Thursday, November 24, 2022

How to be Happu

 The Key to Happiness


The kids each gave me a note, explaining how happy they are that I'm still alive, and I sat stunned, thinking about it days later. Despite cancer and feeling sick 90% of the time, I truly have everything. But the lady venting at the table across from mine felt far differently. "I'm just so miserable," she said to the woman who ate with her.


I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but Sky had gone to the bathroom (which appeared to have a massive line), and for some reason, I couldn't stop myself from listening. "We don't have anything." The brunette pouted. Her beautiful sweater glistened under the restaurant's lights, adding a bit of glamour to the joint.


I didn't want to hear this, so I shoved some fettuccini into my mouth and had to chew for a million years. Something bizarre is going on with my throat lately, where food gets stuck and won't go down. I've lost ten pounds because of this, and doctors plan to conduct a "swallow test" next week. They aren't sure if it's a complication from multiple intubations during surgeries, a side effect from radiation, or--something much worse--a sign that the tumor in my neck is growing...


"If he worked harder, we'd have a bigger house." 


"I know, honey. He promised you so much," the gray-haired woman responded.


"He only makes $100,000 a year, Mom! What would it be like to marry someone who actually makes good money--like Dad? I'm so miserable. I should've married Tom."


"Check!" I waved down the waitress. After being diagnosed with cancer, I can no longer tolerate certain things. Sky had finished her food, and I figured I could wait for her in the lobby.


The waitress came over. "It's already been taken care of."


"What? Someone paid for our food?" I asked, and the fancy ladies stopped talking.


"Well," the waitress shuffled, "I did. Ruby is your oldest daughter, right?"


I nodded.


"She does my tattoos, and she told me about you and your fight with cancer. So...I've been following all of your stuff online--I'm not a stalker or anything, but what you write cheers me up. And that's why I paid for your food."


"But you're the waitress--we're supposed to pay you." I couldn't believe her generosity. "And," I knew I beamed, "you read my stuff?" I felt so happy I could hardly contain it. "That totally made my day."


"I'm...I can't imagine what it must be like, having doctors tell you you're dying. But it's so good to see that you're out, still trying to enjoy life while you can. You're so inspiring."


Sky came out, and we left the waitress a really fantastic tip. As we walked from the table, I noticed the fancy women staring at me thoughtfully.


So, I met two people that day who confounded me: The first was the brunette, and the second was a homeless man.


I've been doing extraordinary things with each of the kids, and I've noticed that my efforts have paid off. Even if we're sharing a meal at the diner, paying to see a dollar show, or braving the town's new escape room, the kids and I have gotten really close. Sky talks about her daring travels, Ruby shows me the dozens of tattoos she's designing, Indy talks about being a lawyer (someday), and Trey raves about music.


After Sky and I got home from lunch that day, Trey and Indy asked if they could visit the music store. But halfway through our time perusing guitars, the fettuccini I'd eaten earlier tried making a comeback. "I'm gonna step outside," I told the owner. She sees us weekly and nodded with understanding. 


So, I stepped outside and hoped the cold air would banish the nausea from my body. Not directly out the door, but a few feet away, three rough-looking men stood talking. "God is so good," the tallest man said. He wore a beanie, a scarf, fingerless gloves, and a massive beard. "Being homeless was the worst experience of my life, but now I see that it happened for a reason."


I took in a big breath, grateful that the sickness had momentarily passed. Then I dug through my pockets and found a $5 bill. "Um..." I walked up to the men. "Maybe you can use this?"


The tallest man nodded, and I couldn't help smiling. His skin crinkled with age, but his eyes shone with such joy. His grin could've lit a thousand fireplaces. Plus, I've been working on a novel about pirates, and that old man would make the perfect captain of a pirate ship. "How's your day been," I asked, leaving all of my previous worries about cancer. Who can worry about throwing up when they're talking to a genuine pirate?!


"It's cold," he said, "but God's in it. And He makes it beautiful." He seemed so happy, not just feigning contentment but genuinely grateful. 


"You have a wonderful day, Miss," his first mate said, little clouds billowing from his mouth as he spoke into the freezing air.


When the kids and I got home, I had to mull over the day. What was the difference between the disconsolate brunette and the content pirate? How could someone with nothing be happier than someone who had everything? 


I decided the difference is gratitude.


___


I hope you'll remember this as you enjoy dinner with your family and friends today. Whether you're experiencing grief, loss, sickness, financial trials, or any other hardships, I think it's important to realize that true joy comes from gratitude. I'm always talking about "finding the good" because it helps us access what we have to be grateful for.


Today I might be sick, and life might be a bit scary and hard because I know how I'll die; I just don't know when it'll happen. I'm tied to the tracks, waiting for the train...


But despite that, I'm grateful to spend another Thanksgiving with my family. Looking back at my life, and after thinking about the brunette and her plight, I'd much rather be like the shaggy homeless man. At least he knew that no matter our circumstances, we can always fight to appreciate what we have. Life is a gift. We should be grateful that we're here for even a second.



(Picture created at Neural.Love)


Friday, November 18, 2022

I Refuse to Give Up: Happy Birthday in Heaven

“I love seeing you this way,” I told my grandma. We sat in her green room on a semi-modern couch she’d just designed. “Other people have had dreams about you too.” I fumbled with my hands in my lap, letting them fall over one another like water. Several of my cousins have had similar dreams—with shocking similarities to mine. “Well…I’m glad you’re doing okay. It’s nice of you to keep in touch.”

She laughed, even happier than when she was alive. 

“With how often I dream, how come I hardly see Zeke?” I repeated the same question I’ve asked her numerous times over the years. 

“It would be too hard for you to see him. If you knew how amazing it is here with him and all of us—without pain—it might be hard for you to stay where you’re at. It’s surreal what happens once you see the big picture. It makes everything worth it.”

“I read something strange the other day.” I studied the clock on her wall and realized it remained stuck at midnight. “It said the reason life is hard, is so we can fully appreciate the afterlife. That bothered me.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well…I don’t like when people try to justify pain. Maybe that’s like trying to justify nature. Isn’t it fair to say that some things just ‘are.’ We all die. Pain is just our mind’s way of keeping us alive for as long as possible—so we don’t hurt ourselves and die. Does that really make us more appreciative of the afterlife? Maybe pain doesn’t exist in Heaven because we no longer need a mechanism to prolong our own deaths.”

She went to respond, but my alarm resounded, and my grandma…vanished.

Since my battle with cancer began, sometimes it’s strange waking up. I don’t always expect to be sick or in pain, and some days the pain blindsides me because I want cancer to be the dream NOT the reality. Today was different though, and for the second day this week, I actually felt “normal” for a few hours. Maybe even healthy.

“It’s so weird,” I told Mike, “to remember what it’s like to feel ‘okay.’ I almost forgot.”

“Are you doing anything different?” he asked.

“The doctors just switched my medications. Maybe that’s it. How strange though to feel like this today…. It’s like some sort of gift. You know it’s Zeke’s birthday?”

“Oh! That’s right.” 

My first son, Zeke, would’ve been 20 years old today. It’s unreal to think two decades have passed since his birth. “I can’t believe that at the age of 19, I’d already had two kids… It was so hard to take Zeke off of life support.”

“I’m sorry, Elisa.” Mike hugged me. “I still can’t even imagine what you must’ve gone through.”

“It was harder than anything. No one wants to see their child in pain. And no one wants to face ending life support for their own kid.”


