Tuesday, July 9, 2024

A Lesson in Trust

Mike doesn't believe in G-d, and rather than let our differing beliefs tear us apart, they've knit us closer together. We discuss various religions and debate how people find faith through hardship. I have told him, though, how ironic his atheism is; after all, he's the greatest example of G-d's love in MY life. And oddly, I think my current plight has made Mike want to believe in the randomness of the universe even more.

Despite how opposite our beliefs may be, Mike has admitted that I do have some pretty strange things happen to me, and today was not an exception.

A couple of days ago, I told my mom a story my rabbi once shared. "A pauper wanted to marry a princess," I said, "but the king needed to know if this would-be suitor was even worthy, so he sent him on a quest. 'Find the one thing that can make a rich man weep with sadness and a poor man cry tears of joy.' The pauper searched for years but finally returned empty handed and dejected. It wasn't until he stood at the castle gates that he found the answer. A beggar gave him a ring with the words..." My voice faltered. And at this point in the story—as I relayed this entire thing to my mom, my mind froze, and I completely forgot the words that were written on the ring! We broke out laughing—and Mike chuckled in the other room because, apparently, he'd been listening too.

No matter how much I racked my brain, I couldn’t remember the riddle’s answer. I thought about it during dinner last night and then today as I thought about the word trust. I’ve been really trying to fully place trust in G-d, believing that there’s a reason for everything. But trust is a terribly hard word to understand AND it’s even tougher to put into action. I’d just been thinking about all of this when Mike bounded into the house, looking like an energetic golden Lab—the best of humanity. “You got some mail!” he beamed. And after I opened the package, we both literally sat dumbstruck. 

“You’ve had some bizarre things happen,” he said. “But this is up there.”

“Does it make you believe in G-d?” I asked. 

“No… But I have to admit that sometimes weird things do go on. And I can’t explain why.”

I don’t need to change Mike’s mind. G-d knows I’m the last person who should be judging anyone. I’m currently in the process of converting to Judaism, and some people aren’t the happiest about that. But “vivre et laisser vivre,” right? At least one would hope. I’m tired of being judged, so I don’t want to inflict my own beliefs on anyone else. I’m simply curious.

Anyway, I held up a card that had accompanied the package we received in the mail. Then I read the words to Mike:

In times of uncertainty, remember the wisdom of King Solomon, whose ring bore the timeless letters of “This too shall pass.” Life's journey often leads us through unexpected twists and turns. Trust that in whatever place you find yourself, you are meant to be. Know that every step has a purpose. For only when it's dark can you see the stars shine. Let this ring be a gentle reminder. You may not feel in control over your life, but you are deeply loved by the One who is.

Engraved on the ring in both Hebrew and English it reads: THIS TOO SHALL PASS—the exact words from the ring in the story that I just told my mom. Not only does this feel like a godwink, but it seems like a beautiful reminder that G-d has a plan for each and every one of us. The reason this could make a rich man weep is because riches don’t last. But the poor man would cry tears of joy knowing that “this too shall pass.” Not even hardships can last forever, and that’s a pretty powerful thing to remember when life feels at its worst.

Maybe my fight against cancer is a lesson in trust, but I feel like G-d might be telling me that everything will be okay—one way or another. Whether I do die from melanoma (like doctors keep saying) or if I miraculously beat this, at least I feel like G-d will be by me each step of the way. The good, the “bad,” it’ll all be all right because somehow there really is a plan—for all of us.

(The ring is from TheHonestJewelerShop.com (Honest Jeweler) if you want to see a picture of it.)

Monday, July 1, 2024

It's Not Over Yet

 When someone faces hardships, we assume 100% of people will be kind. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. While 99.999% of people might be compassionate and helpful, a few insensitive things are often said. I learned this when my baby died at Primary Children's Hospital in 2003. We had to take him off of life support, and it was the most horrific moment of my life. Much harder than my battle against cancer, tougher than getting a divorce or being in an abusive relationship, having a child die was hellacious. 

Yet, after his funeral, a woman came over and said, "He would still be here if you'd had more faith." My sister even received an anonymous letter detailing how my baby was born with defects because someone in our family had "sinned." I don't think people always intend for these things to be hurtful. In fact, they're often searching for answers themselves. None of us truly know what happens after we die. It's one of the ultimate mysteries which can mystify and terrify people. I think this is why I lost a couple of friends; they simply don't like facing death at all, let alone personally knowing someone who's fighting it.

In 2020, after oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer, my first thoughts weren't even about my own death. They were fears regarding telling my children, husband, and other family members about this diagnosis. I didn't want my children to encounter such hardship at such young ages, and I didn't want to disappoint my parents and siblings. For such a long time, I hoped for perfection. I know I'm deeply flawed, but at least I can try to improve. But having cancer... that's not something to just brush under a rug. If I told my family, they would know beyond a doubt that something was wrong with me. I'd gotten burned too many times. I'd gone fake tanning when I shouldn't have. I'd made innumerable mistakes. And it wasn't just that, but I've been through enough terrible things to know that .001% of people might make insensitive comments to me AND my family. And sure enough, they have. I've had people tell us once again that this happened because of sins. Or if we just had a little bit more faith... If I could be more positive. If I could eat better. If I could trust in: Medicine... G-d... Black Salve... Mushroom Tea... Ivermectine. The list goes on.

