Monday, September 26, 2022

When Dreams Become Reality


 “You see the world weird!” the girl said from the hallway. I sat in the elementary library, reading a book instead of going to recess. 


“Lindsay, that’s not very nice!” the librarian said, but Lindsay had already darted out of sight. 


“Mrs. Smith,” I said, putting a bookmark in “Anne of Green Gables” and turning to the middle-aged woman. “Do you think I’m weird? I don’t have many friends. And I’m either reading or hanging out with my cat.”


She laughed so sweetly that her voice almost sounded like little bells. “No, Elisa. You’re just you. And…you see beauty in everything. That’s not weird. You’re just lucky.”


I remember the first time Lindsay called me weird. We each had to use figurative language to describe the ocean. I’d closed my eyes and pictured it like liquid glass. I thought about how you can crack the surface and see a whole new world of creatures and excitement just waiting below. It felt magical—just like the library. Except at the library I could “see” more than just the ocean! I could visit Shannara or Middle Earth. I could learn from people like “Anne with an ‘e’” or Mr. Hyde. 


Plus, other magical things happened at the library too. My mom had brought me to an event there once and a newspaper reporter asked the head librarian, “Is there a specific kid we should take the picture of? Someone who comes here often?” And of everyone there, they picked me: an unimpressive elementary kid. I even got to be on the front page. Yes, I had a big scab on my forehead from falling out of a gigantic tree, but I still got the glory—forehead-scab and all.


“What do you want to do today?” my mom (Ruby) would ask on Saturdays.


“Anything?”


“Well…within reason.”


“Can you drop me off at the library? Just for a few hours?”


She’d chuckle because that was almost always my answer.


I devoured books, row after row. The librarian even gave me “The Grey King” because I read it so much. “Just take it, sweetheart,” she said. “We have an extra copy.”


In sixth grade I wrote my first book—most of it at the library. It was 90 pages, about a hamster that ran away from its owner and embarked on a grand adventure. After I wrote that “epic saga—based on a true story” (as I called it), I noticed a change: When I visited libraries or bookstores, they didn’t feel the same. Instead of tons of adventures waiting for me to discover, each book felt like someone’s dream. I couldn’t imagine getting a book published or having other people actually read it. All of that seemed farther away than Narnia.


My first real job was at a library. I could hardly wait to work there and shelve dreams. I’d long outgrown worrying about people like Lindsay, that validation held little value. I cared more about people like the heroines in Austen’s novels, Melville’s Ishmael, or even Margaret Mitchell’s Melanie. 


And years later, when I’d become a closet writer, I would bring my kids, nieces, and nephews not just to the library but to bookstores as well. In fact, every time I brought them out, they knew I’d buy them a special book from a specific Barnes and Noble. And the whole time they perused, I’d dream about having a book published, about having a book THERE, about having people actually read a few words that I wrote.


“It’s a pipe dream,” an elderly relative told me. “Do something that makes money. Do something that makes sense. Don’t try to be an author.”


But I kept trying anyway. And nearly two decades after writing my first full-length manuscript of 90,000 words, I finally had a book published by a real publisher. 


“Can we go to Barnes and Noble?” Indy asked last Saturday. We’d traveled from Idaho to Utah for a bridal shower. Unbeknownst to Indiana, she’d asked to visit the exact store I’d brought her to when she was a baby. In fact, it’s the same store where I’d brought all of my kids, my nieces, and nephews.


“Do you think they have your book?” she asked.


“Probably not.” I smiled wistfully. “But we can look.”


So, we found the nonfiction section. I let my hand trail along the spines of so many great books like “Night” and “Angela’s Ashes.” And then, my breath caught in my throat. “Oh, my gosh,” I said, trying to keep my emotions in check. “It’s. Actually. Here.”


I gaped, just staring at my dream. I could hardly believe what it felt like, seeing something I’ve wanted so badly…something I’ve fought for against all reason. Something so many people said would never happen. My dream sat on that shelf proving that sometimes the impossible IS possible if we just keep trying. 


