So, someone left this rock on our porch—probably not knowing I’d try to play the notes on it! You might be surprised to hear what song it turned out to be!
🎼 🎵 🎶
To whoever gave this to us, thank you so much. 🥰
Walk about half a mile and you’ll reach this vast peak right before the trail dives into the most beautiful valley you’ve ever seen. There are sage hens, deer, rabbits...moose! You might even see a mountain lion (if you’re unlucky). I’ve been there plenty of times, hiking a few miles in until I reach a bubbling stream where I eat my lunch and pretend I’m a nymph—or something. I’ve even played my violin there. Sometimes the forest mutes itself when I fiddle, and other times, when I coax soft melodies from my violin, birds have stared as if they’ve never seen a violin before! (I remember that magical feeling.)
Mike and the kids have gone with me, visiting this secret place. And we always have some strange adventure like the time a deer almost ran into us or when we realized a moose had been following us the whole time!
But, now that I can’t hike to my favorite place, I’ve been dreaming about it. Last week I didn’t know if I could continue treatments, so sick beyond words. But today is better because I have a goal.
It can be exhausting just walking to the mailbox. In fact, sometimes I have to lie down afterward and rest. We still don’t know what my prognosis is: They gave me two years at first, but now I might have much, much longer. And even though we’re living from scan to scan, I’ve made up my mind.
I’m gonna reach that peak again—the one half a mile in. If I can get a cane, check the mail each day, then go to the mailbox eight times a day...well, I can persevere to that peak! So, I can’t make it to my favorite place YET, but at least I can stand in the wind and look down on that gorgeous valley.
I’m determined, and baby steps are gonna get me there. I can’t wait to post a picture when I reach that peak! Let’s do this thing!
Fall of last year I had stage 4 cancer—but I didn’t know it yet. I’d seen several doctors who persisted that this was regular back pain. “We’ve seen a lot of this in 2020, people sitting more than normal. You’re one of many facing the same issue.”
Yet, the pain seemed anything but normal. If I could describe turning into a zombie, this pain would be it. Frustrated and a bit disheartened from my last visit to the doctor, I finished my remote work and went outside to watch the kids play.
I stretched my hurt leg, and raved over how well my kids could scooter and skateboard.
That’s when it happened—out of nowhere a massive grasshopper jumped right next to me on the porch steps!
I have a healthy respect for big bugs. For example, if I see a small spider I can kill it. But if it’s a tarantula—I’m not about to use a thin toilet paper barrier to feel it burst beneath my fingers. Gross, right?!
So, the lord of all grasshoppers eyed me with his beautiful emerald eyes, turned to watch my children, and sat like a dog! He was so regal...so perfectly majestic sitting there, shining in all his glory like an expensive knickknack. And I was completely captivated. In fact, I didn’t move because this massive creature was fascinating! After about five minutes, my son suddenly jogged over, jolted up the stairs, and ran inside to get some water.
I let out a muffled cry. Next to me twitched the beautiful, SLIGHTLY SQUASHED, bug! He’d lost a leg, and after a moment he tried standing, but simply turned in circles over and over on his side.
A woman must have heard me cry out because she ran over from the street. “Is everything okay? Are you all right?”
When I pointed to the spinner next to me she broke out laughing. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Is everything going okay?” a man yelled from the street.
What the hell was happening? Was our entire town out for a jog—in front of my house?
“You never would’ve made it on a farm,” she said. Then the woman turned away from me. “Hey, John. She’s fine. Just too innocent for this world.”
My brows transformed into an angry ‘V.’ Someone had used those same words about my oldest son, right before he died. “Too innocent.” Who were they to judge me anyway? At least I wasn’t wearing a sports bra and wedgie shorts in public!
Anyway, my youngest looked at the flailing grasshopper. “Wow, you really loved him? Didn’t you?” she whispered.
“He was just...so awesome. But now something is wrong with him.”
Just like I knew SOMETHING was wrong with me....
When my son resurfaced from the house, we tried to help “The King” stand, but he kept falling. “Oh, my gosh!” I quaked.
