Saturday, December 31, 2022

Ending the Year with a Trip to Italy

 It’s almost 2023, and I’m amazed to still be here. Even though I continue to fight stage four melanoma, every day that I wake up, I find myself extremely fortunate.

Doctors said I’d never make it past October of 2022, so some friends got together and gave me and Mike money to bring our kids to Italy (my biggest bucket list item). I can’t tell you how humbling that was, especially since several of those friends are also fighting cancer—yet they still found it in their hearts to do something kind for us despite their own struggles. Anyway, we bought the tickets almost a year ago and, after finding a good deal because of the pandemic, booked flights for a time when I would most likely no longer be alive. THAT was a huge leap of faith…but, even with our health, sometimes it’s important to have a goal to work toward. After all, hope is a very powerful motivator.

I’m so proud to say that we just got back from Italy, and it was life changing. I’ll start posting about that tomorrow.

This year has been filled with miracles. I lived longer than doctors predicted. I got hospitalized, almost died, and pulled out of it. I went skydiving with my family and survived a crash landing (because of my bum leg). And now, we actually saw Italy! And so much more. 

It’s rough having cancer and fighting sickness each and every day, but I’m so grateful to still be living. Life is such a miracle—and I’m surrounded by the most wonderful family and friends. To the people who generously made this trip possible: I don’t know how to thank you, but I hope the next several posts will show how much my family and I appreciate what you did for us. You gave all of us—especially my kids—memories that will last a lifetime. I know no matter what the future might be, my kids can look back and remember backpacking through Italy while Mike pushed me in my wheelchair! 😅🤗 This trip was such an adventure for everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2022

A Stranger Who Changed My Life

I’ve tried to write this dozens of times, and the truth is that I just don’t know where to start. Have you ever had a stranger drastically impact your life – literally change the trajectory – and you don’t know how to thank them?

Let’s go back almost 15 years. I’d dug a pile of papers from an old box and read the harrowing story about how my son died. After reading my words, I wanted other people to hear his story because it meant that he wasn’t gone. Not … really.

So, having no idea how to proceed, I pulled out my dilapidated phone book and also Googled local publishers, then I simply started calling numbers. 

This might sound straightforward, but it quickly felt exhausting. Some people were rude and stingy with information. Other people, like the man who republished old works or many self-published authors, seemed quite lovable but couldn’t help me at all.

After the fourth day passed without results, I almost gave up. I spread my son’s story on the ground—just like I’d once spread his tiny ashes. I’d written on napkins, the back of medical bills, notebooks, and anything I could find. It would take forever to organize this mess. Plus, I didn’t want to contemplate the emotional pain of reliving my son’s life and death as I typed every word into the computer. Why even try?!

But although God didn’t give me Elizabeth Taylor’s face or Einstein’s brains, He did give me an extra helping of moxie. So, I grabbed a soda and picked up the phone to call one last publisher. 

“Hello?” the man said, his voice resonating with strength and happiness.

“Hi,” I quivered, “are you a publisher … a book publisher? I need help.”

“Well,” he said, “I did publish a book.” He paused. “How can I help you?”

And out of over 100 people, he was the first person to ask me how he could help. And then, that generous stranger proceeded to give me advice and talk with me for several minutes. I wrote everything down and gained the courage and fortitude to put my son’s story together. 

“I hope that helps,” he said.

“Oh! It does. It really does.” Before he could hang up, I dared to ask, “What book did you write?”

“‘The Christmas Box,’” he said.

It took years, but I eventually published my first memoir, and it actually became a bestseller on Amazon. I’ll still never forget watching as over 3000 copies of the eBook got downloaded in a single day. I cried not because this seemed like a small success but because my son’s memory would live on.

Fast forward to present day. A couple of months ago, I sat crying at my computer because I’m fighting stage four cancer and life can be hard. I’d recently been perusing Netflix and saw a couple of new shows that would be coming out in November—those could be distracting. “The Noel Diary” by the same man who wrote “The Christmas Box” seemed especially interesting. I shook my head because it seemed surreal remembering my conversation with that author, Richard Paul Evans, so long ago. I couldn’t believe that he’d taken time to help a nobody like me. And what’s ironic is how it seemed like no big deal. I bet he didn’t even remember a random act of kindness that literally changed the trajectory of my life.

Anyway, I sat crying, thinking about how hard life can be, and that’s when I got a notification. My heart stopped. “Richard Paul Evans commented on your photo …”

I dried my eyes and gaped at the screen. “No way,” I said. And when I clicked on the link; it was true! He had come through for me again—a total stranger brightening my day for no reason, telling me how much he enjoyed my post where I’d written about overcoming hardships.

I didn’t thank him in my reply … because I didn’t know how to. But that’s why you’re reading this today I guess. Right before Christmas, I hoped this “message in a bottle” would make it to one of my favorite authors—a stranger who changed my life. Thank you for selflessly helping me. 

From a girl who’s continued writing for years, I’m so grateful for your kindness,

EC Stilson

#RichardPaulEvans #TheChristmasBox #TheNoelDiary #randomactofkindness

Photo Info: These are from my first hospital stay when doctors removed my L3 vertebrae after they discovered tumors in my spine, hip, brain, and lungs. I’m so grateful they let me play my violin for other patients; it really made everything quite a bit better.

Side note: Melanoma sucks! I hope everyone will go get their skin checked if they see anything suspicious.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

He Hit on Me — And I Handled It Poorly

I don’t get out much. I work from home, rest all afternoon, and then have a blast hanging out with the kids when they get home from school.

So, maybe my most recent social interaction seems idiotic because I’ve lost all social skills. Who knows?

I’d kidnapped our one working car and gone to buy groceries. I can’t walk very far into the store because it hurts my back, right leg, and hips. So, I quickly grabbed the two items I needed and went to the checkout.

Since I don’t get out much, I’d actually done my hair for the occasion. It’s funny how going to the store is almost like going to the prom now—a big freakin’ deal. And suddenly, this incredibly tall, handsome man started talking to me. “I love your hair,” he said. “You are beautiful. Women just don’t do their hair like that anymore.”

Excuse me? I looked around. Was this guy talking to me, a woman who feels like she’s still fighting in WWIII. I’d done my hair up like a pinup girl. Sure I might have cancer but I can have class too. And just ‘cause I feel like ass, doesn’t mean I need to look like it too.

I finally turned to the man and could’ve fainted. “Um.” I balked, not knowing what to do. “My-husband-does-my-hair,” I blurted.

“Your husband?” 

“Oh, yes. He’s the most AMAZING man. Does hair and fixes cars too. Practically fixed my whole damn life.” 

The guy had started to smile in this unnerving way. Hadn’t he just been hitting on me? Or was I mistaken? Have I been out of the game long enough to get this confused? “All my hair fell out,” I went on, compounding an already uncomfortable situation. Other people had begun listening too. “Cancer treatments,” I said to practically the whole store.

The man’s eyes widened.

“But it’s back now. Not my husband—he’s always been there. My hair…IT is back. The hair that my husband dyes.” 

Did I mention my husband?

At this point, someone from another checkout aisle waved and said—laughing REALLY hard, “I like your hair too.” It was one of Mike’s best friends! He must’ve thought the whole interaction was hilarious. And I wanted to die. Forget about cancer treatments, radiation, and tumors, grocery shopping will cause my untimely death.

I called one of my friends after all of this. “Why would someone hit on you?” she asked. “You have cancer.”

