Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Another Item From My Bucket List

 I have the greatest family ever. I know everybody says that, but when I say it, it’s actually true.

My uncles are the stuff legends are written about. They’ve cornered mountain lions and probably choked them out with their bare hands. They’ve gone fishing for Alaskan salmon, and instead of catching fish, they caught bears! Some of them can fly, build tennis courts, ride Harleys, cook steak, and more. One thinks 40 hours a week is part time. Another is part Greek—part Chuck Norris (probably).

My aunts, well … they’re classy AND sassy. One was a homecoming queen and an amazing writer. One has the best taste in the world. Another makes the fanciest jewelry known to man, and the others are some of the most hilarious people I’ve ever known. If they aren’t hittin’ you with glamour, they might be laying on some thick wit that you’ll be mulling over for days. 

This goes for ALL of my aunts and uncles, but the one I’d like to highlight today is the myth…the legend: my Aunt Jackie.

I have a lot of wild things on my bucket list. For example, my birthday is on Groundhog Day, and I’ve always wanted to see Punxsutawney Phil up close. I’m actually glad I didn’t go this year because when they pulled the groundhog out on my birthday, he was dead. I’m not sure how many people really heard about it because it wasn’t widely publicized. I guess that meant six more weeks of winter or of the pandemic … or whatever. Anyway, most people know that the biggest items on my list are going to Italy, hunting and bagging a real-live deer, and singing the national anthem at a baseball game. I’ve completely the singing thing … and I’m working on the other two. But another huge item on my list is learning to make Aunt Jackie’s homemade spaghetti. I didn’t know if I’d have to steal the recipe or what. But this has been a lifetime goal.

You see, she’s one of the most amazing cooks on earth. She makes pickled eggs—that are actually good. She’s half-Italian, and 100% awesome! So imagine my surprise when I got a message from my amazing cousin, saying she’s coming to see me with Aunt Jackie—and we have a date for this Saturday to make the best spaghetti on earth! I’ve heard it takes hours and hours to “brew”—yes that’s how I’ll choose to describe it. I can hardly to wait post pictures and tell you all about it. This’ll be the Best. Weekend. Ever! Get ready to hear about an adventure 🤗

Authentic Italian spaghetti, here I come 🍝

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

How to Get Your Book in Bookstores

 As I did the dishes today, something amazing happened. I heard Mike talking on the phone. He has a low voice that draws you in and somehow makes you want to hear more. But he is also so hilarious that you can’t help grinning despite how hard life can be. 

“So, you’ll carry the book?” he asked, then paused for a moment. “Oh, no—I’m not the author. My wife wrote the book. I just want her to really feel this kind of success. You know, she sold 34 books at her last signing. You should’ve seen how happy she looked. And that…well, it made me happy.”

I’d been wiping off the counter, but I stopped mid-swipe because my breath had caught in my throat. If everyone on earth could have their own Michael Magagna, our world would be a better place. To have someone who always sees the best—even when I’m at my worst. To have someone who has loved me whether I’m bald, hurling in the toilet, or crying because “I’ll always feel sick.” To have THAT man in my corner…to make me try harder and do better. Well, it’s honestly made all the difference. 

Mike hung up the phone and called someone else. “Yes, hello,” he said, “I’m calling to have a book added to your inventory.” I crept forward as I listened, trying not to seem obvious. But I’m too curious for my own good, and if I had family in the mafia, I’d probably get whacked for being so nosy.

Mike saw me, grinned, and motioned for me to come forward. “Yes, that’s the correct ISBN. Oh, you will?” His finger tapped on the table. “Wonderful. Two copies will be great!”

“What are you doing?” I asked after he hung up.

“Well…” Mike said. “It sounds like 17 stores across the Western States are going to order copies of your book.”

“What?!” Tears came to my eyes. I crumpled into his lap and threw my arms around his neck. “Mike, why are you doing this?”

“I just love seeing you so happy.”

I set down the dishcloth that I realized I still held—near his face. Poor guy. I married the king of hearts and he married the ace of maids.

“You’re the …” I paused. “You’re the sexist publicist I’ve ever had.”

