Sunday, December 24, 2023

One Single Day: The Value of Time

 The dream is always the same, my mind’s way of processing terminal cancer.

In my dream, I’ve died and I’m missing my family, wishing I could see them, talk to them, hug them… one last time.

“Would you like to go back and repeat a day from your life on Earth?” God’s voice is strong yet gentle, just like His hand—the one I’m standing in right now. I look at the giant lines on His palm and the callouses on His fingers. What type of work caused callouses on the hands of God? Is He a musician like me? Does He work and toil too?

“Any day?” I ask, unable to hold the eagerness from my voice. To see my kids, Mike, and my loved ones again, well, that sounds like… Heaven. It’s suddenly ironic how subjective Heaven must be.

“Yes, Elisa. Any day.”

I think then about the days each of my kids were born, their milestones and triumphs; the moment I met Mike, our first kiss, our honeymoon; running a newspaper in Blackfoot, Idaho, and chasing so many stories my boss nicknamed me “Scoop”; visiting Italy, Mexico, Arizona, or Missouri with family; playing my violin for crowds and feeling the pulsing unity only music can bring… Each of those days were incredible, but would I want to experience them again? Or would that tarnish the memories? Plus, I wouldn’t want to change a thing. So, I shyly look down at my clasped hands, and I do something that surprises me.

“If it’s all right, God, I’d pick a regular day, nothing special. Just a day when I can talk to everyone I love.” I think about the words then. How interesting: What my life boils down to isn’t about my career, degrees, accomplishments, or experiences. At the end, to me the only thing of value is that my loved ones KNOW how much I love them. That I believe in them. That I’m proud of them. That they matter in general but especially to me. That is all I want in the end.

“A regular day. You’re sure?” He asks.

I nod. 

“Well, to talk with everyone… You met a lot of integral people toward the end of your life. What if it’s a day with suffering? After doctors discovered melanoma had gone to your brain? You’d still pick a day like that?”

I think for a moment. “As long as I can talk to everyone I love. Well, then it would be worth it.”

I wake up then, and most of the time after having this dream, I’m groggy and half asleep, wondering if this is my one day to “live” again. Seconds later, I shake off these thoughts and slowly start my day. But even though I’m living in a new “normal,” and I can’t walk quite right since melanoma ate my L3 and doctors removed a section of my spine… Even though I’m actively getting treatments and throw-up bags seem to be my best friend… Even though there are days when I want to complain because doctors say I’m slowly dying… After I’ve had this dream, I stop.

If I had died and this were my “one day” to re-experience life and tell my family and friends how much I love them, would the pain and sadness about cancer matter quite so much? Probably not.

So, it’s 5 a.m. on Dec. 24th, and I woke up after having this dream again. My back is flaring with pain and the damaged nerves in my legs and arms are tingling with electric shocks and as if they’ve simply fallen asleep from lack of blood flow. But I know this is “normal” when my pain medicine wears off. When faced with something like cancer, trauma, or any terminal illness, each of us discover what price we will pay in order to live. This. Is. Mine. I chose this. And you know what? That’s okay.

So, I’ll treat today as if it were my one special day to come back. I’ll reframe the pain, try to bring joy to people around me, tell everyone in my life how much I love them, and hope today will be as wonderful as it can be.

Although I’m not in remission, my crappy attitude sure is. Even though there isn’t a cure for the mutation of melanoma that I have (yet!), I would be a fool to forget how lucky I am to even be alive. My life is pretty good. I’ve lived a year longer than doctors expected, and I’ve realized the true value of… time.

Monday, December 18, 2023

A Miracle for the Holidays

 Trey goes above and beyond to help out, but I know things haven't always been easy since oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer. No matter how much we try to stay upbeat, sometimes the kids get sad—like when our Doberman passed away.  

Months after this, Trey somehow became enamored with Maine Coons. "I'm so sorry, Trey. But they're just too expensive," I said. A full-blooded Maine Coon is between $2,500–$3,500. "That's more than our most expensive car!" We wanted to help Trey feel better—our Doberman had slept in his room every night—but it needed to be within reason.

"I'll get a job. I'll do anything." 

