Tuesday, May 16, 2023

A Mocha a Day Keeps Negativity Away

This has been one of the oddest months of my entire life. Several weeks ago, doctors discovered a new tumor in my brain. Then, just hours before the radiation, the tumor board called the entire thing off. Forget that my insurance just paid $60,000 for a mask to be made—the same one they'd bolt to the table, covering my entire face to ensure up to 1mm of accuracy. And the reason they called it off? Well, the possibility is much worse than radiation, and just the idea of surgery has me shaking. But I'm trying not to worry too much. We all know where they've said this road is leading. Why quibble about the attractions along the way?


Anyway, I decided to share my story online through videos this time as a way of coping, and the first video quickly garnered over half a million views! To put this in perspective, years ago a local news station featured my blog when it hit a million views—after 10 YEARS.  So, to see these new numbers in a few short hours, well, it felt flabbergasting. 


The comments began rolling in by the thousands: most nice and a few mean. On top of that, my views for overall content is at 4 million today—something I once hoped and prayed for. But now, that seems unimportant. I pray for many different things than I did years ago: I pray to see each of my children reach adulthood. I pray for a few more years with Mike. I pray for my friends who are dying from terminal illnesses. I pray for people to be out of pain. Views ... what silly things I used to hope for.


My one concession is that in the main video, I urged people to "visit their dermatologist," and many of the comments claim viewers are doing just that. Other than being a mother and Mike's wife, I feel like I’ve accomplished something now. If people really are seeing their dermatologists, maybe they won't suffer my harrowing fate. Perhaps that was the point of my life, to help other people avoid sunburns, tanning beds, and an unchecked mole that could ruin their future. How insignificant that mole once seemed.


After getting off the phone with an oncologist last week, I pondered his words. He gave me 2 ½–3 years to live. Doesn't that sound cruelly familiar?! After all, I did write "Two More Years" following the first two-year diagnosis—IN 2020. Is that just their go-to? 

Doc #1: "This chick's insides are crap. Let's give 'er two years."

Doc #2: "Sounds about right. That IS standard protocol."


The three rudest comments on my "almost viral" video probably go as follows:

#1 "Who cares about this woman? Everyone has cancer these days."

#2 "I've heard she doesn't like Trump. At least that's one less liberal."

Last, and also least, #3 someone said they had terminal cancer once (like it’s something you get from the store), and they couldn't believe my "hubris" in posting my journey.


"You can't listen to these people," one of my daughters said. "You're getting to the point that you can't read all of the comments anyway—but you really shouldn't waste your time on the bad ones."


"I want to read what people say, though, because so many other cancer patients ask me to pray for them. And most people are so nice."


"Well, then," she paused, "you need to find a way to deal with this, so it doesn't drain you emotionally. You have enough to worry about, Mom. We need you to get better."


I thought for a minute and then started giggling. "I have it! I just need to make this fun."


"Okay?" She raised a brow.


"You know how I love mochas?"


She nodded.


"I don't get THAT many bad comments. So, the solution is easy. Every time someone says something mean, I'll go buy myself a mocha."


"This could be a very good or a very bad idea," she said before bursting with laughter. 


So, we're doing the best we can. We're adjusting to bad news and good news, kind people and the few mean ones. And we're about to potentially drink a ton of mochas. Life couldn't get any better, right? That's what I'll keep telling myself.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Kindness of Shaun Buck from Newsletter Pro

My phone rang and I froze. “Shaun Buck’s” name paraded across the screen, but it took a moment to answer. How do you possibly say “thank you” to someone who’s moved mountains in your life?

“Hello, Shaun?” I finally said, answering the call.
“Elisa! I’m so glad we can talk.”
But my voice faltered, and I found myself back in that horrid hospital room in 2020. A doctor unceremoniously told me I would die soon. Family could hardly visit (one hour a day, one person at a time) because of COVID-19. That particular day—when doctors relayed my fate—I sat staring out a sterile window, stressing about bills. Mike had taken a month off—unpaid—to help the kids with school, emotions, and pretty much everything. I worked remotely from my hospital room, but I couldn’t possibly edit 40 hours a week, not after getting a cancerous vertebra removed! Mike returned to work and even took on side jobs, but we couldn’t seem to catch up, and I didn’t think I could continue treatments let alone pay regular bills.
My hours dropped to between 20–30 a week. Nurses would laugh when they came in to get my vitals. “Are you seriously working from your hospital room?” one lady asked. I’d donned a fancy shirt over my hospital gown and IVs, so coworkers wouldn’t suspect my true attire—or location—on Zoom calls.
“I …” A deep breath of air gave me courage and brought me back to the moment. “I … wanted to say thank you, Shaun. I’m gonna try not to cry. But what you did for my family, well, it changed our lives.”
“It wasn’t anything,” he said.
I scoffed. “You have no idea how stressed I was. I tried working full time, but I couldn’t, not with my health. We needed the money so badly. And then … you swooped in and paid me for full time—for months and months—even though you knew I could never pay it back. I tried, just because I wanted to be worth it, but God knows I couldn’t. And then, you didn’t even care. Management said you just did it to help, even though I’m sure times were hard for everyone during the peak of COVID.”
“It’s just money,” he said. “And I wanted to help. Really. People told me about you and your family. They said you’re really good people. They said YOU are a good person.”
I’d never spoken to Shaun directly before that call. I messaged him once, thanking him in 2021, but I didn’t dare call. Shaun is a big deal. He’s extremely successful with amazing connections and the kind of marketing skills any entrepreneur would envy. I guess that’s why people hire him to help grow businesses through magazines and newsletters. He uses personalized stories to help customers become fully invested not just in products, brands, and services but also in the people behind them.
I shook my head. I couldn’t believe this benevolent man had called ME a good person. I didn’t even land on the scale compared to him.
“Why did you do it?” I finally blurted.
“Well, I still remember where I was when I heard about your diagnosis. You’d started working for the company in June, and you found out about the cancer in October. I was going through a pretty hard time myself. It was … really rough—but nothing compared to what happened to you.”
I knew Shaun had gotten divorced, but I didn’t know the details except he loves his boys more than life itself. It’s true that divorce is hard; it can feel daunting for even the most capable of people. His story fully captivated me, and I couldn’t help but gasp. “I’m so sorry you went through that,” I said.
“Hey, it’s okay. But like I said, it was bad, but then I heard about you. Even though I didn’t know you, I pretty much did—because other people had told me about you. And I wanted to help.” Then he paused, and I felt a shift in the conversation. “Elisa, you just have to get better. I can’t wait to talk with you in two years and hear how you’re cancer free and able to walk well. You’ve gotta believe it.” So much emotion filled his words that I found tears brimming my eyes.
“It wasn’t just money to us,” I sobbed. “It helped us keep a semblance of normalcy for the kids. I’ll be forever grateful for what you did.”
After the call ended, I thought about what a blessing it’s been to work for Newsletter Pro for the past three years. I reveled in perfecting articles about history, current events, life hacks, food—and almost anything you can imagine!
“I loved my job,” I told Amber, the director of client operations, “because NLP has the best employees—and editing every day gave me an added purpose. It’s so hard giving up this part of my life.”
“We all love you,” she said, and I knew she really felt empathy for what my family and I are experiencing with the advent of this new tumor. “We’ve been honored to have you as a team member. And I wanted to let you know that Shaun has decided to give you the work laptop.”
“What?! Why—I mean … What?!” Had I heard her right? I rested my hands on the keyboard and stared at it. It’s a top-of-the-line MacBook Air with fancy editing programs and fonts! It’s so fast and new that it makes my personal computer look like a 100-year-old with a walker, dentures, cataracts, AND a diaper!
“I’ve gotta pay for this!”
“Just enjoy it.” She laughed. “You being a part of the team—and bringing positivity to all of us—has been more than enough payment.”
So, I had my last official day of work on Monday, just in time to prepare for my new radiation journey that has followed. I’m writing this on my beautiful, flawless, AMAZING laptop, and my soul is filled with such gratitude right now. I still don’t fully understand why Shaun decided to do these kind things for me and my family, but I do know that every time I use this computer, I’ll think of the good people in this world and be grateful to still be alive, experiencing the joy and wonder of a life well lived. I really am the luckiest.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Light from a Lighthouse

 When doctors first gave me two years to live, my medical chart showed “Christianity” as my denomination. This dates back to when my first son passed away. I still remember selecting a religion when staff boasted a pastor who could instantaneously come pray for my baby. But my son didn’t live—no matter how many preachers begged God. I guess Heaven needed him more. 

