Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Power of Perseverance

 Audition day came, and people sat expectantly in chairs that lined both sides of the hallway. Cellists stood with their large instruments. Violists talked about their craft.... And everyone looked just as serious as I did. That’s when I realized that no matter how much I had practiced, I needed something special to stand out. 

But the wait lasted forever, and after a time, I overheard some of the parents talking to their kids. 

“What if I don’t make it in?” a girl whispered to her mother.

“You have to! There’s no other option. Our family always gets what we want.” The mom wore a fancy creme-colored dress and a look of complete pride. My skin heated. Her poor daughter. 

“You’ll do great,” I whispered to the girl, who also held a violin. 

She went to respond, but the mother grabbed her wrist, then glanced at me condescendingly; apparently “their family” gets what they want AND never fraternizes with the competition.

I remained quiet after that, thinking how they probably had more money than I could fathom, yet I had what really mattered: a mom who cared more about ME than my ability to win. After all, she’d only brought me, since this was my dream. 

At the age of 15, I practiced the violin for three hours a day. The notes began resinating with emotion—the accents became incredible. Sometimes my fingers would bleed, and I’d feel like I couldn’t do it anymore. But still…I continued. One of my violin teachers—a symphony violinist herself—began taping a thumbtack to the neck of my instrument, just so I wouldn’t rest my wrist against it. “Try harder!” she’d say. “Do you want this or not?” And so I learned despite the pain and struggling.... Because that violin had somehow gotten into my soul—and no one could tear us apart.

A youth symphony representative finally called my name. I stood up and gave my mother a hug. “You’ll do great, Elisa,” she said. “Just do your best.” I looked into her eyes, knowing I could never truly thank her or my father enough—for scrimping and saving so I could take lessons that cost a small fortune. I could never explain how much their love and support meant to me.

During the audition, the conductor of the youth symphony scribbled into a gigantic notebook.

“You’re excused,” the conductor said with hardly more than a nod when I’d finished.

I trudged to the door, but something rose up inside of me, and just before I left, I set my violin on a nearby table and faced the conductor.

“Listen,” I said. “I want this with EVERYTHING in me. I don’t pray much, but I even prayed for this! I’ve been practicing for three hours every day—and I’m willing to practice more. My heart and soul are in this. If you pick me for the symphony orchestra, I promise you won’t regret it. You want a group who can make a difference. You need members who play with their souls! That’s why you need me.”

The air hung thick. I didn’t really know if she “needed” me—but I told her that anyway!

I picked up my violin and turned toward the door. That’s when the woman’s voice stopped me.

“You’re in,” she said sternly. “You are in.”

I tried not jumping.... I tried not crying—or yelling out in excitement. Instead, I told her she wouldn’t regret it. And I don’t think she ever did.

I’m not sure why, but I thought about this during my last round of scans at the cancer center. I’m stuck in that machine anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours per MRI. Lights, plastic, and metal whir so close to my face that I often get sick. Sometimes I think about life. Sometimes I think about death. But this time I thought about perseverance. 

At this point in my life, I’m not sitting in an audition hall trying to earn a place on a symphony orchestra, instead I’m fighting JUST to stay alive. 

All of the tenacity, the moxie, the initiative I had at the age of 15—I need to remember that passion now. 

Who knew a conductor’s actions could so vastly impact my life? 

For my last performance with that group, I played with the actual Utah Symphony. The woman I sat next to spoke about passion and how the best melodies could change the world. I told her how I made it on the youth symphony not because I was the most talented violinist who auditioned but because I had a lot of heart.

“You know,” she said, “you can be the most talented person ever, but if you’re not willing to put in the work—and you don’t have the heart for it—it won’t matter at all. In the end, people with passion will pass you by. Do you have what it takes to not just be good, but to be excellent? I think you do.”

Her words made me cry.

It’s strange looking back, because now that I’m in my late 30s, I’ve played for thousands upon thousands of listeners in various venues where the lights shone so bright I couldn't see anyone in the crowd. I would pretend to play for God alone, at the end of all time. Where no mistakes mattered and the light cleansed my soul.

Maybe that’s what brought back these memories, the whirring machines with their loud noises and bright lights…. It’s just a reminder to persevere and stay strong. I think that’s a good thing for all of us to remember no matter what our struggles may be.

This photo was taken in August of 2020. Doctors diagnosed me with stage four cancer two months later….

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A Renewed Passion for Life

 She came up to me, right in the grocery’s soup section. “I’m sorry you have cancer.”

I stared at the woman’s soft features, yet I swore I’d never seen her in my life. “I have so much going on. I’m sorry if I forgot, but do I know you?”

She turned a very bright red. “I must sound so creepy. Gosh, no—you don’t know me. But my friend’s cousin follows your story on Facebook. I’ve been reading every post you write for almost a year. We talked about your story at a family dinner! It was after you wrote something about your baby who died. I just couldn’t stop reading your stuff. Oh, God—I sound like a stalker.”

I broke out laughing and gave her the biggest smile. “Are you kidding? YOU just made my whole day. It’s not all the time I walk into the grocery store and make a new friend!”

She bit her lip and nodded. “So…since I ran into you. Can I ask you something?”

“Sure!” I said.

“Your son died. How did you—how did you get over it?”

That felt completely unexpected, and my eyes kind of darted around to make sure no one else might overhear our conversation. “I could tell you time heals everything. But…” I looked into her eyes and recognized a kind of grief that I have unfortunately experienced. That tragic sorrow is only birthed from the death of a child. Although I didn’t know this woman, she knew a lot about me. And she needed absolute honesty. “I used to have dreams that I’d go in my backyard, searching for something. But it’d turned into a junkyard of all these things I didn’t want and I’d thrown away. Then on some eroding bookshelf, I’d always find my little boy’s lifeless body—shelved away like some forgotten book. I’d hold him and rock him. He’d even be wearing a little ring that the doctors gave me when he died. But no amount of tears would bring him back. Nothing, especially time.”

She nodded. “You just seem so strong online. I want to be stronger.”

“It’s okay not to be strong. I’m not strong! I’ve just decided to get through this so I won’t be a shell of myself. I have to be the best that I can for my kids who are alive and for my husband.”

Tears filled her eyes, and she nodded. “Elisa, you look kind of weak. Do you need to sit down? I’m done shopping; we could find a place to talk?”

I hadn’t wanted to say anything, but I’d begun to hunch over the shopping cart because of the pain in my spine and where the muscles have atrophied in my right leg.

So, we paid for our groceries and sat on a bench at the front of the store. 

“I’m sorry you went through this, but it’s nice to know someone made it to the other side,” she said. “How did you know when you were over things—when his death didn’t hurt quite so much?” she asked after a long silence.

“Well, I don’t think you ever really get over it. I wore his tiny ring on a necklace for an extremely long time—too long. Then one day, I took it off and put it into a special box that holds little items that mean the most to me. I wasn’t saying goodbye forever. I could open that box and cry if I needed to. But there was a time and place for it. I needed a place to contain my grief. I stopped having the nightmares after that.”

“I’ve been having nightmares too,” she said. And then that beautiful woman told me her own story…about her toddler. 

It’s odd how people who are experiencing the same kind of pain can end up gravitating toward one another. I’ve met so many people who have lost children or struggled with a recent cancer diagnosis. And I have to admit that this isn’t the first time a stranger has come up to me and recognized me from my online profile—THAT seems somewhat surreal. It’s incredibly ironic how being given an expiration date after my cancer diagnosis has ignited so many miracles AND given me a renewed passion for life. Life is amazing. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Time to Reassess My Perspective

 “This call is being recorded for quality assurance.”

His thick accent threw me off, and I almost hung up, thinking a telemarketer had called me. 

“Is this Ms. Magagna?” he asked, and my heart sank. The hospital sent us to collections for bills our insurance has finally begun paying from 2021—but they’re paying in chunks and apparently it’s not fast enough for the cancer center.

“This is she.” My voice sounded exhausted, even to my own ears.

“You’re two days late on your [xx] payment. We show you’ve never been late in nearly two years. Is everything okay?”

I know it sounds terrible, but I could’ve broken in that moment. Plus, when you’re having a hard time it’s easy to get frustrated about dumb things! Like when you hear someone with a thick accent, sometimes they can’t understand everything you’re saying. And it’s aggravating that people I know are searching for jobs, when American companies are outsourcing work to people in other countries who struggle to speak English. 

I set my feelings aside. This man tried to do a job. Who knows what he’s going through? And maybe it’s incredibly hard to find work wherever he lives. 

“I have cancer,” I said, completely deflated. “My most recent treatments were…quite frankly…horrendous. There’s just so much on my plate. I’m sorry I forgot about this. I’ll make a payment for this month and next month as well.”

I thought then about four people who’ve either called or messaged me this week saying they feel bad we don’t go out to lunch anymore or that I don’t call them enough. They made me feel like I’m on “the rack” (remember that medieval stretcher), and that they each need a piece of me to stay happy. “Life can be hard,” I whispered into the silence because either we’d gotten disconnected or the man didn’t know what to say.

“Ma’am,” he finally spoke, his voice breaking a little, “I am so sorry for what you’re going through.” Then that man, who I’d judged for absolutely no reason, had the most meaningful conversation with me. I held back tears, and I know he did too. He said such profound things to me.

“I’ll be praying for you,” he said.

“And I’ll be praying for you too.”

It reminded me of when I’ve played music with people who don’t speak the same language as me. We talk through the melodies and harmonies. It doesn’t matter what our backgrounds or beliefs are because there’s a much deeper understanding that ties us together in those musical strings. It’s sad to say that the common ground I had with this man on the phone was heartache, but we also found joy through the conversation as well.

After he took my payment, he hurried to say something before I could end the call. “Don’t lose hope, ma’am. I just know you’ll get better.”

“Th—thank you. I hope things will be great for you as well.”

I hung up the phone and cried. Who knew that this collection officer from another country could so profoundly impact my day in such a positive way. 

I guess we’re all struggling to get through life and make the best of things some days. I’m so glad I talked with that man. Thank God he has that role at work because he does one hell of a job. He deserves it more than most. And I think he needs it far more than a lot of people here who have a roof over their heads, multiple cars, and the ability to get the care they need. I’m embarrassed to share this with you, to say that I judged him; how entitled can I be?

Anyway, it’s good to reassess my perspective and grow. I’m grateful for that at least.

Plus, I swear that I meet the most wonderful people—even if they are trying to collect on bills. God bless that man. It’s not every day I get to talk to people from all the way across the world! 😉

Saturday, April 9, 2022

An Altruistic Artist and a Moment Captured in Time

“What’s been the hardest part of having cancer?” the older Jewish woman asked me. Her incredible eyes shone brightly.

I paused. This wasn’t a simple question. “It’s painful. And it’s been hard on everyone I know, not just me. Other than seeing my kids worry, someone anonymously sent me a 200-page document with scriptures from the Christian’s New Testament. They said it detailed that I’m sick because I’m not one of God’s chosen people.”

Her eyes grew wide, and I perceived a depth in them that’s quite rare. “But you ARE one of God’s chosen people!”

“I am?” the words sounded paltry on my lips.

“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?!”

And as her words sunk in, I felt gratitude pouring over me. Many babies don’t get to make it out of the womb, alive. Then many children and babies don’t grow up—like my angel baby who died in the hospital after two and a half months.

So, the next day I decided to live life to the fullest. “I’m going for a bike ride,” I told my family.

“Um. Elisa, are you sure that’s smart? If you fell…” Mike looked really nervous but willing to help if I pushed the issue.

“You in?” I simply responded.

Mike pulled our bikes from the garage, always ready for adventure. We rode to Edson Fitcher, a nature preserve where the kids love using the rope swing while Mike and I sit and watch an area that seems forgotten by time. While the kids were off playing, Mike and I slowly rode past the main body of water, and I saw some movement less than ten feet from us. “Oh, my gosh!” I carefully stopped and tried staying quiet. “Mike,” I whispered, pointing to the water’s edge, “I just saw two otters!” 

Anyone who knows me well, knows that this is my spirit animal. I just couldn’t believe we spotted real ones in the wild. It seemed like the most magical moment ever—I rode a bike AND saw otters! 

So, Mike and I sat on the ground. The tumors in my back and hip had begun aching something fierce, but I wouldn’t have moved for anything in the world because the otters popped up again and put on a show for us! They jumped and played. One even stole a fish from a fisherman—that made my day but ruined his, what a dichotomy!

As I watched the otters, I suddenly just broke down and cried so hard on the edge of the water. I hung my head, wishing Mike​​ hadn’t been there to see such an intense moment of weakness. 

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“It’s just that one doctor this week said I’ll never get better, and I just need to face that they’re simply trying to buy me time. Another provider said she thinks I might get better. But no matter what, everything is about to change. The kids all still live with us, and they’re so darling. You’ve seen the kids at the rope swing! They’ll be old before we know it. I know I’m sick, but things are actually so good for two seconds. We’re all so happy.” I sobbed. “I just want to appreciate every moment. I wish we could freeze this entire time in our lives—keep these moments forever.”

Mike held me. I knew dirt covered both of us, but I loved being held right there by the magical otters who seemed to know that I needed them.

Not long after that, I received a message from an artist I know through Facebook. “Hi, Elisa. I hope you’re doing well. I’ve been following your story. I’m writing because I painted a photo you posted quite a while ago. I was so struck by the image… Let me know if you’d like to see it.”

I felt so much excitement, but imagine my surprise when he sent me a scene of my two youngest kids from Edson Fitcher! He’d captured a moment for us, something I’d hoped we could somehow freeze in time! 

This is the second time this week that God has shown me something amazing through art. These Godwinks are unreal! I might be sick, but life is good regardless. It’s all about perspective and appreciating the moments we wish could last forever. I am so fortunate.

Thank you so much, John Willis​​. You absolutely made Trey and Indy’s year. They are thrilled beyond words, and one of them said you’re going to “make them famous” because your art is so good!💓 

To see more of John’s artwork, please go here:

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Moxie I Need

 “I’d like a mimosa without the alcohol,” I said.

“So you want an orange juice?” the waitress asked, a bit snarky.

“Oh, yeah.” I turned redder than the walls. “But can you throw some Sprite into it?”

The point is that I’m not the next Princess Di; I couldn’t even be Anna Delvey! I can’t spot the anise, apricot, or almond aromas in wines. And I definitely don’t frequent art galleries spouting about Surrealism or the Baroque period. BUT I have been touched by art; in fact, a specific piece has gotten me through my hardest days of fighting cancer, and it’s quite a story.

Several years ago, my brother told me that my spirit animal is an otter. Imagine my complete surprise when I discovered that it actually is according to the Native American zodiac. Otters are fun and silly, the life of any party. But the problem is, I didn’t want to be an otter; I wanted to be a fierce lion. 

Ruby, my oldest daughter loves that I’m an otter; last year, she had one tattooed on her arm, and in high school she even drew a picture that I have on my wall. The one she created looks fun yet wise. But the strangest thing is that he seems a bit perplexed by his own existence and the fact that he IS an otter. Simply put, he is me.

Around this time—when Ruby got the otter tattoo, I had finally begun to embrace parts of who I am. But something was missing, and I realized this after Dee Ready​​ came to visit from Missouri.

“I brought something for you,” she said before handing me something wrapped in tissue paper. 

After gingerly opening it, I felt surprised to find a little ceramic lion.

“His name is Arthur,” she said. “ I feel like he’s always looked out for me. But now, it’s time for him to look out for you.”

I gave her the biggest hug. “Oh, thank you, Dee! I know how much this means to you.”

I was supposed to get more radiation, and Dee had come to help me. “You know,” I finally said, thinking about the horrors of radiation, “sometimes I feel like I just can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard to keep fighting. I’m tired.”

“Elisa,” she looked at the lion I still held in my hands, “you are an otter, but you’re a lion too. And with this journey through cancer, you’ve shown yourself to be both.”

That night after Dee had gone to sleep, I looked at the lion on my nightstand and then opened my Facebook page. I felt tired beyond words and extra skinny from constantly throwing up. It had become so exhausting to walk that sometimes I would skip my medicine because getting it meant moving, which hurt too much. That’s when I scrolled and saw a piece of art so powerful that it changed my resolve forever. 

Artist Daniel San Souci​​ had painted what I believe to be a warrior woman by a lion. They both stare ahead as if soulmates, twin flames, or somehow the same being. It seemed like a Godwink to see two lions like that in one day (the ceramic one from Dee and then Daniel’s painting as well). It had to mean something.

I studied the woman’s resolve and decided to take what Dee said to heart: I CAN be a lion. And I need to be a lion for my children and my husband. Some days it’s great to be a fun-loving otter, but on the hardest days, I decided to pull up Daniel’s painting so I’d remember to be strong like this woman and her lion.

I’ve gone back to look at the painting numerous times. In fact, I prepared to do that last Monday. Oncologists had just explained how I need an entire extra week of radiation, not only that, but there might be even more new tumors so they’re doing a full-body scan to make sure they’re radiating all of the new growths, not just one. I prepared to open my Facebook so I could study the look of determination in the woman’s eyes. “I can do this,” I said out loud. “I can do radiation.” 

But just before I could open the computer, my blonde-haired daughter, Sky​​, blithely walked into the front room. “You got a package,” she said with excitement. 

“What?” I asked. It felt like Christmas.

After I opened the enormous box, I stared in shock. Can you believe Daniel San Souci sent me a copy of his painting?! It wasn’t just that, but he signed it too and sent a card! I cried when I read the words he’d written above his signature: “For Elisa, My Hero.” That’s probably what meant the very most.

There are times in life that transcend words or even coherent thought. I fell into one of those moments as I clutched the painting and then stroked the features of the woman and the lion. 

So many miracles surround us each day; but through this experience, I’m actually convinced that the greatest miracle we have is the kindness we can give to each other.

Thank you so much, Daniel. I don’t think you’ll ever truly know what you’ve done for me. You’ve given me the beautiful gift of your art, but more than that, you’ve given me the moxie I need to continue getting through this. 

God bless you, my friend. Your picture is displayed proudly in our front room where I know it can inspire anyone who comes into our home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Lean Think: Revolutionizing Education by Doing Less … A Review

I’m so proud of my sister! She has 5-star reviews across the board, and I’m not surprised because she brings her expertise of chemistry, teaching, and LEAN, then offers incredible insights into life itself!

Here’s the last line of my review:

I highly recommend this book, simply because in our world one of the best commodities we have is time—and Laub clearly displays the importance of efficiency, so we can enjoy more moments with the people we love.

Please check out her book if you have time. She did an excellent job.

CLICK HERE to find out more: “LEAN Think” 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

She Felt Heard … That’s What Mattered

 I spotted an elderly lady sitting across from me the other day. My heart dropped as I saw how she watched those around her. A young woman passed and smiled to a middle-aged man. Others walked by, one even nodding to me, but no one acknowledged the elderly woman as if she’d been rendered invisible. And it hit me: “Why do younger generations so often discredit older generations, or worse, make them feel obsolete?” 

So, I stood and took a seat right by the woman. She looked a bit stunned that I’d gone to sit so close. But then I asked her about her day and her life. After a moment, she laughed and smiled. And I learned all sorts of things about her childhood on a farm and her husband who had passed away in his 80s. I even learned about her son with Down syndrome. 

“Elisa?” someone called. 

“Well, it was nice to meet you,” I said, and I started to stand.

“Elisa?” The elderly lady asked.

“Yes?” I turned back.

“Thank you for talking with me. I’m still not sure why you came over to visit, but being older, sometimes I feel invisible. It was nice to feel important even if it was just for a moment.”

Her frail hand came up to rest on my left wrist, the same site where doctors first discovered the melanoma and had to carve a five-inch scar into my arm. 

“You’re so young and innocent. I hope you won’t experience the hardships that I have so you can remain as happy and carefree as you are now.”

There were so many things I could’ve told her. About stage four cancer or how she literally touched the place where it all started. About my son who died or my failed marriage. But I realized, the importance of not placing my burden on someone else. This moment wasn’t about me. 

“Elisa, are you coming?” the man motioned me forward. 

“Yes.” Then I turned to the woman, and placed my other hand on top of hers. “God bless you,” I said before leaving the waiting room.

And I realized that sometimes there’s beauty in giving people much-needed perspective, but there are other times when the opposite is much more important. I didn’t tell her about my problems or hardships. I didn’t need to share how exhausted I was or how sick I felt the entire time I smiled. Instead, I let that moment be about her. She felt “heard,” and I think THAT made all the difference.