“Thanks a lot! And he didn’t know that, not until I told the whole freakin’ store.”

That night, Mike called me from work, laughing really hard. I guess his friend had just told him about what happened at the store.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Oh, yes.” Mike chuckled. “He told me you’re hilarious. And I should never worry if someone hits on you because you’ll tell them all about me.”

So, I had a good and a terrible thing happen. I got hit on, and I handled it kind of like a psycho—but that means despite cancer and physical disabilities, I still got it 😂😂😂

Oh, man. No more trips to the store for me—for a while anyway. Thank God the grocery store delivers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Getting a Break

Only one of our cars is running. Mike has spent several days on the ground, in the snow, just trying to fix a couple of our cars. “You can come work in my garage,” a neighbor said.

“That’s all right.” Mike smiled, a perpetual optimist. “But if you have a lift…?”

The neighbor shook his head.

I feel so bad for Mike. First he married a single mom with four kids, then his wife got terminal cancer, and then all of their cars slowly died…no matter how hard he worked on them in the cold—BUT he miraculously didn’t get frostbite. The End.

This car conundrum isn’t a big deal though since I work from home. Well, it didn’t seem like a big deal until today. Mike now works from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. on alternating days of the week, and Indy had a mandatory school performance. (Don’t ya just love when kids tell you the day of the performance that they have to be there?) 

Sky let me borrow her car—thank God! But that only solved half the battle. “Indy, I’ll have to wait in the car. There are always a million cars. We’ve had to park blocks and blocks away, and you know  I can’t walk that far.”

“We’ll bring your wheelchair.”

“It doesn’t work in the snow.” 

I’d need her to pull me on a sled.

“Mama,” my baby girl’s eyes welled with tears. “You won’t be able to hear me in the car.”

Sometimes life is so unbearably hard. I don’t want to have cancer. I don’t want poor Mike to slave away always working even when he’s off of work. But God knows I’m doing everything I can. I’m still working part time even though doctors said they’re shocked I didn’t quit my job ages ago. But I’ve even worked from hospital rooms right after surgeries. I’ve done my very best—because I’ve seen Mike and our kids do the same.

So, I promised to walk inside to see Indy—no matter how much (not to be dramatic) it might feel like trekking behind a covered wagon across the plains without shoes.

She chirped as we drove along, so excited about the performance. “I prayed that God would help us. It’ll all work out.”

Sure, I thought. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but although I love God, I don’t think He always ensures that life will be fair. In fact, life is guaranteed to suck some of the time.

We got closer, and numerous cars filled the streets. My heart started to shatter. I’d be lucky to make it to the front entrance at all. But I didn’t want Indy to be late OR to see me struggling just to get inside, so I thought of something. “I don’t want you to get wet. I’ll drop you off at front. Okay?”

She nodded. Worried.

We waited behind a bunch of cars, and right when we got closer to the front, someone pulled out of a spot RIGHT by the main doors. It must’ve been the best spot ever! My eyes widened, and I waited in case someone else needed it in front of us, but no one swooped in to take it.

So, I parallel parked and could hardly believe our luck. 

“I can’t believe that just happened.”

“I know God doesn’t answer all of our prayers. Only He knows why…,” Indy said. She smiled at me, the streetlights illuminating her already ecstatic face. “Maybe God knew YOU really needed a break.”

“Maybe He did.”

The performance went great—Indy always does an unforgettably spunky job, AND she did give me something to think about. After my oldest son died, I stopped praying as much because I figured God would do what He needs to; He knows better than I do anyway.

Tonight, that might’ve just seemed like a parking spot to most people, but it was a lot more to me and Indy. Maybe God does reach down and give us a break when we need it the most. That’s what tonight felt like anyway.

I took this picture right after the spinal team removed a tumor that had eaten my whole L3 vertebrae. You know I love editing (and getting a paycheck) when I’m even doing it from a hospital room. 😂

If you’re having a hard time, I hope you’ll “catch a break” soon. They sure do help!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Looking for Rainbows

“I want to know why life isn’t fair?” I asked the man in my dream. I’ve had such odd dreams lately about the deepest topics.

“What if God is like a clockmaker?” he asked.

Watches, cuckoo clocks, compasses, pendulums, and grandfather clocks all ticked around him, making syncopated rhythms that practically awakened my soul.

“Why am I here?”

“You’re running out of time, and you want more of it,” he said.

“But that’s not why I’m here.”

“Well, isn’t that why you think life is unfair?”

I paused for a moment. “I guess that’s part of it. I would like to know why some people get sick and die while other people stay healthy and live long lives.” I paused and thought about how hard life can be. “I think people talk about Heaven, saying there’s no pain in the afterlife because they’re so tired of the pain on Earth.”

He didn’t respond for a while and instead continued inspecting a gear in front of him.

“Clocks run for however long they’re supposed to. Do you disagree?”

I thought about it. “I think that’s generally true.”

“Maybe a clock is caught in a house fire or an earthquake. A watch could be left out in the rain, even if it’s not weatherproof. The clock might get cracked or overly worn with time. Maybe the thing lasts and lasts much longer than expected. But the point is that at some point, the clock will stop.”

I nodded.

“When it’s run its course,” he went on, “only a fool would blame the clockmaker—because it wasn’t made to last forever.”

“So, we’re all like clocks?” I asked him, knowing what he would say but still finding beauty in his analogy. There he sat, surrounded by hundreds of clocks I knew he’d made, and I couldn’t wait to hear his reply.

“I wish people would stop blaming God for hardships,” he said. “People should be grateful that they even get to live—God wound your clock—but death was just part of the bargain.”

“What about sickness? And pain? They can make life feel pretty unfair.”

“The world is filled with so many terrible variables.” He picked up a tiny hammer and knocked a gear into place. “But if something ‘bad’ does happen,” he hit it again, “it can usually look good with a change of perspective. Even a crack in a clock’s face can look like a rainbow when turned in the right light. That’s what people should look for: rainbows. Sometimes even the biggest imperfections can make life beautiful.”

And as I thought more about his words, the scene began to fade. “We can always find the good,” I heard the clockmaker’s voice fading away, “if we take the time to look for it... Always.”

I woke up to my alarm this morning and had to smile. I’ve decided that life can be hard, but even if I see a crack in my clockface today, I’ll look at it from a different angle and try to find the rainbow.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Ruby Made My Day Bright

 It’s almost too ironic … Look at the photos Ruby used to make the AI photos. 

Tonight I looked at the photos Ruby paid to have generated of me—then I saw what she sent as inspiration. These original photos respresent some my hardest days during cancer treatments: One is from a hospitalization when I didn’t know if I’d live past the week. Others are from scans. 

I didn’t feel glamorous, like I could keep going, or maybe even worthwhile in some of those pictures.

Sometimes I don a smile because often a smile can make a bad day better—especially when given to someone else. But that doesn’t change the fact that suffering through numerous surgeries, undergoing cancer treatments, and fighting an incurable form of stage four melanoma is not easy—for anyone.

When I look at some of these photos now, I won’t think of hard times when I tried to be strong, I’ll remember what Ruby did to the photos and how my kids say they see me. They make me want to rise to the occasion. They make me want to keep trying. And that’s the best any of us can do: keep trying to be the best version of ourselves for the people we love.

One foot in front of the other,💓


Thursday, November 24, 2022

How to be Happy

 The Key to Happiness

The kids each gave me a note, explaining how happy they are that I'm still alive, and I sat stunned, thinking about it days later. Despite cancer and feeling sick 90% of the time, I truly have everything. But the lady venting at the table across from mine felt far differently. "I'm just so miserable," she said to the woman who ate with her.

