Monday, November 29, 2021

Looking Back to Move Forward

 Look Back to Move Forward

By EC Stilson


Over a decade ago . . .


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

    

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

    

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

    

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

    

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

    

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

    

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

    

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

    

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

    

I nodded, pretty enthralled.

    

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

    

“Even after fifty years?" I balked.

    

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

    

I felt utterly stunned.

    

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

    

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

   

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


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


The past is never where you think you left it.

-Katherine Anne Porter


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

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Collaboration of Moments

 I don’t know if I’m brave enough to post this, but here goes….


I’ve relived certain moments from my life dozen of times….

Do you have experiences that you go to sleep thinking about because they were so wonderful? Or memories so nightmarish they wake you from the deepest sleep?


Sometimes I fall asleep remembering what it was like when my mom rocked me in the rocking chair. I would snuggle in so close, and she’d hold me in one of those fuzzy blankets. I just remember the love.


Other times I remember watching fish in a huge tank we owned. My black and white cat—Bootsie—would curl up on top of me. He loved watching the fish just as much as I did. And if I turned away for too long, sometimes he’d go fishin’. I could hear the TV and music blaring from another part of the house. All four of my closest family members were there—happy and healthy.


Some of my memories are less kind….


She was four years older than me, and I remember she hated raisins. The girl told me we could do strange things at night, under the covers. I wanted it to stop, but she said we’d already gone too far. I think I’d just started school the first time it happened. “I’ll tell your mom,” she said one time. “Then she’ll know how dirty you are.” I offered to give her anything: my allowance…my favorite toys…my decorations. I didn’t want my mom knowing how gross I’d become. 


When I finally got brave enough to talk about it, an adult told me “it doesn’t count as molestation.”


“Why?” I balked.


“She was a girl. And she was just a child too.”


“But she was twelve the last time it happened—and four years older than me….”


The woman just shook her head, solidifying the fact that some adults will never see reason. “She was a girl”? That was like saying a declawed lion isn’t dangerous. Men aren’t the only sex that can be nefarious!


Other memories haunt my dreams, like a terrifying “prayer session” at church, or when my son died… Or the moment that led to the divorce in my first marriage. But you’ve heard too much about all of that. I’ve written as a way to cope.


Luckily, as I’ve aged, more recent memories have begun to stand out the most, like Antelope Island. Legend has it that someone brought a convict there over a hundred years ago. He couldn’t get off the island, so they thought he’d died there, but no one ever found the bones. I’d tell my four kids that story—as we hunted for brine shrimp and spent our days exploring the island when I was a single mom.


Then I met Mike, and everything bloomed. I remember every day of falling in love and discovering more about that wonderful man. We got married on Antelope Island because it had become a place of magic for me and the kids. Just like Mike—our miracle.


As my dad walked me down that aisle I could hardly wait to stand next to Mike, to gaze into his eyes, and tell him I’ll love him…forever.


And so when I think of the key memories that make up my life, I realized what a strange mishmash they are. Each one has molded me and taught something. 


The moments I’ve re-experienced through imaginings or dreams, are intriguing because they have collectively made up a human life. 


Sometimes I find it so fascinating that I’m here at all, breathing…thinking. It really does make you wonder: Where did we all come from? Did God really always exist? If not, who in the hell made God? And what key experiences make up His existence? Now THAT would be an interesting read!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Appreciating What We Have



 “We’ll go dancing and clubbing!” one lady said. “We’ll drink all night long!”


“And we can run together each morning. And maybe even get in a little rock climbing.”


I could tell that the two ladies were just a little older than me, yet they could do so much more. I finally arrived at the front of the line. My back and legs ached so much that my knees had begun shaking, but something completely unseen hurt much more. “I requested a wheelchair,” I told the woman behind the ticket counter. “There’s just no way I can walk through the airport anymore.” Why did I feel the need to justify myself to this woman?

As she printed my boarding pass I thought of the two ladies who’d been in front of me and how they can run and dance and rock climb. Tears began filling my eyes because I missed all of that so much. I just wish that the last time I’d done everything I would’ve appreciated it with due credit. But now all of it is just a memory.


“Do you see that man sitting in a wheelchair over there?” the lady asked after a while.


I looked and spotted a man who slightly resembled Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He sat grumpily, next to all of the other wheelchairs. 


“Just go sit in a wheelchair by him, and someone will be with both of you shortly.” Then, after I gave her my luggage, she paged someone and motioned for me to go to “Mr. Potter.”


Mr. Potter looked like his namesake for a reason. I tried being social, but his drab countenance could’ve killed even the most chipper angel’s spirit. “Why are you in a wheelchair?” he asked accusatorially. “And why do you walk all hunched over?”


“I’ve actually been walking much better. I guess it gets worse when I’m tired. Dragging my luggage from the parking was rough.”


“Maybe you shouldn’t pack so god-d*mn much,” he said.


“Fine,” I replied. “I have stage four cancer. Why are YOU in a wheelchair.”


“I have cancer too. It’s d*mn near eaten all of me now.” I spied scabs on his arms and legs, something I’ve come to see a lot of at the cancer center. I’ve even had some myself after itching from treatments or medications.


“I used to be able to do so many things. I looked years younger….” After saying the words, he glanced around almost hungrily at all of the healthy people who scurried around us. “Bet someone else deserves this more than I do.”


We stayed quiet for a couple of minutes. “Has anyone helped you?” a woman came and asked. She spoke so slowly and loudly, as if we were mentally handicapped.


“A woman at the ticket counter paged someone, but that was quite a while ago,” I said so fast that I’d hoped she’d realize we were mentally capable. “Can you call someone just in case?”


So she did. And when she walked away, Mr. Potter couldn’t say enough bad about her. “You know people are just nice because we have cancer. That’s the only reason. We make them feel better about themselves.”


My mouth dropped. “Sir, I find your outlook on life…not to be my favorite. I’ve ALWAYS expected the best from people. Now I get to see it almost every day. People find out I have cancer, and they rise to the occasion. I’ve seen the kind of generosity that’s written about in books.”