I thought about how much life has changed since this day 20 years ago. A good word for these decades would be “perseverance” because there have been some tough times, but somehow we’ve always made it through, and I’ve tried so hard to remain strong for my children.

I wonder what Zeke would think about everything: how the book about him, “The Golden Sky,” became a bestseller—not because it’s a literary classic or some great read, but because I wanted my son’s memory to live on… How I’ve tried so hard to tell his siblings about him... How I’ve missed him EVERY single day since he died…

I’ve always felt that he’s had a front-row seat to my life, watching my choices and rooting for me. I know he does the same for the rest of our family too because he knows how much we still love him—and he loves us too.

I kept thinking about Zeke on his birthday, wondering what he’s thought about my journey, especially with cancer. I wonder if he could give me advice, what it would be. It’s just been so hard to stay strong and keep going. There have been many times when the pain has seemed almost unbearable, and I’ve contemplated stopping treatments. Even now, understanding that I require certain infusions for my bones several times a year… The reality of my new life can be daunting. Yet, when I have mornings like I did today, when I catch a glimpse of health, I’m so happy to hang onto that feeling even if it’s only for a moment.

As I thought about all of this, my eyes fell on a gift a friend gave me earlier this week: affirmation cards that I’ve already begun using daily with my kids. Every day we pull a card and read it to each other. “I am strong,” Trey read the other day. “And you got ‘I am unique,’ Indy. That really matches you.” Indy beamed at her brother’s words.

So, after feeling somewhat prompted, I grabbed the deck and truly wondered what kind of advice Zeke would give me about cancer. I shuffled, thought really hard, then grabbed a card toward the bottom of the deck. When I turned it over, I had to shake my head in wonder. It didn’t say “I am strong” or “I am unique.” Instead, it said something that I’ve actually quoted to myself on several different occasions. I might not be the bravest or the wisest or the prettiest or the most talented person…but I do have tenacity. And I keep going even if I’m crawling along the ground, with everything against me except the ability to fail. I read the words over and over: “I refuse to give up.” 



Maybe that’s what he would tell me if he could: to keep fighting. If so, today I got the message loud and clear.

“Happy 20th birthday,” I said out loud to Zeke, and slipped the card back into the deck. I sure hope he likes the afterlife. If it’s allowed, I’d really like to bring him fishing in Heaven someday. It’ll have to be catch and release since the fish don’t die up there though—unless my kind of Heaven is actually hell for fish.

Anyway, today was a reminder that I’ve fought too hard to just give up when I’m finally starting to see a little bit of hope. Who cares that I need to keep getting bone infusions. They probably just missed me too much at the hospital. Plus, when I look back at everything I’ve been through, I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for, and a good chunk of that is probably because I have a cheerleader in Heaven. 

I love you, Zeke. Please know that all of us miss you. Happy birthday.

Note: This affirmation deck is seriously one of the neatest gifts I’ve ever received. If you’d like to check them out for yourself, Nevermore Designs has a Facebook page here: Nevermore Designs.


Thursday, November 17, 2022

People Don’t ‘Lose’ Their Battle to Cancer — Death Is a Part of Life

 If you’re worried about dying before your time, please read this.


“This is the most beautiful funeral,” I thought to myself. The vaulted ceilings loomed above us, and a disembodied voice floated so angelically that I closed my eyes, soaking in the sounds of Heaven.


The hymn ended far sooner that I’d hoped, and my gaze fell to reality: the casket laying only a few feet in front of me.


“We all die,” a Filipino priest said, his accent adding a hint of urgency. “You will die… I will die.” His eyes implored the crowd. “Emma lived to be a good age: 93. Such a long life. Not many people can say that.”


I swallowed. Emma—my husband’s grandma—hadn’t just lived to the age of 93. She’d made it to 97. How could this man make a mistake like that at someone’s funeral? But before I could think anything else, words popped into my head: There are NO mistakes.


No mistakes?! Now there’s a cliche I’ve never subscribed too because I make more mistakes than anyone I know, like going to tanning salons—and getting melanoma. I glanced at the coffin again. I’m only 39, THIRTY FREAKIN’ NINE… but doctors have recently said that in less than a decade, I’ll be in a box like that too. Six feet under.


“Look at this box,” the priest said, and I felt my eyes widen. Could this guy read English, Tagalog, and minds? “Some day each of us will die. But whether you make it to 93…” then he decided to invert the numbers for extra emphasis, “or 39…”


Chills ran up my arms. Of all the numbers for him to pick 1-100, had he seriously mentioned mine? I reached over and grabbed my mom’s hand. She sat next to me in the pew, just as stunned as I was.


“Yes, whether you’re 93 or 39,” the man repeated, “and you’re facing death, that’s okay. As long as you’ve lived a life of service and loved others, it’s okay to die.”


Tears filled my eyes. I’ve never—in my life—heard someone say that it’s okay to die. And since this journey began, I want to triumph…to win. But my battle is rigged. And it’s terrible thinking if I don’t make it past 40 or even 50, I’ll be some sort of failure because I wasn’t strong enough or valiant… If I’d just been more positive... Had more faith… Damn it. If I could just be MORE…


“My 31-year-old brother was just ordained in September but died two weeks ago after suddenly having a heart attack.” He paused, looking at the crowd. So much emotion filled his face that I felt his pain and found it hard to breathe. A sudden pressure in my chest compounded each of his words. “Every one of us will die. So, when YOU leave this earth, how many people will come to YOUR funeral? How many people will sit in these pews, mourning the loss of your presence because you helped THEM?” His voice heightened. “How many?”


At the end of the funeral, I told the priest how much his message had impacted me and my entire family. “I have melanoma,” I said. “There’s no cure, and doctors say I’ll die from it. Your words spoke to me, especially when you said ‘whether you’re 93 or 39.’ I… Well, I’m 39.”


He seemed a bit taken aback. “What’s your name?” he asked.


“Elisa.”


“I’ll be praying for you.”


At the lunch after the funeral, one of Mike’s amazing uncles asked me what I thought about the sermon. 


“It was a bit life-changing for me. I know that’s a huge claim, but it’s true. You know I’m fighting cancer.”


He nodded and his girlfriend came over to hear what I had to say.


“Everyone tells me not to say negative things. To never say it’s terminal. To never admit that it could kill me.” I sighed. “But doctors say it will. And I think it would be completely idiotic of me to live in denial. I need to really treasure each moment, but there must be a balance between happiness and facing my own mortality. I have to wholeheartedly enjoy the present despite my circumstances.”


“I worked with aids patients over 30 years ago. I remember them telling me this same thing. Their views changed my life, so I know exactly what you mean.”


I nodded. “That’s why the priest’s words meant so much to me.”


He smiled a bit sadly.


“He made dying okay. I want to live, but when it’s time for me to go, I think I’ll have a bit more peace now. It’s okay if I have to die young—if it’s God’s plan.”


His girlfriend’s eyes turned up to me, stunned.


So Mike and I left with the kids and drove back to Idaho. I had a niggling feeling that either God or Emma had helped prompt the priest to mention my age and that it’s okay to die when it’s our time because unlike what a lot of Americans believe, sometimes death is acceptable. Death is a part of life. It’s not something to fear or be terrified of even if it is the final conclusion to a terminal illness. 


Instead, after battling long and hard to make a difference, death is something meant to be embraced—when our job here is done. I know that’s why I’m not so sad about Emma. She lived and loved well. She fought hard to make a difference during her time here. And even throughout her funeral, I think she tried sending comfort to others. I’ll never forget today or the words the priest spoke. It’s amazing to have peace after all this time. 


