Monday, August 30, 2021

Withstanding the Test of Time

It all started in middle school. B.H. and I had talked numerous times, and honestly I thought he was one of the most intelligent and insightful people I’d ever met. Later, in high school, we joked during ceramics and woodshop. He even jumped in to help when I cut my thumb in half on a table saw and my blood splattered most of the class. 

It wasn’t until an assembly that I turned into a bad friend and said something I’d regret forever.

“I had sex,” he confided. “Do you think I’ll go to Hell?”

Instead of really listening or showing empathy, I regurgitated something I’d heard about unbelievers in church. “Yes…. You’ll go to Hell.”

His face fell in disappointment and so much sadness rested there, as if he’d expected far more from me. And I cried later—when no one could see my tears. I couldn’t stand the memory of hurting someone I respected so much.

Time passed. Some kids started calling me “Bible Girl,” a condescending term because I carried my Bible everywhere and read it until the cover fell off. 

Not long before I graduated, my life spiraled out of control. One Monday morning people talked as if I couldn’t hear. “Did you hear about Bible Girl? … Elisa lost her virginity.”

I put my hand by my neck and tried to calm my breathing. Their judgement stayed behind me, though, as I deliberated over what I’d done. Hot tears split across my cheek as I heard another kid. “So, you aren’t a virgin,” he said, then winked at me.

I could hardly see anything. The ceilings and walls pulsed closer. I couldn’t find a way out. I had irrevocably ruined my own life….

I’m still not sure at what point I saw B.H. after this, but I’ll never forget his words. “When you find yourself,” he’d said, “it’ll be a beautiful thing. There’s so much inside to be proud of. Who cares what you’ve done? Who cares what people think? The real you, beyond those stupid mistakes, that person is beautiful and that’s the person I hope you’ll become.”

I didn’t deserve kindness—especially from him—despite that, he showed compassion when no one else did.

My twenty-year reunion is in a couple of weeks, and it’s brought back a lot of memories. I’ve honestly been terrified to attend until something amazing happened on Saturday…. B.H. came to Idaho from back East! 

In 2020 he discovered that I have cancer. His gorgeous mom has even helped me at the hospital. I never imagined all of this would transpire or that my dear childhood friend would come and visit!

We talked like no time had passed. And after over 20 years, I was finally able to apologize for the cruel words I said so long ago.

“Elisa, even back then I didn’t take it to heart. I knew you too well.” And then he went on to explain how happy he was to see me—to see how I’ve turned out. And instead of saying, “When you find yourself,” he said how great it IS to see the person he hoped I would become.

“And you’re everything I always knew you’d be!” I said, pride in my voice. Sure he’s married a gorgeous woman and become incredibly educated and successful…but that wasn’t what I meant. B.H. never lost sight of what really matters: showing kindness and compassion when people need it most. Even now when I’m struggling not to die from cancer, he decided to come visit, entertain my family, and give us an unforgettable day.

I’m so grateful for friendships that withstand the test of time and for people who are so fiercely good at heart that they always stay themselves, unhindered by experiences…and regrets.

I’m actually looking forward to the reunion now. I’ll have to let you know how it goes. It’s time to forget about the hurts of the past and just move forward to a hopeful future.

For more about this time in my life and how I ran away to be a street musician in Hawaii, check out “Bible Girl.”

Photo by Sarah Chai from Pexels

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

What Does It Feel Like Having Cancer?

 What does it feel like having stage 4 cancer? 

People are curious and even scared, maybe that’s why I hear this question so much.


Three years ago, doctors removed a purple mole from my wrist, taking muscle and a little bone too. But many times stage 2B melanoma returns within five years—and that’s what happened to me two years later.

I first had an odd pain that shot from my lower back down my right leg; the doctors thought it was sciatic-related. But from June-October of 2020 I began losing the use of my leg and could only fall asleep in the bathtub, surrounded by scalding water. It also felt as if a massive festering wound stretched across my back—in need of a vat of Neosporin.

After surgeons discovered that tumors had begun growing inside of my bones, and changing the basic flexibility of my spine, they decided to remove an entire vertebrae and fuse my L1-5. A new pain started then, when I walked, rolled over, and stood for too long. 

