Wednesday, August 23, 2023

RING THE BELL Becomes No.1 Bestseller


I got featured in the Idaho State Journal! 😮 This is such an incredible feeling. Here's my favorite quote from the article: "It [Ring the Bell] is about my fight with terminal cancer," she said. "It's about how just because doctors have told me I'm dying, it isn't an excuse to stop living."
You can read that full article here: Local Woman's Terminal Cancer Memoir Tops Amazon Charts.

"I thought the mole on my wrist wasn't a big deal," she [Elisa Magagna] said. "If I had gotten it checked sooner, my cancer might not have been as bad."

More information about "Ring the Bell" can be found on Amazon at Ring the Bell.

A Godwink from Grandpa

No one can avoid death; maybe it's best to come to peace with mortality now. We were all born, and we will all die. But sometimes, that's a hard reality to swallow when people are young. 

My cousin Farrah's oldest son committed suicide, and we've all been devastated. Justice was a pretty incredible guy, so much like our grandfather. I guarantee at 26 years old; he had no idea what this would do to his family and friends. He was the third person I knew who committed suicide in a year. All of these people were healthy and young, while I battled even for an ounce of life. 


Since Justice reminded me of our grandpa, maybe that's why I started thinking about the past…


As a single mom, I used to frequently bring the kids fishing. I'd heard about a lake we'd never visited before. People raved about a spot where the water descended quite deep and giant fish lurked. While the kids and I walked, I thought about how unpredictable life can be. A few years before, my grandpa had gone to fix an A/C unit and had fallen off the roof and hit his head on a curb. He ended up dying a few days later.


After arriving at our destination on the other side of the lake, these thoughts abated. We'd just begun fishing when a man walked toward us. I thought he wouldn't come too close because there's an unspoken rule amongst fishermen that you don't go right next to people. But he did! 


He stayed quiet for a while, and soon, we introduced ourselves. Then his kids played with my kids, and after a bit of time passed, we talked about some pretty profound things: our hopes, dreams, and fears. At one point, Sol got extremely serious and said there was something he regretted and had even felt guilty about.


"What is it?" I asked.


"I rented a little house, but the A/C unit had something wrong with it, so I called the landlord." He sighed, struggling to get the words out. "The landlord was older, and I felt bad calling him in the first place. But… I called anyway. The landlord got up on the roof." Despair overtook Sol's face as he peered despondently into the trees. "He fell off of the roof, and he died."


At this point, I felt taken aback. "What… "I paused. "What was the landlord's name?"




It became hard for me to breathe. "Clan Stilson was my grandpa," I said. Then seeing the shock in Sol's eyes, I continued. "Sol, you have to let this go. It's incredible that I'm meeting you here while fishing today. My grandpa may have brought us together so you could have closure. He would never hold this against you. He died, but it was his time to go." 


Sol and I both found such peace that day and have stayed friends over the years. 


After Justice died, I thought about this memory and prayed for Farrah before going to sleep. Maybe that's why I had such a lifelike dream.


I walked around a massive apartment complex in Heaven. It loomed far into the sky, more luminous and iridescent than I could fathom. I didn't know why I was there, and finally, a few people said I should look for the maintenance man. "He can help you." As I searched, tenants explained that apartment sizes in Heaven were a direct result of people's lives on Earth. Some people owned entire floors, while others had tiny one-bedroom apartments. 


But a lot of time seemed to pass, and I needed to find the maintenance man. "Where the heck was I? And why was I there?"


I eventually spotted him. He wore blue coveralls and faced away from me. It didn't take long to rush over and tap him on the shoulder, but when he turned around, I could hardly believe it. My grandfather faced me, just much younger and happier. He'd always been dressed in fancy clothes, even down to the shiny black dress shoes, so it seemed odd for him to be in blue coveralls. The shock slowly wore off, though, and I adjusted to seeing him with hair. (I never expected it to be blond.) 


"My Elisa." He hugged me with such fondness. "I need to work on a few things. Do you want to come with me?"


"Of course I do," I said and could hardly wait. 


