"What's the point of this?!" I motioned to the girl, the dock we sat on, the leather pack on my back, and even the little Viking raft that bobbed next to us in the water. But I didn't even let her answer. "What's the point of LIFE anyway?"
"What do you think it is?" she asked.
"Growth? Being present?"
She smiled widely. "It's…decisions. The point of life is simply…decisions."
I scoffed, but she looked at me, so patient, almost patronizingly.
"Seriously though? Decisions? That's like saying the glass isn't half empty or half full. It's simply just waiting there, with liquid in it."
"Well, isn't it? Isn't the glass of liquid just there?"
"But perspective… Positivity can make things much better."
"Yes, it can help the medicine go down. But it's still medicine. Decisions are decisions. And if people are paying attention, they all lead to God."
She looked at me with a penetrating gaze. And I realized she had the same eyes as the Master Luthier from my other dream.
"What's your point about decisions?"
The girl didn't answer for a moment, and I placed my head in my hands, frustrated.
"Let's put it this way," she exhaled, "when your life is spent, you might be asked where you've been on your journey. Would you believe some people haven't lived with true purpose, and they might not even remember why they made certain decisions or what led them there in the first place? They're so busy speeding through life, achieving their next goal—that they've missed the entire point. Their kids have grown up under their noses. Their careers have ended. They're so busy looking for the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow that they forget to stop and DECIDE to enjoy the beauty around them."
"That's a gift cancer has given me," I admitted. "'Decide' is a good word to describe it. I've decided to live with my ultimate purpose in mind. I decided to find my true purpose after I got sick. I had to decide to persevere; understanding didn't just happen. I had to work for it—but it all started with that choice…that decision."
"So, what is it? Your purpose? What did you find out about yourself?"
"I really just want to make a difference for the people I love most. That's what really matters at the end…. Giving them joy."
"But you might have a little more time than you think. Far more than the two years the doctors initially gave you."
"Hmph." I looked at her, trying not to give away how much I really, really want to live. "The expiration date—the mark of two years will be up this fall," I said. "If that hasn't helped me make some decisions and live with my purpose in mind, well, I don't know what will."
The little girl laughed, and her smile glowed with such happiness that I longed to feel that carefree too. But no matter how much I longed for it, nonchalance seemed just out of reach.
"You're worried," she said.
"Not worried, per se, just in pain. Usually, the pain leaves in my dreams—my one reprieve. But it's in this one."
"I want to help you today. Really help you."
"Part of you thinks you got sick because of sin?"
"Well, around the time I first got sick, someone mailed an anonymous document to Mike's work. It said I got sick because I wasn't one of 'God's chosen people.' Then I started thinking about my sins."
"Go on," she said, but I didn't want to tell this kid my problems, especially in detail. "Elisa, I literally know everything about you."
"Fine. Yes. I committed the biggest sin I've ever committed shortly before my diagnosis—and trust me, it was a whopper."
"Did you sin against God or man?" she asked.
I suddenly remembered the leather pack I'd been sporting on my back since the beginning of the dream. My hands went up to the straps. They felt so hard and stiff despite being made of leather. "Well, if I have to pick one, I sinned against man, I guess."
"If you sin against God, ask God for forgiveness. If you sin against man, ask man for forgiveness."
I nodded. "I guess that makes sense."
"So, the person you sinned against, did you ask them for forgiveness?"
"Yes," I responded.
"Then why are you carrying this bag of guilt around with you? You are not sick because of some punishment for sin—but holding on to guilt could be making it even harder for you to get better."
"Sinning against God is doing something against God's will; that actually puts a wedge between you and God. This specific act didn't start as a sin against God, but it has turned that way. Hanging onto guilt IS keeping you from God. Holding onto it, might be your way of punishing yourself—and that is not something God wants. God doesn't want you to hurt others OR yourself! You have been forgiven. Now let it go. That's why the raft is here."
My eyes darted to the raft with the pyre and little Viking flag. "Oh, no. Are we sending me off to a Viking funeral? Burning me alive as we send this out to sea...on fire?"