I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but Sky had gone to the bathroom (which appeared to have a massive line), and for some reason, I couldn't stop myself from listening. "We don't have anything." The brunette pouted. Her beautiful sweater glistened under the restaurant's lights, adding a bit of glamour to the joint.

I didn't want to hear this, so I shoved some fettuccini into my mouth and had to chew for a million years. Something bizarre is going on with my throat lately, where food gets stuck and won't go down. I've lost ten pounds because of this, and doctors plan to conduct a "swallow test" next week. They aren't sure if it's a complication from multiple intubations during surgeries, a side effect from radiation, or--something much worse--a sign that the tumor in my neck is growing...

"If he worked harder, we'd have a bigger house." 

"I know, honey. He promised you so much," the gray-haired woman responded.

"He only makes $100,000 a year, Mom! What would it be like to marry someone who actually makes good money--like Dad? I'm so miserable. I should've married Tom."

"Check!" I waved down the waitress. After being diagnosed with cancer, I can no longer tolerate certain things. Sky had finished her food, and I figured I could wait for her in the lobby.

The waitress came over. "It's already been taken care of."

"What? Someone paid for our food?" I asked, and the fancy ladies stopped talking.

"Well," the waitress shuffled, "I did. Ruby is your oldest daughter, right?"

I nodded.

"She does my tattoos, and she told me about you and your fight with cancer. So...I've been following all of your stuff online--I'm not a stalker or anything, but what you write cheers me up. And that's why I paid for your food."

"But you're the waitress--we're supposed to pay you." I couldn't believe her generosity. "And," I knew I beamed, "you read my stuff?" I felt so happy I could hardly contain it. "That totally made my day."

"I'm...I can't imagine what it must be like, having doctors tell you you're dying. But it's so good to see that you're out, still trying to enjoy life while you can. You're so inspiring."

Sky came out, and we left the waitress a really fantastic tip. As we walked from the table, I noticed the fancy women staring at me thoughtfully.

So, I met two people that day who confounded me: The first was the brunette, and the second was a homeless man.

I've been doing extraordinary things with each of the kids, and I've noticed that my efforts have paid off. Even if we're sharing a meal at the diner, paying to see a dollar show, or braving the town's new escape room, the kids and I have gotten really close. Sky talks about her daring travels, Ruby shows me the dozens of tattoos she's designing, Indy talks about being a lawyer (someday), and Trey raves about music.

After Sky and I got home from lunch that day, Trey and Indy asked if they could visit the music store. But halfway through our time perusing guitars, the fettuccini I'd eaten earlier tried making a comeback. "I'm gonna step outside," I told the owner. She sees us weekly and nodded with understanding. 

So, I stepped outside and hoped the cold air would banish the nausea from my body. Not directly out the door, but a few feet away, three rough-looking men stood talking. "God is so good," the tallest man said. He wore a beanie, a scarf, fingerless gloves, and a massive beard. "Being homeless was the worst experience of my life, but now I see that it happened for a reason."

I took in a big breath, grateful that the sickness had momentarily passed. Then I dug through my pockets and found a $5 bill. "Um..." I walked up to the men. "Maybe you can use this?"

The tallest man nodded, and I couldn't help smiling. His skin crinkled with age, but his eyes shone with such joy. His grin could've lit a thousand fireplaces. Plus, I've been working on a novel about pirates, and that old man would make the perfect captain of a pirate ship. "How's your day been," I asked, leaving all of my previous worries about cancer. Who can worry about throwing up when they're talking to a genuine pirate?!

"It's cold," he said, "but God's in it. And He makes it beautiful." He seemed so happy, not just feigning contentment but genuinely grateful. 

"You have a wonderful day, Miss," his first mate said, little clouds billowing from his mouth as he spoke into the freezing air.

When the kids and I got home, I had to mull over the day. What was the difference between the disconsolate brunette and the content pirate? How could someone with nothing be happier than someone who had everything? 

I decided the difference is gratitude.


I hope you'll remember this as you enjoy dinner with your family and friends today. Whether you're experiencing grief, loss, sickness, financial trials, or any other hardships, I think it's important to realize that true joy comes from gratitude. I'm always talking about "finding the good" because it helps us access what we have to be grateful for.

Today I might be sick, and life might be a bit scary and hard because I know how I'll die; I just don't know when it'll happen. I'm tied to the tracks, waiting for the train...

But despite that, I'm grateful to spend another Thanksgiving with my family. Looking back at my life, and after thinking about the brunette and her plight, I'd much rather be like the shaggy homeless man. At least he knew that no matter our circumstances, we can always fight to appreciate what we have. Life is a gift. We should be grateful that we're here for even a second.

(Picture created at Neural.Love)

Friday, November 18, 2022

I Refuse to Give Up: Happy Birthday in Heaven

“I love seeing you this way,” I told my grandma. We sat in her green room on a semi-modern couch she’d just designed. “Other people have had dreams about you too.” I fumbled with my hands in my lap, letting them fall over one another like water. Several of my cousins have had similar dreams—with shocking similarities to mine. “Well…I’m glad you’re doing okay. It’s nice of you to keep in touch.”

She laughed, even happier than when she was alive. 

“With how often I dream, how come I hardly see Zeke?” I repeated the same question I’ve asked her numerous times over the years. 

“It would be too hard for you to see him. If you knew how amazing it is here with him and all of us—without pain—it might be hard for you to stay where you’re at. It’s surreal what happens once you see the big picture. It makes everything worth it.”

“I read something strange the other day.” I studied the clock on her wall and realized it remained stuck at midnight. “It said the reason life is hard, is so we can fully appreciate the afterlife. That bothered me.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well…I don’t like when people try to justify pain. Maybe that’s like trying to justify nature. Isn’t it fair to say that some things just ‘are.’ We all die. Pain is just our mind’s way of keeping us alive for as long as possible—so we don’t hurt ourselves and die. Does that really make us more appreciative of the afterlife? Maybe pain doesn’t exist in Heaven because we no longer need a mechanism to prolong our own deaths.”

She went to respond, but my alarm resounded, and my grandma…vanished.

Since my battle with cancer began, sometimes it’s strange waking up. I don’t always expect to be sick or in pain, and some days the pain blindsides me because I want cancer to be the dream NOT the reality. Today was different though, and for the second day this week, I actually felt “normal” for a few hours. Maybe even healthy.

“It’s so weird,” I told Mike, “to remember what it’s like to feel ‘okay.’ I almost forgot.”

“Are you doing anything different?” he asked.

“The doctors just switched my medications. Maybe that’s it. How strange though to feel like this today…. It’s like some sort of gift. You know it’s Zeke’s birthday?”

“Oh! That’s right.” 

My first son, Zeke, would’ve been 20 years old today. It’s unreal to think two decades have passed since his birth. “I can’t believe that at the age of 19, I’d already had two kids… It was so hard to take Zeke off of life support.”

“I’m sorry, Elisa.” Mike hugged me. “I still can’t even imagine what you must’ve gone through.”

“It was harder than anything. No one wants to see their child in pain. And no one wants to face ending life support for their own kid.”

I thought about how much life has changed since this day 20 years ago. A good word for these decades would be “perseverance” because there have been some tough times, but somehow we’ve always made it through, and I’ve tried so hard to remain strong for my children.

