Friday, January 14, 2022

The Irony of Perspective

 I know most people go to old folks’ homes or cancer centers to volunteer, but I decided to play my violin at an inpatient behavioral health unit. 


I heard rumors that a woman actually killed herself there. She’s done it with a sack from the garbage can. Now they don’t allow sacks…or scissors…or gowns with long strings…. 


“Follow me,” the leader of “music day” said. It seemed weird watching patients who are physically healthy, walking around in hospital gowns. But of course, they weren’t there for physical ailments—they’d been admitted for something else. And unfortunately I’ve had moments in my life when I’ve understood this all too well. Long before my cancer diagnosis I’d get sad from things a man had told me. He made me feel like a burden to everyone who knew me. Or I’d feel bad, thinking about my son who died. It did get better with counseling. And years after my divorce, the thoughts only occasionally came back.


The irony is that, since my first melanoma diagnosis in 2018, I haven’t been plagued by that at all. Facing a terminal illness has given me true perspective and ignited my will to live. What a dichotomy.


A director announced that musicians had arrived, so masked patients started pouring from their rooms, coming to a large area where they could hear songs that I played with the guitarist.


Then a tiny girl raised her frail hand. “Excuse me.” She practically squeaked, seeming so nervous about talking. “Can we hear the violin…umm…alone?”


“Well?” The guitarist looked to me for confirmation. “Do you feel comfortable with that?” he whispered.


“Absolutely!” I said. I remained still for a minute and closed my eyes. I honestly didn’t know what to play. 


I didn’t want to make them cry—or feel worse than they already did. And then it came to me, something I just had to play. 


The strange thing about me and the fiddle is that we’re one—like the two of us were always meant to be together. I swear God created me so that I always knew how to play. I remember the first time I held a violin in my hand; it felt like greeting an old friend. So…I played “The Ashokan Farewell.” Rich, low tones swirled up and around, coming from deep in my soul. Tears poured for my eyes, and I couldn’t believe the emotion flowing from me. 


I prayed the whole time, pleading with God. “Please hear me! Whatever is good in me—no matter how big or small it is—please give it to the people in this room.”


By the end of the song it had turned into something else, a song I’ve never heard of. Irish melodies came to me. And as fast as they had come, the song came to a sweet…stop. And I could’ve fallen to my knees because I’m so weak from the cancer. It’s hard to stand for too long. After a while my back starts bending oddly, and it’s hard to stand up straight.


All of my problems seemed so small then, insignificant when I opened my tear-filled eyes and looked at everyone who just stared at me, almost gaping. 


“That was…” one girl gasped, “beautiful. But…what’s wrong with you?” She lost all couth. “Are you okay?” 


I’m still not sure why, but I told them everything how I’m fighting cancer and doctors told me I’m going to die. The guitarist looked genuinely shocked because he hadn’t known either. And for some reason I think something settled in that room, something I’ve been dealing with since my diagnosis—I think it was perspective. 


A girl came up and hugged me before medical staff told her we should stay 6 feet apart. I hugged her really hard before they pulled her away. “That last bit…that song…my mom used to sing it to me.”


A sob stuck in my throat. I didn’t even know what I’d been playing. It literally just came to me.


As I hobbled from the hospital I looked up into the sky and thought that it was the greatest, most beautiful day in the whole wide world. 


I sure hope that all of my love will stay with those people who have fallen on hard time and are so sad. I’ll be thinking about this for weeks, months…years. It’s the day I got to play for a behavioral health unit, where I saw some light come back into a young woman’s eyes.


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Proving Patty Wrong

 I clutched the sides of the restaurant's copper sink and stared at the river of mascara on my cheeks. I'd worn my best dress (albeit from Goodwill). We'd gone to the best restaurant. I'd expected to have the BEST time. But my old "friend" had said something terrible--especially since I'm fighting death. Despite reason, her words rang in my head: "I just thought you'd do something with your life."


When doctors have told you that you'll die of cancer, you NEED to die knowing that your life mattered. I guess it "makes the medicine go down."

This happened months ago, and I'd honestly thought I'd moved past it, until I got COVID. Fevers plagued me for days, making life almost unmanageable. I woke up shaking at 3 a.m. one morning, and that woman's words echoed in the walls of my mind. "I just thought you'd do something with your life."

WHY did she think I'm a failure? I started checking off a list of meaningless accomplishments in my head: I've owned successful businesses, managed a newspaper, written nine books in ten years, purchased a home at the age of 19, attained degrees despite being a single mom, hit the bestseller list on Amazon several times, had over a million views on my blog, managed a medical clinic and its staff ... Yet, she'd dubbed me a failure. WHY? Sure I'm not the president of the United States, but I'm also not a serial killer! If melanoma specialists don't find a cure--and I'm going to die within the next several years--I need to know why she thinks I'm a failure. What am I missing? I shouldn't care, right? Well, let me explain ...

I met Patty in a writing group right before my divorce. She had a PhD, a fancy house, a husband you read about in bodice-ripper novels, wit and beauty, a traditionally published YA novel, a devote relationship with God, and more money than anyone I know. Our first fight started years ago. She didn't like Mike and insisted on setting me up with all of her wealthy friends. "I am NOT going out with him again!" I said after one date.

"Give me one good reason why. He's stable, older ... settled. You won't have to worry about anything. And he doesn't mind that you already have kids!"

"He said I had to kiss him just because my dinner was so expensive."

"Well, did you kiss him?" she asked.

"Hell no! That's ridiculous. Despite what you obviously believe, I am NOT a hooker."

But SOMEHOW we got over the fight, and when she heard I had cancer, she seemed deeply concerned. "I'm coming up, and I'm bringing you out to eat a fancy dinner." Then she drove all of the way from Southern Utah to my small town in Idaho.

I'd been so excited. I got out a black second-hand dress that has frills in all the right places and hugs my body so I look like I'm standing up straight despite not having all of my vertebrae. But when we got to the restaurant, Patty kept talking like I'd already died. Then she kept saying that I could tell her how bad it is and that I can be honest with her about how terrible my life is because of the cancer. "But you're happy with Mike?" she finally asked. And, as she probed further, I got a strange inkling that she isn't as happy in her relationship as she wants everyone to think.

"He's THE BEST. He's my best friend. Don't get me wrong, we've had some big bumps--mainly my fault--but I can't imagine life without him." I took a sip of my water. "It's crazy because I had an 8-hour surgery. They had to do a blood transfusion--and I almost died. When I finally woke up from the anesthesia, I couldn't remember my own name, but I remembered Mike. I swear that's how much I love him."