Then the infusions (immunotherapy) started. This, coupled with the cancer, has caused flulike symptoms, aches, fatigue, and fogginess. This starts for me around 2-3 p.m. with some regularity, but can begin earlier when I’ve physical exerted myself too much.

The liver failure, from the immunotherapy caused diarrhea and vomiting so extreme that I began throwing up an alarming amount of blood. (I’m on blood thinners because of blood clots I got during two surgeries—probably why I needed a blood transfusion in 2020 and why it’s easy to throw up blood.)

All of this came to mind because I got the second COVID shot yesterday. My oncologist hadn’t been overly eager for me to get it since I’m “already going through so much.” I’ve had a fever on and off all day, but what’s intriguing is how much these vaccination side effects feel like cancer! I’m talking about the chills, flulike symptoms (or rigors as a NP at Huntsman says), nausea, aches, and fatigue.

This isn’t political, but for me, I’m grateful to have gotten vaccinated. My oncologist’s nurse told me today, “That’s why we’ve wanted you to stay home. An exposure to COVID could have been fatal.”

I blinked hard, so shocked with the reality. An hour ago I still had a low-grade fever, but I honestly felt compelled to ask Mike to help me write this post. I feel so bad for anyone who’s had COVID. I’m hoping I’ll be feeling my “regular” cancer stuff tomorrow. It’s astounding what we can get used to living with; I guess that’s what I’ve done. This new baseline required some adjustments, but this fever makes me grateful for the “normal” moments.

Cancer isn’t something to be scared of—people simply find the strength to carry on. But it is something to be proactive about. I wish I would’ve had that mole removed when my mom first told me to. My life would be completely different right now if I had.

Monday, August 23, 2021


 The nausea and vomiting have returned, along with a fear that I’ll start throwing up blood like I did when my liver failed—and that things will get worse. “I don’t want to lose my ability to talk and sing,” I finally told Mike while waiting for scan results. The results would determine if I needed radiation on my neck and throat.

“You just need to stay positive,” Mike said even though I’ve caught him crying when the kids weren’t around and he thought I’d fallen asleep. My chest physically hurt as I listened to him, knowing he needed anything but for me to acknowledge that I’d heard him—my larger than life man—in the throes of despair. I knew then that the fear had finally gotten to him. It’s the same thing that’ll eat me faster than cancer if I let it.

To combat this, I’ve been attending three different churches that aren’t even the same religion. Thanks to Zoom one is in Hollywood, New York, and Pocatello, Idaho. Each initial service shocked me because (thanks to friends) they’re praying for me. My name runs across display screens, and it lines bulletins. It’s so humbling—this absolute kindness—hard to fathom. And I figure, why not “up my chances,” right?! The more prayers the better. Last December, I even sent a letter to some Brazilian monks! They didn’t respond, but hey, at least I tried.

“I feel like I’m breaking,” I told Mike that night. “When is it too much? I just don’t know if I can do radiation again. Plus, if I lose my voice, I can’t nag you.”

Mike broke out laughing and smiled. “Elisa, you should see what’s on your nightstand.”

So I went into our bedroom and found a letter with international stamps on it. With anxious hands, I opened the envelope. After eight months, the monks had actually written back—in Portuguese! 

It took forever, but I finally typed most of the words into Google Translate. They explained that the monks had done a remote spiritual “operation” on me in July and that I would see the results soon.

“You will win,” the translation read. “Do not be discouraged, persist a little longer. Do not cultivate pessimism. Focus on doing good. Forget the suggestions of destructive fear. Keep going even while avoiding the shadow of your own mistakes. Advance even through tears.”

My phone dinged, interrupting my thoughts; the scan results were in. I could read the virtual report or wait to hear directly from the doctor at my next appointment. I clicked “review test results”—because patience is a virtue I lack. And as I waited for the file to load, I thought of all the prayers and support from so many people….

Mike entered the room. “The results are in,” I said, and he sat down by me.

I read as soon as the words surfaced on my phone. “The tumors remain the same—stable except for the tumor in my neck…” My voice shook, not even sounding like my own.

“Yeah?” Mike implored.