“We’re giving him multiple concussions! Mom, he’s gonna die!” my son said.
An old truck rumbled into the driveway. Mike jumped out, so happy to be off work. “What’s wrong?” His smile flatlined after seeing my concern.
“Ummm...it’s a bug.”
“But it isn’t just any bug. He’s broken now—like I know I am. You should’ve seen how kingly and majest—”
Mike kicked him into our flowerbed and then placed a rock on him! “And now he’s out of his misery.”
Mike and the kids went inside. Indy mouthed through the screen door, “I’m sorry, Mama.” Empathy...it must be genetic.
And I stayed on the steps.
You see, I innately knew a laborious, painful journey waited in my future. Only a few weeks later, a radiologist finally discovered the cancer. And my life changed forever. Multiple rounds of unending infusions, several series of radiation... We’re only five months in, and I’m already so exhausted beyond comprehension.
It sounds so arbitrary to remember the king of all grasshoppers, but it just shows how the little things stand out when we’re having a hard time.
Some people are dying to live healthy lives while other people start livin’ when they’re dyin’.
I’m 20 years old. My marriage is in shambles, and, as such, I’m the sole breadwinner, working two jobs just to pay the mortgage. But this isn’t a sad day. I sit in a carpeted hallway, expectantly facing a closed white door. I have a whole day off—and adventure awaits!
It seems like forever and unfortunately my eyes keep wandering to another door that conceals a bedroom down the hallway. But I tell myself to never go down there...ever.
I’m just about to get sucked down the hall, when I hear a little noise, something I’ve been waiting for.
I open the white door and can hardly contain my joy. My very own princess, my perfect baby stands in her crib. Curly hair frames her face, and she giggles when she sees me. We are Heaven—to each other. I whisk her up, and we spin.
The morning is a blur of reading, singing, and playing. I hold her on my hip and cook up new ideas for lunch. But I only finish when she’s tasted the final product, and she points her cubby finger in approval.
After she eats, I clean her up, and her long eyelashes start to flutter. But I don’t just want to put her in bed. She falls asleep, finally closing her eyes after staring into mine with such love. And I hold her there in my arms. I don’t care how we’re both so young, or how tired I am from working too many hours, or how worried I am about divorce. My baby, well, she’s MY world.
After a while, I bring Ruby to her crib and cover her with the best blanket we own.
It’s only then that I can’t resist the pull down the hallway. There’s another crib in there, an empty crib. Tears flood my eyes as I remember my baby boy who died. And I must have been there a long time. After an eternity of silence, I hear my little girl down the hallway.
I rush to her, whisk her up again and hold her tight. She hugs me back, always making everything better. I wipe my eyes so she won’t know anything’s wrong, kiss her on the forehead, and ask what adventure we should go on next! We pull out her blocks, and instead of focusing on things that are broken and sad, the two of us begin building.
I thought of this memory because I threw up blood this week. Turns out I needed to come off my blood thinner, but it was still a scary experience considering everything I’m going through.
And that night as I told myself that despite pain, more intense cancer treatments, and the fear they inevitably bring, what keeps me strong is my family and friends.
In life we often have two doors to chose from. Regardless of our circumstances, instead of regret and bitterness, choose love.
The Day I Stopped Believing in Jesus
Even though we only attend church for our kids, the pastor and a deacon asked if they could talk with me and Mike after church today. I was surprised when they gave us the most wonderful card—and said how they’ve still been praying for my full recovery.
I immediately explained that although I know Jesus existed, I don’t think he’s the son of God. Although I’d expected a reaction—or for them to snatch the card back—this confession didn’t even phase them. Instead, they said how much they love our family. AND as we spoke, I finally realized why I don’t believe in Christ anymore....
I was such a strong Christian years ago. So, why did that end?
People might think it’s when my son died. But that wasn’t when I stopped believing in Jesus; that’s when I momentarily stopped praying to God.
I wasn’t “mad” at Him—my heart was sad, devastated beyond words. I’d prayed for my son to live; how could God need him even more than I did???