She scooted her silverware to the side. "I don't get you," she said. "You sit there, dying of cancer, you're wearing a dress that someone else didn't want, you have no money because of medical bills, and you honestly still seem happy. I'm almost embarrassed for you. I never thought you'd end up this way--in such denial! When I met you, you were getting divorced. And I thought you'd accomplish so many amazing things. I really took you under my wing and even brought you shopping with me and read your manuscripts. But then, you kept doing things that embarrassed me. Like when you treated my friend so bad after he went on a blind date with you ... I just thought you'd DO something with your life."

I mulled all these details from the past as my COVID fever raged. I even messaged a couple of family members, asking them for advice. My two oldest daughters wrote back such nice things like "you ARE NOT a failure," but it's amazing how onw negative comment can stick around longer than it should.

It wasn't until my fever subsided, that I finally got some clarity. I'd prayed, "God, please help me get this in perspective. Please help me see that my life has mattered."

It wasn't long after the prayer that I heard this woman's voice in my head again, but I remembered other things; I remembered all of the times she said that I embarrassed her. She'd been "embarrassed for me" before I got my bachelor's degree and before I got remarried. She'd been embarrassed by my small house and unappealing yard. She'd even been embarrassed by one of my other friends! I realized then, it wasn't about my accomplishments or if I'd even been a failure. She'd just wanted me as a means to a prideful end. If I couldn't benefit her in some way by following HER plan for my life, then I was an embarrassment. How arrogant of her to think that just because we'd become friends in some dumb writing group, she could dictate all of my future endeavors!

I thought then about what really matters. My books, my career, my "accomplishments" ... When I die that's like an ant going up to a human and saying, "Hey, I got this awesome degree from an anthill on the most prestigious side of the yard. And I had the nicest hole in the ground." "And I owned a lot of ... rocks." Wow! Neat.

Nope. My true accomplishment in life is making a difference--not just for strangers--but for the people who are closest to me day in and day out: my kids, Mike, my extended family, my close friends. When you strip me down to bare bones, I hope I can be positively judged by the people who really know me. I look at Patty, and I'm a bit sad. She might think I'm an embarrassing failure, but when I strip her down to bare bones--and how she's treated me, especially while I've had cancer--all I see is an a$$hole. I guess I might be dying of cancer, but that doesn't mean I can't cut other kinds of cancer out of my life too. I've decided today to surround myself with people who are worth my time. If her words ever gain credence in my mind again and make me feel like a failure, I'm vowing to simply do something nice for someone else. I've made more mistakes than most, but at least I'm trying to get through this the best I can. That's honestly all I can do. I AM NOT a failure.

I hope you've never felt like this, just because of something someone said. Just know, you're not alone in letting something negative "get you down." I guess it's a great opportunity to stand back up and prove them wrong. Continual success requires making daily choices to keep trying. Anyone who tells you that success doesn't take effort is lying.

To proving Patty wrong,
Elisa

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Update on My COVID Situation


I just wanted to thank everyone who’s messaged (or texted) to see how I’m doing. (I’m so sorry if I haven’t responded yet; I’ve had an overwhelming amount of support—especially since getting COVID.)

I’m doing sooo much better, still feeling some COVID symptoms but not anything like even a couple of days ago. I’ve decided I 100% love breathing! 🤣

They had to do some tests this week (X-rays and stuff), but everything looks awesome—except for cancer (oh well). So…yay for some good news!

Just wanted to give you a quick update and say thank you to the people who I haven’t responded to yet. 💓

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Loss of Another Friend

Ron and Dottie at one of my book signings (when I dressed up like a character from my YA fantasy novel).
 


The bookkeeper peeked into my office. “Some guy’s on the phone, says it’s imperative that he speaks with the publisher.”


“Did he give you a name?” I asked.


“Barrett. Ron Barrett.”


“That doesn’t ring a bell.” I tapped my fingers on the desk. “I’ll take it.”


Laurie turned around and chuckled. “Of course you will.”


“Hello, this is Elisa, the publisher of the Morning News,” I said.


“Well, hello there, little lady.”


I paused I don’t remember names or faces, but I always remember a voice. This happened to be one I’d never heard before. “I don’t know you. Care to introduce yourself?”


“I read your articles d*mn near every day. You’re a character, so I want you to join my band.”


“Well…sir, I’m already in a band and—“


“Listen, we’ve both fought cancer. What was it you had removed on your wrist—when they took out muscle and bone and you worried you might never fiddle again?”


“Melanoma,” I said. So he had read my articles.


“Well, my wife plays the piano. I play around on the guitar and sing.”


And before I knew it, I’d grabbed my coat and headed toward the door.


“You gotta quit doin’ this, Elisa,” Laurie said because we’d become like sisters. “What crazy story are you covering now?” 


I broke out laughing because she’d seen me livestream stories about fires, car accidents, and even when a deer jumped through a storefront window.


“It’s not a story this time.”


“You’re going to meet another stranger, aren’t you? Good Lord—I swear if something bad happens to you one of these days…”


“He wants me to fiddle with him in a contest. It’ll raise money for cancer awareness.”


She just shook her head. “Share your location with me this time!”


Over the next few months some shocking things happened with the Barretts. We actually won the competition and raised a substantial amount of money for the event. Ron gave my daughter, Sky, guitar lessons, and Dottie (his wife) taught her how to garden.


“I have to pay you for this,” I said one day because not only had they shown Sky love and generosity, she’d begun learning the value of hard work.  


“This is something we want to do,” Dottie said, giving me a huge hug. “You don’t owe us a thing.”


I’ll never forget when I told them my cancer came back as stage four. Dottie, that tough-old broad, actually quaked a little—I heard it in her voice. And every week for months she messaged me asking how I was, giving advice about what to eat, and sending me things in the mail.


“Dottie?” I messaged her one day. “I haven’t heard from you in a few weeks. How are you?”


“I have cancer.”


“Oh my gosh…. Are you okay?”


She never responded, and a month later she was dead.


Sky, Indy, Mike, and I trudged into the funeral home. Family members whispered about “who in the hell” we were. At the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone else—not in the program—wanted to talk about Dottie. No one stood. Seconds felt like hours, and my heart began chugging in my chest. Ron looked around.


“Maybe you should…,” Mike whispered, gently squeezing my leg. 


“You’re right.” I got up, standing much straighter than normal. My black dress was probably too lowcut for a funeral and maybe a bit high on the legs, but I hadn’t planned on giving a flippin’ speech in front of an entire family of strangers!


“He—hello!” The microphone squealed. “Ummm…I’m Elisa… And Dottie—and Ron…well, they changed my life.” And then I told them everything about the laughter and the kindness. I said how she’d been such a support through my journey. People laughed and cried. “I’ll miss her,” I finally said, and then I almost sprinted back to my seat.