“Oh! You’re a Pollyanna.”


“Maybe I am. But I’d rather be that…than a Mr. Potter.”


I couldn’t believe I’d said it. And unfortunately, the man—who was quite a bit older than me—got the reference. “You’re in need of a wheelchair. What can you find to be ‘glad’ about that?”


“Because it reminds me…” I paused. “Even though there’s a lot I can’t do, being in a wheelchair reminds me of the things I can be grateful for!”


“Such as?”


“I just started painting. I never would’ve done that if I didn’t have cancer. And now my kids have been catapulted from being cranky teenagers to being grateful young adults.”


Two workers walked up together at that point. Just before they could wheel us to our separate destinations, the man turned to me. “Did I really…remind you of Mr. Potter?”


“Yes,” I said. And as the young man wheeled me away I thought of how important it is to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t. I hope I gave Mr. Potter the wake-up call he needed—that’s what he inadvertently did for me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Herculean Task


I want to be the “cool” mom, and apparently—with Halloween barely in the rear view mirror—my youngest kids think that awesome moms watch scary shows and are a little “edgy.”

“I can be edgy!” I told my teenage boy. 

“Ummm…no,” he said. “You can’t. Even Abby is edgier than you.” Side note: The kids think Abby—our dog—is God’s gift to humanity. She gets credit for everything. I can make brownies, and she somehow gets thanked for it. I’ll do laundry—and she gets praised! I’ll vacuum—and SHE gets a treat. Yet, she doesn’t even have hands!

So, vowing to upstage the dog, I decided to paint something VERY edgy. “My painting will be terrifying—and awesome,” I told my kids.

Trey laughed. “Yeah, right.” 

“So, what do I get if I succeed?

“I’ll play the drums for you,” he said.

“You play the drums for me—and practically the entire neighborhood {they’re so loud} every day!”

He smirked. “All right, if it’s ACTUALLY scary, I’ll tell everyone that you’re…the toughest,” he whispered, “coolest mom around. I’ll even say that…you’re better…than Abby.”

I gasped. Coming from Trey THAT is the ultimate compliment. 

This weekend I took on the incredible, unsurpassable Herculean task of impressing my children. I had so many great ideas: scary man in the moon; a creepy tree with a face; a girl with pink eyes (because if you’ve had children pink eye IS not fun); the list went on.

Anyway, in the end, I used several of the ideas and painted a circus girl with pink eyes. She looked terrified in a hot air balloon as she ran from a band of killer cats. I put cats on the girl’s hot air balloon and in the water chasing her. I even made the moon look like a cat. 

Anyway, the big reveal was this morning, and I could hardly wait to show my children the terrifying painting.

After their breakfast, I clutched my creation facing away from them. “Are you ready? This is the MOST terrifying, the MOST thrilling, the most terrible thing you have ever seen!” And I slowly turned it toward them with so much anticipation!

“That…is not scary—at all!” My boy said in a monotone. And then both Trey and Indy broke out laughing so hard I worried for their health. Then they started saying how I will never be edgy no matter how hard I try. 

“What?! But this IS awesome,” I blurted. Yet, they didn’t listen—too busy telling our traitorous dog that she’s amazing and she’s the edgiest and the coolest. And how she can probably paint really well!

After the kids left for school, I sat on the couch and giggled. I started painting after being diagnosed with cancer, and now it’s given me so much to look forward to. I have a mermaid painting that I alter once a week; my kids never know what might change (one week she went from having closed eyes to opening them; another week she grew fins!) We’re also putting a poster-board on the wall that each of us have to add something to every time we leave the house—it’ll be epic!

So, I stared at my “scary painting,” the latest addition to this painting adventure. It has 22 cats hidden in it. Maybe I’ll ask my kids if they can find all of the cats. If they can’t, then they better tell me I’m cooler than the dog. This’ll be awesome! I just know they won’t find them all!

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Living Painting







 I put this picture on the wall, but I keep painting over it—‘cause it’s not quite right. Anyway, I didn’t realize my kids watched all of the changes until Ruby said something today: 🤣 “Oh, she changed again!”


Then Sky said, “Does she have a different face?!”


This IS actually hilarious. 😅


P.S. She looks WAY better with her eyes closed! My kids will NEVER forget this one—the “living” painting.



Monday, November 1, 2021

Half-Time

 “I give you two years to live.”


Time shifted, moving like molasses, and a darkness threatened to overtake me right there in the d*mn hospital room. 


No one else heard the news with me because COVID limited visiting hours. Nope, I needed to be strong and digest this alone.


Two years. My thoughts reeled. 24 months. 104 weeks. 730 days. That would make Ruby 20, Sky 18, Trey 14, and Indy 12. I have four kids. To not see all of them reach adulthood, start their careers, get married… To not grow old with Mike…


“I’m only in my 30s. You can fix this. Can’t you?” The words slipped out slowly, as if uttered by someone else.


“No. I’m sorry, Elisa. We can’t.”


A doctor told me this during my month-long hospitalization that started on Oct. 30, 2020.


This past weekend—the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis and my hospitalization in Utah— felt surreal.


As if trapped in an hour-glass, the sands of time cascade around me, and I’m stuck up to my waist. Sand continues dumping, getting caught in my hair, and occasionally my mouth and eyes…but it’s not falling as quickly now. “You might even have up to ten years!” A doctor recently told me. And although I’m exceedingly grateful, I can’t help thinking of the initial two-year diagnosis—and the fact that death still circles like a vulture in the wind.


If half my time were really over, what have I done with it? What do I have to show for the past year?


I scanned through pictures. Memories poured over me, just like the sand in that hour-glass. I remembered: fiddling for cancer patients; losing my hair; being selected as the angel family; enduring debilitating surgeries, infusions, and radiation; fighting liver failure and sepsis; and losing several friends who died too soon (suicide, overdose, cancer, car accident…). And then I found pictures of Mike and the kids. I remembered when family and friends came to visit. I couldn’t help grinning over road trips and time fishing, card games and movie nights.


