Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Terminal Cancer

 I heard from a friend today who has terminal cancer. He’s had it for a year though, and now it’s invaded his stomach, liver, and lungs. The tumor started in his spine which is all too real for me. My tumors stretch from my pelvis and spine, up into my brain. There are tiny growths in my lungs and on my gallbladder, too.


After I spoke with him, the pain in his voice stayed with me like a bad spirit. I just couldn’t shake how much he reflects death right now. He said people get awkward when they talk to him lately; I think it’s because people are so scared to die.

For some damn reason I ended up watching Animal Planet later. I saw a lion take down a gazelle—and it wasn’t a quick death either. The thing was still alive, and watching helplessly as the lion gnawed on it. 

The whole time I was thinking, “That lion is cancer and the gazelle is my friend.... The gazelle is me.... We just want to get away, but it’s this slow, painful sort of ordeal where you just hope that someone will save you from the jaws of the lion.”

I turned off the TV. Nobody has time for that. I’ve always wanted to be a lion. Always. But right now I’m praying for something to save me. 

Being at the mercy of something...at least it puts things in perspective. Some things have never looked so clear.

Friday, December 25, 2020

My Christmas Miracle

In 2019 the worries of life hit hard, and I needed a distraction. The dress shop felt like the perfect place because the clothes are secondhand vintage classics that hold so much magic it could whisk anyone away. 

I wandered through Annie Hall’s store and felt so much from the past that my own problems faded. You can practically touch the fabric and feel the souls who wore the sets decades before. “Seeing” the past like that...well, there’s nothing quite like it.

I continued on, imagining what type of person had worn which which set.

I ran a local newspaper at the time and vowed to somehow help Anne (the store’s owner). When she put on a huge fashion show fundraiser, I got my chance. 

I’d stayed up late editing photos and paginating so it would look just perfect. I’ll never forget Anne’s bewilderment when I brought her a copy of the newspaper and she saw one of her dresses on the front page. “Next year, YOU’LL be one of my models,” she said. 

I laughed because I’m so old. “Oh, Anne!”

Then she grabbed a black velvet coat someone had just brought in. “I want you to try this on! Sometimes I just know what people are supposed to wear!” Then she practically vanished and reappeared with a black velvet dress that matched it. “Wear this dress with it.”

It was an order. So I didn’t argue; no one argued with Anne. When I touched the dress, it felt like pure magic. 

“That is a very special dress.” Anne went on to explain that it came complete with the original silk handkerchief that was about 70 years old!

Even though the price tag had it listed as one of the most expensive items in the store—hundreds of dollars—I decided to try it on. The dress fit me like a second skin, zipping tightly in place, tailored to my exact shape.

“It’s beautiful isn’t it?!” Then Anne asked me to model it on the shop’s rustic staircase. 

Even though I loved it, I could never afford such a dress. And no matter how much it had called to me, I placed it back on the hanger and left it displayed for the lucky woman who would inevitably buy it.

Time passed. Anne and I became friends because I visited the shop many more times. I’d fallen for the ambiance and the sweet owner who makes everyone feel gorgeous.

Needless to say 2020 came with hardships for everyone, but my hardships included stage 4 cancer. I underwent treatments, had an 8-hour surgery that could have paralyzed me, and ended up shaving my head because of hair loss from radiation.

One day, I sat telling my husband how I felt “truly ugly” like a bald vulture. 

“You do not look like a bald vulture.”

But that day I felt less than normal, limping (even with my walker), and struggling so much with self esteem that it surprised me. 

It wasn’t long after that when he said someone was on the phone. Anne’s face beamed on the screen. 

“Anne?!” I didn’t know she even really knew Mike that well. 

“It’s from Anne,” Mike said. Then he showed me the black velvet dress from 2019. He held it in his hand.

“It was meant for you,” Anne said...and then I cried.

Emotions overwhelmed me not just because of the gorgeous dress but because of Anne and her kindness. The thing is that we’ve hit some pretty hard times but so many people like Anne have saved us and made things unfathomably better. I never knew that in 2019, I’d end up trying on a dress that would completely bless my 2020 holiday—despite cancer.

I put it on this Christmas and as I looked in the mirror, I tried to stand as straight as I can. I smiled and for the first time in months I somehow felt beautiful. I cried again, then went to the Christmas tree and just sat in front of the lights. 

The thing is, we never know what the future will hold, but I’m awfully glad because it seems to be filled with such wonderful moments even in the darkest of times. Cancer and all...I am the luckiest.

Merry Christmas.

It is Well

 “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” These words were written by composer Horatio G. Spafford after he suffered some of life’s worst tragedies. His son died from pneumonia, then his business was destroyed in a fire. As if all of that wasn’t enough, a short time later all four of his daughters were killed in a terrible accident at sea. 

When traveling over the spot where his daughters died, Spafford wrote this song: “It Is Well With My Soul.” I can’t completely do it justice right now on the violin (below), but the sentiment is the same. I have no idea what the future days, months, or years will hold, but I have faith that there’s a reason for it. There’s a plan. 

I played this yesterday, sounds silly but it took almost all of my energy (I’m still so exhausted from cancer treatments). 

Merry Christmas, everyone! I know the holidays aren’t always easy. You’re not alone—and God loves you. Everything will be okay; somehow there’s a reason for what’s going on 💜

Here’s the link to that video: It is Well

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Facing Death

 This whole “facing death” thing has me doubting everything. And right now, I’m wondering if I’ve been a good mother.

I keep thinking about something that happened this summer. I’d wanted to bring the kids to float the Portneuf River, but it was so hard coordinating it with everyone. In the end, everybody could go except our oldest daughter and her boyfriend at the time. 

Anyway, one of us had the great idea that instead of getting 6 tubes we should get one giant tube. That was a mistake!

So there we were, 6 of us floating the Portneuf all together, but it was extremely uncomfortable. And everyone (except Mike) kept complaining. Being a constant Pollyanna, I responded, “But it’s a beautiful day.”

“It’s too hot.”

“I’m uncomfortable.”

“I want to go home.”

“When will we be done? I have plans with my boyfriend later.”

“Two to three hours,” I said. “We get that much time to just enjoy each other. Won’t that be amazing?” But none of the kids thought so. 

“Oh my gosh! Look!” I scooped something out of the water—the world’s tiniest fish skeleton. “It’s so small!” I showed the kids. This impressed my son, but I thought my youngest might jump ship—or throw up.

When we hit some rapids and the tube popped, that’s when things started to get really bad. Mike tried to hold the hole in the tube, but it was pretty big.

“I’m getting out. I want you guys to enjoy this!” So, I got out of the tube (which is what Mike had wanted to do). I folded the tube so it wouldn’t leak any more, and I started dragging them down the shallow river. As I walked, I hoped the day would get better. 

I started singing, hoping that would help. And just into the fifth word, I slipped and fell into a massive hole in the yucky river!!!

Kids probably still talk about the legend of the Portneuf River monster. Well, my kids saw it that day. After I’d resurfaced from the world’s deepest river hole, a string of profanities left my mouth that would make a prison warden cringe. Mud and gunk clung to my face. Mascara dripped from my eyes....

“What in the *bleep*? I’ve been looking forward to this *bleeping* day for months. Yet does anyone else want to enjoy it? No!!! What in the *bleep* is going on with everyone. This bleepedity, bleepin’ bleep!!!”

We all ended up getting out of the tube at some point after that and climbing out of the river. (I was the only one who got stung by a strange plant on the way out.) 

It was hard dragging the huge, popped tube behind us. The kids stayed close to Mike, and I walked alone—the river monster who tried not to cry. 

My hair was still covered in muck, and I momentarily wondered if I had a baby fish skeleton somewhere in my hair. I overheard my second oldest daughter tell Mike, “We were having a great time until Mom flipped out.”

And I felt terrible. Sometimes in life I guess we can try so hard that it becomes more stressful than it should be. But as I’m looking back at my life, I worry that my kids will remember more of these moments than not. I guess the scary thing is that it doesn’t really matter anymore, the jobs I’ve had, the number of books I’ve written, the cool places I’ve played my violin. THOSE things don’t matter. Was I a good mom and wife? Was I a good friend? 

Honestly, I’ve succeeded, and I’ve also really failed. 

But the best thing about death is that it has a way of showing what’s important. And like that failed trip down the Portneuf River, I don’t want people to remember me like that river monster—especially my children.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

One Negative Thing

 Several years ago I made the executive decision...to only say one negative thing a day.  

This is tough after discovering you have stage four cancer!

