Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A Catastrophe on Mother’s Day

Top Row (left to right): Indy, Trey, Sky, Ruby

Bottom Row (left to right): me and Mike

Mother’s Day has historically been a tough day for me because something catastrophic always seems to happen. From my youngest kids unlocking a childproof window—and getting onto the roof—to a blowup raft popping halfway down the river, the list goes on and on. This Mother’s Day was no exception.

Everyone came to our house that afternoon, and for the first time in years, I thought we’d evaded catastrophe. To give some background, I’d asked my kids to clean our home instead of getting gifts for me. They actually loved this idea, and just like “Game of Thrones,” it went great until the very end. 

“I gotta sit,” I said. I’d done much more than I should have. The problem is that cancer and treatments are exhausting. My body is fighting so hard just to live that sometimes adding anything else is too much. I suddenly thought about death and how doctors keep saying melanoma will kill me within the next few years. My biggest desire now is to simply have more time with my husband and our kids. I don’t worry about money, travel, accomplishments, degrees, material excess, or promotions. I just want TIME. This is because I want the people I love to have good memories of me, and I desperately HOPE they’ll look back and say, “Hey, Mom was a great person. She really loved me.” But I don’t feel like the memories I’ve made so far are enough. Not really…

These thoughts hit so hard in that moment; I could’ve started crying. But I told myself to PULL. IT. TOGETHER. My kids had come to do something nice. They didn’t need to see me cry about cancer. 

“Mama, it’s Mother’s Day,” Ruby said. “You shouldn’t be doing anything. Go rest.”

“I’ll sit here,” I said, pulling out chair, and that’s when the day turned like a bad gallon of milk.

While Trey sprayed off the back patio, Ruby’s dog laid a massive load on the floor. I don’t like dog poop on a good day, but this was the mother of all poops—which makes sense on Mother’s Day. Anyway… Right after the poo landed, that’s when the basement flooded.

I felt so shocked that you could’ve picked my jaw off the gross floor. My fists clenched as hot tears filled my eyes. And although some people claim I look like a prude, that gigantic dog-poo river made me swear like Samuel L. Jackson. What in the f-ing f-er.” A piece of poo floated toward my shoe, bobbing left and right. “Are you f-ing kidding me? Jesus—”

"Is lord?" my youngest daughter interjected, and I’m sure my face turned the color of crushed tomatoes. But it was petty witty; that kid can make anything better, brighter. And I slowly deflated a little. “Mama,” she said, “we're gonna get this figured out." Indy reached out and held my hand. “We’re gonna be okay because we have each other. AND we have towels.” She laughed.

"Turn off the hose," I yelled to Trey. 

"What the..." Ruby walked into the room, and as another poo boat sailed onward, she looked whiter than Edward Cullen. “Artemis!!!” She yelled for her dog. “Artemis!!!”

"Mike," I nearly whimpered. I’d quickly gone from the swearing stage to victim mentality. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t I just have one nice Mother’s Day? ONE! “Mike…” But he'd escaped to his favorite store in the world: Ace. (What is it with men and Ace? Mike goes there multiple times a day—and I’m not even kidding.)

I shoved several towels to the floor as the kids went to get more. In that moment, I realized Ruby's dog had stayed by me. You know how infants smile when they’re farting? Well, Ruby’s dog did that! She practically smiled, creepy A.F., frolicking in the mess AND farting with every step. What in the heck had she been eating? "Go outside! This isn't fun. Artemis. Now!" I love that dog, but what in the poo?!

"Why did this happen?" Indy asked. "We were doing so well for Mother's Day."

"A pipe must've busted when it froze in the winter. It only flooded when the back hose was on. Mike'll find it. If he knows how to find anything, it's expensive wine and any excuse to visit Ace.” Now he could go back and get a new pipe.

Trey deposited some towels on the floor, and as he bent over, Ruby’s dog darted past in a gas cloud. Water shot everywhere, and I'm still not sure how, but a huge splash of poo-water hit Trey in the mouth and chin. My kids and I stared at each other. None of us dared move except Artemis. She wagged her tail, that sadistic jerk. That's when Trey wailed like a banshee. "Why??? Why???” He stared at the water sloshing by his feet. “This… THIS is THE WORST Mother's Day I've ever had."