That happened nearly two decades ago, and now doctors have told me it’s my turn to die … 

Seeing the shock on my face after this initial diagnosis, specialists sent a parson to my room.

I twiddled my thumbs as the on-site pastor doomed my soul to hell. “What do you mean, you don’t believe Jesus was the son of God?”

“I knew I should’ve lied,” I said because condemnation—especially when you’re facing an expiration date—feels markedly worse than lying to a pastor. 

I remained hospitalized for nearly a month, and over that time several Christian clerics spoke with me. Each voiced concerns about eternal torment, but despite their urgings, I couldn’t force myself to believe in Christianity.

After finally getting discharged from the hospital, I had a strange new view on life and death—so close I could almost feel it creeping up on me. I knew how I would die; I just didn’t know when. This left me in doubt about my past regrets along with future goals, but I did know one thing for certain, I didn’t want to spend my final days shackled to condemnation over a difference of beliefs. 

Over the next two years, I visited various places of worship for different religions. I sought prayers from Buddhists, spiritualists, monks, and so-called heathens. I especially reveled in time at synagogues with newfound Jewish friends who became like family and showed me joy in simplicities—and food. Although I found a peace among Jewish culture and something that finally satiated my desire to feel even closer to my creator, the whole time, I kept wanting to visit a spiritual healer named Dixie Nowell.

Dixie takes a holistic approach to healing, wielding oils, music, and books that detail information from ancient texts. A dear friend, paid for me to see her after my divorce, and I genuinely couldn’t believe how much better I felt about life after talking with her.

“Can I come see you?” I asked her. “I’d also like to bring one of my daughters, Sky.”

My relationship with Sky has deepened in a way that is truly astounding. I’m not sure if it’s the terminal diagnosis, the woman she’s grown to be, or both, but we’ve gotten so close in the past year, and I find myself extra grateful to be living on “bonus time.” I’ve already made it five months longer than doctors expected, and although I’m still fighting for more years above ground, I can’t imagine missing these recent months with my loved ones. They’ve held some of the most profound experiences of my entire lifetime.

Dixie quickly responded to my query. “Yes! And come stay with me.”

I’ve had so many people altruistically offer for me to spend the night at their homes—which are close to the cancer center in Utah—but I rarely do it, not wanting to impose. Yet, for some reason I agreed, feeling almost like we needed to stay with Dixie. This might sound hokey or ridiculous, but the night before we left for more cancer treatments and to see Dixie in Eden, I dreamed about a beautiful lighthouse with a blinding light shooting through the windows. It left me feeling pure and flawless despite illness, something I haven’t felt since long before this whole ordeal began.

What Dixie gave me and Sky is hard to put into words. She spoke with both of us for hours and hours, and with each moment that passed, I somehow felt my load lighten. “You’re changing so many lives,” she said to me. “I read your posts. And I love how you write.”

“That—well, that means so much.” Tears filled my eyes when she shared this sentiment about me—but especially when she spoke to Sky. I watched as my beautiful, vibrant 18-year-old transformed from carrying worries about losing her mom to appearing hopeful that everything will end the way it’s supposed to. There’s nothing more important to a mother than seeing that her children are okay. And, I think half of Dixie’s gift is being a life coach; the other half is building others up to the brim with positivity and kindness.

We finally went into the healing room, and as Sky and I closed our eyes to meditate, I felt so much joy beating from my heart. Sure, I don’t know how much longer I truly have or how excruciating my cancerous death may ultimately be, but I am trying my hardest to remain present and hopeful. I’m enjoying every minute, taking opportunities to experience new things and cherishing time with the people I love the most. The longer I sat meditating, it almost seemed as if my dream about the lighthouse had been for this moment, that the sun shone through MY soul and God really filled me with such light and love. I so hoped Sky and Dixie felt the same.

After the session ended, Sky practically glowed and hugged me. “Thank you for bringing me here, Mama. I’m so glad I got to meet Dixie and to experience this with you.”

Dixie smiled, and I realized she must’ve heard similar words a thousand times.

“Let me show you to your room.”

I gingerly walked down the stairs, while Sky and Dixie’s inspiring son brought our luggage down. “Here it is!” Dixie beamed.

I gaped at the wall, completely dumbfounded and momentarily unable to speak because in the corner—large and impressive—hung a striking picture of a lighthouse with light shining directly through the upper windows.

“Is everything okay?” Dixie asked, taking a step closer to me. 

“Ye—yes. I’m just so … grateful for your generosity. And … your friendship.” I paused, willing her to know how much it all meant to me and Sky. “Thank you for letting us stay here, Dixie.” I forced my voice to remain steady and strong. “Your kindness … means far more than you might know.”

The next day, I received test results from earlier that week. They showed a new tumor.

“This tells us once again, that unless there is some freak accident, you will die from melanoma.”

I sighed and wracked my thoughts from something positive to say since I’ve made it my personal vendetta to try shocking the hell out of my doctor. “At least that gives me a good excuse to buy a new dress,” I finally blurted. “How can my husband get mad when I tell him I got a new dress AND a tumor.” 

The line stayed quiet, and I didn’t mean to, but I actually broke out laughing. 

“You’re taking this news awfully well,” the doctor said, dumbfounded.

Yes. I’d done it again! Bwa-ha-ha! “I had the most amazing experience this week,” I admitted. “It put everything in perspective, and I’m grateful to be here at all. I can’t believe I actually exist. It’s hard to even fathom that I’ve lived longer than expected. I can’t believe I got to have a family, experience love, see the beauty of our world. Death is just part of the bargain.” I sighed. 

“You … Elisa … Sometimes you amaze me,” she said. 

“Same to you. Thank you for extending my life,” I replied. And after I hung up the phone, my thoughts returned to that unforgettable lighthouse, the one with the light shooting straight through the upper windows. 

“Dear God,” I silently prayed. “I hope you love me. If you do and you can find the time, can you please give me strength to get through the next leg of this journey.” And then I sat down … and thinking about the future, I cried.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Meeting Douglas Sayer of Premier Technology

 I’ve met some pretty legendary people in my lifetime: some who I knew would greatly impact my life and others who have changed the world. It’s incredible to meet both kinds of people, but there’s something truly extraordinary about seeing a world changer up close. They have this energy about them that instantly builds excitement and innovation. And even in a few moments, you can catch that “je ne sais quoi.” I remember feeling this when I met Stephen Covey and later stayed at his home while fiddling as a homeless street musician in Hawaii. And I felt that today while visiting with Douglas Sayer.