Then it hit me: how much I’ve bonded with those who matter most. Like a bag cinched before a long journey, this has just brought all of us closer. And although I’m still scared, and we are “living scan to scan” (as the doctor says), I am PROUD. We’ve made it through so much. 


Hardship littered every bit of this past year’s pathway, but there have been so many breadcrumbs from God all along too—signs that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. Cancer diagnosis—death sentence—or not, I am the luckiest. To still be making memories, that might be the greatest gift of all.


Anyway, hopefully I have more than a single year left now (maybe even 10 as the doctor says). It really does put things in perspective though. What would you do, if you only had one year to live? 


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Thumper-licious

 “It’s like watching Thumper—or some woodland creature—get cancer. I just feel so bad, and I don’t know what to do for you. No one wants to see a cute, innocent bunny with cancer.” My friend literally said this to me earlier this week, and I am flummoxed.


No. 1 — I am a certified bada$$. Was she seriously comparing me…to Thumper?


No. 2 — Thumper is a boy.


No. 3 — I want to be an awesome predator—not a “cute”…pansy-ish woodland creature. BUT I have to admit that (hanging in my bedroom) I have a painting of bunnies battling a storm. There’s just something romantic and inspiring about their tenacity. I spotted the painting at Goodwill almost a decade ago and HAD to buy it. 


I want that tenacity. I want to persevere like those fearless bunnies. Even when failure is guaranteed—I WANT to embody that kind of moxie.


No. 4 — While I sorta hated this “woodland creature” conversation, I am glad it reminded me of my aspirations. 


So, as I woke up today and looked at the painting on my wall, I had to smirk. 


Bring on the storm. Even if I AM a bunny, I’m gonna face this head-on with a determination that would make even Captain Ahab envious! Bam! 🤣 Take that, Thumper! 


(Viewer discretion advised: Aggressive picture attached.)



Friday, October 22, 2021

The Other Woman





 I’m waiting for Mike to come back from foot surgery…. So, I figured I’d share a funny story.


I’ve been driving Mike to and from work. The short—yet efficient—security guard stood next to our red truck and added me to the visitor list. I didn’t wear any makeup and my short, dark hair stuck out wildly. “I’m sorry for everything you’re going through,” the man blurted, referring to my cancer. “It must be so hard.” Then he shuffled away.


Nearly two weeks have passed, and he’s waved me in every day in my red truck. But Wednesday was different.


I’d decided to dress up and ask Mike out to dinner. I wore makeup, a fancy push-up bra, my fake eyelashes, and a light-colored wig.


I waited for the security guard to wave me through in my little car, but he didn’t.


“Who are you here to see?”


“Mike Magagna.”


His eyes widened. “And who ARE you?”


“Elisa Magagna.”


“You are not Elisa Magagna.”


All right….mall cop.


“Yeah, I am.”


He shook his head—like there was no foolin’ him!


Then it hit me. I’d dressed like a hooker and now the security guard thought Mike was cheating on me…with me! Cheating on his poor wife who has cancer!


I’m not sure why, but it became so absolutely hilarious that I could not stop laughing. I just saw so much judgment and concern cross the little man’s face.


“Fine.” He clutched a clipboard at his side. “I’ll let you in this once. But he needs to add you to our list. They’re supposed to let us know when new people are coming.”


So, I really confused him with my wig and different car. But now I feel like a freakin’ spy! Yaaassss.


“Mike,” I said after telling him the story, “this could be kind of fun. We can pretend I’m the other woman!”


I was the “other woman” once—a terrible experience that I wish I could rescind. My dad always did say that I’m an angel with one wing in the fire.


So, Mike’s in surgery—and I’m out in the waiting room, wearing my wig—like a legend. I’m sure Mike will do great; it is weird seeing him in a hospital gown vs. the other way around. I’ll be so glad when he’s feeling better.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Calling a Fart a Unicorn


 They found another tumor in one of my legs. It doesn’t even matter which leg at this point. Plus, it’s not a big deal really. Just another bump in the road.


The kids asked me last night how many tumors I have.


“One in each vertebrae, one in my hip, shin, leg…neck. Who’s counting? At least the cancerous tumor in my brain responded to treatment.”


“Wow. I guess that’s one way to find something good,” my son said.


“I’m just done focusing on the bad. It’s like studying for a test and still failing. I’m just gonna stop focusing on my score.”


“I’m so sorry this illness has been hard on you,” a friend said later that afternoon when I told her about the new tumor.


I hate that. It’s not that I need to feel like I have leprosy or something, but simply calling stage 4 melanoma an “illness” is like calling a fart a unicorn. Talk about the ultimate minimization. “This illness”… blah.


I said goodbye and hung up right before calling Ruby, my 19-year-old who is seriously—no bias—one of the coolest people you could ever meet. She’s almost a tattoo artist (just finishing her two-year apprenticeship) AND she recently got herself a motorcycle instead of a man. That kid knows what she wants, and she gets ‘er done regardless of obstacles!


“Ruby,” I said. “This isn’t a pity party, but I should probably give you the latest update.”


“O-kay?” she said in this adorable way that only she can.


“There’s a new tumor in my leg AND a lump in my boob.”


I heard her inhale sharply. “Oh, Mom. I’m so sorry.”


“It’s no big deal! I’m just becoming a nonprofit tumor factory. They say, ‘Do what you’re good at’—and I took their words to heart.”


“Mom,” she laughed, “I love you so much.” And somehow her response made everything bearable. 


I called Mike later.  “If they cut off my leg and my boob, will you still be proud I’m your wife? Will you still love me?”


Mike broke out laughing. “Depends on which boob.”


“What?!” I nearly bellowed.


“You’re ridiculous—and dramatic. Of course I will ALWAYS love you. You’d still be you.”


“Yeah. But I’d look a lot different in my fancy dresses.” Then we made some pretty inappropriate jokes about it just being a “flesh wound.”


