Vail ski instructor upbeat after cancer bout
VAIL – Within hours of waking up from surgery in an intensive care unit, most people would likely be days, if not months, away from skiing Vail Mountain again.
Paul Maloney is not most people. Maloney, 55, who has lived in the valley since 1995 and is a popular ski instructor with Vail/Beaver Creek Ski and Snowboard School, was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer a year ago. He’s not a smoker or a drinker – the cancer was brought on by a virus – and Maloney was skiing Vail just hours after waking up in intensive care.
Maloney’s prognosis looked grim. The throat cancer was already in stage four, and it was attacking his body aggressively, he said.
Friends rallied around Maloney and his wife, Mary Bochain, and raised money for the family to help with their soaring medical costs last August. At the time, Bochain said her husband was in excellent spirits and that if anybody could survive this, it would be him.
Fast-forward more than eight months, and Maloney is not only surviving, he’s living life to the fullest.
He said the past year has been one of the best years of his life. He even got to ski the last three days of the 2008-09 ski season, and has been skiing this season as well.
“So the joke is that I managed to squeeze in the cancer treatment and not mess up either ski season,” Maloney said.
Skiing is something that Maloney said he’s never grown tired of – he still gets such a kick out of it.
He said there’s a feeling when you get out of town and up on the chair lift – that you’ve left all your troubles behind. That’s how he wanted to feel when he woke up at the Vail Valley Medical Center intensive care unit and he could see the mountains outside and the snow was coming down. He wanted to get out of there, he said.
His children went and got his ski equipment for him and he got dressed in his hospital room. They wheeled him down the sidewalk, past the Dobson Arena and to the base of Chair 8.
He had an emergency medical technician with him to help carry around the oxygen tank, so it was relatively safe, he said.
But it was the feeling he had while up on that mountain, with his children, that improved his mood and his spirit.
“I had that stupid, probably Irish or skier’s mentality, that I can do whatever I want,” Maloney said.
He thinks his attitude, and his desire to get out of bed and back into life, is why he’s fighting his cancer battle so well. Aside from skiing, Maloney also went to Disney World with his children just days after ending his third round of chemotherapy. He bought a used BMW convertible and drove it from Orlando to Houston for his radiation treatments at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
In the middle of that six-week intensive radiation treatment, he managed to fly to Montana to see his oldest daughter get married.
He looks back on the year – a year that doctors told him he might not make it through – with fond memories and nothing but optimism going forward.
Bochain said if you didn’t know he was sick, and didn’t know what he looked like before this happened – the treatments have caused him to lose about 100 pounds – you’d never know anything was wrong.
“He never allows us to think that the cancer has slowed him down at all or gotten in the way of his life goals,” Bochain said. “Everything he does is as if he never had cancer. We don’t even think of him as a cancer survivor, because his approach to it was such that he doesn’t think about it, so we don’t think about it.”
Bochain said her husband has a special ability to adapt to every hurdle life has thrown at him. She thinks that’s what helped him enjoy the past year so much.
“I think he has that response where he feels like is very precious and very real and he’s appreciating it differently,” she said.
Now that Maloney has finished a lot of his treatment and is now just awaiting word on whether his cancer is in remission, he looks back on the past year and says that “it wasn’t that bad.”
“When you’re sick, you don’t have the right to complain because there’s so much worse out there,” Maloney said.
Maloney said his skiing has been improving so much, too, that he feels like he just might have this cancer thing beat.
“You know what, you can get a lucky break – you can persevere,” he said. “How funny that cancer brought me one of the happiest years of my life.”
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