I dropped my phone on the bed and started sobbing. “The tumor in my neck…is shrinking.”

We hugged each other so tightly. We’re still not free and clear, but this is a start. Other than my brain tumor’s response to radiation, this is the first sign that the infusions are working. For me, this is the first tangible sign of hope.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Good Ones

 “My name is Jay.” The tan man smiled. I could picture what he probably looked like years ago as a surfer…before cancer got to him.

“What are you in for?” I asked. Sometimes this question doesn’t go over well—it’s how I test people. Luckily, Jay proved to be one of the good ones.

“Stage four bladder cancer. You?”

“Stage four melanoma.” This show-and-tell session made the waiting room actually fun!

“You look pretty good for having cancer,” he said.

“So do you! What can we say,” I grinned, “we’re awesome!”

He chuckled then started talking about his tumors, referring to them as “these guys,” and I instantly knew I liked Jay. “Look at this rash and all these scabs I keep getting! It’s crazy what we go through to keep on livin’. And the whole time ‘these guys’ just keep eating away at my body. I’ve been fighting this dang thing for 8 years—“

“Seriously?! I can’t imagine 8 years. I’ve been dealing with mine for a year, and I’m already tired!”

“You’re so strong though,” he said. “I can see it! And you’re positive. You have exactly what you need to get through this!” Then he told me about all of the drugs and trials he’s been on. “It’s amazing I’m still here. They told me I was gonna die when they first diagnosed me. So don’t lose hope, kid.”

“What are you fighting so hard for? What’s your reason?” I asked.

“I want to see my granddaughter grow up.”

I nodded. “I want to see my kids grow up too.”  We stayed quiet for a moment. “You know…” I sighed, “I had the strangest dream that I bargained with death. I always wanted five more years, and then—just five more years. Until it had been decades and my body was sick beyond repair.”

“Ain’t that the truth. Your dream was right; w always want more.”

A nurse came around the corner and said it was almost time to go back.

“Wait,” Jay said, “I need to tell you something important!”

“Okay?” I responded.

“I thought I beat this thing.” His eyes pleaded with me as the words left his mouth. “I had three good years when I knew I should travel and do all the things I’d always wanted. But I put it off, and now the cancer is back. I worry I’m getting really close to the end.”

I wanted to hug him, tell him he could still take those trips. But his elbows were far too bony, and his legs looked frail beyond comprehension. Maybe after 8 years of fighting…his fight is almost over.

“I’m just saying if you ever feel up to it, do those things! Take those trips! Don’t let anyone hold you back. Don’t have those regrets…like I do. When you feel good, just live.”

After that I went back to an hour-long MRI, and the whole time I thought about the spunky man I’d met in the waiting room. I sure hope I’ll see him again.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

A New Way of Speaking

 It felt selfish keeping his broken body alive. But still, as the nurse wheeled my son into the room, I asked: What if I changed my mind? What if I could no longer take him off of life support? She shook her head sadly and explained that it was too late. No matter how much I wanted my baby to live, the process for him to die…had already begun.

I remember holding him. He had the strongest little hands and such soft brown hair. My poor, sick baby—he was so perfect to me. 

I didn’t want to watch, but my eyes stayed glued to each detail of him as he suffocated in my arms, breathing oddly, gasping for air…like a godd*mn fish. He snuggled into me then, asking for help, but I couldn’t do anything to save him! In fact, his death had been my decision—my fault. And now I had to watch him die.

I naively thought a miracle would happen THEN. God knew I had enough faith. This could be like John 4 when Jesus heals someone’s son from afar. But this wasn’t some story in the New Testament. This was life. Where if it’s time for someone to die, no one can tempt fate’s hand. And so, after an eternity of labored, sporadic breathing…my son turned blue despite all of my hopes… And my baby boy died. 

I shook myself from the memory and turned to the nurse, “I feel like I always have the flu,” I said.

“And you might feel like that for a long time. It’s just part of this journey with cancer,” the nurse said. “At least we have pain medicine.”

“I really don’t like medicine,” I countered, but this is the ‘new normal’ they keep talking about. I sighed. “And now I might need radiation on my neck and throat?”


“And there’s a chance it could affect my ability to talk ‘normally’ and to sing?”

