SUNSET PARK — Alexandrine Wiese was visiting her mother in Monaco, France when doctors there told her the news.
“I have a growth, a tumor near the ovary,” she said. “It’s indicative of cancer, and needs to be taken out. Now, I’m just waiting.”
Waiting, because as a substitute middle school teacher at the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, she said she has no health insurance, and no way to face the looming cost of the surgery to see if the grapefruit-sized tumor is malignant, or the treatment if it is.
“I have no way to pay for anything,” Wiese said. “I’m worried about losing my apartment. I’m panicking, let’s be obvious about it.”
The 43-year-old languages and science teacher may be scarce in resources, but she is not lacking in friends.
Several residents of her apartment complex on the 2000 block of 14th Street are coming together to support her through the ordeal, either by facilitating doctors appointments or raising money to offset bills and rent costs.
Toni Hale, who lives in the complex, got the fundraising ball rolling.
She didn’t know Wiese until a gardening accident four years ago that might have cost Hale her left eye if not for the younger woman’s intervention.
Hale had been gardening in the complex’s common area one afternoon, cutting away huge swathes of ice plant, when she slipped on the remains of the slick shrub.
“I slipped, bent over, and jammed this dirty, rusty garden spike into my eye,” Hale said.
Hale panicked. She couldn’t leave the hazardous mess there, but it was critical that she make it to the emergency room in time to get something done for her eye.
Wiese and another resident arrived on the scene.
“I barely knew Alex at the time,” Hale recalled. “I said please, I called the emergency room, could you just please pick up this 100 pounds of ice plant.”
The two women obliged and Hale got to a medical facility, where she was told that had she waited, she might have lost the eye altogether.
Two weeks ago, she saw Wiese trying to sell some belongings in a small yard sale in an effort to raise money for her potential medical bills.
“I was horrified,” she said. “I bought a bunch of stuff from her, because I felt terrible. I didn’t know her that well, but she is so kind to everybody.”
Wiese is popular in the complex. She has the keys to four of the other apartments so she can save their animals in case of emergency, and is known to walk dogs and help out in a pinch.
She moved into the complex around seven years ago, after a lifetime of bouncing from America to Europe, to East Asia and back. On the way, she studied several languages as well as achieving a B.S. in anthropology from UCLA.
She dreams of getting a Ph.D. in French, with an emphasis on international relations at USC, but is now as concerned about losing her current standard of living as she is about pursuing her education.
“I thought, my gosh, when someone does really big like that, saves your life, saves your eye, you never get a chance to return the favor unless you’re a neurosurgeon or a millionaire,” Hale said. “I saw it as an opportunity to do something.”
Hale is an amateur painter, who got into art as a way to recuperate from a traumatic brain injury she suffered 30 years ago.
Her paintings feature Santa Monica-area landscapes, and range from realistic portrayals to impressionistic works featuring bright, swirling colors.
She and neighbor Jude Nielson, a storyboard artist who dabbles in watercolor landscapes and nudes, plan to put several of their pieces up for sale in an attempt to raise money for Wiese.
The goal, at present, is $10,000.
“If she had that money, she wouldn’t have to worry, just like I didn’t have to worry about the emergency room, or losing my apartment,” Hale said.
Hale, ever optimistic, hopes to take the fundraising torch and run with it.
She has a T-shirt from her alma mater, UCLA, that was splashed with paint from a session of landscape painting until it appeared to be covered in surreal flames. Hale aims to sell it, hopefully for the full $10,000.
“It’s so outrageous,” she said, laughing.
Nielson, who is coordinating the event, hopes to have the sale up and running within the next few weeks so that Wiese can get the money in time to offset her surgery.
“Privately, I want to help any way I can,” Nielson said. “She’s so smart, and a great translator … Even though she has all that, life can turn on you. As my dad said, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”