He snorted. “I’m the only publicist you’ve ever had.” And after he left to work, I honestly felt dumbfounded that he’d called so many stores. 

This reminds me of when people have asked why I’m getting better. “What are you eating?”

“Taco Bell and energy drinks,” I’ve replied. “What I think makes a bigger difference is my medical care and all of the support I’ve received from so many people—especially my family. They’ve kept me strong when it would’ve been easy to stop fighting.”

I’ll never understand why I’m so lucky or why people have shown kindness and prayed for me. Sure some downers have said I’m incredibly “unlucky” because of my health problems, but they’re wrong. I’ve had the most wonderful experiences and seen such kindness. Through this journey I’ve witnessed the best of humanity every single day. I’ve made a conscious choice to find the good, and I’ve found more than I ever could’ve dreamed of.

Plus, now my book will be in 17 stores across the Western States! AND I have a sexy publicist. What more could a girl ask for??? This is amazing 🤩

Monday, August 29, 2022

What Makes a Life Significant?

 “We’re here because of who you’ve been to us,” the man said. He wore oil-stained coveralls and a grin that could light up a power plant.  

I thought then about a question that’s been plaguing me since this damn journey started: What gives a life significance?

“What do you mean?” I asked. The line at Barnes and Noble almost went out the door, and I could hardly believe so many people had come to see me. I turned to the man imploringly. “YOU have been such a blessing in my life. Who have I been to you?” He’s the greatest guy, always so witty and fun. He even made us jerky one year and shipped it across states so we’d have something exceptional to eat for Christmas.

“We worked at Kellogg’s together,” he said. “And every day you’d say ‘hello’ to me—every, single day. You were always happy to see me. I loved walking past the front desk because it became one of the best parts of my day.”

“Anyone would’ve been excited to see you,” I said. “You’re one of the good ones. Hearing how hilarious you are was one of the best parts of my day too. As a single mom … life wasn’t always easy, but you made my days at work better.”

Tears filled his eyes, making him blink hard and sniffle. “You made me feel like I mattered.”

As the day continued—and we actually sold out of books—I couldn’t shake the man’s words. And then it hit me, how strange these signings have been. I’ve seen people from elementary school who helped form who I am. I’ve seen old teachers and amazing people I’ve fiddled with in bands. I’ve made new friends who read my posts and have connected with me on a completely surreal level because we’re fighting cancer together or have known others who have. I’ve reconnected with amazing cousins who I wish I could’ve spent more time with when I was younger. And I’ve gotten to see other family members who have made such a huge impact on my youth that it’s lasted a lifetime.

The next day, Trey and Indy asked (since we were in Utah) if we could go to Zeke’s grave. It’s looking pretty sad there, as if no one has visited in a long time. “Will it always be here?” Indy asked.

“You mean his grave?” I said.

Mike had gotten a pair of scissors out of the SUV, and he started trimming around the headstone where weeds and grass almost covered Zeke’s name. “It won’t always be here,” I said. I’ve heard that sometimes they remove the graves to make room for new ones after 100 years. It depends on the cemetery and who is buried there. If someone is really famous, they usually keep the grave undisturbed.”

The kids looked really troubled by this. 

“Half of Zeke’s ashes are at his grave and half are sprinkled in a canyon. It doesn’t really matter about the grave because he’s always with us.”

“I want to always be remembered,” Indy said.

“Me too,” said Trey.

At this point, Mike had finished working on Zeke’s headstone and had started working on the headstone to the right because a couple of huge weeds grew there too. After he finished, Trey looked so sad, “Can’t we do that for all of the headstones. Some of them look so bad.”

He’s such an empathetic, kind 14-year-old. I love how much he cares about everyone, even the people who have gone before us.

After we got into the car, I kept thinking about how strange it is that a century after our deaths everyone who really knew us will be gone too. We’ll only be a memory. And if we haven’t done something notable enough to become famous, then well …

I told this to Mike and a couple of dear friends. “So what makes a life significant?” I asked seriously. “Unless it’s a historic gravesite, there’s more room at the cemetery, or someone becomes famous, their grave might be reclaimed to make way for the future. The dead can’t advocate for themselves.”