"But why would you want to do this in the afterlife?" I asked as we walked.


"I enjoy helping others. It makes me happy, and it makes them happy too." He paused. "I own this building, Elisa." And he appeared genuinely content to check on tenants, fix pipes, and replace hinges.


As the day progressed, I remembered what it had been like being with my grandpa… the most fantastic guy. "Grandpa," I said at one point, "I want to stay with my family as long as possible. Am I gonna live a long life?"


"Elisa," he responded, "you're gonna live—" Then he stopped. "I can't—I shouldn't say that."


And then I woke up. I'd had dreams about my grandma, telling me not to be scared because she waited to show me around Heaven. It felt comforting to dream about my grandpatoo.


A few days later, Farrah decided to meet me after treatments. I had never told her about that strange moment with Sol, and it seemed almost unshakable that I should share that memory with her and tell her about my recent dream.


That night, after eating ice cream, having a mini photoshoot, and trying to take our minds off hardships, I finally shared these stories about Grandpa with Farrah.


"I've dreamed about Grandpa too," she said. "He wore blue coveralls."


I gasped. "That's what he wore… in my dream too." Goosebumps ran across my arms. 


"My mom said," she whispered, "that's what he always used to wear when he was really young." We both remained quiet for a moment, shocked. 


"I don't know why, but I just had to tell you about Sol and this dream."


Farrah paused, holding back tears. "I wake up every morning at 6:30 a.m. It's my internal alarm clock, but this morning I felt different. When I woke up, I saw Justice and Grandpa laughing. Their arms were around each other, and they seemed to be working together. I wanted to believe—with everything in me—that Grandpa was actually with Justice, I feel like I have that confirmation now."


It seemed uncannily like the moment with Sol at the lake. And so, Farrah said she left that bench knowing Justice is with our grandpa, doing what they both loved: helping others.

This is an excerpt from my new book, RING THE BELL. If you're interested, you can find that here:


What I learned in New York

My bucket list contains some strange things, but each of them has the capability of making a great memory for myself—and, hopefully, the people around me. I thought about one of the items: play my violin on the subway and in New York.


A few years ago, Mike surprised me and bought airplane tickets to New York. I could hardly wait to get there and play.


But the subway wasn't what I'd imagined, and things didn't go as expected. Many people wore earbuds or looked at social media on their phones. I might as well have played alone in a dark alley for all I accomplished. I played a Vivaldi piece I'd once performed with an orchestra. And when I finished, pure energy pulsed from my fingers. Yet almost everyone got off at the next stop, still glued to their phones as if I didn't even exist.


"Oh, Elisa," Mike said. "That sounded so great. Don't feel bad."


Sweet Mike. He's the most fantastic guy, and after I put my violin away, I hugged him.


"You're still okay bringing that to Staten Island?" he asked, and I nodded.


"Who knows what adventure might happen there." Even though the subway thing hadn't gone like I'd dreamed, I could hardly wait to see what the future would hold.


Mike and I drank smooth, black coffee on Staten Island when suddenly, a guitar melody drifted from nearby.


 We followed the notes and ended up in the large room where droves of people waited for the return ferry to New York. Almost every person watched a guitarist playing anything from Jamaican rifts to a mix of Latino and rock harmonies.


 I wished more than anything that I could jam with him. So, I went and gave him a tip. But as I turned to walk away, he saw my violin case and stopped playing. "Are you pretty good?" he asked.


 "I've played since I was five."


 "You wanna jam?"


 "Oh, my gosh! Are you kidding? Yes, I want to jam!"


 I took out my fiddle, and we played—right there in front of the ever-growing crowd.


 After several measures, he leaned over to me and said, "You are good. Let me turn down my guitar so people can hear you." 


 Music is life-changing—it's math that we can hear. He played a third, so I played a fifth. Then I knew he'd drop back again, so I countered with a root note. After a few minutes, my mind stopped making predictions, and the music poured straight from my soul. Toward the end of the third song, I felt so connected with the melodies it sounded as if this man and I had played together for years. That's the thing about music, it brings out your soul, all barriers removed, and that's when we can connect, even with strangers.