Many of you might recognize this name especially if you’re from Idaho. Doug started Premier Technology with his beautiful wife, Shelly, in 1996. Since then, it’s accomplished the unthinkable: streamlining processes that have helped industries across the globe, creating cutting-edge technology that truly improves the world, and finding solutions that were once unthinkable. Yes, this company boasts over $100 million in annual sales, but that’s not what impressed me most about Doug. What impressed me is his kindness.

Let’s back up a minute. In 2021, I cried at my computer. Months before, doctors had given me two years to live, and I found writing to be one of my best outlets. But sometimes, even writing can be devastatingly hard. And so, feeling even more sick than normal, I thought about quitting writing. “There’s no point,” I said under my breath. And I thought then, that if God really wanted me to share my story, He needed to give me a sign. If (and that seemed to be a BIG if) my writing benefited other people, I needed someone to say so … that day. To say: Keep Writing. Honestly, that’s all I needed, those two little words.

I posted a story and got several beautiful comments, mostly about people praying for me. And while these meant the world, they weren’t what I’d asked for. I turned solemn, thinking it had happened, my time to retire my pen. Then, just when I’d nearly given up hope, I received a comment from Douglas Sayer—thee Doug Sayer! And he, of all people, sent those two words I’d asked for hours earlier: “Keep Writing.”

You know, life is absolutely astounding. I never told Doug what his words did for me that day; I didn’t know how. Anyway, time passed and he continued commenting on some of my other posts. I told my son, Trey, about this one day. “That’s the kind of guy I want to work for,” he said.

“Huh.” I smiled. “I think they do tours.”

So, I reached out to Doug, and when I asked if they offer tours, he not only said “yes,” but he offered to show us around himself.

Trey and Indy got more excited than I’d seen them in a long time. Indy changed her outfit about three times, and Trey wrote down a few questions he’d ask if he got brave enough. We arrived today, and Trey looked at me with wonder. “I can’t believe he bought some books from you.”

“Right?” I said. “Trey,” I tried remaining calm, “the books he bought … I needed that exact amount of money for trips to Utah so I can get these new radiation treatments.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I just want you kids to remember how good God is.” We’re not religious, but we’ve sure seen miracles since I got sick. “God looks out for us. It’s astounding.”

After we went into the building, Trey and Indy pushed me in my wheelchair, and Doug gave us the most wonderful tour. I ended up asking some of Trey’s questions (since Trey got nervous), and then I threw in a couple of my own.

“I’m just full of questions.” I giggled. “You can tell I used to work for a newspaper. But I really wanted to ask … you said the most important thing you’ve found in business is to ‘look ahead’ so you can always stay above the competition. But what about life? With everything …” I paused. “With everything I’m going through, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of life, wondering, ‘What’s the point?’ So, what’s your best advice for life?”

He appeared thoughtful. “I guess my advice would be the same: look ahead. I always compare it to throwing a football. You know that at some point the football and the shadow will meet. I’m like the shadow, trying to keep up.” And as he spoke, I nodded, thinking how ironic it felt that this advice fully embodied what he’d done for me with the words “keep writing” years ago. He shared that at a time when I felt like no longer making goals or achieving them. Sometimes it’s so easy to give up and give in when you’re told you’re dying from cancer or you have another brain tumor. But his sage words both in 2021 and today, hit home.

On the ride back to Pocatello, Trey tapped the steering wheel. “I told you he’s the kind of guy I’d want to work for.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“You can just tell the kind of person he is, how he took time with us, to make sure we all felt important. It means a lot with everything we’re going through.’

“That whole thing was amazing,” Indy said.

Trey nodded. “I’ll never forget what he said about looking ahead. I know it’s important to plan, but something about his words—I’ll never forget it.”

“That’s because you just met a world changer,” I said, and I didn’t even have to explain further.

“I guess so.” And that was the end of the conversation.

After we got home, I couldn’t help feeling so happy and warm in my heart. “You ready for the next round of treatments?” my nurse called to give me the appointment schedule.

“Yes, I am. I gotta keep looking ahead and moving forward.” I smiled, unable to help myself. “I learned that today, from a new friend.” 

Monday, April 17, 2023

Reuniting With a Stranger from Across the World

 I waited with Indy in Naples, Italy—and I’d just asked a stranger to play music with me. (If you’d like to read the beginning of this story, here are those links.

Part 1: The Protagonist in Our Own Stories

Part 2: When We Met Jin

Months after our jam session in Europe, Jin surprised us by explaining that he’d made a trip to America! “I’m in Nashville right now,” he wrote. “I hope I can make it and see you and your family in March to get a tattoo from Ruby. I’ll try. In any case, thank you—and God—that we were gifted such a moment in Italy. That moment still pushes me forward to this day.”

Surprisingly, I didn’t doubt his words for a second, and less than a month later, several members of our family waited to pick Jin up near a bus stop. “I see him!” Indy squealed, and then we all spotted Jin.

We talked so fast, excited to see him. And when we brought him to soak in some hot pots, he peered around thoughtfully. “It’s surreal to think just a few months ago, we all met on the other side of the world.”

“This journey with cancer has been hard on all of us,” I whispered, pointing to the kids. “You gave us something so wonderful to look forward to. Thank you for coming to see us.”

I honestly believe each member of our family needed to meet Jin for a reason. He may be young, but he’s wise beyond his years and shows such generosity of spirit. During his visit, we all made memories that we’d never forget. He helped Trey with his guitar, got a tattoo from Ruby, played card games with Indy, hiked with Sky, and went out to some bars with Mike.

What I loved the most, though, was hearing his stories. Jin has traveled around the world going anywhere from Greece to Iceland to Idaho to Japan. Honestly, I’ll never know what inspired him to go so far out of his way, just to see us, but I think it might’ve been providence.

Many of you know I’ve been studying the etymology of different words. That being said, I’m very intentional about what I write in cards, and I felt almost compelled to say in our family card to Jin, “You are unforgettable.”

Jin looked up at me after reading the words and appeared quite overcome with emotion. I’m sure part of this is because I’m so sick, and he knows how hard cancer has been on our family, but I also knew he’d become such a dear friend to all of us.

“It’s interesting you would write the word ‘unforgettable,” he said. “The root of that word means ‘truth.’ And as I’ve traveled across the world, that’s what I’ve been looking for—and finding: my own truth.”

This resonated with me even more than any of the music we’d played while he stayed with us in Idaho. I thought then about my journey with cancer and how hard I’ve tried to persevere and remain positive despite each setback. Over a year ago, I pulled out my old bucket list and decided to remember things I’d checked off and then cross off whatever I hadn’t done: one of those things had been to visit Italy.

At the end of it all, after I’d checked off so many crazy things like going skydiving with the family, getting Aunt Jackie’s recipe for spaghetti, jamming in a New York Subway, or even visiting Pompeii, I realized what really makes life matter isn’t life experiences. It’s experiencing life with the people we love.

We each gave Jin a hug and stated the very best of wishes. And when he walked out our door, I felt like we’d met someone who had somehow changed our lives forever. It’s true that life can sometimes feel unbearably hard, but it’s also beautiful and miraculous. Who knew that a stranger we met at a train station in Italy would become such a dear family friend.


Sunday, April 16, 2023

When We Met Jin

 I’d intended to write this a couple of days ago, by the news about the tumor really shook me up. I have things in perspective now, and I’m doing okay—it just took me a minute. So, where were we? 

I’d asked a stranger to jam with me in Italy. You can find that post here: ITALIAN JAM SESSION

“I’ll play a song I just wrote,” Jin said, in English so good that he hardly has an accent. Then he began playing, and the song completely overtook everyone around. 

Music really is the universal language. I swear that when I play with someone, time stops and I see the other musician for who they truly are.