“Hey, did you hear Chrissy has stage 3 kidney cancer?” I asked him after we’d stopped laughing about me being “half the person I used to be.”

I sighed. “She said she feels dumb complaining to me—after everything we’ve been through.”


“Why? No two situations are the same.” 


“That’s exactly what I said! She shouldn’t minimize what they’re  going through. Both of our situations are hard—I can’t imagine what they’re enduring. I’m just glad we have each other’s backs and that we can find the good together.”


So, today is good because I still have two legs, two boobs, a sense of humor, and doctors who are competent enough to even find new tumors.


I start treatments again on Nov. 4. I’m counting down the days so we can fight this thing again. The best any of us can do is try—while still focusing on the good! So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m too busy seeing the good side of life to focus on anything else. “‘Tis only a scratch!” Bam.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mike’s First Surgery

 “But he’s never had a surgery before!” Trey said, so concerned for Mike. “I should tell him something, just so he knows he’ll be okay. I mean…could something go wrong?”


“I mean, it could. But it won’t.”


I realized then how worried Trey is about Mike. I’ve been so sick, and Mike has been the rock for our children.


That aside, where was this concern when I’ve millions of surgeries?! The kids don’t worry at all when I go in. And when I asked Trey who his favorite is—between me and our dog—he said our dog!


“All right. What are you gonna say then?” I asked, plastering a smile onto my face.


“I’m gonna tell him that everything will be fine!” Then he paused. “Wait. That’s what you say to someone when it’s NOT gonna be fine…. Then he’s gonna get really suspicious. And he’ll get nervous. And he’ll be FREAKING out until Friday!”


“Ummm, Trey. I feel like you’re overthinking this.”


“You know what. I’m not saying anything! Plus I don’t want to jinx it. Remember how you woke up during that one surgery?”


I groaned from the memory. “Yep.” I actually sat up, my eyeballs were about four inches away from the doctor’s shocked faced. It was crazy hearing him scream like a little girl. 


——


I did have to break out laughing after Trey left for school. He’s obviously thought about this a lot, and he’s SUPER concerned.


So, Mike’s first surgery ever is Friday, and apparently everyone in the house is worried. (I just want to know which ice cream to buy him!) 


He’s gonna do great! It’s like my dad says, “He’ll get to go on vacation without even leaving the farm.”


(This pic is from a recent road trip Mike and Trey took to a concert. These two really are best friends.)


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Came Back Around

 Her words completely floored me. “I don’t want a Black man narrating my book.”


“Excuse me?” I balked. She suddenly seemed like some sort of neanderthal. It was 2013! Who thought something like that?!


At the time I co-owned a publishing company. Other editors, writers, investors, and myself had worked to publish over a hundred authors in just over a year. But authors—like this woman—had begun irritating me. 


As a first-time author she’d submitted a list of demands. Her book hadn’t sold well, and now she wanted book signings in key New York locations along with reviews in publications that would cost thousands of dollars each. We couldn’t do all of that, but I’d tried something else and actually had luck! 


A famous man had agreed to narrate AND PROMOTE her audiobook! But when we actually finished the project—and we’d slated it for release—the author didn’t want a Black man connected with her book??? I had never heard something so idiotic—something so completely infantile….


“I’m terminating your contract,” I immediately told the woman. “You wanted your book to sell so we found a well-known narrator—who kindly agreed to narrate your book—and you’re upset because of what he looks like? I’ll email the details to you, but we will no longer fund this project.”


She screamed, and I hung up. Within the next hour, my editors had talked about the situation and agreed. We would not support an author like that. 


As a side note: I’d built an amazing team. They knew how hard we’d work to establish the publishing company, but they also knew we’d reached a critical point. I’d just filed for divorce, and because of my ex’s financial involvement, none of us knew if we’d be able to keep the company going through a split like that—and while I adjusted to being a single mom to four little kids.


So, long story short, the company—my dream—dissolved. I think it actually ended well for everyone. I taught authors how to self-publish, and they even got to keep the rights to their covers and promotion materials. 


But as for the famous narrator, he wouldn’t be making anything off the project he’d worked so hard on. And just the idea of that irked me because he’d been so exceedingly kind throughout the whole ordeal.


“How much would you charge for something like this…if you weren’t getting a percentage of the profits?” I asked, and he gave me a number. It was a small fortune to me, but I’d made up my mind.


He had no idea where the money came from—or what I’d just gone through—but as a single mom I worked extra hours. Through two different jobs and over six months, I paid the man what he should have made.


“Why are you doing this?” one of the previous editors asked. “The company went under. I don’t think you need to front the cost.”


“It’s the RIGHT thing to do. He worked hard. He deserves to get paid.” I’d begged him to narrate the book. How could I not pay him after he’d gone out of his way to help me?


I remember making the final payment. It felt so good. That day I’d actually looked up the author—the racist one. She’d self-published her book, which hadn’t sold well. And to think, she’d almost had it narrated by someone who could’ve made it a bestseller….


I thought about all of this today, because we’ve had some pretty astronomical medical bills, and I spent a chunk of yesterday afternoon fighting debilitating pain AND our insurance company. Anyway, I opened my email, only to discover that someone had given us a bit of money—exactly what we need to get by! It was the narrator who I’d worked so hard to pay off while I was a single mom! I read his name about three times…just totally stupefied. Had he seriously given us money? I haven’t heard from him in over seven years! Yet, there it was…a random email and a gift.


Tears literally streamed down my face. I’m not quite sure why it touched me so much, but it did. I can’t believe he’s following my story—or that he even cared enough to help me in my time of need.


I still don’t know how to process this, or why it’s made me feel so completely humbled and just grateful really. I did something for him—simply because it was the RIGHT thing to do! And somehow…it came back around. 


This whole experience has brought me to my knees, over and over. The kindness of people—even acquaintances from years ago—it’s truly astounding. As I type this, I can’t help sitting here…still amazed.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Over a Cup of Coffee


 “This is taking FOREVER,” the woman fumed even though it had been less than three minutes. “You’re making me late for work.” She’d already complained about rolling her window down and yelled because they were out of a specific syrup.