“Anyone else?” the pastor asked again when I’d finished. Then Sky stood and told her side of the story. I beamed with so much pride as she spoke about gardening and spending time with the Barretts. And when I saw Ron, every bit of the whole thing seemed worth it.


Following the closing prayer, Ron struggled to walk, and a woman held onto him as he started moving toward the back of the funeral home. “Wait,” he said. “I have to tell some people hello.” Then he worked his way over to me, Mike, and the kids, and he gave all of us each such big hugs. “I’m so grateful you’re here—and for everything you said.”


“If you ever need anything, we’re here,” Mike said. 


“I appreciate that. And I’m praying for all of you every day. Praying that you’ll get better, Elisa.”


“Oh, Ron! I’m fine. We’re worried about you!”


Then the woman said they needed to leave because Ron seemed visibly weaker. As he hobbled to the back door I couldn’t help wiping tears from my eyes. A woman came up to me and shook my hand. “My mom just loved you guys,” she said to all of us, tears filling her eyes as she nodded to Sky. 


“We loved her,” Sky said. 


And when we walked from the building, I couldn’t help feeling like Dottie had seen us there, and she knew the profound impact she’d made on our lives.


It’s sobering how many friends I’ve known who have died since my cancer diagnosis in 2020. If they can see me from Heaven, I sure hope they know how grateful I am to each and every one of them.

Monday, January 3, 2022

I Have COVID

 I have COVID. 


And yes it’s just as terrible as you’ve heard….


I rang the bell, then waited in the freezing Idaho snow. Surely someone would answer the door soon. “The window has a gold star on it,” the receptionist had told me on the phone an hour before. I guess administration sectioned off an overflow area for people with COVID. The “gold star” appeared to be a flimsy piece of yellow paper that the wind had played with. I frowned at the paper and rang the bell again.


About 5 minutes later, a nurse—wearing garb fit for outerspace—stared blankly through the glass. “Why are you here?” Her monotone voice broke through the intercom. “Do you have an appointment?”


“Yes!” I shivered, my shoes and socks soaked. “I’m a cancer patient. I have COVID, and I’m having trouble breathing. I need a monoclonal antibody treatment.”


She studied me skeptically. “Magagna?” she finally asked, and after I nodded, she requested my date of birth.


“Groundhog Day. ‘83.”


“Cute,” she said sarcastically. But I knew she’d started to like me, and I tried not laughing because she sounded a bit like Darth Vader because of her helmet. 


Then she buzzed me in, and my superpower of joy momentarily left. What I saw will stay seared into my memory…always. 


So many people laid in that room. Painters’ plastic swayed, separating the sides of each “station.” The cement floors looked more fit for a parking garage than a hospital, and my apprehension grew. It seemed glaringly apparent that this hospital didn’t want COVID patients near anyone, they’d become desperate for a location to treat people like me, and they didn’t care if it looked like a third-world country. 


“Over here!” The nurse’s helmet muffled her words, yet I still understood. Regardless, I couldn’t pull my eyes from the man who looked dead or the bald woman who heaved with each breath. These people…why couldn’t they do more for these people?


“Oh,” I whispered to no one except myself. I have COVID which gave me admittance to this terrible place: The location with the monoclonal antibody treatment. The same room where people seemed to be dying.


I sat on the hard mattress. “Someone’s having an allergic reaction to the infusion.” The nurse leaned so close to me, her eyes red from lack of sleep. “I’ll be back.”


“Okay!” I nodded.


“Hang tight!” Then she lumbered away, moving to another painters’ plastic separation where a woman spoke frantically. “I’m still itching! Everywhere! And it’s even harder to breathe. I thought this would help, not make it worse?!”


I leaned back, rested my wet shoes on the bed, and closed my eyes.


I’m not sure why, but my thoughts wandered to about a month ago. “I’m a little nervous to visit Mexico.” I typed the text to my friend and hit “send.”


“Don’t tell me it’s because of COVID. You know it’s not real. It’s just a government ploy.”


“Ummm… It is real.”


“You know anyone who’s had it?”


“Yes.” I responded.


“Anyone who’s died?” she asked.


“Yes.”


“People probably just said it was COVID. 🤣I don’t know anyone who’s actually had it!”


“Did you at least get the vaccine?” I queried.


“No way! Why would I get a shot for something that isn’t real?”


“My doctor doesn’t want me around anyone who isn’t vaccinated…. I guess they have a higher chance of getting sick. And if I’m around them, then I can get sick. My immune system is crap right now.”


“But you’re vaccinated. If you believe in all this stuff, then why get the shot?” she asked.


“I guess the vaccine doesn’t work for most people who are getting cancer treatments….”


“Ha! Figures.”


“But I at least need to try. I’m fighting so d*mn hard just to live.”


And we haven’t talked after that—both of us so upset. I couldn’t imagine her shock to see the scene currently around me, the people so desperate for the infusion, for oxygen, for ventilators…. Tears filled my eyes and dripped into my mask as I thought of dying in that cold, morbid, community room. Then I heard that woman, “I’m itching. Make IT stop!” She almost growled.


“I’m trying,” the nurse said. “We’re giving you Benadryl!  Everything will be okay.”


I wiped my eyes and told myself I’m stronger than crying like a baby. Then I thought of a scene in an alien movie, “Slither,” where a lady is enormous, about to give birth to millions of aliens. She says something in a redneck accent that always makes me smile, so as the nurse approached, I decided to say it to her.


“Hey…. Na-urse. I-ah I-ah thank somehtin’s wrong wath mey.”


She just looked at me, then broke into a huge grin. “Ug.” She chuckled. “Symptoms?”


“Trouble breathing, headache, dizziness, chest and back pain, sore throat, cough, congestion. A sense of humor.”


She raised a brow. “Any allergies?”


“Just aloe vera.”


“Perfect! Let’s get you hooked up.” Then she placed an IV faster than you’d believe. “You’ll be here a few hours.”


“Okay,” I said. 


“Any idea where you got exposed?” she asked.


“Mexico.” I nodded. “My poor mom tested positive on Christmas Day. I guess my symptoms just took a little longer to show up.”


“It can happen that way. Too bad. At least you had a fun trip until then?”


“The best!” I said. “But my parents are still stuck in Mexico. I feel so bad for them. They can’t leave until my mom tests negative. It’s been over a week. Luckily my dad hasn’t gotten sick.”


“He got the vaccine?”


“Yeah,” I said as she hooked my IV to a bag of clear liquid. “I sure hope I won’t get you sick. I don’t want to get anyone sick.” I looked at her pleadingly. “You don’t want what I have,” I whispered.


“Don’t worry about me. I know what I signed up for.”


And as she hobbled away, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend who doesn’t believe  COVID is real. What a sad state of denial she must be in….