 "Oh, shoot," I said at the end of the last song. "Our ferry is almost here. I've gotta go."


 "But what's your name? When will you be back? Who are you? We need to jam again—we could get a contract!"


 As I frantically packed up my fiddle, I felt like Cinderella leaving the ball. "I don't live around here."


 "I play at Staten Island every Sunday. I'm Mohammed—you have to come back... Where are you from, anyway?"




 "Idaho? Huh." His grin widened. Then as I slid my bow into my case, Mike got the guy's number. 

 Before going, I gave Mohammed a huge hug. "This moment—what you did for me... Letting me jam with you in front of all these people… I'll never forget it. You made my entire year.


 He lit up with happiness. "Keep in touch!"


 As Mike and I boarded the ferry, I asked him if that whole thing surprised him as much as it floored me. I'd traveled there to play my violin on the subway, yet playing in Staten Island had been far more memorable. Thank God life doesn't always turn out how we hope; it often plays out much better.


 "Typical day." Mike shrugged. "Come to a city you've never been in. Meet some guy. Get propositioned to play music with him on Staten Island every Sunday. No, Elisa, I'm done being surprised. Life with you has always been an adventure."


 I gazed up at my wonderful man. "You're such a good guy to stick by me through all my crazy antics. Not everyone can be as supportive as you are. I love you so much, Mike."


 He winked at me, and I snuggled into him as we sat on the ferry.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

A Kind Rabbi

Last year, I received an unforgettable review on my memoir, TWO MORE YEARS. Instead of critiquing the book, this reader criticized me and what she dubbed my "uber-positivity." At that moment, I cried because it's hard to realize some people genuinely wish tragedy on others. Not only had she critiqued my mindset, but this woman also seemed perturbed that I hadn't died at the end of my book. "Maybe I'm missing the point," she relayed. "Maybe the point is, 'I'm living with cancer, fighting it, and buying more time with my family before I die.'"


Although they have lost their sting, her words have flummoxed me for over a year, and I remained deep in ponderous thoughts about this until my rabbi, Sara Goodman, messaged me.


"There is a wonderful Jewish folktale," she wrote, explaining that a man had a dream about the king and immediately went to tell him. 


"You climbed a ladder," he said, "but when you reached the middle of it, I woke up." The king felt so delighted by these words that he gave the man a bag of gold. Walking home, now rich, the man told his neighbor about his good fortune, but this neighbor became jealous and devised a plan. He could also visit the king and tell a story. 

"I had a dream too," he said to the king the next day. "But in my dream, you climbed the ladder and reached the top." To his dismay, the king didn't appear happy at all and immediately asked the guards to bring the man to the dungeon.


"Why?" the man pleaded.


"Because," the king replied, "your dream prophesied my demise. There was nowhere else to go!"


"Elisa," Sara wrote, after sharing this story, "your outlook on life and your commitment toward living every moment of every day to its fullest is a gift and an inspiration. For you, every moment is a rung on that ladder, and you cherish each one. Most people resolve to live life in this fashion, and we believe that we do. But in reality, our lives are simply a garage full of many small ladders we endeavor to reach the top of and then put away. Goal met, done! This is very different than living every moment to the fullest. It’s not a bad way to live, just different. And not how we tell ourselves and others to live."


I paused while reading this and stared at my front yard. Before receiving her message, I'd been sitting on a bench, watching Trey and Indy chase each other in the grass. Their laughter made me think about my life and hope I've made a difference for the people who mean the most to me. That's all that seems to matter now. Not the jobs I've had, the degrees I attained, the books I've written... Those paltry accomplishments seem to be dust compared to making a positive impact for my husband and children. Love is the only thing that's stronger than death—because it carries on.


"So, when people meet you—in person or through your books," Sara continued, "we are hit with the realization that we're not living in the way we thought we were. It takes a lot for a person to be able to say, 'Okay. I’m actually not where I thought I was, and I’m completely okay with that.' So, thank you, Elisa, for inspiring me to live my life in a fuller way."


