Thursday, October 15, 2009

Off to Atlanta

Dear Virginia, while none of us exactly control what happens in life we are able to control how we respond...what we say and what we do. Love, Priscilla

This was a note that Priscilla wrote for her niece's high school graduation. It speaks to me now, in particular, as I prepare to join my cousin Lisa, her friend Melissa and my friend Meredith for the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk in Atlanta next week.

If I could control what happens in life, Priscilla would still be alive. I would still have my stepmother, my confidante, my advisor and my friend. But as she aptly noted, we do not control what happens in life; instead, we are tasked with controlling our responses. Priscilla must have instilled this guiding principle in me because I am certain that I could not have handled her death without the knowledge that sometimes, things just happen.

Priscilla had such an adventurous spirit. She also lived healthfully, choosing to begin her day with a strange wheat germ/orange juice mixture and at least an hour of exercise. She lovingly tended her garden and she spent vacations hiking the mountains of Yellowstone. Six years ago, if you had asked me how long I thought Priscilla would live, I would have guessed that she would live well past 85, the age her mother Nell was when she passed away. But it was not to be: Priscilla was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2004 and she died in 2007 at age 62.

Hearing Priscilla's diagnosis was understandably devastating, and I'm not sure that I'm prepared to share with you how I felt when I learned that Priscilla's time with us was in jeopardy. What I will note is that while I wondered why this happened to a woman who had such appreciation for life, I didn't have resentment about her diagnosis. Again, Priscilla taught me well that life is unpredictable, unfair and sometimes undeniably difficult. What she also taught me, however, is that life is full of surprises, blessings and moments of pure delight. I was fortunate to experience many of my life's moments of surprise and delight with Priscilla, and I am fortunate now to remember these times with warmth and appreciation.

As I plan my trip to Atlanta, I am filled with anticipation. I know that I'll absolutely love spending time with friends and family, but I also know that I will feel pangs of sadness as I relive losing Priscilla. I hope that I will control my response to Priscilla's death in a way that would make her proud, expressing the range of emotion that the event will induce (both on behalf of Priscilla and the millions of others who are affected by cancer), yet also celebrating the spirit of the woman who inspired me to walk.

Life is unquestionably unpredictable, but when I think about Priscilla, I don't think about a life that was robbed from me; I think instead of a woman I was honored to spend 25 years getting to know and love. I'll spend every day of the rest of my life remembering her lessons and treasuring her friendship. Next week, I will walk humbly in her name as I cry tears full of memories.