So, no. That’s not when I stopped believing in the power of Jesus. It happened when I was 17 and Christians who loved Jesus—as much as I did—performed an exorcism on me.
I wasn’t legally married. I made a mistake: I had sex. Leaders swore that a demon had been transferred to me during the act....
The lead exorcist (the assistant pastor) made me sit in a pea-green kids’ chair. For a moment I actually wondered if I was possessed because people I trusted implicitly said so.
“Open your eyes, demon!” the assistant pastor repeated until he practically shook me, and yelled, “open your eyes!”
My little heart quaked inside, so scared. The look on his face. The vein bulging from his forehead. None of this felt right. “What’s your name?” he yelled, tiny bits of saliva flying. He—and the rest of the group—seemed so excited. An exorcism. This was a big deal.
I told him my name is Elisa. He grabbed me by the shoulders and leaned on me because the chair I sat in was so low to the ground. “I’m going to need everyone’s help with this one,” he said.
He kept asking for my name. His grip got harder, and my left shoulder actually hurt. Then everyone shoved their hands on me with SUCH a mob mentality. I’ve never felt claustrophobic like that, but the whole room came in on me. I couldn’t move. I started shaking when I realized my real name wasn’t good enough—of course they thought the shaking was a demon.
“Self righteousness,” I yelled, and I’m mortified to confess that I actually went along with it....
“Hallelujah, Jehovah!” the bad-breath exorcist said. “I know there are more in there. Tell us your names!”
Other people joined in with demands, clamoring for a piece of me.
“I don’t feel anything evil inside me, guys. I don’t feel…anything evil. I want to leave!”
“TELL US YOUR NAMES!”
“Violence!” I yelled and tried standing again. “Rebellion… Suicide!” I would say anything to leave that claustrophobic room with the pea-green chair. The grips got harder as I went on and on, hoping I could finally discover the secret password to freedom.
A while later it finally stopped because apparently the demons had flown out the window or something. The exorcists left the room so they could call the main pastor, and I stayed, crying in that pea-green chair. I remember turning around and kneeling down—begging God for help.
They had as much conviction as I did. But it was a different conviction. I made a mistake; I didn’t think that made me possessed. We had all believed in Jesus—the same Jesus. And they had ALL turned on me. How could they believe something with so much conviction. Maybe that could make me wrong too.
And as I spoke with the kind pastor of the Baptist church today, that’s what I thought about: when people did an exorcism on me over two decades ago...the day I stopped believing in Jesus.
The gong resounded. Another person had finished infusions. Dozens of people clapped despite the IVs in their arms, and I’m sure most of us smiled under our masks. BUT...I had to wonder if anyone else feels the same way I do: that I might never get to hit the gong—that I might never be done with stupid infusions—that I might never...get...better. I suddenly wanted to pick up the mallet and go hit it hundreds of times just to say I have. But I’m not a two-year-old, so I didn’t.
I also kept myself from saying any of this out loud. My mother-in-law sat beside me as medicine dripped directly into my veins. And we really were having the best time visiting and laughing; I didn’t need to mar that with a sob story.
A woman near us spoke to a nurse, “He’s awfully sad. He needs to do this.”
My ears perked with interest! Who was sad? Who needed to do what?! Then I heard the strangest thing. A man’s voice began singing songs that I remembered from childhood — spiritual songs that are hard to forget.
And as he quietly sang “How Great Thou Art,” I suddenly wanted to sing with him — this faceless man who sat in another cubicle — and the desire mounted stronger than almost anything in the world.
But it seemed pretty embarrassing to sing in front of my mother-in-law AND in front of the more than 50 other people in the room. Sure they couldn’t see me in my cubicle, but they would hear me.
“I’ll be right back,” my mother-in-law said as if hearing my thoughts, and when she walked away the man started singing one of my favorite songs in the whole world.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
I slammed my mouth shut. I’m not even religious anymore. I go to church and I love God with all of my heart, but I don’t believe most of the things they teach. And yet, I could not control myself. I breathed deeply. I didn’t need to sing with this poor man. Why was the desire overpowering?