Throughout the hours, I’ll catch myself getting ready to say something negative, but it’s not quite good enough for the only bad comment of the day.  Sometimes I’ve used it early--about 8 a.m. and then I have to be positive the rest of the day!  Other times I’ll forget to say something because I didn’t find something quite bad enough.

Once, right after I started this, I spoke with a businesswoman who spoke quite negatively. Although she was working in a warm, cozy office—and drank a coffee—she talked about how terrible her job is and how much she hates the weather. No matter what I said, she flipped it negative.

It went on until I became almost mystified with how artfully she changed good to bad.

“Isn’t it terrible here in Idaho? Don’t you agree?” she finally asked.

“Ma’am, I only use one negative comment a day, and I’m not going to waste it on this.”

Her faced paled a little before reddening.  I really didn’t mean to offend her, but I didn’t want to waste my comment on that.

Anyway, I had to visit her office later.  It was pretty busy, and she didn’t know I stood in the back of a line.

“I know you’re upset,” I heard her tell a customer, “but I only use one negative comment a day, and I’m not going to use it on this.”

When it was my turn, she didn’t act overly excited to see me, but I had to inwardly smile. 

Even when you don’t know you’re making a difference, you just might be.  Positivety wins out every time. 

As I’ve remembered this, I’ve decided to keep being positive. Why not? After all, there’s a lot to lose otherwise.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Problem with Pride

 A problem with pride 

When I picked “refinement” as my word to live by for 2020, I had no idea what that would entail. I also didn’t realize how my voracious study of the 7 deadly sins would come into play. 

I studied them for months, thinking my greatest weakness is lust. Like a monster, always waiting, if given even a little leeway it can drag us into disturbing situations we never initially wished for. But when I studied about pride, greed, and anger, they didn’t resonate with me the way lust and envy did. 

Unfortunately, yesterday I discovered I actually do have a problem with pride....

I ventured into the store again—and about ten minutes after discovering that they were literally out of everything I needed, my pace slowed, and I started limping pretty badly despite the fact that I had my walker. A woman rushed into the aisle, obviously in some sort of race through the store, but when she saw me, the sprinter slowed, sauntering behind me on my trek down the world’s loooongest aisle. And like the creepy stalker she was—the woman stayed behind me the whole flippin’ way!

Finally at the end of our long journey, I turned a corner and the woman darted in front of me. “I feel so compelled to tell you,” she said very loudly and slowly, “you’re doing great.” I know she meant well, but as she walked away, tears filled my eyes and I quietly cried for quite a while. Thank God no one really looks into people’s eyes anymore, and no one noticed. My mask just got soaked—which was worse than meeting the stalker; okay, maybe not, but close!

Mike found me at that point. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“I just realized that I’m a charity case.” I told him about the woman. “I know she meant well, but the way she said it...like I’m Frankenstein’s monster or something. I mean, I know I just had radiation on my brain...but I can still understand English! And I’m just struggling to walk right now after surgery! I can do things. I’d like to have her come back here. There’s gotta be something I can beat her at! Like Scrabble! Yeah. I could KICK HER A** at Scrabble!

My husband—for some reason—seems perpetually amused by me. He hugged me in the store and chuckled. “Sure you could beat her at something. And you know, she probably thought she was doing a really nice thing.”

When we got home, I received a message that I’d sold several books. I could hardly believe it. This was accompanied by a note from a man who said he wanted to show support. I don’t know why, but it just blessed my heart because I felt like I’d worked for the money, but we still got some additional income. 

And then it hit me—I could in fact have a problem with pride. Actually that I DO have issues with it. I know pride isn’t always a bad thing. But maybe it is when I can’t recognize that people just want to be kind...and that what the lady in the store said might have been more for her benefit than for mine anyway. And that’s okay. Why should I fault her for something that made her feel kind and good?

Today is another chance to work on myself—yay *sarcasm. Remember how I don’t believe in Jesus; well, we still go to church. If the sermon today is about pride, I swear I might die right there in that God-lovin’ pew!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Serious Lack of Faith

 Serious lack of faith

It’s been a weird day. I woke up to find quite a bit of hair resting on my pillow. Then when I looked in the mirror, a bald spot the size of Milwaukee stared back at me! Odd fact, it’s not even on my radiation site. Oh joy, maybe that’s next.

The funny thing about balding...and I might need to ask some of the men from my graduating class, but maybe balding makes people feel mortal! It’s either that or the fact that I have instant hair loss and what some doctors are calling “terminal cancer.” I’m trying to be funny; did you catch that?

Anyway, already feeling momentarily terrified about death (and before anyone can find a high horse to ride on let me tell you it’s different when you’re actually facing death and not being hypothetical) a friend called to tell me about Christ this morning.

I’ve had many family members talk with me about this. And I’m honestly a bit terrified to write this (because of the judgment and messages I might receive) but I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God.  This happened after my son died. My faith in God grew, but my faith in Jesus diminished. Don’t get me wrong, I WANT to believe in Jesus. I’m doing another study now, hoping I’ll believe again. And although I cherish the Old Testament, and I love God with all of my heart, I can’t wrap my mind around Jesus.

I said this to my friend...and she told me I’m going to Hell. It seems odd, but she said this with love. She really believes that if I don’t accept Jesus, I’m doomed.

After I finished talking with her, I called a confidant who’s in his late ‘80s and has an intellect I really enjoy. We’ve shared quite a few conversations over coffee and he never disappoints, especially when it comes to providing insightful conversation. I told him about my dilemma.

I expected him to call me “Mona,” his nickname for me because he said people want to know why I smile. But he became so serious he didn’t even use the name. He just looked at me with piercing blue eyes and said the following: Don’t worry about it. It’s already figured out.

And I can’t explain why, but the idea of predestination is a bit comforting. It just makes me feel like I need to do the best I can and research. The rest will follow.

So I might not have much hair—and I might not have much faith in the way that woman wants—but I’m trying.

Last note. Mike bought me some hair glue. (This is not meant to glue in hair that has fallen out—thank God.) Instead, it’s used to help me hide the bald spots. Unfortunately, it makes me look like an old man with comb-overs in very odd places. I’m so glad some of my friends bought me scarves and hats. 

Anyway, onto stage two of this whole thing! Hair loss. I cried earlier today, but I’m better now. Bring it!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Angel Tree Sponsors

This year has been rough—and that’s saying something. After all, life hasn’t been a bed of roses for me. I had a child who died.... I’ve been homeless at 17.... I’ve almost been shot. You wouldn’t know any of that from seeing me, but that’s the fun of life; we all have these crazy stories to tell if someone is just willing to ask us the right questions.

Anyway, in early 2020, I ran a newspaper. Getting a bit overly confident, I put it above everything—even my marriage. It got so bad that things spiraled, I made some of the worst choices of my life, and we talked about divorce. Then in May, imagine my surprise when a huge corporation bought our little paper and they only kept two of the employees. 

Losing my job was shocking, but thank God I did. In the month before I found a new job, my husband and I discovered a deeper love, and I got time with my kids that I hadn’t had in over two years. And just when things seemed better than they had been—ever—I started experiencing a strange pain in my back.

“I feel like there’s an infection in my back,” I told a PA (physician assistant) in July. “It feels like mush.”

He brushed me off. “Back pain can be a terrible thing.” And since I had a cold, he gave me a COVID-19 test (which came back negative) and referred me to a chiropractor. I visited the chiropractor for 4 months—even went back to the PA, but things got worse. Soon I could hardly walk, and would only sleep about 1 hour a night.

At the advice of a friend, I found myself in the ER at the University of Utah. They did all sorts of scans and found that a tumor had eaten all of my L3 vertebrae. But that wasn’t all! I had tumors riddling my body from my pelvis to my brain, and had small growths in my lungs and gallbladder. “Stage 4 melanoma,” the doctors said, and later gave me 2 years to live.

I had a massive surgery. They replaced my L3 with a cage and a cadaver bone that will hopefully grow in as time goes on. I underwent radiation and infusion treatments. I shaved my head just before my hair started falling out. I lost so much, but found a strange peace through the kindness of those around me.

Still, I stressed about Christmas. How could I possibly do anything? Bills have piled up since I had to stay as an inpatient at the Huntsman for over a month. But on top of that, I can’t walk for more than about 15 minutes because it’s so hard to stand for that long after my surgery. They said no “BLT” (bending, lifting, twisting). Shopping is a nightmare.

So we told the kids that Christmas would be different this year. “We’re renting a small cabin so we can play games. But each person will only get one gift.”

My ten-year-old’s eyes grew big. “But Santa will come!”

I didn’t realize she still believed.

