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 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:

He really was one heck of a guy.







Tuesday, February 28, 2023

When Bollywood Stole My Facebook Page

 In 2003 my cellphone rang. I glanced at the unknown number, not feeling up to conversation. My son had died a few months before, and I’d gotten momentarily separated from my first husband. As if reading my mind, my oldest daughter studied me from her highchair while taking another bite of oatmeal. 

Oatmeal. I hated the stuff. But being poor, oatmeal seemed to be the only food we could afford, and while I had to choke it down, I thanked God that Ruby still loved Quaker Oats.

“Should I answer it?” I asked Ruby who giggled, dancing to my ringtone. 

“Hello?” I spoke into the receiver and smiled at my beautiful little girl—my reason.

The man responded in a thick accent. “Ma’am?” Then he began peddling an inane product. 

“I can barely afford oatmeal,” I said. “There’s no way I can buy whatever you’re selling. Can you remove me from your calling list?”

“Yes.” But he sounded devastated. Desperate. 

I thought then how easily we separate ourselves from our own humanity through a phone line or a computer’s modem, wielding apathy instead of kindness.

“Wait,” I said, “before you go, can you tell me how your day is going?”

He paused. “It’s…okay. Um…thank you…for asking.”

“Where are you from?” I just wanted to show some interest, try to make his day a bit brighter.

“Ma’am,” his voice wavered, “I’m in India.”

“How exciting!” I squealed. “I bet it’s gorgeous over there.” And Ruby’s eyes lit with mirth as she watched my reaction.

The conversation that followed still feels somewhat magical, even 20 years later. The telemarketer told me about his hardships and fears. He shared how he felt like he’d hit rock bottom to have a degree and be a telemarketer—he felt like a failure. And to top that off, people could be so unkind, yelling at him and hanging up all day long. 

I told him about my son who’d died and my failing marriage. He said he never would’ve guessed because I’d sounded so happy when I first answered the phone. And somehow the conversation felt so…healing.

He’d called to sell me something but instead reminded me of the very best of humanity. He fought to provide for his family, striving to succeed no matter how difficult life had become. And on that international phone call, we encouraged each other to keep going…for our kids and even for ourselves.

“You’re amazing,” I said. And with that, we ended the call.

Fast forward to almost two weeks ago. I received an email from a woman in India. She explained that her company desperately wanted to advertise on my Facebook page. I immediately remembered the Indian man from 20 years ago, his kind voice, his quiet resolve. And I wondered how the years had treated him. Had he finally landed a job where he could utilize his degree? Had his children grown up to realize what a strong, selfless man had supported them all of those years. And what would he think about my life? My wonderful children? My second husband who’s been so good to me? And—since 2018–my terrible fight against cancer and death. 

Thinking about all of that, I agreed to advertise this woman’s product. All I needed to do was sign into my Meta account and accept her invitation to advertise.

Imagine my surprise when this woman ended up being a man who later hacked into my Meta account and stole my business page on Facebook. As many of you know, I had 56,000 followers on my EC Stilson page. I’d worked for 12 years to build it up to that point. Despite contacting Facebook over 14 times since this theft on Feb. 19, they have done nothing to help me, and I’m beginning to lose hope. 

Today, I sat wondering why this feels so devastating. I guess it’s hard knowing this scammer read about my fight against cancer, and they still proceeded to steal my page and thus part of my livelihood (selling books through my platform). It’s also appalling having someone take my identity, and now post Bollywood videos under my name. But it gets so much worse. I hate knowing that cancer patients and some of my elderly followers might be trying to message that page, only to be greeted by this dangerous imposter. And—maybe the worst part—the teams at Facebook and Meta don’t seem to care.

Today, as I sat wondering what I’m supposed to learn from this, I immediately remembered the Indian telemarketer from two decades ago. He reminded me that no matter what hardships we have or will go through, we should never let unkind people or unfortunate situations rob us of our humanity. 

It might be terrible that Facebook isn’t doing anything to help, that the scammer has sent someone to try ransoming my page, that I’ve had to realize some people could care less that others are sick—they’ll even capitalize upon it…but what I’m so proud of is that I TRULY know now those situations will never rob me of my ability to be kind and always look for the good. 

I prayed for the scammer today. Begged God to help them learn what they need in order to grow and feel empathy for others. I prayed for myself, for the strength to continue being that girl who makes friends with telemarketers and learns from unlikely circumstances. I also prayed that no one else will be taken advantage of, thinking they’re messaging me…

This has been hard waiting to hear back from Facebook about the future of my page and my business, but it’s nothing compared to waiting for my own demise because of cancer. This page was just something to distract me from the brutal reality of sickness; I know that now.

Anyway, I guess today I’m hanging onto peace in my own humanity. Hope in the journey. Love in the memories. It’s hard waiting, until I realize this is just another sign I’m still lucky enough to be alive. And that’s what I learned after someone stole my Facebook page so they could begin posting Bollywood videos under my name.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Breaking Sand Dollars to Release Doves

 This Valentine’s Day, my teenage son did the sweetest thing; he gave me strength.

Let me explain: In 2021, when my liver started failing because of cancer treatments, my Aunt BoAnn and Uncle Frank came to see us all the way from another state! They bought dinner, brought gifts for each person in our family, and even watched the kids when Mike rushed me to the emergency room. Anyway, each of the kids cherished their time with my aunt and uncle and have taken exceptional care of the gifts they received. But this especially made an impact on Trey. During that visit, he’d received several sand dollars and learned how to break them to release the doves inside.