I've explained before how tired I've become, especially since the cancer in my L2 is growing and the pain often makes it hard to sleep. Although my oncologist and care team have come up with an incredible new treatment plan, it does feel like a Herculean task to keep going to get treatments.

Anyway, I was just about to go to sleep the other night when I couldn't stop the cycle of sad thoughts. I thought about my plight and what it's done to my loved ones. All of it crashed around me: just too much. After a while of this, I must've really worn myself out because, by some miracle, I actually fell asleep. That's when I ended up having the most bizarre dream.

A man came and said he needed to talk with me. Surprisingly, he looked strikingly like my 16-year-old son, Trey! 

He stood tall and so strong. His short hair framed his face perfectly, and I couldn't get over how handsome he was. I studied his features. He must've been about 21, yet he held the wisdom of ages in those piercing blue eyes. He finally turned to me, showing compassion with every movement, and he said, "You can't go. You're not done."

"Not done with what?" I rebuffed.

"You're not done with what you need to do," he responded, and at that exact moment, I knew he was my little baby who died over 21 years ago. 

When I woke up, I felt so much stronger, with a firm resolve to keep fighting. I told my second-oldest daughter about this when she came over to visit: "I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to do, Sky."

"You know, Mom," she said, "even just being here for us kids, that's enough."

Tears filled my eyes because she was completely right. "That really is," I said. "That is enough." Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other... Sometimes, the fact that we're even trying... That. Is. Enough. Showing my loved ones how much I care about them is the most important thing I can do with my time now. THAT is my biggest dream, that they'll all know how much I love—and believe in—them.

I've written before about the word accomplished. You know when you see someone who's extremely impressive and people will say, "They're so accomplished." Well, I decided to look up the etymology of the word "accomplished." It originally described a person who simply does what they say they'll do. This could be big or small. But the point is that they finish. So that's what I'm looking at today. Instead of shooting for the stars, I'm happy to be taking steps at all, to continue getting treatments like I promised my husband and our children. I might not be the most impressive person who's done mindboggling things like walking on the moon, but I can say I do what I say I will, and I try. In that sense, maybe I am accomplished, and that feels pretty great.

The funny thing is that not long after this, as my mom and I took out a sack of garbage, we spotted a laminated egg-shaped card in some weeds. My mom picked it up, and her face lit up. "Elisa, this must be for you." Then she read the words aloud. "Find your dream. It's the pursuit of the dream that heals you." She smiled so big. "I guess it's a quote from someone named Billy Mills."

I took the card, and after displaying it in my kitchen, I thought about how I need to throw out the terrible thoughts I've kept filed away in my mind. It's time to stay strong for my loved ones and myself too. My baby said it's not my time to go. So I better keep fighting. It's like a quote my dad loves: "It's not over 'til it's over." So I better enjoy every second of life that I can. We all should.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Good Outweighs the Bad

I keep saying that sometimes our problems aren’t as obvious as terminal cancer. Whether you’re getting a divorce, trying to find a job, or struggling with situations in general, life can be tough. I’ve had so many surreal experiences that I honestly try to be empathetic to everyone. You just never know what people might be experiencing—whether they appear to be having a hard time or not.

Most people assume that since I’m fighting cancer, the worst aspect must be the pain, but I have to admit that the emotional parts have been much harder for me. 

It’s just tough knowing that my kids and husband are stuck in this hardship with me. There are times when I’ve thought I “deserve” this, but my family definitely does not. And even though I wish I could shield them from every pain, I can’t this time.

Just last week, Indy bounded into the front room where I rested on the couch. “You’re not feeling good?” she asked.

“Today isn’t my favorite day. But that’s all right,” I said. “The bad days are what make—”

“The good days shine!” She beamed, finishing the sentence for me.

“Do I really say that so much? You knew what I was gonna say?”

She nodded. “Mama, you know our special spot? By the second water fall?”

We live close to the Portneuf River where locals have hung a rope swing and nailed boards to a tree so kids can climb up high before swinging into the river. It’s the sort of place I dreamed of as a child, and I love that my kids go there often to swim. Long before I got sick, I’d go with them. 

We loved crossing a group of rocks that go to a tiny island where the kids have found lizards and other fun creatures. On the other side of the island are two waterfalls that not many people know about. It’s such a magical place. Water rushes from one waterfall then pools over a large flat rock that all of us liked sitting on. We’d dangle our legs off the second waterfall, and that’s where we’d talk about life. 