I wonder what Zeke would think about everything: how the book about him, “The Golden Sky,” became a bestseller—not because it’s a literary classic or some great read, but because I wanted my son’s memory to live on… How I’ve tried so hard to tell his siblings about him... How I’ve missed him EVERY single day since he died…

I’ve always felt that he’s had a front-row seat to my life, watching my choices and rooting for me. I know he does the same for the rest of our family too because he knows how much we still love him—and he loves us too.

I kept thinking about Zeke on his birthday, wondering what he’s thought about my journey, especially with cancer. I wonder if he could give me advice, what it would be. It’s just been so hard to stay strong and keep going. There have been many times when the pain has seemed almost unbearable, and I’ve contemplated stopping treatments. Even now, understanding that I require certain infusions for my bones several times a year… The reality of my new life can be daunting. Yet, when I have mornings like I did today, when I catch a glimpse of health, I’m so happy to hang onto that feeling even if it’s only for a moment.

As I thought about all of this, my eyes fell on a gift a friend gave me earlier this week: affirmation cards that I’ve already begun using daily with my kids. Every day we pull a card and read it to each other. “I am strong,” Trey read the other day. “And you got ‘I am unique,’ Indy. That really matches you.” Indy beamed at her brother’s words.

So, after feeling somewhat prompted, I grabbed the deck and truly wondered what kind of advice Zeke would give me about cancer. I shuffled, thought really hard, then grabbed a card toward the bottom of the deck. When I turned it over, I had to shake my head in wonder. It didn’t say “I am strong” or “I am unique.” Instead, it said something that I’ve actually quoted to myself on several different occasions. I might not be the bravest or the wisest or the prettiest or the most talented person…but I do have tenacity. And I keep going even if I’m crawling along the ground, with everything against me except the ability to fail. I read the words over and over: “I refuse to give up.” 

Maybe that’s what he would tell me if he could: to keep fighting. If so, today I got the message loud and clear.

“Happy 20th birthday,” I said out loud to Zeke, and slipped the card back into the deck. I sure hope he likes the afterlife. If it’s allowed, I’d really like to bring him fishing in Heaven someday. It’ll have to be catch and release since the fish don’t die up there though—unless my kind of Heaven is actually hell for fish.

Anyway, today was a reminder that I’ve fought too hard to just give up when I’m finally starting to see a little bit of hope. Who cares that I need to keep getting bone infusions. They probably just missed me too much at the hospital. Plus, when I look back at everything I’ve been through, I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for, and a good chunk of that is probably because I have a cheerleader in Heaven. 

I love you, Zeke. Please know that all of us miss you. Happy birthday.

Note: This affirmation deck is seriously one of the neatest gifts I’ve ever received. If you’d like to check them out for yourself, Nevermore Designs has a Facebook page here: Nevermore Designs.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

People Don’t ‘Lose’ Their Battle to Cancer — Death Is a Part of Life

 If you’re worried about dying before your time, please read this.

“This is the most beautiful funeral,” I thought to myself. The vaulted ceilings loomed above us, and a disembodied voice floated so angelically that I closed my eyes, soaking in the sounds of Heaven.

The hymn ended far sooner that I’d hoped, and my gaze fell to reality: the casket laying only a few feet in front of me.

“We all die,” a Filipino priest said, his accent adding a hint of urgency. “You will die… I will die.” His eyes implored the crowd. “Emma lived to be a good age: 93. Such a long life. Not many people can say that.”

I swallowed. Emma—my husband’s grandma—hadn’t just lived to the age of 93. She’d made it to 97. How could this man make a mistake like that at someone’s funeral? But before I could think anything else, words popped into my head: There are NO mistakes.

No mistakes?! Now there’s a cliche I’ve never subscribed too because I make more mistakes than anyone I know, like going to tanning salons—and getting melanoma. I glanced at the coffin again. I’m only 39, THIRTY FREAKIN’ NINE… but doctors have recently said that in less than a decade, I’ll be in a box like that too. Six feet under.

“Look at this box,” the priest said, and I felt my eyes widen. Could this guy read English, Tagalog, and minds? “Some day each of us will die. But whether you make it to 93…” then he decided to invert the numbers for extra emphasis, “or 39…”

Chills ran up my arms. Of all the numbers for him to pick 1-100, had he seriously mentioned mine? I reached over and grabbed my mom’s hand. She sat next to me in the pew, just as stunned as I was.

“Yes, whether you’re 93 or 39,” the man repeated, “and you’re facing death, that’s okay. As long as you’ve lived a life of service and loved others, it’s okay to die.”

Tears filled my eyes. I’ve never—in my life—heard someone say that it’s okay to die. And since this journey began, I want to triumph…to win. But my battle is rigged. And it’s terrible thinking if I don’t make it past 40 or even 50, I’ll be some sort of failure because I wasn’t strong enough or valiant… If I’d just been more positive... Had more faith… Damn it. If I could just be MORE…

“My 31-year-old brother was just ordained in September but died two weeks ago after suddenly having a heart attack.” He paused, looking at the crowd. So much emotion filled his face that I felt his pain and found it hard to breathe. A sudden pressure in my chest compounded each of his words. “Every one of us will die. So, when YOU leave this earth, how many people will come to YOUR funeral? How many people will sit in these pews, mourning the loss of your presence because you helped THEM?” His voice heightened. “How many?”

At the end of the funeral, I told the priest how much his message had impacted me and my entire family. “I have melanoma,” I said. “There’s no cure, and doctors say I’ll die from it. Your words spoke to me, especially when you said ‘whether you’re 93 or 39.’ I… Well, I’m 39.”

He seemed a bit taken aback. “What’s your name?” he asked.


“I’ll be praying for you.”

At the lunch after the funeral, one of Mike’s amazing uncles asked me what I thought about the sermon. 

“It was a bit life-changing for me. I know that’s a huge claim, but it’s true. You know I’m fighting cancer.”

He nodded and his girlfriend came over to hear what I had to say.

“Everyone tells me not to say negative things. To never say it’s terminal. To never admit that it could kill me.” I sighed. “But doctors say it will. And I think it would be completely idiotic of me to live in denial. I need to really treasure each moment, but there must be a balance between happiness and facing my own mortality. I have to wholeheartedly enjoy the present despite my circumstances.”

“I worked with aids patients over 30 years ago. I remember them telling me this same thing. Their views changed my life, so I know exactly what you mean.”

I nodded. “That’s why the priest’s words meant so much to me.”

He smiled a bit sadly.

“He made dying okay. I want to live, but when it’s time for me to go, I think I’ll have a bit more peace now. It’s okay if I have to die young—if it’s God’s plan.”

His girlfriend’s eyes turned up to me, stunned.

So Mike and I left with the kids and drove back to Idaho. I had a niggling feeling that either God or Emma had helped prompt the priest to mention my age and that it’s okay to die when it’s our time because unlike what a lot of Americans believe, sometimes death is acceptable. Death is a part of life. It’s not something to fear or be terrified of even if it is the final conclusion to a terminal illness. 

Instead, after battling long and hard to make a difference, death is something meant to be embraced—when our job here is done. I know that’s why I’m not so sad about Emma. She lived and loved well. She fought hard to make a difference during her time here. And even throughout her funeral, I think she tried sending comfort to others. I’ll never forget today or the words the priest spoke. It’s amazing to have peace after all this time. 

I feel validated that I’m trying hard enough. Death is okay. And somehow…someway, everything happens for a reason even the time we leave this earth. And, you know what, whether we’re 93, 39, or actually 97, that’s all right with me.