My breath caught. “Sweetheart,” I stooped down to her level, “I’m so sorry that I’m sick. You’ve had to be so strong while I was gone. You’ve grown up much faster than you should’ve had to. And now this. There will just be one gift this year. I’m so sorry, Honey.”

Tears filled her eyes as understanding about Santa suddenly hit. And I felt terrible for shattering her childhood magic like that. But then, she reached out, her little arms encircling me, gently touching where the incisions had been on my waist and back. “Mama, don’t worry about any of that. Honestly, what I really wanted, I have.”

“What was that?”

“I just wanted you home. I wanted my mama back.” We held each other for a long time and cried. But still my heart ached. I couldn’t give my kids the Christmas they deserved.

I sat thinking about all of this, when someone knocked on the front door last Thursday. It was a sweet woman from my daughter’s school. She brought in six huge bags as my husband explained that we’d been picked to be the Angel Tree family. While I stayed in the hospital, he’d filled out the forms and here we were.

I tried to keep my emotions at bay, but when she left I cried and cried. They’d brought a bag for each child—and also a bag for me and for Mike.

I can’t explain how hard it is to be in need like this, but I just hope the donors know how much this means to us. I’m so happy my little girl will have this amazing surprise. I don’t know who bought us these gifts, but they literally saved Christmas.

Life can be so terribly hard, but the kindness and generosity of others makes even the toughest things so much better. I’m so full of gratitude for their kindness.

Friday, December 18, 2020

All I’ve Been Through

 Reading an entry from my journal — back when I was 19.... 

So, I went into a room and sat back in this really comfy-looking seat which appeared way better than it felt. I found myself thinking, “This seat is a lot like me.”

The room was decorated in a sickeningly-sweet flower theme—as if anyone who goes in there (to get an amnio test) wants to feel all flowery and happy. Just before I could rip the border off the wall, a very plump nurse entered the room.

She totally lacked empathy and I felt worse sitting in her presence. She sucks as a nurse and should really find a job at a hair salon where people aren't pregnant with complications. She'd done her hair up and I bet she'd make one Hell of a beautician.

She said how sweet and refreshing I am, but my tear-streaked face didn't believe her as she laughed, and talked, on and on. She said she wanted to be honest, since I'm a smart kid. Then she told me how I should end the pregnancy because I should do what's best for me; like I'm so freaking amazing or something. She asked if I'm married and how old I am—as if the baby didn't matter. I told her I want to have the baby unless he has trisomy and she said he'll probably die shortly after being born anyway. I seriously thought about walking out until she produced a needle—like a magician discovering a rabbit in his hat. That needle was the size of Milwaukee!

It takes a lot to scare me, it really does. I went through a natural childbirth with Ruby, and was quiet pretty much the whole time. Not that it didn't hurt, but my family taught me how to be tough. I've got a relentless pain tolerance, but that ungodly needle—of all things—took me off guard. I stopped Miss Sunshine right there and asked if she wanted to kill me. 

It seemed like a poorly written horror film where the baby will die so they kill off the mother too.

She laughed and told me to relax. I wanted to say, “Over my dead body,” but decided she might take the advice. She didn't really care about me anyway. That nurse was the textbook definition of self-absorption. She said if I moved she could hit “the fetus” as if she didn't want to get in trouble or something—forget she might hurt my son.

She punched through my skin. It didn't hurt as much as I'd expected, as far as needles the size as Milwaukee go. I saw my baby on the ultrasound and the needle the nurse used. I held still, not wanting that stupid thing to touch my son. He kicked a couple of times. Poor little guy, he doesn't know there's anything wrong with him. Anyway, they said the results will come back soon. It won't be soon enough though. 

When God made me, He didn't throw patience into the deal. So, we still don't know if our baby has trisomy. I'll get back to you on that later, but right now . . . I need to go cry.


And I keep thinking, if I could go through ALL of that at 19, why is stage 4 cancer at 37 so hard?

P.S. I’m glad I kept my journal about Zeke, my son who died. Other than my relationships with family and friends that (later) book I think is one of the greatest things I’ve done in this life. Maybe this will lead to another book as well. Who knows?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Angel of Walmart

We went to Walmart the other day to get gag gifts—of all things. But several minutes into the trip, I started feeling weak and dizzy. I looked frantically for a place to sit—anywhere—but COVID had wiped out all of the chairs. 

So, I finally hobbled to the front of the store and found a seat where an associate had previously been peddling eyewear. I know it probably isn’t right, but I sat down as if we were playing a game of musical chairs. With my walker in front of me, I hoped no one would contest the place I’d illegally commandeered. 

Anyway, I sat looking to the left when suddenly someone said something directly to my right. I looked over...shocked. A man sat RIGHT next to me—not 6 feet away. I had no idea where he had found his chair, but I wasn’t about to judge him when I’d done the same.

“You use this thing?” he asked, softly kicking my walker.

Who was this guy? “Yes,” I said, trying to be extra polite. “I use this thing.”

“Well then, what’s wrong with you? You’re not THAT old.”

“I’m 37.” What’s wrong with me? This man was so blunt. Part of me loved it

“ I have stage four cancer,” I said. It kind of felt nice to get it out. A lot of people look at me like they wonder, but they never ask.

The man leaned forward, as if he were giving me some great gift, and said, “The reason I’m here is to tell you that prayer works.”

“THAT’S the reason you’re here?”

“That’s the reason I’m here!” I could tell he smiled under his mask.

Shortly after that, Mike came up to the register, checked out, and we left. 

It’s so strange though because when I looked back, the chairs were gone and so was the man!

“Who was that?” Mike asked.

“I have no idea. But if I didn’t know better, I’d almost think he was an angel. That was one of the weirdest things I’ve had happen in weeks. And that’s saying something!

“What did he say to you?”

“That prayer works.”

We went out to the car, loaded the gag gifts into the back, and drove home. But the whole way I kept thinking about the man...and his message.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Not Normal Anymore

 Not normal anymore...

My mother is fancy, wielding a class even Grace Kelly would envy. She asked me out to eat, and I was thrilled. I donned my fake eyelashes and delicately placed a headband in the perfect place. I wore my cutest clothes and tried to dress up...even though I have cancer and am bald now.

We went to a restaurant I love. And I sat so excited, thrilled because they served lemon rice soup that day!

“You know,” my mom whispered, “that’s the owner over there! I’ve always wanted to meet him. I’ve heard he knows some people I grew up with.”

And taking this as some sort of challenge, as soon as the man walked remotely close to our table, I looked at him and said, “Are you from Price?”

“No, I’m from Greece.”

He hadn’t really understood me at all so my mom stepped in. “What she means is, do you know people from Carbon County?”

He instantly lit up and my mother and the owner of this fancy restaurant talked for quite a while about old friends and acquaintances. He even helped us at the register—a place where the hostess stepped aside so he could keep visiting. But it was at this moment something terrible happened....

My rose-colored glasses shattered, and I suddenly realized how everyone—except my mother—looked at me.

My reflection caught in the mirror behind the register. No hair, dilapidated walker in hand... Fading smile and dimming eyes. No long strawberry blonde curls framing a youthful face. This woman hunched, with a frailty that made me want to hold her. She seemed so very, very sick. Was that really me?

The owner didn’t look at me the way he would have months ago. You see, normally there’s this odd brightness about me. And it seems to invite others to lighten their load and give into joy and fun—even for a minute. Somehow in that reflection the brightness with snuffed, and as I realized this my own load felt too great to carry. 

The owner studied my walker, his eyes wanting to know what’s wrong with me.

My mom helped me hobble to the door after that, and the whole time, one sentence came to me, “You’re not normal.” Really, why did this bother me now? I’ve never been normal. In fact, my brother always said I’m an acquired taste. So why does it hurt so damn much now?

My mom—that saint—the whole way home she told me how beautiful she thinks I am. Oohing and aahing over my earrings and saying how my lack of hair brings out my “gorgeous” cheekbones. She doesn’t see that reflection, the one everyone in that restaurant saw.

“I’m gonna run to the bathroom,” I said. But by run, I meant “trudge forward,” back bent, legs shaking. After I made it to the bathroom, I quietly cried into the mirror, and I prayed that God would get me through this. “God, keep me strong, and let me see myself through a mother’s love.” I wiped the makeup from under my eyes and told myself to quit being so weak. When I went outside, my mom had no idea what just happened. But I felt much better.

“Mom, can I put my head on your lap?” I asked her. 

She nodded, probably wondering what was going on because I haven’t done that since I was a child. “Did you have a good night,” she asked as I rested on her.

