When her mother's stomachache got too painful for her to bear any longer, Laura Stout drove her to the emergency room.
"Sixty-four days later, I came home without my mom," she said.
Her mother, Barbara Fowler-Sanders, had been treated successfully for uterine cancer years earlier in California. But the treatment that helped her beat the disease came at a high price; radiation caused scarring in her intestines, leading to pain and, eventually, taking her life.
Laura Stout (left) poses with her mother, Barbara Fowler-Sanders, who died seven years ago from complications from uterine cancer. Stout will join 150 other participants in the Pacific Cancer Foundation’s Paddle for Life fundraiser on Oct. 5 and 6.
Photo courtesy of Laura Stout
The loss still feels so painful that it's hard to talk about, Stout said. "It will be seven years this year, and it seems like yesterday."
Stout will be among more than 150 paddlers participating in this year's Paddle For Life: Voyage to Lanai fundraiser for the Pacific Cancer Foundation.
The event, now in its fifth year, raises money for the foundation's patient navigator program, a free service provided at Maui Memorial Medical Center to help patients and their families find their way through the cancer treatment process.
PADDLE FOR LIFE
The Voyage to Lanai on Oct. 5 and 6 is open to anyone - from seasoned, competitive paddlers to novices who have never made an ocean voyage, says Jeff Scharnhorst, executive director of the Pacific Cancer Foundation.
"It's not a race," he says. "We're voyaging together as a metaphor for overcoming cancer."
It's not too late to sign up, and single paddlers without a team may still be able to find a seat in a canoe. Go to www.pacificcancerfoundation.org for more information.
In addition to losing her mother to complications from cancer, her stepfather died of colon cancer, and Stout's younger sister also has battled breast cancer. Even though it was her first year participating, Stout said keeping her loved ones in her thoughts helped drive her to raise more than $1,385, making her the top fundraiser for this year's event.
"The cancer foundation is kind of close for me," she said.
Stout said her mom was a warm and big-hearted woman who made her daughter feel like "the most special person in the world" and was always planning fun family activities, opening her home to her children's friends.
"People I went to high school with still say they miss her," she said. "Everybody loved my mom. She was a giver, and she just always tried to stay in the background."
Even after her children were grown, she always looked for ways to help. When one of Laura's friends in Waikiki wanted to visit her in California but couldn't afford the trip, "my mom sent her a round-trip ticket," Stout said. "She didn't have a lot of money or anything, she just scraped it together. That's how she was."
She was also a person with moral integrity who believed in doing the right thing, even when nobody was watching, Stout added.
"We were best, best, best friends," she said. "We did everything together - including moving to Maui."
Stout first became interested in outrigger canoe paddling as a teenager, when she and her mother took a trip to Waikiki Beach.
"I fell in love with a beach boy, like all the girls do," she recalled. "He was giving surf lessons and paddling, and I've paddled recreationally ever since."
Stout, a retired microbiologist who gives her age as "a young 62," now paddles with Kihei Canoe Club, and participated in her first competitive paddling season this year. The Paddle for Life event, which has teams paddling from Kaanapali's Canoe Beach to Manele Bay on Oct. 5, staying overnight on Lanai, and making the return voyage the next day, will be the longest distance she's paddled so far. But Stout, paddling with the team Aloha Hoe Wa'a, is ready to take it on.
"It's going to be an honor to represent all the people who never got the chance to do something like that," she says. "Both my mom and dad, and numerous friends are out there in the ocean. So when I'm out there, I know they're going to be lifting us and pushing us."
* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbors and "The State of Aloha," written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.