But even as time passed, Trey couldn’t bring himself to break them. “They’re so awesome. I can’t stand to destroy them.”

So, I looked it up online. “But it’s good luck!” I said then read the search results. “Once the sand dollar is broken open, the five jaw apparatuses are said to look like doves.” I pointed to the ‘doves’ from a broken sand dollar in his room. “Broken sand dollars release goodwill and peace into the world.”

He didn’t quite agree with me. And although he loved the gift, he vowed to keep them safe. Anyway, months passed and despite Trey’s best efforts, since sand dollars are quite fragile, some of them did start to break. I watched as a sand dollar at a time would disappear from his shelf, replaced by doves. And although I didn’t ask Trey about any of this, I just found it interesting until only one sand dollar remained unbroken, in February of 2023.

I’d called in sick to work, suffering beyond words. And I felt so tired. Trey handed me something wrapped in tissue along with a note. “Read the note first?” he asked, and I read it aloud.

“I am giving you a sand dollar,” I read his words on the paper, “but not just any sand dollar…the intact one! Because out of all of us, you have stayed the strongest the last few years. Not only that, but you have inspired so many lives.” Tears filled my eyes as I continued reading his words. “You have earned the one and only sand dollar.” I smiled. “Use it wisely. From Trey.”

I gave Trey the biggest hug. It’s crazy that he’s almost six feet tall and that he has such a tender, loving heart. I’m so grateful for him, every single second of every day. So, as I read his words again this Valentine’s Day, I realized once more the importance of telling the people in our lives just how much they matter to us. 

I am so incredibly fortunate to have such amazing family members and friends in my life. If I have stayed strong at times, it’s simply a testament to the kind of people who surround me. I am lucky and blessed. This Valentine’s Day, I wanted to tell all of you how much I love and appreciate you. I know the best people in the world. Thank you for your kindness to me!

Monday, February 13, 2023

This Side of a Terminal Diagnosis

 When I turned 26, the modeling agency told me I was too old to model. “We kept you a year longer than normal. No one wants someone over the age of 25–not unless they’re a big name.”

I hadn’t liked modeling solely for the shoots. Some of them felt trashy, especially the one calendar project where executives dressed me and eleven other girls to look muddy in a swamp that held about a million mosquitos. They’d do up your hair and makeup, then put you in clothes you’d never wear in real life. And sometimes upper management would try hitting on you….

Still, when the agency ended my contract, it stung. I had enjoyed going out for music gigs. Sometimes the agency would call and send me to music auditions: singing, fiddling, or playing the piano. I’d get to fiddle with various bands at different venues. Sometimes companies needed a model who actually knew how to play a certain instrument for photos or even films. And that felt…nice, thinking I had a sought-after skill and someone thought I was pretty. Plus, minimum wage for music gigs started at $94 an hour—a small fortune to me at the time.

But it does a number on your self esteem when someone says you’re “too old” at 26. (I did land two more jobs after this, at 29 and 30, but that was the end of it. Ha!)

Anyway, I thought about all of that this weekend when I went swimming with Indy. Everyone else in our family had plans, so Indy and I headed to Lava Hot Springs to the mineral pools that many claim have healing powers. 

Sometimes I can walk quite straight, without a hunch in my back, but when I get tired, something pulls my back tighter and tighter until I look haggard and old. Unfortunately, that’s what happened as we stood in the changing rooms and prepared to go into the hot pools. As I waited for Indy to get ready, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I have a 9-inch scar on my back, a disfigured thumb, several scars on my stomach, a 5-inch scar on my hip, a 5-inch scar on my arm, and severe muscle atrophy in my right leg. I scoffed. If the modeling agency could see me now.

“You okay?” Indy asked. I hadn’t realized she’d come out already. 

“Yeah. I’m good,” I said. I did not want her to know the internal struggle I faced, just going out to the pools. I felt so ridiculously weak-minded.

So, we walked out, and I saw a few people eying the scars on my body. “Mama, what’s wrong with her?” a little girl asked.

“Trinity! I’ve told you. It’s not nice to point at strangers.”

Indy and I walked away from “Trinity” and her vigilant mother and found a spot in a hot pool near the end, one that boasted a lower temperature than the other pools, about 102 degrees F. 

Indy laughed and smiled, having no idea how bad I’d felt about people’s prying eyes and Trinity’s words. And I wished I could stay submerged in the concealing water forever—or at least until everyone else left. 

“Ready to go?” Indy finally asked a while later. But I felt terrified. I couldn’t stand limping back into that changing room and feeling like some defective version of my former self.

“Five more minutes?” I asked and right after I said it, an older gentleman headed toward our part of the pool. He seemed malnourished and exhausted. He dragged an oxygen machine behind him and barely made it—with the help of a woman—down a step and just a foot away from me.

“No one else who’s sick comes here!” he mumbled, looking around. “I’m mortified, Cindy! Everyone’s staring at me. I’m the only one who’s sick here!”

“You ready to go now?” Indy whispered, and I nodded. I couldn’t wait to stand up. I just hoped the man would see my scars, atrophied leg, and how I walk … and that he’d feel somehow better—like he wasn’t alone.

