We, Jim and Chris, are mid-60’s soul mates who found each other in May 2014.We spent our first five months connecting at least once a week, although we lived 4 hours apart by road. We were right for each other–we never doubted it!
Originally hailing from Pittsburgh, Jim spent 20 years in Texas and retired as a teacher after 17 years in Alaska’s remote roadless communities. He moved to the Kenai Peninsula, bought a log home on a lake, and started a part time building business. He was known as an energizer bunny–never still. Jim is a true craftsman. A fit, nonsmoker, non drinker, he had never been sick or injured.
From southern Ontario, Canada, then Michigan, Chris came to Alaska 25 years ago to work at a remote, indigenous hospital…for 2 years. She worked there for 10 years, then at the Alaska SeaLife Center and finally at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium–developing a statewide comprehensive cancer program, specializing in palliative care . She retired last year. The past 10 years have been tough–bicycle accident (Traumatic Brain Injury ,[TBI] and severe facial injuries), car hit by personal injury lawyer 8 mos later (TBI), wretched lawsuit, lingering death of mother in MI, marriage to a long time friend diagnosed with incurable cancer and poor insurance (and ultimate bureaucratic system-failure horrible hospital death), a growing, benign brain tumor resulting in complete loss of right-sided hearing, (removed at the University of Michigan, replaced by 2 titanium plates and 6 screws. However, I optimistically really love life!
In mid-October Chris was diagnosed with a chordoma, a large malignant tumor in the sacral spine and plans were made to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for a consult and then surgery. Jim made plans to accompany me. However, on November 3, 2015, he was rushed to the hospital in Anchorage and then to Seattle with life threatening cancer–two kinds of lymphoma, Mantle Cell and Burkitt’s. We stayed in Seattle for 5.5 mos where Jim received extensive hard core hospital chemotherapy and then a bone marrow transplant. At the end of November I went to Mayo Clinic for consultation. The good news was that I did not have cancer, but a large sacral hemangioma that had broken the spine from the pelvis and was compressing a major nerve. I went back to Seattle. At the end of December I returned to Mayo for successful surgery, but it left me with lots of metal in my back, partial left sided hearing loss, cauda equine syndrome, partial lower leg and feet paralysis, fecal incontenence and the need to self catheterize for urine. After extensive rehab therapy, I returned to Seattle to be with Jim and more therapy. Finally in early April, 2015, we returned home to AK!. Weak and side effect ridden, we depended on each other.
As often the case, it was time to rethink our life….together. We decided to order a charcoal grey Mercedes Sprinter cargo van after extensive research and begin planning the next chapter of our lives.We named it The Grey Panther. Our theme was “simple but elegant”. We would take it on a maiden voyage, drive it back to Alaska where Jim would retrofit it to meet our needs. We ordered it from a Seattle dealer in July 2015, much cheaper than offered in Alaska. Jim researched a stove top/heater, refrigerator and toilet as well as what was needed for a full size bed–to remain available for naps. We both suffered from daily fatigue. Chris ordered the best bedding possible!!
Finally, the time came to head south. Regretfully, we had to leave our beloved cat, DustyKitty behind for this trip with a loving human companion. Friends in Seattle picked up the Sprinter and brought it to their house. We stayed 3 days, Jim built the bed, we picked up the stove/heater(to be installed in AK), refrigerator, toilet and we were off!!