So, now I’m quarantined to my room, grateful to work from home. My youngest kids think this is some great adventure since we can communicate through the door. I even came out for a minute today, staying masked and far away. “I love you even though you have COVID,” Trey said. “I won’t discriminate.”


I laughed so hard that I started coughing. “I love you too.” Then—as the kids started their homework—I went back to my room and watched another episode of “Lost in Space” because that’s what the nurse’s outfit left me craving.


(You can kind of see the nurse’s outfit in the third picture—and the room where they’re doing infusions at the hospital in Pocatello.)




Saturday, January 1, 2022

A Bullfight with Death


 2022 … the year I “am” supposed to die. Maybe everybody has a timer stuck on their back, ticking to an expiration. But only God should see that. I’ve come to believe that no person should be privy to the date of their death…even if it is just the year.


Since my diagnosis in 2020 I’ve lost a vertebra and undergone grueling cancer treatments … but in 2021, that was the worst of my fight so far. I almost died two different times—the most disturbing from sepsis in Montana. If I’d gotten to the hospital three hours later, the doctor said I would have died… I cheated death—by three hours. Three hours.


Have you ever felt like you’re in a bullfight against the grim reaper? He keeps charging, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve almost been taunting him, even with my recent trip to Mexico. “Don’t go!” my doctor told me. “You’ve had multiple PEs.” That’s fancy-person talk for pulmonary embolisms—blood clots in my lungs. “You could get one again or COVID on the plane. Either could be devastating.”


“But I can’t stop living just because you’ve told me I’m dying!”


She laughed into the phone. I have a niggling feeling she doesn’t call many patients on the phone OR read their books. (I’ll never forget the day she told me she read “The Golden Sky”).


So, I went to Mexico. And it felt like taunting the grim reaper again. And every time that bull missed me I wanted to scream, “You CAN’T have me until GOD says it’s time!!!”


So, what did I learn in 2021? I learned to just live…the best I can. Be that sporting a bald head, a walker, a wheelchair…a wig. Be it hiking, or writhing, or crying…or swimming. Be it any d*mn way you can. And be grateful for all of it. Life... Life! Is. A. Gift.


The docs originally said I had two years to live, now they’re giving me up to ten. Maybe next year they’ll give me 30…those givers.


To taunt the reaper for another year—bring it on,

Elisa

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Finding Joy in an Uphill Battle


 I’m waiting in a massive line. It doesn’t really matter why I’m there, it just matters how I feel in that moment. I’m standing on a steep incline, and soon I start to shift uncomfortably. As a teenager I always carried a deck of cards and a hacky sack in my tattered purse. So, I start kicking the hacky sack around, knowing it will even make strangers my friends. Others in line introduce themselves and form a circle where we can all play. 


I soon discover the power of words. Having an epiphany that if you ask the right questions it’s like getting a key to someone’s door. You can find out all sorts of amazing things—and learn so much—if you dare to ask the deep stuff….  It’s like a shortcut to the soul.


“I’ve never told anyone that,” a woman says, serving the hacky sack to the man next to her. “I feel so relieved that I’m not alone.” She smiles at me.


“I think we’ve all felt like that at one time or another,” a gypsy-looking girl says, with the wispy voice of a fairy. 


But the hill makes things difficult—even for budding friendships. We persist for a bit, but after a while, the sun beats down unapologetically, and we all grow tired. 


I decide to try resting. Nobody cares because even my new buddies are doing the same thing. I fluff my ragged purse on the ground and use it as a pillow, but the hill isn’t comfortable, the gravel bites into my hip and shoulder, and the deck of cards only adds to my lumpy purse. I roll but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get comfortable on that hill. 


After an eternity, a man yells, and I see that employees are finally letting people into the event. We all press forward, like a d*mn herd of cattle. Everyone looks relieved. And I’d never been so happy to be on flat ground in all my life.


***


For some reason as I tried resting today, I couldn’t help remembering that day as a teenager, when I tried sleeping on a gravel hill. That’s what cancer has become for me. I’m in the same reality as everyone else—we’re all shooting for universal commonalities (some kind of purpose), but I’m on a hill, just fighting so hard to be on flat ground again. Nothing is ever “quite” comfortable. And this realization…has me reeling.


Life simply is that way right now. There’s no changing it. I’m in a fight to live—and I’m just not ready to get out of this metaphorical line yet. 


Cancer isn’t easy. Hell, LIFE isn’t easy, even when you level the playing field. 


I guess it’s just a matter of finding the good things, like my hacky sack or enjoying the utter magic of meeting strangers and hearing their stories. 


Despite a terrible incline—or whatever struggles YOU might be facing—there’s still magic around you. For me, I just need to keep filling my “purse” with good things (goodbye, baggage), and I should also remain spongelike, learning as much as I can from the people I’m lucky enough to know—especially Mike and my children.


I might be stuck on a relentless hill, but d*mn it if I won’t keep having fun along the way.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Man Found Perspective

 Being raised by my parents was almost magical. Because of my mom I wanted to be a preacher. I salvaged a big box from the garbage and stayed in it like a bobsled, reading the Bible for hours and preparing sermons. I started praying other places once I found a big spider in the box and let my parents throw it away. My mom is just…unexpected. She’s sweet and quiet, yet she was a beauty queen and her talent was wailing on the drums. (Check that out here: https://youtu.be/e9kCjMVXOt0 .)


My dad is infused with joy and a sense of play even though he usually dresses like a cutthroat cowboy! Growing up he’d make us steak and lobster on occasion! We had holidays fit for royalty even though my dad had to hawk his guns one year so we could have Christmas. Even though we didn’t have the “most” we always thought we did.


Then one of the greatest success stories I’ve ever seen happened. My parents ran a construction business and even sold it. I’ll never forget watching how hard they both worked years later to make it succeed. Yet, even though they’re “quite comfortable” now, on vacation I saw that my parents will never lose perspective of what matters.


“Pedro!” My Dad stood from his seat in Nuevo Vallarta and clapped the bellboy on the back. “Pedro” turned around and grinned.


“Oh—my goodness. Felipe!” he said in a Spanish accent. They hugged so excited to see one another. “Welcome home!” The man joked.


Another time my parents spotted one of the employees who’s from London. “We have to get together soon!” the man said, and my dad nodded saying they’d had such a fantastic time when they last caught up.


This continued at a small German restaurant in downtown Puerto Vallarta. “Thank you for coming here so much, despite COVID,” the owner said. “We’re so very grateful.” Then later he gave my mom a hearty hug and she beamed.


The point is that they’ve been frequenting this area for 20 years, yet they aren’t just friends with the ritzy people who stay in the best hotels like they do. Nope. They’re friends with the workers, the locals, and anyone (regardless of class) who’s real.


I thought of this as I walked from the plane in Salt Lake City and sat down in my designated wheelchair. “How are you?” I asked the transportation employee.