I stood then, and when I looked back, I noticed so many eyes falling across my back and leg. But I didn’t care about them; I just cared about the man with the oxygen tank. I smiled at him, and he gave me the saddest, most understanding nod. Then Indy held my hand, and I lumbered toward the changing room, feeling a strange sort of peace.

“Mama. Mama! It’s that patchwork lady again,” Trinity said as we walked near her.

Her mother paled, appearing horrified. “I am…so sorry,” she said to me instead of addressing Trinity first.

“It’s all right,” I said. Then I turned to Trinity and her mother and what felt like dozens of bystanders in that pool. I stood up as straight as I could and uncrossed my arms that had been over my stomach—so they could get the full view. “I have melanoma,” I said, a bit shakily at first. “This is what happens when you get burned in the sun, use tanning beds, don’t use sun screen…and don’t see your dermatologist!”

You could tell everyone thought hard about my words; one man even glanced down at a mole on his arm.

“Doctors originally only gave me two years to live, and now I’ve lived longer than they expected. But it’s been a battle.”

When Indy and I returned to the dressing room, I saw myself in a different light. It doesn’t matter that I’m not society’s kind of beautiful any more, that I have more scars than a Viking, or that one of my legs looks like skin and bone. I’ve grown as a person, and if even one life is saved by the speech I gave at the hot pools, then something wonderful happened that is far more important than looking pretty in the pages of a inconsequential magazine.

So, this is what life looks like on the other side of a terminal diagnosis. It sure has a lot more depth and meaning. I think I’d pick the knowledge I’ve gained over youth and beauty—that’s a pretty neat realization. 

P.S. (1) This motorcycle picture was not a modeling picture, but it was taken to get my last gig when I was 30. (2) This second picture is a partial shot of my back scar (I didn’t show the whole thing because I’m not THAT brave 😅). (3) Lastly, snow lined the ground everywhere in Lava Hot Spring. People even go there for the Fire and Ice festival in the winter—we aren’t the only ones who love going there when it’s cold, and I think it’s one of America’s best kept secrets! The rest of these pictures are from my weekend with Indy; we had so much fun.

Friday, February 3, 2023

So This Is 40 — And God Sent a Ladybug!

My 40th birthday was the best anyone could ask for! I wanted to thank you for all of the kind messages. I feel extremely loved and so lucky. I don’t even care that I’m still fighting cancer. It’s my new normal—and like I’ve said before, even though I’m not in remission, my shitty attitude sure is! 🤣 Life is such a miracle if we just have the guts to look for the good. 🥰

Do you remember that post I recently wrote, praying for God to send me a ladybug as a sign? Look at what I got (picture below)—and one was an accident from Amazon! 😮 (Here’s that post if you want to read it, but having this “ladybug birthday” seemed pretty incredible: .)

I asked for a ladybug because in some cultures if one lands on you, it’s a sign that it will take the suffering away and keep you safe. Anyway, yesterday I got all of these ladybugs (FIVE OF THEM), and it blew me away!

Also, your support this week has been unreal. THE GOLDEN SKY has stayed in the top No. 1 and 2 spots for women’s memoir for five days in a row! Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to get the eBook; I am on cloud nine. 

Do you know how when you’re about to put a dog down and you give them a steak dinner the night before? If this is my steak dinner from God, it’s been worth it. But honestly, I have a feeling things are starting to turn around. No matter what, I’m enjoying the ride.

If you haven’t read my first memoir and would like to, you can get that for free today:

Thanks again for everything 🥰

#fortiesAreBest #stagefourmelanoma #Gratitude #gratitudeattitude #ladybug #ladybuglove #cancerwarrior #findthegood

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

All She Wanted Was Time

We’re sitting at an old Chinese restaurant. It’s so dilapidated, the chime no longer works at the front door. I look at you, with your bright eyes smiling back at me because you’ve been waiting weeks for this date with Mama. Your chubby hands grip the water glass in front of you, and your darling sandaled shoes kick rhythmically under the table. 

“We don’t have much money,” I say, “so we’re gonna share a cup of soup.”


Your eyes light with excitement because you don’t worry about money; you’re a seven-year-old who’s ready for adventure.

“We’d like a cup of egg-drop soup,” I tell the young waitress. “That’s all.”

“We’re going to share it!” you squeal, eager to spill our secret. The waitress studies us, doesn’t write anything in her notebook, and walks away.


As we wait for our soup, we talk about the beautiful stringy lights, the slippery red seats, and the soft music playing around us. I’m totally in the moment then, so part of that place that even the smallest details are committed to memory.


“Mama, you’re the best,” you say.

“No—you are.” 


You giggle.


The waitress arrives then, holding an enormous bowl of soup and two little cups to go with it.  She sets it down with such kindness. “One small cup of soup.” 


I know it’s not their “small” size, and I’m taken aback. You on the other hand think it’s amazing.  You don’t even notice the waitress has walked away because your eyes are glued to the huge bowl of egg-drop soup—your favorite. “She’s so nice, Mama! Look what she did—she made it big this time.” You can hardly stop talking, even to drink your water or eat your soup. You tell me about friends, math, books, life … After a moment, you stare at your water flabbergasted. “You know, this is the best water ever! This is the best day ever.”


I realize the waitress sits in the corner; she's listening to every word as she’s rolling silverware. 


We pay the check before the waitress pulls me aside. “You are both so grateful—you’ve taught me something today. Even the simplest things, can be the best ever if it’s with someone you love.”    


