Maile Kinimaka: Loving life

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Maile Kinimaka is back to making her Jesus blankets after recovering from cancer.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Maile Kinimaka is looking forward to life at 80 after a bout with cancer.

When Maile Kinimaka was diagnosed with uterine cancer, she was at peace with it.

The Kapaa woman figured she was ready to go. If it was her time, then she was looking forward to heaven. At 79, she had lived a long, good life. She had enjoyed fine things, money, jobs, and focused on material assets before becoming a born-again Christian four decades ago. Then, her focus changed. She had her Bible, her faith, her ohana (her family line descends from King David Kalakaua). That was all she needed. Her life in a small apartment with a bed, table, some crosses on the walls, and a few pictures and books, was good.

And, of course, she had her blankets. Jesus blankets, she calls them, made with love. She’s given away more than 1,000 of them, all colorful creations inspired by the colors of the coat of Joseph in the book of Exodus.

She gifts them to family, friends and strangers. It’s an extension of her faith. Kinimaka used to travel to Pentecostal churches across the U.S. and has created quilts for many people, some she didn’t know but wanted them to have a blanket. She’s firm believer in sharing the love of Christ.

She thought that perhaps that she had made her last Jesus blanket when cancer came calling. The chemotherapy was painful. It zapped her energy. Everything hurt. She felt like she was going to die.

Only, she didn’t.

She remembers well that day, June 24, her 80th birthday, she went in for another session of chemotherapy. Only, doctors told her the cancer was gone. No more. She would be OK. Two more chemotherapy sessions just to make sure.

Today, she’s vibrant, confident and energetic. She displays the joy of someone who faced death and beat it and now has more time on Earth.

She intends to use it well.

“Life is good at 80,” she says, laughing.

Her hair is even growing back after she lost it all in the chemo. It’s coming in black, she notes with pride and with a chuckle, and friends have noticed.

Her strength has returned, and her smile is back, bigger than better than ever.

And her spirit? Well, that never left. It’s as rock-solid as ever, guiding her from sunrise to sunset.

“The Lord is good to me,” she said

Kinimaka moved to Kauai about 27 years ago, just days before Hurricane Iniki struck and devastated the island. She and her family survived. Their home was spared. For that, and for all the blessings in her life, she credits God. She used to stutter, she says, but God healed her. She used to depend on alcohol to get through the days, but God removed that demon.

No, she doesn’t have much money or possessions. But Maile Kinimaka has her faith. She has her belief in God and these days, that’s all she needs.

“He changed my life. He change my life completely,” she said.

When did you know something was wrong with your health?

I was on the way to see the doctor that morning. I remember waking up and feeling poorly. I was having chest problems.

I went from Wilcox directly to Straub Medical Center in Honolulu. That is such an experience, going into a plane all by yourself with all the medical people that work on the plane.

At Straub, they cut me open here thinking I had blood clots, but there was nothing. They put me back on the plane. Took away all my other medications, which was high blood pressure pills.

So, after more doctor visits and tests they found the cancer?

Uterine cancer. It had not spread yet. I went in for chemotherapy. It’s so painful. Chemotherapy is so painful. Laying on that bed, you want to die. They gave me Ibuprofen. They told me to go buy Tylenol. You lose your mind. You lose your strength.

But it worked?

On my 80th birthday, June 24, I was going in for my third chemo session, they said no more chemo, they got it all. Just to be sure I went twice more.

Did you have doubts about undergoing the hysterectomy that was also necessary?

I was just going to ride out the cancer here on Medicaid. Friends told me to go get the operation. So I thought I’d go do it and live a little longer. The operation went well. All the different ways of doing surgeries are amazing today. What was really nice, I didn’t feel a thing. I slept well afterward, the second day I was cleaning and cooking, no pain. Dr. Michael Carney, he’s an amazing doctor.

That was a few months ago. How are you feeling now?

I’ve got my strength back. My hair is growing back. It’s black. That must be all God. I believe that I got healed by the grace of God at 80 years old.

You’ve had family members die of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer. How are you a survivor?

By the grace of God I got healed because I carry Jesus. I love the Lord so much, he changed my life. Totally saved me 40 years ago, I was working in prison as a corrections officer.

Do you believe in coincidence, luck, good fortune?

I believe everything that we do in life is all planned. Look at me. I’ve had just wonderful nurses. I’ve had caregivers come four times a week only a couple of hours to do my chores and do my shopping. I believe life is planned.

What did you do when you recovered from cancer?

As soon as I got feeling good, I wanted to sew again, so all the people that send me 80th birthday cards, I made blankets for them. I need to make a couple more, but I’m running out of material. I need to go to the store to get some.

How does it feel to look death in the eye and walk away?

What a difference to experience something like that. I was preparing my cremation. I was thinking, ‘Make room in heaven for me.’ I’m still here. Here I am. I thought was going to go be with Jesus when I was 70.

Have you made some lifestyle changes?

I eat all good food now. Greens. Soups. None of that junk stuff like I used to eat, which is the cause of a lot of deaths. My brothers all died because of their lifestyle. I had one of those vegetarian burgers at Burger King. It was awesome. When you’re a vegetarian, you’re eating healthier and cleaner.

How do you start your days?

I’m up at 4 a.m. and start my day with prayer. I’ve got to talk to the father, have a personal relationship. He’s my anchor. He not only healed me, but he saved me.

You’re 80 years old. How is life today for you?

I love my life now. I love living now. Every day I love having life, breathing in God’s fresh air. Life is beautiful at 80 years old.

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