A river of gratitude poured through me, and I suddenly sobbed right there in my front yard. Rabbi Sara is one of the kindest, most inspirational women I have ever known. To hear this validation from someone like her, someone who is so innately good...


"Are you okay, Mama?" Indy asked, and both she and Trey ran over to either side of me.


"This was quite possibly the nicest message I've ever received," I said.


In 2020, after my terminal diagnosis, I discovered peace in Judaism. But in 2021, when I found the local synagogue, I finally understood where I belong: with people like Rabbi Sara Goodman and her mother, Bayle. They're true examples of altruistic, uplifting women. I can only hope to be more like them. Even Sara's recent words have been like a light in a dark desert. Words have the power to hurt or heal. I doubt these women fully understand what they've done for me. They believe in me and have given me the roadmap to living a life that I can be proud of. I hope I can rise to the occasion and appreciate each rung in the ladder, just like Rabbi Sara said.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The Refiner's Fire and Peace

Before reading this, please note: I am not giving up, but things are getting harder. In addition to the new tumor in my brain, oncologists just found a new tumor in my tailbone. The tumor board is meeting this week to try coming up with a plan because what we're doing right now doesn't appear to be working.


"I don't understand you," the woman said. "How can you talk about death so calmly?" She'd recently been diagnosed and reminded me of myself at the beginning of this journey. "Quit saying you're terminal. Words have power."

"We each have to do what's right for us," I said. "You're so strong and full of life.

"So are you.

"I'm starting to get tired, though," I said. "This has been a long journey." I thought about my most recent scans. The cancer is progressing, and although doctors say there will probably be a cure for this kind of melanoma in a few years, we don't know if I'll make it that long

"Aren't you scared to die?" she asked

"No," I said. "Not anymore. I'll get to see people who have gone before me." And part of me could hardly wait for God's loving embrace. I could almost feel His kindness encompassing me as I said the words. It felt like the synagogue.

"Why did this happen to me? Why is this happening to any of us?

"I honestly don't know," I said. But I have learned a lot.

"Elisa, I want to accept things like you have.

"I'm still working on it, but I'm getting closer every day.

"You're really not scared, are you?

"No," I said. "God comes to us when it's time. He's a good God." David's words from Psalm 103:8 came to mind, and I couldn't help but smile. "You know, I prayed for God to send me through the refiner's fire the year I got sick. I started studying Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Many people say it's a story of healing, how the three men went into the fire and came out okay. But I later realized that it has nothing to do with physical health. The people in that story grew in the ways that truly mattered, and they left all else behind.

Something must have hit her because she cried and cried right there in my front room. "I can't do this,

I put my arms around her. "I've felt that way too—so many times. But I promise that somehow it'll be okay. It has been for me.

"But doctors say this is what you're dying from," she said

"And even that became okay once I found faith that God has a plan.

After she left, the kids asked if we could do something as a family, so Mike set up the badminton net in the backyard. I can't play badminton anymore, so I sat in my wheelchair, cheered, and smiled as I watched Mike and the kids play

At one point, tears filled my eyes because I realized I'd reached a new season in my life. It wasn't about playing the game and enjoying the ability to make the birdie soar. I found so much joy and happiness in watching my family enjoy the moment. I worked for years to give them the best of everything, to raise them to be strong, kind individuals. And seeing that come to fruition is more than I ever hoped for

I'd been so scared to die because I would no longer be an active participant in their lives. It seemed like a glass wall where I could see out, but they could never see in. I'd be invisible to them… forever. But as I sat, cheering them on, I realized the only thing stronger than fear, sickness, and death… is love.

Nothing can take that away. Not time. Not sorrow. Not even fate. Love will always tie me to Mike and the kids. Whether this worsens and I die in my 40s or someone pulls through with a cure, I'm finally at peace because we have what matters

Ever since I got cancer, I wondered what my purpose was and what made my life matter. It was never about playing the violin or being a writer. It wasn't about the jobs I had, the degrees, or the things I accomplished. It was always about making people feel loved. And somehow, as I sat in my wheelchair and realized I'd done exactly what I needed to in this life, that was enough.