"You really want this?" I asked, and he'd nodded with such determination that I could already envision Trey, who's nearly six feet tall, holding a perfect little kitten. 

Trey saved every cent he could, and I wanted to help him, but soon we'd exhausted numerous avenues, including animal shelters, cat lotteries, and much more. 

At one point, a friend said this entire endeavor "didn't make sense" and I needed to save my energy. But they're missing the point. I just want my family to know how much I love them. Doctors say I'll never beat this, so I'm spending every second trying to build a legacy so my family will look back and say, "Hey, she loved me MORE than anything." "I was her world." Plus, I really felt that if Trey could get a Maine Coon, they'd have each other for much longer than I'm expected to live, and in the future, he might look back and think, "Mom helped make this possible for me…. Because… she loved me." Crying over my keyboard and a cup of coffee, I typed all of this into the computer and shared the story.   

"Elisa, do you hear someone coming?" Mike asked, bringing me back to the moment. We stood outside a home in Boise. I squeezed Mike's hand as we watched Indy and Trey. They both could hardly wait to see the kittens inside. 

Dana and James glowed as they opened the door. "Come in," they both said, motioning us to the living room. They'd read the story I'd shared months prior (the story about Trey wanting a Maine Coon), but I could hardly believe we were actually meeting them in person—on the other side of the state!

It's surreal, but after initially posting that story about Trey, I received an email from a woman named Erin. She wrote, "Today, I read your post about your son wanting a cat. My own adult son (24) has disabilities and was gifted a service dog many years ago. It changed our lives. I felt called to try to help you connect with a breeder."

Because of Erin, Dana heard about us... I could hardly believe how many things had to go "right" for this whole experience to take place. 

I sat down, stunned. Indy, our 13-year-old, looked like she'd gone to Cat Heaven, but Trey appeared more nervous than I'd seen him in years. "You can do this," Mike mouthed, encouraging Trey to speak up. He'd given us his speech repeatedly for almost 200 miles. Surely he hadn't forgotten it now? 

"I was wanting to… do payments for a kitten?" Trey said haltingly. "I don't know if you usually do that?" 

"I don't," Dana said kindly. "But tell me what you're looking for." 

"I would get a job, and then I'd be able to pay off all the money within a year. I'd definitely train the cat really well. I have $300 right now." 

"Do you know how much our cats are?" 

"I think my mom said $2500?" 

She paused. "They're $3500." 

Trey's face fell, but he forged on anyway. "If we raised it," Trey said, "I would try to help it become the best version of itself—and the happiest version it could be." 

"Well," Dana said, and it seemed Trey's words had deeply touched both Dana and James. "Let me run up and get one of our kittens, and we'll… We'll see what happens." 

While we waited, Mike talked with James, Trey seemed resolved, and Indy fell in love with the cats lounging like royalty beside her.

Moments later, Dana came down with a kitten, and I watched as Trey's hardened resolve fell when his eyes connected with Borah's, the kitten he'd been watching every day from afar for weeks. "He's like a celebrity," Trey had said because he constantly viewed the Mermazing Maine Coons' site and fell in love with that exact kitten.

"Trey," Dana said, "we've decided to give you a kitten. We're giving you… Borah." 

Trey held his breath, blinked twice, and seemed completely dumbfounded. "Are you… Are you serious?" They handed Borah to Trey. "I don't know what to say." Trey gently sat down, not wanting anything in the world to separate him from Borah or this moment.  

"There are no payments," Dana said. "There are no stipulations except that you keep good grades and take extra—extra—good care of him." Trey couldn't hold his emotions back. "Thank you!" He wiped tears from his eyes. 

I thought about Dana and her inspiring story. She had breast cancer at 26 years old and underwent surgeries, chemo, and radiation. The fact that she's been through so much and wanted to help us… That's when I cried along with Trey, Mike, and Indy. As huge tears rolled down my cheeks, I somehow felt the goodness of generations, the kindness that unites strangers, and the love that makes fighting cancer worth it.

"You knew I was getting Borah, didn't you?" Trey asked me. 

"Yes," I laughed, "but Dana did such a good job that about halfway through, I started to wonder if I'd misunderstood her."

Before we left with Borah and the bag of goodies Dana and James had prepared to send us with, Dana gave me a huge hug. "What have you learned from your battle against cancer?" I asked.