The teenage barista frantically took another order at the drive-through, started a simultaneous fourth drink order, and handed the cranky lady her drink.


“You know,” the woman seethed, “I’m having a TERRIBLE day—because of all this! Because of YOU. You’ve made me late! I’ll pay for the person behind me so at least SOMEONE can have a nice day.” 


The barista could have cried. She’d had a tough day too: everyone had called out sick because of COVID, she’d been treated terribly by two customers already, AND she worried about her mother—whose cancer seems to be getting worse…. 


The barista nodded as she tried not to cry. “Okay.” She forced a smile at the unhappy woman. “I hope you’ll have a…nice day….”


The woman must’ve realized how childish she’d been. “You must think I’m a terrible person!” she said. “It’s just because I haven’t had my coffee yet today! That always makes me cranky.”


Yes…. That was it. She’d yelled at a child because she hadn’t had her coffee yet. That made everything better. #sarcasm


Then she drove off. And even though she had paid for the person behind her, she had also momentarily derailed the little barista’s day.



When my daughter told me what happened to her yesterday, I got so upset. With everything we’re going through, we try to be extra kind to other people because you never know what they’re going through. I just can’t imagine treating someone so terribly over something as insignificant as coffee. Plus, it makes me sad that someone treated MY kid—who’s only 17–this way. She’s doing the best she can and honestly dealing with a lot. 

 


I just wish people would realize that workers are exhausted right now. AND that’s someone else’s child. (I sure hope she wouldn’t treat her own kid that way.) Why not lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Mike Broke His Foot




 Mike broke his right foot…. He said it’s ironic because, “We finally caught a break.” Oh…dad jokes. 

Trey felt really bad because he’d been driving our friend’s four-wheeler when it happened. Trey is only 13, and he keeps saying how much he wants to drive a car because kids get their licenses at 15 in Idaho. And so, when he had a chance to drive the four-wheeler, we thought, “Why not? He has a helmet and a seatbelt. What could possibly go wrong?”

But as they took a turn too fast, Mike reflexively stuck his foot out the side of the four-wheeler—right before it actually tipped on its side—and he fractured two of his bones on the top of his foot.

Trey rushed into our house and told me the whole story. “It’s pretty bad, Mom!” So, we immediately rushed to the ER. I told Trey he should stay home, but he would NOT leave Mike’s side. Then when the hospital told us that children aren’t allowed in the rooms, Trey puffed up and said, “This whole thing was my fault.” And he actually convinced the medical staff that he needed to stay with his father!

After they took X-rays and told us the worst, I watched Trey and Mike. The two of them talked and laughed. They shared stories about the Korn concert they’d recently gone to—and about a concert they’re going to later this month. And I have to say that it amazed me, just taking the time to realize how their relationship has changed over the years….

Trey was only 5 when he met Mike, and now that he’s becoming a young man, it makes me proud to see how close they are.

Anyway, I’m glad Trey went to the hospital with us. It felt a bit hilarious leaving the ER; Mike had a boot and crutches, and I had my walker. I’m sure we made even 90-year-olds feel young. 

But Trey still felt really bad the next day, and luckily my dad (Philip) called. My dad’s pretty legendary. He sends inspirational texts to our entire family every morning. You never know what he’ll say, but it’s always timely. Last year—before my cancer diagnosis—I compiled all of those texts and published a book for him. It was so awesome to see the surprise and joy on his face. More about that here: https://www.amazon.com/Inspirations-Modern-PHILosopher-Philip-Stilson/dp/B08DBW125M/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=philip+stilson&qid=1634212899&sr=8-3

So after telling Mike to “get better soon,” my dad called Trey to cheer him up. “You know, people get paid to actually tip vehicles over.”

“What?” Trey asked, mystified. “That’s not for real, right? I just think I’m a terrible driver.”

“No way! That’s a skill people look for. You could be a monster truck driver!”

Trey suddenly lit with excitement. “You’re…right! I could do something like that! I just feel bad Mike got hurt. I’ll just tell him to keep his foot inside next time! Then we can do this together!”

Mike’s surgery is scheduled for a week from Friday. It kind of feels like the blind leading the blind over here though. I’m still so sick, and now I’m taking care of Mike. But this experience has showed me just how amazing our kids are. Sky has been picking Mike up from work. Ruby has helped out so much with the younger kids. And Trey and Indy have started doing extra chores (more laundry and such). 

It’s almost been exactly a year since I found out I have cancer. It’s odd, but this terrible diagnosis hasn’t been as tragic as most people might think. I can’t believe how much closer our family has gotten. 

Our kids have transformed into responsible young adults. I know part of this is because my illness catapulted them into so much change. But as I watched Trey and Mike in the emergency room, it hit me again how very lucky we are. 

I might have cancer, but I also have everything I could possibly hope for. It’s such a strange feeling: I’m the happiest I’ve ever been – and the sickest. It just goes to show, it’s all about perspective and gratitude. 




Photo note: This picture is so adorable. The nurses kept saying they couldn’t believe how happy we are even though we’re going through so much. I honestly think it’s because we have everything; we have each other.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Soul Worth Bidding For

 It’s strange, but it’s been several years since I’ve visited the cattle auction in Blackfoot, and I’m still thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be a vegetarian—mainly because I like steak—but I am swayed by how the cattle looked as they entered the ring. It just reminded me so much of death. 


Let’s face it; we know where most of those cattle are going. It’s not pretty or glamorous. Period. Until you imagine some fancy couple in an extravagant restaurant, drinking champagne and eating…beef. 


When I write that it reminded me of death, it’s more than just slaughterhouses. That auction is probably what the afterlife is like. 


I know I wrote about this previously (in a silly way), but I’m serious now. What if when we die we pass in front of God, and He simply decides if we’re worth paying the price for, to go to Heaven.