Rest in peace, Emma Magagna. I am so sorry we never got to give you those earrings you wanted. I sure hope they have the kind you like in Heaven.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Greatest Heist in History

 “But I don’t have enough money right now,” the man said into his cellphone. 

Mike and I looked at each other. We didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but his voice carried over the aisle. 

“He’s the tall man who walked by us earlier and said good morning?” I whispered. “That sounds like his voice?”

“I think so.” Mike nodded.

We’d gone to The Dollar Store to see their holiday selection—which is actually pretty good this year. Yet today, we found so much more than wreathes and tinsel…

“I can pay you a hundred right now, but that’s all I can pay today. I’ll have the rest in two days. Please don’t turn off our power.” His voice went up an octave, frantic. “We have a baby. We need the power to stay on.” 

I couldn’t stand knowing someone experienced that. I think we’ve all been in a similar situation, barely making ends meet. It’s terrible, but for some reason hearing that today at The Dollar Store nearly tore me apart.

“We have to do something,” I whispered.

“I think so too. But we don’t want to make him feel bad,” Mike said. “That could be embarrassing if we just hand him money.”

I remembered seeing the guy shopping a few minutes before. He’d appeared so meticulous, weighing each choice and only getting essentials like baby supplies and toiletries. 

“I have an idea!” I giggled with excitement. “This’ll be like pulling off THE GREATEST HEIST OF ALL TIME! I’m so excited.”

“Um…okay?” Mike appeared to be bracing himself for impact. “Are we helping or robbing this guy?”

“Helping!” I rummaged through my purse and found quite a bit of cash. “I saved this to do something fun during cancer treatments in Utah. But what’s more fun than a heist?! This’ll be perfect.”

Sure the cash wouldn’t be much to a rich person, but it might help the guy keep his power on. “I’m gonna pass him,” I whispered, “and then—like a badass—I’ll drop this cash on the ground behind him. After that, you’ll saunter—like you do—and say, ‘Oh, no…. Sir! You dropped some cash.’ But act super surprised. Okay?”

“Sure. But—“

And before Mike could back out, I went down the aisle and passed the man as he continued pleading over the phone with the power company. The man forced a smile onto his face when he spotted me limping near him, and then he turned away, whispering into the phone.

Perfect! I could drop the money and get out without anyone knowing. Bwa-ha-ha!

In that moment, like the star of “Oceans 11,” I threw the cash RIGHT behind the man. Yes! But he seemed suspicious of my lingering presence, so I continued away as fast as I could, then went and hid behind the end of another aisle. 

All right, Mike—it’s your turn. I willed him to do something. Anything. But where was Mike? Finally, waiting longer than a virgin in the 16th century, Mike entered the main aisle at 12 o’clock, looking genuinely confused. That’s when I realized that the money had somehow partially slid under a display. 

I can be an idiot! Plus, why is it so damn hard to be kind?! No wonder people don’t do it more often. 

“There,” I mouthed, pointing and doing my own version of sign language. But Mike’s lip- and mind-reading skills aren’t strong. “There,” I mouthed in slow motion, my mouth staying in a huge “O” before cinching together in agony. I did a butterfly signal that swooped toward the ground and under something. 

Mike played it cool and ignored me completely—what a legend. And just as the unfortunate stranger ended his call and turned around, Mike seized the cash. 

Thank, Jehoshaphat!

“Oh, hey…weird. Looks like you dropped some cash, man.” And he said it with this hilarious, amazing tone in his voice that would disarm anyone.

That. That is why I love the man. A friend told me, “You have to look out for the funny ones.” One minute you’re laughing the next you’ve been married for years!

Anyway, the tall guy looked completely confounded. “Wait. No…What?”  I continued peeking, so giddy.

“You did. You dropped it,” Mike said. “Anyway, here you go.” Then he handed the man the cash, and the man’s eyes filled with tears. 

“Oh, yeah. I guess,” he said as if suspecting our plot, “that must be mine. I’m so grateful it is,” he said to Mike as he walked away.

Mike and I left the store, and my heart felt completely filled to the brim. We can’t give a lot, but when we have opportunities to do it, moments like that make life shine so bright. 

I remembered a talk I’d heard from one of my Jewish friends. She explained how everyone should give, even if they’re sick or poor—they have something to offer someone. After the enormously gracious acts of kindness we’ve seen over the past two years during my fight against cancer, it felt so nice to do something for someone else.

“What do you give us on a scale from one to ten?” I asked Mike. “How smooth were we?”

“I mean, I don’t think we’re gonna successfully rob a bank or anything anytime soon.” 

I broke out laughing. “We weren’t that bad!”

“Well,” Mike said, “considering we almost lost the money, and you were doing gang signs from across the store...”

I snorted. “Honestly, I give you a ten. And me a two because I probably looked so silly smiling and throwing cash almost at him.” Bam!

“You get a nine. I didn’t even see you drop the money. Now that was smooth!” Mike said.

I smiled, and snuggled into my big, strong man. “Well, thank you! You make life so good.”

“You do,” he said.

And despite sickness and pain, people who are struggling, and all the hard things this world can hold, everything felt bright. We helped lighten someone’s load, and in the process, we made the day exceptional for ourselves as well. I’ll never forget almost losing some cash at The Dollar Store—the greatest heist in history!

Monday, November 14, 2022

Is It REALLY Worth Worrying About?

 The crowd presses in. I look about 5 times my normal size because I’m wearing two sweaters, a jacket, and two coats. Idaho is cold, but cancer is colder. 

A man bumps into me on accident, and I almost fall down. We’re crowding like cattle to see our children perform, sing, and play instruments. But the staff hasn’t cleared a place for the extra flood of parents, and we’re bottlenecked at the back of the gym.

I pray for Mike to come in soon since he somehow makes everything better. But poor Mike dropped me off at the school’s front entrance because I can’t walk far. And as I’m standing at the back of the gym, I feel bad for Mike, walking a couple of blocks in the freezing air, his beard swaying in the wind and his brown coat zipped tightly up to his neck.

Then I’m in so much pain that it banishes any other thoughts. Tears come to my eyes because my legs are shaking from standing too long, and I’m cussing myself for (pridefully) not using my wheelchair. A woman hears me groan and rolls her eyes, flicking her hair out and away so it hits the chest of the tall man next to her. “People should stop complaining,” she says to the man who I assume is her husband, boyfriend, or maybe just an admirer of women with heavy makeup. Then that lady simply…stares at me.

I want to tell her why I groaned. Because I’m still fighting cancer and I’m so sick. Because I had a fever all week and just got over another infection. Because sometimes I cry myself to sleep because the pain is so bad. But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I bite my lip. I’m not there to confront some judgmental blonde. I’m there to see my little girl play the bells and sing. So, I somehow weave through the crowd—without falling down—and ask a teacher if I can sit somewhere since cancer has eaten so much of my spine and my right leg.

“Oh, my!” Her eyes are wide as she gives me a stool right at the door outside of the gym. 

People gawk, their eyes ping-ponging between me and the stool because although I look like a marshmallow of padding, I’ve painted color onto my face AND I look truly…deceptively healthy. But still every person who rushes toward the gym takes a moment to stare at me quizzically. A man I know stops and squeezes my wrist. “I’m so glad you’re feeling better,” he says. “Wait ‘til you’re in your 50s and you really know what it’s like to experience aches and pains.”