I walk out, a bit changed. I’m not quite sure why it feels so magical, but it does. Sometimes simple truths are that way.


“That was the best date ever,” you say.  


I nod.  “Yes, it was. And it hardly cost anything.” I realize then as I gaze down at your sparkling blue eyes, all you’d really wanted … was time.

Happy birthday, Indiana! You might be a teenager now, but I’m so proud that you’ve grown up to be just as sweet as you were at the age of seven. Thank you for all of the wonderful memories. 

(We had this fun AI picture made for Indy with Lensa. I hope she’ll love it!)

I am the luckiest mama in the world because of my kids 🥰

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What Does It Mean to Have a Rainbow Baby?

 I had a miscarriage after Zeke. It might sound terrible, but I wondered if the baby would’ve been born with birth defects again, and I just felt so grateful God took the baby before we had to watch them suffer like Zeke did.

But when I got pregnant with Sky, I worried the further along I got. The doctors said that since I’d had one baby die, the chances went up of it happening again. I thought about this as I drove through a storm one day, white knuckling the steering wheel in my pregnant paranoia. The weather seemed like my young life at times: beautifully tragic. If I could just get to the other side of that damn storm …

“Mama! Rain!” Ruby hollered from the backseat. Ruby was so tiny at the time, and she loved the rain, seeing the world in a magical sheen I once loved. I looked in the rearview mirror, studying her curls. Ruby was my lifeline. When everything else seemed awful or too hard to bear, that perfect angel kept me going.

I patted my huge belly. “I wish I could have some sort of sign that I’ll never have a baby die again.” I cried through the storm, and shortly after my words, I turned a bend. 

“Rainbow!” Ruby giggled. ”Two, Mama!” And she was right; we saw two huge rainbows just outside of the storm. I wiped away my tears, thinking how if we wouldn’t have traveled through the storm, we never would’ve appreciated the beauty of the rainbows. I told Ruby that, and she listened with her big, green eyes getting wider and wider.

I thought of God’s promise to Noah in Genesis, how He sent a rainbow to tell that old man He’d never flood the earth again. Maybe this was my promise from God.

“What should we name your sister?” I asked Ruby.

She stared up at the double rainbow and grinned. “Sky!” So, Ruby named her little sister, and the two have grown up to be best friends: my beautiful Ruby and Sky.

I thought about Sky, my rainbow baby yesterday. That’s actually what they call babies born after one who has died. Sky was quite sick yesterday, but she still came to talk with me and make sure I was okay because I’d been fighting a fever all day. She hugged me and asked if there was anything she could do. And after she’d taken some medicine and started to feel a bit better, she came and cheered me up. 

True to her rainbow baby name, Sky knows how to bring joy after any storm. She told me about the exciting things she did over the weekend and how happy she is about her inner growth. As she talked, I couldn’t help forgetting my fever and my sickness because she made me smile. I’m just so proud that she’s only 18 and she’s already begun to figure life out because she knows what really matters: love. So many people spend their lives trying to look for the pot o’ gold at the end up the rainbow; unfortunately, in their fight for status, meaning, riches, fame, and achievements, they forget the magic of seeing a rainbow at all. It’s sad, but the contentment that eludes them was there all along, the roadmap to a treasure that never even existed.

At one point last night, I glanced over at my second-oldest daughter and saw her giggling as she squatted, holding the cat (Milo) she got for her 11th birthday! I HAD to take this picture. 

It’s so true that life has its storms, but I’m grateful for the miracles that are waiting just around the corner if we have the courage and patience to look for them.

THE GOLDEN SKY Listed No. 1 for Women’s. Memoir on Amazon

THE GOLDEN SKY is still listed as No. 1 for Women’s Memoir Amazon. It’ll be available for free download until Feb. 2. You can find that here: “The Golden Sky” by EC Stilson

It also hit featured on this amazing site. I’m so excited!

I've been featured on eBookDaily

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Friends in Heaven

I got ready for the funeral and thought of the strange timing. Do you ever think about that? What you were doing on this exact day two years ago, four, ten, twenty? Some days might be unmemorable while others could be exhilarating or sad. It can be difficult not dwelling on some of the harder days, when you knew life had reached its lowest …

It’s just that my son died twenty years ago, on Jan. 30.

Now, in 2023, I prepared to play at another funeral for a dear friend who changed my life after my cancer diagnosis. I’d gone to visit Layton Funk when treatments felt at their worst. We’d been talking for months online, discussing mortality and hardships, sickness and the afterlife. And after meeting him at the hospital where he lived, I left inspired. He had quadriplegia. How could I possibly feel bad for myself when I could walk and move my arms, paint and drive a car? A car accident robed him of everything over a decade before—yet, he remained positive and encouraged me to do the same.

I thought about both Layton and my son, as we drove to the service. I’d worn my best skirt, something I bought in Italy, just in case Layton decided to attend his own funeral. I didn’t want him haunting me for not dressing nice.

It’s strange how coincidental timing and such can transport you to the past. I remember when my son, Zeke, died during this time of year. I’d been so worried because he was a baby, and he didn’t really know anyone on the other side. It probably sounds ridiculous, but when I get scared—really scared—about death, I always envision my best friend, Adam, or my grandma waiting for me. I actually dreamed about it once: My grandma had on her red-checkered apron, and she held her arms out to me, so excited to show me around the afterlife. She practically glowed, just excited to see me. 

