Tuesday, March 28, 2023

What is the point? The point of TODAY.

 Do you ever wonder what the point of life is? Well, I do--especially yesterday. 

After first being diagnosed, I thought, "If I can just make it until all of my kids are adults." That seemed impossible, like sailing to the moon. My youngest daughter cried after initially hearing the news. That momentarily shattered my sensibilities, my dreams, and even my resolve. Just seeing my 10-year-old crying because of my own mortality--something so out of my control--THAT nearly broke me.

Yet, now she's 13, Trey is 14, Sky's 18, and Ruby's 21. And as the months and years have progressed, my terminal illness has become more of a nuisance than an overwhelming worry. Some days I spend unable to keep anything down. I'll suffer from a fever, physical pains from tumors, or even sadness from lost abilities, but I do my best to not let any of this affect my family. I cry in the closet. I shield them from my own pain. And I throw up as quietly as humanly possible, which in hindsight might look funny to God...if He's even watching.   

But yesterday, I felt especially ill. I huddled on the couch in the fetal position, alone. Ruby is busy building a career, which makes me so proud. People have now come from across the world to have her tattoo them. She's booked out until November! Sky is getting ready for the summer semester of school. She's brilliant and usually busy studying her latest fascination in Ruby's room, which the two of them share even though Sky has her own room (such unlikely best friends!). Trey plays the guitar after school, every second of every day. He's even teaching other kids how to play instruments now. And Indy reads Manga to her cat, Nova. I'll hear her giggling in her "tent" (an odd assortment of haphazard blankets). "Then, she rushed after him, not wanting him to ever leave. Oh no, Nova! This is getting soooo good." 

I'm grateful they are content and happy. But Mike works afternoons and nights, and yesterday, I felt alone, wondering what the point is. I'm a bit like Mary Poppins. It's not time to unfurl my umbrella and float away yet, but I have taken steps to prepare my kids. And I do need to take solace in the fact that I'm raising strong individuals who will be all right, even without me. 

Yet, sometimes I find myself wanting to hold them every minute because, although others have become inured to my illness, I'm always aware of my expiration date. Would YOU like to know the approximate date of your death? It's not as easy as it sounds. And as I've written before, it does feel like being tied to the tracks, just waiting for the train.

I pulled the fluffy blanket around myself, listening to Trey's guitar and Indy's story as she read to her kitty. That's when someone knocked on the door.

"Are you kidding?" I whispered, sliding a hand across my willful hair and straightening my shirt.

"Elisa," the phantom said after stepping into our entryway.

"You... But you just had surgery," I stammered.

"I needed to get out of my house." He'd driven with an injured hand all the way to my home from Blackfoot--in a blizzard.

Indy and Trey bounded from their rooms, so excited to see the Phantom. Indy gave him a huge hug, right around his waist, and he grinned. "How old are you anyway?" Indy asked. "I forgot to ask on your birthday."

"Well," he said, sitting down at our kitchen table, "how many keys are there on a piano?"

"With the black and white ones?" She paused to think. "67?"

"You're a real charmer!" He chuckled. "67?! Ha! I wish. There are 88 keys."

"You're 88 years old?" Trey's eyes bulged. "That's...wow. I had no idea."  

The kids went back to their rooms shortly after, and I just had to laugh.

So, the phantom and I talked about all sorts of things. I asked him if he could repeat any five-year period of his life, what it would be. He picked 35-40 because he'd "finally figured some things out about life." We played a game called Worst Case Scenario, and the Phantom picked "taking a vow of silence" as his worst situation, even compared to wrestling a crocodile! Then, the conversation changed from beautiful memories of fishing, working, and raising kids, to his worries about aging. "I know my days are numbered. I guess some of your feelings mirror mine," he said. "It's hard knowing your time is coming sooner rather than later."
I nodded. 

"But I have to do things that give my days meaning. I might not know what the point of life is, but I know what I wanted the point of TODAY to be."

Those words hit me, almost knocking me off my proverbial feet.

"What was that? The point of today?"

"To see all of you," he said. "Just to have a great conversation. To keep living even if it was difficult to get here. Some days aren't easy, and we have to put in the effort."

I felt so touched. The kids and I had been someone's "point of the day." That felt wonderful.  

