The last time 17-year-old Ellie O'Neill was in a hospital was to be with her younger brother, who was undergoing treatment for an injury suffered when the Little League pitcher was hit in the head by a line drive. This week, Ellie is back in a hospital, only this time, it's to be treated herself.
O'Neill, a junior at Petaluma High School, underwent an operation earlier this week to remove a malignant tumor from her arm, along with a lymph node that doctors also believe is cancerous.
Her father, Dennis O'Neill said things went well with the operation, but now the family must wait for a pathology report to see if the cancer has spread.
The discovery of the teen's melanoma, rare in a person so young, comes following the severe head injury her brother, Brendan O'Neill, sustained last summer when a line drive in a Little League baseball game forced him to have head surgery. Brendan has recovered sufficiently to resume his athletic career, now in its basketball stage.
"We're staying positive," said Dennis O'Neill, a paramedic who volunteers at Petaluma High School football games. "This affects all of us."
In addition to support from her family, which includes brother, Brendan; brother, Will, a freshman at Petaluma High; sister, Annie; father, Dennis; and mother, Leslie, O'Neill has received strong support from her teammates on the Petaluma basketball team.
"They have been amazing," the player said of her teammates. "I couldn't go through this without them."
Petaluma Coach Doug Johnson said it is a two-way street — that O'Neill's positive attitude has allowed the other players to deal with their own emotions.
"It's been very emotional," the coach said. "The kids have handled it very well because of Ellie. "She has been supportive of the other players. She has really helped the girls. She is a very mature 11th grader.
"I've been through some tough situations during my years of coaching, but this is one of the toughest.