“Holy,” my voice joined his. “Holy, hoooooly...” the harmony floated atop his deep baritone—matching perfectly in thirds. He must’ve heard me because his voice swelled with strength. He’d been shaky and scared at one point, but now his song grew strong and majestic.
“Hooooolllly, holy, holy,” the words just flowed. And as we got louder everyone in the room quieted and simply listened to a moment that will always resonate within my soul.
We sang several verses and as much as it had grown, it finally came to a quiet, beautiful close.
When we finished, a woman said, “Did you... Did you...hear that voice singing with you?”
“You heard it too?” the man asked, sounding dumbfounded.
And even though we’re not supposed to bother other patients, I grabbed my IV stand, stood from my chair, and peeked over my cubicle. “It was me!” I said, almost giggling.
A stunning girl of about 20 stared at me with the widest eyes. Her dark skin glowed perfectly, and I knew she beamed under her mask. “That was amazing you started singing too. I can’t believe you knew the words.”
“Thanks for letting me join in. Hang in there, you two. This isn’t easy!” And although I couldn’t see the man from my angle, I sat down and watched as my mother-in-law returned to the room.
“I sang with him!” I said. “It was awesome!”
My mother-in-law laughed. She’s the sweetest woman, so full of love even though I’m the most random person ever.
The singer and his guest must’ve left soon after because a couple of the nurses came over to me and said, “That man was so sad and scared. His daughter said singing always makes him feel better. And what you both did… Well that is one of the neatest things we’ve had happen in here.”
“I couldn’t help myself.” Then I followed with, “But I think next time you guys need to join in!”
“I really wanted to, but I didn’t know the words. And then I realized, nobody wants to hear me sing!” one of the nurses said, laughing.
“I do! So, I want you guys to get ready for it. I’ll be back in three weeks. But while all of you are singing, I get to play the gong!” I could just see myself going crazy with the gong, like it’s Christopher Walken’s famous cowbell!
So, it’s probably my favorite memory from this crappy cancer business—so far anyway: the time I got to sing with a perfect stranger who found some unexpected strength in the infusion unit. Oh and it helped that people actually thought someone like me was a real, LIVE angel! 🤣 “It was me!” 💜💜💜
Yesterday was my last day of radiation and something so strange happened. I entered the waiting room and soon after three women came in and then remained, quietly watching TV. I can never be quiet, so after a moment I struck up a conversation. “What are you in for?” I asked. It’s no secret that we all have cancer; I just wanted to know which kinds they are afflicted from. “I have melanoma,” I overshared.
“Forget what I HAD. I’m almost done,” one woman beamed as she spoke. “I’m getting better!” But she sat in a wheelchair and she later explained that she could no longer walk because of the surgeries she’d undergone to remove the cancer. As she spoke I wanted to join in her joy, but I had a feeling that things weren’t quite as good as she conveyed.
The next woman—with long blonde hair compared to everyone’s shorn heads—doesn’t have a very advanced breast cancer and is getting treatments to solidify her full remission.
And the last woman remained quiet—stoic.
Finally I asked, “What have you learned from this?”
“That God is good,” the woman in the wheelchair said.
“I’m a lawyer,” the woman with Elsa’s hair said. “I’ve just learned again that life sucks.”
It wasn’t long after that both the woman in the wheelchair and Elsa were called back for radiation.
It was after a while that the third woman spoke, but she was so terribly hard to understand. “You asked,” she lisped, “what I’ve learned. I haven’t really learned, but it’s been confirmed that life isn’t fair.”
“You got that right!”
She went on to explain that the cancer started in her tongue and she had to have some of it removed.
I blinked back tears. Because I suddenly knew why she’d been so scared to talk in front of the others.
“They’re doing radiation on my neck now.” She spoke slowly. “The cancer...has spread.”
“I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I thought I’d been on one helluva journey!”
“But you don’t look like there’s anything even wrong with you!”
