The Spirit of the Horse

“I’ve been exercising every day for this,” Paula Samson mouths proudly, slapping her thighs with a big smile on her face. After weeks of effort, she is now strong enough to fulfill her Bucket List with Hospice Hawaii—going horseback riding at Kualoa Ranch with her only grandson, JP. Her laryngectomy has left her with a stoma, which she now breathes from, and has rendered her unable to talk. Even so, her animated gestures, warm smiles, and emphatic eyes speak volumes.

Diagnosed with cancer four years ago, Paula went through 35 radiation treatments and a full right-neck dissection surgery; a PET-CT afterwards indicated no remaining signs of cancer. But several months later, a trip to the ER showed otherwise: not only had the cancer returned, but it had taken the whole upper portion of her body, from breast to nose. They gave her a year to live.

Horses are, and have always been, her passion. She loves everything about them—“The touch, the sound, even the smell!” she laughs. She has been around them her entire life, from riding bareback at 10 years old to training and caring for Pau horses. But after giving birth to her second daughter in 1997, she put her efforts into raising a family, a full-time job. Since then, she hasn’t had the opportunity to ride another horse.

Just weeks before, Paula was barely strong enough to stand. Now, she walks with purpose to the stable on her own legs and greets her riding companion, a beautiful pinto. With a gentle look, Paula reaches over and runs a hand along his cheek, as if greeting an old friend. She is helped on her horse as JP is helped on his—one’s last ride and another’s first. Together, they disappear along the trail.

Given a similar prognosis, anyone would feel sadness, despair, or anger—but there is only joy in her eyes. She laughs, mouth open and shoulders shaking, joking with her daughters. She wraps her arms around her grandson in a tight, loving hug. And, while she is excited to be around the horses again, looking at her now it’s obvious that her family is truly where her passion lies. It has been through Hospice Hawaii that Paula has been able to spend her remaining moments surrounded by what means most to her.

It’s not about helping you in death. It’s about helping you in life.