“Yes, but like the doctor said, it will most likely shrink that tumor. That’s the good news.”

I didn’t mean to, but I let out a little laugh. I’ve been working so hard to “speak no evil—lashon hara” according to the Jews. Apparently more radiation could make that easier. 

“But I love to sing…” I finally said, trying to keep from crying right in front of a stranger. I couldn’t imagine not being able to sing in concerts like I used to…or staying silent during worship at church.

And then I return to that memory with my son: I’m thinking about how I want to change everything and keep him on life support. I WANT to be selfish and keep him alive not because he should live in pain, because I NEED him.

“Elisa. Elisa?” the nurse steps closer. “Are you okay? I know this news about the radiation must be hard.”

“You know, if I didn’t have a young family, I don’t think I’d continue with treatments. There are just so many things I’m losing to stay alive. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I know other people have it so much worse, but right now—for me—this is hard.”

She left the room after a moment and the door shut. I stayed even though I should have packed up. And despite everything, an odd peace enveloped me. I suddenly understood the situation with my son. I knew—beyond doubt—that I did the right thing by letting him go. This pain I’ve been suffering through is only a taste of what he endured.

I thought then about how continuing treatments is the hardest thing I’ve ever physically done. And as I closed my eyes in that room, clarity came and joined the peace I’d previously felt.

I know that no matter the outcome of this situation, everything will be okay. There is true beauty in the good and the “bad.” Even when my son died, at least he could feel my love wrapped around him as his soul prepared to enter Heaven. An autopsy later discovered he would have died soon after we let him go. I’m just so grateful I got to be with him before he embarked on a new journey without me.

Anyway, I have the opportunity to find a strength in myself that I never knew I had. Plus, I really think my son is rooting for me—all the way from Heaven. 

Despite maybe losing the ability to sing and talk well, at least I’ll still be able to write. See, there’s ALWAYS a silver lining. Even if it robs me of everything else, I hope cancer will never take my ability to find the good—and right now, that’s the best I can hope for.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Letters of Love

“She never went to Europe.”

“She didn’t take a long trip on a train or go canyoneering.”

“She never finished learning Italian.”

Then these people—the critics of my life—turn brutal.

“She never saw her kids grow up.”

“Or got to watch them graduate from college.”

“She didn’t see them get married.”

“And…she never…grew old with Mike.”

I want to tell these people to shut up. Be quiet! But I’m stuck. I know I’m in an open casket, with satin and flowers all around. They’ve tried to make death beautiful so it’s less scary. But that “death-box” isn’t even what’s holding me back from telling them off. The fact that I’m dead, still trapped inside my decaying, inadequate body, THAT is what holds me back.

“Sweetheart…? Sweetheart!” My husband shakes me, and I throw my arms around him.

“I’m having that dream again—where I’m stuck in my body. And everyone is making me remember the things I never did. I didn’t see the kids grow up, Mike.” I sob so hard. “I didn’t get to see it!”

He holds me for the longest time. Then he whispers, “I found something awesome in the hotel room, and I want to show it to you.”

I open my eyes, wipe away my tears, and look around. We’re in a fancy bed and breakfast that Dee paid for. Mike and I should be enjoying how beautiful it is. I don’t have time for nightmares and dumb reminders that I have cancer. This is supposed to be…fun.

Mike points to a vase. “Look inside.”

“I can’t! Don’t you remember? I said it looks like an urn. No more reminders of death.”

He shakes his head. “Come on, Elisa.”

So, I open the lid and am shocked to find a note inside. “What kind of person would leave a note like this in a hotel vase? Do you think there are more?”

Mike excitedly rifles through various items in the room. 

“I don’t think you should be—“ I begin to say, but then he finds more notes and leaves them in a pile on the floor.

I gingerly lower my body to the ground, and Mike pulls a pillow from the bed. He cradles me right there on the floor, and we read note after note, discovering stories from people who had been married for decades to couples who’d spent their wedding night in that very room. We read three letters written to a man named “Scott” from three different women.

“Do you think ‘Scott’ is bringing different women here?” Mike asks me. “Are they all talking about the same guy?”