"I've learned that I'm strong. Doctors can give us the medicine we need, but when we work on our mental selves and say, 'Yes, I can,' we'll have the fortitude to make it through.' It's hard to remember what it was like to not be a… 'cancer person,' but I just couldn't say I was done. It wasn't a possibility." 

I nodded. "I needed to hear that so badly today. I really did." 

Trey walked by us, and we watched him cradling Borah. "I'm just shocked that you did this," Trey said to Dana and James.

"For me," Dana said, "this is better than Christmas."

So, as we drove home, truly realizing that a miracle had transpired, Trey gently sang to Borah in the backseat. 

"I feel like I'm in a dream," I whispered to Mike. "I'm just so happy. This has got to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for us." I thought about my upcoming appointments, and instead of being anxious like I normally am about scans and treatments, Dana's words came back to me: Yes, I can. 

"I'm so grateful we got to meet them. Dana and James, from Mermazing Maine Coons, gave us two things we desperately needed: They gave me the courage to keep going and Trey got a lifelong friend. 

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He Became One of My Heroes

The “Little Caesars Dancing Man” worked tirelessly, spinning his sign on the corner of Antelope and Main. Regardless of how hard his job must’ve been, he beamed, so happy and ALWAYS kind.

My kids were still quite little, and they’d smile and point as he’d spin the sign on his foot and flip it over his head. We saw him from our car nearly every day, and no matter what kind of crappy mood I’d been in, this stranger would always make my day better.
In fact, I received some really bad news one particular afternoon, but as I drove home, I spotted the #LittleCaesars Dancing Man, just rockin’ away to some unheard beat. The light turned red, so I continued watching his complete exuberance for life. I fully realized then; he's perpetually happy even though he's out there, working in the blistering sun or the freezing cold. He waves back and smiles. You’d think he didn’t have a worry in the world, but in actuality, he must have been so tired.

That day, I turned right instead of going straight home, parked by the dancing man, and decided to finally meet him.

“I’m Raymond.” He grinned, offering me his hand.

“I’m Elisa!” I smiled and knew an awesome friendship had begun. Then I told him what an inspiration he is—how he might not know it, but he makes life better every day for people like me and my family. He grew quiet, and I thought the words meant far more than I knew.

When I got home, I friend requested Raymond through Facebook and blogged about my experience.

A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from Little Caesars’ corporate office across the country. They’d actually read my blog and sent two $20 gift cards! They had one request: for me to keep a card and give one to someone else. I remember reading the letter in the post office, then I gave the second gift card to the post office employee, John. He said the story was even better than the money!

The whole experience felt surreal at the time. And to think, if I’d never stopped that day, I would’ve missed out on the whole adventure. 

Raymond and I became friends for well over 10 years. I watched him experience good and bad times—and he smiled the whole way through… just like he used to when he danced for Little Caesars. Then, in 2020, after doctors diagnosed me with terminal cancer, he became one of my biggest advocates, sending me encouraging messages and kind words when I needed them the most. Who would’ve thought all this would start after I saw him spinning a sign on the corner of Antelope and Main? Life is such a miracle.

I’ve had the most wonderful people, like Raymond Lowery, come into my life over the years and show me how to be strong, smile when life is the hardest, and keep going against all the odds. 

Rest in peace, dear friend. You made such a positive impact on my life. I think you did that for everyone you met though. You, well, Raymond… you were incredible. Put in a good word for me, all right? Maybe save a seat for me in Heaven? 💓 


Sunday, December 3, 2023

Writing a Letter to God with No Return Address

 Throughout my life, I’ve written letters, addressed them to God, and dropped them off at the post office. I did this when my first son died, when I got divorced, and when I finally attained my bachelor’s degree after being a single mom. I never included a return address or a clue to my identity. This was just my message in a bottle, so I felt like Heaven heard me…

Today, I thought about this at the pharmacy. Mike had tried getting my prescription, but there are national shortages on many medications—and mine are some of them. “They ran out,” Mike said, coming back to the car. “Sorry that took forever; there’s a huge line.”

“But… my oncologist called yesterday. They have just enough for 18 days.” And then I did something I rarely do in front of Mike; I cried.