“Yeah,” I said, “that was amazing how many of the same people you knew!”

“Leave it to you, Elisa. I never would’ve known had it not been for you.”

I smiled, then paused. “Thanks for loving me, Mom.”

“Thanks for loving me.”

And as I closed my eyes, I thought about reflections and how it’s okay to not be strong all the time. If I could just have one day to feel healthy—really healthy again—I’d appreciate it! I’d hike, spin with my kids—anything really. I guess the saying is true; we don’t always know what we have until it’s gone.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Two Years to Live

 “We think you’ll live about two years,” the doctor said. 

When I was staying at the hospital (for almost the whole month of November), several doctors would come and talk to me every morning to give me updates.

I nodded to the man. Didn’t he know two other doctors had already come by and told me the same thing?

“Two years,” he repeated, a parrot in scrubs.

“It could be worse.” I smiled.

“I don’t think you’re understanding the gravity of this situation. This has gone to your brain. Hopefully you’ve lived a good life...”

I wondered if he expected some sort of theatrics on my part. Was I supposed to break down screaming, or clutch his collar and beg for a better outcome? Should I convulse and shiver, saying I’ve never ever thought about death?

“I know how hard it must be for you to deliver news like this,” I said, still wondering what this man wanted from me. “I appreciate that you came in to tell me. But I’ve already heard it from a couple of other doctors. I guess two years that are lived well...to some that’s worth a lifetime.”

“Well, maybe you do have it in perspective.” He kind of slumped a bit and went to walk out. “You have a good day, Elisa.”

“You too.” I couldn’t help smiling because he was a bit hilarious almost trying to scare me into reality. 

After that another doctor came in. His bedside manner was much better. We laughed and joked. He told me the same news. “I hate to tell you,” I said, “but several others doctors beat you to the punch. I get it. You guys think I’ll live two years.”

He nodded. “I’ll tell you something though! If I could buy a box of donuts for the one patient who I think can beat this, it would be you. Just keep smiling, kid!”

I promised and as he left the room I thought about how interesting people are. Two years might not seem like a lot, but we’ll just have to see how everything pans out. Two years is better than nothing. Plus, I’ve always thought I was some sort of wildcard.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Extended Buttcrack

 The Extended Buttcrack

Dear God,

I think I’ve handled things fairly well (except for...the face-cage radiation). I’ve laughed when I should’ve cried, been nice when I could’ve screamed about my mortality. *Tried* to be brave. And I’ve handled it all right, until the...extended buttcrack.

I decided to look at my scar, which apparently goes from the middle of my back down to my tailbone. But no matter which light it’s in *trust me* the scar now makes my buttcrack look a million miles long—and it’s not even in the right place! Cheeks extending between my shoulder blades is not what I asked for this Christmas. 

When Sir Mix-a-Lot wrote about “liking big butts” I don’t think he described the hunch-butt of Notre Dame. But still, If I’m trying to be positive, I FINALLY  have a big butt 🎉, and if I HAD to get a weird thing for the Christmas of 2020, a life-saving surgery is pretty great. The worst side effect was simply, a back butt.

It’s a good thing my daughter is training to be a tattoo artist. I’ve never wanted a tattoo in my life, but I might need one to cover up the scar. It’s funny how life will change us. 🤣 Massive tattoo here I come!


A woman with a back butt

P.S. Don’t ever get cancer. It comes with all sorts of things that no one wants.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Cancer is Worse Than That Duck

 There’s a TV in the radiation waiting room. You can watch some pretty great things, depending on the time you get there. First thing in the morning is the news, then Charmed (of all things), yuppie sitcoms, and then (later in the day) the cooking channel.

I sat during another round of the cooking channel and wondered how many times they’ll feature duck or goose! About 10 other people waited in the room with me, and everybody seemed somber.

I’m not quite sure why, but a seed of excitement sprung up inside of me, and I suddenly decided to make a difference. We were all in there for radiation, obviously miserable. We’re not even allowed to have our cellphones in there. (And not to be a tattletale brat, but I saw a young girl with a cellphone in there today. Craziness!) 

Anyway, it didn’t seem like a good day. So, maybe I could change that for the people in the waiting room.

We all listened to the TV. “This is the worst duck I’ve ever tasted,” the woman said. “In fact, I can’t think of anything worse than this duck.”

“Try cancer,” I said out of no where. “Cancer is waaaay worse than that duck.”

Everyone in the waiting  room looked at me, and I could tell some of them smiled through their masks.

“And this sauce, few things are worse than this sauce....”

A man next to me burst out laughing and said, “But cancer, cancer is worse than that sauce.”

And I don’t know why but it became the most hilarious moment. And as the cooking show continued, everyone laughed and laughed. It was as if the whole thing had been orchestrated perfectly for the most hilarious comedy session—right there in the radiation waiting room.

Finally a nurse came and called my name. 

“Oh no! You no take her,” a lady said with a gorgeous accent. “She’s the light of the party.”

I smiled so broadly and turned to everyone before I left. “Best of everything—to all of you.” 

And I thanked God for a rare moment that was so beautiful, a moment where we could enjoy each other and our time despite sickness or differences...or anything really. 

That moment was a true gift.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Radiation Waiting Room

 The radiation waiting room is a strange place where everyone waits in their patient gowns and no one really checks in—yet we’re all known and called back in order.

I entered it the other day, hobbling in with my walker. This wasn’t a regular day though, and the air felt thick. Two elderly women sat bickering about life, despite the fact that they seemed relatively rich, well-to-do (from their hair, nails, and conversation), and as if they’ve lacked nothing their entire lives.

“Why did God DO this to us?” one woman said. “This is THE MOST terrible thing I can imagine.”

“I agree! I might stop going to church. This is ridiculous!”

They both complained so long that it grated against my nerves almost more than my recent back surgery. I heard about how they both have breast cancer (stage I and stage II). Radiation for both is precautionary, and they have good prognoses ahead of them. I thought they were actually quite lucky.... Yet, they complained.

“Don’t ever get old!” the one lady said to me. “It’s the pits.”

But (oddly enough) I was actually there—getting radiation—TO get old.

“Getting old sucks!” she said.

And I wanted to follow with, “No, dying young sucks.” But instead, I looked at the TV and hoped one of them would be called back soon before I said something I’d regret. Instead they weren’t and the older of the two sighed deeply. “I’m sure it’s something simple, but what are you in here for?” she asked me.

I couldn’t take it anymore. She wanted answers. Then, fine?! “Stage 4 melanoma! They’ve given me 2 years to live.”

You should’ve seen their faces—the older one looked like she’d swallowed a frog. The other woman actually lost some of the color in her plump face. And I don’t know why, but this must have worked as some sort of reset because they started apologizing—as I held some sort of devious laughter in. 

“And here we are, talking about how hard OUR lives are....”

“We all die sometime,” I said. “And that’s hard for ALL of us. We just need to start appreciating the time we’re here. Why complain when you could be enjoying life? One is a waste and the other isn’t.”

After a few minutes of silence, the two started talking about how lucky they are not to have stage 4, and how they have upcoming plans for the holidays—gifts for family and friends. They talked about a future far beyond that, one no one is guaranteed, but I hope they’ll have. And as each of them were called back to radiation, they smiled and told me to never lose hope. It felt...odd, how my demise had cheered them up. But honestly, I was grateful something had done the trick!

A new lady sat in the room with me at that point. She seemed sweet despite circumstances. And I thought how amusing...that she hadn’t seen what had transpired in that same room, just moments before.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Good Mornin’ to Ya

 “Good mornin’ to ya!” I practically hollered. 

    The elderly man turned, came well within six feet of me, and looked deep into my eyes. “I know this is hard on all of us. You hang in there! Good mornin’—to you!” I could almost see his huge grin despite that hospital mask. 

And I don’t know why, but as he hobbled away, I started crying. It’s because this IS hard on so many people. It’s hard getting treatments and feeling sick from operations. It’s hard trying to make things better for family and friends who are struggling with the news. 

I just watched him, and as I cried I wished I could fix everyone in that damn cancer building. But I can’t. So for now, I’ll keep fiddling for strangers, making the waiting rooms “lively,” and yelling “good mornin’” to anyone unlucky enough to cross my path.

This might be tough, but I vow to be tougher. Remember that saying “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle”? I like what someone else added: “Well then, God thinks I’m a badass.”

There you have it! Good morning!!! Er afternoon!!!


A Certified Badass 🤣

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Have You Ever Had Radiation

 Have you ever had radiation? I’m surprised by the headache that “isn’t” a headache, by how hot my skin is, and by how tired I am.

