Story and Pictures by M. Maxine George
The movie The Bucket List was in its first run at theatres in North America when my daughter Cathy McDonald received the distressing news that her chemotherapy treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukemia had been unsuccessful. Leukemia cells had been found in a biopsy that had been done on what Cathy called “a One Carat size Lump” on her leg. Cathy had been undergoing treatment by the team at the Vancouver General Hospital’s Leukemia and Bone Marrow Transplant Unit for many months. They had worked very hard to obtain a remission, but now her physician, Dr. Yasser Abou Mourad sadly told us that her days were numbered and all they could now do was give her supportive treatment.
As we drove home that day, Cathy told me that she had hoped to make it to her birthday in August, however the doctor told us that three or four months was probably more realistic. She began to talk about the things she would like to do in the time she had left - her “bucket list.”
1) She wanted to be able to go with me to Maui, as we had been planning. Cathy had never traveled off the North American continent, so had been excited about her opportunity to do so.
2) One more trip to Las Vegas would have fulfilled another dream. New hotels were being built when she was last there some years before. She longed to see what they looked like now.
3) She wanted to go out fishing again and if she could catch a sturgeon that would really be great. Cathy had a passion for fishing. She’d landed many fish since catching her first at the age of three under the watchful eye of her dad. Over the years, she frequently fished for B.C. salmon with her brother Ed and their friend Glen. Her fifty pound catch one memorable year, gave her the right to boast that she’d caught the biggest fish that year!
4) Last, but not least, she dreamed of a final get-together with family and friends, while she was still well enough to be able to visit with them.
My mission for my beloved only daughter was to help to make her dreams come true. (When her brothers, Ed and Len heard about her wishes, they and their wives, Marion and Donna made plans to help fulfill her wishes too. But that is another story.)
In January I had been fortunate enough to win a trip for two to Hawaii to visit the islands of Maui and Lanai. This would fulfill one of her wishes. Although the trip was not expected to happen until after the high season, when we had hoped Cathy would have a remission. I e-mailed Keli’i Brown of the Maui Visitor’s Bureau and apprised him of Cathy’s new medical situation and that time was now a priority. Although it was “high season” Keli’i and his team of industry professionals set to work coordinating our visit to Maui and Lanai. The Maui team came through quickly. They scheduled us to leave for Hawaii on March 9th.
We didn’t have time to bemoan Cathy's diagnosis; we were busy living each day to the best of our ability and available time. Between trips to the hospital, Cathy began to take short walks with her little dog, Kitty, to build up her strength. At first it was just around the driveway, but gradually she was walking to the corner of our street and back. She began to gather together the clothes she would need for the trip to the warmer climate. She had lost more than a third of her body weight, so her first thought was to get a bathing suit that would fit her size one frame. She joked that she dreamt of having a mai tai served to her by a “hunk wearing a loin cloth,” while she lounged on a beach chair, wearing her bikini. Our future was Hawaii.
True to their word, the team at the Vancouver General Hospital got Cathy into the best possible condition building up to our last appointment the day before our departure. They armed me with prescriptions, treatment supplies, and documents, so that I was prepared for any contingency we could foresee. I was able to locate a company that would insure Cathy – not for her pre-existing condition, but for anything else that might come up while we were away. Surprisingly enough, because of her age, Cathy was much cheaper to insure than I was!
On the appointed day, my husband Dick drove Cathy and myself to YVR. Arrangements had been made with WestJet for a wheelchair to be available and assisted boarding. In spite of all her efforts to build up strength, Cathy was still very weak. WestJet was very helpful. There was a lady waiting to push the wheel chair and guide us to our gate. Once there we were preboarded. We had a bulkhead seat. We had not realized that off shore flights no longer automatically served meals as they once did. We only heard about that after we had passed security. I found a place that served hot cinnamon buns. Thinking they would be a welcome treat on the plane if need be, I bought us a couple of them. They smelled hot and yummy as we entered the plane. As we were being helped into our seats we were getting offers from those around us to help eat them. As it turned out there was food available on WestJet, so our cinnamon buns left the plane with us that night.
Arriving in Kahului Airport at 9:30 p.m. we soon were in our Budget Rental Car heading for the Wailea Beach Marriot Resort in Kihei or South Maui, about an hour’s drive. I must admit that we took a wrong turn, after arriving in Kihei – left instead of right – but before too long we got turned around and headed in the right direction.
Driving up to the hotel we found the main lobby, built with a very open plan-without walls but with pillars holding a large roof covering the entrance. They obviously don’t need air conditioning there as the ocean breeze would waft through the open lobby. The bellman was at his desk right beside the driveway. He was a big jovial Hawaiian man. He soon had us and our luggage under control. We were checked in and taken to our room, which was very near the elevator on the 5th floor. It was close to midnight before we were ready for bed. For both of us it seemed like a long day, so we did not waste much time talking before sleep.