A male tech came and called my name. At that point I struggled to stand and my back had been pulled so badly that I hunched over and tried to walk straight.
The woman gasped, so surprised to see how I walked. “Talking with you was the best part of my day,” I said. “I’m Elisa.”
“Sarah,” she said, placing her hand in her chest.
And that’s how my last day went after having gone through various sets and weeks of intensive radiation.
I’ll never forget those people and what cancer taught them. I could honestly fill a book with what it’s teaching me.
On Saturday the side effects from radiation got so bad that I didn’t know if I could continue treatments. It might sound pathetic and weak, but the only thing I’d really kept down for six days was an orange. And although I kept dumping fluids down myself, it felt like pouring water into a hole-filled bucket.
Finally, when things seemed their worst, I crawled into bed.
“Are you okay?” Mike asked.
“Mike, I’m scared. I’m so dehydrated and sick. I feel feverish. If things don’t get better fast, I’ll need to go to the ER.”
Mike brought me some food and a drink. I tried to eat slowly, but despite anti-nausea medications I could already feel my stomach churning.
“Mike,” I finally said, “can you please pray for me?”
Mike doesn’t pray. But he did then—and it meant the world to me. After falling asleep, I saw the most amazing thing! I rested in the fetal position in God’s massive hand. I couldn’t see anything other than His hand and the sky which He lifted me into. And even though I didn’t have a blanket, it felt so warm and perfect. This strange energy flowed through every bit of me, simply filling me with peace. And even in the dream, a strange thought came to me: that someday I’d be in remission.
This sounds crazy because all of the doctors have said I have an incurable mutation of melanoma. Even if radiation and the new immunotherapy DO work, they will only extent my life, not save it. Yet, there was this feeling...and an unimaginably beautiful dream.
That morning I woke up stunned that I’d kept the food down. I sat at the kitchen table with Dee and Trey. I couldn’t shake the feeling of lying in God’s strong hand. “Look,” Trey suddenly said, pointing out the back window. Dee and I turned to see a huge hawk, perched on a branch about 15 feet away, just staring at us. After it flew away I tried drinking more water, and I’m amazed to say that it stayed down.
So, I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I do know that dream and its premonition have buoyed me through radiation this week. What do I have to lose anyway? Worst case, I’ll be let down; best case, I’ll see a miracle. Regardless of what happens, I’m thankful to have a renewed faith in the future.
“Just two more years.”
“Fine, but it’ll cost you.”
“Cost me what?” I ask, dubious.
“Only your left wrist. And you might never play the violin again. That’s my final offer. Is it worth the risk?”
I look into his steely eyes. He’s far less sinister than I expected, but regardless, I never want to see him again.
“Fine!” I tell Death, and I hold out my hand so we can shake on it.
Doctors remove the melanoma from my wrist, even a little of the bone too. But despite Death’s warning, I learn to rotate my wrist a little differently, and I begin to fiddle again.
Two years pass before Death meets me again. He’s always standing by a boat, always wearing a cloak that sways in a wind that I can’t feel.
“Two more years,” I say.
“It’ll cost you.”
“Good Lord! What do you want this time?”
“Just part of your spine. You’ll never walk the same again. People will pity you—think you’re a cripple.”
“Pity?” I don’t want to see people’s pity. BUT what I want to see...is my children grow up. “Will it hurt much?”
“Course it’ll hurt!”
“Fine.” We shake hands.
I undergo a surgery to have an entire vertebra removed.
And every several years the meetings continue until I’m a shade of myself, and I’ve lost everything except a desire to die.
I wake up then, sweating, feeling like someone stands beside my bed. Then I rub my eyes and realize it was just the dream again—the one where I bargain with Death. And I wonder what prices we’re all truly willing to pay to keep on living.... At the cancer hospital I see clearly what prices people have paid—and they see my price too.
Indy was out with Grandma Dee—showing off her mad scooter skills—when tragedy struck. She shot down a big hill and turned on the newly cleaned street. Seconds later, Indy ran inside, bawling, and I knew she’d broken her wrist by the coloring and how it bent unnaturally.
