In 2016, two years following her cancer diagnosis, Elaine rejoined her girlfriends (aka Schuss Sisters) in Steamboat, Colorado, to celebrate life and return to the sport she loves. She has been skiing ever since. Elaine is pictured: bottom row, second from right, pink jacket, cute smile and crooked goggles.
The author of “The Little Book of Gratitude” tells us that gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects on a person’s health and well-being. Gratitude not only inspires happiness, but it can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and more. The book sites clinical trials by a professor at the University of California, who holds a PhD in psychology. But this story isn’t about studies and clinical trials. It’s a story from another expert on gratitude—my friend, Elaine.
Elaine Wilson lives in Excelsior. She is a writer, mother, cancer survivor and avid skier. She doesn’t have a PhD in psychology, but she can certainly teach us a thing or two about gratitude. In 2017, I listened to her speak at Ridgeview’s Annual Cancer Survivors’ Night and was so inspired by her message that it seems appropriate to share now.
In the spring of 2014, Elaine was diagnosed with cancer—specifically, a brain tumor. That year she was skiing with her friends at Park City and at the end of the trip they noticed that she didn’t seem quite herself—maybe she was a bit “spacey.” Her diagnosis came later though, after she returned home and was experiencing severe headaches. Elaine’s husband, Mike, drove her to Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska; something wasn’t right.
Elaine’s CAT scan appeared abnormal and she was transported by ambulance directly to Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis for an MRI and brain surgery the next day to remove the tumor. She was told she had a 50/50 chance of survival.
The next 14 months of Elaine’s life were a constant schedule of chemo treatments, then radiation and—at the same time—therapy and rehabilitation. Elaine had to relearn all the things we take for granted. She needed to retrain her eyes to scan left to right so she could read and had to relearn other basic life functions. Today, Elaine is still challenged with visual perception, a spatial disorder, and battles left-side neglect which means the brain lacks awareness of visual space on that side of her body.
That’s the abbreviated version of Elaine’s medical crisis. And if you think it doesn’t capture all the emotion, disappointments, frustration, fear and anger she experienced, you’re right. Yet Elaine doesn’t dwell on the difficulties and challenges placed in front of her, so I won’t either. And that’s not her story. Her message is about resiliency, being grateful, showing kindness and finding joy in everyday things.
Elaine has always been a positive, outgoing, glass-half-full type of gal throughout her life. She didn’t develop those qualities because of her cancer experience. “It’s what people did for me that changed me. I’m a much better person now,” explains Elaine.
“When people are going through any type of difficulty or trauma, whether it be job loss, divorce or a medical crisis, all those little things that people do for you are HUGE! A simple text, a card, sending food, flowers, cookies for my boys, gift cards—all that support was unbelievable. Someone even sent a housecleaner and friends drove me to downtown Minneapolis for rehab,” she adds. “My mind is still blown thinking about what people did for me—and that’s what changed me. It made me realize that I wasn’t doing enough for others. Now, it’s my biggest focus. What can I do for others going through a difficult time?”
When Elaine addressed all the other cancer survivors in attendance at Ridgeview’s Cancer Survivors’ event, she shared her personal cancer journey and tips for living a positive life:
- Don’t let adversity define you.
- Revel in resilience.
- Invest in your friendships.
- Don’t wait for joy, make it.
- Believe in the power of Hallmark (send cards).
- Choose to have an awesome attitude.
Elaine’s wisdom is relevant not only for cancer survivors or someone going through any traumatic life event, but applies for anyone who simply wants to live a better, healthier—and happier life.
Thank you, Elaine, for allowing Ridgeview to share your personal story of gratitude and how random acts of kindness impacted your life.
Ridgeview is part of the All’s Well partnership of community, school and business leaders working together to help residents of all ages live healthier, longer, happier lives. Its current focus is to raise awareness, and encourage participation and engagement in gratitude and random acts of kindness to build a healthier community.
Please visit All's Well on Facebook to share your personal story of gratitude or how random acts of kindness have impacted your life.