Celebrating Life on the Hawaiian Islands

Birgit Starmanns

© Copyright 2015 by Birgit Starmanns


Photo of a crowd of people waiting to go through security check.

Travel often reveals a side of your friends that are surprising. And sometimes that surprise is not a good one. I have learned to choose my travel companions wisely.

We got it all!” said my surgeon, after paging through what ended up being 6 pages of a pathology report. After finding a lump in my breast, my “dream team” of doctors found that the tumor was, indeed, breast cancer. And even though they had gotten it all in a mastectomy, they recommended that I have both chemotherapy and radiation as a preventive measure, given my relatively young age.

During those post-surgery treatments, I let my close friends know, and almost all were supportive. Some openly said that they weren’t sure what to say, and I reassured them that the last thing I wanted to talk about was the treatment – I wanted to talk about anything other than the treatment. The entire time, I was focused on life beyond the treatment. My best friend brought over a bottle of wine at the end of the week of each chemo treatment, and we counted down – 20% done, 50% done, 80% done. We did the same for the radiation treatments, although the calculation was not as straightforward, at one point, I was 87.5% done!

After the treatments, I opted to also remove the other breast on my own personal theory (I call it “mental peace”) of “no breast tissue, no breast cancer,” and also opted for reconstructive surgery. And I decided that I needed something to look forward to after all these surgeries. A celebration!

Enter Hawaii.

I formed my plan about halfway through chemo: I wanted to go to Hawaii, and have a toast of champagne by the pool or on the beach after all procedures were over, to celebrate being alive.

I shared this plan with several friends. One of my friends from college, I’ll call him Ned, wanted to come with me. While this surprised me, I agreed. We had traveled together in the past, and during those trips, if we had different ideas of activities and interests, we’d split up and then get back together late in the day.

Unfortunately, that’s when the debates began.

Living on the West Coast, I had been to Hawaii a few times. My favorite island is Maui, since it has the combination of remote areas for those who want private time, as well as towns where it is easy to meet other travelers for a community experience.

While it was, in theory, my celebration, Ned did not want to go to Maui. Compromise number 1: we then jointly settled on one week over the New Year, starting out in Waikiki on Oahu, then moving on to the Big Island.

It became painfully obvious that we had different ideas of what we wanted to do while in Hawaii.

While I do enjoy the ocean, I wanted to stay near the surface of the water on this trip. My plastic surgeon assured me that swimming was ok, but I did not yet feel comfortable with snorkeling or scuba diving after my surgeries. Sometimes it takes the mind a little longer than the body to catch up. I encouraged Ned to take those trips, while I wandered around the beaches and shops of Waikiki. As in prior trips, our arrangement went well, we split up during the days, and reconnected for dinner.

We were a bit overscheduled in Waikiki, so other than my first day of my shopping excursion, we had no time to have that toast – the toast that was the entire reason for my wanting a trip to Hawaii. That was compromise number 2.

After the New Year’s show at the hotel, we were scheduled to check out to move on to the Big Island the next morning.

That’s when the trouble started.

The hotel check-out took over an hour. Apparently Ned had taken some of his own toiletries to the hotel, including tissues and TP, which are normally provided by the hotel. The housekeeping services had no idea that these were items that he had brought, so when they were almost used up, housekeeping replaced these toiletries with the ones provided by the hotel. Ned made enough of an issue of it that he received a discount on his room.

We barely made our flight, but arrived safely on the Big Island.

The initial destination was Hilo, since there was a chance of seeing volcanic action. Compromise number 3: I had no interest in seeing volcanic action, yet that was on Ned’s agenda. And apparently, the evening prior to our arrival, there were very large bubbles of red-hot lava that extended the lava flow area for many feet. The day we arrived, there was drizzle, and about 50 tourists spent over three hours, watching one tiny bubble take form. I can’t express how bored I was, the 1-2 inch bubble of a lava movement was not enough to keep my interest.

After those two days on the rainy side of the island, we drove to the Kona coast.

