her Siberian hamster with "Honolulu Baby".

"He was the perfect pet. He used to jump up on his cage bars when I would sing to him," she said. "He was going to go so he could chase sand crabs."

Willis died a few months ago.

"This is for you, Willis … wherever you are!" Estep shouted toward the sky.

"I'm sure he'll be watching you over there," Montroso said."

Estep repeatedly hugged Hot Spot employees and Savannah Montroso, who she said will be a millionaire by age 20.

"I love her, and I wanted to see her go to Hawaii," Savannah Montroso said.

"Good friends really are the sunshine of life," Estep said.

Massie fears that her daughter will get them both arrested when they arrive in Hawaii.

"I'm going to scream!" Estep said with a scream beforehand. "I want to see Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona, and I want to go walking on the beach and see that blue water. I want Don Ho to sing 'Tiny Bubbles' to me."

"I'm going to watch Elvis's 'Blue Hawaii' tonight,' she continued. "You won't be able to scrape me off the ceiling tonight!" she said screaming and clicking her heels.

Brenda Wilson, Estep's sister, said she does not care if Estep brings her anything as long as she has a good time.

"Our family has been through so much tragedy. To see this is really great," Wilson said. "This is her dream. This is all we've heard about for years."

After her diagnosis, Estep was divorced with a young son, but decided she would live for his sake.

"No one fights like a mother will," she said.

When she is able, Estep spends time working out and consuming plenty of calcium. She also credits faith in a higher power for helping her survive.

"I have strong faith in God, and I put things in his hands," she said. "If you reach out to him, he will reach back."

"You never know what's around the next corner," Estep said. "You just have to keep turning the corner and never give up."