We talked about this for quite a while. And I thought of the signings—about what a huge difference all of those people made for me not just at those events but throughout my whole life. I don’t know if they realize how much of a difference even the small actions have made. They’ve helped mold me—and kept me strong through surgeries, barbaric treatments, liver failure, and so much more. The common thread with significance seems to be how an act helped another and is remembered. 100 years after one’s death people no longer “really” know what someone was like, but what keeps the memories alive is how the notable acts STILL make us feel.

This is all speculative, and what’s ironic is that I don’t even want a grave. I just want my ashes spread somewhere that means something to my family. But for everyone who has supported me and shown such generosity of heart, it’s meant the world to me. No matter how long I have to live or how long we’ll be remembered by anyone else, for as long as I have cognition, I will be grateful to the people who have been so kind to me—they have made a significant difference. They have mattered to so many.

So I’ve begun to think about all of us as what experts say to be a culmination of our experiences and feelings. But really, making other people feel valued—as so many have done for me, especially at these signings—that is the best anyone can do. I just hope that everyone in my life knows how special they are. For all of the experiences in my life, the good and the “bad,” I am so grateful. For the next century and beyond, I am the luckiest.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Traumatic Memory Shows Life Is Uncertain

 Please beware: This post contains graphic descriptions that might upset some people.

The squirrel bounded onto the freeway, and I stopped breathing. The car in front of us sped onward despite its tiny obstacle, and when the squirrel resurfaced again its back half had turned into a pile of goo while its front paws frantically clawed at the ground. In that terrible moment, the creature faced me as if staring directly into my soul.

“Oh, my…” I clutched the car’s dashboard as Mike and I drove over the squirrel too. 

Mike looked horrified. “Is it…?” I asked.

“I think so,” Mike said. We both stared into the rear-view mirror. “I couldn’t dodge it. It was too late.”

The words hit me. “Too late,” I repeated. It’s odd the situations that strike me now—things that normally wouldn’t have haunted me before my cancer diagnosis—they plague me for days, weeks, even months now.

I thought of the squirrel, now glued by death to the unforgiving freeway, and for some reason it brought back a traumatic memory from 10 years ago.

I drove down I-15 in Salt Lake City. The day seemed bland, and I definitely didn’t expect something irrevocable to happen. Then, out of nowhere, a distant car—a Cadillac—in the fast lane swerved, slamming into the median. It pinballed across the lanes a couple of times miraculously dodging traffic. 

At 80 mph, I approached at an alarming rate and seemed to be the one who “wouldn’t get away.” Within moments, the Cadillac slid sideways as if floating across the freeway—facing the wrong way! Then time stopped.

An elderly couple sat in the car directly in front of me. The woman’s shoulder-length gray hair drifted out a bit to the side as if she performed in some odd, underwater ballet, and the man’s eyes flew open so wide he looked like a grasshopper. They both stared at me as my eyes darted from one to the other. And instantly, the terrifying thought came to me that one of them would die that day.

I slammed on my brakes, hoping to get far away from their car. And I’m still not sure how, but we must’ve missed each other by inches—so close in fact that I felt a suction-like wind pulling my vehicle just as their front bumper cleared mine.

My foot shook as I shoved the gas pedal completely to the floor and somehow got away when their car lurched into the next lane. 

Within seconds a gut-wrenching smash seemed to jolt everything, and I turned to witness the worst wreck imaginable. The elderly couple who’d been driving the blue Cadillac hit an SUV head-on. Metal flew everywhere and glass crunched.

All of the traffic behind them screeched still, and the accident became a broken cog binding every gear of an intricate clock. 

I’d pulled over in the distance, and I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even get out of the car. I just rubbernecked, completely shocked. And then I couldn’t stand the grisly nature of such an accident. Others were getting out—people who had been behind the wreck—heroes far more capable of handling gore than I am. So, I put on my blinker, got back into the fast lane, and sped away.

That night when I watched the news, a peppy newscaster talked about a horrible accident on I-15. “One fatality has been reported,” she said, her blonde hair staying perfectly hair-sprayed in place despite her flippantly animated motions. “And another person is still in critical condition.”

