Tuesday, February 28, 2023

When Bollywood Stole My Facebook Page

 In 2003 my cellphone rang. I glanced at the unknown number, not feeling up to conversation. My son had died a few months before, and I’d gotten momentarily separated from my first husband. As if reading my mind, my oldest daughter studied me from her highchair while taking another bite of oatmeal. 

Oatmeal. I hated the stuff. But being poor, oatmeal seemed to be the only food we could afford, and while I had to choke it down, I thanked God that Ruby still loved Quaker Oats.

“Should I answer it?” I asked Ruby who giggled, dancing to my ringtone. 

“Hello?” I spoke into the receiver and smiled at my beautiful little girl—my reason.

The man responded in a thick accent. “Ma’am?” Then he began peddling an inane product. 

“I can barely afford oatmeal,” I said. “There’s no way I can buy whatever you’re selling. Can you remove me from your calling list?”

“Yes.” But he sounded devastated. Desperate. 

I thought then how easily we separate ourselves from our own humanity through a phone line or a computer’s modem, wielding apathy instead of kindness.

“Wait,” I said, “before you go, can you tell me how your day is going?”

He paused. “It’s…okay. Um…thank you…for asking.”

“Where are you from?” I just wanted to show some interest, try to make his day a bit brighter.

“Ma’am,” his voice wavered, “I’m in India.”

“How exciting!” I squealed. “I bet it’s gorgeous over there.” And Ruby’s eyes lit with mirth as she watched my reaction.

The conversation that followed still feels somewhat magical, even 20 years later. The telemarketer told me about his hardships and fears. He shared how he felt like he’d hit rock bottom to have a degree and be a telemarketer—he felt like a failure. And to top that off, people could be so unkind, yelling at him and hanging up all day long. 

I told him about my son who’d died and my failing marriage. He said he never would’ve guessed because I’d sounded so happy when I first answered the phone. And somehow the conversation felt so…healing.

He’d called to sell me something but instead reminded me of the very best of humanity. He fought to provide for his family, striving to succeed no matter how difficult life had become. And on that international phone call, we encouraged each other to keep going…for our kids and even for ourselves.

“You’re amazing,” I said. And with that, we ended the call.

Fast forward to almost two weeks ago. I received an email from a woman in India. She explained that her company desperately wanted to advertise on my Facebook page. I immediately remembered the Indian man from 20 years ago, his kind voice, his quiet resolve. And I wondered how the years had treated him. Had he finally landed a job where he could utilize his degree? Had his children grown up to realize what a strong, selfless man had supported them all of those years. And what would he think about my life? My wonderful children? My second husband who’s been so good to me? And—since 2018–my terrible fight against cancer and death. 

Thinking about all of that, I agreed to advertise this woman’s product. All I needed to do was sign into my Meta account and accept her invitation to advertise.

Imagine my surprise when this woman ended up being a man who later hacked into my Meta account and stole my business page on Facebook. As many of you know, I had 56,000 followers on my EC Stilson page. I’d worked for 12 years to build it up to that point. Despite contacting Facebook over 14 times since this theft on Feb. 19, they have done nothing to help me, and I’m beginning to lose hope. 

Today, I sat wondering why this feels so devastating. I guess it’s hard knowing this scammer read about my fight against cancer, and they still proceeded to steal my page and thus part of my livelihood (selling books through my platform). It’s also appalling having someone take my identity, and now post Bollywood videos under my name. But it gets so much worse. I hate knowing that cancer patients and some of my elderly followers might be trying to message that page, only to be greeted by this dangerous imposter. And—maybe the worst part—the teams at Facebook and Meta don’t seem to care.

Today, as I sat wondering what I’m supposed to learn from this, I immediately remembered the Indian telemarketer from two decades ago. He reminded me that no matter what hardships we have or will go through, we should never let unkind people or unfortunate situations rob us of our humanity. 

It might be terrible that Facebook isn’t doing anything to help, that the scammer has sent someone to try ransoming my page, that I’ve had to realize some people could care less that others are sick—they’ll even capitalize upon it…but what I’m so proud of is that I TRULY know now those situations will never rob me of my ability to be kind and always look for the good. 

