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 🤣