The second I fiddle along with a guitar or piano, I’m in another world—a world void of all finite distractions where musicians’ souls simply sit across from one another. I can learn anything about them. But it’s not about life experiences; it’s about character. 

Some musicians have been surprised after we’ve played because I suddenly know so much about them. Maybe this should be expected since I study how they transition into the choruses, handle the pacing and rhythm, cradle the instrument in their adept hands, and share (or steal) each solo… You can learn so much by the way a person jams.

After the song ended, I told Jin that if he ever wanted to visit Idaho or Yellowstone, he should come and see us.

“I will,” he said. “But just know that when I make a promise, I keep it.”

My family and I exchanged contact information with Jin, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that we talked with him. 

“I posted the video of us jamming in Naples,” I wrote.

“Such an adventure,” he responded. “Then the following message popped up. “I came to Auschwitz. It’s my last day here…and I just finished my visit to the camps.” I felt the devastation in his words. “The pain and sorrow overwhelmed me. And as soon as I opened Instagram to rest my mind, I found your post! It reminded me of the good in humanity and the power and the love each of us can exude—as you and your family did that day. Thank you.”

“I can’t even imagine how I would feel seeing Auschwitz…” I replied, then I wanted him to know how grateful we were to meet him. “Our entire family is so impressed with you. You made our trip to Europe exceptional.”

A couple of months later, Jin surprised me, Ruby, and Sky, by explaining that he’d made a trip to America! “I’m in Nashville right now,” he wrote. “I hope I can make it and see you and your family in March to get a tattoo from Ruby. I’ll try. In any case, thank you—and God—that we were gifted such a moment in Italy. That moment still pushes me forward to this day.”

I didn’t know the logistics, but I didn’t doubt his words for a second. Just as I’d sensed his excellent character when we jammed in Naples, I somehow knew he’d come and see us.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about what happened next!

Read the rest of that story here: 

Reuniting With a Stranger from Across the World

Friday, April 14, 2023

Another Tumor—Why Melanoma in the Bones Sucks

 They found another tumor. This time hit me very hard. I’d begun to hope that maybe I’d outlive this despite them saying it will kill me someday. And now, here’s this reminder.

I’ve been battling cancer and anger lately. I find myself getting upset with little comments like “but you don’t look sick” or ”we’re all terminal.” I know people mean well, but sometimes these particular words feel paltry, like they diminish and invalidate how hard I’m trying to fight. I know I’m not really upset with people (they truly are trying to help). And I don’t look sick until someone sees me walk. In fact, now that my hair has grown back, I look normal. And the “we’re all terminal comment”: I’ve heard this almost every day for the past month. Yes, we are all dying. But most people aren’t buckled into a front-row seat of debilitating bone pain, constant nausea, the unavoidable fact that their life will be cut way too short—and the rest of it will be a battle JUST TO STAY ALIVE. Saying “we’re all terminal” invalidates what terminal patients like me are actually experiencing. 

But I’m not really upset with people. I’m focusing on that because the other issues are simply too hard to face… like how I’m tired of this horrendous disease. I’m tired of waking up with godforsaken headaches, a throbbing neck, a back that feels riddled with infection. I’m tired of how hard it can be to walk short distances. How a hot bath is the only thing that eases the pain on some days. And I’m exhausted from moments like this when I feel like I’m not strong enough—like I’m a burden to everyone I know because something about me is causing them pain. Something. So. Out. Of my control.

Of course, these feelings pass. I pull on my big-girl panties and “buck up.” So, today I can be glad because I went and spent $30 whole dollars at Victoria Secret (this is a fortune in my eyes). AND, Mike didn’t even say anything about this—or the fancy mocha I boasted when I got home—since he felt so bad about the new tumor. “Hey, honey, I went on a shopping spree, BUT I have a new tumor.” *Crying my eyes out.* Cancer does help you get away with sh*t.

I can be grateful for the dear friend who let me stay at her house (I’ll have to post more about her later). Thank, God, for my friends and mother-in-law who’ve let me stay at their homes this last year as things have seemed even more exhausting. 

I’m grateful for the lessons I’m learning. But I think I’d like to unenroll from this class 🤣😒

And I’m grateful that I got new shocking underwear to show-off during radiation—the same session I said I’d never be strong enough to do again. (If I have to do radiation, at least I can shock the hell out of the techs! That’s all I have now, the motivation to make waves.) 

I’m still trying to get things in perspective so I can fight some more and move on. Let’s do this! 🤣😭🤷‍♀️

I. Am. The. Luckiest? Yep. Yep, I am.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Protagonist in Our Own Stories

 A miracle of sorts has happened. Unfortunately, it’s not with my health, but it IS regarding something even better: my inner growth. I really want to do this story justice, so let me bring you back to a couple of memories …

I gaped at the hundreds of papers on my workdesk and grabbed a strong cup of coffee. My kids had just gone to bed, and I finally got a chance to read the query letters I’d set aside—300 in total. 

“This is unreal,” I whispered to myself. We’d just opened the press for nonfiction submissions, and the amount we’d received felt unmanageable. Yet, that night as I read through various pitches, something beautiful happened. I learned about one woman’s journey to fame as she grew into a successful songwriter. I awed over a man who’d traveled across the entire world and seen God in everything. I cried for a mother who’d been abused but somehow found the bravery to get away. And with each query, I became deeply conscious of how astoundingly different life can be for each of us. One person detailed their story of resilience while another clung to pain, and on and on the stories went until the night had passed, and I’d made it through the pile of paperwork and several cups of coffee.

This happened over ten years ago, but the power of the moment is timeless. No matter where I am, I’ll ponder the fact that we’re each the protagonist in our own plays. When I say hello to someone in the elevator or watch people at the airport, I’m wondering what their “adventure” is and what brand of “memoir” they’re creating for God. Are they living in a romance? A mystery? Which moments are so powerful, they’d be used as a medium to craft a book? These thoughts are so prevalent in my life, that they even followed me to Italy.

Our family of six waited for the train in Naples. “It’ll be hours,” I said. “I’ll wait by the luggage. Why don’t you and the kids go get some food.”

“We can’t leave you,” Mike said.

“I have my wheelchair,” I said, patting it endearingly. “And I can read my book.”

“And she has me too,” Indy said, refusing to leave my side.

After Mike, Ruby, Sky, and Trey left, I told Indy about my experience with the query letters. I just wonder what each one of these people would want written about their lives.” I motioned to various people who passed us in the train station. 

Indy’s eyes lit with curiosity. “It’s such an exciting thing to think about.” Then she paused for a moment. “Mama, if this were a moment in a book, what would you want to happen?”

“Well, I’d have the most amazing conversation with you—which we ARE having—and then I’d pull out my violin and get to jam with a stranger.”

She laughed. “That’s one of the reason you wanted to visit Italy, isn’t it? Like how you played in the New York subway?”

I smiled. “Yeah. That’s actually something on my bucketlist: jam with a stranger in Italy. But, so far it hasn’t happened, and our trip is getting closer to being over.”

Indy knelt down and started taking out my violin. “We don’t have anything else to do. Why not try?” She handed me my bow and seemed hopeful. That kid has such a spirit of adventure. It reminds me of when I was young, so I took her advice and started playing. Soon a small crowd formed around us, and Indy pulled out her phone, beaming as she snapped a few pictures. 

I caught movement to my right and turned just in time to see a tall man with blonde hair. He wore a guitar, slung over his back, and put something in my case. 

“Oh, no. I can’t take that,” I said because he’d tried to give us several euros. “Can you jam with me instead?”

“Jam?” he asked.

“Play.” I made a strumming motion. 

At this point, another man with a guitar stood by the first. His dark hair perfectly accentuated his eyes as he began to interpret. “Patrick, she wants you to play with her,” he said.