I feel validated that I’m trying hard enough. Death is okay. And somehow…someway, everything happens for a reason even the time we leave this earth. And, you know what, whether we’re 93, 39, or actually 97, that’s all right with me.


Rest in peace, Emma Magagna. I am so sorry we never got to give you those earrings you wanted. I sure hope they have the kind you like in Heaven.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Greatest Heist in History



 “But I don’t have enough money right now,” the man said into his cellphone. 


Mike and I looked at each other. We didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but his voice carried over the aisle. 


“He’s the tall man who walked by us earlier and said good morning?” I whispered. “That sounds like his voice?”


“I think so.” Mike nodded.


We’d gone to The Dollar Store to see their holiday selection—which is actually pretty good this year. Yet today, we found so much more than wreathes and tinsel…


“I can pay you a hundred right now, but that’s all I can pay today. I’ll have the rest in two days. Please don’t turn off our power.” His voice went up an octave, frantic. “We have a baby. We need the power to stay on.” 


I couldn’t stand knowing someone experienced that. I think we’ve all been in a similar situation, barely making ends meet. It’s terrible, but for some reason hearing that today at The Dollar Store nearly tore me apart.


“We have to do something,” I whispered.


“I think so too. But we don’t want to make him feel bad,” Mike said. “That could be embarrassing if we just hand him money.”


I remembered seeing the guy shopping a few minutes before. He’d appeared so meticulous, weighing each choice and only getting essentials like baby supplies and toiletries. 


“I have an idea!” I giggled with excitement. “This’ll be like pulling off THE GREATEST HEIST OF ALL TIME! I’m so excited.”


“Um…okay?” Mike appeared to be bracing himself for impact. “Are we helping or robbing this guy?”


“Helping!” I rummaged through my purse and found quite a bit of cash. “I saved this to do something fun during cancer treatments in Utah. But what’s more fun than a heist?! This’ll be perfect.”


Sure the cash wouldn’t be much to a rich person, but it might help the guy keep his power on. “I’m gonna pass him,” I whispered, “and then—like a badass—I’ll drop this cash on the ground behind him. After that, you’ll saunter—like you do—and say, ‘Oh, no…. Sir! You dropped some cash.’ But act super surprised. Okay?”


“Sure. But—“


And before Mike could back out, I went down the aisle and passed the man as he continued pleading over the phone with the power company. The man forced a smile onto his face when he spotted me limping near him, and then he turned away, whispering into the phone.


Perfect! I could drop the money and get out without anyone knowing. Bwa-ha-ha!


In that moment, like the star of “Oceans 11,” I threw the cash RIGHT behind the man. Yes! But he seemed suspicious of my lingering presence, so I continued away as fast as I could, then went and hid behind the end of another aisle. 


All right, Mike—it’s your turn. I willed him to do something. Anything. But where was Mike? Finally, waiting longer than a virgin in the 16th century, Mike entered the main aisle at 12 o’clock, looking genuinely confused. That’s when I realized that the money had somehow partially slid under a display. 


I can be an idiot! Plus, why is it so damn hard to be kind?! No wonder people don’t do it more often. 


“There,” I mouthed, pointing and doing my own version of sign language. But Mike’s lip- and mind-reading skills aren’t strong. “There,” I mouthed in slow motion, my mouth staying in a huge “O” before cinching together in agony. I did a butterfly signal that swooped toward the ground and under something. 


Mike played it cool and ignored me completely—what a legend. And just as the unfortunate stranger ended his call and turned around, Mike seized the cash. 


Thank, Jehoshaphat!



“Oh, hey…weird. Looks like you dropped some cash, man.” And he said it with this hilarious, amazing tone in his voice that would disarm anyone.


That. That is why I love the man. A friend told me, “You have to look out for the funny ones.” One minute you’re laughing the next you’ve been married for years!


Anyway, the tall guy looked completely confounded. “Wait. No…What?”  I continued peeking, so giddy.


“You did. You dropped it,” Mike said. “Anyway, here you go.” Then he handed the man the cash, and the man’s eyes filled with tears. 


“Oh, yeah. I guess,” he said as if suspecting our plot, “that must be mine. I’m so grateful it is,” he said to Mike as he walked away.


Mike and I left the store, and my heart felt completely filled to the brim. We can’t give a lot, but when we have opportunities to do it, moments like that make life shine so bright. 


I remembered a talk I’d heard from one of my Jewish friends. She explained how everyone should give, even if they’re sick or poor—they have something to offer someone. After the enormously gracious acts of kindness we’ve seen over the past two years during my fight against cancer, it felt so nice to do something for someone else.


“What do you give us on a scale from one to ten?” I asked Mike. “How smooth were we?”


“I mean, I don’t think we’re gonna successfully rob a bank or anything anytime soon.” 


I broke out laughing. “We weren’t that bad!”


“Well,” Mike said, “considering we almost lost the money, and you were doing gang signs from across the store...”


I snorted. “Honestly, I give you a ten. And me a two because I probably looked so silly smiling and throwing cash almost at him.” Bam!



“You get a nine. I didn’t even see you drop the money. Now that was smooth!” Mike said.


I smiled, and snuggled into my big, strong man. “Well, thank you! You make life so good.”


“You do,” he said.


And despite sickness and pain, people who are struggling, and all the hard things this world can hold, everything felt bright. We helped lighten someone’s load, and in the process, we made the day exceptional for ourselves as well. I’ll never forget almost losing some cash at The Dollar Store—the greatest heist in history!

Monday, November 14, 2022

Is It REALLY Worth Worrying About?

 The crowd presses in. I look about 5 times my normal size because I’m wearing two sweaters, a jacket, and two coats. Idaho is cold, but cancer is colder. 


A man bumps into me on accident, and I almost fall down. We’re crowding like cattle to see our children perform, sing, and play instruments. But the staff hasn’t cleared a place for the extra flood of parents, and we’re bottlenecked at the back of the gym.


I pray for Mike to come in soon since he somehow makes everything better. But poor Mike dropped me off at the school’s front entrance because I can’t walk far. And as I’m standing at the back of the gym, I feel bad for Mike, walking a couple of blocks in the freezing air, his beard swaying in the wind and his brown coat zipped tightly up to his neck.


Then I’m in so much pain that it banishes any other thoughts. Tears come to my eyes because my legs are shaking from standing too long, and I’m cussing myself for (pridefully) not using my wheelchair. A woman hears me groan and rolls her eyes, flicking her hair out and away so it hits the chest of the tall man next to her. “People should stop complaining,” she says to the man who I assume is her husband, boyfriend, or maybe just an admirer of women with heavy makeup. Then that lady simply…stares at me.


I want to tell her why I groaned. Because I’m still fighting cancer and I’m so sick. Because I had a fever all week and just got over another infection. Because sometimes I cry myself to sleep because the pain is so bad. But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I bite my lip. I’m not there to confront some judgmental blonde. I’m there to see my little girl play the bells and sing. So, I somehow weave through the crowd—without falling down—and ask a teacher if I can sit somewhere since cancer has eaten so much of my spine and my right leg.


“Oh, my!” Her eyes are wide as she gives me a stool right at the door outside of the gym. 


