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Local mother, author making the most of life following terminal cancer diagnosis

Local

POCATELLO — An author and lover of the printed word, Elisa Magagna launched her blog — “The Crazy Life of a Writing Mom” — in December 2011.

The idea was to share her experiences as a mother of four. But the blog’s subject matter took an abrupt turn in 2020 when Elisa was diagnosed with terminal stage 4 cancer.

Elisa discovered she had stage 2 skin cancer in 2018. But her doctors believed they were able to remove the cancerous masses. Then the cancer returned, in her spine and brain.

She was given just two years to live — two years ago.

Suddenly, her husband, three daughters and son went from being subjects in her blog to the target audience. As she explained, her posts — including some that are scheduled up to 10 years into the future — will hopefully serve as love letters to those closest to her.

“This is just the best tangible way, with how I love to write, that I can still be there for my family and go the extra mile,” she said. “Cancer isn’t going to change me, it’s not going to dictate who I am … I’m just going to remain strong for my family.”

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Photos courtesy Elisa Magagna

Every few days, Elisa updates her blog — which you can find here — with her own life lessons, random musings and interesting anecdotes.

In a recent post, published Sept. 4, the 39-year-old described a conversation she had with a perfect stranger at the hospital. The two briefly discussed their afflictions. Then they marveled together at the east Idaho sunshine. She pondered, how something so beautiful could very well be killing her.

But the past few years haven’t just been about sharing memories. She has also been even more focused than usual on making them.

She recently talked her aunt into visiting her in Pocatello and teaching her a traditional family spaghetti recipe. Aunt Jackie told Elisa and her children about their family back in Italy.

Sky, Elisa’s 18-year-old daughter, believes that the family is stronger and closer now than it was before the diagnosis because of how they have rallied around each other. Elisa’s husband Mike, Sky and her 20-year-old daughter Ruby, 14-year-old son Trey and 12-year-old daughter Indiana have memories and lessons they can cherish forever.

The family has also crossed some items off the bucket list, including a recent big one — skydiving.

The lasting memory from an all-around exciting adventure was something the family was first very concerned about.

Due to her illness and the treatments for it, Elisa has lost much of the feeling and use in her right leg. Knowing this, the man packing Elisa came up with a plan to come into their landing flat so the two could land and slide on their butts.

But Elisa was unable able to lift her right leg as landing approached, and the diver quickly swept her legs out from under her as the two crashed to the ground.

Her family stood, nervously waiting for Elisa to get up, which she finally did.

Before she was a blogger, sharing experiences like her skydiving crash landing, Elisa was an author. Under the pen name EC Stilson, she has published seven books, including “Two More Years” — about her terminal diagnosis — and “Homeless in Hawaii” — about the time she spent as a Waikiki street musician.

“You got to see what people are really like when they don’t have anything to gain from you. When you’re a homeless street musician,” she said of her time in Hawaii. “I think I learned a lot about humanity and who I wanted to be.”

Elisa Magagna
Courtesy Elisa Magagna

She has also published two novellas and two children’s books.

Ever the artist, Elisa has played the violin for 34 years. She called her instrument “part of who I am.”

“It’s been a really good way of, kinda, battling through this,” she said. “When I have a hard day, I just pick up my violin and play.”

Elisa takes her violin to the cancer hospital in Utah, so she can share her cheer with fellow patients. She visits local churches and events, doing the same.

Through it all, Mike has been impressed with the way his wife has been so openly received.

“There are lots of just loving caring people,” he said. “It’s awesome to see how many different types of people can gather around one person, one cause, one idea.”

Fighting back tears, Elisa spoke about the outpouring of support she has received.

“People see somebody in need in this community and they are really willing to step up and do what it takes to make sure things are OK,” Elisa said. “I just keep hoping that we’ll have the chance to do that for somebody else.”

Magagna family photo
A family photo taken weeks before the diagnosis. It sits in the family room, on an ukulele case and next to a model haunted house Mike built while caring for Elisa. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

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