She started laughing. "Not quite. I want you to take off the pack and throw it onto the raft. Then we'll release it forever."
"You want me to remove the pack?"
So, I took off the straps, but when I tried pulling the pack from my back, it stayed stuck. "Oh, yuck," I said, pulling my hands away, slimy and gross.
"Let me help you." And the little girl set to work, separating and pulling the leather fabric. And with each minute, I felt the pack grow less and less attached to my back, until it almost seemed to be pulling something out of my actual upper spine. After minutes upon minutes, the little girl brought the pack in front of me. "This is your guilt. This is what you've been carrying around with you so much that it's started to become part of you. You're forgiven, Elisa. Remember this: Would you ever want to put this pack on again?"
I shook my head, appalled.
"This is what sin leads to, a skewed definition of ourselves. The definition keeps us far from coming back to God. You are not your sin. You need to let go of the guilt."
I truly studied what must've once been a pack. But it appeared completely eaten through with mold and decay. Flies swarmed around it. Even in the dream, I could not believe I'd been carrying that around with me, unaware because it was always behind me, always following wherever I went. And how embarrassing; people around could see it, but in my blindness, I hadn't believed them!
Then, the girl simply threw the pack onto the raft. I'm still not sure how, but it caught on fire and the raft started floating away until it disappeared.
"Let it go, Elisa. No one is perfect. To even hold yourself to that standard is prideful. You're neither perfect nor completely imperfect. You are exactly who you were made to be. Make decisions, remember how you got to where you are, but never let it hold you back. Do better next time. For now, just live the best you can for your purpose…for your family."
"You're done," the tech pulled me out of the MRI machine, and I realized I'd been asleep for almost the entirety of the two-hour scan. "Oh! My back is stiff."
"These tables will do that to ya." He removed the IV from my arm. "Your appointment with your radiation oncologist is in two hours?" he asked, and I nodded. "I hope you'll get some good news today," he said. "We should have the results by then. I'm pulling for you."
Those two hours flew by, and soon I found myself waiting at the appointment with my second-oldest daughter, Sky. "Give me a second," the oncologist said, leaving the room. It wasn't long when she came back, looking stunned. "Well, it's still early to say…but the radiologist saw the preliminary scans. The cancer in your lower back might be worse, but your upper back… He said all signs of cancer in that area appear to be gone. It looks like after almost two years of surgery, treatments, and radiation, the infusions might finally be working. We might cancel radiation for now and see if the cancer in your lower back and the area in your femur start looking better too."
I remained frozen, completely dumbfounded. "Wait, the cancer in my lower back is still there, but in my upper back…the cancer…is gone?" Had I even heard her correctly? "Is it still terminal?"
"There's no cure. And we don't want to get ahead of ourselves because your lower back is uncertain. But for today, this is very good news. It will still be a battle, but this means you might live much longer than we ever anticipated."
I could hardly breathe. Sky and I looked at each other gape-jawed.
"We'll do more scans in two months and follow-up then—unless we hear something different from the radiologist. But they must be pretty confident about this; I just spoke with one of the doctors over the phone."
I left the hospital with Sky, and we both felt quite shocked. So...we got Zupa's LOL!
Anyway, we still don't know what's going on with the cancer in my lower back, and my main oncologist said that "at least for now I don't need that back surgery after all either." But the whole drive home, I kept thinking about my odd dream and everyone's prayers for me, wondering if some sort of miracle had taken place.
Whether it was God sending a confirmation, the infusions finally working, or a combination of everything, I'm feeling better than I have since this whole ordeal began—even since they found the first stage 2 melanoma all the way back in 2018.
Regardless of cancer, what feels even better is that it appears as if I'm truly forgiven for all of the "bad decisions" I've made. And now I'm on the other side where I can appreciate the lessons I've learned along the way and feel like there isn't a mountain of guilt separating me from God.
Life is the biggest miracle of all. I'm so grateful to feel like I have a purpose and to be sharing that joy with my family.
This is a picture of the dock I always try to envision when I'm getting scans. This is from our honeymoon.