When Sky was younger, I remember sitting there when she finally shared certain struggles. I talked there once with Trey, and he told me about a girl he liked. And I’ve had incredible moments with Ruby and Indy too; all of these times make the river special to us.

“Can we go there? To the second waterfall?” Indy asked.

It suddenly felt hard to breathe. Although I have been there after my diagnosis, things have changed even since then, and I don’t think I can make it over the rocks anymore. “Sweetheart,” I whispered, and I dreaded each word. “I don’t think I can make it.” Sadness pooled in her eyes, and I tried not crumpling right there. 

We’ve done so many things to try making new memories: like shopping sprees at the dollar store. We’ve bought dollar makeup products and given each other facials and makeovers. Once I even did Indy’s makeup to look like Joey King—her very favorite movie star from “The Kissing Booth” and “Bullet Train.” We posted the makeover video online and wrote “Joey King” in the description, wondering if the actress would ever see it! We’ve crafted and painted. We’ve cooked and played music together. But we can’t hide the fact that things ARE different. I can’t visit the second waterfall, and it hit me that the hardest thing for Indy to accept is not that I can’t go but the “why” behind it… the fact that I still have cancer and it’s not getting better. Unfortunately, last week, we found out that it’s getting a little worse.

“Are you doing okay?” I asked. 

“It’s just… Mama,” she said, “sometimes I get scared.”

“So do I,” I replied, and then I gave her a big, long hug. “But everything will work out,” I said. “And we’ll think of something neat to do. I promise.”

The next evening, Mike sent me a text, “You won’t believe what Indy just got in our P.O. Box.”

“What?” I wrote back. 

Moments later, he sent me a picture of a box he’d just picked up from the post office, a box from Joey King. After seeing the picture, I felt so surprised that I almost dropped my phone!

Not long after, I nearly cried as Indy opened the box. She appeared completely flabbergasted, reading a card from her favorite movie star. “My makeup artist, Allan,” Indy read, “was kind enough to send along some of his favorite products.” She pulled the lid from a box and found numerous makeup products. “Mama, can you believe this is real?!” There were so many other things as well: blankets (for movie nights) books (to read together)! Joey’s mom even sent a hot pack for me—something that helped her during her own battle against cancer.

“So many of these things are activities we can do together!” I said, becoming even more amazed. I didn’t feel quite so bad about the second waterfall anymore.

“This is some sort of miracle,” Indy said. I could hardly believe that Joey King had watched the video of Indy’s makeover. (To put this in perspective, she has over 18 million followers on Instagram alone.) Not only had she seen it, but to show such generosity of spirit… and even the timing of everything. Now we have so many things to do together… so many new memories to make—just in time. 

“Mama, she must be the nicest person.”

“I totally agree.”

“And you know what, I realize what you meant now,” Indy said. “The good really does outweigh the bad. What Joey did will stay with me for the rest of my life because I learned that miracles DO happen.” And as we each snuggled into our new blankets and prepared to watch a movie featuring Indy’s favorite star, I had to admit that I totally agreed; Miracles do happen. I got the best kids in the whole world.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Having a Terminal Illness Really Is Like Fighting in a War…

 Who knew cancer could unite so many people? I’ve been open about my fears and even peace with it all, and what’s happened in return is astounding.

I’ve met cancer survivors and those still battling. We’ve forged unbreakable bonds. I’ve seen people miraculously healed, and I’ve also met people who have since died—but luckily I remain close to their surviving relatives. I wrote about my doubts with religion and discovered I wasn’t alone. And after two decades of feeling like a “bad” person because of doubts, peace came by meeting likeminded people. That’s what cancer has taught me: I’ve never really been alone . Even when I thought I was... family and friends stayed. G-d was ALWAYS there, too.

I’ve received good AND hard news since this journey started. Just when I’m starting to win, there might be a sobering setback that momentarily buckles my knees.

…I didn’t want to say how tough life is but rather how beautiful love and support can be. Laying everything bare, although terrifying, is liberating. I thought people might shun me for some of the things I’ve shared, but instead, people have selflessly shown kindness—and acceptance.

I guess the point is that no one knows what the future holds or if we’ll even wake up tomorrow. And that uncertainty can be scary. But when we have the love and support of each other, life is so much easier. If you’ve read my posts, you know I’m more flawed than most, but the fact that people have accepted me regardless is one of the greatest gifts of my life. (I’m so grateful to see it while I’m still alive, and I wish EVERYONE could experience this.)

It’s cliche, but fighting cancer really is a battle; and I guess war isn’t meant to be easy. I asked for God to refine me in 2020, ten months before my cancer diagnosis. And here I am, still struggling. But when cancer takes hold, it can be hard to shake, so I’m handling what I can personally control: trying to be the best version of myself. But apparently—for me—refinement is gonna take a LOT more time! 😅

Note: *This text is from shortly after my diagnosis. I’m so glad I read it today. I needed that reminder to be strong.