People gawk, their eyes ping-ponging between me and the stool because although I look like a marshmallow of padding, I’ve painted color onto my face AND I look truly…deceptively healthy. But still every person who rushes toward the gym takes a moment to stare at me quizzically. A man I know stops and squeezes my wrist. “I’m so glad you’re feeling better,” he says. “Wait ‘til you’re in your 50s and you really know what it’s like to experience aches and pains.”


I plaster an appropriately congenial look on my face—and it takes effort. “Thank you,” I mouth as he bounds away even though I think his comment is thoughtless. Will I even make to 50? Unlikely! And then I feel tears coming to my eyes because I’ve stooped to pitying myself. Yes, mere aches and pains are so much worse than terminal cancer. You bet!


Most of the other parents are near my age. Yet they can walk around and jump and play. They can run up stairs if they want to. They can bound away from senseless conversations. They don’t have a disease eating at their tissues and bones. They don’t have some expiration date circling their heads like a vulture.


I shake it off. I’m being too sensitive. Who cares I’m the only adult sitting on a stool outside of the gym? Who cares that most people don’t know what to say—or are relentlessly curious about anything they don’t understand?


Then I spot a row without people. It’s behind the one group that would never judge me—and for that reason alone, I want to be there more than anything—by the kids with handicaps. So I lumber off the stool and over to those amazing kids. I struggle up the stairs and slide into the row, hoping the “parent seating patrol” won’t see me. Some parents start to follow, filling up that section, and I snuggle into my layers of clothing, so happy to rest my aching joints and be by a group of kids that won’t tell me I’m sick “because of my sins” or that if I “could have more faith…” or if I “could eat the right things” I’d be healed already.


Mike comes in and lights up the gym with that infectious grin. He spryly makes shimmying into the seat next to me look effortless, but he’s so cold that I lean in, willing my warmth to transfer bodies. And right after he sits down, a tiny girl in front of us smiles and waves to me and Mike too. If I’m honest, her simple kindness is so powerful. With a wave, that kid with Down syndrome starts resurrecting my mood.


The assembly starts, and I’m reminded of why I fought so hard to attend this crowded event. My youngest daughter, Indiana, shines as she plays the bells and then sings several songs with the choir. I’m so proud that I can hardly stand it. The pain goes away. The self-pity and sadness all fade. And the only thing left is the joy that I have great people in my life—people I love so dearly. 


The choir director asks the crowd to help them sing “God Bless the USA,” and I belt it out, harmonizing and hitting all the right notes along with some stranger behind me. I guess sometimes when we’re sad about what we’ve lost, it pays to remember what we still have! And although I might not be able to run or even speedwalk ever again, I can still sing.


The tiny girl looks back at me again and I wink. She’s beaming as the man behind me and I sing in unison. Her genuine smile grows as the words and melodies transport all negativity far away from the gym. “I thank my lucky stars… To be living here today.” And as the girl claps and hugs herself with such enthusiasm, I somehow feel comforted because in some small way, I think I made that kid’s day a little brighter.


After school, Indy gushes with joy, telling me and Mike all about her big debut. “Did you see that…?” or “Did you hear when…”  Then at the end of her questions, she asks, “Can we go to a victory lunch? Because I did REALLY good.”


“Yes,” Mike and I look at each other, loving every minute.


“A victory lunch?” Mike says later. “That was darling.”


“Right?! Plus, I think it’s a great idea.” 


That afternoon, despite everything we might be going through each and every day, I had to smile because we’d all had a memorable day that made us appreciate the good things in life. No matter what we might be going through, it’s always good to focus on “cans” instead of “can’ts” and to be proud of how far we’ve come despite hardships. Sure people can be offensive and say dumb, insensitive things, but they can also be so sweet and darling and wonderful. They can make life beautiful.


I guess the point is I don’t want to take the good with the bad. I want to throw out the bad and just pay attention to the good. It’s cliche, but life IS short. I don’t want to waste any bit of it worrying about things that aren’t worth my time. I’ve started weighing things lately by asking a quick question: “Is it worth worrying about?” And it’s amazing how many times the answer is simply “no.” I think I got an entire day back, and the week just started! 😂


Thursday, November 10, 2022

‘ The Red Feather’ Steampunk Red Bird

 

I had a dream about a red bird—and it was so neat that I’ve decided to write a book about it. First, I needed some inspiration, so I made this little guy. Looks like he’ll be my writing companion for the next while. I love him already 🥰


#steampunk #steampunkbird #redbird 





Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Beautiful, Snow-Laden Leaves

I’m in bed. The last week has been pretty harrowing. It started with a new infection and progressed to a fever. But there’s so much to be thankful for, like the fact that doctors gave me antibiotics and let me stay home. 


“You need to take it easy,” Mike said earlier today before heading to work. 


“I’m doing my best, but there’s so much to do. I just don’t want to miss a second with you and the kids.” That’s the weird thing about being given an expiration date, even if I have eight more years…10 more years…more or less, I don’t want to take a moment for granted. When the kids aren’t at school—and Mike’s at work—I’m with those goofballs, being silly, cheating at board games, cooking, playing music, and having a blast. When Mike’s home, I just want to show him how much I love him. I guess that’s so important because I want him to always remember…


“Yesterday I taught Trey and Indy how to make egg noodles,” I told Mike. “They got flour all over the dog.” I broke out laughing. “You know, Trey said he wants to open a restaurant with his best friend when he gets older. He said,” I paused for effect, “he wants to open it with you.” 


Mike’s eyes widened in surprise and he smiled with gentle eyes. “That’s really cute.”


“I thought so too.”



Not long after that, Mike left to work. I hunkered down into bed like I do every day, and I thought about what a regular weekday looks like for me. Mike and I wake up early to make the kids breakfast (usually avocado toast for Indy and some kind of massive thing for Trey—what a teenage boy!). Then I edit articles for a few hours (once I found a man who got arrested for problems with “addition” instead of “addiction” and that made MY WHOLE LIFE). Right after work, I usually get to visit with Ruby and Sky—those two girls completely light up my world because I’m so proud of them. They both recently sent me letters explaining how happy they are that I’ve made it beyond the two years that doctors originally gave me. “Thank you for being the most wonderful (and magical) Mom and best friend out there,” is a line that brought full-on tears to my eyes. Anyway, right after Mike leaves for work, I go to sleep. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I sleep from the time he leaves until Trey and Indy get out of school. And then the three of us spend the night doing homework, playing music, and cooking. 


It’s wonderful really, but there are tough things too. Like today. While resting in bed, I tried so hard not to throw up. Certain tumors hurt like a mother f—, I guess they say bone pain is the worst for a reason. The one in my left hip, for instance, makes it feel like I’m lying directly on a jagged rock (talk about the princess and the pea—it’s so dumb). But as I snuggled into the blanket that I got for completing two years of cancer treatments, I found it so hard to be truly upset, even about the pain. 


Mike put pictures of our travels (from before I got sick) above our bed. I studied them today and smiled thinking about what an amazing life I’ve led. From us swimming in bioluminescent waters to Mike shaking hands with an actual crocodile in the wild to skydiving with our family, I am so fortunate to have had so many fun times.


I told myself I should’ve been sleeping, but my eyes wandered around the room to our trees outside the bedroom window. I spotted what I’ve seen dozens of times—yet it’s never hit me like it did today. All of our trees are still thick with leaves. Some are mint colored, others are emerald, and my favorites are orange. But winter has finally come before the trees could prepare, and so each leaf bears a burden of snow. 