I wondered then about the two people in the blue Cadillac. Catastrophe had seared their faces into my mind. And I kept thinking how strange it was that I might’ve been the last person one of them ever saw. Or how I might’ve been the one to hit them head-on instead of the SUV. I could’ve died. And how sad that someone had. It was beyond sobering.

So that’s what I thought about after the squirrel ran onto the freeway the other day. Everyone says how life is short. Hell, I’ve even said it. But on some days life feels long. I guess what I’d really like to keep in the forefront of my mind is that life is unexpected—and it’s definitely not guaranteed. 

I hope whoever died in that accident realized what’s important BEFORE that horrific day…. After what I’ve gone through with cancer, I can’t imagine death without a warning. Doctors keep telling me that despite my good news, I still know what I’ll die from; I just don’t know when.

When people tell me how sorry they are that I’m fighting and facing death in my 30s, I always think about how grateful I am that I didn’t die in a car accident. At least I’ve had a warning and time to tell the people closest to me how much I love them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

My ‘Wins’ Have Changed

 For those of you watching my journey, this probably sounds bizarre, but I got the coolest today.

My “wins” are different than they used to be. I used to do Ragnar and take amazingly long bike rides. I would go on incredibly wild hikes and go fishing in areas many people have never heard of.

But now, my wins consist of sitting for extended periods and watching my kids play volleyball in the yard or seeing how much they love bowling as I sit and eat greasy fries that all of us love. My wins are going out and walking for over a quarter of a mile. My wins might be small, like holding down a meal and not throwing up in some random bush—or they might be big, like getting a handicap parking pass so I’m not exhausted by the time I FINALLY make it into Walmart.

I know it can be easy to get down and be sad that life changes with setbacks, age, poor circumstances, and other factors—but by God if we don’t remember that nearly everything can be twisted into a “win,” then we’ve lost part of what makes life so beautiful. 

Just a reminder that life is here, waiting. Knocking on your door. You’re alive. Be grateful because one thing is for sure…it won’t last forever. Don’t regret things tomorrow that you could’ve done today. Don’t waste time. Do what you want with the life you have.

That’s it, I’m taking my parking pass for a spin to Walmart soon—because I heard they have swimsuits on sale—and I’m ready to show off my back scar. Let’s do this! Black-striped, push-up with the flashy bikini bottoms, here I come. A penny saved is a penny earned, right? 🤦‍♀️🤣

Monday, August 22, 2022

Indy’s Lesson for the Week

Indy (above) drinking lemonade at a fancy restaurant.

 “You need to be grateful. All you think about is food.” Indy’s little voice trailed from her room and drew my curiosity. 

I’d called in sick to work, something that is extremely hard for me to do. And I’d been lying in bed moments before, feverish and dwelling on the fact that I’ve been sick every single day for over two years. Yes, we’ve gotten good news, but I’m still in the midst of this battle and sometimes that’s hard.

“I’m serious,” Indy said to her cat. She had her back to me and her curls and the big bun on the top of her head bounced as she talked. “I guess if you’re ungrateful it really is my fault. You need to see an example—I should show you how grateful I am.” Indy pointed to an apron that’s proudly displayed by her dresser.

“You see that apron?” she asked her cat. “It represents hours of hard work! But you know what? I won first place in a contest for that thing. So it helps me remember that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. And I’m grateful for that.”

Nova, Indy’s tortoiseshell cat, just meowed as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

“Now, tell me something that you’re grateful for,” Indy prompted, but Nova simply flopped on her side before licking her limp paws.

“Don’t you give me those Puss-‘n’-Boots eyes!” Indy giggled. “Tell me something you’re grateful for.”

Nova finally sashayed over to her dry food. She sniffed at it, stuck her nose in the air, and placed her paw on an unopened can of wet food.

“Oh, Nova! I just said all you think about is food.” Indy paused as if deep in thought. “But…at least you have something to be grateful for. It is a start.”

Indy stood and prepared to turn—but I didn’t want her to know I’d been snooping.