*This picture is from April of 2024.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

We Better Make the Most of It

We really can grow complacent when given enough time… In fact, I've been sick for so long—since 2020—that my family and I have almost grown accustomed to it. This is both good and bad. Sure, doctors say I have terminal cancer, but I'm still here... alive, living much longer than expected. This has given us such a false sense of security. I've even thought, "Maybe I'll get better. Maybe I will actually beat this." But then, with a poor twist of fate, we can be shocked back into reality, plunged into the truth that this is how I will die. Unfortunately, that's what happened this past weekend.

It's normal for me to get fevers, feel nauseous, and struggle to keep food down, but for a fever to persist for hours upon hours, well, that's abnormal. Mike rushed me to the hospital, where they appeared stunned that I hadn't passed out.

"60 over 40," the nurse said, removing the blood pressure cuff. 

"Also, your white blood cell count is well below what it should be," the doctor added, looking from me to the nurse. "This could be for many different reasons, but we need to run some tests."

So, I got hospitalized for days after that. I met a plethora of new people and felt amazed by the kind medical staff and fellow patients. I even got to have art time with a volunteer who travels from room to room, just brightening people's days with paper, glue, and some rocks.

But after a couple of days without answers, home sounded like Heaven. I consequently fixed my makeup and hair before donning a fresh pair of clothes. "Hey," I said to the nurses as I sauntered past their communal desk. Surely they'd realize that I could be discharged. Look how capable I was!

"Isn't she a fall risk?" a nurse whispered just loud enough that I could hear her. Then I was escorted back to my room!

"We've discovered why you're fevering," a doctor said to me moments after I'd been forced back into the hospital bed. "We also know why you're experiencing such extreme pain and why your white blood cell count is so low."

"Why?" I could hardly breathe. This felt too reminiscent of years before when a spinal surgeon actually stood in that same spot—ironically in that exact room—announcing that I only had two years to live.

"The cancer in your lower spine is growing, and I'd say it's significant." She paused, letting the words sink in. "Your oncologist will most likely recommend radiation again, and we'll need to change your cancer infusions because your current regime isn't working. You know this is terminal?"

I nodded. "Yes. That's what I've been told." And then all hope momentarily left me.

The point is that there's no reason to get upset after so much time. Doctors have said this is terminal. They've claimed that the cancer will continue growing until I die. But it's also true that I've lived a year and a half longer than expected. It's amazing that I'm still here to enjoy my husband and my children. THAT feels like a major win. 

It might sound silly, but after the doctor left my room, I imagined myself standing in a grave. As someone dumped dirt on me, I could either stay in the hole, motionless, getting covered and accepting death, or I could step on the dirt as it got poured in, until the ground level grew higher and higher. I could rise above: Even now, I MUST find the good.

"You want to go home?" the doctor returned to my room, looking worried.

"Yes," I said. "I would love that more than anything. I just want to hug my kids and my husband."

After leaving the room, I held my Mary Poppins bag tightly to my chest and prepared to leave the hospital with the help of an aide. A couple stood beside us. They complained about having to visit the cancer center once a year. The man is in remission, but they still need to do yearly checks, and they hate coming back because of bad memories. I didn't mean to listen, but I couldn't help it. They were right next to me.

The elevator took forever, so I finally turned to the two of them. "How are you guys doing?" I asked, trying to brighten their day... somehow.

"Quite frankly, terrible," the woman said. "I don't know if you'd even understand."

She looked me up and down, and I knew the lady assumed I hadn't a care in the world. My makeup probably shone, and my clothes looked fresh despite my recent discharge from an inpatient room. Unfortunately, my insides don't match my outsides. I might look normal and happy, but cancer threatens my brain and is eating away at my spine. It doesn't care that I'm 41. It doesn't worry about how young my kids are or that all I want is to see my children grow up. Cancer is the worst of enemies: a sociopath. 

"How is... your day?" the man asked, somewhat hiding behind his wife.

"Well," I forced myself to find the good—to rise above, "today has to be the best day ever. I just found out that the cancer in my spine is growing, BUT I also got discharged from the hospital. I get to see my husband and children again. I get to live another day, even though doctors are saying I'll die from this. I better make the most of RIGHT now. I'm just the luckiest, and I better enjoy today."

I don't know why, but their resolve totally cracked. Tears brimmed the woman's eyes, and the man nodded. "You're totally right." The woman studied me differently then, with understanding and kindness. She must've finally realized I was fighting too.

So, the aide helped me out. And although I left the hospital with devastating news, I felt a burgeoning resolve to enjoy every single second that I can. Tonight I keep wondering about the couple though. I hope they'll get good news despite how scary returning to the cancer center must be. But I also hope they'll enjoy whatever time they can.