For the brain tumor radiation they made me a mask and had to bolt me to the table (so I wouldn’t move). I became so petrified they had to pull me out of it three times. Finally the nurse said, “Did you hear the way she talked about her husband? Is he in the waiting room?! Go get him now!”

After that, they rushed to the waiting room and got Mike. As they bolted me to the table, Mike held my hand and said for me to imagine I was a violin. This was all before he had to go into the other room. But it was just enough time, and his imagery worked! 

I pretended I’d become a violin that God needed to work on. And when I went into the machine under all the lights and radiation; it was as a violin. The whole thing seemed as if the Refiner’s Fire truly touched me. And as it ended after about 15 minutes, a thought came to me that God doesn’t destroy violins—I sure hope that’s true. I want to be worth keeping, not physically but spiritually.

And that’s how I made it through my first bout of radiation. I wasn’t brave like I hoped, but a kind nurse, my wonderful husband, and God got me through. It was beautiful really, in a very ironic sort of way.

Monday, November 16, 2020

“Berty” the Walker

 “Berty” doesn’t look like much, but I’ve come to love her. She’s not edgy like a skateboard, or energizing like a bike...but she has a charm all her own.

I just wanna make her look awesome somehow. #ThisWillBeFun because Berty is getting a makeover! 😍😍😍 BAM! Take that to your face 🤣

Friday, November 13, 2020

Jamming with the Music Therapist

So…this DID get so emotional that I cried halfway through – but I still made it to the end damn it!

I am so stoked that I got to surprise the music therapist today. When she came in to play something for me, there I waited with a violin to accompany her. I hope it meant something for her to have someone play something back for her, after all the kindness she’s offered to others.

Here’s the link or the video: Music Therapy Jam Session

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Elisa’s Surgery

From Mike, just an update on my wife's surgery today...

I just got off the phone with the surgeon. He said things went extremely well! She is awake and the breathing tube is out, but she is still pretty well under anesthesia still and wont be really coherent for conversation or be able to remember any conversation for another hour or two. She probably won't be back up to Huntsman until 5ish and they will come check on her later on tonight as well as tomorrow morning to make sure she's still doing all right. She has a "drain" in her back to protect the nerves from whatever small bleeding will happening around the spine and that will be removed, at her bedside, in the next day or two. So as of right now, no more surgeries are planned!

So briefly, what they did was fuse the spine from L1-L5, removed the tumor and most of the infected bone in the L3 vertabrae and put a "cage" in its place, relieving the pressure from her nerves. 

Still a road ahead but after she's healed from the surgery, the pain should be pretty reduced and she should have feeling back in her leg hopefully increasing her mobility. Next step is meeting with the Melanoma specialist hopefully friday or early next week. For now "the patient is resting."

Saturday, November 7, 2020

An Update About Elisa

Hi, everyone. I figured I'd put out an update on my wife now that we kind of have a plan. After scans and biopsies, she has stage 4 Melanoma. We are currently waiting on results for a "B-raff"(?) Mutation in the melanoma which makes it respond well to immunotherapy,  but if it doesn't have that it is much more difficult to treat. She is still in the hospital while they are trying to manage her pain in a way she can be released and be comfortable which has been a challenge. We have an appointment on monday morning to see the surgical team and talk about the surgery to relieve some of the compression of the nerves in her spine, but it sounds like a high risk surgery. We also have an appointment on Thursday with a melanoma specialist to go over the best course of treatment going forward. Oncology/Radiation appointment to be determined based on if/when surgery will be performed. We are looking down a long road to travel and we are hopeful for the best outcome.

Thank you all for the love, support, generosity and good thoughts/prayers/hope you are all sending our family. Everyone has been amazing and we love you all.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Fiddling at the Hospital

 Pretty much had a big-fat breakdown today. But after I cried, the staff let me play my violin in the lobby. 

It’s humbling to perform for fellow cancer patients and these generous staff members. Giving back definitely fills that cup to overflowing. I’m just so glad they let me do what I can (albeit small) to lighten the mood for others and myself as well.

Here’s a link to the video: Elisa Plays at the Huntsman:

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Haunted Violin

Sometimes life deals really crappy hands. BUT, sometimes crappy hands win.

I JUST got confirmation that I have Stage 4 Melanoma. There’s gotta be a hidden Ace in the deck somewhere!

I’m really in shock and wanted to get my mind off of things. So, I asked if I can play my violin for the other patients, but apparently I’m a patient too 🤣

Maybe someday... 
Or maybe everyone will hear a haunted violin down the hallway tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Modified Gown

 Mike came to see me for his birthday yesterday. I felt terrible that I hadn’t gone shopping for him before being admitted to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, so my sister went and bought him a bunch of gifts! I’m still so amazed by everyone’s generosity. And it’s nice to be getting so close to my sister. We’re talking almost every day now, and I love those moments with her.

Anyway, when Mike came over, we had a “fancy” hospital dinner, but I didn’t want to look completely frumpy so I modified my dress Please ignore how skinny I’ve gotten.

My friend saw the photo and said Scarlett O'Hara would be proud. Now I’m scoping out the curtains! 

I’ve got to make this “funny” somehow! 
After my nurse recovered from the shock, even she thought it was great!

Anyway, to my husband:

Mr. Magagna, YOU are the best man any person could ask for. You’re kind and gentle. You don’t burn food like I do. You’re spicy and fun in all the right ways. I feel like I was looking for you my whole life—and every day that I get to wake up next to you is a blessing. Thank you for choosing me—and sticking with me through literally anything. I love you more every day. You’re my dream man...my best friend—and YOU make me strive to be a better person. Thank you, Mike, just for being you. I love you with everything in me.

Happy birthday, handsome. Even with cancer and how I'm admitted to the hospital, I am the luckiest woman on Earth.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Asking for Help


So this will be a post that you don't see from me ever, I just don't know what else I can do at this point.
If you have a heart, please send your prayers, or thoughts, or hope or whatever it is you do for my wife
Currently, she is admitted to the huntsman cancer institute due to some findings on her spine and brain. We appreciate you all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Publisher I Looked For

I’ve written eight novels now and tried exceedingly hard to get all of them published. It’s been a journey so perilous that I could probably wallpaper my house with all of the rejection letters I’ve received. The book closest to my heart is about my son who died. I told someone that reading his story is like prying open my rib cage to see what makes me tick. I couldn’t find the right publisher though. A company offered to publish it, but wanted to change the “story”—which is odd since it’s a memoir.

So, in 2011 I started my own press, publishing “The Golden Sky” (about my son) along with over 100 other authors in the process. After my marriage (and thus my business partnership) soured in 2013, the company folded. I felt like a failure on numerous levels...and gave up on a ton of goals and dreams.

Fast forward to 2020....
I couldn’t help it anymore, and I wrote another book during quarantine. This is the first novel I’ve completed in years. I just let the story come; the characters did whatever came to me at the time. I’m fact, I’ll never forget when I reached the end of the novel—and three of the characters died. It sounds ridiculous, but I started crying on my balcony.

So yes, I’d been drinking a [big] glass of wine and eating some fancy cheese as I typed the chapter. My husband came outside and asked what was wrong.

He looked so concerned as I said—quite loudly, “I killed them! I killed all three of them, and I didn’t even see it coming. Actually, now that I look back, there has been a ton of foreshadowing that they were ‘done for.’ But I didn’t see it until the end!”

As I bawled, still describing their terrible demises, my husband whispered, “Ummm, sweetheart. You might want to lower your voice.” His eyes darted around the backyard.

“Why!” I squeaked. “Why? This is devastating!”

He hugged me really close and whispered in my ear, “Because one of our neighbors is in their backyard and they can hear you. They’re looking over here quite concerned. Because… You keep saying that you killed some people.”

Being a writer is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes you can get so attached to the characters, it’s almost like you’re living in the story as you write it. And stream of consciousness writing is the best! The human brain generally knows where to take a story, especially if the writer reads a lot of novels.

Well, after I explained to the neighbor that I am a writer, they actually might buy some of my books!

Anyway, I ended up submitting this quarantine novel to over 30 publishers. Every single one of them was housed in the United States except for one—in Berlin. All of the U.S. publishers got back to me, saying that the book’s ending was too “troubling” or “shocking.” BUT the Publisher in Berlin sent me *drumroll please* an actual...real...authentic...contract! I have been on Zoom meetings with these people, hearing their powerful German accents. I speak a little bit of Italian, and it was fun to discover that the owner of the publishing company is from Italy just like my grandma!