Trey and Indy finally told the Phantom goodbye. I gave him a hug before he could walk out the door. He's become like family to us, and I normally just give him an awkward side hug, wanting him to know that he matters. But this time, he gave me the biggest hug and held my head against his chest. "You're getting so thin," his voice quivered with emotion. "We just..." He inhaled, shakily. "All of us want you to get better. That's all I want." He wiped his weathered eyes and held my wrist with his good hand. "Just take care of yourself, kid. And remember to give each day meaning as it comes."

He drove off, disappearing into gusts of snow as they billowed across the Idaho roads. And I still don't know why his words and that hug impacted me the way they did. I'll never understand how certain people have come into my life.

Our world is such a mystery. Right when we think we're lost, a phantom might battle through a snowstorm simply to show us the way. 

I'll never forget his kindness yesterday or those poignant words: I might not know what the point of life is, but I know what I wanted the point of TODAY to be... 

Retuning My Life and My Fiddle

 I've honestly come to believe that life is a glorified exercise in letting go. Having a terminal illness at the age of forty has just sped this process up for me a bit. I went from caving, rock climbing, dancing, and fiddling in a band, to struggling just to walk to my mailbox. 

Things aren't as dire as they once were. Doctors are now giving me several years to live instead of just two. I can walk farther than the mailbox, even if going over half a mile makes me want to crumple onto the ground. And although I can play my violin, I can't stand and play for long periods, and I definitely can't dance while fiddling. In fact, one of the saddest things cancer stole from me, is the ability to play in a band. 

I've cried several times since 2020, remembering what it felt like to perform for an audience, missing the warmth of the stage lights on my face and the cheers from a live crowd. And at times, the loss of that dream has felt like too much...too quickly. 

"We want to bring you out," my dad said after I'd gone to visit my parents in Arizona. "Bring your violin."

My parents moved to Tucson, and they've made so many amazing friends there—but few compare to the people they've met at Far Horizons. They often visit the RV park several times a week to check on their motorhome or attend parties held at the resort. I've loved hearing their voices come to life on the phone as they talk about their friends and the fun they've had, and I could hardly wait to see it all in person.

I donned a dress my parents had bought me earlier that day, a tight black and white number with bright flowers. "Do I look terrible?" I asked my mom because I can't stand straight anymore and from the side, I looked quite hunched.

"You look beautiful," she said as my dad packed my violin into the truck, and we headed out. I smiled at my mom. Oh, to be loved by my mother ... it's a beautiful feeling.

Far Horizons is a lot different than I expected. People get up and dance. They really know how to have a great time. They're hilarious and fun, and I could see why my parents enjoy being retired in Tucson—it's an adventure!

"Why did you want me to bring my violin?"

"Just wait for the band's next break, and you'll see," my dad said.

In between meeting my parents' friends, I felt stunned by the band's music. Despite only having three members, they nailed song after song, even having the drummer sing lead and harmonies as well. Finally, they took a break, and my dad rushed up on stage. He laughed and smiled, then he pointed to me. My mom and I ended up going over after that.

"They said you can play," my dad said. "She can play anything," he said to the lead guitarist.

I couldn't help beaming. "You'll really let me play?" I asked.

"We just drop down a half-step. Are you up for it?"

"Of course, I am!" I gushed. And I quickly retuned my fiddle, just so I'd have the correct flow. 

The lead singer showed me a bunch of their set list, and then pointed to "Margaritaville." "How about this one?"

I had to swallow my emotions because that's a song I always played with my old band, Rough Stock. "Sure," I said, keeping my voice steady. "That ... Well, that sounds great." I paused. "I have terminal cancer," I explained. "I had to quit playing in my old band, and that almost killed me more than the tumors in my spine. Anyway ..." The drummer had come over and studied me seriously. "Thanks for letting me do this. It means a lot more than you might know." They nodded, not saying much even if empathy shone from their eyes.

So I played "Margaritaville," hitting all of the right notes and confidently playing the solo. I peered out at the crowd, remembering how surreal it felt to play for a live audience. And even as my legs started to shake from the pressure of standing in one place for too long and my spine started pulling awkwardly from the tumor at the base of my spine, I thought I couldn't be happier. The lead guitarist gaped at me, saying he was so impressed. My parents grinned, talking to their friends and then pointing to me. And joy flooded through every part of my being.

After the song ended, the lead guitarist and the bassist both thanked me for playing, and the drummer grinned so wide. Tears filled my eyes as I stepped from the stage and felt blessed for a moment that so perfectly transported me back to when I wasn't sick and I could dance and giggle as I fiddled my heart out among some of my favorite people on earth: the members of Rough Stock. And as I put my violin away, trying to steady my quaking heart, I felt so grateful for the memories. I might not be able to do the same things, but at least I can say I've really lived.

"You did great, Elisa. You made us proud," my dad said. 

"That was awesome," my mom agreed.

And when we left, I threw some money in the band's tip jar, and the lead guitarist waved. "Thanks again to the guest fiddler, Elisa Magagna!" he said into the microphone, and so many people clapped and grinned at me, not even knowing how much their kindness lifted the previously sunken spirit of a 40-year-old who's still fighting to always find the good.

I turned back and looked at the three band members one last time. They might never know my whole story—how I had to leave so many dreams behind—but I'm stunned they trusted the words of a loving father and let me jam on stage with them. Even though life is different now, I'm grateful to still be making memories. Life doesn't have to end just because so much has changed. It's simply time to readjust my outlook, retune my life and my fiddle, and just keep moving forward.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

More Inspiring Than Page 53!

 Many waiting rooms at the Huntsman are intriguing because of the numerous bookcases that section seats off from one another. You might think you’re alone, when actually someone is only a couple of feet away, waiting through the wall of books.

I love sitting by the bookshelves because it’s like Forrest Gump’s chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

So, my last time at the cancer center, I’d gone alone. A couple of workers studied me sadly, thinking I didn’t have anyone. But they had no idea; I’d asked to come by myself. Sometimes when you’re fighting a battle or going through something devastatingly hard, it’s nice to be alone…without embarrassment, so you can have time to process emotions by yourself. Stand strong if you want to; cry in the bathroom if necessary.

I sat, far away from anyone else, perusing a naughty romance sure to take me far away from the cancer center, the aftermath of horrific surgeries, and conversations of death. Sometimes I even pretend I’m not going to a cancer center. I’m simply visiting a massive 7-story (pun intended) library where I can read for days. 

That’s when I heard what sounded like a teenage girl and an old man on the other side of the bookshelf. They had no idea I could hear them—or that I even perched on the other side of the books like a disabled book-hoodlum, reading a very naughty romance about lace knickers and rippling biceps.

“But tell me about you,” the man said. 

I sighed. Because of all the empty seats, I couldn’t believe they’d sat by me.

“Grandpa, you can hardly breathe. I want to hear about you and cancer.”

“That’s temporal. I want to know about your school. Life.” He chuckled and then coughed—large, scratchy coughs. “And the boys you like.”

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I honestly tried to keep reading my book, but then at some point I couldn’t help hanging onto their conversation because the grandfather sounded so ill, yet he wouldn’t talk about his diagnosis or his lot in life. He gushed about any little thing his granddaughter said. And whenever she asked about him, he refused to complain. 

“So many people my age, they just talk about this ailment and that. I’ve heard about more hemorrhoids over coffee than…. Anyway, they forget to keep living. I’m done complaining. That’s between me and God.”

“Grandpa, I love you so much. Thank you for—Grandpa! You don’t look so good.” 

“I’m…fine,” he huffed. “Just…”

I stood up, and both of them appeared shocked to see me, peeking from behind the shelves. “Didn’t mean to eavesdrop.” I waved, probably looking like a lunatic. “Hang on!”

I found a receptionist and asked if a nurse could come out. “He can hardly breathe!” Within moments a nurse took some vitals and turned even paler than me. “He needs to go to the ER. Right now.”

She grabbed what she could and told the young teenager to follow along. “Is he gonna be okay?” the girl asked. “I had no idea he was…I mean. He seemed fine…”

“Just follow me. We’re gonna take good care of him.” And they rushed down the hall.

I sat there for a small eternity, lost in my thoughts. I still had a couple of hours before my next appointment, but I didn’t want to move. For some reason the whole situation felt so heavy. Why in the world had they sat right next to me when so many empty seats rested literally everywhere? And that man’s altruistic love for his granddaughter...it had stunned me.

The nurse came back after a while and squeezed my hand. “Thank you for telling us about him.” She appeared devasted and flustered. “They were supposed to be in a totally different area!”

“That poor man. He seems like one of the good ones.”

She nodded, but looked away so thoughtfully. I wondered what had happened to him or how long he had left to live. I wanted to do something, be helpful to him or his granddaughter, but I know all of that’s against HIPPA. So, I did the only thing I could. “You must have a hard job,” I said, turning to the nurse.

“Some days, like today, it really is. It’s hard not bringing the cancer center home with me.”

I handed her the romance. “I think you should bring this with you instead. Page 53 is where the good stuff starts.” And for some reason, she broke out laughing, wiped the tears from her eyes, and went back through the clinic’s doors.

I keep thinking about the elderly man and his granddaughter. Somehow, no matter the outcome, I know he’ll be just fine. Like he said earlier, “That’s between him and God.” And if she’s anything like her grandfather, she’ll be all right too. It’s just hard witnessing some of this stuff firsthand. The cancer center is not for the faint of heart. If I do take anything home from there, I want to bring that old man’s resolve to always focus on others instead of myself. THAT was even more inspiring than page 53!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Crawling Through Hell

 I’m sorry if this dream is triggering, but I just woke up in the middle of the night…and I HAD to write it down:

I’ve found a place that offers death with dignity. It’s a small facility, not widely publicized because they’re worried about the public’s reaction.

I meet with the doctor—the owner—and sign all of the preliminary paperwork. “You don’t look sick. Why do you want our assistance?”

“I have terminal cancer,” I say.

She looks over the mountain of papers I’ve brought, and nods. “I’ll have to confer with your oncologist in Utah and several other healthcare professionals in the area, but it does appear you’re a likely candidate. Congratulations.”

Congratulations?! I nod sadly, innately knowing this person will someday help me die.

A few months pass, and before I know it, I’m back at the facility. They give me a puce hospital gown, and I place my regular clothes in a nook, wondering what will happen to them after I die. Will they be donated, or get pawed through by a hapless janitor?

Soon I’m wearing the ugly gown, waiting for the last time in my life. I’ve opted to die with other people. So, there I am, with others who can no longer abide the suffering.

A younger man sits on a metal bed to the west of me. He’s staring blankly as the owner walks around, giving each patient a “gift bag.” 

“There’s a bottle in each bag. Please drink this,” she says, pointing to a pink concoction she’s procured. “It’ll make you less anxious.”

The younger man next to me downs his drink in an instant, then—before I can drink mine—he turns to me imploringly. “Can I hug you?” he asks. “I want my last memory to be…I want to pretend someone cared.”

I’m dumbfounded. So, instead of drinking my pink medicine cocktail, I step off my bed onto the cold tile floor. There might be germs, but I’m finally immune because I’m about to die anyway. I hug the man, this stranger. I don’t know why, but it just comes to me. “You’re beautiful,” I say. It’s odd, but it resounds so perfectly that the man clutches the gown’s fabric on my back, and he cries

“My mother used to say that. You know…she thought I was beautiful. But, she died when I was young.”

Soon his eyes appear droopy, and he has a faraway look. I’ve lost him somewhere along the journey, and he struggles to sit back on his bed. The owner rushes over. “Neither of you should be standing. I need you to drink that drink,” she says.

I sit down, telling myself to be brave, but as I study the dozen-or-so patients in that room, spotting the IV stands next to each one, I realize they’ve already lost the light in their eyes.

“Just drink it,” she says, after I’m lying on the metal bed once more.

I pull the drink from my bag but don’t comply. Instead, I watch the doctor hook up various IVs that make the patients close their eyes and then find the stillness of death. 

My heart races. I think of Mike and my kids—my reasons for living. I suddenly picture Mike, sitting in our bedroom, wondering why I wouldn’t let him come. I picture Ruby, unaware of my choice, happily tattooing a stranger. I envision Sky, making everyone’s day bright as she walks through a local campus. And I see Trey and Indy both taking finals in school. 

I think of my own test, the test of life and how I’ve come here because I couldn’t handle the physical pain. And as I zone out on a patient across the room, I remember a strange conversation with Trey.

“I’d walk through hell, just for the chance to be your mom.”

He gapes at me. “You wouldn’t make it through hell.”

“Oh, yes, I would!” I say. “If it meant I could raise each of you. I’d do it, just for the chance.”

His features soften, and a smile surfaces on his face. “I love you, Mama.”

The owner shuffles up to me. “I have too many people here. You opted to die with others. I’m facilitating that, but I can’t be the babysitter. I need you to drink that!”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“It’s too late she says. You’ve signed the paperwork.”

“It’s not too late.” I’m thinking about my children, my husband, and that strange conversation with my little boy. The woman shakes her head. “I should’ve known you’d be difficult. People like you always are.”

My face lights with  fire—I’m so angry. And I turn to her. “I want to live until I simply can’t anymore.”

I don my clothes and leave that place of death and heartache. As I take the bus to Idaho, back home, I’m still replaying that conversation with Trey. My back aches with every bump. The nerves in my arms and legs turn to fire with each movement since the cancer has eaten through so much of my spine. But I don’t care anymore. I realize I’d do anything for one more moment with Mike and my children. I’d fight almost anyone just to see them—hold them—one more time. In fact, I’d even fight the spirit of death himself. And THAT is ironically exactly what I’m doing.

I remember Trey’s eyes, filled with pride and wonderment when I talked to him years before. “I’d walk through hell, just for the chance to be your mom.” And I realize that’s what this has become.

Each day I’m striving to find the good, rise above the pain, grasp at shreds of hope, and make the best possible life for my family. It isn’t easy, but at least I can say I’m really trying. Tears slide down my face as I sit on that beautifully mundane bus. My hands are clasped tightly in front of me…I can hardly wait to see Mike and the kids again.

Then, I woke up.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Patience and a Dash of Hope

 I sat mulling the difference between hope and despair...and hope and faith. After all, when a doctor tells you you'll die from cancer, it's a terribly absorbing thing. I try not to focus on it—live in the moment—but sometimes the worries catch up, and I breathe through them like a woman dilated to a 9.

The root meaning of hope is quite surprising; it means "to wait," something I've never been good at. When God blessed me with "chutzpah," He left patience out of the deal. But in my situation, that's all I can do: Wait. Unfortunately, without hope, when you feel like you can't be patient anymore, that's when you reach despair.

I've met cancer patients who understand this even more than I do. They each traveled to the end of their road and knew when to give up. Their funerals were beautiful, the kind I'd never hoped to attend... But even during their final moments, they seemed different from me; first, they lost faith, and THEN they lost hope. In contrast, I've never had faith that I'd get well, not even to begin with.

This confession might sound terrible because I've traveled to different continents to get prayer. Leaders of numerous religions have laid hands on me and wished me well. People worldwide have read my story and begged God for healing—even if other people did deserve it more. And at the height of this debacle, when I almost died from sepsis while out of town, or my liver started failing, all I knew is that God will do what works for Him, just like when He took my oldest son from this world.

I'm not Christian, haven't been for years. I've read the Christian Bible several times and have more New Testament scriptures memorized than most people I know. I've tried to believe, yet the devout demand I put my faith in Jesus. You can't force faith. It's the confidence that your hopes will come to fruition. What if you don't even hope for what they want you to believe in?

I often wish I'll get better, but I didn't believe it could actually happen...not until the other day.

Trey and I went to see my parents in Tucson, Arizona. I've been there a few times since my diagnosis, and on each trip, I've had this strange feeling that I should visit a synagogue there. I've heard one of the best synagogues in the United States rests somewhere in the desert hills of that city, but I've never gotten to see Congregation Bet Shalom until last Saturday.

Many of you know I've been visiting different synagogues since my diagnosis in 2020. I love the music and the services, the philosophical debates and the traditions. Even when people discouraged me from attending, I tenaciously went because, amongst those walls, like Rahab...I simply felt God. And even if He doesn't get around to healing me, I love being by Him any way I can. And if that's at the synagogue, so be it.

My parents pulled up to Bet Shalom in Tucson, and we felt surprised to meet two rabbis and a chef from Israel who stood on the sidewalk as if they'd been expecting us! We talked about my journey with cancer, and the kind cook said, "We didn't meet by chance."

Then, one of the rabbis, Avi Alpert, talked with me about Noah and rainbows, a sign that has dotted my journey with cancer since the beginning—my unlikely breadcrumbs to God.

"Can you pray for her?" my mother (Ruby) suddenly asked. "Please. Can you pray for my daughter?"

The second rabbi, Yosef G Lopez, began singing the most beautifully haunting melody as he weaved Hebrew in a way I could only hope to understand. Then the second rabbi sang along. And as he harmonized in prayer, something strange happened.

Looking back, I think it took the kindness of strangers, the love of my parents, and the beauty of music to open my hardened heart after my son's death. As those Hebrew words enveloped me like incense, something sprouted to life inside my soul. It wasn't merely hope or desire. I no longer felt that void of despair. Within myself, I sensed the beginning of faith. I still don't know if God will heal me. In fact, I know it isn't very likely, be it's incredible how faith must birth patience, and that's exactly what I need right now.

So, I'm basking in this newfound feeling, grateful for the growth I'm experiencing daily. I might only be able to walk a half mile. I'll probably never again rock climb, cave, or ski. But I'm learning to appreciate the thrill of life in new ways, meeting strangers at synagogues, and seeing adventure within my own journey to God.

Life can be complicated, but it can also be astoundingly wonderful if we dare to look for the kind of faith that might help us continue along our way with patience and a dash of hope.

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Winter of My Life

 Life has changed so much for me. Every previous trauma could be held at bay by what some would call moxie, but as time progresses, I find it harder to remain free spirited. For example, as a kid I got locked in a tiny camper closet for hours. Being babysat, I sneaked away from the house in search of cherry taffy. But when the camper’s closet door sprung shut, I'd been trapped, sweating in that minuscule space...sucking cherry flavor off my fingers in the darkness as my family frantically searched. And I'm lucky they found me. I'm not sure how much time passed, because I'd cry and fall asleep, then cry and fall asleep again. Despite this, I'd never been claustrophobic. Instead, I turned into a risk taker who enjoyed cliff jumping and spelunking. I loved taunting death.

But now after cancer treatments, simple things send me into a frenzy. Boarding a plane feels beyond terrifying. Elevators are a death trap. And just visiting a hospital makes me relive numerous visits, like when I got strapped to a bed after having a 9-hour tumor surgery.

Once laughable thoughts race through my head: I’ll never get off that plane. I’ll be stuck in that small place forever. I’ll undergo radiation, infusions, and surgeries…for nothing.

I never tell these thoughts to ANYONE, especially my children—who I hope are deluded into thinking I'm strong. But if you see me taking deep breaths, chances are I'm quaking inside.

I don't expect you to understand this. I never would have, before cancer...

I finally decided to voice these thoughts to someone—anyone. The medical assistant folded her arms, and I immediately regretted my mistake. "You have to get over your fears—because we're all terminal. We're all dying. Stop freaking out about everything. You have to BELIEVE you'll get well."

I looked at her sadly. I hate it when people say "we're all terminal" or "we're all dying" because it minimizes what having terminal cancer is actually like. It's not always about dying, it's about the path cancer patients take to get there. It's hard being sick at a somewhat young age and enduring painful “cures." It's hard being tied to the tracks and SEEING the train coming.

As I looked at her, I realized, we both just want a semblance of control. In the same way this whole experience makes me spiral because as the doctor said, I know how I'll probably die, I "just don't know when," this woman must believe if I'm positive enough, I'll win against the cancer creeping up my backbone like a vine. 

So, what about all of the happy, positive cancer patients who've died before me? They certainly didn't die from lack of moxie.

"I'm doing the best I can," I whispered. "You know, I looked up the meaning of 'beauty' yesterday."


"Beauty...its Greek roots mean 'belonging to the right time or season.'"

She blinked. "What are you trying to say?"

"When something owns its current season—imagine a tree—turning green in the spring, blossoming and bearing fruit in the summer, turning new colors during fall, and even being sprinkled with snow in the winter…it's beautiful. We all live through different seasons during this life. To truly own each one, well, that's a form of beauty. I'm not giving up and giving in. But if this is the winter of my life, I want to embrace it. I'll be vulnerable if it'll help other people know they aren’t alone. I might get better and I might not—THAT is the truth. And embracing this season, according to ancient Greeks, is beautiful."

"I don’t understand,” she said. And I'm glad for that. I don't want her to comprehend the sobriety of personally having stage four cancer. I stared out the office window as she left. 


This season isn’t easy. I know God has a plan, but that doesn’t mean I always like it. Despite how I wouldn’t have chosen this exact path, cancer has helped me see that even the winter of life can be beautiful. And for that fact alone, I am truly grateful.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

A Good Friend and Another Plot Twist

 In October of 2018, I had my first bout with melanoma. The consequent wrist surgery left me unable to play the violin for months. This “plot twist” devasted me, but I resolved to hold my violin differently and work to eventually play again. My arm, wrist, and hand pulsed with pain since they’d had to remove some muscle and bone, but I still practiced for hours upon hours perfecting a new left-hand fingering style. After what felt like a lifetime, I FINALLY sounded good. 

I wrote about this in a local newspaper, saying how when life tries to kick us down, we need to kick back! After reading this article, a musical couple, Ron and Dottie Barrett, reached out to me. Ron started calling every so often, just to check in. He’d battled cancer too, and that’s what first bonded us. But after that, what drew me to him was his wit. He’d tell stories about asking Dottie out on a date. She didn’t want to go at first, so he fell asleep under her car and waited—with his cowboy boots sticking out from under the truck—so she’d know he’d stayed there all night, just hoping she’d give him a chance. (Leave it to an Idaho cowboy to give everything to get his girl! I’m just glad she didn’t run him over.) 

Anyway, the couple eventually asked if I’d come “jam” with them. I got nervous—I hadn’t even played with the band I was in (Rough Stock) since my surgery that previous October. “I’d love to fiddle with you guys, but I’m feeling a bit gunshy,” I said.

“Come on, Little Lady. Get your butt over here, and we’ll fix ya up!” Ron said. So, I visited their house and surprised myself because we sounded great. Dottie played the piano while Ron strummed the guitar and sang. Add the violin, and it sounded professional. Dottie grinned “bigger than a polecat eating dinner” (as Ron said), and the two immediately asked me to join them competing in the Bingham’s Got Talent contest and fundraiser for cancer patients.

That amazing couple raised hundreds of dollars for people fighting this terrible illness—and because of their efforts, we won the People’s Choice Award at the contest! When I first found out I had cancer, it felt devastating. I never imagined that months later, I’d be able to play again, let alone help raise money for people in need.

The Barretts became a huge influence in my life. They even felt like family. I’d go visit with Dottie, and Ron ended up giving my second-oldest daughter, Sky, free guitar lessons for a couple of years. Before Dottie died of stomach cancer, she gave me the People’s Choice Award trophy to keep, so I could always remember her fine piano playing and the day we won.

Time passed, and I eventually set Ron up with one of my amazing aunts. (She looks just like Meryl Streep and is funnier than Amy Schumer, so I knew he’d be thrilled.) After they started dating (wait, it worked?!), I started calling him “Uncle Ron.” I loved watching their excitement as they got to be good friends. He’d call me—like a teenager—to rave about how beautiful and special my aunt is. I loved…seeing them in love. And he said one of the biggest highlights of his later years was “the surprise of falling in love again” and getting to know such a “fine woman.”

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Ron said he had something for me. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spied the brand-new purple fiddle. “I wanted to learn how to play. But I’m not feeling so well. I decided to give her to you,” he said. I knew Ron had felt sick for a while, but I had no idea how serious it was.

I phoned him days later and left a message, gushing about the violin. I have no idea if he got it because I received a call this morning, letting me know that Ron died last week.

I have no words for how hard life can be. I cried today, telling Mike that too many people I know have died. “It feels like once a month someone I know passes away.” 

He nodded, and then he just held me.

“This is how the elderly population must feel, watching all of their older family members and friends die. People should be nicer to old people. They have it really rough!”

I know this is the one thing that’s guaranteed with life, is that all of us will die, but sometimes it’s hard staring this reality in the face, knowing that whenever I talk to anyone, it could be the last time …

I’m so grateful for the memories and the good times. I know Ron and Dottie wouldn’t want me to “wallow like a stick in the mud,” so instead, I think I’ll pick up that purple fiddle and play my little heart out, hoping my song will reach Heaven. I just want the Barretts to know how much I love and miss them. They might just shake their heads and smile. When Ron isn’t pulling pranks on Saint Peter, I bet he’s just happy to be out of pain and grateful to be united with Dottie again.

Here’s more about Ron if you’d like to read his obituary: https://www.eckersellfuneralhome.com/obituary/ronald-barrett

He really was one heck of a guy.