Former Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi announced in a Facebook post Thursday that he is battling a rare, aggressive cancer.
Kenoi said in the post he was diagnosed in late 2015 with myelofibrosis, an uncommon type of chronic leukemia that causes excessive scar tissue to form in the bone marrow and impairs its ability to produce normal blood cells, according to the MPN Research Foundation, a blood cancer research nonprofit.
Kenoi said the cancer began to accelerate in March 2017, which was three months after completing his second term as mayor.
Kenoi said he began the process of undergoing a bone marrow transplant in June 2017 at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif.
He said he underwent chemotherapy, a month of hospitalization and three months of on-campus rehabilitation. He said he returned home in late October and “began to slowly return to feeling normal.”
However, he said he learned during a doctor visit Wednesday his cancer mutated and “came roaring back.” He said he and his doctor initially thought it would be a “quick checkup” and “continued good news.”
His doctor “did not anticipate this because everything was so positive,” Kenoi said in the post. “He also expected a quick checkup, talk story, see you in a couple months. Instead he said if I jumped on the plane back to Hawaii that I would not live more than a month. The disease was back and it was aggressive.”
Kenoi said he will undergo aggressive chemotherapy and treatment during the next month.
The former mayor said he kept the diagnosis private initially but decided to announce it Thursday on Facebook because “there is just too many folks to reach and so little time.”
The MPN Research Foundation says the prognosis for myelofibrosis differs for every patient.
“Some individuals live for many years without developing major symptoms, others find that the disease progresses more quickly,” its website states.
Kenoi said in the post he plans to make it to his 50th birthday in November and asked his Facebook friends to “continue to Aloha my Ohana.”
News of Kenoi’s diagnosis quickly spread on social media Friday. Nearly 100 people commented on a Facebook fan page for the former mayor wishing him well.
Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, former county environmental manager and director of planning, told the Tribune-Herald on Friday she was devastated for Kenoi.
Leithead Todd worked with Kenoi for nearly 16 years and said she first met him in 1995 while he was in law school. She said she “immediately was impressed with him, and I knew he had a future in politics.”
“He’s one of the smartest and funniest guys I know, and he’s got more charisma in his little finger than most people do in their entire body,” Leithead Todd said. “… All I can think about is his family and kids. You want it to turn out. You want him to beat this. He’s a fighter, he’s overcome a lot of obstacles in his path to success, so I’m just hoping the chemo works and he bounces back from this.”
“We hope the best for him and his family, and we just hope he keeps fighting and comes out of it,” added state Rep. Chris Todd on Friday. “The first time I met (Kenoi), I was like 19 years old, we were at my uncle’s house, and we all got together to talk about his campaign (to run for mayor) and his plans for the county.
“The first time you meet Billy, it’s always kind of a noteworthy thing. You come away from it kind of blown away by his charisma and that spark he has. It was kind of transformative for me.”
Kenoi was mayor from 2008-16. In November 2016, he was found not guilty by a 12-person jury of Hawaii Island residents on all charges stemming from his alleged misuse of a county-issued purchasing card.
Email Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.