Indy’s reaction made the moment even better. “Hurry, Mama! Take a picture. I’ll do my ‘look of surprise’ for you.”


After I snapped the picture, she peered at me quizzically. “Are you okay?” she asked. 


“I just wanted this with everything in me. And it was so hard to write while I’ve been fighting cancer. But now look. It was worth it.”


“Mama,” she held my hand and swung it, “that’s cool. But if I’m really good—I mean REALLY good—can I get a book today?”


“Yes.” I giggled. And I brought my smallest daughter to the kids’ section where she bought a book about a child who has few friends, owns a cat, and loves the library—she bought something remarkably like herself. 


As I watched Indy reading her book this afternoon, I just had to smile. 


Life is so ironically beautiful.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

A Disney Princess with Cancer

 I answered the door. She’d brought cookies, but I still mentally prepared for a confrontation. This particular woman is hard for me to be around because she doesn’t believe in utilizing modern medicine.


“So, why haven’t they done the gallbladder surgery yet?” she asked.


“There are a lot of moving pieces between cancer treatments and medications,” I said.


“May I be blunt?” she finally asked.


I nodded because when is she not? 


“Don’t be offended…”


I blinked, thinking that’s almost the cue TO be offended. 


“I’m not talking about you specifically, but people who continue to get treatments—and are fighting a losing battle—well, they’re kind of a drain on society.”


“Excuse me?” Why had I answered the damn door.


“It’s just that medical intervention costs so much—especially in taxes. Sure some terminal cancer patients might show improvement, but cancer is still what they’ll die from. Don’t you feel like you’re going against God by fighting something so natural? You don’t need to be afraid to die, Elisa. If you’d just come to church…”


Tears formed so fast in my eyes that I could no longer contain my emotions. 


“I want you to leave. Now.”


“I didn’t mean to offend—“


“Leave. And don’t come back. I’m not a charity case, and I don’t need your…cookies or your religion or your opinions. I have enough on my plate.”


She walked to the door and then looked back at me, pleadingly. Confused. “Elisa, I’m trying to help you.”


I really didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but I needed to be honest. “You didn’t have time for me before I got sick. I know you feel like you’re doing something nice—and you need that. But this isn’t good for me. It’s hard enough to keep fighting cancer without you telling me that I should quit. That’s fine if you wouldn’t get surgeries or treatments to prolong your life. But you’re not me. I’m doing this for my family.” And after she stepped outside, I shut the door.


I heard the woman talking to herself as she trudged to her car. She said something about how she’d never been treated so poorly and how I’m cutting everyone out of my life.


Despite knowing that I did the right thing for myself, I spent most of Wednesday afternoon crying—in the hospital. 


For a normal person, preparing for gallbladder surgery isn’t a big deal and they would just get it done. But for me, I had to stay at the hospital for hours, undergoing various tests including extensive labs, an EKG, and much more. I’m sure the surgery itself will be extremely easy. (I’ve been through worse!) But as I waited for the doctor yesterday, I remembered my visit with that woman and everything suddenly felt insurmountable. 


“Are you doing okay?” the doctor asked right after coming into the room.


“I’m happy today,” my voice shook as I plastered a smile onto my face, “because you guys have upped your game. Can you believe they gave me soap—free soap—to use the night before my surgery?”


He broke out laughing. “You know, THAT’S why you’re doing so well—your sense of humor. I read your chart before I came in here.” He paused. “Do you realize how lucky you are?”


“What do you mean?”


He donned his glasses. “Most people would’ve given up by now. That’s one thing, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how much people fight. Once melanoma goes into the brain, it’s almost unheard of for the cancer to die. We don’t like to tell patients that, but it’s true. You’re probably one of the luckiest people I’ve ever met in person.”


“I really am so fortunate,” I said, and I’m not sure why, but tears flooded my face. “Oh…I’m so sorry.”


“Hey, you’re okay. You’ve been through a lot. I have a couple of extra minutes. What’s bothering you?”


I couldn’t believe he even said that. Most doctors are so busy going from patient to patient, but this guy seemed to really care. So I gave him a brief synopsis of what that lady had said to me and how she doesn’t believe in prolonging life through medical means.