But my son wouldn’t have that. We had to take him off of life support. When he stopped breathing, I felt like I would die too, like I’d never be able to breathe again. Mainly because I didn’t want to keep living, not in that instant anyway. And I wondered who would show Zeke around Heaven. 

My thoughts turned back to my friend, Layton. It’s strange because I’d been practicing my violin before the funeral, and I got this distinct feeling like Layton was there, listening. And that he’d met Zeke! 

Anyway, the funeral service for Layton went beautifully. His family is so witty and fun. Even during the service, they knew when to be serious and when to make it a little bit lighter. I found myself wishing I could present them with adoption papers—I wanted to adopt the whole lot of them because I saw where Layton got his great personality.

Anyway, it came time for me to play. I can’t stand and play anymore because the pain from the tumors in my spine is too bad. And even with pain medicine, it hurts my neck to hold my fiddle. But no one could’ve pried the instrument from my hands because in that moment, I felt such power and love fill me to the brim. The only way to get rid of power like that is to play. 

I sat behind a bunch of flower arrangements; I wanted people to feel the music and not see the person playing. Then I forced out all of the emotion and sadness and gratitude for Layton, life, love, and friendship. I thought about the people I’ve lost and the love that I’ve gained. And I played with all of my soul, and I know this might sound far-fetched, but I swear Layton stood by me as I played. And I know he knew how much I loved him and appreciated his friendship. 

When I walked back to my seat, a bunch of people sobbed, even Trey—my teenage boy—leaned over and whispered, “I don’t know why, but I couldn’t help crying. That song you played, was overwhelming. I’m so glad I got to meet Layton, but I’m sad he’s gone. You know, we went there thinking we’d cheer him up. And he’s the one who changed our lives.”

“You’re right,” I said. “But I think he’s happy now. I really do.” I suddenly felt so much peace that Layton was healthy. His body didn’t seem broken anymore. And oddly, I got that same feeling that he’d met my son. 

I thought about Zeke then, that beautiful baby whose soul must’ve been too perfect for this world. It’s interesting that he was on life support, just like Layton and that they almost died on the same day just decades apart.

I don’t think these moments are coincidences anymore. Not really. To me, odd moments are simply opportunities to help bring us peace. I always worried Zeke didn’t know anyone in Heaven, but now I remember friends and relatives who have passed since his death, and I have faith they’ve met each other. 

So today, as I reminisce about two years ago, four, ten, twenty … I’m not sad anymore. I have peace that people die when they’re supposed to. Maybe we don’t understand it now, but we will someday. In this moment, I’m grateful people like Layton and my son aren’t trapped in imperfect bodies anymore. I think they’re enjoying the afterlife. And when they’re bored, maybe they occasionally stop by when they’d like to hear the fiddle.

From now until Feb. 2, the Kindle version of my memoir about Zeke, THE GOLDEN SKY, is available for free download on Amazon. It actually became a No. 1 bestseller for women’s memoir. I’m so grateful Zeke’s memory is living on. 

You can find that here:

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Tentoumushi and a Ladybugs Luck

 Ladybugs … I’ve been thinking about them so much. I recently edited an article about how they bring good luck. This isn’t in a usual sense though. According to legend, they actually remove the bad luck from someone, retain it in one of their seven black spots, and let the person they’ve landed on live a life that is “less sorrowful.” The article said this is called Tentoumushi as featured in the show “Bullet Train.” Anyway, the thought of lessening someone else’s sadness, well, that’s beautiful. When I die, I hope people will see ladybugs and somehow remember me.

I edit about 13,000 words every weekday—that’s roughly 26 articles a day and 130 a week (give or take). I’m a bit inured to this by now and it takes a lot to impress me, but the article about ladybugs did just that and brought back a memory.

I was so young. My mom always did my hair, and I laughed later thinking those tight ponytails could give me a free facelift. My mom had put me in a darling blue dress because some ladies had decided to come over. I loved listening to them talk about adult stuff, so I sat quietly, hoping to be part of the party—and eventually get a cookie my mom had set on a plate. The conversation topics kind of blended together until one lady said, “She’s so sick.” Then she whispered, “You know her mom was sick first.” I noticed the woman’s spotless shoes and perfect hair.

“I had no idea.” Another woman gasped.

“Well.” The speaker’s immaculate shoes tapped under the table. “She always said she wanted to take on her mother’s sickness—so her mom could get better. Now her mother is dead and she’s dying too!”

“You don’t think—“

“Oh, yes I do!” she replied. “I think she took some of her mother’s sickness from her, but not all of it! And that’s why she’s so sick now.”

My mom didn’t say anything, always pretty quiet unless she talked about her love for God. I studied her, that beautiful dark hair falling in waves around her face. Dear God, could I please look like her someday, all Italian and gorgeous? 

(My stunning Italian mama.)

I smiled at my mama and suddenly wanted to ask her about this mysterious conversation. Sure, I thought some dumb things as a kid—that sleeping with a certain blanket could make me beautiful or that people could get pregnant by touching their boobs to a guy’s chest—but even I knew you can’t take someone’s sickness by willing it into yourself. My six-year-old mind whirred. Couldn’t they just pass it along through their genes or something?