I looked at both of them. “It would mean so much to me,” I said. “I…I have terminal cancer, and it’s on my bucket list to jam with a stranger in Italy. Would one of you mind playing a song with me? It would mean the world to me.”

The blonde-haired man looked stunned by my confession, and as he wiped something from his eyes, he turned to his dark-haired friend. “I can’t play. Will you?”

“Well…” He looked at me and my family who had come back at that moment. “Yes! I will.” He held out his hand. “My name in Jin.”

I’m still stunned by where this story goes because it is absolutely amazing. Life is such a miracle, and this is a wonderful reminder that although I’ve been given an expiration date, I’m still making the most incredible memories with my family. I’ll share more of this story later this week.

Read more of this story here: When We Met Jin

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

What is the point? The point of TODAY.

 Do you ever wonder what the point of life is? Well, I do--especially yesterday. 

After first being diagnosed, I thought, "If I can just make it until all of my kids are adults." That seemed impossible, like sailing to the moon. My youngest daughter cried after initially hearing the news. That momentarily shattered my sensibilities, my dreams, and even my resolve. Just seeing my 10-year-old crying because of my own mortality--something so out of my control--THAT nearly broke me.

Yet, now she's 13, Trey is 14, Sky's 18, and Ruby's 21. And as the months and years have progressed, my terminal illness has become more of a nuisance than an overwhelming worry. Some days I spend unable to keep anything down. I'll suffer from a fever, physical pains from tumors, or even sadness from lost abilities, but I do my best to not let any of this affect my family. I cry in the closet. I shield them from my own pain. And I throw up as quietly as humanly possible, which in hindsight might look funny to God...if He's even watching.   

But yesterday, I felt especially ill. I huddled on the couch in the fetal position, alone. Ruby is busy building a career, which makes me so proud. People have now come from across the world to have her tattoo them. She's booked out until November! Sky is getting ready for the summer semester of school. She's brilliant and usually busy studying her latest fascination in Ruby's room, which the two of them share even though Sky has her own room (such unlikely best friends!). Trey plays the guitar after school, every second of every day. He's even teaching other kids how to play instruments now. And Indy reads Manga to her cat, Nova. I'll hear her giggling in her "tent" (an odd assortment of haphazard blankets). "Then, she rushed after him, not wanting him to ever leave. Oh no, Nova! This is getting soooo good." 

I'm grateful they are content and happy. But Mike works afternoons and nights, and yesterday, I felt alone, wondering what the point is. I'm a bit like Mary Poppins. It's not time to unfurl my umbrella and float away yet, but I have taken steps to prepare my kids. And I do need to take solace in the fact that I'm raising strong individuals who will be all right, even without me. 

Yet, sometimes I find myself wanting to hold them every minute because, although others have become inured to my illness, I'm always aware of my expiration date. Would YOU like to know the approximate date of your death? It's not as easy as it sounds. And as I've written before, it does feel like being tied to the tracks, just waiting for the train.

I pulled the fluffy blanket around myself, listening to Trey's guitar and Indy's story as she read to her kitty. That's when someone knocked on the door.

"Are you kidding?" I whispered, sliding a hand across my willful hair and straightening my shirt.

"Elisa," the phantom said after stepping into our entryway.

"You... But you just had surgery," I stammered.

"I needed to get out of my house." He'd driven with an injured hand all the way to my home from Blackfoot--in a blizzard.

Indy and Trey bounded from their rooms, so excited to see the Phantom. Indy gave him a huge hug, right around his waist, and he grinned. "How old are you anyway?" Indy asked. "I forgot to ask on your birthday."

"Well," he said, sitting down at our kitchen table, "how many keys are there on a piano?"

"With the black and white ones?" She paused to think. "67?"

"You're a real charmer!" He chuckled. "67?! Ha! I wish. There are 88 keys."

"You're 88 years old?" Trey's eyes bulged. "That's...wow. I had no idea."  

The kids went back to their rooms shortly after, and I just had to laugh.

So, the phantom and I talked about all sorts of things. I asked him if he could repeat any five-year period of his life, what it would be. He picked 35-40 because he'd "finally figured some things out about life." We played a game called Worst Case Scenario, and the Phantom picked "taking a vow of silence" as his worst situation, even compared to wrestling a crocodile! Then, the conversation changed from beautiful memories of fishing, working, and raising kids, to his worries about aging. "I know my days are numbered. I guess some of your feelings mirror mine," he said. "It's hard knowing your time is coming sooner rather than later."
I nodded. 

"But I have to do things that give my days meaning. I might not know what the point of life is, but I know what I wanted the point of TODAY to be."

Those words hit me, almost knocking me off my proverbial feet.

"What was that? The point of today?"

"To see all of you," he said. "Just to have a great conversation. To keep living even if it was difficult to get here. Some days aren't easy, and we have to put in the effort."

I felt so touched. The kids and I had been someone's "point of the day." That felt wonderful.  

Trey and Indy finally told the Phantom goodbye. I gave him a hug before he could walk out the door. He's become like family to us, and I normally just give him an awkward side hug, wanting him to know that he matters. But this time, he gave me the biggest hug and held my head against his chest. "You're getting so thin," his voice quivered with emotion. "We just..." He inhaled, shakily. "All of us want you to get better. That's all I want." He wiped his weathered eyes and held my wrist with his good hand. "Just take care of yourself, kid. And remember to give each day meaning as it comes."

He drove off, disappearing into gusts of snow as they billowed across the Idaho roads. And I still don't know why his words and that hug impacted me the way they did. I'll never understand how certain people have come into my life.

Our world is such a mystery. Right when we think we're lost, a phantom might battle through a snowstorm simply to show us the way. 

I'll never forget his kindness yesterday or those poignant words: I might not know what the point of life is, but I know what I wanted the point of TODAY to be... 

Retuning My Life and My Fiddle

 I've honestly come to believe that life is a glorified exercise in letting go. Having a terminal illness at the age of forty has just sped this process up for me a bit. I went from caving, rock climbing, dancing, and fiddling in a band, to struggling just to walk to my mailbox. 

Things aren't as dire as they once were. Doctors are now giving me several years to live instead of just two. I can walk farther than the mailbox, even if going over half a mile makes me want to crumple onto the ground. And although I can play my violin, I can't stand and play for long periods, and I definitely can't dance while fiddling. In fact, one of the saddest things cancer stole from me, is the ability to play in a band. 

I've cried several times since 2020, remembering what it felt like to perform for an audience, missing the warmth of the stage lights on my face and the cheers from a live crowd. And at times, the loss of that dream has felt like too much...too quickly. 

"We want to bring you out," my dad said after I'd gone to visit my parents in Arizona. "Bring your violin."

My parents moved to Tucson, and they've made so many amazing friends there—but few compare to the people they've met at Far Horizons. They often visit the RV park several times a week to check on their motorhome or attend parties held at the resort. I've loved hearing their voices come to life on the phone as they talk about their friends and the fun they've had, and I could hardly wait to see it all in person.

I donned a dress my parents had bought me earlier that day, a tight black and white number with bright flowers. "Do I look terrible?" I asked my mom because I can't stand straight anymore and from the side, I looked quite hunched.

"You look beautiful," she said as my dad packed my violin into the truck, and we headed out. I smiled at my mom. Oh, to be loved by my mother ... it's a beautiful feeling.

Far Horizons is a lot different than I expected. People get up and dance. They really know how to have a great time. They're hilarious and fun, and I could see why my parents enjoy being retired in Tucson—it's an adventure!

"Why did you want me to bring my violin?"

