Howard reminded me of this quote when he saw me struggling with the Why Me? of breast cancer. The struggle wasn't the usual Why do bad things happen to good people? It was a struggle over the fact that I don't have the risk factors that lead to breast cancer. I gave birth to both of our children before the age of 30, hardly ever used hormones in our almost 30 years of marriage, didn't smoke nor drink abusively - though there were times I wished I had (snicker), breast fed both children for a long period of time, and always ate my fruits and vegetables. If I wasn't running, I was biking, swimming, teaching aerobics, snow shoeing, knee boarding, hiking, rock climbing, and chasing our children as they moved from babies to emancipated adults. I am the healthiest person that I know at my age. Even my friends were shocked by the diagnosis because I was the last person they would ever consider to have breast cancer. My pre-existing cognitive structure had me healthy until I was way into my 90's flirting with the cute young waiters in an assisted living center. But, a breast cancer diagnosis comes along and there ya go, All Structures are Unstable, especially, the cognitive ones.
Two days after my second breast surgery, I found myself standing the night watch in an ICU at the bedside of a second cousin who -( I tell everyone, feels more like a nephew than cousin) - was fighting for his life. Steve and Terri Wiley, his parents living in Boise, ID, had called earlier that evening, crying that Alex was admitted to Overlake and was diagnosed with leukemia.
Alex, a 20 year old, bright, inquisitive, socially engaging, charming, funny, spirited, intelligent, strong in stature, attractive, witty, respectful junior who's big brown eyes and toothpaste commercial smile lights up a room, who was just finishing his first quarter in the civil engineering program had his cognitive structures hit full force with a diagnosis called Acute Myeloid Leukemia. AML is a mid-life man's disease. It is incredibly rare to see it in young males but occasionally it rears it's ugly head in the lives of them - men just beginning to get a feel for the road ahead.
AML requires an induction period of chemo to knock out the disease. Alex' treatment didn't take the first time so he had to do a second round. Luckily, the second round knocked out the cancer and now he is on what is called, consolidation chemo or maintenance chemo to keep him cancer free until he is able to get a stem cell replacement.
Last week, his "big bro" in his fraternity presented him with a home crafted sign reading, Shit Happens. The sign wasn't fancy - a small canvas with the background painted a medium gray with a suede textured finish with big bold letters. A simple truth from a young college student. An older brother, passing down the most needed wisdom, Shit Happens or All Structures are Unstable.
Last week, I drove Alex and his family to Sea-Tac Airport for their return trip to Boise. Arriving at the airport, we unloaded the luggage, almost missing the sign tucked into the side of the wheel well. Spotting it at the last minute, I announced, "Alex, don't forget your sign!"
He responded, "Oh, yea, thanks," with a proud smile on his face.
Those of us being broadsided by the limitations of those externals in our lives that we think strong enough to hang our hats and everything else on, desperately need the signs in our lives that remind us that All Structures are Unstable and Shit Happens. These signs are our life lines. They keep our eyes on what is real, what is eternal, what lasts forever and ever and ever.
If you were to look at my To Do List, you'd see the most unusual line up -
1. Let go of your hold.
2. You must be here.
3. Accept absolutely everything about yourself and your life. Embrace with wakefulness and carry your moment-to-moment experience.
4. Use cancer to bring you back to This Moment.
5. All Structures are Unstable. Let go.
On Saturday, our friends, Troy and Marj Kilcup, sponsored me on the No Sun Fun Run. A quick, speedy little 5K here on the South Hill of Puyallup. With the surgeries and the current radiation treatment, I haven't been able to train as often as I'd like and Marj offered up no pity. She kept me at a nice, little clip the whole way through. Each step took effort but it woke me up to the beauty and strength of the power of this moment. While closing in on the finish line, Marj asked , "How do you feel about the cancer?"
My response was, "I am so thankful for the cancer." Cancer has taught me immeasurable lessons about love, friendship, the kindness of so many people, the gift that we get to be alive with those that are so important to us, and the knowing that when we allow ourselves to be fully present in this moment, we are always home. I'd be lying if I said that I have fully mastered letting go of the unstable structures in my life, but it's getting a little better each and every moment.