This is simply a reminder that I really am lucky to be alive. I better make the most of my time. We all should.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A Catastrophe on Mother’s Day

Top Row (left to right): Indy, Trey, Sky, Ruby

Bottom Row (left to right): me and Mike

Mother’s Day has historically been a tough day for me because something catastrophic always seems to happen. From my youngest kids unlocking a childproof window—and getting onto the roof—to a blowup raft popping halfway down the river, the list goes on and on. This Mother’s Day was no exception.

Everyone came to our house that afternoon, and for the first time in years, I thought we’d evaded catastrophe. To give some background, I’d asked my kids to clean our home instead of getting gifts for me. They actually loved this idea, and just like “Game of Thrones,” it went great until the very end. 

“I gotta sit,” I said. I’d done much more than I should have. The problem is that cancer and treatments are exhausting. My body is fighting so hard just to live that sometimes adding anything else is too much. I suddenly thought about death and how doctors keep saying melanoma will kill me within the next few years. My biggest desire now is to simply have more time with my husband and our kids. I don’t worry about money, travel, accomplishments, degrees, material excess, or promotions. I just want TIME. This is because I want the people I love to have good memories of me, and I desperately HOPE they’ll look back and say, “Hey, Mom was a great person. She really loved me.” But I don’t feel like the memories I’ve made so far are enough. Not really…

These thoughts hit so hard in that moment; I could’ve started crying. But I told myself to PULL. IT. TOGETHER. My kids had come to do something nice. They didn’t need to see me cry about cancer. 

“Mama, it’s Mother’s Day,” Ruby said. “You shouldn’t be doing anything. Go rest.”

“I’ll sit here,” I said, pulling out chair, and that’s when the day turned like a bad gallon of milk.

While Trey sprayed off the back patio, Ruby’s dog laid a massive load on the floor. I don’t like dog poop on a good day, but this was the mother of all poops—which makes sense on Mother’s Day. Anyway… Right after the poo landed, that’s when the basement flooded.

I felt so shocked that you could’ve picked my jaw off the gross floor. My fists clenched as hot tears filled my eyes. And although some people claim I look like a prude, that gigantic dog-poo river made me swear like Samuel L. Jackson. What in the f-ing f-er.” A piece of poo floated toward my shoe, bobbing left and right. “Are you f-ing kidding me? Jesus—”

"Is lord?" my youngest daughter interjected, and I’m sure my face turned the color of crushed tomatoes. But it was petty witty; that kid can make anything better, brighter. And I slowly deflated a little. “Mama,” she said, “we're gonna get this figured out." Indy reached out and held my hand. “We’re gonna be okay because we have each other. AND we have towels.” She laughed.

"Turn off the hose," I yelled to Trey. 

"What the..." Ruby walked into the room, and as another poo boat sailed onward, she looked whiter than Edward Cullen. “Artemis!!!” She yelled for her dog. “Artemis!!!”

"Mike," I nearly whimpered. I’d quickly gone from the swearing stage to victim mentality. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t I just have one nice Mother’s Day? ONE! “Mike…” But he'd escaped to his favorite store in the world: Ace. (What is it with men and Ace? Mike goes there multiple times a day—and I’m not even kidding.)

I shoved several towels to the floor as the kids went to get more. In that moment, I realized Ruby's dog had stayed by me. You know how infants smile when they’re farting? Well, Ruby’s dog did that! She practically smiled, creepy A.F., frolicking in the mess AND farting with every step. What in the heck had she been eating? "Go outside! This isn't fun. Artemis. Now!" I love that dog, but what in the poo?!

"Why did this happen?" Indy asked. "We were doing so well for Mother's Day."

"A pipe must've busted when it froze in the winter. It only flooded when the back hose was on. Mike'll find it. If he knows how to find anything, it's expensive wine and any excuse to visit Ace.” Now he could go back and get a new pipe.

Trey deposited some towels on the floor, and as he bent over, Ruby’s dog darted past in a gas cloud. Water shot everywhere, and I'm still not sure how, but a huge splash of poo-water hit Trey in the mouth and chin. My kids and I stared at each other. None of us dared move except Artemis. She wagged her tail, that sadistic jerk. That's when Trey wailed like a banshee. "Why??? Why???” He stared at the water sloshing by his feet. “This… THIS is THE WORST Mother's Day I've ever had."

Sky and Indy laughed so hard, wheezing, but I hurled myself toward the bathroom, trying to find mouthwash, rubbing alcohol, baby wipes—anything. When I returned, Sky held a bottom of hand sanitizer over Trey's mouth. "Gargle with this. Okay?"

Ruby and I looked at each other, horrified. “You're gonna kill him.” I bellowed.” OH. My… Jesus—"

"Is lord," Indy blurted as I knocked the sanitizer to the ground like a live grenade.

After using every SINGLE towel we own and two tattered blankets, we cleaned up the water. It wasn't until dinnertime that we talked and laughed. The kids brought up previous Mother's Day disasters, laughing so hard. "Remember when that raft popped, and mom fell in that hole in the river?" Trey asked.