"Just wait for the band's next break, and you'll see," my dad said.

In between meeting my parents' friends, I felt stunned by the band's music. Despite only having three members, they nailed song after song, even having the drummer sing lead and harmonies as well. Finally, they took a break, and my dad rushed up on stage. He laughed and smiled, then he pointed to me. My mom and I ended up going over after that.

"They said you can play," my dad said. "She can play anything," he said to the lead guitarist.

I couldn't help beaming. "You'll really let me play?" I asked.

"We just drop down a half-step. Are you up for it?"

"Of course, I am!" I gushed. And I quickly retuned my fiddle, just so I'd have the correct flow. 

The lead singer showed me a bunch of their set list, and then pointed to "Margaritaville." "How about this one?"

I had to swallow my emotions because that's a song I always played with my old band, Rough Stock. "Sure," I said, keeping my voice steady. "That ... Well, that sounds great." I paused. "I have terminal cancer," I explained. "I had to quit playing in my old band, and that almost killed me more than the tumors in my spine. Anyway ..." The drummer had come over and studied me seriously. "Thanks for letting me do this. It means a lot more than you might know." They nodded, not saying much even if empathy shone from their eyes.

So I played "Margaritaville," hitting all of the right notes and confidently playing the solo. I peered out at the crowd, remembering how surreal it felt to play for a live audience. And even as my legs started to shake from the pressure of standing in one place for too long and my spine started pulling awkwardly from the tumor at the base of my spine, I thought I couldn't be happier. The lead guitarist gaped at me, saying he was so impressed. My parents grinned, talking to their friends and then pointing to me. And joy flooded through every part of my being.

After the song ended, the lead guitarist and the bassist both thanked me for playing, and the drummer grinned so wide. Tears filled my eyes as I stepped from the stage and felt blessed for a moment that so perfectly transported me back to when I wasn't sick and I could dance and giggle as I fiddled my heart out among some of my favorite people on earth: the members of Rough Stock. And as I put my violin away, trying to steady my quaking heart, I felt so grateful for the memories. I might not be able to do the same things, but at least I can say I've really lived.

"You did great, Elisa. You made us proud," my dad said. 

"That was awesome," my mom agreed.

And when we left, I threw some money in the band's tip jar, and the lead guitarist waved. "Thanks again to the guest fiddler, Elisa Magagna!" he said into the microphone, and so many people clapped and grinned at me, not even knowing how much their kindness lifted the previously sunken spirit of a 40-year-old who's still fighting to always find the good.

I turned back and looked at the three band members one last time. They might never know my whole story—how I had to leave so many dreams behind—but I'm stunned they trusted the words of a loving father and let me jam on stage with them. Even though life is different now, I'm grateful to still be making memories. Life doesn't have to end just because so much has changed. It's simply time to readjust my outlook, retune my life and my fiddle, and just keep moving forward.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

More Inspiring Than Page 53!

 Many waiting rooms at the Huntsman are intriguing because of the numerous bookcases that section seats off from one another. You might think you’re alone, when actually someone is only a couple of feet away, waiting through the wall of books.

I love sitting by the bookshelves because it’s like Forrest Gump’s chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

So, my last time at the cancer center, I’d gone alone. A couple of workers studied me sadly, thinking I didn’t have anyone. But they had no idea; I’d asked to come by myself. Sometimes when you’re fighting a battle or going through something devastatingly hard, it’s nice to be alone…without embarrassment, so you can have time to process emotions by yourself. Stand strong if you want to; cry in the bathroom if necessary.

I sat, far away from anyone else, perusing a naughty romance sure to take me far away from the cancer center, the aftermath of horrific surgeries, and conversations of death. Sometimes I even pretend I’m not going to a cancer center. I’m simply visiting a massive 7-story (pun intended) library where I can read for days. 

That’s when I heard what sounded like a teenage girl and an old man on the other side of the bookshelf. They had no idea I could hear them—or that I even perched on the other side of the books like a disabled book-hoodlum, reading a very naughty romance about lace knickers and rippling biceps.

“But tell me about you,” the man said. 

I sighed. Because of all the empty seats, I couldn’t believe they’d sat by me.

“Grandpa, you can hardly breathe. I want to hear about you and cancer.”

“That’s temporal. I want to know about your school. Life.” He chuckled and then coughed—large, scratchy coughs. “And the boys you like.”

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I honestly tried to keep reading my book, but then at some point I couldn’t help hanging onto their conversation because the grandfather sounded so ill, yet he wouldn’t talk about his diagnosis or his lot in life. He gushed about any little thing his granddaughter said. And whenever she asked about him, he refused to complain. 

“So many people my age, they just talk about this ailment and that. I’ve heard about more hemorrhoids over coffee than…. Anyway, they forget to keep living. I’m done complaining. That’s between me and God.”

“Grandpa, I love you so much. Thank you for—Grandpa! You don’t look so good.” 

“I’m…fine,” he huffed. “Just…”

I stood up, and both of them appeared shocked to see me, peeking from behind the shelves. “Didn’t mean to eavesdrop.” I waved, probably looking like a lunatic. “Hang on!”

I found a receptionist and asked if a nurse could come out. “He can hardly breathe!” Within moments a nurse took some vitals and turned even paler than me. “He needs to go to the ER. Right now.”

She grabbed what she could and told the young teenager to follow along. “Is he gonna be okay?” the girl asked. “I had no idea he was…I mean. He seemed fine…”

“Just follow me. We’re gonna take good care of him.” And they rushed down the hall.

I sat there for a small eternity, lost in my thoughts. I still had a couple of hours before my next appointment, but I didn’t want to move. For some reason the whole situation felt so heavy. Why in the world had they sat right next to me when so many empty seats rested literally everywhere? And that man’s altruistic love for his granddaughter...it had stunned me.

The nurse came back after a while and squeezed my hand. “Thank you for telling us about him.” She appeared devasted and flustered. “They were supposed to be in a totally different area!”

“That poor man. He seems like one of the good ones.”

She nodded, but looked away so thoughtfully. I wondered what had happened to him or how long he had left to live. I wanted to do something, be helpful to him or his granddaughter, but I know all of that’s against HIPPA. So, I did the only thing I could. “You must have a hard job,” I said, turning to the nurse.

“Some days, like today, it really is. It’s hard not bringing the cancer center home with me.”

I handed her the romance. “I think you should bring this with you instead. Page 53 is where the good stuff starts.” And for some reason, she broke out laughing, wiped the tears from her eyes, and went back through the clinic’s doors.

I keep thinking about the elderly man and his granddaughter. Somehow, no matter the outcome, I know he’ll be just fine. Like he said earlier, “That’s between him and God.” And if she’s anything like her grandfather, she’ll be all right too. It’s just hard witnessing some of this stuff firsthand. The cancer center is not for the faint of heart. If I do take anything home from there, I want to bring that old man’s resolve to always focus on others instead of myself. THAT was even more inspiring than page 53!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Crawling Through Hell

 I’m sorry if this dream is triggering, but I just woke up in the middle of the night…and I HAD to write it down:

I’ve found a place that offers death with dignity. It’s a small facility, not widely publicized because they’re worried about the public’s reaction.

I meet with the doctor—the owner—and sign all of the preliminary paperwork. “You don’t look sick. Why do you want our assistance?”

“I have terminal cancer,” I say.

She looks over the mountain of papers I’ve brought, and nods. “I’ll have to confer with your oncologist in Utah and several other healthcare professionals in the area, but it does appear you’re a likely candidate. Congratulations.”

Congratulations?! I nod sadly, innately knowing this person will someday help me die.