So I rushed her to the hospital and what happened there is quite unforgettable.
“Mama, can you hold me?”
Indy is 11, and she hasn’t asked me this for a couple of years. But I got onto the hospital bed with her and held her in my arms. She’s so precious—all of my kids are—but this was just one of those moments I’ll never forget.
We were at the hospital for over eight hours and during that time we were able to watch a romance on my phone, tell stories, play one-handed Cats in the Cradle, and anything else we could think of.
We’d been there for a while when the hand specialist finally came in. By this point, Indy was hurting pretty badly and little tears had started to fill her eyes.
“Can you tell me what happened?” The doctor asked, looking from Indy to me.
“Well, you see...we were swimming,” I said and Indy’s eyes began widening with bemusement. The doctor pulled out a notebook and started writing things down. “When out of no where this huge shark barreled toward us! I thought we were goners! But not with Indy around.” I gazed at her and grinned. “She socked that shark right in the nose. Tore its head clean off!”
At this point Indy started laughing sooooo hard! The doctor removed his glasses, then started laughing too. “I can’t believe I started writing that down!” He shook his head. “Now Indy, can you tell me the REAL story?”
“Yes,” she giggled, “I went down a hill I’ve never tried before, and I fell. Then my brother said to get up and that I was fine. But I really think I broke my wrist.”
He showed us the X-rays and explained that Indy would need to be put under so her could pop it back in and place a splint. So, Indy bravely went into the room with the sedation team, and they let me watch through the window. I cried, tears seeping into my mask. But I’d told them I was brave enough to watch, so I wiped my tears quickly and regained my composure. Within minutes, everything was done and the ketamine began wearing off.
“Mama!” Indy cried. “Where are you? Mama?”
I shot into the room before they even told me I could, and I held her left hand. “You’re okay, baby.”
“It’s all blurry. You have so many eyes. Everything’s all wrong!” she sobbed.
The nurses nodded, deciding that I could stay while the medicine wore off.
I pressed my forehead to hers. “Just close yours eyes.” Then I started singing to her. It reminded me so much of when she was a baby, as she slowly calmed down and placed her arms around my neck. I tried not to get emotional again, but I just loved being close to my little girl. I sang to her for a long time and when I backed away, her eyes could focus, and it seemed that the sedation had fully lost its hold.
“I love you, Mama. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you!”
And it hit me for the millionth time how these moments are what matter in life. It’s not the stupid things we use to stack ourselves against. We might try to measure ourselves with accomplishments, but the greatest accomplishment is when those closest to us know how much we love them.
Mike came to the ER after that, so worried about both of us. After hugging Indy, he turned to me. “How are you feeling? Are you okay?”
I nodded, stunned. For all that time I’d forgotten about the cancer, the pain, and all of it. I’d just been enjoying time with the precious little girl who can bring light into almost any situation.
This has been a rough week. Someone reported my GoFundMe as fraudulent, and it was taken down. So we had to furnish proof of not only my medical conditions but of our bills as well. (They’re reviewing our documents now.) As if that wasn’t enough, I heard someone has been spreading terrible rumors about me. I didn’t want to believe it weeks ago. After all, that’s like attacking someone who’s already hurting, crawling along the ground, literally fighting for their life. But I got the confirmation in writing last week, and I’ll be honest, the revelation stung.
Before radiation, as the techs prepared me to go into the machine, I told them about all of this. “Don’t worry,” they said. “Unfortunately, we hear stuff like this all of the time.”
“What?!” I didn’t mean to, but I broke out laughing. “There are so many good people in this world—but what is wrong with the other people?”
“Right?” one man said.
As I got into the machine, I fought the waves of nausea that rolled over me. That’s when my mind turned to other things that had happened recently. The other day I became so nauseous that I pulled my car into a parking lot. One of the dearest people, Dee, sat next to me in the car. “I’m so embarrassed, but I think I need to throw up,” I said. “I’m gonna park over here!” It was the least populated area and only had a couple of cars nearby. So I got out and puked in one of the bushes. I’m sure I looked like Gollum or a zombie from “The Walking Dead” as I hunkered down, convulsing.