“I’m having the worst day ever!”


Mike kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “Good luck with that.” He stood up. “I’ll meet you at pickup gate 2C, and then we’ll drive home? I’m gonna go get the SUV.”


The man vented for a while. “I never talk to customers like this, but my boss just passed me up for a promotion. I just found out—and I’m livid.”


“Is this your dream job?”


He shook his head, and as the conversation continued I couldn’t help dropping the bomb. “I have stage four cancer. The doctors say it’s terminal.”


He gapped, obviously rethinking his worries. “And here I am telling you MY problems…”


“I just shared that because life is short! Don’t waste it being so unhappy. What is your dream job?”


“I want to stage houses.”


“But—let me guess—it doesn’t make any money. Right?”


He nodded. 


“Okay!” I said. “I had a similar problem. I wanted to be a writer; I even wrote nine books, but I make enough each month to eat off the dollar menu at McDonald’s.”


He laughed. “Oh! I didn’t mean to laugh.” He shook the amusement from his face.


“No worries.” I grinned. “So I found something that’s close to writing where I CAN make money. I had to work hard for it, but now I’m an editor! Sure I’m not writing YA fiction like I hoped, but I’m surprisingly happy with my career!”


“But how can I possibly make money staging houses? I don’t have any experience.”


I thought for a minute. “You could be…a realtor! Stage homes and then make money selling them. Get contacts and then—down the road—start your own staging business for fellow realtors who’ve grown to love you!”


“This is so weird,” he confessed. I started a realtor class, and it’s about to expire. Then my mom—who has no idea—gave me silly realtor socks as a joke for Christmas!”


“And NOW we’re talking about it. It’s a Godwink for sure!”


He broke out laughing. At that point Mike called, and the man pushed me over to our SUV. 


“I have to work until 1 a.m., but I’m so energized! You changed my whole perspective.”


“Nah! You would’ve figured it out.” I winked.


“This job IS a means to an end. I’m gonna finish that real estate class—and then I’m gonna go skiing.”


“Skiing?” I asked.


“Yeah, ‘cause I’ve always wanted to go, and you only live once, right?”


I waved goodbye and after Mike started driving off he said, “He sure changed his tune. What was that about?”


“I just helped give him some perspective.”


“YOU are such a character.” Mike burst out laughing.


I thought of my parents in Mexico and grinned. “If I am, I get it from my parents.” And even though we’d just left a sunny, beautiful paradise and exchanged it for ice and snow, I thought that I couldn’t be happier.


(A “fancy” picture in the elevator 🤣.)



Monday, December 27, 2021

Tortugas Mean Hope

 The gritty sand massaged my feet as the sun’s heat beat down, masking the flulike symptoms that 


I always feel—making the warmth on my skin seem natural. And as the water repeatedly encased my feet, trying to lure me in, I couldn’t help staring at the horizon. If God can create all of this majesty that somehow balances itself out, I can rest assured that He has a plan even for my life. There’s beauty in the mess. There’s joy even in the heartache. 


“Careful: Turtle Season” a nearby sign read, boasting a gorgeous picture of tortugas “turtles” bursting from their shells. I’d seen a documentary once; it said very few turtles actually make it to the ocean. I spied bird feathers next to broken eggs then. Birds had obviously ravaged a nest, yet next to me, little marks patterned the sand, and I knew one of the baby turtles MUST have survived. Sure it was only one … but that exhibited something powerful: hope.


“Excuse me,” a man said, shaking me from my surreal moment in Mexico. “This might sound strange, but didn’t I see you in a wheelchair earlier?”


His wife had come to stand next to him, and Mike sauntered over as well.


“My parents rented me a scooter,” I said.


They blinked, obviously wanting to hear more.


“I have stage 4 cancer. Last year the doctor gave me two years to live …”


“She has a hard time walking long distances,” Mike said, “after a surgery to remove a tumor.”


Their eyes grew larger.


“My parents refuse to lose hope about my diagnosis, but I know they worry—and they wanted me to have a nice trip.” I took in a long breath and sighed. “It IS good to see the ocean again …” I turned to the waves and thought how none of us truly know when it’ll be the last time seeing the ocean, a snow-crested mountain, or the first bloom of spring.


“Well,” the man said, then looked to his wife who nodded, “no matter what you’re facing we wanted to tell you that you’re making a positive impact on other people’s lives. You waved to us from your scooter on our first day here … and my wife kept talking about how sweet you were—this whole time.”


The woman smiled at me, so kindly. “You look great,” she said. “You’d never know anything was amiss.” 


“I think this weather has been awesome for me. I swear I’m standing straighter and feeling better every day.” I grinned.


“It’s so snowy back home,” Mike said.


“I knew it!” The man beamed. “You’re like us—you’re from Canada. That’s why you’re so nice.”


Mike and I burst out laughing. “We’re from Idaho.”


“That’s … close enough!” the man said. Then the couple left and as my parents joined us on the beach, I couldn’t get over how great it felt to be spending time with them in paradise.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Visit to Paradise




 My ex is in a different state and has the kids for one holiday a year—unfortunately, this year it’s Christmas. Even though we celebrated early, it didn’t feel quite the same, and it’s tough because I miss the kids.


My parents must’ve known I felt bad about that—plus, this battle against cancer has gotten to me a little more recently…. Anyway, those givers bought me and Mike airplane tickets, rented me a TURBO scooter, AND brought us to spend Christmas with them in Mexico!


We’re in one of those fancy resorts that practically has its own zip code! The scooter can go over 20 miles an hour, and I swear I’m the best scooter driver you’ve ever seen! A little kid waved to me last night after seeing me do a figure 8 in the lobby! I think my only traumatic event was driving—at the speed of light—through a Mayan temple. A man kept trying to take pictures of the statues, but I accidentally kept “scooting” in his way. (Then Mike got in a few photos ‘cause he kept chasing me like I needed a d*mn babysitter!)


A shuttle driver asked if I’d had too many tequilas. I told him I’d only had water! Anyway, I hope my parents are still glad they brought us here because we’re having the time of our lives.  


I did throw up our first night here—because cancer sucks even in paradise. But other than taking daily naps (like a 100-year-old), I’m doing pretty good.


We had lobster last night, and we’re having steak tonight—medium-well! Like my brother’s friends used to say: “No one eats like a Stilson.” These days it’s just keeping my food down that’s the tricky part!


Well, we better live it up! I have more treatments and tests next week—and we found out that I’ll be on certain medication for the rest of my life (God, I hope it’s more than docs think!). But I am excited to get home and get the kids back. For me and Mike, those four little people are our world!


In closing:

I told a lady on the plane: “I’ve learned so many great things after having cancer—and now I get to see Mexico again because if it!”