“Mama?” she asked, as I tried to dart past the door.

“Oh! Hi, Indy!” I said, peeking my head in and smiling. “What are you up to?”

“Just trying to teach Nova how to be grateful. Boy, do I have my work cut out for me.”

I laughed and nodded. Little did Indy know, she’d said the exact words that I needed to hear. It’s always a good time to be grateful—even if it is for wet cat food.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Too Short to Not Have Fun

 Trey finally went to infusions with me—since he’s 14 now. “They’re putting that entire bag of medicine into your arm?” he asked, involuntarily shivering.

“Well, this one and then another one.” I smiled, trying to put him at ease. “It doesn’t hurt. It’s just cold. And then in a few hours it makes me really, really tired.”

“Anything else?” His eyes grew wide. “Anything at all?”

“And a little nauseous.” Trey is such a tall, strong kid, but I know he cares far more deeply than he wants to show. “Don’t worry about that though. I want to read your future.”

He snorted and shook his head “You brought a deck of cards?”

I nodded.

“I can’t believe I even asked that. Of course you did.”

So, after a touch of drama, I pulled out three cards from my regular deck and placed them on the hospital table that spanned the space between us. “These represent your past, present, and future.” I spoke in my best British accent. “Your past was fraught with challenges. Oh, my!” I gasped. “You’ve overcome sooo much. You have the heart of a warrior and the will of a saint!”

At this point several cancer patients and their families actually stopped what they were doing and looked at us. A male nurse even came over and folded his arms. “This outta be good!” he said.

I hadn’t expected an audience. I’d just wanted to distract Trey from his worries about my treatments. 

“Um…,” I fumbled, and Trey chuckled, realizing how many people watched us.

“Your present,” I cleared my throat, “and future are intertwined.” I flipped over a four and five of spades. “Oh, no! Not this.”

“What is it? What do you see?” he asked, and I wondered if he just placated me.

“A woman!”

“Mom. No! Not a girl!”

“You’re right—she’s NOT a girl. She’s an older woman. With no teeth.”

Trey crinkled his nose, and at this point, the nurse who had continued watching us, broke out laughing.

“It’s not funny,” I said, shushing him. Then I turned to Trey. “She will come into your life and teach you many things.”

“When?” Trey asked, actually on the edge of his seat and completely forgetting that he’d previously been worried about the IV in my arm moments before.

“She’ll come into your life within a week! And you will learn so much about math.”

Something dawned on him. “Mom, I start high school next week.”

“What are the odds?!” I started giggling so hard. “Beware the toothless, old teacher! Algebra. Geometry. Poor dental hygiene!”

A little while later, Trey walked off to the bathroom and a couple of nearby people told me how cute the “card reading” had been. It’s interesting getting infusions because you never know who might be your neighbor and what you might end up getting to visit with them about—or who might be listening!

“We have to make things fun,” I said to a fellow cancer patient. “It’s hard having to be here so much, but…being silly makes me feel like I have a little control. I get to choose how I respond to my situation.”

“I needed to hear that today.” She smiled. “Sometimes I forget to loosen up. Someone once told me to never take myself or life too seriously.” She opened her purse and unwrapped a big candy bar. “You’re a good mom to that boy,” she said, taking a huge bite. “He’ll never forget how you made today fun—and neither will I.”

“You made my day. I really needed to hear that. You know,” I paused. “You’re an encourager—and that’s such a gift. It’s amazing when you meet people who can say just the right things that make the day shine bright.”

On our way home, Trey and I decided to go see Layton Funk, a man I absolutely adore. Layton has quadriplegia, and he’s one of the strongest people I know. Luckily—for me—we’ve gotten to be friends since my whole ordeal with cancer began. He’s just one of the coolest people ever, and I’m so glad he lets me come see him from time to time because he always has the best advice.

So, I got more cancer treatments today, but Trey and I had an amazing time goofing around at the infusion clinic, and then seeing Layton Funk was even better than telling Trey about his fictitious future. All in all, it was an unforgettable day.