I’d finally finished yakking when I turned and saw that there WAS actually a woman in the car to my left—who immediately rolled up her window and locked her doors. Cancer—it’s opened my eyes to a whole new world.
Anyway, my memory of this faded as the techs rolled me out of the machine. “Also, my car started smoked on the way to the hospital. If I play my cards just right, I think I can barely get it to roll to a mechanic shop. Do you know of a good place?”
They didn’t, so Mike called and found one where he said the man sounded trustworthy: Brigham Street Service in downtown Salt Lake.
I was nervous. We’re running low on funds, I just learned that some people suck, AND now I had to deal with someone worse than a lawyer or a dentist—a mechanic!
The guy took the car, and I was a bit shocked when his sister (the accountant) offered to give me and Dee a free ride to our hotel.
After a few hours of waiting, I finally had a moment to look at the funds being held by GoFundMe. I literally brawled as I discovered who had given funds. Having just wiped my eyes, that’s when my phone rang. “Ma’am,” the man from Brigham Street Service said.
“Hello!” I smiled. “Is the car done already?”
“Yes, and after hearing what you’ve been through, I took care of the bill. Can I pick you up in your car and you can drop me off at the shop?”
I was totally stunned. I mean—who does that? Didn’t he know what mechanics are supposed to be like? I hung up the phone and found it hard to move. Maybe I’ve seen some terrible things, but I’ve also seen so many amazing things that have far outnumbered the bad. I’m amazed by people’s kindness and generosity. Someone out there may be trying to “take me down a notch” as they said, but there are far more good people who are making our world a better place.
Thank God for kindness. I hope even the people who have been “difficult” to me will find the power of kindness one of these days too.
Several months ago I received something quite unique in the mail: an envelope with a single eagle feather in it! I later discovered that Mato-Uste had sent it to me after performing a smoke ceremony “to contact the Grandfathers around the campfire.” It took a moment for me to understand, but he kindly explained that the feather was waved over smoke to help it soar to the heavens so the Grandfathers can bless and embrace me.
“You can keep the feather or release into the wind with a prayer. It will find the Grandfathers.” Mato-Uste gained his wisdom about this from Mae Taylor—a very respected Nez Perce holy woman. I love this man dearly and felt so happy to see his excitement about the feather. “The Grandfathers, Wolf Brothers, and Eagles will guard your passage. Be safe and happy.”
My family members each expressed their curiosity about the feather. In fact, a couple of them told me to keep it. “I don’t know why,” I replied, “but I want to let it go someplace special. It’ll be a sign that God is listening to my prayer.”
So, my brother thought of the perfect place because Windy Point features three cliffs that people can easily walk to. We drove there, and I struggled a bit as the car jolted along the bumpy road. But that was the least of my worries; I didn’t know if I could even walk the short distance to the cliffs.
After we arrived the sun shone brightly, showcasing the beginnings of spring, and the area lived up to its name. “Hold my hand,” Mike said, his hair blowing several directions as the winds shifted sporadically. “Are you sure you can do this?”
“I have to,” I said. “It just seems so important.”
So my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and Mike helped me slowly traverse the rocky landscape. We finally chose the cliff on the far right where everyone could stand around me in a circle. Then my sister-in-law gave the most wonderful prayer. Everyone backed away except for Mike—who held onto my waist. After enduring all of these cancer treatments, the last thing I needed was to stumble off a cliff.
The wind blew hard, and I let go of that blessed feather. But after traveling away momentarily, it flew back—right to my brother! We tried again—and it boomeranged to my dad! We moved to another cliff that faced another direction and seemed more majestic than the last. This must be where the feather wanted to be let go. But defeating all odds, it came back again.
Completely dumbfounded—and maybe even frustrated—my brother and Mike climbed to a cliff that I couldn’t reach. My brother let it go with so much ceremony in his face—and it came back. My mom even tried, but it didn’t seem to matter who let it go, the feather always returned.