“You are fighting for your husband and kids,” he said. “And it sounds like you might beat this. Don’t listen to her. You’re fighting to spend more time with your family—you’re not fighting to spend more time with that lady.”


I broke out laughing. I don’t know why it hit me so funny, but it did. I try to love everyone. But I’d just like to love her from a great distance.


After he left, a nurse came to tell me I could leave. “I heard you had a bad week?” she asked.


“Yeah, surgery I can handle, but people being thoughtless is another story… That saying about sticks and stones is dumb. Words do hurt.”


“And people suck.” She paused before leaving. “Can I tell you something that might brighten your day?”


I nodded.


“The nurses were all talking about you earlier. We said it’s weird that you have cancer. It’s like seeing a Disney princess with a terminal illness.”


I snorted—actually snorted. “Imagine Belle or Snow White or Ariel with cancer. That is a strange thought.”


She nodded. “But somehow they’d make it look good.”


So I left the hospital getting approved for surgery this Tuesday. And I finally figured out why the interaction with that lady bothered me so much.


I just wish people would do what they can to be genuinely good to each other. It’s not about making cookies for acquaintances, trying to convert unbelievers, or doing some stupid thing that might look good on paper. It’s about actually caring like that doctor and nurse did. It’s about taking time to listen or just brightening someone’s day. It’s about withholding opinions if they might make someone end life-saving treatments—or if those opinions will somehow make life unnecessarily harder for the listener.


Anyway, it’s been a rough week, but a good one too. I got called a Disney princess who has cancer. It could be better, but you know what…I’ll take what I can.


Friday, September 16, 2022

When You Feel Yourself Faltering

 “You can’t have the HIDA scan done,” the woman said, obviously worried about delivering the news.


“But I’ve been fasting,” I said. “I did everything the ER doctor told me to.”


“But you’ve taken pain medicine.”


Tears welled in my eyes. “He said I could. I have stage four melanoma, excruciating pain. I can’t lie flat on a table for almost two hours without pain medicine. My nerves just….” I’m so desensitized to this situation that I don’t cry much—not anymore—but today I really broke down. “Excuse me. I have to sit.” I shook as I slumped into a chair outside of the imaging room. “You deal with other cancer patients, right?”


She nodded.


“I’m in a vicious spiral. Cancer treatments have ruined my gallbladder. But I’ve had pulmonary embolisms. And now I’m on a blood thinner. The surgeon won’t remove my gallbladder until I’ve had this test because I’m so high risk. I haven’t slept in almost three days. I NEED this scan, but without medicine, my right leg feels like someone is holding it against a scalding glass fireplace. No one can hold still like that. No one.”


And then I cried. And cried. And cried. The tech left, and when she came back, she’d confirmed that they could make an exception because I’m a cancer patient.


Although she’d been nice before, she spoke extra kindly to me after that. I know she was just doing her job before, but today has been so hard. 


She injected medication into my arm that reproduces the strange gallbladder pains I’ve had for nearly two months. The upper right portion of my abdomen throbbed with discomfort, then my back and leg suddenly turned to fire. Nausea increased from my cancer treatments yesterday, and I instantly started feeling feverish from last night’s bone infusion.


“Okay, this will take about an hour and a half,” the woman said. “Are you okay?” 


I’m never okay, I thought. Not anymore. I’m broken from all of this. But I didn’t say anything. Instead I tried to smile.


The table slid under a massive 3-by-5-foot metal plate that hung too closely to my face. My eyes widened as I realized that I couldn’t wriggle out from under it if I tried, and I couldn’t even push it off of me. “I’m not okay. No! No.” I sobbed, feeling weaker than I have in months. “I’m just so tired of all of this. For two seconds, I can’t be strong.” I looked to the side, and tears seeped into the fabric my head rested on. “Please let me out of here.”


That sweet tech swiftly moved me from under the intimidating plate, brought me a warm blanket, and let me sit up.