It struck me how the leaves aren’t ready to fall off yet. And so they’ve cupped their treasure of glistening flakes, and the reality of it made me sigh. Because right now I feel like these trees, totally unprepared for the winter of my life. My leaves haven’t fallen, I’m only in my 30s, yet I’m carrying my burden, trying to make it look like a weight of diamonds instead of something cold and unforgiving—something that threatens to steal my life. 


Yet, there’s so much beauty. I appreacite everything more now. These cooking classes don’t just showcase delicious family recipes—they’re a legacy. Dates with Mike aren’t just fulfilling—they could someday be a treasured view of the past. And letters from my oldest daughters are so much more than words—they’re proof of a bond that I know is stronger than time…stronger than death. That bond is one of the most powerful things in the universe: the tie a mother has with her children.


So, I need to remember this when someone asks “Why is it still so hard?” or ”Why aren’t you facing the reality that we all die?” Or even “Why aren’t you focusing on the good instead of saying you might not make it?” 


Because this is MY journey, and I’m proud to be feeling every bit of it—and sharing that with you. They can take what might help them, and leave the rest. What matters before all of my leaves are gone and winter has taken everything, is that I’ve shared love and really lived.


Looking out that window, tears blur my vision for just a second. Those trees are so damn beautiful. Although winter came before they expected, they’re going out with grace. 


It’s amazing how different the world looks on the other side of disease.




Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Face in the Crowd

A group had asked me to talk for hundreds of people—to share my ongoing experience with cancer. “Just say something uplifting like your articles. We all need something good to focus on right now.” This hit me as ironic. It seemed strange they’d ask someone who’s still fighting cancer not someone who’s already overcome it. But I found something powerful in that anyway, and I wrote a speech about not taking our lives for granted—no matter what our quality of life might be. There’s so much power in setting our roots in gratitude. And I honestly felt really prepared until the host said my name and asked me to come onto the stage.


That’s the thing about public speaking. For me, it always seems easier when you’re under the lights. It’s hard to see actual faces out there, and—while staring out into the lights and the darkness under them—I like to pretend I’m just talking to God and He’s actually listening. It’s what they call “an audience of one.” But at this event there weren’t spotlights, and that meant I could see the multitude of faces in front of me, and that’s when I froze.


I grabbed the mic and sat on the chair the event coordinator had set out for me. I’d told him I can’t stand long because of my weak right leg and the pain in my back. 


And so I just waited there, breathing into the damn microphone. And then, hoping someone—anyone—would help me, I heard a memory from the past. A woman I look up to very much once told me that if you have to speak anywhere, pick three faces from the crowd and talk to them. I heard her kind words, “There’s nothing to it,” she said. And I figured if Donna thought I could do it, I’d be all right.


So I found three faces. One, the man in the suit coat in the front row. Two, the elderly lady closer to the back on the right. And three, the highschool-age kid would looked forlorn and out of place in the crowd.


“We all have problems,” I said. “Mine just happens to be easier to define. I have terminal cancer. But most of us have something we’re going through. It could be marital problems, troubles at work, or maybe even a parent who has terminal cancer.” At this, I looked at the teenage kid, and I knew something I’d said had reached him.


The speech came easy then, and it changed from gratitude to seizing the day.


And then I talked about what I’m going through as a mom and how hard I’m fighting to shield my kids from how sick I can get. “The doctors said I might have up to eight years—maybe even longer if they can make more advances with melanoma treatments. The point is that I don’t know.” I looked out at the teenage kid and realized he’d begun crying. “But none of us know,” I said. And then I told a story about a man who’d been praying for me; I’d been shocked to hear he died that following Wednesday in a freak accident. “I wish I would’ve been praying for him,” I said.


“Whatever you take from today, whatever it is, I hope it’s to appreciate your life. Don’t hold off on doing things—like I did. Do what you want now, while you have time and you’re healthy. And if you’re dealing with someone who’s sick like I am, tell them how much you care. Don’t let it wait until tomorrow. Spend your time wisely. If you knew you had a year left, a week, a day… What would you do with your time? Really think about it. What would you do in that single day?”


The boy left crying. And at the end of the speech several people came up and told me they’d never forget my words or my message. 


“Mike,” I said. “I’m so worried that I was too harsh. I made a kid cry.”


“Maybe you said exactly what he needed to hear.”


And I thought if I’d said something that impacted just one person, it made all of the stage fright and fear worth it.


I’ve been thinking about this because recently our family knew two people who committed suicide: one right after getting diagnosed with cancer. It’s so hard for me to describe in words what I’m feeling, but if I’d given up during my first diagnosis in 2018–or the diagnosis of stage four in 2020–I would’ve missed out on so much. It’s crazy to think that despite pain, fatigue, and hardships, some of the best memories have come AFTER my diagnosis. That’s because living with intentional gratitude will change your life. I know it’s changed mine. I just wish people would realize that yes life is hard, but you never know what miracle is right around the corner. There’s so much good just around the bend. That’s why so many people say life is a rollercoaster. Up and down. Down and up.


Anyway whatever that teenage kid in the audience is going through, I hope some of my words helped him somehow. I guess we never know how we might impact someone else. I just hope my impact was good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A Letter to my Future Self—From 2020

 Hand shaking, I pulled the crumpled paper from my purse.


“November 2022,” I read the words on the lined paper. “Open in November 2022.”


The handwriting inside looked jagged, exhausted, and like the author had just about given up.


“To my future self or whom it may concern,” the words read.


“Elisa, it’s November of 2020. Life is bad right now. I can’t tell anyone though. They have enough on their minds, and adding my weakness to it would be too cruel. The doctors have said I’m dying. But I don’t want my family to worry anymore. So I’m acting brave… putting on a show.


“It’s true that when you’re at the end, you start to remember everything. But my life isn’t flashing before my eyes in an instant. I’ve been processing everything from a forlorn hospital room, thinking about my childhood, my youth, my kids, and Mike. 


“Everyone at the hospital is worried about COVID, so I hardly have visitors. That’s why I’ve decided to write this letter. Other than the clergyman and the nurses, I don’t have anyone to talk to. The clergymen are more interested in talking than listening. And one of the nurses gave me an enema.


“Anyway, the doctors have given me two years to live. If you’re reading this, it means I either didn’t make it and you’ve discovered this letter, or I’ve lived longer than the oncologists initially expected. I’m obviously hoping for the latter.


“‘So why am I writing this to my future self?’ you might ask. It’s because I want you to remember.


“The pain is terrible, beyond unbearable. Medicine barely touches it, but without pain medicine I couldn’t live this way. Can you imagine feeling like an alien is eating away at your spine, devouring the bones, ingesting the very marrow where it’s burrowing to make a home. That’s what the melanoma feels like—as if something is eating me alive.


“So I’m writing this to tell you to be appreciative. Elisa, if you’re still alive, remember where you were two years ago when doctors said you’d die. Even if you’re on hospice or barely hanging on, remember where you were and why you’ve fought so hard or continue fighting. If you’re someone else reading these words, I want you to appreciate your health. Realize what you have. Stop complaining about the little things: how your kids didn’t pick up their backpacks, how your spouse didn’t do the dishes, how you’re having a bad hair day and tired of your job.


“They always say bad things happen to someone else—disaster strikes another home. Well, I never thought I’d be 37 years old and someone would tell me I’m about to die. They won’t let me out of the hospital right now, and I’ve even been meeting with a hospice group. That’s terribly sad, listening to people who are about to die. But now the doctors say I’m one of them, and it’s really hard to believe.