I plaster an appropriately congenial look on my face—and it takes effort. “Thank you,” I mouth as he bounds away even though I think his comment is thoughtless. Will I even make to 50? Unlikely! And then I feel tears coming to my eyes because I’ve stooped to pitying myself. Yes, mere aches and pains are so much worse than terminal cancer. You bet!

Most of the other parents are near my age. Yet they can walk around and jump and play. They can run up stairs if they want to. They can bound away from senseless conversations. They don’t have a disease eating at their tissues and bones. They don’t have some expiration date circling their heads like a vulture.

I shake it off. I’m being too sensitive. Who cares I’m the only adult sitting on a stool outside of the gym? Who cares that most people don’t know what to say—or are relentlessly curious about anything they don’t understand?

Then I spot a row without people. It’s behind the one group that would never judge me—and for that reason alone, I want to be there more than anything—by the kids with handicaps. So I lumber off the stool and over to those amazing kids. I struggle up the stairs and slide into the row, hoping the “parent seating patrol” won’t see me. Some parents start to follow, filling up that section, and I snuggle into my layers of clothing, so happy to rest my aching joints and be by a group of kids that won’t tell me I’m sick “because of my sins” or that if I “could have more faith…” or if I “could eat the right things” I’d be healed already.

Mike comes in and lights up the gym with that infectious grin. He spryly makes shimmying into the seat next to me look effortless, but he’s so cold that I lean in, willing my warmth to transfer bodies. And right after he sits down, a tiny girl in front of us smiles and waves to me and Mike too. If I’m honest, her simple kindness is so powerful. With a wave, that kid with Down syndrome starts resurrecting my mood.

The assembly starts, and I’m reminded of why I fought so hard to attend this crowded event. My youngest daughter, Indiana, shines as she plays the bells and then sings several songs with the choir. I’m so proud that I can hardly stand it. The pain goes away. The self-pity and sadness all fade. And the only thing left is the joy that I have great people in my life—people I love so dearly. 

The choir director asks the crowd to help them sing “God Bless the USA,” and I belt it out, harmonizing and hitting all the right notes along with some stranger behind me. I guess sometimes when we’re sad about what we’ve lost, it pays to remember what we still have! And although I might not be able to run or even speedwalk ever again, I can still sing.

The tiny girl looks back at me again and I wink. She’s beaming as the man behind me and I sing in unison. Her genuine smile grows as the words and melodies transport all negativity far away from the gym. “I thank my lucky stars… To be living here today.” And as the girl claps and hugs herself with such enthusiasm, I somehow feel comforted because in some small way, I think I made that kid’s day a little brighter.

After school, Indy gushes with joy, telling me and Mike all about her big debut. “Did you see that…?” or “Did you hear when…”  Then at the end of her questions, she asks, “Can we go to a victory lunch? Because I did REALLY good.”

“Yes,” Mike and I look at each other, loving every minute.

“A victory lunch?” Mike says later. “That was darling.”

“Right?! Plus, I think it’s a great idea.” 

That afternoon, despite everything we might be going through each and every day, I had to smile because we’d all had a memorable day that made us appreciate the good things in life. No matter what we might be going through, it’s always good to focus on “cans” instead of “can’ts” and to be proud of how far we’ve come despite hardships. Sure people can be offensive and say dumb, insensitive things, but they can also be so sweet and darling and wonderful. They can make life beautiful.

I guess the point is I don’t want to take the good with the bad. I want to throw out the bad and just pay attention to the good. It’s cliche, but life IS short. I don’t want to waste any bit of it worrying about things that aren’t worth my time. I’ve started weighing things lately by asking a quick question: “Is it worth worrying about?” And it’s amazing how many times the answer is simply “no.” I think I got an entire day back, and the week just started! 😂

Thursday, November 10, 2022

‘ The Red Feather’ Steampunk Red Bird


I had a dream about a red bird—and it was so neat that I’ve decided to write a book about it. First, I needed some inspiration, so I made this little guy. Looks like he’ll be my writing companion for the next while. I love him already 🥰

#steampunk #steampunkbird #redbird 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Beautiful, Snow-Laden Leaves

I’m in bed. The last week has been pretty harrowing. It started with a new infection and progressed to a fever. But there’s so much to be thankful for, like the fact that doctors gave me antibiotics and let me stay home. 

“You need to take it easy,” Mike said earlier today before heading to work. 

“I’m doing my best, but there’s so much to do. I just don’t want to miss a second with you and the kids.” That’s the weird thing about being given an expiration date, even if I have eight more years…10 more years…more or less, I don’t want to take a moment for granted. When the kids aren’t at school—and Mike’s at work—I’m with those goofballs, being silly, cheating at board games, cooking, playing music, and having a blast. When Mike’s home, I just want to show him how much I love him. I guess that’s so important because I want him to always remember…

“Yesterday I taught Trey and Indy how to make egg noodles,” I told Mike. “They got flour all over the dog.” I broke out laughing. “You know, Trey said he wants to open a restaurant with his best friend when he gets older. He said,” I paused for effect, “he wants to open it with you.” 

Mike’s eyes widened in surprise and he smiled with gentle eyes. “That’s really cute.”

“I thought so too.”

Not long after that, Mike left to work. I hunkered down into bed like I do every day, and I thought about what a regular weekday looks like for me. Mike and I wake up early to make the kids breakfast (usually avocado toast for Indy and some kind of massive thing for Trey—what a teenage boy!). Then I edit articles for a few hours (once I found a man who got arrested for problems with “addition” instead of “addiction” and that made MY WHOLE LIFE). Right after work, I usually get to visit with Ruby and Sky—those two girls completely light up my world because I’m so proud of them. They both recently sent me letters explaining how happy they are that I’ve made it beyond the two years that doctors originally gave me. “Thank you for being the most wonderful (and magical) Mom and best friend out there,” is a line that brought full-on tears to my eyes. Anyway, right after Mike leaves for work, I go to sleep. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I sleep from the time he leaves until Trey and Indy get out of school. And then the three of us spend the night doing homework, playing music, and cooking. 

It’s wonderful really, but there are tough things too. Like today. While resting in bed, I tried so hard not to throw up. Certain tumors hurt like a mother f—, I guess they say bone pain is the worst for a reason. The one in my left hip, for instance, makes it feel like I’m lying directly on a jagged rock (talk about the princess and the pea—it’s so dumb). But as I snuggled into the blanket that I got for completing two years of cancer treatments, I found it so hard to be truly upset, even about the pain. 

Mike put pictures of our travels (from before I got sick) above our bed. I studied them today and smiled thinking about what an amazing life I’ve led. From us swimming in bioluminescent waters to Mike shaking hands with an actual crocodile in the wild to skydiving with our family, I am so fortunate to have had so many fun times.

I told myself I should’ve been sleeping, but my eyes wandered around the room to our trees outside the bedroom window. I spotted what I’ve seen dozens of times—yet it’s never hit me like it did today. All of our trees are still thick with leaves. Some are mint colored, others are emerald, and my favorites are orange. But winter has finally come before the trees could prepare, and so each leaf bears a burden of snow. 

It struck me how the leaves aren’t ready to fall off yet. And so they’ve cupped their treasure of glistening flakes, and the reality of it made me sigh. Because right now I feel like these trees, totally unprepared for the winter of my life. My leaves haven’t fallen, I’m only in my 30s, yet I’m carrying my burden, trying to make it look like a weight of diamonds instead of something cold and unforgiving—something that threatens to steal my life. 