She studied me, and after a moment said, “You’re the girl I saw on TV, aren’t you?” she asked after a moment. “I recognize your eyes. You wrote that book everyone’s been talking about. The one about your journey with cancer.”


I wiped my tears away and nodded. “I guess that’s me…. I can’t believe you saw that—and you remembered me. That…means so much.”


“Well, you’re awfully inspiring,” she said. “Of course I remembered.” She studied my breathing. “How’s your book doing?” she asked.


“I don’t know if it’ll sell, but it’s in stores nation-wide now.” I sniffled so hard. ”Okay,” I said, so grateful to her. “Because of you, I think I can do this.”


And so I went under the claustrophobia-inducing metal plate where my own shallow breaths ricocheted back into my face, and I stayed nauseous and in severe nerve, back, and abdominal pain for over an hour and a half, unable to move.


While I stayed under there, I thanked God for that sweet tech and the fact that she remembered me from the segment on TV earlier this year. I bit my lip to feel the taste of blood and take away the nausea because I needed to get this done and not throw up all over the equipment and myself. 


Then, when the pain from the back and gallbladder set in, and the claustrophobia seemed worse than hell, I told myself to quit feeling sorry for myself—and to quit thinking how easy it would be to stop fighting. 


I want to make Mike, our kids, and our families proud. I’m not done battling yet—and I might not make a good Amazon woman after all—but I can still strive to live through this for my kids. Plus, this wimpy surgery seems to be nothing after everything else I’ve been through. Of all the organs for cancer treatments to kill, I never liked my gallbladder. It’s just a bile pouch anyway!


The results already came back from my scan today and confirmed that I must indeed get my gallbladder out (shocking); we just need to take precautions with all of the other crap I have going on. I’m not upset that I need another surgery (my eighth surgery in seven years). Like the saying goes: God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle, so He must think I’m a badass. 


I’m done crying. I’m done being a baby (for today anyway). I just never knew how many crazy things go along with having cancer. Complications from cancer treatments almost killed me two times last year. That’s almost hard to fathom. I thought I understood cancer before my diagnosis. I had no idea.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

How to Deal with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

 “Oh, my gosh. Mr. McMurtrey,” I said. 


He looked at me blankly, waved, then continued placing items on the conveyor belt at the grocery store.


“I’m Elisa,” I went on. “You remember me. From the newspaper?” He used to call me with news tips; we’d laugh and joke. One day he called about a deer that had jumped through a storefront window—and lived—running around the store and drawing the attention of everyone in town. So many memories, but now he looked at me again…bewildered. “Mr. McMurtrey?”


“I don’t know you. But you seem like a real-nice girl.” He smiled, looking much older than his 70+ years.


Studying him, he had the same light in his eyes and an obvious touch of mirth to his smile. But something felt off. “Well, anyway…it’s wonderful to see you,” I said, so surprised that he didn’t remember me.


A woman came from behind us and stood by him. “Excuse me. Do you need something from my husband?”


“No. Not really.” I shook my head.


After a moment, Mr. McMurtrey and his wife finished checking out, and he started heading toward the door. “How do you know him?” his wife suddenly came back and asked me when he’d gotten a few feet away.


“The newspaper. He’d always give me tips.”


Her expression turned a bit softer. “Oh! You’re that Elisa girl. You had the EC Stilson column, right?”


I nodded, so excited she remembered me. It suddenly felt so important to be remembered.


“He loved talking with you.” Then she paused, always keeping an eye on her husband as he approached the store’s exit. “I’m so sorry. He said he didn’t recognize you. He’s…having some memory issues. It’s been hard on all of us.”


“I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. He’s the nicest man.”


“He really is.” Then she explained that she had to “go after him,” and she darted out the automatic doors after waving goodbye.


When I got home and put my groceries away, I sat on my front porch and waited for the kids to get home from school. The wind licked my face, like a dog so happy for me to be home. Birds whistled, sending cryptic messages through the trees. And I closed my eyes and felt every bit of “life” seep into me.


Sometimes it’s hard not thinking too much about the tough things in this world: how people can lose their memories and really “their story,” and how fast one can lose health, relationships, status, and so many other things on a whim.


But as I felt the wind lighting my skin on fire with insight and the birds trilling above me, I remembered Mr. McMurtrey’s eyes and how he hasn’t changed, not really. His spirit is still the same—completely filled with the jovial kind of mirth and sense of play he always showed everyone. He made everyone feel important and special—and I bet he still does.


Since so many people I’ve known have died or lost physical or mental capabilities, sometimes I wonder exactly why it’s so hard. What exactly makes it hurt so much? Especially with losing a loved one? I’ve decided it’s a loss of time—even time already spent. 


It is extremely tough not being able to call and hear their voice. But there’s something else, and that’s what I saw with Mr. McMurtrey. It’s sad when you lose that tie to a memory. I can tell people what it was like when he called about the deer that jumped through the window. But now I’m the only one who really carries that story around. And when I’m gone, that experience will be gone too. No matter how much I talk or write about it, that too will drift away. Like everything we know here on earth. Everything—I believe—except love.


Yet, sitting on the porch none of life’s heartaches seemed to matter because I felt the true power and serene beauty of change. If I were a conscious observer of life, I wouldn’t want to freeze time and stifle everything; I’d want it to always keep flowing right through me. The good, the bad, I guess all of it. It seems that life hands us new situations to learn from, conquer, and then (in turn) help people around us. Sometimes it’s through helping others that we finally see the beauty in our own struggles.


The kids got home, and I gave them extra big hugs. “You coming inside?” Trey asked.


“I’ll be there in a minute,” I said, so glad that even though I have physical handicaps now, I am not experiencing what I witnessed from my friend at the store.


So, I still don’t know how I completely feel about poor Mr. McMurtrey, but I hope I’ll see him and his wife again. Sure, he might not recognize me, but I’d love to offer a smile, a kind word, just something that will brighten his day like he always brightened mine. 


I guess that’s what I can learn from the moment. I don’t need to be sad for my friend. Instead, I can be grateful that although he’s losing his memory, he hasn’t lost who he really is: a brilliant, wonderfully kind man. And that’s how I’m trying to embrace change today, by once more finding the good.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Too Good for Our World



 “I’m scared to die,” she said.


I hadn’t realized how sick she’d become. “I think everyone is.”


“Really?”


“Yes.” I paused and thought about what I’ve seen throughout my journey with cancer and all the people I’ve met who are close to death. If people claim they aren’t scared of the unknown—not at all—they’ve either never directly faced the dragon, or they’re lying to themselves. Fighting death reminds me of skydiving. You might feel ready when you prepare to jump, but that doesn’t make it less terrifying. I know I’ll fall into death’s embrace someday, but the thought of my body breaking beyond repair, unanimated without my soul … Well, it seems unfathomable.


The fact that she remained honest through her journey has been humbling. “You’re so strong,” I finally responded, thinking about some of our experiences together. “Whatever the future holds, you’ve got this.”


Ashley exuded something special. She modeled in her younger years and could brighten any room just by entering it. In her 20s, she crafted visionary cakes that could’ve been featured on television. It wasn’t enough that she completely excelled as a mother and a wife; of course, she could master anything.


Sometimes in life, you might encounter someone and immediately feel a … “je ne sais quoi,” but the details of it won’t become apparent until time has passed. That’s what happened with me and Ashley up in the mountains.


Our husbands are best friends—like brothers—so several years ago when Ashley and Garrett invited us to camp with them, I could hardly wait. One day Ashley sat by the stream, gazing wistfully at the water. “I can’t explain it,” she said. “I just feel so alive.” Ashley loved it up there: the looming cliff-face, the refreshing steam, the pure power and majesty of nature. And instead of going back home, like the rest of us, she stayed with her kids in the mountains for days and days. I talked with her on the phone and ended up chuckling. That was her “something special,” her own “je ne sais quoi.” She seemed ethereal—like some mythological creature, always meant to be wild and free. So that’s how I picture Ashley now. She’s sitting by that stream, saying how beautiful everything is and how alive she feels…even though she’s not alive at all—and she had to leave us too soon.


“There was no reason to be scared,” she says, probably making an elaborate cake for God. Then I picture her sending every bit of love to her husband, kids, and mother. She died on her second-oldest son’s birthday. That might seem devasting, but there is something good to find in the heartache. He’ll always have a beautiful, supermodel guardian looking out for him, forever. Always wanting the best. Always protecting and fighting for him, his siblings, and the rest of their family. She’s graduated beyond the pain. The day he first met his mother now marks the anniversary of when God deemed her too perfect for our world. It’s ironic because my son died years ago, and his viewing landed on my birthday. I thought I’d never like that day again, but now it’s a chance to simply remember someone I love.


So this very moment, Ashley might pause up in Heaven while mixing ingredients. And then she may even read these words and nod because we just understand one another.


“I love your posts,” she used to say. “They somehow give me hope.” And how nice of her to read my words because she’d been the strong one.


The point is that even though she died in her early 30s, she showed me what truly gives a life meaning. Instead of flaunting her many talents and her exceptionality, she brought out the best in everyone else. She made people believe in themselves. If everyone could do that, quit worrying about finite accomplishments and pride and self-indulgence—and fight to help those around them despite their own hardships—we’d have paradise on earth.


Ashley got it. She lived purposefully. And I will miss her.


Looking back, when I think about her now, I’ll never forget our time in the mountains where she looked like a nymph of the forest, and her gratitude for the simple things in life changed my view of everything.



Picture: (left to right) me, Mike, Garrett, and Ashley

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

What is the key to happiness?


(This photo was actually taken at a museum where we rented a wheelchair. It’ll be so nice to have one that I can keep.)

Yesterday, we finally broke down and bought me a wheelchair. It’s not that I need one all the time, but I can’t walk long distances—and this has definitely hampered things I can do. 

Anyway, we got the wheelchair and actually brought the kids to the fair in Blackfoot. 

Trey and one of his best friends palled around and checked out the unique fair foods and booths. (They had such a blast.) And later as I sat in my wheelchair and watched Indy and Mike ride various roller coasters, I had an epiphany. Dirt swirled around me. Cowboys and women in beautiful dresses walked past with their families, and I didn’t even care that I could’ve seemed somewhat invisible down below the bustle and excitement. Yes, life is different, but it’s more than enough—and it’s never looked this clear despite all of the hard things I’ve experienced with sickness and pain. Sure I can’t do everything that I could before, but that’s life; it’s constantly changing and evolving. The best we can do is find good in the chaos. And I feel fortunate to have learned so much well before my time.

Last night, when we got home I wasn’t nearly as tired as I normally am, and Mike’s biceps looked amazing from pushing me all day (I can just imagine his facial expression when he reads this lol!). I had enough energy to look through the amazing tattoos Ruby did at work so far this month, and I even got to visit with Sky about her day. 

I’ve realized my joy isn’t always derived from being the active participant who’s front and center. Instead, I’m content with seeing the happiness around me—still being able to watch my family enjoy our world. When it comes down to it, I would give nearly anything to see them happy—to spend one more day with them, to see their smiles always etched into my mind...

I know I’m lucky to be here. So many of my sweet friends at the cancer center have already passed away since I met them in 2020. I know it must’ve been their time, but they fought so hard to stay…. They were positive and strong. They WANTED to live, but cancer is a merciless, incompetent judge—and it doesn’t care how much someone deserves to keep on breathing. Now when I hear people taking their health or even their lives for granted, well…it almost seems unfair to the people who fought so hard to stay and still died young. 

I wish it wouldn’t take hindsight to see things this way.

Walking short distances or riding in a wheelchair for the long bouts, everything sure does look different from here. I guess it’s all about perspective.

 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Sitting Right Next to a Stranger

 The man stared at me, probably wondering why I sat RIGHT next to him when dozens of seats rested vacant around us.


“Well…hi,” he finally said, apparently deciding that direct contact would be the anecdote for awkwardness.


“I’m Elisa,” I beamed, holding my hand out to him.


He seemed shocked. And slowly—almost reluctantly—the man grasped my hand and shook it. Crinkled, thin skin framed his blue eyes. And I knew something scary brought him to the hospital. 


I didn’t know what to say, not right off. And I remembered a recent conversation when someone asked me why I have so many exceptional occurrences, especially with strangers. “It’s because I put myself out there—and I’m vulnerable.”


You see, normally I’d love to sit away from people because that’s comfortable. But sometimes I get a niggling, that maybe a person is lonely, or they need to feel heard or of value. And in the grand scheme of things, that is much more important than momentary comfort. And this felt like one such occasion. 


And so, instead of sitting in one of the 50+ seats in the courtyard, I sat directly next to the man. 


Step #1 complete: Put myself out there. Now for step #2: Be vulnerable. I suddenly knew what to say. 


“My husband went to get our car,” I blurted. “I have stage 4 cancer, and I’m only in my 30s. It’s been hard adjusting to this new normal. I just can’t walk as far as I used to.” He remained quiet. 


This poor guy obviously didn’t know what to do with a woman who talked faster than a squirrel who’d had five shots of espresso—a squirrel who had cancer.


After a while, he squinted toward the cloudy sky like something had caught in his eye. “Yeah, I have a hard time walking too far too. My wife went to park the car.”


“I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’ve found something that has really helped me.”


“Really? What?” he asked, more eager than I expected.


“The opposite of fear can be a lot of things when we really think about it: peace, hope, knowledge… But what I’ve found takes the fear away the fastest for me right now is trust. If I can somehow trust that there’s a plan, cancer loses its sting.”


“You must get so scared in your situation,” he said. “I just found out that I… Well, I have a heart condition. And I’ve been so ashamed that I’ve been scared. Men aren’t supposed to get scared. I’m supposed to stay strong for my wife and my whole family.” He looked exhausted, not just from feeling sick, but from carrying so much for everyone.


“But we all get scared sometimes,” I said. “We’re human. I hope you’ll find whatever it is that’ll help you fight the fear. But I guess realizing it’s there is a great way to analyze it so you can find a way to not be scared anymore. For me, I just want to see my kids grow up. But realizing everything will be okay, no matter what…that God is looking out for them and me—and all of us…that made the difference.”


This quiet understanding settled there. And neither of us really said much more; instead, we both gazed at the luminous sky. Cirrus clouds spread to the edges of the mountaintops, framing the sun quite perfectly, and I thought how ironic it is that I love feeling sunshine on my face even though it’s what doctors still say will kill me. I’ll never fully understand melanoma. 


Saturday, September 3, 2022

A Book Club and a Chicken Murder

 A book club read my memoir, invited me to one of their meetings, and it actually became one of my favorite nights of the year! This whole story is actually pretty hilarious—just wait for it.


Before getting too far, I should explain something. I’ve been experiencing some pretty extreme pain in the middle of my spine and my ribs. Of course my brain goes where it always does now: Has the cancer spread? An emergency X-ray yesterday contained findings stating that they actually spotted a fracture. 


“You can’t go to the bookclub,” Trey, my 14-year-old said—because apparently now he’s extra darling, overprotective, AND my boss. “You seriously can’t go—not with a fracture.”


“I know you’re worried, Dr. Morris, but I can’t just stop living because my body thinks I’m over 100.” So, I gave everyone a gentle hug, and hobbled off to the book club.


On my way there, I hoped I’d quickly get everything in perspective: the fracture, cancer, and that it’s okay if breathing is painful—at least I’m breathing. 


I wondered what these ladies might ask. Would they wonder about Mike and the kids or one of the stories like finding white feathers at the perfect moments. (My mom says white feathers mean angels are looking out for us.) Maybe they’d want to discuss cancer or staying positive despite hardship?


Anyway, after everyone got there and we went out on the deck, that’s when the real excitement started. 


All of them seemed quite cordial, but I just hoped something would happen to break the ice. That’s when we heard it—the scream of a dying child. Well, I thought it was a child, but then it screamed and almost gobble-gurgled.


None of us knew what to do. You know the scene: we’re all sitting there, eating fancy fruit, and then something dies.


“What…,” someone asked delicately setting down a piece of fruit. “What is that?”


All of those fancy ladies stood and peered over the railing. That’s when we spotted the host’s dog, full-on murdering a chicken. I mean, chicken IS delicious—and I know where it comes from—but this was a bit National Geographic. 


Soon the dog held it by the neck, and we discovered from the host that this white chicken had been one of her favorites. The chicken soon flopped uneventfully, and when the dog spotted her owner, she dropped the chicken and bolted like an armed robber!


I felt so bad for Danielle, the host. You could tell she really loved that chicken (and not in the same way that I love McDonald’s).


“It might still be alive, right?” one woman said.


“I don’t think it’s breathing,” another lady whispered as Danielle approached it. Plus, half of the feathers had been plucked from its neck, face, and left wing leaving a bloody pulp that I have never seen at the grocery store.


Danielle squatted and placed her hand on its back. All of us held our breath and then jumped! Can you believe, the chicken shot up at that exact moment and started walking like a drunken sailor? I swear it came back to life just like Lazarus!


But it looked terrible and another woman in the group, Ashlynn, had gone down to help. “You said you grew up on a farm?” I said over the balcony. “I heard you can grab it by its head and swing it around to break its neck—to put it out of its misery. So you can do that, right?”


She gazed at me despondently, then broke out laughing. “I grew up on a farm…not a ranch.”


“I think she might live!” Danielle said, inspecting the chicken. I’d learned moments before that she’s a PA, and if anyone held the fate of this chicken in their hands it was either the PA or the farmer. Danielle explained that she could put the chicken in a special area where it would be safe from the dog under the deck. And after a minute, she came back to her seat. We were all quiet, not knowing what to say. I had to do something. 


“When you laid hands on that chicken, did you pray?” I asked “Because if you did, I think you should pray for me.”


Everyone laughed. “Oh, my gosh,” another lady said. “This is just like something that would’ve happened in your book. Are you going to write about this?”


“Heck, yes! I am!” 


And that seemed to be the beginning of so many jokes and a great conversation. One lady talked about the white feathers in my book and how she found so much strength in that story. Another woman looked over the balcony and said, “Well, there are a bunch of white feathers down there if anyone wants to take one home.”


Every once in a while the chicken would make a really loud noise under the deck. “Do you think it’ll make it through the night?” Someone asked. “If it doesn’t maybe you could eat it.”


“But what about all of that stress hormone.”


“You could massage it as it dies.”


Those ladies are so fun and full of life. I momentarily forgot about my hardships, and they even made me feel so special. Several of them told me different things they gained from “Two More Years” and how it had changed their perspectives on life. They went around and talked about their bucket lists and things they would like to do. I just felt so fuzzy, warm, and happy.


“I can’t believe you have a fractured bone and you’re still here tonight,” a lady said.


“Honestly, I’ve had the best night. And my pain doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore.”


“Really?” she asked in disbelief. 


“I’m just so glad I’m not that chicken.”


So, I had another unforgettable night. I made a whole group of new friends who are selfless and compassionate. I saw a dog murder a chicken. And then I witnessed something come back from the dead. All in all, it was a really beautiful day. Well, not for the chicken. But, you know…


Thursday, September 1, 2022

A Grain of Sand on the Beach of Eternity

 

Two doctors in separate cancer hospitals across the U.S. have begun reading my cancer memoir. One already got back to me and said she had no idea exactly what treatments could be like “from the eyes of a patient”—especially brain radiation. The other doctor said he’s asked several nurses and other staff members to read the book so they can understand what parents might be experiencing both physically and mentally.


In 2020, I never imagined that when doctors told me I had two years left to live, I would write a book that would finally get traditionally published. I also never expected something like this. It just goes to show that it’s never too late to reach for your dreams. I hope this will inspire someone else to just go for it. This is amazing. I’m not sure what my purpose is, and I know I’m just a tiny grain of sand on the beach of eternity, but today…well, today is so beautiful.