When I got older, I learned about hereditary illnesses (like everyone else), but the humanities always interested me more, especially the concept of sin eaters or how people try to hope that one being (even a ladybug) can take away sickness, sorrow, or even sin. I think people just want to define and quantify everything about suffering, pain, or guilt. It’s easier to wrap our heads around something if there’s a reason for it—and especially if there’s a solution.

I know it’s incredibly stupid (just like my early notions about reproduction), but the other day, I sat on my porch willing a ladybug to fly over and take my sorrows. I rested in front of our four-foot tall “welcome” sign, truly believing something would happen. Surely God would see me in this time of weakness. He’d do something to help take away the pain or the thought that I’m in a death spiral, fighting until it’s time to see my son in Heaven.

I sat in the bitter, snowy cold, looking through tears, wondering why life has to be so damn hard. “God,” I whispered, “today I need help being strong. It’s getting harder the longer I’ve had to fight. I’m tired.”

The wind swept through leafless, barren trees, and a chill came over me, so strong I forgot the pain from cancer. That’s when our welcome sign fell over.

“Seriously,” I groaned. “Not the ‘sign’ I’d hoped for.” But when I went to pick it up, I found something it’s been concealing: a little painted rock. I gaped because that rock went missing almost two years ago. After one of my worst bouts with radiation, a nurse came over and said, “I made this. I didn’t know who to give it to until now. I want you to have it.” I stared at the beautifully painted designs and thanked her—having no idea it was her last day working in the melanoma unit. But after I brought it home, someone moved it, and I couldn’t find the rock for years.

So, today, on this incredibly cold winter day as I grasped for hope, I held that rock to my chest and sobbed. How fitting that a nurse who lessened my pain gave me such a sign of lasting peace. I traced the black dots, little eyes, and intricate designs on the painted rock: my ladybug. “Thank you, God. For letting me be alive to fight another day.”

Who knew that a gift from almost two years ago would wind up being my miracle for today? Life is so beautiful.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

My friend just passed away. The amazing Layton Funk.

 I just found out that my friend, Layton F Funk passed away. He was the most amazing, inspiring person. 

After first meeting him, I wrote about the experience. It later got published in the Island Park News and then a book. When I gave him copies of the publications, Layton beamed, just saying he was so proud of me. But the truth is that I was so proud of him—just to be his friend made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. 

And now, as doctors are saying I will have much more than two years, I look back and have to give a bit of that credit to Layton, for encouraging me to keep going when my treatments felt beyond bearable. I’m so lucky I found him that day as I browsed online…fortunate he let me be his friend.

He’s one of the people who completely changed my outlook after my diagnosis. It’s so hard to believe that he’s gone. 💔

Here’s the original post I wrote about him:

Sometimes we meet people who profoundly influence our lives—and they might not even know it. That’s how I felt when I met Layton Funk.

After cancer interrupted my life, I browsed Facebook and simply found Layton’s profile; he seemed inspiring...and so interesting. We started talking and eventually decided to meet up sometime. But meeting someone in person is always so much different than talking online, and I was really nervous.

When I entered the building, I mentioned who I’d come to visit, and everyone around raved about Layton. 

It took quite a bit to see him though—COVID-19 has put so many obstacles in everyone’s lives. Both wearing a mask, Mike and I had to wash our hands for the appropriate time (as someone watched us), then we donned plastic gowns, took a COVID nasal swab test, washed our hands again, sanitized, then waited behind a glass screen.

“I’m so excited,” I told Mike. “He seems so awesome online.”

Then Layton simply rolled into the room, and I immediately smiled. He joked with us right off the bat, being far more witty than I expected, and the hour-long conversation that followed has moments I’ll never forget—he even let me play my violin for him. 

Layton is quadriplegic. He was in a car accident in Idaho over a decade ago, and now he lives in Utah, where he’s made his entire staff fall in love with him! 

We talked about everything from his identical twin, our love of superheroes, board games, and his advice about how I can handle terminal cancer. 

We were told to stay behind the glass, but at one point Layton talked about his room. So, we repositioned the “straw” that he uses to move his chair with, and then he broke us out of jail and led us on a secret mission to his fortress of solitude.

“Just act like you own the place,” he told us, grinning. And we strutted past the desk, like nothing was amiss! The staff didn’t even look up—and we actually reached his room! I could hardly believe it. But I guess that’s just what happens when someone like Layton leads you on an adventure.

He has an ENTIRE walk-in closet filled with the greatest superhero collection known to man. “Holy crap!” I whispered. “This is...AWESOME.” It was like walking into Narnia, but different because I saw a bunch of Supermans instead of Mr. Tumnus.

We sauntered back to the meeting area—with the glass barrier—and this time someone from the center followed us, probably a villain on our scent.

At the end, I asked Layton how he does it. He had a completely normal life until the accident. I just can’t imagine what he’s gone through over the years. This handsome man, who’s still young and has endured unfathomable trials...

“I’ve been able to help so many people through this. It’s my purpose.” 

Tears brimmed my eyes because I’ve never met someone that positive and strong! He went on to explain how life can bring the strangest miracles—even if they don’t seem “good” at the time. His eyes sparkled when he spoke and for me the world changed. I still can’t imagine that kind of strength—but I’m proud to know someone who does.

“I’ll come back! We’ll play board games.” I promised, BUT that doesn’t mean I’ll let him win! 

