‘Every day is my birthday’

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<p>Daveline Ching plays her Kamaka ukulele in front of her house in Waikoloa. PHOTO BY LISA DAHM | NHN</p>
<p>Daveline Ching poses with her husband, Lloyd in the yard next to their home. (PHOTO BY LISA DAHM| NHN)</p>
<p>Daveline Ching plays basketball with Kero Erwin. (PHOTO BY LISA DAHM| NHN)</p>
<p>Ching plays her Kamaka ukulele. (PHOTO BY LISA DAHM| NHN)</p>
<p>Daveline Ching opens a coconut with a pickax. (PHOTO BY LISA DAHM| NHN)</p>
<p>Daveline Chine offers friends her coscarones, a fried coconut, mochi rice, sugar and flour dessert. PHOTO BY LISA DAHM | NHN)</p>
<p>Ching plays basketball in her complex with Kero Erwin on March 15. (PHOTO BY LISA DAHM| NHN)</p>
<p>Ching wears her banner in the Relay for Life “Walk for Hope” in Honokaa on March 16. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

On a rare rainy morning in Waikoloa, we found Daveline Andaya Ching sitting outside at the picnic table, strumming her ukulele and singing a little melody she wrote herself. As she finished the song, rainclouds started to drift away, slowly down makai.

“I celebrate my birthday every day,” said Ching. “Every day is my birthday, every day is Thanksgiving, every day is Christmas—with the help of God and the American Cancer Society.”

“Auntie Dave” is West Hawaii’s first “Hero of Hope,” designed by the American Cancer Society, or ACS, who celebrates its own 100th birthday this year. Selected from across the six-state ACS High Plains Division, which includes Hawaii/Guam, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, this year’s 28 heroes are more than survivors; they are inspirers. Ching was chosen for her exemplary dedication to community Relay for Life events, her impact on others’ lives, and her gifts of faith, joy and storytelling.

“The ‘C’ in cancer means ‘courage’ – to keep going on and know that you will win the battle,” said Ching. When she’s not singing, or working on a relay event, you might find her mowing the grass at Ke Kumu Apartments, husking coconuts for her mouth-watering coscarones, or shooting hoops with the neighborhood kids.

“I think part of my healing was– if you are injured you cannot be in the game—to get going and playing again, you have to get well,” said Ching, a one-time youth volleyball and basketball coach.

“She’s a very valuable member of the community,” said apartment manager Richard Santiago. “She’s the head of our Community Watch program. We nicknamed her ‘Sheriff,’ and she really watches the place. We couldn’t do without her.”

“I met auntie when I was a teacher at Kohala High School,” said Maile Lincoln-Carvalho, ACS High Plains Community manager. She remembered Ching when she was very ill and hardly able to move.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her again—she was playing football out on the field with the kids … Now she goes to all the events, she helps at all of them, even if she’s not asked,” said Lincoln-Carvalho. “She will do anything and everything – busing tables, picking up trash. We were very, very excited when she was chosen as a hero.”

Auntie Dave’s story began on Halloween in 1994, with a routine visit to her gynecologist (after stopping on the road to help a woman with a flat tire.) The doctor noticed a lump on the side of her throat, and later tests confirmed thyroid cancer. On Dec. 23, Ching was admitted to the hospital for surgery.

“When they told me I had cancer, I wasn’t afraid,” said Ching. “It was the side effects—not being able to do things—that was hard.”

She went home on Christmas Day, to Kohala, to the house she built with her own two hands as part of the Aina Kea self-help project, where she planted a vegetable garden to share with neighbors, and pounded her own poi.

From January to May, she and husband Lloyd drove the two hours to Hilo and back, twice weekly, once for radiation, once for results.

“It was so tiring, I got sick, and I lost my tastebuds,” said Ching. “Nothing could even touch the hunger that I had … And one day I decided ‘I’m tired. I’m not going to come back again.’”

She went home and continued the healing process, gradually getting better.

About a year later, she woke up from a post-walk nap, suddenly paralyzed from the waist down. It took her an hour to reach the phone and call the ambulance. Ching, who had worked as a practical nurse, thought she was having a stroke, but numerous tests produced no definitive answers. She was able to regain some mobility as time passed, but continued to have serious seizures.

With travel assistance from ACS, she spent the next year flying back and forth to Honolulu, until doctors finally referred her to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

“My mother took me to the Mayo Clinic,” said Ching. “If it wasn’t for her taking me, I wouldn’t be here.” At almost 80, her mother, Rose Sameshima, is also a cancer survivor.

At the Mayo Clinic, Ching was diagnosed with an extremely rare condition called Stiff-Person Syndrome. Literally, about one in a million people contract this little-known neurologic disorder, also known as Moersch-Woltman Condition, which causes muscle rigidity, spasms and seizures. Doctors said she would not walk again and did not expect her to live more than three years.

“They said my immune system was attacking my muscles and my nerves,” she said. For the next four years, immune suppressants—along with heavy doses of faith and positive thinking—helped Ching regain her health, in spite of the odds. And in 2001, seven years after the tumor was discovered, she joined in her first Relay for Life.

“At one point I was taking 35 different medications,” said Ching who had to move from their Kohala home as she became uninsured and expenses skyrocketed. “I said, ‘Lord either you’re going to provide for my medications or I’m going to be healed, and freed from the medication …

“I’m living by faith,” she said. “When I got my Hero Award, I went to Dallas, Texas with $40 in my pocket. Who does that?”

Her song finished, Ching put the well-loved Kamaka back in its case, and urged us to take the last of the coscarones.

“The secret is to use Mochiko flour with the fresh coconut, some water, and just a little sugar,” she said. And, we’re guessing, a heap of faith. Happy Birthday, Auntie Dave.