We walked back into the pharmacy to see six people in line, and as we stood there, my right leg began to shake. “You should go sit down.”

“It’s okay,” I told Mike. “I don’t wanna miss when it’s our turn.” They hadn’t listened to him. Maybe they would listen to me.

At different points, each person in front of us glanced back. They all seemed around my age (40) or younger, healthy, probably doing some Christmas shopping. Then, I had the audacity to think, “Why don’t they offer to let us go ahead? Mike was just in here. And I can barely stand this long.”

One man in line called his mother and complained about his kids while we waited. “Hi, Mom.” He paused. “Yes. Just at the pharmacy. There’s a huge line.” Another pause as he glanced back, listening to her reply. “Right?! He said he can’t even face his friends unless he gets a new gaming system this year.” He exhaled with such force that I clocked it at 50 mph. “Oh! And you know I take Nicki on a shopping spree every year? It just never seems to be enough. I hate this time of year. Are all women that needy? No wonder men joke about marriage.” 

Mike looked at me and smirked. I plastered a smile onto my face, but it felt subpar. I thought of this woman, “Nicki.” Meanwhile I’m just praying for another week, another day, another moment with my family.

After a bit longer, they called us up and my leg shook so badly that I held the counter in a death grip. “I have terminal cancer,” I said, my eyes pleading with the pharmacist and my knuckles turning Porcelain 10. 

“It’s for Magagna, right?” He looked at Mike, remembering him from earlier.

“My oncologist called yesterday and said you have enough for 18 days,” I begged.

“But like I told your husband, we can’t fill this for the full 30 days. We don’t have enough for this prescription.”

“My doctors’ office is closed for the weekend, and I’ll be out of this tomorrow. If it’s not too much to ask, can I please have the 18 days?”

He typed something into the computer, and my breath stopped. He practically held my life in his hands. “This’ll take about 15 minutes. I’ll come get you when it’s ready? You can take a seat over there.”

I noticed then how stressed the pharmacist looked. “I’m sorry about the line,” I suddenly said. “This must be a stressful day for you too. Thank you for your help.”

His peered at me and Mike, his eyes widening with disbelief. “What you're both going through is so much worse. I’m sorry you have cancer.”

“Well, let’s just say I didn’t ask for it.” I tried to laugh, but it came out like a hiccup. Then I turned away. 

Mike decided to shop for some ice melt, and as I walked toward the chairs, I fought falling into the throes of irony. A private corner seat, behind a display of reading glasses, seemed ideal. I felt secluded as I mulled my thoughts. Why had this hit me so hard? Then it came to me, the thing I’d said to the pharmacist: “Let’s just say I didn’t ask for it.”

One of the hardest things about cancer is knowing it can affect anyone. I’d gone from participating in marathons to barely being able to walk to my mailbox. I faced the pharmacy’s northwestern wall and tears flooded my cheeks. I have terminal cancer. And there’s no denying it. Every moment in pain is a reminder.

God, not this! Not here. Wiping my face with my scarf, I dug a medical bill from my purse and flipped it over. “Dear God,” I wrote, hoping to calm down.

Dear God,

I didn’t choose this situation, and right now that’s hard. I don’t want to have terminal cancer anymore. I want a day where I don’t feel sick at all. Even ONE day. Just to remember what that was like. I’ll appreciate it so much. God. I feel trapped in my own dying body.

I hate knowing that without certain medicine I’ll die. I hate that these are my fears while some man’s wife is upset that she won’t get as much STUFF as she did last Christmas. Seriously?! I need strength. Strength to stop judging people. 

Strength to keep getting cancer treatments. Strength to not complain and let this turn me into a bitter person with a curdled soul. No one can uncurdle milk! (Well, I guess YOU can.) But anyway…

Another person called last week and said I should quit getting treatments because I don’t have a quality of life. I laughed at first, but on my hardest days, I remember their words and it’s hard to keep going.

God… I’m sorry to be so judgmental. I really am. I’m working on it.

AND… if it’s not too much to ask, can you please give me strength? I know you’re gettin’ a lot of requests though, so if you can’t, I understand.