“It doesn’t want to leave you,” my dad said. “You should keep it.”
Worn out, I had to sit on a rock before edging back to the car. And as I sat there, something circled above me. “Oh my!” my mom said. “Elisa! There’s an eagle above us!” And it was, glorious and perfect, glinting as it dipped and arced several times before floating away like I’d hoped my feather could have.
When the car disembarked from the canyon, I contacted Mato-Uste. “What does it mean?” The eagle had seemed quite amazing, but maybe it meant something else. Maybe God had rejected my prayer.
Defying my worst fears, the man’s response surprised me. “It’s meant to be! The Grandfathers want to watch over you. I thought this might happen. You are blessed!”
A few days later I saw my oncologist, and she explained that several specialists had spoken about my case at the tumor board. “We’re going to try a new immunotherapy. If it works, it could significantly extend your life.”
A bit of hope glimmered for me. I’m trying so hard not to be overly optimistic because I don’t want to have my heart broken like when my son died. But still, maybe the feather staying really was a good sign. And maybe these collaborative specialists could change the course of my life! Yes, this is an incurable kind of cancer, but maybe the future is brighter—and longer for me—than doctors originally projected. We’ll just have to wait and see, but until then, my feather is with me, reminding me of how powerful it is to keep hope alive.
I’d recently turned 8 years old, and despite my mom’s best efforts to keep me safe, that day didn’t go as planned.
I always found strange refuges where I would hide, read, and imagine. My Greek neighbors—in their 80s—would visit with me and feed me tons of braided cookies.
They didn’t know it, but when we weren’t visiting, I loved to hide in the bushes to the side of their house. The plants grew so thickly together that I had to crawl just to get in between them. I’d push through branches and spiderwebs, then lean against the brick house and read. The sun shot perfectly through the branches and most of the time my little black cat would join me. It became my own entrance to a magical world where I could escape and imagine.
That day I didn’t read though—and my cat didn’t join me. So, I thought about my friend, Candice. Days before, our moms had brought us to pick asparagus, but Candice seemed all wrong. “I fell on the ground,” she said. “It was a really hard fall. They had to rush me to the hospital. And I got cancer.”
Cancer was previously unknown to me, and it sounded terrible. In fact, I never wanted to get cancer, and I never wanted to fall on the ground because that’s obviously how people contracted the disease. Candice seemed so tired when she talked about it...and sad. She said she might die someday—that we’d all die. I knew that! But I didn’t want to think about it.
I shook my head and decided my “magical place” didn’t seem so magical at the moment. I didn’t want to stay there, thinking about how my friend might close her eyes and never open them again.
So, I crawled from the bushes, got on my scooter and started zooming up and down the sidewalk. I’d sit and straighten my hands up so I could hold the handlebars tightly. I’d gone down a hill and was picking up speed when my old, Greek neighbor got into his car. It all went so fast. I tried to move, but the puke-green car sped—too quickly—and the bumper slammed against my forehead.
I sprawled, my scooter screeching across the pavement. I hit the ground so hard, but I felt too shocked—even beyond tears. Then my neighbor was standing over me, screaming. “Oh, my God.” His hands pulsed, up in the air. “I almost ran you over. I almost—“
I couldn’t hear him after that.... I’d fallen now, fallen hard just like my friend.
I heard my mom later. She spoke with the man. He claimed that he could have killed me. He said he couldn’t sleep anymore—could hardly live with himself. “I couldn’t see her.”
I really thought about death then. It was so strange to think about something I couldn’t begin to understand.
My poor neighbor was strained after that. He and his wife gave me more cookies than normal, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes for long.
So, I walked out of their back door one day, crawled in between the bushes, and wished he’d never hit me with his stupid car.
I never saw Candice again, and I also stopped going to visit my neighbor. It was just too hard, seeing all of that fear in the old man’s eyes.
Now, since I’ve gotten cancer, I see that same fear in people’s eyes. But nothing is more terrifying than seeing that look...reflected in the faces of my children.