Sky and Indy laughed so hard, wheezing, but I hurled myself toward the bathroom, trying to find mouthwash, rubbing alcohol, baby wipes—anything. When I returned, Sky held a bottom of hand sanitizer over Trey's mouth. "Gargle with this. Okay?"

Ruby and I looked at each other, horrified. “You're gonna kill him.” I bellowed.” OH. My… Jesus—"

"Is lord," Indy blurted as I knocked the sanitizer to the ground like a live grenade.

After using every SINGLE towel we own and two tattered blankets, we cleaned up the water. It wasn't until dinnertime that we talked and laughed. The kids brought up previous Mother's Day disasters, laughing so hard. "Remember when that raft popped, and mom fell in that hole in the river?" Trey asked.

"That was hilarious!" Sky said. “Or the time we went to Lake Powell and the Coast Guard had to come rescue us because of that storm!” It was terrifying in the moment, but I had to admit, we’ve made some absolutely hilarious memories.

"You're such a good mom," Ruby said out of nowhere, and then Mike and the kids each brought up a different memory they love about me. And not even knowing my worries or how all I want is for them to remember me well, what my kids gave me this Mother’s Day was a lot more than a clean house. They gave me peace that even if I die tomorrow, my life has been enough. Although I’m incredibly flawed, somehow they think that I’m enough. And that is one of the most valuable gifts I’ve ever received. Poo water and all, that was a day I wouldn’t change for the world.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Learning to Pivot

 Last year, around this time, doctors found a new mass in my brain. I remember thinking, "This is it. This is the one that will kill me." It's just that oncologists keep saying I'll die from melanoma since it's gone to my brain. Despite this, it is astounding that I'm here at all. That mass has hardly grown because of cancer treatments, and I'm fortunate to even be alive and writing this article in the spring of 2024.

While sitting here today, I remembered the word "pivot." A man spoke about that word during a business meeting several years ago. He said, "We must see things from new perspectives so we can overcome obstacles and be problem solvers. If we don't learn to change and evolve, other companies will happily take our clients. We need to PIVOT." I enjoyed his speech so much that I couldn't stop thinking about the word and even wondered what pivot originally meant.

After getting home, I flipped through several etymology books and Googled for answers. Everything said the same thing: pivot originally referred to "a pin to spin on." Without that pin, the object could never hope to spin. It seemed to be all about foundations. And everyone knows that without a good foundation, it's hard to pivot, let alone build things. (Try spinning OR building something on quicksand! :) )

Thinking about this now reminds me of my family and friends. I am so incredibly lucky to have them. The wonderful people who have stayed by my side, they help me remain strong. They are my foundation.

Thinking about the memory, I swiveled in a tiny blue recliner that I got from a yard sale. Mike didn't originally agree with the purchase, but it's become my favorite place to sit—and apparently everyone else's too. If I get there first, I'll sit and look out the window. We get a lot of deer and other wildlife where we live, and if I'm not amazed by fuzzy animals, I'm pondering anything from music to spring to etymology. My eyes fell on the blooms outside. Although I love winter, seeing new life coming like magic out of the ground is nice. Different seasons remind so many people of life and death. That's what I think about, too… and cancer. It seems like winter has come to my life, and although I'm so grateful for the knowledge it's brought, sometimes it's nice to focus on spring—and life. I've needed "spring" to come so badly.

As I "pivoted" in my blue chair, I turned my focus from the window so I could study something else for a change. 

I smiled at our piano, a place where Indy spends countless hours. That's when I spotted something unusual: Just beneath the sustain pedal, something stuck out from under the piano.

Quit a while ago, amid cancer treatments, radiation, and surgeries; a picture went missing! It used to hang above the piano. Although it didn't have a frame, I loved it and couldn't believe someone had taken it down. I asked everyone, but no one confessed. "It gave me hope," I pled. "Something to strive for." But after time, I finally stopped looking—and now I feel like an idiot. All this time, the picture had been underneath the piano. It had fallen off the wall.