Long story short, I have been trying to get published by an actual publisher since I was 26 years old—that’s 11 years. I’ve been writing seriously since I was 19 (and even wrote my first novel—which was 90 pages—when I was nine years old). They say writing runs in your blood; I guess it’s always rushed through my veins. It doesn’t mean that I am successful or talented, it’s just my way of sharing—connecting with other people.

After working so hard to publish my own books and other people’s novels, to help breathe life into their dreams.... Now someone is doing this for me—and working with this editor from Berlin feels like some sort of miracle.  

It just goes to show that you never know what adventure is waiting just around the corner!

So from a 37-year-old woman who has tried to get published for over a decade and is now having a novel published in Berlin, I’m telling you, “Don’t give up on your dreams.”

Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you expect; sometimes it turns out even better.

Signing off,
A Very Happy EC Stilson

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Kissed on the Shoulder

He stared at me from across the way. I sat peddling newspapers, excited for people to read about the news we’d recently unearthed. He paced back and forth, just watching. 

I guess I must have looked thoughtfully at him at one point because he returned the action. Sometimes I wonder if people with down syndrome can be like that, simply honest and unassuming. 

As the day continued, I decided the man must have been in his early twenties and obviously seemed to be pondering something.
My thoughts suddenly turned to my son who died.  He’d had birth defects and the doctors thought he was mentally handicapped. They kept saying that if he ended up growing to be an adult, he wouldn’t have a good quality of life. 
There was a part of me that wondered if they’d been right. He died from health complications, but I’ve always wondered what he really would have been like, as an adult.
At first they thought he’d have down syndrome, then trisomy.  They performed  all sorts of tests before he was born and afterward, when nurses cared from him in the NICU; experts studied all sorts of tests there too.
Anyway, I thought of all of this as the man with down syndrome watched me at the fair last year. If my boy would have been mentally slow, what would that have been like?

I’m normally so happy, and I’m not totally sure why but I suddenly descended into such a sadness as I sat there that I almost started crying. 
I just wished for a second that I could feel the arms of God wrap around me and just take the pain surrounding sickness and death.  It seems like when my son died he left a hole that will never be filled – not unless I can somehow be surrounded by God’s love, just to know that He has a plan.
Suddenly, when I’d gotten to the very worst of this feeling, the man with down syndrome gracefully zig-zagged toward me.
“I like you,” he said. “I just do.”
“Well, thank you.”  I blinked, and then brightened, for his sake. “And, I like you!”
“Hug?” he looked down and kicked a rock by his shoe.
“Ummm. Sure.”  So I held out my arms extremely wide and he placed his head softly on my shoulder as I hugged him. I swear that somehow it felt like the presence of God surrounded both of us, wrapping us in this crazy-strong warmth. 
He kissed my shoulder lightly before walking away. As he was about to round the corner, he yelled back, “I love you, k!”
Tears filled my eyes, not because I was sad, but because I’d witnessed something amazing. 
“Thank you for that,” his caregiver quickly said.
“He’s pretty special isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he really is.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

An inadequate musical composition

The thick, maroon curtains are closed, but the background stage lights provide just enough illumination for me to keep working. I’m sitting at a black, baby-grand piano, creating a symphony reminiscent of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

It’s a feverish business and the countermelodies fit more intricately than any novel I’ve ever written. It’s a puzzle that grows and crescendos with each passing eighth note.

Then suddenly, I’m thinking of people who might hear it and how it might show my worth.

We’re only on this earth for a short time. Will they remember me when I die? What will I be remembered for? How long before the memories will fade on this earth—and what makes my life matter?

Still holding the sheets of music in my hands, I remember the people who have judged me.

When I was a pregnant teenager, before getting legally married, someone told me I was going to Hell. Another person, later, claimed that I was one of the kindest people they ever met and I would “absolutely go to Heaven.” I remember mulling over their words, perplexed that people could see me so differently.

Still holding the masterpiece, I step to the center of the stage, somehow knowing that the thick curtains are about to open. It’s hard to even think before a performance and my breathing is shallow.

The moment suddenly feels so much like death, not because I’m scared, but rather because I know people stand on the other side of that curtain, and they are about to judge me imperiously.

The curtain flies aside with such force that a wind ruffles the air. The beautiful black, satin dress I’m wearing sways at the bottom and a chill rushes past my bare shoulders. It takes just a minute for my squinting eyes to adjust to the bright spotlights. And after a moment, I step toward a microphone positioned in front of me.

I can see thousands of people staring, waiting to hear the song of my life: what I’ve created, who I am and what I’ve done.

I’m desperate, wanting to prove that my life-song is powerful, worth something, that my time on earth mattered. I want to tell them this before I play the piano’s portion of the symphony I’ve written. I finally decide on the words to say as I’m staring out at these souls who are anxious to judge me. But my speech must start with the name of my composition.

I look down at a stack of papers containing melodies, countermelodies, the beginning sonata, and finally more minor minuet. But the name..... What is the name????

At this point, I know I’m dreaming.

As I stare down at the sheet music, the title of the song becomes numeric: six written three times. Six.... Six.... My hands are shaking. Six.... I’m dropping the composition; and as if the sands of my life are falling, too, I falter.

No one knows, no one in the audience knows yet how inadequate I am. I could walk back to the baby-grand and play brilliantly; hide it from the masses. But instead I don’t even want them to hear this piece I’ve written.

In my dream, I just stare at the never-changing faces in the crowd and realize that nothing I did really mattered. The good.... The books I’ve written.... The degree attained.... All I’ve done, trying to make an impression that would last. It wasn’t enough.

I woke up, sweating and nearly crying. If something as impressive as a symphony wouldn’t really matter when I die, then what would?

The song had been beautiful, but in the end, all of the effort didn’t matter. And it left me thinking about the word I decided to live by for this year: refine.

There’s so much I need to let go of: Seeking approval from others. Finding worth in outcomes and accomplishments. But there’s so much more; I hope I’ll be up to the challenge and figure out how to let go.

Of course I knew refinement would be a hard word to choose, but this feels insurmountable.

Isaiah 64:6
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Monday, June 8, 2020

She waited and I never came

Preface . . .
Over ten years ago, I was accepted into a local university nursing program.  I volunteered at a rest home, and even though the nurses treated me terribly, often making me and the other volunteers cry, I stayed, hoping to learn.

When ninety-year-old Rose talked, the past came alive.  She’d met her best friends and later her husband at extravagant dances and parties.  She’d been quite a prankster, witty, rich; I saw it in her sparkling blue eyes.  In her picture, sitting on the tiny dresser, Rose looked like a movie star.  Yet now she sat in a stained chair, and wore faded clothes.  She frequently felt too cold despite warming weather, or the crocheted scarf she wore every day.

I spent my breaks with Rose because she was something special.  On my last day, I asked her why no one came to see her.  “They’re all gone,” she said.  “The older generation has passed on.  The younger ones are too busy.  And it seems as if I’m the only one left.”  Her shaky hand picked up the picture of herself, still stationed on her dresser.  She used her precious scarf to wipe dust off the glass.  It felt strange seeing her wrinkled hand next to what she’d looked like decades before.

“It’s your last day?” she asked, and I nodded.  “Promise you’ll come back.  I get so lonely.”
“I promise.” I hugged her thin frame close to myself.  “I’ll be back when I can.  Things are busy at home with my kids, but we’ll make time. We’ll all come to see you.”

Rose opened the top dresser drawer and gently handed me something wrapped in tissue paper.

“For me?” I asked, trying to be careful with the gift.

“I’ve been working on it since the day I met you.  I hope you’ll like it.”

I slowly took off the tissue paper, revealing the most beautiful jewelry box.  Rose had crocheted it, using some type of stiff material to keep everything together.  “It’s amazing!  I’ll never forget this.”  I hugged her again, and then went out the door to finish my shift.

At the end of that day, I went to the nurses’ station to grab the jewelry box, my coat and keys.  “What’s that in your hand?” a short, brown-haired nurse asked.

“It’s a jewelry box. From Rose,” I said, wondering if that nurse’s picture is in the dictionary--under the word bitterness.

“Ya know, Elisa . . .,” she said, digging her fingernails into my arm before I could leave.  “I never figured you’d be one of them.”

“One of who?”

“Those volunteers who take advantage of old people.”
I gasped.  “I would  never–”

“Yet, you have.  Does Rose have much in this life?”

“Well, no.”

“And you’ve taken something from her?”

I thought hard.  “But she made it for--”

“And you took it from her.  Didn’t you?”

“Yes.” That was all I could say.

“Elisa, you took something from a woman who doesn’t have anything. YOU are a terrible person. I’m ashamed any teacher would recommend you as a volunteer.”