“Wow,” she said, beaming. “I don’t have cancer…but I DO have a heart condition. Maybe I can find something good in that too!”


“Good on ya,” I said, and for the rest of the flight I couldn’t quit grinning.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Holiday Reset


Indiana wanted to help raise money for a local youth organization; so, this past Thursday we wrapped gifts for people at the mall. 


“Business” was pretty dead, but after a while, a mother and son came up with gifts for us to wrap. 


Indy and I wanted to do a perfect job, so we showed them our wrapping paper selection, different box sizes, and a vast amount of decorative ribbons. 


“I love Christmas,” the boy said, handing me a gift for his mother. 


Christmas isn’t always “jolly” for me. In fact, since I’ve had cancer it’s even more stressful than normal. We’ve been extra worried about money, and I hardly have enough energy to go shopping. Still, I glanced up and smiled, setting a red bow in place.


“Christmas, huh?” I said “What do you like about it?”


He grinned, exhibiting the kind of excitement only a young adult can have. “I love the tree,” he said. “And I LOVE presents.”


“Right?” I finished wrapping the gift for his mother. Now it was time for me to wrap what she’d bought for him. “What did you get last year?” I asked him.


“A pair of pants! We each get one whole gift every year.” His eyes sparkled. “I can hardly wait for Christmas.”


I blinked. It seemed unbelievable that a person his age could show so much gratitude—for one, small gift.


His mom took the break in our conversation as a chance to hand me his gift. She’d left it in the bag—so he couldn’t see—and winked as she handed it to me as if it were pure gold.


These two honestly baffled me. I turned, and I’m still not sure why, but so many emotions overwhelmed me as I spotted the gift she’d bought for her son this year. I’d opened the bag to find…a simple pair of pants. 


“Wrap it in white,” she whispered, “with a red bow. He’ll love that.”


After Indy finished wrapping the dad’s simple gift, we just stared at each other so amazed by this family and their excitement over such small items. “I guess it’s not small to them,” Indy said.


“And that’s what’s so humbling…. Some people don’t have much at all. But look,” we watched them, “they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen.”


“Me too,” Indy agreed.


As we watched the mother and son, Indy hugged me so tightly. “I’m glad we know what matters, too.”


I studied my beautiful, baby girl, wrapped my arms around her, and thought that I have so much more than I could’ve ever hoped for.


Mike and I celebrated Christmas with the kids on Friday (they spend one holiday a year with their bio dad, and it happens to be Christmas this year). I felt stunned to see how happy our kids are over whatever they receive! We had people generously make our Christmas wonderful. We got anonymous gifts, some money in the mail, and even a massive gift basket that completely shocked us! But I do have to say that the thing we’re most grateful for is each other. 


“I know it’s hard,” my oldest daughter said, giving me a huge hug. “But you have to keep fighting. Okay, Mom. You can’t give up!”


I hugged her back and nodded. “I will! I promise. Ruby, I want to be with all of you—for as long as I can.”


It’s crazy how quickly cancer put life in perspective.


Anyway, I wanted to wish all of you a very, merry Christmas! I hope you have exactly what you need this holiday season! And I hope you’ll have the eyes to see the beauty that surrounds you—no matter how big or small.

Friday, December 17, 2021

What I CAN Instead …



 “I saw you in the wheelchair,” the Delta representative said, “so we’re moving you closer to the front of the plane.”


“Oh, wow! Thank you,” I said, my eyes wide. 


I’d decided to visit my parents in Arizona right after Halloween, and I’d never expected the airline’s employees to be so nice! Everything went great until after I left the customer service area and waited to board; that’s when I noticed a few younger people studying me with pity. I’m not sure why their prying eyes hurt, but they did.


I called Mike and whispered into the phone. “God made me all wrong,” I said once Mike picked up, but I immediately regretted my words. God doesn’t make mistakes—that’s religion 101. Plus, I probably got melanoma from fake baking or getting burned when I was homeless in Hawaii. Fiddling all night, then blending in with tourists and sleeping on the beach all day had risks. If you slept too hard, when the shade moved, you’d wake up lobster-red. Nope. Melanoma wasn’t God’s fault; it was mine.


But honestly, it’s true that most days I do feel like there’s something wrong with me. Maybe we all feel like that sometimes. Maybe I’ve just felt that way more than most. I’ve had people tell me I’m a one-upper, so contrary I just have to go against everyone, or an acquired taste. But I don’t want to be someone who has to grow on you like fungus…. Anyway.


It’s hard having cancer and wondering about all this beyond reason … Who am I really? A collection of my perception and what other people think about me? What impression AM I leaving behind? And then it instantly feels as if everything that’s wrong with me is manifesting in my body so everybody can see it on the outside. 


This isn’t a pity-me post—trust me, that’s the last thing I want. These are just issues I’m dealing with probably because of the cancer. 


It’s hard being unable to do most things by myself. I can’t reach up high or climb on counters when I need the largest dish. I can’t even sleep through the whole night anymore because some part of my body inevitably starts burning with pain. 


People ask me when I’ll be able to walk “normal” again. The answers probably never. I’ve also had friends ask when the swelling in my face will go away. It’s called moon face—something that happens when you take steroids. My face will thin out in days or months. I. Don’t. Know. But honestly I think right now that’s the least of my concerns. And that’s what Mike told me before I boarded the plane to go see my parents right after Halloween.


The interesting thing is that when I sat down on the plane an overwhelming peace fell on me. And it grew as a stranger sat down next to me. We immediately started visiting. Somehow I ended up telling him about the cancer, but this stranger didn’t judge me or show an overt amount of sympathy … or sadness or anything bad, really. He just treated me like a normal person. And then I swear we talked about everything: religion, philosophy, family, and what it’s like to live in Idaho. 


“They changed my seat at the last minute,” he said.


“Mine too!” I replied. And then I discovered he’s from the same small town where I live. And he only lives a couple miles from us! And our kids are the same ages—and go to the same exact schools! 


Despite only just meeting, I said this was a Godwink, we exchanged information, and decided it would be fun to go on a double date. And when I walked off the plane, I swear I stood a little straighter. It wasn’t because I felt better, physically, but because someone had treated me normally. This stranger gave me the courage to move on from the moment of self-pity and sadness because  the point is that although I don’t know why I’m going through this, I can still overcome and be positive and happy throughout the hardship. After all, I’m still alive! I’m still able to move around! And I can live life to the fullest—to my own capabilities! It’s time for me to STOP measuring myself against everyone else’s view of me. And measure myself against what I am capable of, what I want, and what I CAN do about it!


We ended up going out—not on a double but—on a triple date a few weeks later. Can you believe the man on the airplane actually knows someone who I’ve been good friends with! I guess they ended up talking about me while visiting at church and were so surprised to discover they have a mutual friend. 