I gingerly pulled it from its hiding place and stared at the details of cherry blossoms I had painted when I first got sick. Despite experiencing the winter of my life… I had painted spring. I had painted hope. 

I know this might sound silly or trivial to some, but this moment felt like some sort of sign. I don't think it means I'll necessarily get better or beat cancer, but it is a reminder to find joy in every single day. After all, that makes life worth living: spreading joy to others and experiencing it ourselves.

I'm so glad I turned my attention from the window, even for a moment. I love seeing wildlife and enjoying nature from the warmth of my front room, but it is true that when we look at our lives from different perspectives, the view can be extraordinary.

Hoping for More Than a Bite 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 became hard to say much, and 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.

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. They even picked him up and swung him into a pole.”


I blinked, stunned.


“I yelled and asked why they were hurting him. Carter said it’s ‘cause he's a wimp. Because he’s different from the rest of us.” Trey gazed down. “I stood between him and them—I got so mad. And for some reason, I screamed, ‘He’s SENSITIVE. So what?!’”


“Did they stop after that?” I asked. “Did someone tell the teacher?”


Trey explained that another kid told the teacher while Trey stayed inside with Jeremy, making sure he was okay.

“I was 7% popular,” Trey sighed, “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, bringing 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’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, and there we remained, fishing our hearts out but hoping for a lot more than bites on our lines. We simply wanted more time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

There’s Some Kind of Plan

 Somehow There’s a Plan

By EC Stilson 

I had a deep conversation with my father-in-law and told him that I still hoped I’d be in remission someday. “It might sound ridiculous, but without hope what else do we have?”

“That reminds me,” he said. “I have something for you to read and something for you to keep.” After leaving the room and returning, he handed me a faded envelope that said “June 2007.”

“You’re only the second person to read this,” he said, then slid the envelope across the table.

So, I held it gingerly—sacredly—since I knew this was important to a man I respect so much. After all, when I’m having a tough time making it through treatments, radiation, or surgeries, I think about my dad and my father-in-law. They both had cancer and were brave enough to continue fighting so they could somehow beat this and survive.

I opened the letter, and it suddenly felt hard to breathe. His written words detailed the story of how a strange peace came to him in his darkest hour, and somehow he knew that one day he’d be okay. It’s amazing knowing this happened to my father-in-law because he’s not overly religious, yet this is a true testament of his unyielding faith. 

He  beat cancer not long after writing about this moment, and he’s been cancer free for almost 17 years.

I handed the envelope back. “That’s pretty powerful. I hope I’ll always remember it—to keep my own hope alive.”

“Well…,” He procured something he’d been holding behind his back. “This is for you to keep so you’ll remember what happened to me. Maybe you’ll need this reminder when times are hard.” Then that softhearted Italian smiled, his eyes lighting with wonder. “I carved it for you.”

My eyes swept across the foot-tall hand-carved violin. And as my eyes discovered every intricate detail, I couldn’t help remembering something from over two decades before.

I was 16. The group had asked for a violinist to help them with a play. “We’ll tell the story,” the woman said, “of a battered violin an auctioneer tries selling. But no one will want it. And when the auctioneer is about to just give it away, someone will step from the audience and play the violin to show its true worth.”  

They picked me to play the violin during the play. After my performance during each show, numerous actors would bid on the violin, and then it would “mock-sell” for thousands upon thousands of dollars. It was such a beautifully touching show, and the people in attendance really did seem enchanted as I played the violin and walked among them before actors “placed their bids.”

I thought about this as I studied the little violin my father-in-law made for me. And just when I thought I’d seen everything it had to offer, I noticed a laminated note by the violin.

“What is this?” I asked.

Then my breath caught in my throat because it was the story from the play I’d performed in: The Touch of the Master’s Hand. I could hardly believe my father-in-law had printed out the story and hooked it to the violin he’d carved—almost like he’d known…


We’ve been given so much by so many people. I don’t even know how to begin thanking everyone. But just know that it’s this kindness and strength that are buoying me forward. And through it all, I’m seeing how awesome life is when—even through the heartache—we have the courage to see that G-d has a plan. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life as I continue getting through this.