Even after Mike and I left, I couldn’t shake the experience. Layton completely inspired me. His positivity and kindness are humbling. I can hardly wait to get back there so I can beat him at Monopoly!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A True Example of God's Love

 "I'm a pretty quiet person," the man said. "But I want to tell you a story ... And I'm really nervous." This phone call shocked me because "David" is the quietest person I know. He and his wife, "Bev," are so fun and down-to-earth. They're the kind of people you can call with any issue, and they'd be there without judgment--no questions asked. But David was right; he doesn't say much. In fact, I've only heard him say a few words at a time. And now, this gentle giant wanted to tell me a story?

I closed my laptop. I'd just been reading dozens of messages in response to an old post that started trending this weekend--it's about the day I stopped believing in Jesus when an assistant pastor did an exorcism on me. Anyway, yesterday one woman even said my post is "dangerous" because it encourages people to doubt Christianity. "You will be accountable for all of those lost souls!"

I shivered, thinking about her judgemental words. I don't want to be called dangerous because I encourage people to think for themselves. I shook my head and brought myself back to the moment. "I would love to hear your story," I told David, more grateful for the distraction than he knew.

"When you first got sick," he said, "I started thinking about how much time I've wasted. I've never faced a real problem, not like what you've been going through with cancer." He paused, and I knew this must be hard for him. "And so, 250 miles from home, on the road to Scout Moutain, I decided to make a change." He cleared his throat. "Elisa, I started praying for you, and I never stopped."

"That's ..." I didn't know what to say because this was a huge deal. Sure, David doesn't normally share much about himself, but even I knew he wasn't religious. "Thank you," I finally said. "That means so much to me. I can't believe you've been praying for me!"

"I'm getting ahead of myself." He exhaled into the phone and gathered his thoughts. "When ... your book came out, I bought it because I knew that would somehow help. And then I just suddenly felt like I should tell other people about it. I felt so bad for everything you were going through being sick all the time. And it kind of became my mission; I could help by getting your story out there ..."

Tears filled my eyes. "Seriously?" I couldn't imagine this tall, quiet man telling people about my story. It must've taken a lot of courage because he's normally so shy. "Wow," I said, speechless.

"Yeah." He laughed. "And now, I've told so many people about it that I can't keep track anymore. And the weirdest things started happening when I decided to do this. People would just come up to me and ask if I knew of any good books! They would almost just come up out of nowhere!"

"You made my whole year." I laughed. "This is so amazing!"

"The strangest time was when a lady at work told me she ran out of books to read. There we were in full bodysuits, and I told her all about your book ... People would come up like that, or I'd hear about people fighting cancer, and I'd tell them about you and how positive you are ... One lady told all of her friends about it because they read too." He chuckled about all of this, and I sat amazed.

"You and Bev are so wonderful. I can't believe how kind both of you have been through all of this." Bev has sent me care packages or messages telling me she's thinking about us. Their son has come over and brightened our youngest kids' days. And now this from David.

"But I never wanted to tell you about it," he said. "I just wanted to do something in the background to help--without you ever knowing. And then, I just felt like I needed to call you ... like you needed to hear this for some reason."

I thought of the daunting emails I'd just been reading and suddenly wanted to thank David for everything. "You know, my book has made it to the bestseller list several times. I bet you were a big part of it!"

"I'm not sure about that, but I really have been telling everyone here in Wyoming. Your book did a lot of things for me, but it was hard to read the parts about Christians saying they thought you were sick because of your sins."

"I want to think they were trying to be helpful, but it was still hard."

"In the past, I went to church even though I never really followed. But I started to see some changes in myself this year ... I just got baptized."

Excitement lit his voice, and I wanted to celebrate too. It doesn't matter that we believe different things; I'm so glad he's found God. "That's awesome!" I said.

"I don't know exactly how to put this, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've been praying for you this whole time, and somehow through all of this, I've gotten closer to God. His love isn't about judging people, it's about being kind without asking for anything in return. And that's what I've tried to be. I really never wanted to tell you about any of this, but I thought maybe you needed the encouragement, and you needed to know that our family loves you guys."

I could hardly stop crying. "I'm so grateful for you and Bev--and for your whole family." I pictured Bev, spending time to teach me different art techniques over the years. Then I envisioned tall, quiet David, bravely pimping my book to strangers, and it just made me so happy. "That was amazing," brave, kind, WONDERFUL--I didn't have the right word, "of you to tell people about my book."

"I really went outside of my comfort zone," he said. "Oh! And I've started writing songs! One is something I pray every night. Can I send you one of the songs I wrote? It's just that reading about your experiences with God and your family out in nature reminds me of what I wrote."

I could hardly believe I talked to the same David we'd spent so much time with before my diagnosis. He's a devout Christian now, he's practically my agent (smiling!), and he's writing music?!

"Yes! I would love to hear it."

We gave each other updates on our lives, work, and my health. And with a grin on my face, I told him how much the call meant to me. "Thank you so much for calling," I said. "That was pretty amazing timing."

"Yeah, I just wanted you to know that I found Jesus, and I've been praying for you."

I hung up the phone and sat for a long time, just wondering over how miraculous life can feel sometimes. David is right; the best way to show God's love isn't through judgment and cruel words; it's through the sort of compassion and kindness that doesn't ask for anything in return. He and Bev are such examples of God's love. Wow! Who knew that's the reason I have so many new readers in Southern Wyoming.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Delta Showed Such Kindness—This Made Our Trip Exceptional

 My eyes widened because I’ve rarely seen a plane so massive—with 42 seats! “I’m all by myself,” Trey said. “I’ll be okay. But I’d wanted to sit by Mike.”