Anyway, I loved every minute: the conversation, the laughter … the joy. But most of all I loved that all of them treated me the same way the man had on the plane. And I realized that regardless of how people treat me I need to always fight to find that inner joy. Some days can be a battle – because joy is not like happiness (that just comes and goes), no, Joy is something you have to fight for. Joy is something you CHOOSE. So that’s what I’m going to do. Today, I choose joy.


(A pic of my second-favorite wig lol.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Start of a Godwink

 Two men wheeled me through the massive Salt Lake City airport. I’ve gotten over my embarrassment of needing a wheelchair for long stints, and I simply talked with the men, finding out about their hopes and dreams. We had a few minutes, and I even bought them coffees. “If you want to travel together, do it!” I finally said after hearing the story of how they were such good friends in high school that they started working together. Yet, work, school, and responsibility aside, they wanted to travel together.


“We might travel…but after we finish college,” one said.


“Listen! I have stage four cancer. I thought I’d raise my kids and ‘see the world’ when they got older. I always wanted to visit Italy and Ireland! I wanted to see Canada and Mexico again…. But look at me. My oldest is an adult and my seventeen-year-old is close behind. Now that I’m 38–the age when I’d hoped to travel—I’m too sick to do almost anything. Go now, while you can. Tomorrow…is uncertain at best.”


“I understand,” the taller guy finally said. “But you’re traveling today? Where are you going?”


I laughed. “I told my parents that I missed them too much, so they bought me a ticket to go see them in Arizona! Just don’t tell my doctor!” I joked. “She’s paranoid about blood clots.”


We resumed our journey then—them pushing me through the airport and me watching as different people occasionally looked at me kindly, sadly, curiously, callously…. I even caught an elderly woman grimacing, as if nothing looked “wrong” with me.


Anyway, that airport is crazy because there’s a stretch where you have to walk for over a mile before reaching the terminals. When we finally arrived, I turned to the men. “Please go take that trip! Sooner rather than later.”


They laughed. “We just might. It was nice to meet you.”


“You too.”


They left soon after, and another representative, seeing the wheelchair, asked me to approach the customer service center. “Which flight?” she asked. 


“7350”


“Can I see your ticket?” 


I handed it over, and that’s when a Godwink happened. 


To be continued 🤗

Thursday, December 9, 2021

An Awkward Day



 Today has been…awkward. It started with a message from a new friend (one of my blessing from 2021). “Your gingerbread men are doing the nasty,” she wrote. I went to check the decorations—and balked. It was true! Those blowups have NO SHAME.


My kids heard about it, and being a special brand of idiot, I said, “Maybe they’ll make gingerbread cookies. You like those, right?!”


“Not anymore,” my son said and slid his breakfast away.


“Mom, those cookies would be their babies!” My youngest daughter said, looking genuinely appalled. “That’s…that’s not okay.”

 

Now that my kids hate me, gingerbread cookies, and Christmas, I finally got them off to school and thought the traumas had ended. But working from home is tough. Around noon, our white cat (who got handicapped in the Great Mystery of 2020), sauntered over and decided to lick his butt ON me, BY me, anywhere NEAR me. Do you know how hard it is to edit articles when there’s a godforsaken slurping sound RIGHT BY YOUR EAR?


So, it’s days like today when I realize there are things much worse than cancer: like trying to joke about reproduction with your junior high kids or having your cat try to lick YOUR face right after doing a butt cleanse for the past hour.


Anyway… 


Signing out for the day,

A Traumatized Elisa 


P.S. I’m just glad I finally have things in perspective.


Pics of me and “the butt licker” and the gingerbread decor after their exhausting night.




Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Fighting for a Family

 Indy got incredibly sick—and to see her like that…was devastating. She’s 11 years old and one of the happiest people on earth. Someone could be mean and she’d hope for the best: “They’d never mean it THAT way,” or “We should give them another chance.”


But on Sunday, I knew something was wrong when Trey teased her, and she mumbled, “What a jerk!”


Two hours later, Indy had a full-blown fever, a sore throat, and even hallucinations! The doctor dubbed it strep and gave us antibiotics, but the next night Indy still struggled. I slept by her on the couch, so worried. 


After a few hours my hips hurt and my back ached—I honestly woke up feeling so ill from the cancer that I had to take more medicine than usual. It’s weird with the medicine because for about an hour after taking it, I remember what it felt like not having cancer. And then the flulike symptoms set in again: body aches, chills, nausea, sometimes vomiting, and extreme bone pain. I told the doc about this last week, and she prescribed something that is slow-release. It blankets the pain so it’s background music instead of the full symphony (if you know what I mean), but then the pain never totally goes away. It just lurks there, making me feel “gross” but never momentarily well.


Anyway, when I went back to sleep I had the most wonderful dream about a beautiful valley. I felt so different there, lying in the grass—and I realized…it was simply the absence of pain.


Then Indy woke me up, “Mama, I’m cold.” She shivered, and I covered her with an extra blanket and patted her back.


“Okay! I’ve got you. You’re okay.”


“Mama,” she quaked moments later.


“What, sweetheart? I’m here.” I held her close. “I’m here.”


“It’s just that you’re so sick and now…you’re staying up—not getting rest—because of me.”


“I’m okay,” I said, amazed by that kind of altruism at such a young age. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” I said—not even in my dream of the beautiful valley. After all, it really does seem like Mike and the kids are MY Heaven. “You’re my baby. I want to be with my kids, always. Especially when you need me.”


She rolled over and stared at me, her eyes so big—filled with concern even though SHE still fought a fever. “You know how you said you feel like you have the flu all the time?”


I nodded.


“I just realized how terrible that must be. It must be…so…so bad.” Then these huge tears rolled down her cheeks. And she hugged me like she might never let go. “Mama, I’m so sorry you’re sick.”


I hugged her. “It’s okay. It’s really okay. It’s not as bad…as it sounds. Indy, I’m just so sorry that YOU are sick!” And as I thought about how terrible cancer can be—and I felt those darling arms around my neck—I couldn’t help thinking how grateful I am to have a family to fight for.


Indy finally started feeling better late last night. I’m so glad she’s on the mend, painting her nails crazy colors, and harassing her cat (her world!).


Anyway, when I woke up from my nap today the kids had already been home from school for an hour, and I kept wishing I could give the kids and Mike more...but I can’t. 


Hopefully they know I’m doing the best I can. I’m enjoying each moment and simply fighting for more time.


A picture of me and Indy right before and after I got cancer.





Thank God for Warnings

Mike limped back inside. “What’s going on?” I asked.


“I’m taking care of it,” he said. “Just stay here.”


But I’m bad at staying put, so I went outside where two women in uniforms stood between our knocked over garbage can and our trailer.