At that moment, I glanced toward the counter and spotted a woman who looked 10,000 times worse than me. She’d lost her hair and probably weighed 100 pounds—even with her walker. She could barely walk and hunched so badly; I wanted to pick her up in my arms and hold her tight. Why hadn’t I looked back when I was in line? Why hadn’t I offered to trade HER places? Screw my aching hips and shaking leg. Why hadn’t “I” done more? Then the answer came: Because I was too wrapped up in my own problems. And that’s exactly why other people hadn’t offered to help me…

Woah. Mind blown… 

I suddenly felt sympathy for the man whose family always wants more. I felt bad for his wife who doesn’t know what really matters. I felt even more compassion for the pharmacist who’d just been yelled at and wiped sweat from his brow. And I felt a bit of strength come with every second that I stopped focusing on myself.

“You wanted to swing by the post office?” Mike asked as we walked out of the store.

I looked at the letter I’d written on a medical bill. It simply had my first and last name above all of the numbers. For the first time, I’d broken my one rule: to never write a letter to God that included personal information. “No, it’s all right. We can just go straight home,” I said.

With one hand, I crumpled the bill and threw it into a big garbage can at the front of the store. God had already answered my prayer. He’d given me strength AND empathy. I guess He really can hear us anywhere, even in a pharmacy in southeastern Idaho. Plus, He didn’t charge for same-day delivery or anythin’. 

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Ability to be Kind

 Long before her death, my grandma labeled a yellow recipe box her “Happiness File” and filled it with notes to cheer her up.

Today, after pulling a card, her words reminded me of something from my youth. I stared at the drooping cursive: “As we get older, what's important seems to change." 

I shook my head from the irony. It’s odd how as I fight cancer, these words have become a lifeline from Heaven.


The elderly man called me his “angel” because I'd been kind to him. But who wouldn't be kind? A smile is the simplest, easiest thing to give. Yet, he treated it like keys to a mansion. 

Despite that, looking at him hurt me because I saw all the potential: incredible jobs he could've had, children who would've loved him, and even the person he might've married. If he'd just gotten his life together...

"What did you want out of life?" I asked.

He thought for a while before saying, "We might not see God's hand in our lives, but trust me, He's there." Then, he sighed. "People's priorities aren't always the same, Elisa.”

I blinked. He hadn't answered my question. Not at all. I didn't say much after that, so he finally did. 

He talked about how he'd married the woman of his dreams. They were overjoyed when she got pregnant. Then, although his baby blue eyes faced me, they looked at something far into the past. He took a deep breath, obviously wrestling with the memory. 

Did his wife have an affair. Maybe she wasn't the person she claimed to be? Was the baby someone else's? His shaky voice brought me back to the moment. His wife—everything he'd wanted in life—had died in a car accident along with the baby she'd been carrying. His baby. His world. “And when she died, my will to live died too."

"I…" I couldn’t find words to convey how sorry I felt. “I am so sorry,” I finally said. Sadness emanated from him, and my throat tightened. “How long ago did that happen?"

"It's been decades." 

He talked a bit more about how they’d fallen in love and seemed to brighten a bit. After that, he called me his angel.

I never forgot his story no matter how many things life threw at me. After I grew up, I realized how completely idiotic—and judgmental—I'd been to feel bad for that man over all the potential "I" felt had been lost. How dare I judge his actions, thinking about the jobs, children, and wife he could've had. He'd tried for all that and could barely find the strength to keep going afterward. Yet, despite hardships, depression, and struggles, he still treated everyone with kindness.

Now, as I let go of so much because of cancer (numerous friends have died, I had to quit my job, my health is waning, and I can't walk as well as I used to), I remember this man and the lesson he taught me. When I feel my resources depleting the most, I want to be heroic like him. 

I'll call people angels and be as positive as I can. I'll try to give them hope when I don't feel it myself. I'll try to stay strong even if strength is much different than I ever thought. It's often in a gentle action, a good word, a smile… He called me his angel, but he was wrong. He'd been the angel to me. And he kept going despite tremendous adversity. 

Rereading my grandma's words today, I realized she's right. Sometimes, as we get older, what seems important does change. And that's all right. Even though I'm losing so many things, I still have what matters most: the ability to be kind and the drive to keep going until it's my time.