We awoke to a beautiful, sunny, Hawaiian day, and the sound and sights of the ocean, and gardens below. We made coffee in our room, then remembering the cinnamon buns; we took them out onto the balcony and had our breakfast while enjoying the wonderful view that unfolded before us. Watching an ocean is always fascinating, as the view is ever changing, with white waves lapping onto the shore. From our fifth floor vantage point we could look down on the landscaped gardens that sloped down to the rocky shore. A pond, with a small lawn not far from our balcony, and then steps and a curving path wound between several low buildings and palm trees down to the water’s edge. Cathy said she had an irresistible urge to visit that shore. We decided that if we walked slowly she could probably do it. So after getting dressed we set out for our destination.
We took our time and took in all of nature’s wonders surrounding us. Cathy, an enthusiastic home gardener, was particularly enthralled with the flora and fauna. As it was her first visit to Hawaii the walk was one of investigation and discovery. She walked slowly around the pond watching the colourful fish swimming amongst the lily pads. She inspected the various tropical floras that were new to her as we slowly ambled towards the rocky shore. When we got down to the rocky prominence surrounding the beach, I thought she might be satisfied to view it from there, as we would have to climb over some larger rocks to get down near the shore. As if drawn by some unseen hand, Cathy was soon scampering over the rocks and down where she could beach comb. One after another treasure was picked up and inspected. She pocketed some and handed me others to carry back to our room. Her ultimate destination was a rock sitting at the edge of the shore line. She sat there, took off her sandal and stuck out her foot, waiting for the waves to wash ashore. It was a very peaceful, but joyful time for both of us.
After a while we started to work our way over the rocks on our way back towards the hotel. As we proceeded up the walk, it was a steeper climb than I had expected. We took our time enjoying the sights as we went along. However, just as we finished walking up some steps, Cathy turned to me and said, “Mom, I’ve got a pain in my jaw.” Before the words were much more than out of her mouth, she followed up with, “My chest is hurting too.” I tried to speak calmly and quietly and told her to take the nitro out of her purse and use it, and then we would go over and sit on the nearby grass. Cathy thought to also chew a couple of aspirins. She was beginning to perspire and feel slightly nauseated. We just sat and relaxed, for five minutes. When the pain had not gone away, she again used the nitro. I knew that I was carrying a “Do Not Resuscitate” letter in my purse for Cathy. We had been given them shortly after the tests had shown the reoccurrence of the leukemia cells after her course of chemo treatment had been completed. As a former nurse, I had always been trained that in similar circumstances, you use nitro at five minute intervals until the pain subsides, but by the third nitro treatment you should be heading for the nearest emergency ward by ambulance. In this case, there would have been little they would have done for her. We knew her days were numbered, but now I began to think her minutes might be numbered too. I thought if this was going to be the end, it was a beautiful, peaceful place to go. People passed by and asked if they could take our picture. We smilingly said, “Yes, thank you.” Again Cathy had to use the nitro. However, the third puff was effective. The pain went away. We continued to sit on the lawn and rest, while in my mind I was trying to think of a plan for moving on. Finally a staff member came down the path. I called out to the man, asking if there was a way to get into the building from there without having to climb further up the steps. He told us there was an elevator on that level, just behind some shrubbery. About an hour after Cathy first noted the pain, we slowly arose and walked the short distance to the elevator and returned to our room – thankful for the reprieve. We knew now that we had to be more careful to conserve Cathy’s energy. From that time on we used the wheelchair any time we left the room. Any touring around the area was done in a golf cart with a kind bellman chauffeuring us.
Our next problem was going to be dinner. Cathy was again experiencing problems with ulcers in her throat and therefore was having difficulty swallowing. I spoke to the concierge about Cathy’s difficulty swallowing. She made dinner reservations for us and spoke to them about Cathy’s problem. The concierge told us that the chef would make something special if it was necessary. A cheerful young bellman arrived at our room right on time to escort Cathy down to the dining room. Our waiter, the matre d’ and the chef all came around to help Cathy plan her meal. True to their word, they were able to bring her food that she could swallow and enjoy. She got so much attention that someone at another table came over to find out if we were famous!
The following morning we drove to the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. After our scare the day before, I was glad to be with friends and knew the people at the Ka’anapali would be warm and welcoming. True to my expectations as we were checking in we received warm “Aloha’s” and beautiful freshly made floral leis from the very friendly and caring staff.
Lori Sablas, the epitome of the gentle and caring Hawaiian people, is the Co-ordinator of the Po’okela (excellence) Programme at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. This programme has taught the staff to nurture their Hawaiian heritage. Lori arranged for us to go out whale watching that day. I suspected that catching a sturgeon was not going to be possible for Cathy, so whale watching was going to have to be the closest match to her bucket list wish. We were driven right to the dock at nearby Lahina, where we were to board the boat for our whale watching excursion. It was a lovely, sunny day and the water was calm. We should have sat under the available cover, but instead Cathy went up on the upper deck to the front of the boat where there were tables and chairs. She climbed up onto the table. There she sat cross legged throughout the voyage, facing into the gentle breeze. The whales performed for us that afternoon. Even without the whales, the water provides an ever changing vista. It was a wonderful relaxing experience. We both wore light hats and sunscreen so thought we were protected. However, at the end of the day we found we both had sunburns. We gratefully smeared on the kukui nut oil our friend Luana had given us.