Either way, as people spent thousands upon thousands of dollars at the cattle auction—and a cow literally pooped about three feet from my face, it was more than the smell of cow patties that freaked me out. 


I guess, the cattle auction made me want to live differently. I want to be a person God would bet on, bid for, and want to hang out with.


What does it take to be worth a high bid...worth going to Heaven?  


As I watched a final cow hardly go for anything, I stood from the stands and left—honestly feeling bad its life hadn’t been worth a little more.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Living in the Present


“So why are you here today?”


I felt like I’d been sent to detention. “Well, someone told my children that he hopes I’ll die of cancer.”


Her eyes enlarged, reminding me of the radiation plates at the cancer center.


“That was a pretty cruel thing to say.”


“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve had people hate me before—even for good reason. But who says that to a kid? No one wants their parents to die.”


“How are you processing all of this?” she asked.


“I never knew how hard cancer can be on everyone else. Kids can be mean to each other, but when someone’s parent has cancer, it’s a whole other thing added. Unfortunately...” I sighed. “On the bright side, cancer does seem to bring out the best in most people. I even had a scammer stop scamming me once he found out about my cancer…so that was good.”


She cracked a smile.


“But the person who said he hopes I’ll die…. He’s an adult.”


The fact that someone else is so willing to sign me up for death, it’s just hard to fathom.


“We all die,” I said more to the wall than to her. “God has a plan. And He knows a lot more than I do! I’m so glad we’re not going off the plan I had for my life!” I could just see myself with crazy-long, crimped hair, fiddling to heavy metal for thousands upon thousands of people.


“Elisa, I’ve gotta stop you right there. People wouldn’t say things are going ‘great’ for you now. Why wouldn’t your plan be better?”


“I’m happier than I ever have been. Really. Sure, I have cancer, but I also have the most amazing husband and kids in the world. I have…everything.”


She tapped her fingers on the mahogany desk and eyed me. “You’re so…chipper.” She suddenly laughed. “I don’t normally see people with cancer who are like THIS.”


I literally snorted. “Oh, trust me. I have my days. But what’s wrong with focusing on the positive? If these are my last moments—why the hell would I want to stay sad the whole time?”


We remained quiet for a minute as she thought about what I said. “I’ve been sad a lot lately,” she finally admitted, almost whispering. “I’m honestly not dealing with life the way that you are. I wish I could handle my trials a little better.”


This was like coaxing a rabbit out of a bush. So, very quietly, I asked the counselor, “What’s been going on? What’s been making you so sad?”


And she reluctantly told me the whole d*mn, terrible story about what she’s been through and how she’s suffered this last year. Her dad had committed suicide right after doing all sorts of atrocious things. I didn’t know how she could function after all of that.


“You can’t let this ruin your present—and your future,” I finally said. “I know you have to work through it when it comes up. But if you let regret ‘take the wheel,’ it’ll drive the car and  take over your entire life too.”


She wiped her eyes with some tissues that were for patients.


“Take cancer,” I said. “I can think about it all the time. I’m hardly sleeping at night now because of all the pain. They’re worried my cancer is getting worse after we’ve had to postpone treatments for months. There’s a lot of fear involved in it. But sitting here…worrying about it isn’t gonna do me any good. There are so many great things out there to do.” I smiled at her. “Instead, I want to focus on the memories I’m making with my kids. The memories I’m making with my husband. The things I want to do for myself! And all of a sudden all those things in the past—or the worries of the present—seem like big weights that just hold me down. Why would I want to carry that around with me. Why?” She remained quiet, looking at a beautiful teal vase in her modern office. “Decide what you want to make today or even every moment. Do you want it to be good or do you want to waste it in regret? I can be scared about cancer and ruin the day, or I can have a blast painting with my kids. I can do this—or I can do that. When we consciously make that choice, it’s a lot easier to see what is driving the present. Don’t let regret take the wheel.”


At the end of the “counseling session,” she gave me a huge hug, and tears filled her eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You came here for help. And you ended up helping me. But, I needed to hear what you said.” 


Plus, then she told me that there was no charge for the session! Whaaa? That’s awesome!


So, it was the oddest free counseling session I’ve ever had, but I really like that girl. I hope she’ll learn to live in the present. It’s one of the most invaluable skills any of us can learn.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Potato Harvest





 Some of us don’t realize how much we’re blessing people’s lives, just by sharing our story. That’s what happened for me with Shane Jackson.

 

He wrote through my author page, EC Stilson. “The post involving Blackfoot, Idaho and your current situation somehow captivated me and has given me strength to carry on. My problems are pretty insignificant in comparison.”

 

I sat drinking a cup of coffee as I read this message, so honored that a stranger had found my page and decided to share his story with me. 

 

“I’m a single father of now a 13-year-old,” he wrote. “I’ve raised her since she was two and a half.” And as his story continued, I couldn’t fathom how my situation could inspire him. Yes, having stage four cancer is scary. But this man has been through so much more than that—and still found a way to avoid regret.

 

“You’ve got to beat this!” his closing paragraph stated. “So, get on with it and put this dying bullsh*t out of your mind because you’re not!”

 

Over the last months, I shared this story with Mike, and we felt so humbled that such a strong man would find anything worthwhile in our story—especially since we’ve struggled this month and definitely not felt “inspirational.”

 

“EC, some of your posts lately have left me just not knowing what to say or reply,” one of Shane’s latest messages said. “I’m hoping for a speedy recovery.”

 

Then, that giver must have been touched by providence, compelled to do an exceptional act of kindness that I truly needed. “I would extend an invitation to come experience potato harvest if you have never done so. To me it’s always been a magical experience seeing the crops come in. We’re digging potatoes in Pingree…. You and your family would be welcome to come out and see potato harvest from the seat of a tractor if you would like.”

 

I told Mike and the kids. Trey and Indy were especially excited, and after we arrived at the field, we got to ride in different machines and meet Shane in person.