“Maybe so…” I completely forget about my dream then and smile as we read the letters addressed to Scott again. “We have to write a letter and leave it in the room!”

“I’ll leave that up to you,” Mike says.

“I can’t wait to start it with ‘Dear Scott.’”

Mike laughs, and afterward we put all of the notes back where he’d found them.

It’s not until the afternoon, when Mike busily packs, that I write a note. But it’s not about what I didn’t accomplish in life; it’s about the things I did. I write about my amazing children and family—who fill my life with such joy. I write about being an author and playing the violin; I describe what it’s like finally knowing what makes me tick. And then…I write about Mike. “As a single mom of four kids, I prayed God would send me a miracle. Then, He sent Mike, the kindest person I’ve ever met. We spent the night in this hotel because I needed a momentary escape from stage four cancer. Some days are good and some days are terribly bad. The point is that if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll appreciate every moment. At the end of your life, don’t regret what you didn’t do. Instead appreciate the memories you’ve made and the people you’re lucky enough to have known. That’s it really: It’s all about doing the best you can and being grateful.”

After signing my first name, I go to hide the note in a large box on the mantle, and I notice Mike has left one there too. 

I open it, read the words, and smile. He’s written a note that closely mirrors my own. I love the idea that someday someone else will be reading our words of love—surprised to find notes at a special bed and breakfast in Lava Hot Springs.

Below are pictures of the mantle and some of the notes we found in the hotel. 💕 What a neat experience!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Poor Beautiful Soul

 We’d planned a fancy girls’ trip to a resort town, so when Dee called the night before and canceled for health reasons, although I understood, I felt pretty devastated.

“It’s…non-refundable, Dee. I don’t know what to do.” I delivered the bad news. “But Mike and I can pay you for the hotel…. That way you’re not out the money.” We’re strapped for cash because of cancer treatments, but she didn’t need to house the cost, especially after dealing with her own health issues.

“Elisa, why don’t you and Mike just go and enjoy it. You’ve both been under so much stress, and I know you don’t get much time alone. This is on me.”


“Elisa. This is what I want.”

“I still wish you could be here,” I said. Dee is one of my favorite people in the whole world. We’d planned to eat cheese pizza and talk about philosophy and religion! We’d watch movies and play old games together. I’d even planned to let her win a few times! (Insert sarcasm—that woman is a card shark.)

“You’ll have fun. And you’ll also get that fancy dinner I paid for. One of you will have to eat the vegetarian meal, but what the heck!” A bit of excitement laced her voice, and I wondered if she’d actually planned this whole thing!

So, Mike and I entered the rustic hotel and prepared for dinner. I put on smoky eyes and falsies, then slipped into the tub to shave my legs—a battle since both cancer and surgeries left part of my right leg numb.

I finished up, then donned a dress I’d found at Goodwill and some pearls from Walmart.

Mike—that giver—had me model in front of the restaurant, and I smiled because despite everything, he makes me feel like I’m worth something. “Tilt this way… That’s it. Look down.” It wasn’t until we entered the restaurant that things flew south for the winter.

Mike peered around, appreciating the antique decor and delicious food. That’s when ladies at the table to our left began gossiping. (Of all the things God’s gifted me with, my kids hate my super-hearing.)

“Look at that dress. It must have cost a fortune. And that hair—the latest ‘fad.’”

“And those pearls!” 

“Some of the people who come here,” another woman said. “They know how to make money and how to spend it. But few of them appreciate what really matters in life.”

“Cheers to that.”

My hand nonchalantly went to the $3 imitation pearls around my neck. My dress had cost $5. And my hair was short, because it finally started growing out after radiation. Were they seriously talking about me?

“What do you think he does for a living?” a woman in a blue dress asked.

“Who knows. He was probably born with a silver spoon in his mouth. I bet they’re from California.”

“I’m from California,” another woman said, and they broke out laughing.

I turned to Mike, wondering if he’d heard any of it. But he has a skill I need to harness: blocking out the bad (aka gossipy people) and only taking in the good (antique decor).