Tears came to my eyes.  That stupid nurse glared up at me, finally smiling.  That sickening red lipstick practically symbolized her craving for discord.  That’s all I could focus on as she spoke slowly, her lips moving over bleached teeth.
“I’m glad you’re done volunteering. And I hope you’ll never come back. We don’t need users like you.”

I hated myself. My own skin crawled with heat and embarrassment.  I clutched the jewelry box closer, knowing even then that I would never see Rose again.  Not because I didn’t adore her, but because I was too scared to face that nurse.

A couple of years after this, I decided to go see Rose and tell her how sorry I was.
But...she. Was. Gone.

I learned something that day: I should have gone back to visit my dear friend.  That friendship would have been a blessing to both of our lives.  But instead I listened to a cynical nurse.

Life’s not worth living for other people, especially if we compromise our convictions just because of fear.  

Today, I keep thinking about Rose, waiting and waiting for me to come back. I once heard that if God gives us “a mission” that we pass by, He’ll give it to someone else.  I hope this is true, that a wonderful soul started visiting Rose--and I hope they stood up to that nurse.

Moral: We should never let judgement or fear deter us from doing what is right.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Man heroically saves dog from fire

It’s been hard losing my job as a publisher/managing editor/reporter.
But today I had something kind of miraculous happen....

I’ve been writing for a few other newspapers – which has been a total godsend. What’s different is how I don’t talk to the readers. In my previous role at the newspaper, our readers would come in every day and talk with me about the stories. The subjects of the stories would also visit, so excited to see themselves in the paper.

To lose that aspect of work has been hard....

As I sat thinking of all this, one of my favorite stories came to mind—when I met Melvin, a man who rescued his dog from a burning car.

The story was so memorable not just because of the content, but the aftermath and how this strong man decided to be positive even through this difficult moment. I’d been driving to work, when suddenly a car burst into flames. I couldn’t pull over for almost a mile, and once I did I was so worried I missed the story, I immediately started live-streaming the event, and ran over a mile in high heels just to reach the source of the smoke.

I messaged my boss, and she started watching the whole thing too from another state. Unbeknownst to me, my entire office even watched  as I ran on the side of the freeway, and then interviewed the heroic man. When I got to the office later that day, it was pretty hilarious to hear everyone’s comments—especially the “office mom” who vowed to buy me a reflective vest.

But what amazed me was what I found through that story! Who would have guessed that Melvin had survived another devastating fire, or that he would have such a powerful history to share (I’m sure it helped many other people who were experiencing hard times). And to think, I could have passed by the car and moved on with my day, but by running back I got: one of my favorite stories from 2018 to 2020, a new friend, AND the office had something to joke about (running in high heels)...for months.

Here’s that story:

Anyway, remembering the story brought a nostalgia, but also some sadness. I thought of how I’m still writing (which is wonderful) but I don’t always feel like I’m connecting with readers. That’s when I got an email.

“I really enjoy your articles.” The words flashed on the screen and my heart swelled. “Thanks for adding so much to our newspaper.”

I read the text over and over—feeling increasingly grateful to both a dear friend and the newspaper’s publisher who generously started putting my writing in that paper each week. I had no idea I would get emails too!

I responded,  telling this gracious man how much his message meant to me. How did he know that I needed to read those words at that exact moment?

I thought of the email, life, and Melvin again. Looking back, Melvin seems like some sort of treasure...waiting if I just had the stamina to run back to hear his story.. He was so inspiring, completely worth every bit of effort that it took to meet him. So much in life is that same way.

You never know what might be around the corner, but if you're willing to keep your eyes wide open, listen, or even chase dreams in high heels—life-changing moments can happen. Here’s to more adventures!

I can hardly wait to see what’s around the next corner.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Playing with a symphony orchestra

When I was 15 I wanted nothing more than to be in the Utah Youth Symphony. This was such a big deal because as part of the youth symphony, members would play alongside the actual Utah Symphony at the final event. Each one of us would sit next to a professional musician—and even get to talk with them!

Not just anybody could make it on the youth symphony, though, and auditions were intense.

I practiced for three hours a day, perfecting my audition piece and even working on back-up selections in case the judges asked me to play more. It was amazing how quickly I got better and better; the notes would resinate with emotion—the accents became incredible. And I hoped beyond anything that out of the hundreds of people auditioning, I would land a place in the symphony. But when the day came to audition, people sat expectantly in chairs that lined both sides of the hallway. Cellists stood with their large instruments. Violists talked about their craft.... And everyone looked just as serious as I did. That’s when I realized that no matter how much I had practiced, I needed something special to help me stand out.

During the audition, the beautiful woman stared at me alongside a man who seemed to know my past, present and future. As I played, the woman—the conductor of the youth symphony—took notes. At the end, I really felt that while mildly impressed she seemed unmoved by my performance. Nerves had taken over instead of the music. And where I would normally let melodies drive, I had played perfectly without feeling. The woman told me I was excused, but just before I left, I set down my violin and faced her.

“Listen,” I said. “I want this with everything in me. I don’t pray much, but I even prayed for this! I’ve been practicing for three hours every day—and I’m willing to practice more. My heart and soul is in this. If you pick me for the symphony orchestra, I promise you won’t regret it. You want a group who can make a difference. You need members who play with their souls! That’s why you need me.”

The air hung with silence. I didn’t really know if she “needed” me—but I hoped she did!

I turned toward the door, but the woman’s voice stopped me.

“You’re in,” she said sternly. “You are in.”

I tried not jumping.... I tried not crying—or yelling out in excitement. Instead, I told her she wouldn’t regret it, and I know there was a twinkle in my eyes.

I’ll never forget what it felt like performing with a symphony orchestra. I played second violin, and had so much to learn. But just to be up there on that stage, playing with other musicians, hitting notes perfectly in unison, swelling and crescendoing on command. It was unreal.

I think what made the whole thing phenomenal was when I got to play with the actual Utah Symphony. The woman I sat next to was awfully kind even though I was a teenager and a burgeoning violinist. We spoke about the passion we had for music, and how the best melodies could change the world. I told her how I made it on the youth symphony, not because I was the most talented violinist who auditioned, but because I had a lot of heart.

“You know,” she said, “you can be the most talented person ever, but if you’re not willing to put in the work—and you don’t have the heart for it—it won’t matter at all. In the end, people with passion will pass you by. You’re lucky. Because I can tell you have talent AND passion. Do you have what it takes to not just be good, but to be excellent? I think you do.”

I never ever forgot her words. And as my family—my parents, siblings, and even my grandparents (who had driven over five hours just to hear the performance)—watched as we performed in front of thousands of people.

It’s strange looking back, because some of the places I have played throughout my life have been truly phenomenal. I’ve opened for a big bands like Cracker and Shanandoah. I’ve played for hundreds and even thousands of listeners in various venues where the lights shone so bright I couldn't see anyone in the crowd. I would pretend to play for God alone, at the end of all time. Where no mistakes mattered and the light cleansed my soul.

But despite the wonderful career music has brought, I’ll never forget that conductor who generously let me be part of a youth symphony. I know they were taking a gamble with me, but the difference their choice made changes my view on life. It really showed me how the generosity of others can buoy us through, and how having heart is worth far more than initial burgeoning talent that’s never fully honed.

This post is basically to say that if you have passion about something, whether it’s an innate talent and or not, just try. It won’t be easy, but if you want it, go after your dreams.

I remember points, practicing for multiple hours each day, where my fingers would bleed and I would feel like I couldn’t do it anymore. One of my violin teachers—in an effort to help me with hold my violin correctly—would tape a thumbtack to the neck of my instrument, just so I wouldn’t rest my wrist against it. And so I learned despite the pain and struggling.... Because that violin had somehow gotten into my soul.

The point is that I wanted it. If you want something, go after it – no matter how hard. It will be worth it in the end; you’ll look back on all those years of struggling and realize what a beautiful journey it was. Sometimes the journey is far more beautiful than the destination ever could be. Enjoy it. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of chasing a dream.
This is a photo where I got to jam with Ryan Kirkpatrick and his band when we opened for Cracker.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Because it’s time to speak up

One the worst things someone can do is remain silent when they should speak up. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words ever will.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

To be refined

My word for the year is “refine.” So, for the entire year I’ll research this word and learn from it.  Just for my own knowledge I’ve interviewed a doctor, a judge, a lawyer, a philosophical author, a religious expert and people who work at refineries.

“Why are you asking me about refinement?” a refinery manager asked me.

“Well, I just want to know what you think of the word. It’s my word to live by for 2020. I’m just trying to learn more about it.”