 

As I sat in the tractor with him, the whole world thrived with magic. I waved to Mike and the kids (who sat in other machines). Watching potatoes freshly birthed from the ground, I saw God’s majesty in all of it. And even just glimpsing Shane’s view on life and farming is something that I’ll cherish forever—because THAT is how he’s made it through so much with grace. “You can go ride in the other one now,” Shane said, pointing to a machine a few feet away.

 

After I stepped from the tractor, I placed my hand on the earth and could almost feel its heartbeat. I love fishing because you never know what surprise God has put on your line. Well, that’s kind of how farming is too. There’s so much hidden under the ground, just waiting for someone to discover its potential.

 

“Isn’t it amazing how the earth can look so dead and void, yet all of those potatoes were waiting just under the surface,” I told the driver of the other vehicle as he loaded potatoes up a large conveyer belt.

 

“It really is,” Garrett said, beaming. Then he ended up telling me how fun it was seeing the excitement from all of us. “That Indy is a character,” he said. “And Trey asked great questions.” 

 

“Is this what you always wanted to do?” I asked him.

 

Then Garrett said how he’s in medical school, but he might drop out. “I just don’t know,” he said.

 

“What kind of specialty… What kind of doctor?” I asked.

 

“A dermatologist.”

 

I got chills; this was providential too. 

 

And then just how Shane had changed my life and said the exact words I needed to hear, I think I did the same thing for Garrett. I told him about my melanoma and how it was finally a dermatologist who found it—and gave me a shot at life. “Time passes. I thought my kids would grow up by the time I was in my early forties. And then I’d do all sorts of things. But look what happened. I’m fighting just to stay alive. You go for your dreams. Don’t give up. There’s a reason I’m sitting right by you, telling you my story about skin cancer.” And after I stepped back to the hardened earth, I knew Garrett would never forget those words, and I thought about the people’s lives he might save in the future…people just like me.

 

So, Wada Farms, who generously let Shane do all of this for us, had Mike, the kids, and I gather potatoes to keep—straight from the ground. We got several boxes of Russet Burbanks and hearts filled to the brim with wonder. 

 

I’ll never forget our trip to the farm or Shane’s resilience and determined joy despite hardship. What a beautiful world we live in. Seriously.

We Got a Fixer Upper

It needs A LOT of work, but Mike got this 25-foot camper for $600. 
He’s gonna fix ‘er up fast so we can bring it on overnight trips for cancer treatments and take the kids to places we could’ve never gone otherwise. 
Even sitting in this “opportunity,” I feel so excited! 😂 #youonlyliveonce #waterdamage #hesamagician #rvlife





 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

A Flight Lesson Changed His Life Forever


 When we chance losing what really matters, that’s when things get clear. The loss of a loved one, a dream, an ability…can magnify our “truth.” 


Lately, I’ve watched my family sacrifice to trade time—possibly the most valuable construct we have. “If you want to join the Air Force, don’t put it off for me,” I said to my 17-year-old. 


“But I don’t want to miss time with you. This whole thing has put everything in perspective.”


These words mean more than anyone can fathom, but as the person who’s sick, I don’t want people sacrificing dreams for me. 


Mike did this. At the age of 19 he’d planned a move to Seattle. Almost more than anything, he wanted to leave Utah and get his pilot’s license. But life took a turn. 


His dad got cancer, and Mike refused to leave. He traded an ideal for something invaluable: memories with his father. 


It’s crazy how priorities change when weighed against the threat of death.


Time passed. Mike’s dad recovered, and he’s been doing awesome since. But Mike never moved to Seattle. He landed a job at a food-processing plant (like his father and grandfather before him), bought a house, married a single mom…who then got cancer. And it seems that fate has brought him right back where he started.


“I’ve watched him give up so much to take care of me,” I told a dear friend. “He’s worked, tended to the kids, waited on me after surgeries and treatments….” 


“That’s what you do when you love someone.”


I sighed. “It’s so strange how life turns out though, right? Can you believe he wanted to be a pilot?” I briefly relayed the story. “I wish Mike could actually fly a plane someday. We must all have dreams, locked up deep inside…. He’s just done so much for me; I wish I could give him the world.”


The next day I lazily opened my computer, only to find a message from my friend. She’d set up a time for Mike to visit a local airport!


“What?” I balked at the screen.


“It’s all taken care of,” the message read. Mike would get an official lesson where he’d actually fly an airplane! “I would love to come and be there when you do this, if you’d be okay with it,” my friend wrote.


I could hardly wait to see her—and I couldn’t believe she’d done something so wonderful!


This isn’t a post to “feel bad” about regrets or lost opportunities. We all age. We all have responsibilities. But this is a reminder that life is meant to be lived—no matter if you’re 19 or 90. You’re breathing d*mn it; do SOMETHING with that ability. 😉


So, last weekend held one of the best days of my life: to see Mike step out of a plane he’d just landed. He glowed, excited about the wind and the speed. His arms moved with such animation, swooping and diving as he weaved his story. (Just look at the picture in this post—he’s such a hilarious goofball!)


And my dear friend, her smile is etched on my heart forever. “I just love you,” I told her. 


“You too, Elisa.” Then she beamed, watching Mike bounce around like Tigger, telling us how grateful he felt for the opportunity.


Goodness multiplied seems like a perpetual-motion machine that can cast out any type of regret or fear. I felt such a sense of wonder seeing Mike reveling in the moment, and I’m beyond grateful to my generous friend (and her husband) who made this possible. They gave us something unforgettable: time well spent with those we love.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

An Angel Named Grandma Dee

"Grandma," I said when I was in elementary school, "I keep going to church to get saved over and over."

My grandma was a different religion than me, and she didn't fully understand what I tried to convey.

"Wasn't once enough?" she asked.

"Maybe," I said. "But maybe not. I might just be bad, and that's why God is doing this to me. When I close my eyes, I can't make the words stop. I keep seeing stories in my head. I pray that God will save me and stop the words. He's punishing me for when I've been bad. That's why He's making me see the words."

She laughed so hard before trying to clarify. "Seeing the words?"