Yet, there’s so much beauty. I appreacite everything more now. These cooking classes don’t just showcase delicious family recipes—they’re a legacy. Dates with Mike aren’t just fulfilling—they could someday be a treasured view of the past. And letters from my oldest daughters are so much more than words—they’re proof of a bond that I know is stronger than time…stronger than death. That bond is one of the most powerful things in the universe: the tie a mother has with her children.

So, I need to remember this when someone asks “Why is it still so hard?” or ”Why aren’t you facing the reality that we all die?” Or even “Why aren’t you focusing on the good instead of saying you might not make it?” 

Because this is MY journey, and I’m proud to be feeling every bit of it—and sharing that with you. They can take what might help them, and leave the rest. What matters before all of my leaves are gone and winter has taken everything, is that I’ve shared love and really lived.

Looking out that window, tears blur my vision for just a second. Those trees are so damn beautiful. Although winter came before they expected, they’re going out with grace. 

It’s amazing how different the world looks on the other side of disease.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Face in the Crowd

A group had asked me to talk for hundreds of people—to share my ongoing experience with cancer. “Just say something uplifting like your articles. We all need something good to focus on right now.” This hit me as ironic. It seemed strange they’d ask someone who’s still fighting cancer not someone who’s already overcome it. But I found something powerful in that anyway, and I wrote a speech about not taking our lives for granted—no matter what our quality of life might be. There’s so much power in setting our roots in gratitude. And I honestly felt really prepared until the host said my name and asked me to come onto the stage.

That’s the thing about public speaking. For me, it always seems easier when you’re under the lights. It’s hard to see actual faces out there, and—while staring out into the lights and the darkness under them—I like to pretend I’m just talking to God and He’s actually listening. It’s what they call “an audience of one.” But at this event there weren’t spotlights, and that meant I could see the multitude of faces in front of me, and that’s when I froze.

I grabbed the mic and sat on the chair the event coordinator had set out for me. I’d told him I can’t stand long because of my weak right leg and the pain in my back. 

And so I just waited there, breathing into the damn microphone. And then, hoping someone—anyone—would help me, I heard a memory from the past. A woman I look up to very much once told me that if you have to speak anywhere, pick three faces from the crowd and talk to them. I heard her kind words, “There’s nothing to it,” she said. And I figured if Donna thought I could do it, I’d be all right.

So I found three faces. One, the man in the suit coat in the front row. Two, the elderly lady closer to the back on the right. And three, the highschool-age kid would looked forlorn and out of place in the crowd.

“We all have problems,” I said. “Mine just happens to be easier to define. I have terminal cancer. But most of us have something we’re going through. It could be marital problems, troubles at work, or maybe even a parent who has terminal cancer.” At this, I looked at the teenage kid, and I knew something I’d said had reached him.

The speech came easy then, and it changed from gratitude to seizing the day.

And then I talked about what I’m going through as a mom and how hard I’m fighting to shield my kids from how sick I can get. “The doctors said I might have up to eight years—maybe even longer if they can make more advances with melanoma treatments. The point is that I don’t know.” I looked out at the teenage kid and realized he’d begun crying. “But none of us know,” I said. And then I told a story about a man who’d been praying for me; I’d been shocked to hear he died that following Wednesday in a freak accident. “I wish I would’ve been praying for him,” I said.

“Whatever you take from today, whatever it is, I hope it’s to appreciate your life. Don’t hold off on doing things—like I did. Do what you want now, while you have time and you’re healthy. And if you’re dealing with someone who’s sick like I am, tell them how much you care. Don’t let it wait until tomorrow. Spend your time wisely. If you knew you had a year left, a week, a day… What would you do with your time? Really think about it. What would you do in that single day?”

The boy left crying. And at the end of the speech several people came up and told me they’d never forget my words or my message. 

“Mike,” I said. “I’m so worried that I was too harsh. I made a kid cry.”

“Maybe you said exactly what he needed to hear.”

And I thought if I’d said something that impacted just one person, it made all of the stage fright and fear worth it.

I’ve been thinking about this because recently our family knew two people who committed suicide: one right after getting diagnosed with cancer. It’s so hard for me to describe in words what I’m feeling, but if I’d given up during my first diagnosis in 2018–or the diagnosis of stage four in 2020–I would’ve missed out on so much. It’s crazy to think that despite pain, fatigue, and hardships, some of the best memories have come AFTER my diagnosis. That’s because living with intentional gratitude will change your life. I know it’s changed mine. I just wish people would realize that yes life is hard, but you never know what miracle is right around the corner. There’s so much good just around the bend. That’s why so many people say life is a rollercoaster. Up and down. Down and up.

Anyway whatever that teenage kid in the audience is going through, I hope some of my words helped him somehow. I guess we never know how we might impact someone else. I just hope my impact was good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A Letter to my Future Self—From 2020

 Hand shaking, I pulled the crumpled paper from my purse.

“November 2022,” I read the words on the lined paper. “Open in November 2022.”

The handwriting inside looked jagged, exhausted, and like the author had just about given up.

“To my future self or whom it may concern,” the words read.

“Elisa, it’s November of 2020. Life is bad right now. I can’t tell anyone though. They have enough on their minds, and adding my weakness to it would be too cruel. The doctors have said I’m dying. But I don’t want my family to worry anymore. So I’m acting brave… putting on a show.

“It’s true that when you’re at the end, you start to remember everything. But my life isn’t flashing before my eyes in an instant. I’ve been processing everything from a forlorn hospital room, thinking about my childhood, my youth, my kids, and Mike. 

“Everyone at the hospital is worried about COVID, so I hardly have visitors. That’s why I’ve decided to write this letter. Other than the clergyman and the nurses, I don’t have anyone to talk to. The clergymen are more interested in talking than listening. And one of the nurses gave me an enema.

“Anyway, the doctors have given me two years to live. If you’re reading this, it means I either didn’t make it and you’ve discovered this letter, or I’ve lived longer than the oncologists initially expected. I’m obviously hoping for the latter.

“‘So why am I writing this to my future self?’ you might ask. It’s because I want you to remember.

“The pain is terrible, beyond unbearable. Medicine barely touches it, but without pain medicine I couldn’t live this way. Can you imagine feeling like an alien is eating away at your spine, devouring the bones, ingesting the very marrow where it’s burrowing to make a home. That’s what the melanoma feels like—as if something is eating me alive.

“So I’m writing this to tell you to be appreciative. Elisa, if you’re still alive, remember where you were two years ago when doctors said you’d die. Even if you’re on hospice or barely hanging on, remember where you were and why you’ve fought so hard or continue fighting. If you’re someone else reading these words, I want you to appreciate your health. Realize what you have. Stop complaining about the little things: how your kids didn’t pick up their backpacks, how your spouse didn’t do the dishes, how you’re having a bad hair day and tired of your job.

“They always say bad things happen to someone else—disaster strikes another home. Well, I never thought I’d be 37 years old and someone would tell me I’m about to die. They won’t let me out of the hospital right now, and I’ve even been meeting with a hospice group. That’s terribly sad, listening to people who are about to die. But now the doctors say I’m one of them, and it’s really hard to believe.

“So don’t let life pass you by. Don’t put things off until tomorrow. Take that trip, try a new hobby, shoot for the stars. 

“We never think bad things could happen to US. But death comes for everyone, and no matter how much we try to distract ourselves with unimportant things, what we should be doing is appreciating every…single…moment.