“So don’t let life pass you by. Don’t put things off until tomorrow. Take that trip, try a new hobby, shoot for the stars. 


“We never think bad things could happen to US. But death comes for everyone, and no matter how much we try to distract ourselves with unimportant things, what we should be doing is appreciating every…single…moment.


“Elisa, or whoever is reading this, take it from me: life should be lived. I’m stuck in this hospital, and I may never be able to go home.


“When it comes to the end of things,  when you’re looking at life in the rearview mirror, things seem a lot different. It’s not about the fancy jobs, the riches, the accomplishments…. It’s simply about love. I guess at the end of everything, the greatest thing I could’ve done is bring out the best in others and make my loved ones know how much they mean to me. That is all.


“It’s crazy how simple things look at the end. So, Elisa, if you’re still alive, I hope you haven’t lost your spark and that you haven’t forgotten what matters most. And if you’re someone else who chanced upon these words, I hope you’re living your life to the fullest.


“From a woman who wishes she could get out of this hospital and conquer the world, please enjoy the moment. 

-Elisa

November 2020”


I folded the letter and placed it back in my purse. It’s crazy how hard I’ve fought through hospital stays, surgeries, a blood transfusion, radiation therapy, and infusion treatments. I’ve almost died several times in the last two years, but somehow—miraculously—I’m still here.


The landscape might feel a bit different, but the message hasn’t changed a bit. I still want to appreciate each moment, and I hope other people will do the same. Gratitude, is such a gift. It’s the door to possibility. It can make all the difference in the quality of the life we lead because it gives us the power to change our perspective.


From a grateful woman who’s still fighting cancer, 

Elisa

November 2022


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Proving Those Doctors Wrong

It’s been exactly two years since doctors told me I only had two years to live. Since I’m still alive—and because “blondes have more fun”—I decided to celebrate by lightening my hair. 

#1 I am so grateful to still be alive. Wow!

#2 I’m glad to no longer be bald. (Hair is awesome.)

#3 This year is about to get good.

Yay!!! 

To proving those doctors wrong,

Elisa 

 

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Toe Reader — Yes, you read that right. She reads toes!

Idaho has some pretty unique places. Island Park is known for its amazing residents and beautiful scenery—especially since it’s so close to Yellowstone. Sun Valley is known as a celebrity haunt. Boise is now known for its flood of Californians. Atomic City is…well, Atomic City. And Pocatello is a bit peculiar.


Care to disagree about Pocatello? Let me point out a few things. 


One of the main elementary schools is located on “666” Cheyenne Ave. The police station is on “911” N. Prominent people in town have striking or ironic names like Black or Craven; an OBGYN (who should’ve been a urologist) is named Dr. Cox and there IS a urologist named Peter. There’s a slew of other hilarious names that almost sound fictitious, but I’ll stop there.


Plus, those aren’t the strangest things. Pocatello High is internationally famous as a haunted building—and paranormal investigators travel thousands of miles to visit the place. On top of that, the funeral home (Downard) across the street from PHS got shut down for some pretty horrific things. (Just look them up!) What kind of town is this?!


Downtown Pocatello has other oddities and peculiarities many people find intriguing, and when I heard that it boasts—not a palm reader but—a toe reader, I wanted to check her out. 



“This is your intuition toe,” she said, explaining how the length signifies my intuition with myself and others. She went on to talk about trust and hardships, among other things. “See this crease? You endured something really terrible in the middle of your life so far.”


My eyes widened. That’s when my first son died. But I didn’t want to tell her anything personal, so I kept my mouth shut. This was getting strange.


“Do you mind if I touch your feet?” she asked.


“Go ahead,” I said. I’d gone to see her more out of curiosity than anything because I’d never heard of a toe reader. I totally believe in pressure points in our feet and things like that, but I didn’t expect her to talk about hardships. Then she said something I haven’t forgotten for months …


I thought about all of this the other day, after my friend died from cancer. I’d just been so sad, facing her fate and what will probably be my own.


My parents had asked me and my oldest daughter to breakfast. I didn’t tell them about my poor friend who died, but I thought about her as we drove to breakfast. We passed the 666 elementary school, the haunted high school, and the 911 police station. That’s when I finally piped up. “It was really strange,” I said. “I went to a toe reader, and she said something I’ll never forget.”


“A toe reader?” my dad asked.


My parents are so sweet. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about my latest art obsession, a recipe I just tried, or a toe reader, they always seem genuinely interested. “What did she say?” my mom asked.


“She said she could tell I haven’t been doing well for about two years. And I hadn’t told her anything about cancer! Not a word.”


“Really?” Ruby said. “I’d like to go see her sometime.”


“You should!”


“Well, what else did she say?” my mom asked.


“She asked if I feel like I’m paying off some type of debt by being sick.”


I thought about the conversation from months ago. I’d probably gaped at the woman, shocked. “No. I don’t feel like I’m paying off a debt. But I am sick—and you’re right … It has been for almost two years. I have—what doctors call—terminal cancer.”


“Are you sure you don’t feel like you’re paying off a debt?” she said almost gently. “Are you being honest with yourself?” And then I’d started crying. Because I have felt—somewhere inside myself—that if I’m sick long enough, God will see my suffering, His heart will be softened, and He’ll forgive me … for everything.


“It sounds so silly. But deep down. Way deep down, that is how I’ve felt, this entire time. I made some HUGE mistake before my diagnosis. And I keep thinking God will forgive me if I endure enough …” Forgiveness would be even better than being physical healthy.


She explained to me how I can be so strong because I embrace life—even the bad things—but I need to realize that it’s okay to have good things happen too. “I want you to repeat after me,” she’d said. “I am worthy of receiving goodness. I am worthy of being healthy. I am worthy.”


I’d repeated the words, even if it sounded so silly. There I sat, crying, getting my toes read, saying that I felt like my terminal illness could forgive my sins. 


I told my family all of this on our way to breakfast. “I honestly don’t know why I’m telling you this story,” I said as we pulled into the diner’s parking lot. “I just felt like I should.” 


My mom looked at me. “I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this, Elisa. It breaks my heart.”


We got out of the car and my dad hugged me. I know he doesn’t always understand me and my eccentricities, but he loves me anyway.


“I am worthy of receiving,” I thought to myself as we waited to be seated. What a strange thing to say.


“Pocatello is such a weird little town,” I told Ruby as we walked to the table. That specific diner slips customers their bills in classic novels. Patrons never know which book their bill might come in. Last time I got “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Hilarious, since the diner isn’t too far from Hyde Street!


“It kind of is a different place.” Ruby nodded.


“Almost like a Halloween town.”


Anyway, after we sat down, the waitress took our drink orders, and I kept thinking how easy it is to embrace the bad because at least I won’t get hurt from being let down. But maybe the toe reader was right. My friend just died, and I need to hope for health, embrace the good, and realize the obvious—that I’m not paying off some stupid debt. It’s okay for me to hope. Hope that I’ll get better. Even though the odds are against me, I guess it’s okay to be vulnerable. Even if what I have to lose … is my life.


That’s when the waitress set down all of our coffee cups. Everyone got a different cup with unique colors, but words shone on mine alone. I turned it around, so excited to read what it said, and my breath caught in my throat. “I am worthy of receiving…” The words sprawled under a bright rainbow. I showed Ruby and my parents, completely dumbfounded RIGHT after telling them that story. “It’s what the toe reader told me!”



“THAT is weird,” Ruby said. 


“It really is,” my mom agreed.