I looked at his ticket: 42E. The rest of us sat in row 41. “Tell you what.” I smiled. “I’d just hoped for some alone time.” I feigned surprise. “And I’m sitting right by Mike. Would you mind trading?” He didn’t need to sit alone for almost 10 hours.

So we traded, and I got much more than I bargained for. The lady next to me complained about everything. “Why are we in the back?” she asked the man next to her. “Don’t they know who I am?”

Was she famous or something? “I love the back,” I said, trying to help her see the bright side. “We’re not too far from the bathroom.”

“That’s part of the problem!” She flipped her hair and set her designer purse on her lap. “I don’t want to put my purse on the floor back here!”

“You know,” I said a bit softer, “I think these seats are normally for crew members if we hit a rocky patch of air. I feel bad we took their seats. At least we have somewhere to sit.”

At this point, the woman resolved to hate me. “I want an upgrade!” She said it so loud, obviously hoping the stewardess with blonde hair could hear. “I want an upgrade!”

Ruby and Sky turned around not long after this. “Mom, you’re the one fighting cancer.” Ruby’s eyes darted to the woman on my left. 

“You should be up here by our family,” Sky said. “One of us can go back there.” 

“I’m all right,” I said. “It’s nice back here.”

“So much for an upgrade!” The woman next to me gawked, like I had leprosy, then she put in earbuds and leaned away.

It wasn’t long into the flight when Mike came over. “You should probably walk around,” he said. “You don’t want to get another blood clot.”

I nodded. Mike is the sweetest, most thoughtful man. He held my hand and helped me walk to the back area. “I wish my doctor could see me now.” I laughed. “But she said if she couldn’t stop me from skydiving …”

After a moment, Mike said something to a stewardess in the back. She was honestly one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen in person. “How was your trip?” she asked. 

I’m not sure why, but I felt like telling her our story. “I’m fighting cancer,” I said. “Friends and family paid so we could take this trip to Italy because it was the biggest thing on my bucket list. It was life-changing.”

After telling her everything, I burst into tears. “I’m so sorry to cry,” I said. “I’m just so happy we actually got to go. I wasn’t supposed to live this long.”

She wiped tears from her own eyes. “There’s a seat open at the front of the plane. I want you to take it.”

My mouth fell open. “Oh! That’s okay. I want to be by my family. Just send me a friend request on Facebook! That’s all I want.” I smiled brightly because this woman seemed like the sweetest person on land or air. 

“Okay! But then I’d like to give you TWO seats up there, so someone can sit by you. I insist.”

I could hardly believe it because I’ve only seen things like this in movies. Plus, my dad always flies first class—even holding diamond and platinum status. He’s told me all about the fancy seats, and I’d devoured every detail, thinking I’d never see them.

Indy came to sit by me first. She could walk behind the seats there was so much room! “We have a footrest.” She giggled. And we even got a free gift: handmade purses in the seat pockets. They came with chapstick and all sorts of fun beauty supplies.

“This is so exciting!” Indy squealed. 

Each person got a opportunity to rotate up, and at one point, when Danielle the stewardess had checked on us again, I turned to Mike and cried. “They’re so nice,” I said. “People are so wonderful!”

He took a sip of his free wine. I couldn’t get over how fancy this was! Complimentary FANCY snacks. FANCY drinks. Curtains?! Reclining seats. This. Was. Living.

“Did you hear the woman in back? The lady who was complaining?” I asked him.

“I think everyone heard her,” Mike whispered. “You should’ve seen her face when she realized you got upgraded.”

A little while later, Danielle came back. “I sent you a friend request, and I’ve been reading some of your stories. They are so touching!”

This woman, a real-live angel, had totally made my year. “We’ve arranged for you to go to the Delta Sky Lounge for your layover in Cincinnati, that way you and your family can rest and get a nice meal.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing all of this for us,” I said. “You’ve made the end of our trip unforgettable. Thank you! Thank you so much.”

The sweetest woman, Patty met us at the gate and treated us like royalty. She led us around and ensured we made it flawlessly through customs. Then she brought us to the lounge and gave me a huge gift! “People like you and your family are the reason we love our jobs.” 

I wiped tears from me eyes. “We didn’t do anything though. It’s all of you who have been so nice to us!”

She asked if she could get a picture, and everyone kept talking about how exciting the trip had been. Even when we got back home to Idaho the kids talked about everything that had happened. “It was amazing!” Indy said, clutching her purse to her chest.

“I think so too. I feel like that entire trip from start to finish was just somehow charmed. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

“I’ll never forget it,” Trey said. “I’m so glad we got to go to Italy.”

“You’ll learn about Pompeii in school next year,” Sky said to Indy. “You can tell kids you’ve actually been there!”

My phone dinged. I’d just gotten a message from someone who helped fund the trip. Their mom died from cancer, and even though she wanted to visit Italy, she never got to go. “Your pictures warmed my heart,” the message said. “My mom would’ve been so happy to know someone else who’s fighting cancer got to take this trip.”

And so we rested in our own beds. My heart felt full to the brim. I met so many amazing people, and I just hope the family and friends who made this possible know his grateful we are. We truly had the trip of a lifetime. Maybe my friend’s mom was looking out for us … every step of the way.