Thursday, November 24, 2022

How to be Happy

 The Key to Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I decided the difference is gratitude.


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

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

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

(Picture created at Neural.Love)

Friday, November 18, 2022

I Refuse to Give Up: Happy Birthday in Heaven

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

She laughed, even happier than when she was alive. 

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

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

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

“Why?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

“Are you doing anything different?” he asked.

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

“Oh! That’s right.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“I’ll be praying for you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled a bit sadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Greatest Heist in History

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

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

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

“I think so.” Mike nodded.

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

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

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

“We have to do something,” I whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure. But—“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank, Jehoshaphat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You do,” he said.

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

Monday, November 14, 2022

Is It REALLY Worth Worrying About?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 10, 2022

‘ The Red Feather’ Steampunk Red Bird


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

#steampunk #steampunkbird #redbird 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Beautiful, Snow-Laden Leaves

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought so too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Face in the Crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A Letter to my Future Self—From 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 2020”

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

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

From a grateful woman who’s still fighting cancer, 


November 2022