And so, after breakfast, I left the diner reaffirming that Pocatello is such a strange place—and that the oddest things happen here. 


Regardless of how bizarre this whole series of events might seem, I did find a bit more peace this week. 


I guess I am worthy of receiving something good. We all are. But sometimes it’s nice to remember even if it is in the most unexpected ways.



Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Penitent Man Will Pass






I love Indian Jones so much that I named my youngest daughter, Indiana. But today I can’t shake one of the scenes from my head. Do you remember when Indy crosses that “invisible” bridge? He takes his first step of faith simply talking about how “the penitent man will pass.”




I’ve seen several people “ring the bell.” This means  people are done with cancer treatments. I always thought it meant their cancer was gone, and at first this could feel conflicting. After all, this isn’t some contest where everyone gets a consolation prize. This is life…and everyone knows it’s not fair.

I never thought I’d get to ring the bell. But then I learned that people ring the bell for other reasons too. It might signify that they’ve decided to stop treatments because it’s too much and they’re ready to meet death’s embrace. Or they could stop after doctors have discovered that the medicine is too much for them to withstand. (I came close to that point last year.)

Anyway, today I find myself in a very weird middle ground: cancer purgatory. 

Some of the cancer in my body remains, but it’s what the doctors call “stable,” meaning it’s stayed the same size for a very “long” time. (Maybe an easier way to describe that is: “dormant.”) “We never say that people with stage four melanoma are in remission,” an oncologist told me. “Unless you have a freak accident, you still know how you’ll probably die, but we have bought you time. And we’ll be watching you closely so if—and when—it starts growing, we can try other options.”

“Like a clinical trial?”

“Yes.” She nodded.

So, my friend (Kara), Mike and I left that office and trekked to the infusion clinic where I’d have my final treatments. “It’s crazy to think I’ve almost had treatments for two years,” I said somberly. Two long years—the most doctors said my body can take. “We just have to hope and pray that the ‘stable cancer’ won’t keep growing.” Then I paused and glanced at Mike. “I would’ve written my life differently,” I told him. I don’t mean to be irreverent, but I am an author, and this plot line could be skewed as a tragedy. I want to be in an adventure…at the Temple of Doom…with Short Round.

“That’s not the point, Elisa,” Mike said, and I wondered what he meant.

“Elisa…,” Kara interjected, always trying to make things better. “You’re such a good friend. I just wanted you to know.”

We continued on, finally reaching infusions. “No way. You are a way better friend than I am.” Then the emotions of the day overcame me, and I needed to tell her how much her friendship has meant to me. “Remember my wedding day?”

She nodded.

“What you did for me was unreal. You fixed my hair so it stayed in place. You made sure my makeup never smudged. You took shots of Kahlua with me in that barn so I wouldn’t be too scared to walk down the aisle. And you single-handedly made sure I could my vows. It’s just an example of the kind of friend you are. You’re amazing and loyal. You made me feel beautiful…like I was worthwhile.”

She broke out laughing. “I don’t remember doing anything extraordinary,” she said thoughtfully. “It’s funny what sticks out to people…. You know what sticks out about you?”

I shook my head. 


“Your positivity. I never told you this, but last year after I went to treatments with you one time, I realized how negative I’d become at work. I watched you, fighting so much pain…. But you still asked how the nurses were and worried about everyone else. You stayed so damn positive. And I thought, ‘If Elisa can be this positive—with everything she’s going through—I can try too.’”

I bit my lip. “That means so much to me, Kara.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Mike smiling with what might’ve been his I-told-you-so face.

“I started a positivity board at work because of you,” Kara continued.

“Really?!”

“Every day I add something to it for everyone to see. It’s gotten pretty big—and I haven’t taken a recent picture, but here’s one from a few months ago. And it all started with me going to that one treatment with you.”


I could hardly believe it. Kara is a big deal, pretty high up at an elite company. It felt hard to comprehend that anything I’d done had impacted her.

“That’s what I meant earlier,” Mike said. “That’s the point of your story. It’s not about how to get better. Or how to not get sick or how to beat cancer. It’s about appreciating what you have, right now.”

So, although I wish I could write that I got to ring the bell because I’m cancer free, that would apparently be too easy. 

I’ve decided that Mike “might” be right. (*giggling* because he’ll love reading that line.) The point of my life right now isn’t to show people how to be happy after overcoming hardships. Its not about how much better life is after beating cancer. It’s about finding joy DURING the hard times. It’s about perseverance and remaining happy regardless of what your situation might be. I’ve honestly found so much happiness after getting a terminal diagnosis. I’ve seen love and embraced the good around me. 

So…despite living with a ticking time bomb, I can be extremely happy today because I got to ring the bell. I wore my best dress from Goodwill, and I think I might’ve been the most fashionably dressed person to ring the bell this year. 2022 fashion alert! There’s that.

Can you believe I made it through two years of treatments, and I’m still here to tell the tale? Life is a wild ride. I can hardly wait to see what chapter God has written next. Spoiler: He’s one heck of a writer. I’m just hoping for a twist ending. Let’s do this thing!




Wednesday, October 12, 2022

We’re Going to Italy!!!


“It’s kind of like Make-A-Wish, and you’ve been selected.”


I paused, a bit dumbfounded. I’ve been nominated for a few things since my cancer diagnosis, but this is the first time I’d actually “been selected.”

“Think of something you want to do with your family, something really big.”


My first thought went to Italy. My biggest bucket list item has always been to visit Italy— especially where my mom‘s family is from in Calabria. Going there with Mike and the kids, well…that would be a dream come true. But I didn’t want to ask for something so huge, and instead I said, “Maybe they could pay for us to go to Lava Hot Springs. The tickets are under $20 a person, and we absolutely love going there.” I figured, this was something fun but not extravagant.


“Are you kidding?” the woman said on the phone. “That’s not nearly big enough. You need to think of something big.”


So…I thought about it for the next couple of days, and when I called her back I had thought of something enormous. It was beyond going to Lava Hot Springs. Beyond going to Italy. Beyond landing on the moon. “I want to meet Oprah,” I said.


She broke out laughing and then tried to calm herself. “We can’t help you meet Oprah, Elisa,” she said. 


And I immediately felt my skin heat to the temperature of total embarrassment.


“Go look at our website and see what we can do. Go look at what other people have asked for.”


So I went and saw that they built ramps to go into people’s houses. They’ve paid for big vacations to different states. They’ve bought people cars.


But I still felt mortified, so I called one of my best friends. “I feel utterly stupid.”


My friend laughed and laughed. “You have to admit. It IS a little funny.”


This friend is an absolutely incredible person. They’re quite well off, but it hasn’t ruined them—they’re so down to earth and kind to everyone. I remember talking with them about wealth once. “It won’t bring the people we love back,” my friend said. They’ve had some family members who died of cancer. And maybe that’s one of the reasons we’ve gotten closer in the past two years. I guess they just really understand what I’m going through.


“So what are you gonna do now?”my friend asked.


“Well, I’ve decided to call the lady so I can tell her to give the money to someone else—maybe a kid or something. I just think there’s someone else who could use it more than I can.”


Months passed, and I didn’t hear from that organization again. I hoped the representative found someone who could think of an appropriate wish, something that would really change their lives. “I wonder what THEY picked,” I told my friend one day, and they said it was interesting I brought that up because they had a surprise for me.


“It’s not just me,” they explained. “I’ve gotten together with a few other people about this. Don’t get too excited because we’re just covering the plane tickets. BUT…”


I held my breath.