I felt small and dirty after that. Then, as I looked down at my shoes, I noticed hair gleaming in the candlelight. I’d missed a large section of hair BY MY RIGHT ANKLE! Feeling like a hairy Essau, I sighed in disgust. I couldn’t even shave my legs right—or go into a restaurant without people gossiping about me!

“Oh, my God!” Mike suddenly said. “You look pale, Elisa. How are you feeling?”

Like Essau! “Honestly, I’m struggling,” I whispered, hoping he wouldn’t see the forest on my right leg.

He gave me some medicine which I swallowed after drinking water from a wine glass—classy. 

“What happened?”

“Nothing at all,” I lied. But stress exacerbates everything. And while listening to those loose-lipped women, my spine tensed until the pain became almost unbearable. “I’ll be fine.”

Mike pulled out a deck of cards after that and we played a few games. As I won, I forgot about judgment and cruel words. 

Our waitress came out, her eyes scanned the cards that DID NOT belong in a place like that. And after she grinned, I don’t know how, but we ended up telling her the story about Dee paying for our hotel and dinner. “I have stage four cancer,” I finally said so loudly that the women next to us stopped talking and one of them dropped a fork. “We’re here—at this fancy place—because she did something so nice for us.”

“We’ve been through some hard times,” Mike said “and I didn’t even realize how much we needed a break.”

When the meal ended, Mike helped me from my seat. I hunched more than normal from the pain and the hard antique chair. 

“I would’ve never known,” a woman said as I limped forward.

“Poor. Poor…beautiful soul. She’s so young.”

I looked at them sadly. “Knowledge changes perspectives, doesn’t it?” I said to Mike, but the women suddenly knew I’d said it for their benefit—and each of them turned blood red.

“Thank you, Mike,” I said as he continued helping me walk toward the door.

“Did you have a good time?” he asked.

“The best! The food was amazing! And the dinner itself was unforgettable. How did you know to pull out those cards when you did?”

“You just looked—like you needed to lose at something!”

I laughed so hard, wondering if he had actually heard the women.

And as we went back to our hotel room, I thought of Dee and how grateful I am for the good people in this world.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Meeting in a Synagogue

 I sat, honestly stunned. The Hebrew words wrapped around me like a balm, and I faintly heard the haunting harmonies my violin could play on top of the alluring music. And like a child running to the pied piper, I felt myself closing my eyes…yearning for the glory of God.

The music ended and the rabbi gave a few people cards—of course I’d somehow been one of them. I turned it over curiously to read a single word: forgiveness. Why had I been given THAT card? I wanted a redo. Forgiveness and patience aren’t things I excel at. I strained to look at a card someone got in front of me. Patience? Well THAT wasn’t much better. Good luck, buddy!

“I’ve given a few of you a card,” the rabbi said. “Please, one at a time, tell us of an example when you’ve embodied the word on the card.”

I quickly handed the “forgiveness card” to my husband. “Looks like you’re up,” I whispered.

“Ummm…” Mike’s eyes bulged.

“Mike, I have cancer. Please.”

“Oh, my gosh. Don’t use that again. That’s not even fair!”

As he studied me, I suppressed my laughter. “Fine!” I whispered.

At that point a man who looked like Jesus walked into the synagogue and sat by me! We looked at each other awkwardly. He knew this was a synagogue, right? Then…I broke eye contact and stood.

“Oh, yes! Thank you!” the rabbi said, clearly relieved that someone had decided to talk about their card.

“My card is forgiveness.”

“Is there a time when you’ve shown forgiveness?” he asked.

“Well…I hope it’s not too much to share, but I have stage 4 cancer. Melanoma. The doctors initially gave me two years to live, and now I might have more. But death…. Well, even though it faces all of us, when you’ve been told you’ll die soon, you have to make peace with a lot of things. There are people I’ve wronged and people who have wronged me. I’ve been forgiven and offered forgiveness, but it’s not always in the ways I’ve expected. Sometimes it’s through giving time and rebuilding relationships to what they should’ve always been. In that way, cancer has been a gift. I have the chance to make peace—which comes from forgiveness—before I die.” Then I sat down. Someone else talked about their card: positivity. Another person stood and shared a story about love.