“Beware the toothless, elderly woman who will teach you so much math!” *still giggling* Life is too short for us to forget how to have fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Barnes and Noble is Stocking ‘Two More Years’

 Barnes and Noble in Layton, Utah, just started stocking my book! This is incredible. Wow!!!

Another bucket list item … ✅

You can find out more about my journey with stage four cancer, my amazing bucket list (I just went skydiving whaaa?!), and my book (“Two More Years”) here:

This is so incredible. Thank God there’s a silver lining in most things—even in cancer.

I also got this message from a friend (see below). Life is so exciting right now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Living as a Character in a Novel

“Stop living like you’re in a novel,” a guy said after bringing me on a date. I’d just told him that I wouldn’t go out with him again. “I can give you everything,” he protested.

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” I paused trying to explain it, but I wasn’t sure how. There have been certain things in my life that I’ve just known: Like playing the violin—as if destined, I always knew God created me…to play the violin. At the age of three, I saw a violinist on TV and started begging my parents every single day for a fiddle. Once I hit kindergarten, they finally acquiesced and let me take lessons. 

We found the most wonderful teacher: Atalie Cook. I remember her beautiful, blonde hair and how kind she was even when I pleaded with her to teach me new songs. “This one,” I said once with so much excitement. “‘El Shaddai.’” 

I practiced for hours upon hours because it felt like those musical strings connected me directly to God. His love would wrap around and nothing else mattered. When that hollow, wooden body sang, so did my soul. At the age of eight, I learned that specific song so well I even got to perform it at Andrew and Terri’s unforgettable church—a feat I will always hold dear. And so, from a young age I found my passion, unaware of how truly rare that was.

“What are you looking for?” the man asked at the end of our date, shaking me from my thoughts. “I’m young. I have a ton of money. Women have said I’m handsome.”

“But with us, the most important things are missing.”

He appeared perturbed.

We lacked what I’d found even as a young child with my violin. “Excitement. Adventure… Passion.”

“You’re looking for something that doesn’t exist—a man who isn’t real… I’d be good for you and your kids.”

Sure he looked good on paper. 

I smiled a bit sadly. My children had been through enough with my first marriage. Unless I found the perfect person, I would never get remarried. Plus, I loved being a single mom, and I didn’t need to teach my children how to gamble.

“Best of luck to you,” I said.

“You really should stop living like you’re in one of those stupid novels you read. You will never find happiness,” the man told me. “Ever.”

I told him goodnight and walked into my empty house. My four kids had gone to be with my ex-husband for a couple of days, and the hours always dragged when they did this because they spent almost all of their time with me. As I drank a glass of wine and slouched in bed, the man’s words replayed in my head: “You will never find happiness. Ever.”

I haven’t thought about this for a long time, but for some reason, the memory came to mind this weekend as Mike drove me and the kids to a book signing in Helper, Utah.

Mike and Trey brought several boxes of books into the coffee shop and set everything up. And almost instantly people began pouring in. I saw relatives and friends. I visited with some of my very favorite people on earth as well as new friends who drove miles and miles just to meet me. “I used every extra dime I could to hitch a ride here today,” an elderly woman said—and it blessed my heart more than I can say. “My daughter died of cancer.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I drove hours to meet you. I read everything you write.”

I gave her a huge hug and a free book—that was the least I could do after she’d traveled so far! As we’ve been at these signings, I’ve been absolutely amazed by some of the stories I’ve heard—and by people‘s generosity to me. It’s amazing that they’ve come just to share encouragement and love. I’ve now met people from all over Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Montana, Arizona, and Nevada! 

Toward the end of the signing, a familiar looking woman walked through the door. “Atalie?” I gaped, completely dumbfounded. “Atalie!” My very first violin teacher had actually come to my signing. We gave each other the biggest hug, and tears filled my eyes as she spoke to me.

“I’ve been following your story. Even when you were a little girl you inspired me to try new things and embrace life.” She looked me up and down. And I worried, wondering what she might be thinking because cancer has taken my ability to stand straight or hold myself up for too long. But instead of mentioning any of that, she commented on something else. “I always knew you’d grow up to be an amazing woman. And you did. Look at you now.”

I’m not sure what it was, but her words really hit me, meaning so much. My growth as a person is what matters, not any of that other finite stuff.

I caught sight of Mike then, shaking hands with someone across the room. “You can’t believe a word she writes about me,” he said, his voice always carrying. “She wears rose-colored glasses when it comes to me.” I had to giggle because he’s so perfect in my eyes—my exceptional, wonderful, goofball man.

Indy talked with someone nearby, explaining how cool it is to be in an “actual book,” and I caught a glimpse of a couple of relatives who were smiling at me with so much joy.

“You’re gonna make it through this cancer business,” one cousin told me. “I just know it.”

As we drove home the next day, I thought about how strange it is that this is the very happiest I’ve been in my entire life. You’d never think that cancer could somehow end up being such a good thing. I guess it just goes to show that no matter how hard life gets, if we can just look for the good things in life, then beautiful moments will follow. 

Cancer has brought me closer to my family and helped me appreciate everything. Because of it, I have a book that even my family seems to be proud of. But more than that, I’ve realized what I’ve always been looking for….

At different points in my life I felt like my book is a romance, a comedy, a mystery, or even a tragedy. But right now, my book is truly an adventure. And I’m proud to say that the rich guy I once dated was wrong. I have found happiness, and I’ve found it in all of the right places despite hardship and trials. I’ve found hope and love among the best family and friends anyone could hope for. Joy isn’t something that comes and goes. It’s rooted in gratitude and it blooms even in adversity. I’m so thankful for everything. Whether I continue to get better or not, I’m so happy with my life. And I’m continuing to truly appreciate each moment, just like we all should.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

I’m a Natural Faller

Before Mike and I even got married, we made a list of things we wanted to do together. It’s not really a bucket list, but it’s close. Anyway, among several things including “visit Italy” and “go hunting,” we wrote “skydive together.” I’ve been before, but I wanted something different—where I could stand on part of the wing of the plane!

We thought about it, but of course life and work got in the way. I kept thinking I’d do this or that when the kids got old enough… I saved everything for “tomorrow.” And then time stopped.

Doctors discovered stage four melanoma and gave me two years to live.

Cancer has taken a lot from me since 2018, and I’ve tried to settle in to the fact that there are things I just can’t do anymore.

But when our epic daughter, Sky, told us she wanted to skydive with the family for her 18th birthday, I really wanted to go. So I called several places around Pocatello. A woman in Utah made me cry. “You have cancer. You could put the instructor in danger!” She even went on to use the word “selfish.”

I tried changing the subject. “Oh. Well… No worries. Um…I won’t go. But how much is a down payment for my two oldest daughters and my husband?”

She wouldn’t drop the subject. And I finally interrupted her monologue. “Enough,” I cried, sobbing almost uncontrollably. “I’m still f-f-fighting cancer. I don’t need this! You have n-no idea what I’m dealing with…or what my exact situation is like. I already told you I won’t go.” And I hung up the phone.

After taking a couple of days to calm down, I tried one last place: Sky Down in Caldwell, Idaho—almost four hours away.

“We help people who have cancer quite a bit,” the woman said on the phone. “It’s a pretty common bucket list item.”

I still worried because among other things I’m always so nauseous from cancer treatments. The last thing an instructor needed would be throw up hitting their face at terminal velocity!

But the lady on the phone, Denise, was so kind. In fact, when we got to the place this weekend, the instructor went over several things, explaining how if anything went wrong he would roll with me so neither one of us would get hurt. He’d strap me tightly to him, and we would land sitting. I couldn’t believe it. My dream of going skydiving with Mike would come true, but more than that, we would get to experience this with our two oldest daughters (Ruby and Sky) while our two youngest kids watched. It would be incredible.

And it was! Skydiving a second time was totally different from the first because I got to enjoy it with Mike and all of the kids too. I absolutely loved seeing their joy as we watched each person land and while Indiana and Trey cheered everyone on even saying, “The Sky is falling,” when Sky did her jump.

Unfortunately, my right leg unexpectedly gave out when I tried to lift it before landing, and several seconds before hitting the ground, my right leg drooped at an angle, caught on the dirt, and forced us to pitch down. Fortunately, the amazing skydive instructor—who speaks about a million languages and is so witty—rolled to keep both of us safe. “Oh, my gosh! Are you okay?” I asked after we stopped moving.

“Are you kidding?!” he said. “I’m totally fine. I do this for a living. I’m just worried about you.”

After we got back to the hanger, when everyone had completed their jumps, I talked with Denise and discovered some pretty profound things about Sky Down. They have helped so many people accomplish their dreams—people just like me.

I gave Denise my book, “Two More Years,” a huge hug, and the biggest smile. “Thank you so much for making this a reality for me. Doctors are starting to say I might actually beat this. But regardless,” I looked over at the skydive instructor and the pilot of the plane who both sat near the front entrance, “you’ve given all of us a memory we’ll never forget for Sky’s 18th birthday. You’ve made it so special.”

And to think, they’ve done this for so many other people. It’s astounding.

Today as Ruby smiled, talking about how much she loved free-fall, and Sky beamed looking at how they caught her E = mc2 tattoo in a photo of her plummeting next to the moon, I couldn’t help feeling the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

Sure I’m still fighting, nauseous from my monthly treatments, and a bit bruised from learning how to ”stop, drop, and roll,” BUT I’m so grateful. I’m still alive. And I get to be experiencing so many miracles each day with my adventurous family.

Who cares that I didn’t stick the landing? I got to go skydiving with some of the best people EVER and all of us lived!

Saturday, August 6, 2022

When I discovered who bought the violin, I cried.

I sold the violin. And when I discovered who bought it, I had to sit and cry….

Roberta is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. I first met her at Portneuf Medical Center. I desperately wanted to work as the manager of primary care, but even I knew it was a long shot. Yet, over a month after the interview, I got the job and sat in my new office talking with one of the providers: Roberta. 

“I wanted you to be the manager,” she said, and my heart swelled. I’d recently studied the patient feedback ratings and had already grown an immense amount of respect for this woman. The patients absolutely loved her—actually leaving comments about her wonderful bedside manner. It became obvious that each day she changed lives. 

Years passed and our friendship grew. I’ll never forget smiling and laughing over falafel or when I had to get a serious surgery in 2018. We went out to eat and I got all decked out in what we dubbed my “uterus dress,” because it’s the last time I’d get to go out on the town—with my uterus. Even during the tough times, Roberta just has a way of making everything fun, better, and somehow unforgettable.

In 2020, when my cancer progressed from stage 2 to 4, my previous coworkers at primary care were the first to know. Several of them cried with me and told me they were there if I needed anything. I’ll never forget when Roberta gave me a huge gift filled with various scarves and other things after I lost my hair. 

Then…Roberta got cancer. I bawled because I know how hard this journey is. I feel like a lot of people “think” they know what it’s like having cancer, but no one fully understands unless they’ve gone through it themselves. My heart broke knowing the journey my friend would be embarking on.

Despite fighting through treatments herself, she still found time to visit me, bring me a Viking helmet (that matched her own), and play music with me on a day that I needed cheering up the most. 

So you can imagine how much this meant when I realized that she bought the repurposed, steampunk violin from me. The genuine warrior who has fought and smiled and brought the best out of everyone despite her own plight. 

You see, Mike and I repurposed the violin because it was on my bucket list. And then, after it turned out so well, we decided to use it for something else. I have a lot of bills because of trips to Utah and treatments there. I had to ask for money in the past, but that is mortifying. So I decided to try to think of something else. Earning money to pay for my treatments. I was amazed to see that the violin got 14 bids! But what touched my heart more than anything is who ended up buying it. 

This is the violin that Mike and I repurposed:

It’s not just this one action, but dozens built up over years of friendship. Roberta has fought cancer, and yet she’s still doing things to make life better for everyone around her. She’s the purest example of kindness. Truly. 

I’m so grateful for this friendship…so grateful for Roberta. Thank you—for everything. 🥰

Below you can see me—trying to look…surprised in the hat Roberta gave me. Who knows what that face is 🤣🤦‍♀️ 

And this is my sweet Roberta 💓