A few months pass, and before I know it, I’m back at the facility. They give me a puce hospital gown, and I place my regular clothes in a nook, wondering what will happen to them after I die. Will they be donated, or get pawed through by a hapless janitor?

Soon I’m wearing the ugly gown, waiting for the last time in my life. I’ve opted to die with other people. So, there I am, with others who can no longer abide the suffering.

A younger man sits on a metal bed to the west of me. He’s staring blankly as the owner walks around, giving each patient a “gift bag.” 

“There’s a bottle in each bag. Please drink this,” she says, pointing to a pink concoction she’s procured. “It’ll make you less anxious.”

The younger man next to me downs his drink in an instant, then—before I can drink mine—he turns to me imploringly. “Can I hug you?” he asks. “I want my last memory to be…I want to pretend someone cared.”

I’m dumbfounded. So, instead of drinking my pink medicine cocktail, I step off my bed onto the cold tile floor. There might be germs, but I’m finally immune because I’m about to die anyway. I hug the man, this stranger. I don’t know why, but it just comes to me. “You’re beautiful,” I say. It’s odd, but it resounds so perfectly that the man clutches the gown’s fabric on my back, and he cries

“My mother used to say that. You know…she thought I was beautiful. But, she died when I was young.”

Soon his eyes appear droopy, and he has a faraway look. I’ve lost him somewhere along the journey, and he struggles to sit back on his bed. The owner rushes over. “Neither of you should be standing. I need you to drink that drink,” she says.

I sit down, telling myself to be brave, but as I study the dozen-or-so patients in that room, spotting the IV stands next to each one, I realize they’ve already lost the light in their eyes.

“Just drink it,” she says, after I’m lying on the metal bed once more.

I pull the drink from my bag but don’t comply. Instead, I watch the doctor hook up various IVs that make the patients close their eyes and then find the stillness of death. 

My heart races. I think of Mike and my kids—my reasons for living. I suddenly picture Mike, sitting in our bedroom, wondering why I wouldn’t let him come. I picture Ruby, unaware of my choice, happily tattooing a stranger. I envision Sky, making everyone’s day bright as she walks through a local campus. And I see Trey and Indy both taking finals in school. 

I think of my own test, the test of life and how I’ve come here because I couldn’t handle the physical pain. And as I zone out on a patient across the room, I remember a strange conversation with Trey.

“I’d walk through hell, just for the chance to be your mom.”

He gapes at me. “You wouldn’t make it through hell.”

“Oh, yes, I would!” I say. “If it meant I could raise each of you. I’d do it, just for the chance.”

His features soften, and a smile surfaces on his face. “I love you, Mama.”

The owner shuffles up to me. “I have too many people here. You opted to die with others. I’m facilitating that, but I can’t be the babysitter. I need you to drink that!”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“It’s too late she says. You’ve signed the paperwork.”

“It’s not too late.” I’m thinking about my children, my husband, and that strange conversation with my little boy. The woman shakes her head. “I should’ve known you’d be difficult. People like you always are.”

My face lights with  fire—I’m so angry. And I turn to her. “I want to live until I simply can’t anymore.”

I don my clothes and leave that place of death and heartache. As I take the bus to Idaho, back home, I’m still replaying that conversation with Trey. My back aches with every bump. The nerves in my arms and legs turn to fire with each movement since the cancer has eaten through so much of my spine. But I don’t care anymore. I realize I’d do anything for one more moment with Mike and my children. I’d fight almost anyone just to see them—hold them—one more time. In fact, I’d even fight the spirit of death himself. And THAT is ironically exactly what I’m doing.

I remember Trey’s eyes, filled with pride and wonderment when I talked to him years before. “I’d walk through hell, just for the chance to be your mom.” And I realize that’s what this has become.

Each day I’m striving to find the good, rise above the pain, grasp at shreds of hope, and make the best possible life for my family. It isn’t easy, but at least I can say I’m really trying. Tears slide down my face as I sit on that beautifully mundane bus. My hands are clasped tightly in front of me…I can hardly wait to see Mike and the kids again.

Then, I woke up.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Patience and a Dash of Hope

 I sat mulling the difference between hope and despair...and hope and faith. After all, when a doctor tells you you'll die from cancer, it's a terribly absorbing thing. I try not to focus on it—live in the moment—but sometimes the worries catch up, and I breathe through them like a woman dilated to a 9.

The root meaning of hope is quite surprising; it means "to wait," something I've never been good at. When God blessed me with "chutzpah," He left patience out of the deal. But in my situation, that's all I can do: Wait. Unfortunately, without hope, when you feel like you can't be patient anymore, that's when you reach despair.

I've met cancer patients who understand this even more than I do. They each traveled to the end of their road and knew when to give up. Their funerals were beautiful, the kind I'd never hoped to attend... But even during their final moments, they seemed different from me; first, they lost faith, and THEN they lost hope. In contrast, I've never had faith that I'd get well, not even to begin with.

This confession might sound terrible because I've traveled to different continents to get prayer. Leaders of numerous religions have laid hands on me and wished me well. People worldwide have read my story and begged God for healing—even if other people did deserve it more. And at the height of this debacle, when I almost died from sepsis while out of town, or my liver started failing, all I knew is that God will do what works for Him, just like when He took my oldest son from this world.

I'm not Christian, haven't been for years. I've read the Christian Bible several times and have more New Testament scriptures memorized than most people I know. I've tried to believe, yet the devout demand I put my faith in Jesus. You can't force faith. It's the confidence that your hopes will come to fruition. What if you don't even hope for what they want you to believe in?

I often wish I'll get better, but I didn't believe it could actually happen...not until the other day.

Trey and I went to see my parents in Tucson, Arizona. I've been there a few times since my diagnosis, and on each trip, I've had this strange feeling that I should visit a synagogue there. I've heard one of the best synagogues in the United States rests somewhere in the desert hills of that city, but I've never gotten to see Congregation Bet Shalom until last Saturday.

Many of you know I've been visiting different synagogues since my diagnosis in 2020. I love the music and the services, the philosophical debates and the traditions. Even when people discouraged me from attending, I tenaciously went because, amongst those walls, like Rahab...I simply felt God. And even if He doesn't get around to healing me, I love being by Him any way I can. And if that's at the synagogue, so be it.

My parents pulled up to Bet Shalom in Tucson, and we felt surprised to meet two rabbis and a chef from Israel who stood on the sidewalk as if they'd been expecting us! We talked about my journey with cancer, and the kind cook said, "We didn't meet by chance."

Then, one of the rabbis, Avi Alpert, talked with me about Noah and rainbows, a sign that has dotted my journey with cancer since the beginning—my unlikely breadcrumbs to God.

"Can you pray for her?" my mother (Ruby) suddenly asked. "Please. Can you pray for my daughter?"

The second rabbi, Yosef G Lopez, began singing the most beautifully haunting melody as he weaved Hebrew in a way I could only hope to understand. Then the second rabbi sang along. And as he harmonized in prayer, something strange happened.

Looking back, I think it took the kindness of strangers, the love of my parents, and the beauty of music to open my hardened heart after my son's death. As those Hebrew words enveloped me like incense, something sprouted to life inside my soul. It wasn't merely hope or desire. I no longer felt that void of despair. Within myself, I sensed the beginning of faith. I still don't know if God will heal me. In fact, I know it isn't very likely, be it's incredible how faith must birth patience, and that's exactly what I need right now.

So, I'm basking in this newfound feeling, grateful for the growth I'm experiencing daily. I might only be able to walk a half mile. I'll probably never again rock climb, cave, or ski. But I'm learning to appreciate the thrill of life in new ways, meeting strangers at synagogues, and seeing adventure within my own journey to God.