“We’re buying you and your family tickets to go to Italy.”


I nearly dropped my phone. “What?! I stared ahead blankly. “You can’t do that. That is so much money. And plus, the doctor said I might be getting better. Some of the cancer in my body is starting to die.”


Silence. Then finally, “Elisa, I just read your book. You remember the man you met—the one who said he got better for a few years, but the cancer came back? He said his advice to you would be to live to the fullest if you ever had the chance because you never know when it might come back.”


“I remember,” I said.


“I have so many family members who died of cancer. They didn’t get to live out their dreams. But you…YOU have the chance. And I want to help give you and your family that opportunity.”


I cried and cried—becoming a totally blubbering mess, and I wondered how I would ever pay this person (and the other contributors) back.


“Just promise me,” they said, “I want to remain anonymous and so do the other people who pitched in. Just have a great time and promise you’ll write about it. All of us read your stuff.”


This happened several months ago, but I’ve honestly thought about it every single day. Especially today.


Today, this Wednesday, is a huge day for me. I’m getting scans to see if the last bit of cancer is still in my spine. Tomorrow will be the last time I can get immunotherapy (even though they will continue infusions for my bones for another year and a half). But the max they can do for immunotherapy is two years because any more can cause organ failure and other complications. If I still have cancer today, we will have to try a clinical trial. And doctors have told me over and over that at that point, the game will be set for failure. No more chances. But—by some odd twist of fate, modern medicine, and answered prayers—some of the cancer has started dying in my body. And despite what doctors predicted, I actually have a chance.


On Oct. 30, it will be exactly two years since doctors only gave me two years to live. It’s odd to think that so many miracles have happened since then. Plus, I’ve really begun to live.


I’ve experienced so many amazing things with my family over the last two years. I got to sing the national anthem for a semi-pro baseball game. My memoir got published by a real publisher and became a bestseller. I went skinny-dipping with Mike—even though he seemed a bit worried that I’d get swept away in the current. And now we’re going to Italy this winter, and I might finally be feeling up to the occasion. We have a wheelchair now because cancer ruined my back and part of right leg. Plus my stamina is still so low, and doctors say it always will be since cancer treatments wiped out all the cortisol in my body. But if that’s the price…to live and see my kids grow up, I’m willing to pay it.


So, I will never meet Oprah—which is actually hilarious. But I will get to see Italy if I can just stay the course. 


I’m so excited to find out what my scans will show today. I feel like a new day is dawning, and I have a renewed lease on life. Yes, the cancer might still be there. Yes, even if it’s gone there is an 80% chance that it will come back. BUT right now I simply don’t care. I am too busy being happy and loving the moment.


Someday I’m going to Italy. And today I’ll embrace whatever beautiful things cross my path. 


Life. Now. The present. Well, it’s beautiful.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Huntsman Cancer Patient with Stage Four Melanoma Goes Sky Diving

 East Idaho News did such a fantastic job on this interview Wow 💓


To read the full article, please go here: Author Makes the Most After Terminal Diagnosis

#melanomaawareness #melanoma #stagefourcancer #cancerwarrior 


Friday, October 7, 2022

How Negativity Can Dim Your Perspective

 I’ve always had strange dreams—for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I didn’t understand them. But by the time I hit middle school, I knew they were something special. “If there’s one thing I hate,” my best friend said at lunch one day, “it’s hearing about people’s dreams. Booo-ring!”


How could anyone say that? Even as a teenager, I felt dreams showed a path to the soul. I could go to sleep contemplating problems, and the answer would come in a dream. One time I stressed about what to sew for a contest and even dreamed up an incredible pattern. Our subconsciousness can be such a gift! 


Anyway, now that I have cancer, my problems have changed. Instead of wondering what to sew for a contest or how to tie up loose plot lines for a novel, I’m asking humanity’s oldest questions: What’s the point of life? What’s the point of MY life? What happens after I die? Where did it all begin? And what gives a life meaning? 


Surprisingly, I’ve gone to sleep asking these questions and actually gotten answers. Yes, it’s mostly allegorical and a bit confusing. Several of the dreams have someone who claims to be God right before they reveal an amazing truth. Now, do I really think God is coming to me in dreams? Probably not. But at least I’m feeling peace about a lot of issues as I’ve mulled mortality, sickness, and the meaning of life.


Right before my surgery last week, I thought about all of this. “What is the point—and why am I still here?” I thought. Oncologists are starting to say I actually might beat this. Yet, other patients—my friends who had much better diagnoses—have died while I’m still here. Maybe I’m having survivor’s remorse. I want to live, but I feel so badly for the people who have died. 


Anyway, I went to sleep and had one of the most powerful dreams I’ve ever had. I won’t go into full detail except to say this: In my dream every person started life with a brilliant light burning inside of them. When they were positive, the light would burn even brighter. But when they were negative, the light would lessen. 


“Many people have forgotten their God-given spark,” a woman said in the dream. “We each have it, but it’s so easy to be negative. And sometimes people’s lights go out. If you say or do something negative, you must balance it AT LEAST with the equal amount of positive. But people forget to nurture their light. Your purpose, Elisa, is quite simple. You must remind people that it’s not worth being negative because it leads to darkness. Simply share your perspective and help people keep their flames burning.”


I knew the dream would change my life. And several days after my surgery, I kept thinking about it—especially on one specific occasion. Mike brought me to a store, but the pain in my leg from muscle atrophy and severed nerves, made it nearly unbearable to walk. So—practically being a saint—Mike pushed me in a wheelchair. 


At one point, he left me to look in one aisle as he went to another, and an eccentric woman came up to me. “Why in the world are you in a wheelchair?” she asked.


I’d done my hair up, fixed my makeup, and I wore a beautiful low-cut dress that framed my bust. I’m sure I looked “the vision of health.” Despite this—and her intrusive questions that I didn’t NEED to answer—I told her about stage four cancer, previous and recent surgeries, and extreme fatigue from ongoing treatments.


“I never would’ve guessed. You don’t look like you have cancer. You’re too young. I feel so bad for you.” Then she went on and on.


Not long after, when Mike brought me to the car, tears filled my eyes. “What’s wrong?” Mike asked.


And as I told him how much I hate being pitied—and about the nosy woman in aisle seven—I felt my inner light getting dimmer and dimmer.


“What is wrong with people?” Mike asked.


“Wait,” I said. “You remember my dream about everyone having a light inside them?”


Mike nodded.


“I feel mine dimming. It’s metaphorical, but you know what I mean. All of the negative things I just felt and said, I need to counteract it.” So I started thinking of positive things. “I must seem very approachable,” I said slowly. “The woman felt at home enough that she could even ask me what’s wrong. AND she said she’ll never forget me or my story because she’d been focusing on unimportant things.” And the more Mike and I said—both agreeing to only be positive—the more I felt my inner light turning from a dim flicker to a blaze. 


Several days have passed, and I’ve remembered that flame and how I don’t want to be negative and jeopardize dimming my light over petty things. And I can say, this mindset has completely transformed how I feel inside.


A few people have thought my dreams are “odd” or “the product of stress.” But I’ve found the lessons in them to be quite profound. Whatever someone might think, I do hope this is my purpose: to help people see the best in themselves and to realize God’s put something special in all of us—a divine spark. If my dreams have taught me anything, it is that life is far too short to spend time dimming our lights with negativity. Why not dwell on the positive and let joy light the way?