While I have written other stories over the past year about a trip we took to New Zealand and Australia, the one I most wanted to write was this one. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to write it, but Ellen and I learned after our trip that the subject of this story had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Hans and his wife Jutta were among a widely divergent, lively, and engaging group of travelers, convening from across the United States and Canada. Hans and Jutta were instantly open, friendly, and engaging in their zest for travel and for life in general. They had retired several years earlier from fulfilling careers that also paid the bills, as had Ellen and I. They were both tall, trim, and fit. They spoke of physically active lives with distant travels, nature trips, hikes, tennis, and many other things.
Toward the end of the first week of our trip, we departed Queenstown, New Zealand, headed east toward Dunedin and Christchurch. An unannounced stop became the highlight of the trip for me, and perhaps for others on the trip. We had arrived at the Kawarau Bridge, the site of the world’s first commercial bungee jump. (See the video at this website.) Tourists from around the world were there, many of them young people who were there to take the plunge from the high bridge.
Our group milled around for a time watching these dramatic jumps from below the bridge. Some jumpers came down in silence, while others let out a scream as they began their descent. Every jump was exciting to watch, and each person unhooked from the long rubber band at the end of the jump looked exhilarated to a high degree.
After a while, we noticed that several tourists were taking stairs up to the bridge and walking over to the launching point where jumpers were hooked up to the gear for jumping. Ellen and I had been there for a few jumps, taking pictures about four feet from each jumper. We were in a key vantage point to see the emotions on the faces of jumpers in the moments before they stood up and took the plunge hundreds of feet into the deep gorge below.
Unbelievably to us, Hans stepped into the line to jump while Jutta watched anxiously from the viewing area below. Hans was one of the coolest dudes on the planet, in his early seventies, as he strapped on the harness that would attach to the bungee cord, literally his lifeline in the moments to follow. He looked as if he was waiting for an order of toast in a café, or just relaxing before going to bed. I saw no sign of nervousness whatsoever.
Then he stepped to the edge of the jumping platform, received some final coaching from watchful staff, raised his arms in the air, and leaned forward into space. We heard no sound from Hans as he disappeared from sight. We rushed to the edge of the bridge and saw Hans springing up and down on the bungee cord, and then rushed down to greet him on his return to land.
Jutta was the first to greet an exuberant Hans as he climbed up the steps from the river to the viewing area. At that time we did not fully understand the joy of their long hug and passionate kiss. Nearly two weeks passed before they told us about Hans’ recent diagnosis.
When Jutta sent us a message after the trip saying that Hans had been diagnosed before they left home, I immediately thought of a friend in Ohio that Ellen and I had visited not long after his prostate cancer surgery. I remembered the fear before his surgery, only months after a colleague in Illinois had died of prostate cancer two months after retiring–presumably in good health–from a long and productive career.
Over the months that followed, Jutta gave us occasional progress reports. His treatment had gone well and they both were doing fine. Before writing this story, I wrote Jutta and asked her to check with Hans to see if it was okay with him for me to write this story.
She replied by saying,
“Hans is doing great. His last PSA test was good again and he is on the road to recovery.
Knowing that about 80% of “older guys” belong to the club of Prostate Cancer Patients, he has never really taken it too seriously. He absolutely has no objections to having his Bungee pictures shown. I am still amazed that he really did this. He signed up for a trip to Antarctica in February 2014. Our older son and his wife will go with him, they consider it babysitting. It’s nothing for me, I do not like it cold.”
Hans was a heroic figure to all of his fellow travelers on the rest of the trip. No one else from our group walked up to the bridge to bungee jump. Some later voiced regret that they didn’t. While I have no such regret, Hans is still and will remain a heroic figure to us.
He’s a fine example of how to stay calm with potential bad news, which could later turn out not so bad after all.
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Note to readers— My earlier blog posts about this trip are as follows:
- A Whole Nother Take on “Southern” — https://earlbrussell.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/a-whole-nother-take-on-southern
- New Zealand Farm Stay (Collaborative authorship–A sexy story) — https://earlbrussell.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/new-zealand-farm-stay/
- Australia—A Bit of a Report — https://earlbrussell.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/australia-a-bit-of-a-report-2/
- Soapbox Oratory — https://earlbrussell.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/soapbox-oratory/