Life can be complicated, but it can also be astoundingly wonderful if we dare to look for the kind of faith that might help us continue along our way with patience and a dash of hope.

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Winter of My Life

 Life has changed so much for me. Every previous trauma could be held at bay by what some would call moxie, but as time progresses, I find it harder to remain free spirited. For example, as a kid I got locked in a tiny camper closet for hours. Being babysat, I sneaked away from the house in search of cherry taffy. But when the camper’s closet door sprung shut, I'd been trapped, sweating in that minuscule space...sucking cherry flavor off my fingers in the darkness as my family frantically searched. And I'm lucky they found me. I'm not sure how much time passed, because I'd cry and fall asleep, then cry and fall asleep again. Despite this, I'd never been claustrophobic. Instead, I turned into a risk taker who enjoyed cliff jumping and spelunking. I loved taunting death.

But now after cancer treatments, simple things send me into a frenzy. Boarding a plane feels beyond terrifying. Elevators are a death trap. And just visiting a hospital makes me relive numerous visits, like when I got strapped to a bed after having a 9-hour tumor surgery.

Once laughable thoughts race through my head: I’ll never get off that plane. I’ll be stuck in that small place forever. I’ll undergo radiation, infusions, and surgeries…for nothing.

I never tell these thoughts to ANYONE, especially my children—who I hope are deluded into thinking I'm strong. But if you see me taking deep breaths, chances are I'm quaking inside.

I don't expect you to understand this. I never would have, before cancer...

I finally decided to voice these thoughts to someone—anyone. The medical assistant folded her arms, and I immediately regretted my mistake. "You have to get over your fears—because we're all terminal. We're all dying. Stop freaking out about everything. You have to BELIEVE you'll get well."

I looked at her sadly. I hate it when people say "we're all terminal" or "we're all dying" because it minimizes what having terminal cancer is actually like. It's not always about dying, it's about the path cancer patients take to get there. It's hard being sick at a somewhat young age and enduring painful “cures." It's hard being tied to the tracks and SEEING the train coming.

As I looked at her, I realized, we both just want a semblance of control. In the same way this whole experience makes me spiral because as the doctor said, I know how I'll probably die, I "just don't know when," this woman must believe if I'm positive enough, I'll win against the cancer creeping up my backbone like a vine. 

So, what about all of the happy, positive cancer patients who've died before me? They certainly didn't die from lack of moxie.

"I'm doing the best I can," I whispered. "You know, I looked up the meaning of 'beauty' yesterday."


"Beauty...its Greek roots mean 'belonging to the right time or season.'"

She blinked. "What are you trying to say?"

"When something owns its current season—imagine a tree—turning green in the spring, blossoming and bearing fruit in the summer, turning new colors during fall, and even being sprinkled with snow in the winter…it's beautiful. We all live through different seasons during this life. To truly own each one, well, that's a form of beauty. I'm not giving up and giving in. But if this is the winter of my life, I want to embrace it. I'll be vulnerable if it'll help other people know they aren’t alone. I might get better and I might not—THAT is the truth. And embracing this season, according to ancient Greeks, is beautiful."

"I don’t understand,” she said. And I'm glad for that. I don't want her to comprehend the sobriety of personally having stage four cancer. I stared out the office window as she left. 


This season isn’t easy. I know God has a plan, but that doesn’t mean I always like it. Despite how I wouldn’t have chosen this exact path, cancer has helped me see that even the winter of life can be beautiful. And for that fact alone, I am truly grateful.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

A Good Friend and Another Plot Twist

 In October of 2018, I had my first bout with melanoma. The consequent wrist surgery left me unable to play the violin for months. This “plot twist” devasted me, but I resolved to hold my violin differently and work to eventually play again. My arm, wrist, and hand pulsed with pain since they’d had to remove some muscle and bone, but I still practiced for hours upon hours perfecting a new left-hand fingering style. After what felt like a lifetime, I FINALLY sounded good. 

I wrote about this in a local newspaper, saying how when life tries to kick us down, we need to kick back! After reading this article, a musical couple, Ron and Dottie Barrett, reached out to me. Ron started calling every so often, just to check in. He’d battled cancer too, and that’s what first bonded us. But after that, what drew me to him was his wit. He’d tell stories about asking Dottie out on a date. She didn’t want to go at first, so he fell asleep under her car and waited—with his cowboy boots sticking out from under the truck—so she’d know he’d stayed there all night, just hoping she’d give him a chance. (Leave it to an Idaho cowboy to give everything to get his girl! I’m just glad she didn’t run him over.) 

Anyway, the couple eventually asked if I’d come “jam” with them. I got nervous—I hadn’t even played with the band I was in (Rough Stock) since my surgery that previous October. “I’d love to fiddle with you guys, but I’m feeling a bit gunshy,” I said.

“Come on, Little Lady. Get your butt over here, and we’ll fix ya up!” Ron said. So, I visited their house and surprised myself because we sounded great. Dottie played the piano while Ron strummed the guitar and sang. Add the violin, and it sounded professional. Dottie grinned “bigger than a polecat eating dinner” (as Ron said), and the two immediately asked me to join them competing in the Bingham’s Got Talent contest and fundraiser for cancer patients.

That amazing couple raised hundreds of dollars for people fighting this terrible illness—and because of their efforts, we won the People’s Choice Award at the contest! When I first found out I had cancer, it felt devastating. I never imagined that months later, I’d be able to play again, let alone help raise money for people in need.

The Barretts became a huge influence in my life. They even felt like family. I’d go visit with Dottie, and Ron ended up giving my second-oldest daughter, Sky, free guitar lessons for a couple of years. Before Dottie died of stomach cancer, she gave me the People’s Choice Award trophy to keep, so I could always remember her fine piano playing and the day we won.

Time passed, and I eventually set Ron up with one of my amazing aunts. (She looks just like Meryl Streep and is funnier than Amy Schumer, so I knew he’d be thrilled.) After they started dating (wait, it worked?!), I started calling him “Uncle Ron.” I loved watching their excitement as they got to be good friends. He’d call me—like a teenager—to rave about how beautiful and special my aunt is. I loved…seeing them in love. And he said one of the biggest highlights of his later years was “the surprise of falling in love again” and getting to know such a “fine woman.”

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Ron said he had something for me. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spied the brand-new purple fiddle. “I wanted to learn how to play. But I’m not feeling so well. I decided to give her to you,” he said. I knew Ron had felt sick for a while, but I had no idea how serious it was.

I phoned him days later and left a message, gushing about the violin. I have no idea if he got it because I received a call this morning, letting me know that Ron died last week.

I have no words for how hard life can be. I cried today, telling Mike that too many people I know have died. “It feels like once a month someone I know passes away.” 

He nodded, and then he just held me.

“This is how the elderly population must feel, watching all of their older family members and friends die. People should be nicer to old people. They have it really rough!”

I know this is the one thing that’s guaranteed with life, is that all of us will die, but sometimes it’s hard staring this reality in the face, knowing that whenever I talk to anyone, it could be the last time …

I’m so grateful for the memories and the good times. I know Ron and Dottie wouldn’t want me to “wallow like a stick in the mud,” so instead, I think I’ll pick up that purple fiddle and play my little heart out, hoping my song will reach Heaven. I just want the Barretts to know how much I love and miss them. They might just shake their heads and smile. When Ron isn’t pulling pranks on Saint Peter, I bet he’s just happy to be out of pain and grateful to be united with Dottie again.

Here’s more about Ron if you’d like to read his obituary: https://www.eckersellfuneralhome.com/obituary/ronald-barrett

He really was one heck of a guy.