I prayed for the scammer today. Begged God to help them learn what they need in order to grow and feel empathy for others. I prayed for myself, for the strength to continue being that girl who makes friends with telemarketers and learns from unlikely circumstances. I also prayed that no one else will be taken advantage of, thinking they’re messaging me…

This has been hard waiting to hear back from Facebook about the future of my page and my business, but it’s nothing compared to waiting for my own demise because of cancer. This page was just something to distract me from the brutal reality of sickness; I know that now.

Anyway, I guess today I’m hanging onto peace in my own humanity. Hope in the journey. Love in the memories. It’s hard waiting, until I realize this is just another sign I’m still lucky enough to be alive. And that’s what I learned after someone stole my Facebook page so they could begin posting Bollywood videos under my name.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Breaking Sand Dollars to Release Doves

 This Valentine’s Day, my teenage son did the sweetest thing; he gave me strength.

Let me explain: In 2021, when my liver started failing because of cancer treatments, my Aunt BoAnn and Uncle Frank came to see us all the way from another state! They bought dinner, brought gifts for each person in our family, and even watched the kids when Mike rushed me to the emergency room. Anyway, each of the kids cherished their time with my aunt and uncle and have taken exceptional care of the gifts they received. But this especially made an impact on Trey. During that visit, he’d received several sand dollars and learned how to break them to release the doves inside.

But even as time passed, Trey couldn’t bring himself to break them. “They’re so awesome. I can’t stand to destroy them.”

So, I looked it up online. “But it’s good luck!” I said then read the search results. “Once the sand dollar is broken open, the five jaw apparatuses are said to look like doves.” I pointed to the ‘doves’ from a broken sand dollar in his room. “Broken sand dollars release goodwill and peace into the world.”

He didn’t quite agree with me. And although he loved the gift, he vowed to keep them safe. Anyway, months passed and despite Trey’s best efforts, since sand dollars are quite fragile, some of them did start to break. I watched as a sand dollar at a time would disappear from his shelf, replaced by doves. And although I didn’t ask Trey about any of this, I just found it interesting until only one sand dollar remained unbroken, in February of 2023.

I’d called in sick to work, suffering beyond words. And I felt so tired. Trey handed me something wrapped in tissue along with a note. “Read the note first?” he asked, and I read it aloud.

“I am giving you a sand dollar,” I read his words on the paper, “but not just any sand dollar…the intact one! Because out of all of us, you have stayed the strongest the last few years. Not only that, but you have inspired so many lives.” Tears filled my eyes as I continued reading his words. “You have earned the one and only sand dollar.” I smiled. “Use it wisely. From Trey.”

I gave Trey the biggest hug. It’s crazy that he’s almost six feet tall and that he has such a tender, loving heart. I’m so grateful for him, every single second of every day. So, as I read his words again this Valentine’s Day, I realized once more the importance of telling the people in our lives just how much they matter to us. 

I am so incredibly fortunate to have such amazing family members and friends in my life. If I have stayed strong at times, it’s simply a testament to the kind of people who surround me. I am lucky and blessed. This Valentine’s Day, I wanted to tell all of you how much I love and appreciate you. I know the best people in the world. Thank you for your kindness to me!

Monday, February 13, 2023

This Side of a Terminal Diagnosis

 When I turned 26, the modeling agency told me I was too old to model. “We kept you a year longer than normal. No one wants someone over the age of 25–not unless they’re a big name.”

I hadn’t liked modeling solely for the shoots. Some of them felt trashy, especially the one calendar project where executives dressed me and eleven other girls to look muddy in a swamp that held about a million mosquitos. They’d do up your hair and makeup, then put you in clothes you’d never wear in real life. And sometimes upper management would try hitting on you….

Still, when the agency ended my contract, it stung. I had enjoyed going out for music gigs. Sometimes the agency would call and send me to music auditions: singing, fiddling, or playing the piano. I’d get to fiddle with various bands at different venues. Sometimes companies needed a model who actually knew how to play a certain instrument for photos or even films. And that felt…nice, thinking I had a sought-after skill and someone thought I was pretty. Plus, minimum wage for music gigs started at $94 an hour—a small fortune to me at the time.

But it does a number on your self esteem when someone says you’re “too old” at 26. (I did land two more jobs after this, at 29 and 30, but that was the end of it. Ha!)

Anyway, I thought about all of that this weekend when I went swimming with Indy. Everyone else in our family had plans, so Indy and I headed to Lava Hot Springs to the mineral pools that many claim have healing powers. 

Sometimes I can walk quite straight, without a hunch in my back, but when I get tired, something pulls my back tighter and tighter until I look haggard and old. Unfortunately, that’s what happened as we stood in the changing rooms and prepared to go into the hot pools. As I waited for Indy to get ready, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I have a 9-inch scar on my back, a disfigured thumb, several scars on my stomach, a 5-inch scar on my hip, a 5-inch scar on my arm, and severe muscle atrophy in my right leg. I scoffed. If the modeling agency could see me now.

“You okay?” Indy asked. I hadn’t realized she’d come out already. 

“Yeah. I’m good,” I said. I did not want her to know the internal struggle I faced, just going out to the pools. I felt so ridiculously weak-minded.

So, we walked out, and I saw a few people eying the scars on my body. “Mama, what’s wrong with her?” a little girl asked.

“Trinity! I’ve told you. It’s not nice to point at strangers.”

Indy and I walked away from “Trinity” and her vigilant mother and found a spot in a hot pool near the end, one that boasted a lower temperature than the other pools, about 102 degrees F. 

Indy laughed and smiled, having no idea how bad I’d felt about people’s prying eyes and Trinity’s words. And I wished I could stay submerged in the concealing water forever—or at least until everyone else left. 

“Ready to go?” Indy finally asked a while later. But I felt terrified. I couldn’t stand limping back into that changing room and feeling like some defective version of my former self.

“Five more minutes?” I asked and right after I said it, an older gentleman headed toward our part of the pool. He seemed malnourished and exhausted. He dragged an oxygen machine behind him and barely made it—with the help of a woman—down a step and just a foot away from me.

“No one else who’s sick comes here!” he mumbled, looking around. “I’m mortified, Cindy! Everyone’s staring at me. I’m the only one who’s sick here!”

“You ready to go now?” Indy whispered, and I nodded. I couldn’t wait to stand up. I just hoped the man would see my scars, atrophied leg, and how I walk … and that he’d feel somehow better—like he wasn’t alone.

I stood then, and when I looked back, I noticed so many eyes falling across my back and leg. But I didn’t care about them; I just cared about the man with the oxygen tank. I smiled at him, and he gave me the saddest, most understanding nod. Then Indy held my hand, and I lumbered toward the changing room, feeling a strange sort of peace.

“Mama. Mama! It’s that patchwork lady again,” Trinity said as we walked near her.

Her mother paled, appearing horrified. “I am…so sorry,” she said to me instead of addressing Trinity first.

“It’s all right,” I said. Then I turned to Trinity and her mother and what felt like dozens of bystanders in that pool. I stood up as straight as I could and uncrossed my arms that had been over my stomach—so they could get the full view. “I have melanoma,” I said, a bit shakily at first. “This is what happens when you get burned in the sun, use tanning beds, don’t use sun screen…and don’t see your dermatologist!”

You could tell everyone thought hard about my words; one man even glanced down at a mole on his arm.

“Doctors originally only gave me two years to live, and now I’ve lived longer than they expected. But it’s been a battle.”

When Indy and I returned to the dressing room, I saw myself in a different light. It doesn’t matter that I’m not society’s kind of beautiful any more, that I have more scars than a Viking, or that one of my legs looks like skin and bone. I’ve grown as a person, and if even one life is saved by the speech I gave at the hot pools, then something wonderful happened that is far more important than looking pretty in the pages of a inconsequential magazine.

So, this is what life looks like on the other side of a terminal diagnosis. It sure has a lot more depth and meaning. I think I’d pick the knowledge I’ve gained over youth and beauty—that’s a pretty neat realization. 

P.S. (1) This motorcycle picture was not a modeling picture, but it was taken to get my last gig when I was 30. (2) This second picture is a partial shot of my back scar (I didn’t show the whole thing because I’m not THAT brave 😅). (3) Lastly, snow lined the ground everywhere in Lava Hot Spring. People even go there for the Fire and Ice festival in the winter—we aren’t the only ones who love going there when it’s cold, and I think it’s one of America’s best kept secrets! The rest of these pictures are from my weekend with Indy; we had so much fun.

Friday, February 3, 2023

So This Is 40 — And God Sent a Ladybug!

My 40th birthday was the best anyone could ask for! I wanted to thank you for all of the kind messages. I feel extremely loved and so lucky. I don’t even care that I’m still fighting cancer. It’s my new normal—and like I’ve said before, even though I’m not in remission, my shitty attitude sure is! 🤣 Life is such a miracle if we just have the guts to look for the good. 🥰

Do you remember that post I recently wrote, praying for God to send me a ladybug as a sign? Look at what I got (picture below)—and one was an accident from Amazon! 😮 (Here’s that post if you want to read it, but having this “ladybug birthday” seemed pretty incredible: https://www.facebook.com/738955486/posts/10168471432875487/?flite=scwspnss .)

I asked for a ladybug because in some cultures if one lands on you, it’s a sign that it will take the suffering away and keep you safe. Anyway, yesterday I got all of these ladybugs (FIVE OF THEM), and it blew me away!

Also, your support this week has been unreal. THE GOLDEN SKY has stayed in the top No. 1 and 2 spots for women’s memoir for five days in a row! Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to get the eBook; I am on cloud nine. 

Do you know how when you’re about to put a dog down and you give them a steak dinner the night before? If this is my steak dinner from God, it’s been worth it. But honestly, I have a feeling things are starting to turn around. No matter what, I’m enjoying the ride.

If you haven’t read my first memoir and would like to, you can get that for free today:


Thanks again for everything 🥰

#fortiesAreBest #stagefourmelanoma #Gratitude #gratitudeattitude #ladybug #ladybuglove #cancerwarrior #findthegood

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

All She Wanted Was Time

We’re sitting at an old Chinese restaurant. It’s so dilapidated, the chime no longer works at the front door. I look at you, with your bright eyes smiling back at me because you’ve been waiting weeks for this date with Mama. Your chubby hands grip the water glass in front of you, and your darling sandaled shoes kick rhythmically under the table. 

“We don’t have much money,” I say, “so we’re gonna share a cup of soup.”


Your eyes light with excitement because you don’t worry about money; you’re a seven-year-old who’s ready for adventure.

“We’d like a cup of egg-drop soup,” I tell the young waitress. “That’s all.”

“We’re going to share it!” you squeal, eager to spill our secret. The waitress studies us, doesn’t write anything in her notebook, and walks away.


As we wait for our soup, we talk about the beautiful stringy lights, the slippery red seats, and the soft music playing around us. I’m totally in the moment then, so part of that place that even the smallest details are committed to memory.


“Mama, you’re the best,” you say.

“No—you are.” 


You giggle.


The waitress arrives then, holding an enormous bowl of soup and two little cups to go with it.  She sets it down with such kindness. “One small cup of soup.” 


I know it’s not their “small” size, and I’m taken aback. You on the other hand think it’s amazing.  You don’t even notice the waitress has walked away because your eyes are glued to the huge bowl of egg-drop soup—your favorite. “She’s so nice, Mama! Look what she did—she made it big this time.” You can hardly stop talking, even to drink your water or eat your soup. You tell me about friends, math, books, life … After a moment, you stare at your water flabbergasted. “You know, this is the best water ever! This is the best day ever.”


I realize the waitress sits in the corner; she's listening to every word as she’s rolling silverware. 


We pay the check before the waitress pulls me aside. “You are both so grateful—you’ve taught me something today. Even the simplest things, can be the best ever if it’s with someone you love.”    


I walk out, a bit changed. I’m not quite sure why it feels so magical, but it does. Sometimes simple truths are that way.


“That was the best date ever,” you say.  


I nod.  “Yes, it was. And it hardly cost anything.” I realize then as I gaze down at your sparkling blue eyes, all you’d really wanted … was time.

Happy birthday, Indiana! You might be a teenager now, but I’m so proud that you’ve grown up to be just as sweet as you were at the age of seven. Thank you for all of the wonderful memories. 

(We had this fun AI picture made for Indy with Lensa. I hope she’ll love it!)

I am the luckiest mama in the world because of my kids 🥰