Metastatic Intergrity—a Meditation on Metastatic Melanoma

I just found out I have metastatic melanoma showing up in two small places in my brain, three in my lungs and one in my liver. Yes, melanoma—that notorious killer—has metastasized inside me.

I was surprised to discover that I already feel prepared. Maybe, because I spent the better part of my career being responsible for the integrity of a school, I find that maintaining integrity of my self is the same dynamic, spiritual process. Whether person, community, or organization, the keys to integrity are the same.

Static: I See that Word a Little Differently.

Stasis: All organisms have within them an integrity, something at their core—like instructions in the acorn of an oak—their genius, their character, their soul—that keeps urging them toward thriving and becoming what they are supposed to be in the midst of all the other activities of other organisms going on around them. Anthony Damassio even thinks he knows where that point of integrity is in the brains of creatures with brains: the brain stem.

Signals from all over my body go to this part of the brainstem every split second to get their initial sorting into messages of what’s happening to me. These messages, then, check in with other members of the Keep Rick Going Committee, then help to coordinate those responses into action, then monitor, then mobilize for the next action. Stasis is the conscience of the Keep Rick Going Committee. Humans for millennia have given this point of integrity many different names from genius (Roman) to kharakter (Greek) to Kama (Japanese), soul, spirit, etc.

Stasis in Relationship

However, this stasis, this vital drive toward integrity—true for all life—has two parts, not one, whether you study it from the point of view of an oncologist, or the head of a school, or my three-month-old granddaughter, or an organizational consultant. The other part can be summed up in a single word: relationships.

Paradoxically, maintaining stasis requires change, because of relationships. An organism has to be doing two paradoxical things at once—maintaining itself and changing itself. For, no organism has a “life of its own” on its own. It lives, works and does its business in relationship with other organisms as each is striving to maintain their own integrity—changing is essential. “It sounded right yesterday–oops–not so much today–got to change.”

Day in and day out we all struggle with the tension inherent in being ourselves in relation to others—I can picture the cells in my body working the problem right now as I eat my banana and drink my coffee—it’s the engine of change.

The trick of life, from my blood cells (that are having a hard time right now) to my schools (which all seem to be doing just great right now), is to keep asking this question: How does my integrity relate to the integrity of all the other living things around me? The secret of life is knowing that my genius and your genius are in league with each other, that my little acorn is in cahoots with all the other acorns in the world, and looking for synergies.

Meta Static Bullies

Now as head of my body—just as I did as head of a school—it seems I have to deal with bullies. I have blood cells in my body that have stopped asking the relationship question. They don’t care!! That’s how I think of Meta static: taking stasis, too far.

But, guess what. It’s okay. I know how to deal with bullies. Thirty-five years of being in charge of maintaining the integrity of school dedicated to making sure everyone is safe to pursue their own integrity, has wired my brain nicely for this one.

So, listen up, everybody: “If you want to be here, you have to show how you are using your integrity to support the integrity of everything else, and that means you have to listen to each other and allow your minds to be changed, when it’s called for.”

To my metastatic miscreants: “Your communications are deceptions. You seem to have no interest in collaborating, and no interest in contributing constructively to others around you.  You have to go.”

We will start by zapping the two lesions in my brain this week. Then, we will see about strengthening the dynamic cells to deal with the meta static ones. (Immunotherapy.)


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13 Responses to Metastatic Intergrity—a Meditation on Metastatic Melanoma

  1. Mark Herman says:

    My friend – whom I have never met but feel I have known for a lifetime – I wish you strength and resolve on this journey. I am saddened but believe a man of your ingenuity will rise to the task that lies ahead.

  2. Patricia Lathrom says:

    This news is sad, but I love your approach–talking back to the bullies. I can hear you doing that now and it brings a smile to my face. I have complete confidence that you’ll route the bullies. Please let me know if you need anything. I’d bring you a latte if you were still in town.
    You can be proud of Write Stuff. We’re still going strong. And without you, there’d be no Write Stuff. Who knew we’d last this long? They call me the president. That makes me your successor, cause that’s what we called you. Hugs…

  3. Rick says:

    Pres, I am so glad Write Stuff continues. Makes me very happy. Maybe, a good writing prompt for this week would be: bullies, and see what people do with that. You wrote a whole book about how a meta static bully.

  4. Rick says:

    From Doug Hazelrigg:
    This is sobering news. I’m not surprised, however, by the pluck that you’re displaying in the face out it. I want to learn more about how integrity figures into this, and look forward to more “reports from the front” as it were. Good luck to you

  5. Roger Travis says:

    I love this metacognitive analysis of your approach to this challenge, Rick. Thank you for enlightening all of us so much by letting us in on this battle, and for giving us the certainty of your victory whatever may befall. We’re with you, above all because you’ve invited us to stand by you so very graciously.

  6. Annie Fox says:

    I was saddened by your news, Rick, and also inspired by your attitude. Wisdom is taking what you’ve learned and applying it to where you are and what is needed. Thank you for continuing to teach us all. I wish you strength and patience on your journey. And compassion for yourself and those who love you most.

  7. Kari says:

    This is the most enlightening take on cancer I have read. I hope with my whole heart you heal completely. Peace.

  8. From everyone at Prairie Flower, we send you our heartfelt appreciation for sharing such a courageous piece of writing, Rick. We are sending lots of loving energy your way. You are in our thoughts and prayers as you enter this next challenge life has given you. Hang in there. This kind of bully is stopped every day!

  9. Christopher Duny says:

    Oh Rick. I am so sorry. I do fully admire what you wrote and the insights you express. My interest is, as always, in individuals and groups. The interactive process of accepting what is and changing as one moves forward is the process of relationships. May God be with you as you navigate this new part of your journey.

  10. Rick, while this is sad news, the one person I know who can beat it is you. After sharing four years as classmates through NCCS and Deerfield, I know how brilliant and what a genius you are. The bullies don’t have a chance. As for integrity, you are second to none. God bless and let’s keep in touch.

  11. Wendy says:

    Rick, beautifully thoughtful and written. You have shared such deep insights, showing that your have spent your time well on your own evolutionary journey. You know how you and I agree on so many fronts, and now, continue to have the opportunity to do good work together. Onward, Rick. Fight those bullies. You are educational and advocacy soulmate and I hold such deep respect for your approach and openness.

  12. Chris Senger says:

    God Bless Rick. I will pray for you and your family.

    As for integrity, I know of no one more trustworthy, honest and daring to create communities of love and support.

    Keep up the good fight!

  13. Rick says:

    Thank you, Chris. How is your work going?

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