St. Louis County commissioner O’Neil battling thyroid cancerLongtime homeless advocate and St. Louis County commissioner Steve O'Neil found out that the prostate cancer he has been battling for several months is “gone” — in remission. But now O’Neil has been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
It’s been a good news-bad news scenario in recent weeks for Steve O’Neil.
The longtime homeless advocate and St. Louis County commissioner from eastern Duluth found out that the prostate cancer he has been battling for several months is “gone” — in remission. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that now O’Neil has been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer.
“My sister is the one who noticed it at the dinner table. She’s a nurse. … I hadn’t even seen the lump because, as you know, I don’t shave very often,” the bearded O’Neil joked.
O’Neil has been at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester this week receiving an aggressive regimen of both chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He expects to come home to Duluth today and will receive ongoing treatments in Duluth and Rochester.
“It’s rare enough that the Duluth doctors, who have been great, said they don’t see it often enough and wanted me to go to Mayo,” O’Neil told the News Tribune by phone Thursday. “The plan is to be just as aggressive in the treatment,”
O’Neil said he has been conducting his county work by phone and e-mail when possible, and he plans to be back in his office next week. He said he will attend at least some of the scheduled county meetings in coming weeks, as long he remains strong enough.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said, noting he is ready for a fight and plans to beat the cancer. “I watched (the movie) ‘Braveheart’ to get psyched up for this battle. You know how tough we Celts are.”
O’Neil began telling county staff and friends of his plight in recent days. He underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in December for prostate cancer but didn’t miss any major meetings and continued his duties at the county courthouse. He had been diagnosed earlier in the fall and decided to hold off treatment until after his re-election in November.
O’Neil, 62, grew up in a family of eight kids in Chicago and came to the Northland to get his master’s degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the 1970s. He decided to stay in the area and helped form the citizens’ advocacy group Minnesota COACT and, after a stint in Washington, D.C., helped form Duluth’s Loaves and Fishes Community, which combines religious faith and community activism for homeless and hungry people.
He also has worked with CHUM as part of his ongoing effort to create homes for the homeless, also one of his top priorities on the County Board. He worked with the American Lung Association during its campaign to end smoking in Minnesota bars and restaurants. He and his wife, Angie Miller, have raised two children and helped raise 25 foster children. Miller has taken time away from her position as executive director of Community Action Duluth to be with her husband.
In 2005, O’Neil was awarded the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award. The honor, named after former Congressman Bruce Vento of St. Paul, recognized O’Neil’s decades of work to end homelessness and social injustice.
In 2008, O’Neil won a McKnight Foundation Virginia McKnight Binger Award for Human Services that honors Minnesotans who “enable people to help themselves and others.”
O’Neil topped incumbent County Commissioner Joanne Faye in 2004 to take the seat that represents the eastern third of Duluth. He was unopposed in 2008 and beat Becky Hall in November to secure a third term.