"That was hilarious!" Sky said. “Or the time we went to Lake Powell and the Coast Guard had to come rescue us because of that storm!” It was terrifying in the moment, but I had to admit, we’ve made some absolutely hilarious memories.

"You're such a good mom," Ruby said out of nowhere, and then Mike and the kids each brought up a different memory they love about me. And not even knowing my worries or how all I want is for them to remember me well, what my kids gave me this Mother’s Day was a lot more than a clean house. They gave me peace that even if I die tomorrow, my life has been enough. Although I’m incredibly flawed, somehow they think that I’m enough. And that is one of the most valuable gifts I’ve ever received. Poo water and all, that was a day I wouldn’t change for the world.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Learning to Pivot

 Last year, around this time, doctors found a new mass in my brain. I remember thinking, "This is it. This is the one that will kill me." It's just that oncologists keep saying I'll die from melanoma since it's gone to my brain. Despite this, it is astounding that I'm here at all. That mass has hardly grown because of cancer treatments, and I'm fortunate to even be alive and writing this article in the spring of 2024.

While sitting here today, I remembered the word "pivot." A man spoke about that word during a business meeting several years ago. He said, "We must see things from new perspectives so we can overcome obstacles and be problem solvers. If we don't learn to change and evolve, other companies will happily take our clients. We need to PIVOT." I enjoyed his speech so much that I couldn't stop thinking about the word and even wondered what pivot originally meant.

After getting home, I flipped through several etymology books and Googled for answers. Everything said the same thing: pivot originally referred to "a pin to spin on." Without that pin, the object could never hope to spin. It seemed to be all about foundations. And everyone knows that without a good foundation, it's hard to pivot, let alone build things. (Try spinning OR building something on quicksand! :) )

Thinking about this now reminds me of my family and friends. I am so incredibly lucky to have them. The wonderful people who have stayed by my side, they help me remain strong. They are my foundation.

Thinking about the memory, I swiveled in a tiny blue recliner that I got from a yard sale. Mike didn't originally agree with the purchase, but it's become my favorite place to sit—and apparently everyone else's too. If I get there first, I'll sit and look out the window. We get a lot of deer and other wildlife where we live, and if I'm not amazed by fuzzy animals, I'm pondering anything from music to spring to etymology. My eyes fell on the blooms outside. Although I love winter, seeing new life coming like magic out of the ground is nice. Different seasons remind so many people of life and death. That's what I think about, too… and cancer. It seems like winter has come to my life, and although I'm so grateful for the knowledge it's brought, sometimes it's nice to focus on spring—and life. I've needed "spring" to come so badly.

As I "pivoted" in my blue chair, I turned my focus from the window so I could study something else for a change. 

I smiled at our piano, a place where Indy spends countless hours. That's when I spotted something unusual: Just beneath the sustain pedal, something stuck out from under the piano.

Quit a while ago, amid cancer treatments, radiation, and surgeries; a picture went missing! It used to hang above the piano. Although it didn't have a frame, I loved it and couldn't believe someone had taken it down. I asked everyone, but no one confessed. "It gave me hope," I pled. "Something to strive for." But after time, I finally stopped looking—and now I feel like an idiot. All this time, the picture had been underneath the piano. It had fallen off the wall.

I gingerly pulled it from its hiding place and stared at the details of cherry blossoms I had painted when I first got sick. Despite experiencing the winter of my life… I had painted spring. I had painted hope. 

I know this might sound silly or trivial to some, but this moment felt like some sort of sign. I don't think it means I'll necessarily get better or beat cancer, but it is a reminder to find joy in every single day. After all, that makes life worth living: spreading joy to others and experiencing it ourselves.

I'm so glad I turned my attention from the window, even for a moment. I love seeing wildlife and enjoying nature from the warmth of my front room, but it is true that when we look at our lives from different perspectives, the view can be extraordinary.

Hoping for More Than a Bite on our Lines

 “It was the hardest year of my life, the year I found out you had stage 4 cancer,” my teenage son said.

My heart dropped. Having terminal cancer is one thing, but seeing how it’s negatively affecting everyone around me, that’s another.

It became hard to say much, and I turned toward the lake. “I just know you’ll catch something,” I said, motioning to where his line punctured the water. And as we sat there, quietly watching, I remembered something from years before.

When Trey was only 8, he came home with a shocking story.

“Mom, during recess the popular boys started picking on Jeremy. They kicked and punched him. They even picked him up and swung him into a pole.”


I blinked, stunned.


“I yelled and asked why they were hurting him. Carter said it’s ‘cause he's a wimp. Because he’s different from the rest of us.” Trey gazed down. “I stood between him and them—I got so mad. And for some reason, I screamed, ‘He’s SENSITIVE. So what?!’”


“Did they stop after that?” I asked. “Did someone tell the teacher?”


Trey explained that another kid told the teacher while Trey stayed inside with Jeremy, making sure he was okay.

“I was 7% popular,” Trey sighed, “but after this, I’m back down to 0% again.”