“Elisa, or whoever is reading this, take it from me: life should be lived. I’m stuck in this hospital, and I may never be able to go home.

“When it comes to the end of things,  when you’re looking at life in the rearview mirror, things seem a lot different. It’s not about the fancy jobs, the riches, the accomplishments…. It’s simply about love. I guess at the end of everything, the greatest thing I could’ve done is bring out the best in others and make my loved ones know how much they mean to me. That is all.

“It’s crazy how simple things look at the end. So, Elisa, if you’re still alive, I hope you haven’t lost your spark and that you haven’t forgotten what matters most. And if you’re someone else who chanced upon these words, I hope you’re living your life to the fullest.

“From a woman who wishes she could get out of this hospital and conquer the world, please enjoy the moment. 


November 2020”

I folded the letter and placed it back in my purse. It’s crazy how hard I’ve fought through hospital stays, surgeries, a blood transfusion, radiation therapy, and infusion treatments. I’ve almost died several times in the last two years, but somehow—miraculously—I’m still here.

The landscape might feel a bit different, but the message hasn’t changed a bit. I still want to appreciate each moment, and I hope other people will do the same. Gratitude, is such a gift. It’s the door to possibility. It can make all the difference in the quality of the life we lead because it gives us the power to change our perspective.

From a grateful woman who’s still fighting cancer, 


November 2022

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Proving Those Doctors Wrong

It’s been exactly two years since doctors told me I only had two years to live. Since I’m still alive—and because “blondes have more fun”—I decided to celebrate by lightening my hair. 

#1 I am so grateful to still be alive. Wow!

#2 I’m glad to no longer be bald. (Hair is awesome.)

#3 This year is about to get good.


To proving those doctors wrong,



Monday, October 24, 2022

The Toe Reader — Yes, you read that right. She reads toes!

Idaho has some pretty unique places. Island Park is known for its amazing residents and beautiful scenery—especially since it’s so close to Yellowstone. Sun Valley is known as a celebrity haunt. Boise is now known for its flood of Californians. Atomic City is…well, Atomic City. And Pocatello is a bit peculiar.

Care to disagree about Pocatello? Let me point out a few things. 

One of the main elementary schools is located on “666” Cheyenne Ave. The police station is on “911” N. Prominent people in town have striking or ironic names like Black or Craven; an OBGYN (who should’ve been a urologist) is named Dr. Cox and there IS a urologist named Peter. There’s a slew of other hilarious names that almost sound fictitious, but I’ll stop there.

Plus, those aren’t the strangest things. Pocatello High is internationally famous as a haunted building—and paranormal investigators travel thousands of miles to visit the place. On top of that, the funeral home (Downard) across the street from PHS got shut down for some pretty horrific things. (Just look them up!) What kind of town is this?!

Downtown Pocatello has other oddities and peculiarities many people find intriguing, and when I heard that it boasts—not a palm reader but—a toe reader, I wanted to check her out. 

“This is your intuition toe,” she said, explaining how the length signifies my intuition with myself and others. She went on to talk about trust and hardships, among other things. “See this crease? You endured something really terrible in the middle of your life so far.”

My eyes widened. That’s when my first son died. But I didn’t want to tell her anything personal, so I kept my mouth shut. This was getting strange.

“Do you mind if I touch your feet?” she asked.

“Go ahead,” I said. I’d gone to see her more out of curiosity than anything because I’d never heard of a toe reader. I totally believe in pressure points in our feet and things like that, but I didn’t expect her to talk about hardships. Then she said something I haven’t forgotten for months …

I thought about all of this the other day, after my friend died from cancer. I’d just been so sad, facing her fate and what will probably be my own.

My parents had asked me and my oldest daughter to breakfast. I didn’t tell them about my poor friend who died, but I thought about her as we drove to breakfast. We passed the 666 elementary school, the haunted high school, and the 911 police station. That’s when I finally piped up. “It was really strange,” I said. “I went to a toe reader, and she said something I’ll never forget.”

“A toe reader?” my dad asked.

My parents are so sweet. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about my latest art obsession, a recipe I just tried, or a toe reader, they always seem genuinely interested. “What did she say?” my mom asked.

“She said she could tell I haven’t been doing well for about two years. And I hadn’t told her anything about cancer! Not a word.”

“Really?” Ruby said. “I’d like to go see her sometime.”

“You should!”

“Well, what else did she say?” my mom asked.

“She asked if I feel like I’m paying off some type of debt by being sick.”

I thought about the conversation from months ago. I’d probably gaped at the woman, shocked. “No. I don’t feel like I’m paying off a debt. But I am sick—and you’re right … It has been for almost two years. I have—what doctors call—terminal cancer.”

“Are you sure you don’t feel like you’re paying off a debt?” she said almost gently. “Are you being honest with yourself?” And then I’d started crying. Because I have felt—somewhere inside myself—that if I’m sick long enough, God will see my suffering, His heart will be softened, and He’ll forgive me … for everything.

“It sounds so silly. But deep down. Way deep down, that is how I’ve felt, this entire time. I made some HUGE mistake before my diagnosis. And I keep thinking God will forgive me if I endure enough …” Forgiveness would be even better than being physical healthy.

She explained to me how I can be so strong because I embrace life—even the bad things—but I need to realize that it’s okay to have good things happen too. “I want you to repeat after me,” she’d said. “I am worthy of receiving goodness. I am worthy of being healthy. I am worthy.”

I’d repeated the words, even if it sounded so silly. There I sat, crying, getting my toes read, saying that I felt like my terminal illness could forgive my sins. 

I told my family all of this on our way to breakfast. “I honestly don’t know why I’m telling you this story,” I said as we pulled into the diner’s parking lot. “I just felt like I should.” 

My mom looked at me. “I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this, Elisa. It breaks my heart.”

We got out of the car and my dad hugged me. I know he doesn’t always understand me and my eccentricities, but he loves me anyway.

“I am worthy of receiving,” I thought to myself as we waited to be seated. What a strange thing to say.

“Pocatello is such a weird little town,” I told Ruby as we walked to the table. That specific diner slips customers their bills in classic novels. Patrons never know which book their bill might come in. Last time I got “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Hilarious, since the diner isn’t too far from Hyde Street!

“It kind of is a different place.” Ruby nodded.

“Almost like a Halloween town.”

Anyway, after we sat down, the waitress took our drink orders, and I kept thinking how easy it is to embrace the bad because at least I won’t get hurt from being let down. But maybe the toe reader was right. My friend just died, and I need to hope for health, embrace the good, and realize the obvious—that I’m not paying off some stupid debt. It’s okay for me to hope. Hope that I’ll get better. Even though the odds are against me, I guess it’s okay to be vulnerable. Even if what I have to lose … is my life.

That’s when the waitress set down all of our coffee cups. Everyone got a different cup with unique colors, but words shone on mine alone. I turned it around, so excited to read what it said, and my breath caught in my throat. “I am worthy of receiving…” The words sprawled under a bright rainbow. I showed Ruby and my parents, completely dumbfounded RIGHT after telling them that story. “It’s what the toe reader told me!”

“THAT is weird,” Ruby said. 

“It really is,” my mom agreed.

And so, after breakfast, I left the diner reaffirming that Pocatello is such a strange place—and that the oddest things happen here. 

Regardless of how bizarre this whole series of events might seem, I did find a bit more peace this week. 

I guess I am worthy of receiving something good. We all are. But sometimes it’s nice to remember even if it is in the most unexpected ways.