Luana Pa’ahana, the former marketing manager of the Ka’anapali joined us for dinner that evening. A lovely lady with all the grace and warmth for which the Hawaiian people are famous, is a transplanted gal from Seattle, Washington. She has adapted well to her adopted home. The Ka’anapali staff provided Hawaiian music and hula on stage in the Tiki Courtyard during our dinner.
Our next few days were relaxing, but interesting diversions were offered to us. A complimentary breakfast is served in the Kanahele Theatre Room for guests on their first morning. While we enjoyed our breakfast the very talented staff members again entertained guests with Hawaiian music and hula dancing.
Demonstrations of many Hawaiian traditions are available throughout the week for those who wish to participate: making poi, the traditional Hawaiian food; playing a ukulele; hula lessons; and flower painting are some of the offerings. However, for the most part Cathy and I were happy just to sit on our balcony and look out over the gardens and ocean, smelling the fragrance of the frangipani in bloom below the balcony. Cathy told me that she would be happy to be able to spend the rest of her days right there on the balcony at the Ka’anapali looking out over the ocean.
The courtyard, between the hotel and the beach is large and flat, therefore it was easy to get around with the wheelchair. There was ample sun and shade throughout the day because of the many palm trees and other flora and fauna. There is a paved walkway that runs along the length of Ka’anapali Beach just above the sandy beach. This makes it possible to stroll past the other hotel properties. We were able to go, a short distance down the beach, to the Whaler Village Shopping Center, home of some upscale stores and restaurants. We enjoyed looking in an Art Gallery with some truly outstanding works of art. We both saw a piece or two we would loved to have taken home with us.
The beach is on the west side of the courtyard. One evening Cathy and I sat on lawn chairs, overlooking the beach, to watch the sunset over the Pacific. It is a breathtaking experience watching as the sky turns aglow with an array of shades of gold and then red before the golden globe seems to fall off the edge of the world.. Looking north, we could see Black Rock, a very historic local site. Just as the sun was setting a brave diver ran along the top of the massive rock carrying a torch which he used to light other torches along the rim. As a finale he dove off the top of the cliff into the water far below. This tradition of the Ka'anapali Black Rock diver is reenacted each evening.
On our last morning at the Ka’anapali, we took part in a ceremony where new guests are presented with a kukui nut lei by the staff of the Ka’anapali Hotel before they leave. The staff all carry beepers, so that as many of those who can do so, drop what they are doing and come to join in the farewell ceremony. Today the ceremony was particularly poignant for Cathy and myself. Some of the staff members were aware of Cathy’s diagnosis. I could not help the tears from coming to my eyes as the beautiful Malahini Keahi gently placed the lei around Cathy’s neck and gave her a kiss as she wished her “much aloha.”
James, the head of security for the Ka’anapali accompanied us while we took back our rental car, and then he took us to the dock in Lahaina, where we caught the ferry to the island of Lanai.
A pleasant forty-five minute boat ride took us across to Menele Bay on the Island of Lana’i . The boat docked at 10:00 that morning. We were met by a shuttle that took only a few minutes to take us to the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i.
The island is beautiful. Nestled on a hill next to the ocean, the hotel’s landscaped grounds are spectacular, with rolling green lawns and a multitude of colourful flowering trees and shrubs, fountains and waterfalls. The interior décor of the hotel has a striking antique oriental theme. We were soon registered and taken to our room through outside passageways that pass two very distinctive gardens. One garden had a waterfall flowing into a pond with some very large, colourful coy fish. Cathy especially enjoyed watching those fish.
Our spacious room was on ground level. The whole area was wheelchair accessible, including the bathroom and shower. Its glass window wall with sliding glass doors opened out onto a private patio. The lawn dropped off into a small cove, which gave us the feeling of being very private. We were high enough to be able to see a panoramic vista. We had lunch at a dining room overlooking the pool. Everywhere we went on this property we saw outstanding beauty. As the day progressed Cathy began to feel quite tired, so we decided to have our dinner on the patio outside of our room. A waiter arrived with dinner and in minutes had a table set complete with a white cloth and floral centerpiece. It had been a lovely day and we enjoyed the peaceful setting as we ate our dinner.
The next morning Cathy woke with a headache and high temperature. This was not unexpected, as it happened frequently during the course of her illness. Normally she would have had to go to the hospital immediately to receive IV antibiotics. However, in this case, we had some powerful antibiotics which she could take orally and medication to help bring her temperature down. I also gave her cool sponge baths and managed to bring the temperature under control. She told me she was sorry to spoil my time on Lana’i. I thought how lucky we were that she could lie in bed and look out on such a wonderful scene. It was a pleasant alternative to being in the hospital. We again had our meals out on the patio. All our time together was precious. The next day we were to begin our journey home.
While in Maui and Lana’i we were surrounded by loving kindness or aloha, in a setting of great beauty and tranquility. It made those days very peaceful and comforting to both of us. Cathy had always been the first one to help others so it was wonderful to see her receive such kindness. She had a courageous attitude and a great sense of humour so kept all our spirits up as long as she could. We certainly miss her.
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Published on February 14, 2009 by M. Maxine George editor.
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