I hugged him, this big ol’ hug. “I just know it’ll all work out,” I said. “You did the right thing.”

Trey shuffled at the lake’s edge, bringing me back to the moment. He was no longer an 8-year-old fighting adversity but a teenager facing a parent’s mortality.

“Mom, you’re gonna get better, right?” he asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said. “But I’ll tell you what; I’m gonna fight like hell for every second I can get with you guys.” Then I set down my fishing pole, and even though my hands smelled like fish guts and mud lined my fingernails, I put my arms around my big, strong boy. “I just know it’ll all work out,” I said, echoing my exact words from years before.

Trey rested his head on my shoulder for a moment, and there we remained, fishing our hearts out but hoping for a lot more than bites on our lines. We simply wanted more time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

There’s Some Kind of Plan

 Somehow There’s a Plan

By EC Stilson 

I had a deep conversation with my father-in-law and told him that I still hoped I’d be in remission someday. “It might sound ridiculous, but without hope what else do we have?”

“That reminds me,” he said. “I have something for you to read and something for you to keep.” After leaving the room and returning, he handed me a faded envelope that said “June 2007.”

“You’re only the second person to read this,” he said, then slid the envelope across the table.

So, I held it gingerly—sacredly—since I knew this was important to a man I respect so much. After all, when I’m having a tough time making it through treatments, radiation, or surgeries, I think about my dad and my father-in-law. They both had cancer and were brave enough to continue fighting so they could somehow beat this and survive.

I opened the letter, and it suddenly felt hard to breathe. His written words detailed the story of how a strange peace came to him in his darkest hour, and somehow he knew that one day he’d be okay. It’s amazing knowing this happened to my father-in-law because he’s not overly religious, yet this is a true testament of his unyielding faith. 

He  beat cancer not long after writing about this moment, and he’s been cancer free for almost 17 years.

I handed the envelope back. “That’s pretty powerful. I hope I’ll always remember it—to keep my own hope alive.”

“Well…,” He procured something he’d been holding behind his back. “This is for you to keep so you’ll remember what happened to me. Maybe you’ll need this reminder when times are hard.” Then that softhearted Italian smiled, his eyes lighting with wonder. “I carved it for you.”

My eyes swept across the foot-tall hand-carved violin. And as my eyes discovered every intricate detail, I couldn’t help remembering something from over two decades before.

I was 16. The group had asked for a violinist to help them with a play. “We’ll tell the story,” the woman said, “of a battered violin an auctioneer tries selling. But no one will want it. And when the auctioneer is about to just give it away, someone will step from the audience and play the violin to show its true worth.”  

They picked me to play the violin during the play. After my performance during each show, numerous actors would bid on the violin, and then it would “mock-sell” for thousands upon thousands of dollars. It was such a beautifully touching show, and the people in attendance really did seem enchanted as I played the violin and walked among them before actors “placed their bids.”

I thought about this as I studied the little violin my father-in-law made for me. And just when I thought I’d seen everything it had to offer, I noticed a laminated note by the violin.

“What is this?” I asked.

Then my breath caught in my throat because it was the story from the play I’d performed in: The Touch of the Master’s Hand. I could hardly believe my father-in-law had printed out the story and hooked it to the violin he’d carved—almost like he’d known…


We’ve been given so much by so many people. I don’t even know how to begin thanking everyone. But just know that it’s this kindness and strength that are buoying me forward. And through it all, I’m seeing how awesome life is when—even through the heartache—we have the courage to see that G-d has a plan. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life as I continue getting through this.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

An Inspiring Mother

It seems no matter where one might look, people are eager to impose limitations or expectations on others. They want us to do more and do better: become doctors, lawyers, or architects... But then, as we grow older or become ill, they demand that we do less. "Are you sure you're still safe while driving?" "How can you be so active when you're getting older?" Or, in my case, "It's not normal to be happy while fighting cancer. Elisa, you're living in denial." 

The silly thing is that I have both good and bad days. Just because people see one moment of our lives, that doesn't make them experts.

Last week, I spoke with my mother about this. "I refuse to act like I'm dead while I'm still busy living." Sure, life has changed, imposing its own limitations. I use a wheelchair for long distances. I can no longer go hiking, and I sleep an ungodly number of hours each day. I'm 41 years old, and certain things I loved are no longer on the table, but that doesn't mean I can no longer enjoy what I CAN do. Life is change, right? So we can either pivot... or fall. 

"I read an article the other day," my mom said. "It claims certain people are biologically equipped to handle hardship." She paused, then whispered something so quietly I had to ask her to repeat it. "It's just," she said, "if anyone was built to handle hardship, it's you."

My parents are wonderful, loving people, but compliments like this are years in the making. It made my heart swell.

