My partner and beloved husband Rick passed away three-days ago from leukemia. A disease that stalked his adopted mother and me, has now claimed his life just 13 months after being diagnosed.
Leading up to this moment, my benefactor mountain Ausangate called me to return to Peru while Rick and I had been traveling for a month in New Zealand during winter 2011. I knew from the moment I heard Ausangate's call in a dream that the next part of my healing journey involved my relationship with Rick. After ten years of working in the Andean medicine tradition and having thrown every other family member into a fire (or two), it was time to throw our relationship into the fire so that it could be transmuted and further evolve.
Upon arriving home, I received a correspondence from Jose Luis Herrera inviting me to participate in another expedition to Ausangate with altomesayoq medicine people. I left for Peru in late June. While away, Rick and I stayed in contact via email and phone conversations. It was an emotionally and energetically demanding trip for me, as I knew it would be. At that point, Rick and I had been together for 36 years. Both artists, fiercely independent, yet joined-at-the-hip in many ways, it was time for me to sort my part of our relationship out.
Once my allyu set off for Ausangate the trip became physically demanding for me — very uncharacteristic of my previous pilgrimages to Ausangate. Though I prepared myself for the trek to elevations exceeding 14,000 feet, the mountain literally brought me to my knees. In a weakened physical state from altitude and dehydration, I lost my balance on a narrow track on our return and rolled downhill until stopped by native brush. After that fall, I rode horseback the rest of the way.
The next morning, before catching my flight for home and feeling completely well, one of the medicine people who I've had the privilege to work with before gave me a coca leaf reading. Midway through the reading, Adrille asked how my husband was doing. After I said “great, I just talked to him last night,” he threw the leaves again. This time, he told me Rick was very ill and the nature of his illness stemmed from his left leg, between his ankle and his knee. I dismissed the warning as his having seen an old chain saw injury Rick sustained in the late 90s.
Ten hours later, Rick and our two Boxer pups met me at the Santa Barbara airport. As he gathered my bags, I noticed a slight limp that he told me was the result of a pulled muscle in his left leg from playing golf a few days earlier. The next morning his left leg was sore to the touch and by that evening his calf was also quite warm. The following day was Monday, so he made an appointment to see a doctor, as his was on vacation. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic and suggested going to the local hospital for an ultrasound to be sure the culprit was not a blood clot. To our relief, it wasn’t. That evening, out with friends for dinner, Rick’s leg was not only more inflamed, but had increased in diameter by half. Tuesday morning, we called his doctor’s office and was told they would call into the pharmacy for a stronger antibiotic.
By Wednesday, Rick could not stand on his left leg from the pain and the swelling was almost double in size. During a late afternoon phone conversation with a friend, I learned that her uncle had a similar experience in his upper arm that turned out to be a staph infection. That’s all I needed to hear. Rick put another call into his doctor’s office and we headed to the Emergency Room of our local hospital. After the emergency room doctor took his vitals and drew blood twice, it was confirmed that his white and red blood cell counts were almost non-existent. It was early evening. While Rick called his doctor to inform him that he was heading to the larger hospital in Santa Barbara, I put a call into my oncologist letting him know what was happening with Rick. Our plan was simple and straight forward. I was driving our two pups home and notifying friends to feed them in the morning, then returning to our small Valley hospital to pickup Rick and drive to Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, Rick was started intravenously on antibiotics.
When we arrived at the emergency entrance at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the staff was waiting for us. Rick was immediately taken to the oncology ward. Because of the infection, it was decided that it needed to be controlled before surgery could occur to remove the staph, and perform a bone marrow biopsy to discover the underlying cause of his blood counts. Bag after bag of antibiotics were pumped into Rick's body. Once the staph infection was surgically cleaned out, the long incision in his calf needed to remain open to heal. More antibiotics were continually infused to minimize risk for further infection. After a week or more, a bone marrow biopsy was performed. Rick had the acute version of my leukemic condition (AML) — the exact same one his adopted mother had been treated for unsuccessfully.
Rick remained in the hospital for 6 weeks. Over the course of the ensuing 13-months, Rick was hospitalized five-times. One-month each time. He had a brief remission from December 2011 through February 2012, during which he arranged for us to head back to New Zealand for a month of what he loved to do most, fly fish. By the end of our trip it was clear that his remission was over. He courageously tried to get into a clinical trial through the Hutchinson Center in Seattle. But, when it was found that an experimental treatment to gain remission had not been successful so a bone marrow transplant was out of the question, he had had enough. On that same day — just one day before he was scheduled to be released from Cottage Hospital — Rick died in my arms within an hour after I arrived to spend the day together.
Rick lived the last year of his life with grace. He reached out and healed relationships that he knew needed to be. He died elegantly without drama or fanfare. Of the many gifts Rick gave me over the decades we were together, his last was certainly his greatest — to witness his luminous body release back to Spirit!