“Not again,” I said quickly, vowing to pick up the garbage as soon as I figured out why these women strutted around our trailer as if it were an animal they’d captured.


“We’re with the city! Someone reported you. You’re in violation of code—“


I didn’t hear the rest because I’d gotten lost on the “someone reported you” part. I immediately thought of our neighbor who’s called the cops on us before. She’s the same woman who won’t let her kids play with ours because we aren’t Mormon.


“So we need to move our trailer?”


“Yes. And we’re writing the ticket right now.”


“Wait!” I said. “We’re having a really hard time. My husband bought this to fix it up, but then he broke his foot. Then our SUV—with the hitch—broke down and is in the shop…so we can’t move the trailer.”


It almost looked like she rolled her eyes.


“And—and,” I went on, “I have stage 4 cancer.” I’d said it. The ultimate trump card.


She studied everything about me, as if she didn’t believe a single thing I’d said. 


“And if this garbage isn’t picked up within 24 hours, you’ll get a ticket for that too!”


I immediately started putting the trash in my garbage can. But every time I bent down, the pains grew, and I started crying from the tumors in my spine. Mike came out then with some sort of paperwork. He handed the code enforcement officer a copy, then started helping me pick up the trash.


After we finished, Mike grabbed my hand and led me back toward the house. 


The taller woman said sarcastically then, “It just sucks when we have to do our jobs. Darn it.”


I’m embarrassed to say that my anger got the best of me, and still within earshot, I whispered, “Wannabe cops!”


Shockingly they didn’t ticket us for the trailer (I guess it can’t be parked in front of our house—even though a church bus down the road gets a “pass”). A friend moved our trailer to the side of our house, our SUV is almost done getting fixed, and Mike can hobble without crutches. Yay!


I just keep thinking about those callous women and how they treated us even though we’re experiencing trials. I guess that doesn’t make us exempt, but you’d think they’d be a little bit kinder. If people could simply understand the struggles of others—and help them instead of kicking them while they’re down—this sure would be a better place.


I still don’t know why she didn’t ticket us. But I really am thankful. That’s the last thing we needed right before Christmas. Thank God for warnings.

Monday, December 6, 2021

We Got This


 I haven’t written in a while. Truthfully I just haven’t been feeling very well. But that’s okay, it’s almost Christmas and if THAT doesn’t make life better, I don’t know what does 😉


Months ago I started hoping that I might be in remission someday, but this latest setback has me wondering. 


Unfortunately hope is a buoy that sometimes brings even greater disappointment.


Anyway, until now, I never understood how people could say “it wasn’t the cancer that killed them; it was the treatment.” So far immunotherapy has caused me to have liver failure, colitis that led to sepsis, and now serious struggles with my endocrine system. I just get over one thing with meds, and something else pops us. (The amount of medication I’m on shocked one friend—but that’s the cost of living!)


Anyway, I’ve become extremely exhausted, sleeping four hours a day (while the kids are at school), and just feeling like I’m limping to a finish line—that I might never cross. That’s when my husband found a package on the front porch. “It’s for you,” he said, always so happy like a Golden Lab.


I beamed too, surprised when I read the sender’s name. She also has cancer and has bravely battled against all odds. I’d just read a post of hers, saying how deathly sick she is…. The fact that she’d sent me something—when she’s so ill—flabbergasted me.


I set the package on my bed, pulled out beautiful items and fun winter hats. The irony of it just hit me, thinking about this woman who has lost her hair and been in excruciating pain from chemo. After I donned one of the fashionable new hats and looked in the mirror, I cried from her exceptional kindness. Her courage and fortitude gave me the strength I had momentarily lost. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.


So, I’m taking medications to bolster my endocrine system, and wearing a hat from my new friend. I hope that my body can withstand treatments long enough for the immunotherapy to kill the cancer. I so hope my organs will stay strong enough to get through this! And I hope my friend will feel better soon—and beat this too! We. Can. Do. This.


Doctors originally gave me two years to live, then they said I might have ten… But now—against everything—I’m reaching for the stars. 


I’m absolutely sure God has a plan; part of this is just learning to be at peace regardless of the outcome. Now THAT is true growth. 


P.S. Here’s a pic of one of the hats with my favorite wig. #ElsaWig #cancerawareness #melanomaawareness #wegotthis

Monday, November 29, 2021

Looking Back to Move Forward

 Look Back to Move Forward

By EC Stilson


Over a decade ago . . .


Something drew me to the little fabric shop tucked away on Main Street.  I trudged toward the door, gripped the handle, and paused.  Why was I there? 

    

“Belinda's" had become the most expensive fabric store in town—and their selection wasn't great—yet there I stood, with some stupid feeling that I needed to be there.

    

After going inside, and being blasted by the air conditioner, I sidled up to some watermelon-print fabric near the register.  

    

I couldn't concentrate on that fabric though, too distracted from my dreams the night before.

    

“What's wrong?" the elderly lady at the register asked, pulling down her glasses and studying how I'd literally been petting the watermelon fabric.

    

“Oh!"  I set the cotton down.  "Just a long night."  I sighed again and then shook my head—seriously what was I doing there?!  I started to walk toward the exit, when the woman cleared her throat.

    

“I'm bored.  And I love a good story.  Would you mind telling me what's going on?"

    

That woman—who didn't know me AT ALL—pulled up two stools across from each other at the register and selflessly listened to how I’d been wondering if I should’ve made different choices in the past.

    

“Listen,” she finally said. “I'm eighty-five years old.  And what you're going through is completely normal!  Do you have time to hear my story?"

    

I nodded, pretty enthralled.

    

“My husband died five years ago.  We were happily married for nearly fifty years, but like you, every time we had problems, I started thinking about—or even dreaming about—my old beau from high school."

    

“Even after fifty years?" I balked.

    

She looked down and nodded.  "Yeah.  So last year, I contacted my old beau.  Things seemed great at first, but guess what happened? I ended up remembering why I broke up with him in high school.  AND he'd never changed.  We broke up for the same reason a lifetime later.  We were still the same core people."

    

I felt utterly stunned.

    

“My point is: I spent all that time looking back on a man who wasn't worth my time.  I remembered the good and forgot the bad, just to realize I broke up with him in the first place for a reason.  All that time I wasted . . . wondering what if."

    

We hugged each other before I left.  And that woman gave me a red sucker, even though I'm a grown woman and everything. 

   

Anyway, years have passed, and I’ve been able to share this story with a lot of different people for various reasons. 


If you're struggling, looking back to a possibly deluded past, I'd like to leave you with one quote:


The past is never where you think you left it.

-Katherine Anne Porter


There are so many things to be grateful for this holiday season. Plus, the happiest people seem to be those who are the most thankful.