After that, the modern-day Jesus kept staring at me. I felt uncomfortable until the service ended and it was time to mingle. But the guy followed me after a moment, even as another congregant showed me the Torah scroll at the front of the church and made Mike hold the heavy thing over his head just so he could “get a feel for it.”

“Some people hold this over their heads while other people  pray. It’s heavy enough that you hope it’ll be a quick prayer!” the congregant said.

“Wow! That IS pretty heavy!” Mike laughed.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. The modern-day “Jesus” stood there. Then he asked to talk with both me and Mike, but his voice strained as if he’d lost part of his tongue or been born with a severe oral defect.

“Hello,” I forcibly shoved my concerns aside. “My name is Elisa. It was a lovely service, wasn’t it?” I smiled brightly as I shook his hand. “It’s my first time being in a physical service like this…not just on Zoom.”

“Y…y…yes, it was ni….ce,” he slurred the words. Then he slowly explained how he wanted to speak with me after he heard what I said about cancer and forgiveness.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” I asked, then Mike and the man made a space so I could sit next to them. “My back and leg always give me trouble if I stand too long.  Sorry about that! What would you like to talk about?” I asked.

Then he told us the most amazing story. He’d been such a dynamic speaker that he’d decided to become a Christian pastor. “I w…wwwww…went to Texas.” He’d gone to school and almost had his PhD in Texas when he was diagnosed with cancer. It first appeared as a tumor in the roof of his mouth. A surgeon removed it, but this man would never talk the same again. Tears filled his eyes. “I didn’t ev…ev…even finish getting my PhD. What was the point?”

“But why?” I asked. “You have such a story to share. You have so much to say.”

“I ju….st don’t kn—know. Who w…wants to listen to someone like this?” He held the back of a pew so tightly that his knuckles whitened. “Anyway, I don’t know exactly what you…what you are go…going through, but I do know it…it’s hard.” He said they got all of the cancer and he’s in remission now. “But this is how I’ll…I’ll live now.” 

He’d come to a Jewish synagogue in Idaho while visiting family. Something “inspired” him to attend the service that night. And he’d felt like he needed to hear my story about forgiveness and perseverance as much as I’d needed to hear his story about remission. “Don’t…don’t lose hope,” he said.

Tears filled my eyes, and Mike held my hand as the man continued looking at us. 

“I’m glad you’re in remission,” Mike said. 

After a moment, silence rested among us like an old friend, and oddly enough, a type of peace descended as well. 

“Th—thank you for let…letting me talk with you.”

“I hope you’ll finish getting your PhD,” I said. “You’d make an amazing pastor. Who knows the lives you might change! I know we’ll never forget you.” Mike nodded in agreement and before the man left, a huge smile lit his face.

“Thank you,” he said before he walked out.

“No, thank YOU,” I said. And I thought about his words. How strange…maybe we really were meant to hear each other’s stories.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

It All Works Out

 “Today just isn’t working for me,” I told Mike.

He looked a bit worried because normally every day works for me—every day is “the best day ever.”

“Today I’m worn down,” I said. “It’s just hard not seeing an end to being sick, ya know? It’s so daunting. I just don’t know when the pain will stop.”

“That’s it. We’re doing something fun.”

“Like what?”

“I’m bringing you to Goodwill.” He waited for me to smile—because I love a bargain—then he went on. “I’ll pick out an outfit for you and you’ll pick one for me. But it has to be some sort of theme. Like a profession. A doctor or a teacher or…something. And then we’ll go out like that.”

Even though it was a rough day, I broke out laughing. “I’m exhausted, but who could pass up a date like that?! It’s a deal!”

At Goodwill I honestly had no idea what to get for Mike until I passed by some suspenders. “Yes!” I whispered under my breath. I could dress Mike like an old man! So, I grabbed the suspenders, a plaid shirt, some faded jeans that came in tight at the ankles, glasses, and a hat.

When we got back to the house, so we could change before going out, I could hardly wait for our “outfit exchange.”

“Oh, my gosh!” he said. “You’re dressing me like…an old man! I should’ve known.”

“And what am I supposed to be?” I asked holding up a studious jean dress.

“A teacher’s assistant.”

After we donned the clothes, we immediately got into character. Mike even talked like an old man—a bit exaggerated if you ask me—he even called me “Sonny.” And I seriously had the best time.