He thought for a minute and then said something so throughout-provoking. “It’s a good word to live by because you can only see the true value of something once it’s refined.  It’s hard to assess something until a product has gone through the entire process.  But the process involves so much more than people realize. It’s not just tough on the product, it’s tough on the machines and the people working here too.  It’s painful, but the final result–if the product makes it there–is worth the effort.”

There are different types of refinement; some processes can actually change a molecular structure to transform it into something useable as the by-products are analyzed as well and either found valuable or just discarded.  But changing a structure, that isn’t as simple as discarding something…no, that’s physical separating it.  To be refined is painful.

After that, I spoke with a philosophical author.  She’s researched the word “refinement” and said what interested her is the actual act and that depending on the level of refinement, you can get different products that are worth more. “But the different processes something undergoes, changes the level value.  It’s not to say the other products aren’t valuable in their own ways, but further refinement is worth the pain, especially in regard to oil.”
The religious expert reminded me that refinement isn’t just discarding things…it’s closer to what this woman spoke of as sanctification.  We also talked about the Refiner’s fire from the Bible, which actually burns away anything to leave items purified.

The judge talked about the reformation process that some convicts go through and how this–in a sense–is a type of refinement.

The doctor talked about his interest in refinement because this denotes that the original product was flawed and that it can become better. He said the foods that we put into our bodies can preserve our health and increase our outcomes if we are disciplined enough to accept change.  “Discipline can be a type of refinement.”

The lawyer, well he said true refinement isn’t possible in people and that he believes they’ll revert back.

My chosen words for previous years have taught me so much. Some of them have been: enjoy, trust, wonder, focus, persevere, sincere….  I’ve learned something from each as if the word comes to life and I discover its depths as I would a close friend.  But this year has been strange for everyone and my own circumstances have caused refinement. Losing my job was huge.... I’ve lost other things as well, and it’s very hard, but I can feel the refinement process as I learn more about the core of who I am.

What are your thoughts on refinement? What does that word mean to you?  What do you think we can all learn from the word?

Like a door that we might not be ready for, we must keep in going—and walk through.

My Get Up and Go Got Up and Left

I heard a story once about hundreds of rats trapped in a room. At first they bustled about—even tried to work together—until growing frantic...and hungry. It didn’t take long until the creatures started eating each other, pawing through flesh until they reached bone. All the rats lay decaying and bleeding in a sort of stench that could make even the dead retch. Finally, one rat remained. And after he looked around, he gingerly lifted up his own leg...and started eating.

This is how the economy feels right now. We can’t bury our heads in the sand; the economy is struggling. And as such, bigger companies—thinking they can benefit—swoop in and try to overtake markets. They might look like “hometown” places, disguised as the people who work for them. But they aren’t ‘those’ people. In some cases those poor workers are just a disposable front. Local companies are fighting to not be eaten.  Greed, the deadly sin I’ve never understood, is a driving force with the power to destroy.

Right now, I’m worried, thinking about the local businesses I love. I fear, this could be the end of some of them if people don’t show the support they need. Companies everywhere have cut employee hours and services.  It appears workers continue striving under significantly reduced pay and hours, yet those in essential roles have absorbed more work than ever before.

We, as a society, have worked so hard to succeed…but, like a game of chess, the economy is losing her pawns, worried it might become one itself. Slowly people are giving time, hearts, and souls to the American dream; yet, the economy still feels like a vacuum.

As I tucked my son into bed the other day, he asked, “Do you think people will talk about this in the future; when the coronavirus brought the world together?”  He went on to talk about a common enemy uniting people “like in the movies.”

“This will be in the history books for sure, kid.” His eyes lit up.  “When you’re a very old man, I bet people will ask you what it was like to live through this.”

“Really?  And I can tell them about the grocery stores being empty, businesses closing, people going nuts over toilet paper…and how we couldn’t find Top Ramen?!”

“You’ll have to tell them all of that,” I said.  “Hey,” I said before walking from his room, “is that a roll of toilet paper hidden under your bed?”

“Yeah, you never know when you might need it.”

As I shut his door, a realization hit me.  My grandparents used to hide things like that (toilet paper, medicine, shampoo…canned food).  My grandma said it started after they lived through the Great Depression.  They were brilliant people, business-minded and savvy.  If they could live through all that and be all right, I figure we’ll be okay too.

Rats and a struggling economy aside, there are lessons to be garnered that will buoy future generations forward and make them better for it.

Some “old-timers” have worried about technology and a pervading laziness that has come to rest over generations.  Maybe all of that is about to change as we strive to help ourselves and each other so the places we love can make it through these hard times.

What we have right now is hope... Hope is “an expectation.” So for now, I’m going to “expect” to find something positive in all this.  After all, we get what we look for.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My uncle died in Vietnam

    I've seen a piece of the past, from a time I was never meant to live through, but the glimpse makes me long for more.  Maybe it's since my mother loved him--my uncle--the one who died in Vietnam.  Maybe it's because I've heard the stories of how he stood against injustice even in his own home.  I still don't know why, but I want to learn everything I can about him.
    I wish I could tell his story, how he was supposed to get married,  how he had so many hopes and dreams . . . but I can't do it justice.  I didn't really know my uncle, or his fiance, I just wish I did. 
   So without further ado, here's the official report.  I wonder if you'll find it as amazing and captivating as I did.  All I can say is that for today, just after Memorial Day weekend, my uncle is my hero.  Because some people are so inspiring, their selflessness and heroic acts can outshine death.

By Captain Francis J. West, Jr., USMCR
Printed 1967
  Reprinted 1977

Page 96
     Struck to earth any time they stood up, the North Vietnamese opposite Furleigh had ceased their jack-in-the-box tactics and were staying low.  The machine gun which had stopped the company cold in the first attack swept wide steel swaths over the Marines' heads.  Attempts to knock out the gun had been unsuccessful and had cost the company lives.     Lance Corporal R. P. Donathan had been the first to try. Donathan was lying near Furleigh when the machine gun first opened up and killed some Marines.  Known throughout the battalion for his aggressive actions in fire fights, he was not cowed by the near presence of death.  He asked Furleigh if he could work his way around the right flank "to get the gun." Furleigh told him to go ahead and he had set off.  Several other Marines then just got up and followed him.  He moved rapidly up a trail on the right of the hedgerow, his swift foray catching some enemy soldiers by surprise.  These his small band cut down but the sound of the firing alerted the machine gun crew.  The gun swung towards them.  Caught in the open, the raiding party was at the mercy of the enemy.  Behind Donathan, a Marine went down.  The men on the lines heard Donathan shout, "Corpsman!"     Hospitalman 3d Class T. C. Long hurried forward.  He found the wounded man lying on the trail in front of the hedgerow.  While he was bandaging the man, he heard from up the trail, Donathan shout again, "Corpsman!" Long left the first casualty, having assured him he would return, and ran on.  Several yards farther, he came across another Marine, hit in the leg.  The casualty told him Donathan had gone on alone.  Long went forward to look for him.     Both men displayed singular fortitude and determination. To go forward alone against the enemy who has struck down all others--that takes rare courage.  A deliberate, conscious act of the will was made by each man when he went on alone, knowing he did not have to do so.  Donathan went forward, driven by his determination to eliminate the machine gun nest.  Long went forward, sensing Donathan might need him.     He worked his way carefully, bent over to present a smaller target.  Occasional clusters of bullets whizzed past him.  He saw a pack lying near some bushes and identified it as Donathan's.  He dropped his own pack beside it and continued on, armed with a pistol and clutching his medical kit.  A few yards farther on, he saw an M14 rifle and a bandolier of ammunition lying on the trail.  He knew Donathan could not be far away.  He looked into the bushes growing on the side of a bank next to the trail.     There was Donathan, wounded but still conscious.  Long slipped down to him and began dressing the wound.  He had almost finished the task when he was hit.  He cried out and pitched over Donathan.  Donathan sat up and reached for him.

     "Where you hit, T. C.?", he asked.     "Back of the knee," Long replied, "the right one.  Went right
through--maybe shattered."
     Despite his own wounds, Donathan managed to inject Long with morphine.  He was trying to bandage the knee when two bullets tore into his back.  He fell on top of Long, conscious but unable to move.  Pinned by Donathan's weight and weak from the morphine and his wound, Long could not wiggle free.
     Lying in each other's arms, they talked back and forth and tried to comfort one another.  It was mostly just idle talk, like many previous chatters they had in rear areas.  After a while Donathan's voice just trailed off.  Death claimed him quietly.

Here's the website where my brother found this story: