Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A Repurposed Violin

I remembered something fun from last year and just had to write about it.

So, one of the strangest things on my bucket list is "repurpose a violin."

"What does that mean?" Mike asked a few weeks prior.

"I just want to take an old violin that is broken beyond repair and make it have a purpose again. Make it look beautiful." I've had this on my list for many years, but it has special meaning now. Often, I feel so broken from cancer that I can't "play" like I used to. I don't know what God made me for, but it doesn't seem like I can fulfill that now. And yet, I still want to be worth something.

I thought about this before falling asleep on the couch one day because Mike asked about it again. I'd showed him different ideas and said I'd like to glue gears to a violin and replace the strings with chains and necklaces. "It could be so amazing to make it kind of steampunk."

I fell asleep after that, dreaming about violins that had keys instead of tuning pegs and decorative doorknobs instead of bridges. That's when I heard the door open before Mike's low voice drifted toward me. "Baby, I need you to put these on. I have a surprise."

He'd handed me a plastic sack filled with clothes that shocked me: a mesh white swimsuit top and a white pleated skirt. "This is… nice." I giggled, coming out of our room. 

Mike waited as I edged into the hallway. "It's your white outfit." He beamed.

"Oh, yeah? My white outfit." What in the world could he be up to? 

"Just wait here for a minute." Then he bounded out the back door and shut it. 

I'm not great with surprises. Mike and the kids even hide my birthday gifts because, like an evil genius, I will open and rewrap them. 

I put my ear next to the door and heard Mike chuckling.

"Can I come out now?" I stuck my hand through the doggie door and waved.

"Yes, you can!"

The scene shocked me as I took everything in. That exceptional man, Mike, had covered the entire back patio in painter's plastic. I spied cans of paint and a place to sit. He'd set a bunch of gears, yarn, and fabric on a table. Some old metallic odds and ends from his workshop rested amongst other art supplies, and I involuntarily squealed. "Wow!"

I'd never expected a day that started with fatigue and stress over medical expenses to change so drastically. 

"You've wanted to repurpose a violin."


"I got a broken violin." He motioned to a completely white fiddle propped on one of our wooden benches.

It didn't stretch very tall and looked so tiny and cute. "Awe! He's a little guy." Even from a distance, I knew this violin must've been a half to three-quarter size. 

"I sanded it down and primed it so you can," he handed me a flesh-colored ski mask, "repurpose it. You better put this on." He pointed to the mask.

I figured we'd be painting, but I didn't know why I'd need to cover my face. "Okay?" The fabric stuck tightly to my head, pushing my hair flat against my scalp. I only had a small cutout for my eyes, but I still caught my reflection in the house's back window. I snorted. "I look… ridiculous." 

"Take my money." Mike held up his hands in mock horror. "Just spare my life." He passed me a pair of goggles. "I figure since your face will be next to the violin." 

The situation seemed about as clear as my life expectancy until Mike positioned me on a wooden seat covered in plastic. "Okay. You try to play, and I'm gonna dump paint on the violin. I figure it'll splash around better if the bow is moving."

He set up a camera and dumped yellow, aqua, purple, white, and black paint all over the baby violin. I don't know what turned out better: my clothes or the violin. But part-way through, I realized Mike remained spotless. We eventually switched places, and I'll never forget how much fun we had. 

Onlookers never would've guessed the hardships we endured, and I think we momentarily forgot too.

It took a couple of days for the fiddle and bow to dry; we hung them by wires outside from one of our trees. Then the whole family got involved. Mike, the kids, and I invested weeks on that thing. Mike found a knob that resembled a bridge and screwed that, along with a couple of gears, into the top plate. We used chains to look like strings. The kids and I cut skulls and eyes out of fabric and Mod Podged them to the fingerboard as well as the back plate. In the same way my violin magnifies my soul and lets me speak without words, I found beautiful irony in using an instrument to make a silent statement.

"I've been so stressed," I said when we'd finished. "We don't have enough money to keep going on like this. We can barely afford travel expenses. I think we're okay this month but what about after that? I don’t think we can afford gas for me to keep getting treatments."

Mike looked at the violin. "You want to sell it, don't you?"

I nodded. "Even if we could make a few hundred dollars, that would get me back and forth to Utah for months. If cancer has taught me anything, it's about enjoying the journey. We made memories. That doesn't mean we need to keep the violin. What matters—time with you and the kids—is what I want to most."

"Then I think we should do it."

We took hundreds of pictures and posted a few of our favorites on the eBay listing. "I can't believe you did this for me." I gave Mike the biggest hug. 

"You think it'll sell?" he asked.

"I have a feeling it will." 

Weeks later, when I opened my computer and realized who purchased the violin, I could hardly believe it. Roberta, a nurse practitioner I'd worked with years before—a woman who also fought cancer—had made the final bid. I could hardly believe someone had looked past their own harrowing hardships and found the strength to help us.

Looking through the bidding history, I felt amazed to see that the violin got 14 bids. But what touched my heart more than anything was who bought it. It's not just this one action, but dozens built up over years of friendship. 

The violin sold for hundreds of dollars. That helped me travel back and forth to Utah for months. Although I've since qualified for Medicare and several other things have fallen into place for us, this story is a piece of my journey that all of us are grateful for. The time we worked on a violin, so I could continue getting the medical care I need.


Monday, July 10, 2023

Bites on Our Lines

 “It was the hardest year of my life, the year I found out you had stage 4 cancer,” my teenage son said.

My heart dropped. Having terminal cancer is one thing… but seeing how it’s negatively affecting everyone around me… that’s another. It’s terrible realizing that something so vastly out of my control is impacting those closest to me. That’s honestly the hardest thing about my diagnosis.

I looked at Trey and tried to keep the tears from my voice. But then, instead of saying anything, I turned toward the lake. “I just know you’ll catch something,” I said, motioning to where his line punctured the water. And as we sat there, quietly watching, I remembered something from years before.

We all know kids can be cruel, but when Trey was only 8, he came home with a shocking story.

“Mom, during recess the popular boys started picking on Jeremy. They kicked and punched him. It got really bad because they even picked him up and swung him into a pole.”


I blinked, stunned.


“It was really hard, Mom, but I stood up to them. I didn't know if they’d start beating me up too... Or calling me names like they have in the past. Plus, there were a lot of them.”

Even at 8, Trey loomed big for his age, but he's always been the sweetest kid. I wondered where this story would go or if anyone had told the teacher.


“I finally went right in the middle of them and yelled,” he said. “I asked why they were hurting him. Carter said it’s ‘cause he's a wimp... Because he's a pansy, and he’s different from the rest of us.” Trey took a deep breath and gazed down. “I got so mad. They looked like they would start hurting him again, so I stood between him and them. I was so angry—I couldn't believe they threw him into a pole just because he’s different. And for some reason, I screamed, ‘He’s SENSITIVE. So what?!’”


Trey and I both sat quiet for a while as I digested his words; he'd gotten to the heart of the matter in just a few seconds. We should all be treated with respect—and appreciated for our differences—thank, God, my boy knew that early on. “Did they stop after that? Did someone tell the teacher?” I asked.


“Yeah, they stopped, and the bullies kind of seemed surprised. So, I brought Jeremy into the classroom for the rest of recess, and the teacher let us hang out there. We stayed in the classroom for lunch and ate together too.”


“You’re a good kid,” I said.  “I’m so proud of you, Trey. Did you tell your teacher?”


“No!” he said. “I’m no tattle-tale. I stood up for him, and it wasn't a big deal. Someone else told the teacher.”


“I’m glad she knows,” I said, relieved.

Trey sighed. “You know, I beat everyone in the long jump last week? I was 7% popular, but after this I’m back down to 0% again.”


I hugged him, this big ol’ hug. “I just know it’ll all work out,” I said. “You did the right thing.”

Trey shuffled at the lake’s edge, and his words brought me back to the moment. He was no longer an 8-year-old fighting adversity but a teenager facing a parent’s mortality.

“Mom, you’re gonna get better, right?” he asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said. “But I’ll tell you what I do know; I’m gonna fight like hell for every second I can get with you guys.” Then I set down my fishing pole, and even though my hands smelled like fish guts and mud lined my fingernails, I put my arms around my big, strong boy. “I just know it’ll all work out,” I said, echoing my exact words from years before.

Trey rested his head on my shoulder for a moment, then he sat up, somber. And there we remained, fishing our hearts out but hoping for a lot more than bites on our lines. We simply hoped for more time.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Indy Did Something Pretty Incredible

 I clutched my violin, so worried about talking in front of a large crowd. This felt terrifying, almost as bad as a performance in 2021. I’d lost my hair after brain radiation and stood there totally bald with large hoop earrings ostentatiously dangling from my ears. My walker (which I named “Bertie”) helped me reach the meeting room where the entire floor of cancer patients had gathered. I probably looked ridiculous with those earrings matching my hospital gown, but I still fiddled my heart out, hoping to make the day better for someone.

“Indy, it felt terrible. I could’ve fainted,” I told my youngest daughter right after this experience when she was 10.
“Why, Mama? I don’t get it. You’ve played for a lot of people before.”
“It’s superficial… but cancer is hard enough without losing my hair. I could hide behind my hair and makeup. No one knew I was sick. But without hair…well, I guess I actually LOOK like I have cancer now. I didn’t want all of those people to watch me play my violin bald—and I couldn’t afford a wig.”
Her face fell. “I’m so sorry you lost your hair.” She touched her own hair that extended past her shoulders. “Do kids lose their hair, too, a lot…from cancer?”
I’d nodded. “Yeah. I can’t even imagine being a kid with a terminal illness.” And then as I looked at Indy, sadness overcame me. Something so outside of my control is hurting my family; that’s the absolute worst thing about this…
I caught a movement in the corner of my eye, and it brought me back to the present where people had gathered to hear me speak. My right hand clenched around my fiddle, then I blew out a long breath because I needed to say something—do something. They were waiting.
My voice finally squeaked out, rambling for a moment about “reframing.” For those unfamiliar with the term, reframing is basically when you step back and look at situations from different angles. In my posts, I often talk about “finding the good.” That’s really just a way of reframing tough situations so I can get through them.
I spoke honestly. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten treatments if I didn’t have kids. I used to have such big goals: Travel around the world. Go canyoneering. Catch a massive catfish while noodling! But… now my goals are much simpler: See all of my kids become adults. Grow another year older with Mike. Just LIVE!”
I thought about the many people in attendance, and as my hands shook, I willed myself to be strong. That’s when I remembered Indy, the conversation about her hair over two years ago, and something incredible she did this weekend.
“It took forever, but it’s finally long enough,” she said, biting her trembling lip.
“It’s beautiful.” I paused, studying her long hair and gauging her determination. “Are you sure?”
“Mama, I saw how hard it was for you after you lost your hair. I’ve taken care of my hair really well, grown it so I can donate at least 14 inches...” She pulled out a ruler and held it to her hair. “See! There’s no changing my mind. I want to do this.”
So, we visited the hair salon, and they cut 18 inches!
The hairdresser came over to me at one point. “When I realized you put me in your book, TWO MORE YEARS, I went home and cried because it meant so much to me.”
“Really?!” My eyes lit with wonder. I glanced at the beautician’s tattoo that says ‘Always More.’ She’s such a darling person; I never expected her to have encountered any struggles. Yet, she’d gotten that tattoo to remember that there’s always more to people’s stories. She got that after her mother died from cancer.
“I’m so grateful you’re the one who helped us with Indy’s hair donation today.”
Allie grinned and turned to my baby girl. “This was incredibly kind of you,” she said. “You’re making a difference.”
Indy practically skipped to the post office dropbox, so eager to mail her hair to Wigs for Kids. Her hair bounced as she turned and giggled. “It feels so nice to be helping someone since I know how terrible cancer can be. I’m just glad to be making a difference.”
Her words echoed in my mind. And so, instead of giving the speech I had prepared, I told the group all about my brave, generous daughter, Indy. Somehow, by relaying her tale of courage, I suddenly felt courageous too. My violin rested at playing position, and despite fatigue, sadness, setbacks, and second-guesses, I played a song that conveyed hope to everyone.
Pic below: Indy stands with Mike (my husband), ready to mail the hair donation to Wigs for Kids

Feeling Sorrow Over a Dog He Hated

A friend recently experienced one of the most harrowing tragedies imaginable. Her little boy, under the age of two, drowned. I don't think anyone can hear this and not feel deeply over such a loss. But it's even more tragic when you hear how precious this boy was or understand how incredibly kind his parents are.

I first met Tasha last year. After discovering I'm a local author, she kindly selected my book for the large group's monthly read. Each member purchased a copy of TWO MORE YEARS and read it over a short period. What made this miraculous to me is that unbeknownst to Tasha, I'd been considering ending treatments at this time. My cancer journey had become even harder. And although this would mean death, I didn’t know if I could take any more. 


Doctors have said that this road will end at one of two places. Either they will tell me they've run out of options, or I will no longer feel strong enough to continue pursuing treatments. 


A layman with no cancer experience called me during a terrible moment of weakness. He explained that if he were me, he'd be strong enough to accept death instead of getting infusions. "Death is natural," he said.


We'd worked together years ago, and I listened, not wanting to seem disrespectful. Then the conversation took a dark turn. "People spent so much on healthcare. But they incur 90% of their total medical bills in the last year of their life. They're thinking about quantity, not quality." He sighed. "Do you have quality, Elisa?"


"Yes," I said. "Right now, I do."


"Really…" He paused for effect. "Well, other people—not you—cost the general public so much money. When they continue getting unnecessary healthcare, they become a drain on society."


I cried after the call, but ironically, that's when Tasha contacted me. "We all read your book. We love it—and all of us want to meet you."


That book club meeting changed my entire outlook. Everyone there built me up, and I found myself praying for them, hoping their kindness would come full circle. Those ladies made me feel like I mattered. And that I should keep fighting because I might still add something good for my children, Mike, and even a few people outside of my little world.


Anyway, months passed, and I attended Tasha's son's funeral. Before she walked into the main room, the irony of the moment tore me in two: she'd given me one of the best days of my life, and there I stood… witnessing one of the worst days of hers.


"I want to tell you about a dog," a speaker said shortly after the service began. "I hated that dog because it was annoying." My brows furrowed as I wondered where this speech could possibly go. Everyone else must've thought the same thing because the room got so quiet, I heard the second-hand ticking on a nearby clock. 


"I got a call that this dog had been hit by a car," he said.


Tick. Tick. Tick.


"I ran out to see if the dog was okay, but it had already passed away. And… I felt so horrendous. Even though I didn't like that dog, this was a huge tragedy. Plus, I knew so many other people had gotten joy from him." He sighed. "Just to see him there, lifeless. Without his spirit. That was so… so terrible. I've been thinking about that for days. And now, hearing about James… To think that I'd felt so much sorrow over a dog—one that I didn't even like. Imagine now how tragic it is to know what happened to such a precious little boy."


Of course, this made me think about my little boy, Zeke, who died at two and a half months. I had to take him off of life support. And it took years to recover emotionally, even though I carry scars that will remain with me for the rest of my life. That being said, this is nothing compared to what my friend, Tasha, experienced. I can't imagine loving a child for almost two years and then tragically losing them. Yet, both situations might make you wonder, "Why? Why didn't they live?"


But the speaker did say something that profoundly impacted me. When he talked about the dog that had died, I realized: That dog's value was bringing joy to people. With everything I've endured, I've wondered, "What do I add to the world?" Other than telling people to see their dermatologist so they won't go through what I have… 


But this resonated with me because I want my value to be what made that dog special. I want my worth to be what my baby's value was. What my friend's little boy's value was… I desperately want to bring people joy. So that when I'm gone, people will say, "She brought people joy." That's what I want my value to be. 


It's pretty simple.


A couple of people approached me at the funeral and said they felt sorry for how sick I've been. Instead, it struck me how lucky I am. I'm so grateful my kids and my husband are healthy and happy. I can't believe that I'd ever let an insensitive previous coworker's words have weight in my life. And, instead of wanting to ever give up, I simply wanted to go out, hug each of my children, and tell them how much I love them.


Yes, terminal cancer is not a walk through a candy shop, but at least I'm still here. I am trying to become stronger every day.


If you think about praying for my friend and her family, they would appreciate it. They're still trying to raise funds to cover funeral expenses, even after two months. If you feel it on your heart to donate to the Chambers family, please visit the following link:


God Bless You!