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Local Santa fights lung cancer seeking Lung Transplant


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http://www.statesmanjournal.com/apps/pb ... 9909230314

Mark Hunter had hoped to be back on the job by December, ready to play the jolly role of Santa Claus at Lancaster Mall.

His body and his doctors, however, are telling him otherwise.

"It's the best job I've ever had," Hunter said. "I live for it."

For the past five years, Hunter, who lives in Keizer with his wife, Barbara, has been playing the jolly old elf during the holiday season.

Through the years, he has dressed in a bright red suit and his own snow-white beard, bounced hundreds of children on his lap, asked if they've been naughty or nice and taken a heap of gift requests.

To hear him tell it, one might conclude that it is he, not the children, having all the fun.

"I enjoy making the kids happy, seeing the smiles on their faces and their eyes wide open," he said. "I just love it."

But this year he might not be able to take his place in the big chair.

Hunter, 59, is battling pulmonary fibrosis, a type of cancer that causes progressive scarring of the lung tissue, stiffening the lungs and making breathing difficult. So far, there is no cure for the often-fatal lung disease, something Hunter knows well.

"The only cure is a lung transplant," he said. "The sad part is that I never smoked one cigarette in my life. The doctors still don't know what caused it."

A retired city of Salem employee, Hunter learned he had lung cancer when his doctor phoned him while working in the field with a city survey crew in May 2007.

After undergoing tests, he was referred to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, where he continues to receive care every three months.

Two weeks ago, the medical center called to say he was a viable candidate for a transplant and placed him on a national waiting list. In November, Barbara will again drive him up to Seattle for more tests.

If a lung donor becomes available, Hunter would be required to fly to Seattle and remain there for at least three months after the surgery.

"We want to help them with the cost of traveling to Seattle and staying in a hotel," said Kelly Tran, a friend of the couple.

Some Santa helpers who worked with Hunter over the years have organized a charity breakfast for Oct. 3 at the Applebee's on Lancaster Drive NE. Hunter is humbled by the outpouring of care from friends and former co-workers.

"There are some really good people in this world," he said. "Really kind people."

Hunter stays busy doing housework, fishing, rock climbing, visiting with family and friends, and driving in his red Toyota truck with the name, "S Claus," on the doors.

"When I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, I was told I had three to four years to live," he said. "It could be now, it could be next week, or I could get a transplant. I'm just ready to rock 'n' roll and get this thing done."

tguerrer@statesman.com or (503) 399-6815

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