One item on my list was to take a tour of the coffee plantations. Looking at the guidebooks, we knew that the tours stopped at 4 pm. Ned wanted to stop to check into the hotel, since it was on the way. Close to an hour into the check-in process, Ned was still grilling the hotel registration clerk: is it noisier to be on a lower floor and away from the elevator, or on a higher floor yet closer to the elevator. When I heard the discussion of “what do you consider to be quiet,” I had to walk away. Unfortunately – at least for me – while we still attempted to make the coffee plantation tour, obviously we did not make it on time.

That evening began the discussion of what we would plan for the next day on the Kona coast. I still wanted to participate in the coffee plantation tour. Ned, on the other hand, wanted to “swim with the dolphins” at a nearby hotel.

I suggested that we do what we had done in the past, many times – he swims with the dolphins, and I go on the Kona coffee tour. Since Ned does not drink coffee (at least not the caffeinated kind), it seemed like a good proposal.

Here is where it got ugly.

Ned had decided that, for $250, he would swim with the dolphins, but he did not want to pay for the professional photographers that would take pictures of the experience. I tried to explain to him that we were on our last day in Hawaii, and that I had still not had the “celebrate life” toast. I wanted to abstain from the dolphin episode to have my long-awaited toast and time in the sun. His response? “There’s sun at the hotel outside the pool while you take photos of me.”

As a long-time friend, I was hoping for Ned’s understanding. That did not happen.

I drove him to the dolphin “experience.” He expected me to get out of the car to take photos of him. I declined, to his shock, and went back to the hotel, and spent 30 minutes at the pool. It was a bit too early for a toast. Compromise number 4: I did not spend the relaxing time at the pool, and after those thirty minutes, I felt guilty and dragged his heavy backpack with the camera to the dolphin pool. Even though at that point after my surgeries, I was expected to take it easy on carrying heavy items for a while longer. And as expected, I was not allowed anywhere near the dolphin experience. Then I waited for another hour, because at this point, Ned had purchased the professional photos.

Somehow, this does not seem like a celebration for me.

Ned finally did surface, and when we were back in the car, his first criticism was that I cost him $125 for the professional photos. In my opinion, if you can spend $250 on the “dolphin experience,” you can spend $125 on the photos, and I told him that.

I offered to drop him off at the hotel, because I still wanted to go back for the coffee tasting and tour. Ned questioned why I wanted to do this; I mentioned that we had spent the last two days doing what he had wanted. He had the audacity to say, “that was on the OTHER side of the island.” What??

Ned insisted that he was coming with me to the coffee planation, but from that point onward, he gave me the silent treatment. We literally did not speak.

I would have been happier to take that tour alone.

At the tour, where Ned feigned interest in coffee – again, he does not drink it – we were back at the hotel.

This was my last opportunity to have that toast. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy and looking like rain, but I didn’t care. I was on the Big Island, and went to the pool. After the silent treatment, I was surprised that Ned wanted to join me at the pool.

Ultimately, I called my mother on my cell phone once the champagne arrived. And she and I toasted via the phone – TO LIFE! This is what I had wanted to do every day that I was in Hawaii. Compromise number 5: I should have done this every day, regardless of anyone else’s agenda.

Yet here was Ned sitting next to me, and didn’t even comment on my celebration – again, the reason that I chose Hawaii. No congratulations, no “I’m glad you’re alive,” nothing. He only noticed while checking his iPhone, that there was a winter storm brewing on the East Coast. He completely ignored the “toast to life.” He asked what would happen if he got on a plane and the destination had snow. My response? “They land the plane in the snow.” He was debating flying out that evening. I had no intention of driving him to the airport.

On the way back from the pool he wanted to have dinner together. He was completely silent while we ordered and ate our food. After we finished the meal, we both went back to our respective rooms. I went back downstairs, and had a lovely evening with a group of newly found acquaintances.

And I am thankful that complete strangers could celebrate with me!

Contact Birgit

(Please type author's name
in the subject line of the message.)

Biography and Story List for Birgit

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher