Wednesday, June 29, 2022

EC Stilson—Cancer Patient—Sings ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ at Gate City Grays game

 “Would you like to sing the national anthem at a semi-pro baseball game?” she asked, and it felt as if the woman had reached into my soul and found one of my deepest desires. Since doctors only gave me two years to live (although now they’re saying I have much longer) I’ve been thinking about my bucket list. The three biggest items have been singing the national anthem at a baseball game, bagging an actual deer during a hunting trip, and going to Italy.

I’ve wanted this since I can remember. At the age of five, I sang the lyrics to the national anthem so many times my mom actually woke up singing them one morning. “Wow,” she said, “I must be hearing this a lot.” And we both laughed.

But my stamina isn’t what it used to be, and I honestly worried, wondering if I could actually do this. So, I dressed up like a pinup girl because if anything says America it’s: apple pie, 1950s cars, baseball, and pinup girls. My kids were so excited to support me and so many friends showed up at the ball park.

I’ll never forget standing under the stadium lights on “home.” Thank God I brought my cane because it felt like my sole friend out there, so trusty and reliable. But then, as I heard other songs playing on the speakers, I actually forgot the melody to the “Star-Spangled Banner”! To make it worse, I couldn’t even remember the key I needed to sing in—a cappella. 

I started shaking and felt like I could fall over. Then the announcer walked up and handed me the microphone. It was my turn. I felt so weak—and dizzy…. But somehow I miraculously remembered the key AND the melody. But after the first verse, I completely forgot the words.

I stared out at everyone: friends, family, throngs of strangers…. My breath caught in my throat. It was such a metaphor for my life—that very moment. It just seems that I try with all my heart, but always have an Anne-of-Green-Gables moment. Things always have a bit of flavor, they’re always memorable, and they are never perfect.

I apologized into the microphone: “Sorry.” I looked out and people cheered, hoping I would have the gumption to continue.

And then somehow, like it always does with life, the melody came back to me. I instantly thought of ice skaters and how when they fall they better pull off a triple axle at the end. That’s when I decided to go for the high note. My family had told me not to try it, but what could I lose at this point? So I sang with everything in me. I still shook a little and held onto my cane even tighter for support, but I actually pulled off the high note—and then an octave above it!

Afterward a well-known local photographer took pictures of me, and a reporter even did a story on me and my will to persevere despite hardship.

I met the owner of the baseball team and got to see so many friends who I haven’t visited with in years! But I have to admit that I cried pretty hard because of my mistake. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was a good thing.

“You cried?” my kids asked, shocked. 

“But, Mama, you don’t cry about stuff like this. What people will remember is your strong voice and that you actually got out and did this even though you have cancer,” Indy said. 

“Yeah, most people wouldn’t even try,” Trey said.

Sky, my 17-year-old, gave me the biggest hug. “Mom, I’m really proud of you.” THAT meant the world to me. So many tears filled my eyes. Just to hear this from my kids had more import than I can describe. We’ve gone through so much since my diagnosis, but it’s really bonded all of us together. No matter how hard things have been, we have all of these memories now to look back on. It’s not the terrible things we’ve gone through that really matter, it’s how we handle them!

Trey cleared his throat. He’s 14, but so serious when he’s been thinking hard about something. “It’s like with everything else,” he said, pausing, “if you have a hard time you just keep going, Mom. You showed everybody out there what you’re really like. Life can be hard…but you don’t let that stop you. None of us should.”

So I sang the national anthem; I paused for what I told the reporter later was “to build intrigue.” “I stopped, looked out at the crowd, and can you believe they actually wanted me to keep going?” But I think this was a great reminder that it is good to keep going. I will always remember this wonderful night. But most of all I’ll remember the amazing things my kids said to me, to cheer me on after the game.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

I Met a Unicorn

 She stood on the northwest corner of Yellowstone and Alameda. I spotted her several days ago, and my heart ached for her plight. The girl seemed so young—close to my own daughters’ ages, and no one appeared to stop and help her.

“You know how they are,” I heard a man say moments after I entered a nearby grocery store. “Homeless people just buy drugs with the money.”

I had to turn away as tears filled my eyes. It’s not my place to judge why people are on the street. BUT if I have something to offer them—something that will help, no matter how small—it IS my place to give help when I’m capable of it.

Today I saw the girl again. “Mike, I can’t stop thinking about her. We HAVE to do something.” So we went into Winco, bought a chocolate rose and a small unicorn charm, and pulled out $20.

“A unicorn?” Mike asked, and I simply nodded. It just felt “right.”

After we had everything arranged, we pulled into a parking lot, and even though the girl had been over 15 feet away moments before, she turned as if expecting us.

“We bought you something!” I wanted to hop out of the car—I was so excited to meet someone new and hear her story! But I ended up moving slowly. Sometimes I forget how much my body has changed because of the cancer. The doctor said even if I do get over this…someday, my bones are like Swiss cheese with holes from where the cancer has eaten through them. 

“We got you a chocolate rose, water, this…” I handed her the money, “AND a unicorn charm!” 

Up close, the girl was honestly so beautiful with the most wonder-filled eyes. Dirt graced the left side of her face, and her clothes looked tired and worn. But despite that, I felt she had the soul of Peter Pan!

“A unicorn?” She exhaled with disbelief.

“Yes!” I said. “You know what unicorns stand for?” 

She shook her head. 

“They’re rare and special. They’re unique and wonderful. They’re…just. Like. You.”

“I could just cry,” she said, her voice breaking. “This means so much to me.” Then she told me and Mike all about her battles: how she’s fought disease and sickness since she was 10 months old. Now—despite overcoming so much—she’s gone through even more as a young adult.

I thought of the man in the store from days before, the man who judges homeless people. He had no idea what this girl had gone through—none of us really do except her. After all, we’re each fighting battles that no one else truly understands the way that we do. What’s the point of trying to pull each other down when we can lift one another up?

After she finished her story, I told her about my fight for life. “Doctors told me I had two years to live. But it’s almost been two years, and I might be getting better.” 

Her eyes widened. “But you look so healthy.”

“Life can be surprising, right?!” I said. “But the point is that if I can get through what I’m going through—against all odds—then you can too!”

She clutched the charm really tightly and then gave me the biggest hug. “You’re gonna be okay,” I said, then followed with, “I just know it. I’m Elisa, it’s so nice to meet you.”

“I’m Makayla,” she said. “It’s just like Kayla with an ‘m’ and an ‘a’ at the front.”

Before we could go, I looked over at her. Makayla seemed somehow different from moments before. She glowed, practically looking like a princess, a mythological unicorn that everyone hopes to someday meet at least once in their lifetime. I felt so honored!

“You know what,” she said, “I’m gonna wear this unicorn! And every time I hold it, I’ll think ‘Elisa is blessed!’ You’re gonna get better. You just have to.”

She faced so much—a lot more than what I’m going through. And yet she had the kindness…the strength…the fortitude to think about me and my struggles. “I will be praying for you every day, Kayla with an ‘m’ and ‘a’ in front of it.” I waved, smiling.

“Sometimes life can feel hopeless,” Mike said,” but pretty soon you find the light…just around the corner.”

We got into our car and drove off. “Are you okay, sweetheart?” Mike asked.

“Yeah, I just feel so bad for all of the hardships in our world.” 

As Mike drove, I turned on my phone and saw a post someone had written, “irate” about a celebrity breakup. I shut off my phone and looked at the clouds through the windshield. Life…can be so complex, so beautiful yet strange.

Friday, June 24, 2022

What does it mean to ring the bell in a cancer unit?

 He rang the bell and everyone clapped—so happy—but the patient looked tired, and then he cried. 

My journeys to the infusion unit started in 2020, and I’ve seen several people ring the bell. Some look ecstatic…others deflated.

“What does it mean?” I asked a nurse the first time I witnessed this.

“They’ve finished treatments. They’re done.”

At first I thought this meant they were in remission, but after almost two years, I’ve come to realize otherwise. It doesn’t always mean they’ve beat cancer; sometimes it simply means they’ve ended this leg of their journey. While some head to a happier cancer-free life, others—like the man I saw yesterday—are wheeled away to palliative care.

This journey has been excruciatingly hard, and since 2020 I’ve desperately wanted to ring that damn bell.

By the way, they call it “a bell,” but it’s actually a Zildjan gong. You can’t put something like that in front of a musician and expect them not to touch it! But it’s harder to reach than a treasure in “Indian Jones”! So many nurses swarm around it, and their queen—the charge nurse—hardly ever leaves its side.

That’s why yesterday seemed so surreal. I went to leave the infusion room, and my path to the “bell” was free and clear. I sneaked up to it—probably looking like Gollum (after my back surgery), then I swiftly lifted the mallet… Just when I was about to finally hit that coveted thing, a nurse saw me!

“Excuse me, ma’am,” she said right as my daughter snagged a couple of pictures. “Is today your last treatment?”

“Well … No,” I said to the gong police. “But a girl can dream, can’t she?”

She broke out laughing. “You’ll get to ring it someday! And it’ll be wonderful.”

So I set the mallet down, veeeery slowly, and left.

Later that day a medical specialist said my labs looked almost better than they have since I started this journey. “You actually might beat this, Elisa. We’re still worried about the cancer in your lower back, BUT the cancer is still gone in your upper spine! We’re getting more scans of your lower back in July. It seemed impossible before, but now I honestly think you have a chance. You could beat this!”

This is something new. I’ve heard they could lengthen my life, help keep the cancer stable longer, give me a few more years... But to “beat this”? My heart soared!

So, I didn’t actually hit the gong, but I did hold the mallet in my hand—and it felt AWESOME. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I’m starting to feel so excited.

Despite hurting and being exhausted from my latest cancer treatment and infusion for my bones, I am so happy right now. Hope…well, it’s a powerful thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Norma’s Last Gift


Honestly, maybe you’ll think I’m crazy. Maybe it’s just science? 

Let me explain.

Me (10 hours ago): I want to do a random act of kindness for someone.

Indy: Well, you could do something for me.

Me: Ug! That’s not how it works.

But I have talked about teaching her how to sew—and we shouldn’t break promises. So, I brought out fabric a dear friend wanted me to have after she died a few years ago. 

Anyway, Indy made the cutest apron with the vintage quilt squares. The whole time I thought about Norma, Nolan’s mom. We had the same birthday (Groundhog Day), and she left me fabric along with a typewriter that I wrote about in “Two More Years.” I read that chapter recently and remembered how amazing that woman was—I even thought about that as we sewed today. 

Then, when Indy modeled the apron she made—this rainbow kept appearing! 😮

Is this incredible or what?! I’m stunned. I kind of think Norma knew how much I remembered her today. Maybe this was her last gift to us?

Monday, June 20, 2022

Life Will Surprise Ya

 I sat by the store’s garbage can, right outside the entrance. Luckily, Indy had no idea that I’d begun feeling so nauseous on this shopping trip. She’d waited days and days for the outing, and I didn’t want it getting ruined—especially because of cancer. Cancer has taken enough from us. “Mike, you’ll help her get some stuff?” I whispered. “Make it fun?”

He nodded. “You go rest in the car. I’ve got this. She’ll have an awesome time.”

Indy seemed happy to shop with Mike—and that made a huge difference for me. But after I stepped outside, a wave of fatigue hit so strong that I couldn’t take another step. In fact, I could’ve cried as I placed my hand against the exterior brick wall and then slumped to sit by the garbage can at the store’s entrance.

So many people passed. One fancy woman studied my pale face and stick legs, then tipped her nose in the air and walked on. This continued until I willed Mike and Indy to burst from the store. I couldn’t stand people’s judgement anymore, but I needed help getting back up.

I finally stared, hoping to see my family, and that’s when one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen came out of the store. I went to look away, but she gazed down at me with so much kindness. “How’s your day going?” she asked, stopping momentarily with her friend. 

“It’s good.” I smiled. “I’m so grateful for the nice weather.”

After they left, my load felt somehow lighter. It seemed as if an actual angel had stopped to check on me. But then my thoughts changed. I thought about how easy it is to be nice when things are good. It’s a lot harder when you’re dealing with sickness, suffering, and eventually death. “I bet she’s never experienced hardship,” I thought. “Things must be so easy for her. She exudes so much joy. I remember those days.”

I’d been having those thoughts, rationalizing her kindness, when that same woman and her friend—the exact lady who could’ve been a Disney princess—came back to talk with me! “I’m sorry,” the supermodel said, “but I felt like God told me to come back and ask if there’s anything you need prayer for.”

I blinked, completely shocked. “I have stage four cancer,” I said, and her eyes grew wide.

“So…do I,” she said.

Tears filled my eyes as we both relayed that we never would’ve expected for the other to have cancer. I couldn’t believe how much we had in common or how she suddenly felt like such a kindred spirit. “How old are you?” I asked.

“33,” she said. “You?”


“I’ll be new to the area soon. I’m actually moving here. Do you recommend a place for cancer treatments?”

After we finished exchanging information, Mike came out and helped me walk to the car. 

“That was the strangest thing,” I told Mike and Indy. “I’d just been thinking how she probably didn’t have a care in the world, and then she came back and ended up telling me that she has cancer!”

“Wow, that’s crazy, Mom. It goes to show we don’t always know what other people are going through. Looks like you have another story to write about!”

“You’re right! Thank God I went to sit outside when I did.” I was supposed to meet that woman, but without the bout of fatigue and pain I never would have. “Life is so ironic.” I sighed. “It’s been a pretty good day…after all.”

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Watching the Earth Come Alive—and the Power of Always Finding the Good

 Today I tried to pick a favorite memory with my dad, and I realized just how many we have. From watching “The Grey” at a movie theater and laughing that we paid to see such a scary movie to deep-sea fishing in Mexico (catching more tuna than the boat could hold and spotting humpback whales to the side of the boat) we’ve had some pretty amazing times. But the one that stands out the most for me today is one of our hunting trips.

He woke me up even earlier than farmers rise and handed me a thermos that held shepherds’ coffee. I quickly realized the value of drinking that stuff slowly—to avoid a gut full of grounds! 

We four-wheeled over to a ridge my dad had scoped out with my Uncle Wayne the day before. But before we could traverse to our lookout spot, my dad relayed the importance of silence. “We’re trying to blend in,” he whispered, then placed a finger to his lips.

We combat crawled to the edge of a cliff before just waiting for a long, long time….

It was slow at first, but I started to feel the pure energy—the heartbeat—of the earth. The wind played the most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard, and, as if calling them to life, oranges and yellows streaked across the sky—playing a symphony for those lucky enough to see it.

I felt the earth’s skin aching to shake off the cold and darkness as a tumble weed popped from the ground and rolled along, fighting his way through this world, just like the rest of us. 

And then it happened. The sun burst from a mountain range and started highlighting the tips of everything. The trees ignited with life. The ground heated with excitement and the joy only brought by a new day. My strawberry-blonde hair whipped in front of my face and turned to fire! And my dad, well, he grinned in a way I’ve never seen. He looked every bit a majestic mountain lion, wild and free. He looked so…alive.

Not long after the sun rose, we spotted two does resting under a massive tree across the valley. My dad and I worked all day to get within shooting distance, but when we were almost there, the does simply stood up and bounded—as fast as lightning—to the exact spot we’d started from…across the valley!

After that we gave up the charade and talked freely. I relayed how surreal it’d been feeling the earth wake up like that, and my dad imparted the value of always finding beauty in life (which to him is always finding the good). 

That night we ate fancy potatoes that my Uncle Wayne and Aunt Judy made. I heard hilarious stories that shocked me, and I remember feeling the warmth of the campfire as I looked from my parents to my epic aunt and uncle. The four of them have always been true legends in my eyes; heck, just being by my dad and Uncle Wayne is like meeting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

Over a decade later my dad had a stroke. I couldn’t get a plane ticket fast enough, so I hopped in a car with my oldest daughter and sped through two states just to be by my dad’s side. “This means so much to me—to us,” my mom said. “I can’t believe how fast you got here.”

“That’s what you do for the people you love!” I said. And as I squeezed my dad’s hand and told him I loved him, I just knew he’d make a full recovery—like he did. 

I honestly never lost faith that he’d get better because I’d seen him on that ridge so many years ago. I’d seen his fighting spirit and the beauty of his soul. And I think that’s one of the greatest things he’s passed on to me: the courage to fight even when all of the odds are against us. Plus, he’s shown me again and again that there’s power in having an unshakable will to ALWAYS find the good. 

I’ll be forever grateful for the lessons he and my mom have taught me; they’ve buoyed me through every hardship life has thrown my way and helped me truly cherish the good times.

Love you so much, Dad. Thank you…for everything. I hope you know how very much I love you. Happy Father’s Day.

This is a picture of my dad (right), Sky (middle), and me in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Life-Changing Lessons for 5 Bucks and a Quarter

“He didn’t have enough cash on him,” the cashier said to everyone in line at the Wendy’s near our home. “He’ll be right back—thanks for your patience.”

Moments before, an older man—who looked delightfully like Mr. Magoo—had darted from the counter and rushed to his car.

“I’ll pay for it.” How could I not? To buy a meal for Mr. Magoo, well that felt like an honor. “Whatever he got, I’ll pay,” I said, and both Trey and Indy lit up with excitement. Our day was about to get interesting!

“That’ll be $5.25,” the girl said.

“Well, that isn’t much.” Magoo should’ve ordered more. “That’s less than some people spend on a coffee!”

I’d wanted to pay and leave the register before the man returned, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Instead, he burst through the doors and dumped a bunch of change on the counter. “I’m sure I have enough now,” he said. 

“No worries,” the lady said. “This woman paid for you.”

He turned to me with so much concern. “I don’t take handouts. Please let me pay.”

“I’ve been wanting to do something nice for someone ALL day. It helps get my mind off of what I’m going through.” He went to protest, and I’m not sure why, but I felt like mentioning Father’s Day. I turned to that small man and looked kindly into his eyes. “It’s Father’s Day weekend,” I said, then I reached out and went to rest my hand on his, where he still clutched at the coins. “You’re a father?”

He nodded, but somehow sadly as if a long, tragic story rested behind those eyes. In fact, he had the look of grief that I know all too well—the kind of sadness that is only birthed after losing a child.

“Well, I felt almost inspired to tell you something. Happy Father’s Day! It’s not much, but hey—it’s a free meal!” And then I winked.

Magoo teared up and looked far more grateful than anyone should over five bucks and a quarter. 

The cashier came and talked with me after a while and said this kind of thing started a chain of people wanting to pay for each other’s food. This obviously made her day, but before she could go back to her post, she whispered, “You said this helps you get through your own struggles? If you don’t mind my asking, is everything okay for you guys?” She looked from me to Trey to Indy.

Indy bit her lip.

“I have…” I exhaled. “I have stage four cancer. Doctors initially gave me two years to live, but now I could have a lot more. We just don’t know. I keep telling almost everyone I meet to be grateful for what they have. It might sound cliche, but life really is short.”

It seemed as if she’d stopped breathing. “But looking at you; you’re the picture of health. You really have cancer?”

I nodded. “Life is a crazy ride,” I said. “Ya know, seeing how happy that man got over a simple meal someone paid for, it made my whole day shine bright. That kind of gratitude was beautiful. Really.”

“For me too,” she said.

We were just about to leave the restaurant when the manager came up and announced that they wanted to pay for our entire order: three meals. “We were running behind—which is very uncharacteristic of us—and what you did for that man was so kind. Here’s your money back,” the manager said, actually handing me cash. 

“Put it toward the next person’s order!” I said and a smile slowly lit his face. 

“Okay.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Okay, we will.”

After we got into the car, Trey and Indy kept talking about how exciting our outing to Wendy’s had been. 

“Talk about instant karma!” Indy giggled. “I can’t believe they tried to pay for OUR meal!”

“Wow. What a day. That’s the thing with kindness…” Trey said, obviously thinking out loud.

“What?” I asked.

“I rode my bike to the gas station once and a guy paid for my drink. He told me to never forget it and to go do something nice for someone else. Now every time I’m kind, I think about what that man said. I’ll never forget it.”

I nodded. “But how do you think that relates to today?”

“I guess it’s just that…” He paused as if really trying to choose his words carefully. “It’s great what you did, but what means more is all of those people paying for each other’s meals. They’ll probably never forget how today made them feel—especially the people who decided to be kind. And the cashier, I know she’ll never forget us or our story. We made people really happy today because we showed that hardships haven’t gotten us down and we showed them that if we can rise above what we’re going through, no matter what other people are fighting, they can overcome their struggles too.”

I had to look out my window. I didn’t want Trey or Indy to see me cry. I was just so proud of them. Cancer can be devastatingly hard, but the lessons we’ve learned along the way are worth their weight in gold. 

My fourteen-year-old son is right. The importance of that moment was lifting each other up and the chain reaction of kindness it spurred. Life is so beautiful. Plus, who knew you could buy all that for just five bucks and a quarter.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Too Innocent for this World

 “That’s why I believe there’s something after this. I mean, we go someplace after we die,” Trey said.

There’s something quite exceptional about Trey. He’s almost otherworldly. Even as a tiny child he would say extraordinary large words and understand things he shouldn’t. If reincarnation were real, he lived previously as a philosopher. If parallel universes exist, he is the best version of himself. And if anyone is truly innately good, it’s him. 

“Trey’s special because he’s the only son you had after Zeke—your first son—died,” a friend once told me. “God gave him to you.”

I remember smiling. “All of my kids are exceptional,” I said. 

Trey brought me back to the moment. “Even though you have cancer, and all of these bad things have happened to you, you’ll always believe in the afterlife, huh? Because of what happened to us.”

“You’re talking about Adam?” I asked and he nodded.

Adam. Now there was someone too innocent for this world. I never expected it when we dated at the age of 15, but when he reached his 30s, I began to realize. The man had faced more hardships than Marilyn Monroe, and yet he refused to don armor. I cried hearing about some of the things he’d experienced. My stomach twisted in knots because the hardships were one thing, but the way he stayed resolutely unchanged mystified me. Instead of getting angry with someone who almost killed him…instead of getting bitter with his bride who got pregnant with someone else’s child…instead of letting the world destroy him, he fiercely loved everyone. And then…

We always stayed in touch, but grew a closer friendship after my divorce. It felt devastating when I realized he’d gotten back into drugs. 

“I can’t have that around my kids,” I said. “We’ll talk again when you’re sober.”

But we never talked again. And several months later I received a message from a mutual friend. “Did you hear about Adam?”

“What? No. What happened?”

“Elisa. Adam…is dead.”

We all took it hard, especially Trey who’d called him “Uncle Adam.”

Months and months passed. We didn’t talk about Adam much. I didn’t want to upset the kids. Then, one day I walked into my bedroom and felt like Adam waited there. I honestly thought I was losing it. And even when I sat at the edge of the bed, it somehow seemed like Adam sat next to me. You know how you feel around different people: the smell of their perfume or cologne, how they make you feel about yourself, the feeling you get about them?

I sat there for a minute, then walked out of my room and into the hallway. Trey stepped from the bathroom at that moment. He was only 5 or 6 at the time; a tiny guy with a very serious attitude. “Mama,” he said, “something weird just happened.”

“Oh, yeah?” I asked, thinking of my own strange experience from moments before.

“Yeah,” Trey said. “Uncle Adam came and said ‘goodbye.’ He told me he was sorry he had to leave early. I guess he just wanted me to know.”

I stood in shock. Dumbfounded….

It’s been so many years since this happened, but every once in a while Trey still talks about it. 

“So that’s why you believe in an afterlife?” I asked Trey.

“Yeah, and with you being sick, it’s helped me a lot. It’s nice to have that memory to hold on to.”

“For me too,” I said. And whether it was coincidence, String Theory at its finest, or something divine, I figure it doesn’t matter. That moment still gives my son peace. And for me, it keeps my sense of wonder well and alive.

Happy “late” birthday, Adam. You became like a brother to me, and I’ll always miss you. Hey, if you get a chance can you tell Zeke hello for me?

It’s kind of nice thinking Uncle Adam is looking out for him in the Great Beyond.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Power of ‘I Can’

 Two weeks ago felt unbearable. I cried so hard it seemed that I’d completely spent all of the water in my body. I qualified for permanent disability—which everyone says is wonderful—but I guess that’s just not what I planned for my life. I’m in my 30s, I’ve been declared permanently physically disabled—which is the price I paid for more time with my children—and, I guess, everything about my situation just hit me. 

BUT this isn’t a sob story. I actually wanted to tell you how I came to terms with it.

Indy and Trey happened to walk into the room during this moment of desperation. Despite how honest I’ve been throughout this “ordeal,” they never see me cry. So, I rushed into the laundry room and shut the door. They know I’m fighting for my life, but they don’t hear about the crippling pain or how truly terrifying this can be for me. I’m not scared of death or suffering. (The doctors still say that unless some freak accident happens, and even if they bought me another decade, melanoma will be what kills me…eventually.) What I fear most now is not seeing my children grow up. Not holding Mike’s wrinkled hand as we hobble along for our 50th wedding anniversary. Not being remembered well. Not making a positive impact on the people who matter the most to me. Not showing my children that cancer, sickness, and even death will never rob me of who I am. And if they see me cry or watch my pain, well, I think that’s placing MY burden on them. Life is hard enough; the least I can do is shield them from my grief about this.

Anyway, in that moment, I listened through the laundry room door. All of my kids are hilarious, but my two youngest are always teasing each other and pulling pranks. It started young too. Trey would give Indy candy if she’d open child-proof drawers for him so he could access all of my Tupperware! And now that they’re older, their schemes have just grown more sophisticated. One distracts me while the other cooks insane concoctions. One watches a romance with me while the other hangs up heavy metal posters—that have swear words—on the wall! And even though I act dumbfounded, I secretly love all of their antics, and they normally keep my sadness about cancer at bay. But two weeks ago, that particular day felt hopeless. 

Mike burst into the laundry room. “What can I do?” He looked desperate. The family isn’t used to me falling apart quite like that. “I don’t know what to do!” Tears filled his eyes. “I hate this so much.”

“A bunch of things feel off,” I said. “I know the cancer in my upper spine is gone, but my lower back is still bad. I can only get three more infusions. They said there’s a chance they might be able to keep the cancer stable. I could have years and years. But I’ll always be…disabled. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this feels like a Herculean task.”

Tears flooded my eyes. Mike is so young and full of energy. I just felt like a lead weight around his neck. How must he feel dealing with this? He’s only 35.

“You could be with anyone,” I said. 

“And I want you.”

Looking into his kind face tore me apart. Sure, I can’t be exactly who I want, but at least I can do better than being a bawl baby! After I’d stuffed a bunch of towels into the washer, I grabbed a piece of paper and told myself to “get it together.” Then I made a list of everything that’s bothering me. I wrote about how I rarely do my makeup and hair because I get tired so fast. I wrote about wishing that I could do things with Mike and the kids like we used to: fish, hike, kayak, and camp. I also wrote about how I want to go to the zoo and visit Italy some day. I read it at the end and realized that every sentence started with “I can’t.”

Mike left for work, and Trey and Indy confessed that they knew I wasn’t “okay.” 

“Mama, what’s going on?” Indy asked. 

“I just wish I could do more things. I can only walk a quarter of a mile. I want to bring you hiking and on epic fishing trips again.”

“But there’s so much you can do! We can go fishing to places that are close to the car. And you can hike to the bridge up Gibson Jack!” And later that day, Trey and Indy helped me make a new list of things they want to do each week this summer. And you wouldn’t believe it, but every sentence started with “I can.” Those sweethearts thought of things “I can” do with them. Fish at Edson Fichter. Hike a quarter mile in to the bridge where we can eat Lunchables. Float the river where it doesn’t require much rowing and Mike can help me. Visit Bear World. And the last crazy thing in our list? Go to Italy. 

We started our adventures already. My brother and nephew came up last weekend. My brother is like the best possible version of me and he reminds me of how I want to be. My sister and her husband came up after that. My sister is amazing, everything I wish I could be but am not. She reminds me of how I need to strive to learn and grow outside of myself. I got to speak with Dee, Scott and Colleen Hancock, and my mother-in-law (Maureen)—who always make me laugh. And then my parents (Philip and Ruby) came up and brought me to the zoo. They didn’t care how slow I had to walk or how much I needed to stop. They helped me and the kids check off one of our items, and after we got home I realized again how truly lucky I am.

Anyway, I know it sounds obvious, but it really is astounding switching a mentality from “can’t” to “can.” I’m so excited for this summer, and I think the kids are too. This will be awfully wonderful. They helped me realize that there so many possibilities. The world awaits—and maybe someday so does Italy.

Monday, June 6, 2022

An Altruistic Employer: Newsletter Pro

 This brought me to tears. 

I’ve been with Newsletter Pro for two years, and I’m continually amazed with how kind everyone there has been to me throughout my journey with cancer. They held a fundraiser to help me pay bills during the beginning of my diagnosis in 2020, have been flexible on hours, and have gone above and beyond to help me get through this. But just a few days ago, they did something that completely stunned me. Shaun, the owner, sent out the following email to his mailing list this weekend, and I feel touched beyond words.

EVERYONE there is phenomenal, but today I keep thinking about Shaun and his altruistic nature as well as Karli who has really gone out of her way to make me feel valued during even the hardest days when I’ve been sick after treatments.

Isn’t it strange how God has the right things happen at the right time? I started working at Newsletter Pro months before my diagnosis, and I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this so far without them. I have a job I love, and I get to work from home. Plus, Newsletter Pro has helped a numerous amount of companies and people with their marketing, so I feel like I’m making a difference. My role as an editor in some way helps companies succeed—and now that I’m fighting sickness and death, that seems even more important than ever before. I want to feel like my work and my life mattered. I WANT to feel like I’m making a difference. And this company has given me that…. What. A. Gift.

Please read the attachement if you have a minute. It says much more about the owner than it does about me. What a great guy!

Check out NLP here:

Friday, June 3, 2022

He’s Coming to Visit! Yay!

 I woke up practically glowing because something exciting is happening today! I can hardly wait to tell you about it, but first let me introduce you to some people who are legendary to me. Maybe I see them that way because I’m “the baby”; I’ll let you decide.

My brother worked as an engineer at Harvard—Harvard. He’s like a mad scientist without the “mad.” My sister is a chemist and the science department head for a high school in Utah. Growing up, she was the homecoming queen, the class president—you name it. My dad owned a drilling company that garnered national recognition and got him featured by various places for his entrepreneurial success. Soilmec even put him on the front of their international magazine! And you know my mom, Ruby, because (to her chagrin) I share her drumming video with everyone. She’s a beauty queen and one heck of a musician. But like all of my family, they are so much more than any accomplishment could relay. Because they’ve shown so much love to everyone they know. And they made my childhood special. 

But this post isn’t to get mushy about that. This is about my brother. He’s one of my favorite people on earth. Growing up he would bring me rock climbing; to the movies; to play soccer, tetherball, and baseball; to our favorite Mexican restaurant…. He’s nine years older than me, but he still brought me everywhere—to hang out with his awesome friends, to play video games…. He read book after book after book to me. Epic fantasy novels that have stayed with me for a lifetime. And even now we trade chapters and write together. 

I don’t share much about him because even though we have the exact same personality through Meyer Briggs, he’s a bit more introverted while my life is LITERALLY an open book. 

Long story short, Shane is one of my favorite people on this entire planet. And today, he’s bringing one of my other favorite people (my epic, hilarious, fun, witty nephew—Neo) to visit me!!!

We’re gonna play cards (but not on a glass table because last time Shane saw the reflection of my hand and cheated!—told ya he’s smart). We’ll eat cheesecake and crepes. It’s gonna be the best. Time. EVER.

So, the sickness and fatigue of yesterday seem insignificant compared to today. Who cares about cancer and tumors? My brother and nephew are coming to see me. This is gonna be awesome!


Since I have you here, I might as well share another video of my mom. I can hear her reaction now, “Elisa!” 🤣 *still smiling* That’s why God gave me to this family. Their family dynamics and “recipe” needed a little dash of cayenne!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Not the Easiest Thing

 I found the blue bird flapping awkwardly, begging me—not for death—for life. Didn’t it know what it asked for? It would never fly again, and feathers littered the carpet where our polydactyl cat had played with the bird. Pawing and clawing, enjoying to watch it fight for life. 

And of course, I thought of my struggles. It’s hard not reflecting on my own battle when I see death…and suffering. I’m not okay today. Things are bothering me that shouldn’t. Maybe it’s exhaustion. I don’t know…. 

I announced a few days ago that the cancer in my upper spine is gone. It’s miraculous. Amazing, really. I rode that high for days and have held onto it like a lifeline! 

BUT today it hit me again that the cancer in my lower spine remains and is still very concerning. I thought of this because a woman emailed me after my last post. She wrote, “I’m happy you no longer have cancer, but I won’t be following you now. I followed your story to see how long you could stay happy and have cancer.” 

Those five words “you no longer have cancer” stuck out and cinched my heart. Like the bird begging for life, I want to hear those words almost more than anything. To be healthy. To be able to hike with my kids. To go out for more than an hour with my husband…. I have to admit that I WANT to live. I WANT the cancer to be gone. I WANT to ring that f*ing bell in the infusion unit so everyone will know that I made it and they might too!

Yet, the woman who emailed me became the cat, deriving amusement from my suffering. And I became the bird, fighting despite reason, just wanting more time. I thought about all of this, staring at the bird’s beedy eyes as tears flooded my face. I honestly had no idea what to do. Kill it? Try to help it? That’s when my cat sauntered into the room, pounced on her prey, and completely ended the bird’s suffering. I didn’t feel sad then. Not at all. I felt gratitude. Thank God the heartache had ended.

Maybe I shouldn’t be posting this, but I’ve vowed to be unflinchingly honest about my journey with cancer. It’s a roller coaster. It’s not easy. People have made it unfathomably better, and a scant amount of people—very few, like this woman—have made it slightly worse. I’m so glad she’s not following me anymore. Plus, she’s given me a good excuse to take a long nap and then go buy a big-fat mocha. 

So, the cancer in my upper spine IS gone—and I hope the rest of it will leave too. But regardless, I am still adjusting to a new normal. 

It’s a lot to grieve over, and advice from people is sometimes tough to process: 

Have faith. 

Don’t lose hope. 

Be realistic, Elisa. Understand you’re permanently disabled. You agreed to this price…so you could live; don’t whine about that now. 

I’m sorry to complain, but having “terminal” cancer in my 30s is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. But there are so many worse things in this world: war, hunger, poverty, and a chauvinistic guy I once dated. (Did you catch that humor!)

I’m currently sitting in my cush, baby blue, yard sale recliner that an old lady once owned. My kids are absolutely amazing. Mike is wonderful. My cancer memoir continues to sell. And I have much less to worry about than that dying bird did. How can I possibly complain? I’m gonna go take a nap—I know I’ll feel better when I wake up. Plus, mocha whaaa?!

Today though, I guess it’s okay that I’m not trying to be strong all the time. It’s okay to grieve even if it’s after I got to celebrate for a few days over a pretty big win. 💓 I got out my walker today and have vowed to start walking farther than I have been. Even if I have to stop and rest frequently, I have goals, baby. Bam!