They've worked hard to get where they are and expected me and my siblings to do the same. My dad built a drilling company from the ground up, and my mom was a successful musician (drummer) and later worked as a bookkeeper for many years. But things haven't always been easy for them, and knowing how hard they've fought to continually find the good—through my dad's battle against stage 4 cancer as well as the death of a grandchild... They had businesses go under before finding success and have braved other trials that somehow made their marriage stronger. Knowing all of that made her words resonate. "You're my hero, Mom. Really." 

My parents are in their mid-70s, and they rock climb nearly every day. My dad goes trap shooting and golfing every chance he gets, while my mom enjoys teaching line dancing lessons. I remember several years ago when someone tried imposing boundaries on them. "You're both getting older. You should slow down." But I'm proud that my parents didn't listen. They knew what they wanted and decided to simply go out and enjoy their lives.

"You've been through so many tough things," I said, "but you smile through it all. And you do it with such grace." Before fighting cancer, I never understood how much strength it takes to be gentle, good, forgiving, and hopeful. Those are the strengths I see in my mother. Those are the things I wish to find in myself.

"You won't believe what someone told me the other day." I knew she'd have good advice for me. "They said I must not be 'that sick' if I can make breakfast for the kids every day, smile, and do my makeup. You'd think doing my makeup is harder than raising the dead!"

My mom laughed. "Well, you're doing your best with what you can control." She took a deep breath. "I wish more people would get out and enjoy life." Then she told me how she recently attended a band audition AND got the job. "I'm playing gigs and everything, Elisa. I'm in a band again!"

I couldn't help smiling because every day is a surprise with those two. They were so good to me while I grew up, but now they're leading by example. I've realized more and more that I need to let go of the expectations and limitations people might want to impose on me. If oncologists are right and I'll die from melanoma at some point, it would be tragic to quit living before I'm even dead. So, I'll keep doing my makeup if I want to. I'll go for strolls with my family—whether walking or in a wheelchair. And I'll smile through the pain. 

If we can't muster even a bit of gratitude and enjoy what we have, what's the point? I'd rather make the best of my situation and learn how to enjoy every last moment of life that I can.

Monday, April 15, 2024

What is Happiness?

Top (left to right): Mike and Elisa

Bottom (left to right): Trey, Ruby, Sky, and Indiana

Service Dog: Artemis

Friday, April 5, 2024

A Full-Circle Moment

My grandma always taught me to treat absolutely everyone with respect because you never know what someone else might be going through. When I was 11, my grandparents actually brought me to Hawaii, and when everyone else fell asleep, my grandma decided to take me out so we could see the ladies of the night. I had no idea what these women actually did until my grandma told me. "See her clothes," she said, "she has a good sense of fashion." Then, my grandmother smiled kindly at each woman as they passed and always offered an uplifting word. She gave several of them money, but I honestly think her kindness meant far more than anything else. Some of those women even seemed surprised. Anyway, we didn't return to our hotel room until my grandma and I had counted 100 women that night. Later, the whole thing seemed hilarious as an adult, but I didn't realize until now that my grandma had actually been teaching me an unforgettable lesson.


It's been over 30 years since this happened. My grandmother passed away over a decade ago, but I still find so much comfort in these memories. Now, when I'm having tough days fighting cancer, I read inspirational cards she placed in her "happiness file." I pulled one out a couple of years ago and wondered how my grandmother must've felt when she wrote it. "Treat everyone with kindness," the card read, "it really does come back around." 

Whenever I walk toward my main oncologist's clinic, I pass a man who helps with insurance claims. He doesn't appear to have a regular office and instead is tucked away in a dark corner. He faces patients who pass by, but his desk is a bit too far away for us to really say hello. I've seen people awkwardly skirt past, and the man also never looks up. Remembering my grandmother's words, a couple of years ago I decided to walk all the way over to this man's desk to try brightening his afternoon. "Have a wonderful day," I beamed. The poor man appeared visibly shaken, mumbling something as he stared at his computer and went back to work. Instead of quitting there, I vowed to do this every time I walked past—both before and after my visit. After months, he began waving back, always seeming surprised no matter how many times I've done this. I never missed a time, always remembering my grandmother's words: Treat Everyone with Kindness.

This week, though, something changed. I grew so sad, unable to remain happy despite my circumstances. I spent most of the week at the cancer center, growing more and more exhausted. It's just that this whole journey can sometimes feel endless. Anyway, after I left the clinic, preparing to pass the man in the corner, I decided not to say hello. What was the point in always saying hi anyway? He probably didn't even like it. I couldn't stomach this journey anymore. What was the point of anything?

But just as I was about to round the corner without acknowledging him, the man yelled out, "You didn't say hello! So... Hello!" Then he smiled brightly, waving to me with so much animation that a humongous laugh built up inside of me, and I couldn't hold it in anymore. We just smiled at each other so widely. And I'm not quite sure why, but his kindness made my eyes well with tears. That man changed the climate of my entire day, and suddenly my journey felt surmountable again.

It's so funny thinking about my grandma and the lessons she imparted even on the Waikiki strip. Maybe she was right after all.