"On a keyboard," I said. "Someone's typing them."

It was always the same. I'd see these crazy hands typing more and more. A stupid red mug—with swirly paint—sat by the keys which never stopped clicking.

"Maybe it's you," my grandma said. "Maybe you're meant to be a writer."

It was my turn to laugh. "No. God is doing this ‘cause I’m bad.” Then something hit me. “If I am meant to be a writer, there's just one thing I'll need."

"What's that?"

"Someone who's really good... I'll need that person to teach me."

Anyway, my grandma died a little while after that. She's the only grandma I'd known. Whenever I wanted to give up on anything, she would be there, wearing her beloved checkered apron, and cheering me on. And to be honest, after she passed, sometimes I found it hard to keep believing in myself as a writer.

I think that's why my grandma had to send me an angel.

_____

So, many years passed after my grandma's death. I picked up writing again and even hired an editor to perfect my fantasy novel. But after I sent her the payment in full, the editor pulled out of the project. "Unfortunately, the payment was over a thousand dollars worth of dresses I sewed for her daughter," I told a friend on the phone. "Reselling them would be a nightmare. It's just such a specific size. Plus, her daughter looks so happy in the pictures. So, I just let the lady keep them. I guess they're going through some hard times."

"Oh, wow."

"Yeah, but what am I supposed to do now? There's no way I can pay someone else."

After a small pause, the woman blurted with a hint of excitement, "I'll help you!"

At the time I had no idea who this woman really was; I'd only known her a short while. She lives in Missouri, and I lived in Utah. We'd simply met through blogging and had started an unlikely friendship that way.

Although her offer to help was extremely generous, I did feel a bit cautious. Everyone thinks they're an editor, but the truth is, the wrong edits can completely ruin a book.

"This is so kind of you," I said, then committed. "Okay, if you're sure. Let's work on editing my fantasy novel together." I would give this a shot.

It's actually quite hilarious now. The woman had been an editor for a big-name publisher while she worked with famous authors. I didn't know she'd sold thousands upon thousands of copies of her book "A Cat's Life"—in multiple languages. I just thought she was a fellow aspiring artist, an intriguing ex-nun who'd left the convent decades before, and a previous professor (with a deep understanding of Latin) who I adored for even taking the time to build a friendship with me.

The moment she embarked on the project, I recognized her level of expertise. I was the student from then on—with nothing to give—and a decade later I'm still learning. She started calling me every day. Early in the morning she'd read chapters I'd written, and then at night we'd spend between one to three hours revising them together. I went from knowing little about writing to learning more than I'd ever hoped for.

Months passed like that, leading to a life-changing conversation that I will never forget.

"When I started helping you edit your book, I was amazed with how fast you learned."

I'd wanted to reply and tell her I soaked up everything I could because that was my dream—having a mentor just like her to teach me.

She went on, believing in me more than I believed in myself. "I've read many, many authors... You really have something special."

"You're so good to me." I couldn't fathom her kindness. And as she spoke, I typed some of her words into my laptop so I could keep them forever. That's when I looked at the keyboard. My crazy hands typed more and more. Then I noticed the stupid red mug—with swirly paint—sitting by the keys which never stopped clicking. And I remembered what I’d always seen as a kid: the vision I’d described to my grandma before she died.

I tried to keep my emotions at bay, but it was so hard.

I stood, remembering my grandma and how much I miss her every day. I felt such a loneliness then, a longing to have someone like her in my life again. She'd been such a wealth of knowledge.

"Elisa," my mentor, Dee Ready, paused. "I told a friend the other day...you've endeared yourself so much to me. We started editing this and we were good friends, but now I feel as if I have a granddaughter."

I cried then, huge tears, because Dee felt like family to me too—she always had!

It’s crazy to remember how I thought God was punishing me as a kid. Turns out He wasn't. He showed me a piece of what was to come—to confirm that I was on the right path. And then, to top everything off, He let me meet someone who would change my life forever.

It's amazing that Dee has been close to us for over a decade now. She's come out to help me while I've struggled with cancer. She's helped take care of the kids. And she's shown me such an abundance of love.

I needed her in my life, and I honestly think she somehow needed me too.

Life is full of so many beautiful miracles. When she last came to see us, as I watched her playing with Trey and Indy, I couldn't help being grateful that I get to have this extraordinary woman in my life.


A photo from when Dee came out for Christmas a few years ago.
Several years ago when KPVI (local channel 6) featured Dee and I at a joint book signing. 

x



Cutting Back to Part Time

 Yesterday, I had to officially cut back from full- to part-time hours. I can’t describe how hard this was for me because it’s admitting a weakness. It’s equally devastating that I’m applying for disability—and I’m not even 40 yet!  


I know I might sound dramatic, but I want to dig a hole, drink pina coladas alone, and not come out for a long, long time. 


I derive so much of my worth from working hard and earning money. And I LOVE my job. This is the most amazing company. They’ve toiled with me through all of this, listened and been patient throughout treatments and time off. They even collected a donation when I had to travel all those times for radiation. 


I’m telling you, if you ever need to utilize newsletters for marketing, please contact Newletter Pro because they’re marketing geniuses AND the owner is such a genuinely good guy! I don’t know how my family would have made it this far without them. (And I’m glad they’re keeping me part time.)


My nurse sighed with understanding as I spoke with her yesterday. “This is what needs to be done,” she said on the phone. “We’ve been telling you to cut back. Something’s gotta give, and unfortunately it will continue to be your health unless you slow down. I’ll fill out the disability paperwork this week.”


Anyway, I know this “new normal” is for the best, but it’ll take a minute to get used to. 


Poor Mike. First he marries a single mom, then she gets stage four cancer, and now she needs to be on part-time disability. #lemon 


Whatever I lack, I better make up for in personality! And I better learn some new recipes! I’m gonna make this up to him somehow. If things get desperate I just might end up writing another erotic novel.



This is a pic from when I got the job in the summer of 2020.  I still miss my hair!