At the end of the night, I realized I hadn’t thought about the pain or the cancer. I hadn’t felt self-conscious as I walked or inadequate. Instead, I’d felt so happy to simply be with the person I love.

“Mike,” I turned to him. “I just want you to know how thankful I am for you and everything you’ve done for me and the kids this last year. I don’t know anyone who would handle this as well as you have.” After all, he’s cooked, taken care of the kids, taken care of me—and made sure all of us were happy. “I’m just so lucky. It’s hard being sick, but you make it all better somehow. I can’t imagine if our roles were reversed. I don’t think I would’ve handled it half as well.” Then the thought was too much. “I can’t stand the thought of you suffering. I hope you’ll always stay healthy, and carefree, and young.”

He peered over at me, his eyes squinting. “What are ya talkin’ ‘bout, darlin’. I’m a hun-dred yeeeears old.”

I giggled through my tears and hugged him. “Whatever you are…you sure are the best at it.”

And that night as I fell asleep in my “old man’s” arms, I couldn’t get over how incredibly lucky I am. Life might be hard, but it seems like there’s always something equally wonderful that balances it out.

Monday, August 2, 2021


Another friend died totally unexpectedly. This is the third death since doctors told me I would be the one to die soon. It’s so devastating—and shocking; this person has been supportive, worried about my death. Now he’s gone and ironically I’m still here…staring at the hawks who live in my tree. 

Did I tell you they’ve started building a nest? I thought it was a sign of hope until Saturday. “Maybe it's a sign. Or maybe it isn't. What do you think?" I asked my husband.

Mike looked at me seriously. “I’m the wrong person to ask, Elisa,” he said. “You know what I believe.”

He’s a hilarious, life-of-the-party guy who doesn’t like labels--especially the word "atheist." People hear it and don’t quite grasp what it encompasses—or they hear it and judge negatively.

I pried further despite knowing the answer.

“No, sweetheart. I’m so sorry, but I don't think it's a sign,” he said.

A strange fear overtook me as a new pain ran the length of my body. The pains have been getting worse again lately—a fact which is extremely sobering. And in that moment, feeling those pains again, my legs weakened. 

I sat to look at the hawks once more and whispered, "Maybe Mike is right. Maybe this isn't a sign. I just want some confirmation that I’ll get better.” I sighed. These signs-- Godwinks--are what I hold on to. Mike is so strong that he doesn't look for confirmation, but I do. I need some type of reminder that despite the suffering and pain of life, God is looking out for all of us. A sign that everything will be okay and God will protect me even in life...even in death.

As I continued gazing out the back window, rain splattered the glass, a final collision after its long descent through the sky. I watched as the water scattered, tendrils fighting to reach the dignity—and rest—of the ground. Then my thoughts turned to the hawks. How would they fare in the rain?

Four hawks had quickly flown right next to the nest. They made a circle, held their wings out, and bent over the formation of twigs and sticks. The winds rocked the birds. The rains beat against them. And instead of leaving, the majestic creatures practically weaved themselves together and leaned farther over the nest. They would do anything to provide protection.

I anxiously grabbed a cup of coffee and continued watching this show—far better than anything on Netflix. The storm ended shortly after it had started. The hawks didn’t leave until the rains and wind stopped. I exhaled. 

Seeing that they'd saved the nest, well, it brought me a renewed sense of peace. I've never seen something like it. Ever.

"You okay, sweetheart? You want more coffee?" Mike asked after walking in and seeing my empty mug.

"I'm good. I'm just thinking about signs and how I think those hawks do symbolize protection."

"They very possibly could," he said, conceding to the hope I needed to hear. Then he smiled down at me kindly. He’s the most wonderful man, really.

I talked with a dear, beautiful friend about this not long after the hawks saved their nest. "Do you believe in signs?" I asked her.

"Absolutely," she said. 

I nodded, thinking about the hawks’ nest. “Me too.” And within moments a song blared over the speakers. “I can’t believe it!”

The singer’s voice resonated perfectly. “Signs, signs, everywhere there are signs…”

We laughed, listening to a song that is literally called… “Signs.”