Alice Heister, massage therapy, a life well lived, Alexis
Alice Heister holding Alexis

In the early 1980s, I worked in a hospital as a unit secretary. While I was working in the hospital, I had the good fortune to meet a woman who was being cared for on the floor that I worked on, her name was Alice Heister.

Alice was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at a time when there weren’t a lot of options for surviving pancreatic cancer. Her surgeon was a young, talented man Dr Gurri. He performed a very radical surgery on Alice and then she went on to receive radiation treatments afterwards.

Years ago, when people received Chemo or radiation treatments, they usually received them in the hospital, so she was in and out of the hospital frequently after her initial diagnosis and surgery. On the very first day that I met Alice I was carrying some of her belongings including her leather-bound Bible into her new private room on our floor.

I heard a voice say to me “make sure you take good care of this one, she is one of my favorites”. I turned to look around and explain to the person who said that not to worry because our floor was known for taking extra good care of people, and we have every intention of taking good care of Alice. That is when I realized she and I were the only people in the room. If you have read some of my other blog posts, you know that happens to me on occasion where I clearly hear someone giving me guidance. It’s up to you to decide where it comes from. Back to my story.

As  I went about my business getting Alice settled in and comfortable and returned to my desk. One of the nurses had a sad look and said oh she’s such a lovely lady it’s too bad she’s going to die soon. I remarked well she’s here to have surgery and get treatment and maybe she won’t die soon. I was a young, hopeful girl, and the nurse, who had so much more experience than me, just kind of shrugged me off as being naive and pointed out that our patient was already yellow which was not a good sign.

Alice had surgery the next day and it was a difficult recovery, she was discharged eventually. Alice had to receive several radiation treatments and when she had them, she would come in and spend the night in the hospital. No matter how busy I was, or hectic things got when she entered the hospital again my voice would say Alice is here find out which room she’s going to be in, go see her. I would call the operator and find out if Alice has been admitted she would always say yes, she just happened to come in a few minutes ago. I would find out her room number and when I showed up, she would say oh gosh I was just wondering how I could call you I’m so glad you’re here. And this is how it would go for a few months. Much to the amazement of the staff, she did recover and then lived another seven years after that. When I left the hospital and went to massage school she came and found me when I started my practice.

She would have me show up at art Fairs that she participated in and told all the other artists there, this is Valentina she helped me heal from cancer and never once gave me a shot she only gave me love.

Alice was a big part of the art community in the early 80s when Melbourne was still a small-town area. She and her friends opened the Fifth Avenue art gallery that later moved to Eau Gallie downtown area. I continued to massage her throughout her life and would house sit for her when she went to visit her daughter’s in Maine.

She was a batik artist and made beautiful things that could be framed, or she would make batik clothing, she was so talented.

This photo of her was taken several months before a new cancer that couldn’t be treated took her home to God. I feel so honored that I ever got to meet her, and I cherish this picture of my daughter being comforted by her. The wind and waves crashing on the beach were very noisy that day.

I learned some very valuable lessons from my friend.

The first lesson I learned was to listen to the voice in my heart. The next lesson I learned was that if people really didn’t believe they were going to die, and if they had a profound faith in God or something like that, they could survive very difficult things. They can survive things that would be the death of many people.

 In fact, at the same time that she was going to surgery, there was a gentleman who had the same diagnosis, the same stage of cancer, the same surgeon, and he did not survive. Years later she told me her daughter had referred to the time that she was very sick in the hospital after surgery Cheer Time that she thought Alice was going to die

 Alice replied “really? You thought I was going to die? It never occurred to me that I might die! I just figured doctor Gurri was going to do surgery and then I’d have some radiation and then I’d be fine”.

I laugh out loud when she told me that and I didn’t bother to tell her what the nurse has said to me when she was admitted. I just enjoyed that she defied the odds, had quality of life and still got to have fun right up to the very end of her life. Sometimes when we are with people, we learn a lot about them, and oftentimes we also learn about ourselves therefore we are all such a gift to one another. I am grateful for the support and the knowledge that has been shared with me in the span of my 34-year career.


Valentina Boonstra

Yoga instruction, massage therapy, pilates, pain relief, massage therapy, brevard county massage therapist, personal trainer, trainer for those in chronic illness

About Brevard Massage

I have been a personal trainer and massage therapist for many years now. My specialty is getting people moving again. I have learned through the years that preventing injuries is as important as relieving pain after an injury. To that end, I have also learned Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Pilates.