In the fall of 2002, my friend Jane (one of two best friends since fourth grade), called me with hilarious news: her husband, Keith, had been diagnosed with skin cancer. Even more ridiculous: the doctor had given him five years to live. Five years? Hysterical. It’s just skin cancer—my grandma gets bits of it cut out of her face all the time.
We laughed because it was so absurd. We laughed because we were in our early thirties, and those things simply did not happen. Not to a healthy, active guy with two young daughters. Someone might die in a car accident, or maybe even commit suicide. But cancer? No way.
After we learned that there were two kinds of skin cancer, and Keith had The Bad Kind, we stopped laughing so much. In 2003, while Keith was enduring chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and skin grafts, Mike and I bought our farm in the Columbia River Gorge. We traveled to Minnesota to visit them that December. I brought freshly smoked Pacific salmon, which Keith couldn’t enjoy because his surgeries and medications had destroyed his sense of taste.
In the spring Keith was in bad shape, but still fighting and still optimistic. He and Jane pulled out all the stops: In addition to working with oncologists and surgeons at the Mayo Clinic, they visited nutritionists and spiritual healers. They traveled to New York to visit a well-known naturopathic physician who specialized in cancer patients. Part of his treatment regimen included coffee enemas.
I really wanted them to come out to Washington for a visit. I felt like our place had been so wonderful for Mike and me that it would serve them equally well. “Come to the K&M Wellness Retreat,” I wrote to Keith, “where you’ll enjoy beautiful views, fresh eggs in the morning, and coffee—however you take it!”
Unfortunately, Keith couldn’t suspend his treatments long enough to come out. He died the following spring. Not five years after his diagnosis, just eighteen months. At the end of May, Jane brought her girls out. She was exhausted, and more than ready for the K&M Wellness Retreat.
I bought rubber “farm boots” for Claire, who had just turned five, and Amelia, two. Mike took the girls on hikes through the fields and woods. Claire learned to whistle, and Amelia learned to push stalks of wheat, like little piñatas, through the fence of the chickens’ enclosure, where they would go crazy fighting over the kernels. Jane rested and stared at the mountains that surrounded our house. We planted a pear tree along with some of Keith’s ashes.
In 2008, Jane, Claire and Amelia returned to our farm—with Jane’s new husband, Scott, his daughters Meghan and Morgan, and their new baby, Joanna. Claire and Megan tried Mike’s guitar. Amelia reacquainted herself with the chickens. Morgan enjoyed the swing chairs in the garden house. Baby Jo launched herself from one interesting thing to the next, making sure that the strawberry patch was part of her route. Jane and Scott relaxed and stared at the mountains that surrounded our house.
Baby Jo and Amelia pick strawberries
Things had come full circle at the K&M Wellness Retreat.