Category Archives: Change

New Year Guiding Principles

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Sunrise over San Agustinillo , Oaxaca, Mexico

Sunrise over San Agustinillo , Oaxaca, Mexico

As the new year opened up, I found myself hungry…for understanding, for solid ground, for guidance. Looking on the opportunities that lay before me in 2014, I had a need to connect to my values, to what’s important to me. I jotted down many thoughts and ideas as they came to me during my quiet introspective time. I created a set of principles that feel like the right guideposts for me as I stretch into the wonderful possibilities that my relationships, my work, and my life offer to me.

  • I start each day with gratitude for my blessings.
  • I set clear intentions that provide direction for my life.
  • I consciously choose how I view and experience the world around me.
  • I stretch and grow, discovering new things about myself, others, and this amazing world.
  • I accept and celebrate ‘what is’ without judgment or attachment.
  • I open to opportunity and possibility.
  • I access joy in every moment.
  • I attend to my breath when I need peace and contentment.
  • I allow my life to flow from a place of love.
  • I go slow, with attention and focus – I don’t live too fast. 
  • I am graceful, courageous, hopeful.
  • I value relationships and treat every interaction as as a gift. 
  • I meet resistance with curiosity and free myself from struggle by letting go.
  • I act with integrity and seek alignment with my values.
  • I am a stand for health – I believe in enough sleep, a nutritious diet, exercise, rest and relaxation, meaningful work, and quiet introspective time every day.
  •  I believe in balance and wholeness. 
  • I can just BE, and everything will be OK.
  • I am brilliant, amazing, and worthy of living an abundantly delicious life.
  • I let my light radiate into the world. 
  • I seek balance and wholeness.

The song of strengths

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heartsongbymm2

Something really special happened last week…my dear friend and strengths guru, Maureen Monte, who blogs over at maureenmonte.com, invited me to be a guest blogger. Me? Talk about strengths? Well, why not? I’ve been playing with Maureen and taking in her wisdom for years now – and have learned so much about myself along the way. I share a bit of that in our post The Song of Strengths – Building Leadership. I think leaning into life’s experiences is a powerful way of growing personal leadership. Thanks Maureen for the opportunity!

Mosaic

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leaves

We have had a beautiful weekend here in Iowa City-Coralville…blue skies, temps in the 50s, and breezes blowing the leaves through the air and dancing across the ground. On my runs along the Iowa River with my husband Jim, I found myself picking up leaf specimens…so varied and beautiful in their colors and shapes.

This photo and poem are from around this time a few years ago, when I was in Raleigh, NC for a class. I had found the leaves symbolic of the differences that characterized the amazing women in the class. Today I find they reminded of the cycle of life and possibility that comes with change.

Mosaic
By Vicki L. Flaherty

Beautiful shades of magnificent color
Shapes in perfect variability
Rich and distinctive textures.
Leaves in abundance—
Mother Nature’s magnificent mosaic.
Each breaking free
Moving with intention
Floating gracefully
to its perfect place.
In time, to change form
and return anew
more powerful than before.

Relief

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labs

Two years ago, the phone rang here at my house. It was Jean, my surgeon’s nurse, calling to give me the results of the biopsy of the removed breast tissues and lymph nodes taken during my mastectomy.

No cancer. “The report is very, very, very good!” she had said, leaving the details for my surgeon to share with me. It’s impossible to put into words the sense of relief I felt. In a moment it was like I could breath again. No chemo.

After the relief came gratitude. I had been so fortunate along this road called cancer. No radiation. No chemo. Only a few lymph nodes removed – low risk of developing lympedema in my right arm.

I relished the calm that washed over me and the moments of celebration…

Chugging Train
By Vicki L. Flaherty

Finally, the train has stopped.
I’m clean — no cancer.
Nothing suspicious
That can be seen or detected.
At least for now…
It’s OK to celebrate this moment.

But, the engine was meant to move —
and so it begins again, chugging slowly forward.
At this juncture, there are questions
About prevention, recurrence.
What to do? How to live with the odds?
No conclusive answers.
The engine was meant to move —
and so it begins again, chugging slowly forward.

Navigating the course ahead
It’s up to me to decide:
Do I take the medication?
What tradeoff s, given the benefits and risks?
Choices, decisions — the signals along the journey.
The engine was meant to move —
and so it begins again, chugging slowly forward.

A related post is Waiting Game.

Anniversary

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About to leave the hospital after my mastectomy & reconstruction, 9/29/11

About to leave the hospital after my mastectomy & reconstruction, 9/29/11

Two years ago today, I left the University of Iowa hospital with a new right breast. I had my mastectomy on 9/28/11. I felt like one lucky girl, going home after a difficult overnight stay, with a new breast. You see, the original plan was for this to be the first of 2 surgeries: 1) removing the breast and putting in an ‘expander’ which stretches the skin for an implant, and 2) removing the expander and putting in the implant. But, I went home with the implant!

Jim and I had done our homework, and had asked my plastic surgeon about the ‘one surgery’ option. He was skeptical, lots of variables and usually not great results. However, given my mastectomy went well and I’m small breasted and was not obsessed with perfect symmetry, the surgeon thought putting in the implant with the mastectomy was a good option. Poor Jim, though…he was approached in the waiting room by the plastic surgeon as the oncologist was competing the mastectomy to decide what kind of implant!

We had not really spoken much about saline versus silicone since we thought I had months to decide.  Once I had said I like the feel of the silicone implants. It was that day when I had my ‘before’ photo taken and there were boxes of implants sitting in a corner of the room and I’d felt inclined to feel them.

So today I am celebrating my one-surgery journey and my return to great health, and all I’ve learned through my experience. I feel somewhat wiser, calmer, more connected with what’s important in life. My heart is singing!

Thought I’d share today’s poem because it will take you through those days 2 years ago…it’s a long one!  🙂

Flashes
By Vicki L. Flaherty

Memories like a photo collage,
fleeting pictures in my mind’s eye
one image moves to the next.

At early morning light
stretching into yoga postures
and touching all of the prayers flowing my way.

Entering the hospital waiting room
so bright and sterile —
the reality taking hold.

A doctor entering my prep room
putting her initials on my right shoulder,
a tattoo for my surgeon.

Asking questions about an epidural,
wondering why I am deciding now,
hearing my survivor friends’ voices —
“take the pain meds” —
and choosing the needle.

Relaxation filling my body
as my new IV feeds me —
“It’s going to be alright. Breathe.”
I say to myself.

Whispering “see you soon” to my family
from the hall outside of the operating room,
and then whirring down the corridors,
where it’s cool and surreal,
everything a blur without my glasses.

Being given names to go with the faces
of those moving about the surgery area,
names I won’t remember,
but thinking how nice to meet them
and asking my angels to watch over them.

Electrodes and monitors being attached,
time for a few deep breaths…
before fading into sleep.

Awaking to a soft voice asking
“Do you know where you are?”
And hearing the good news:
“They put your implant in —
no more surgeries!”

My doctor-friend visiting —
her smiling face
bringing much needed light
into the recovery room.

In and out of sleep for hours
waiting to get my hospital room;
ah, well worth the wait —
a private one for me.

Feeling like a sack of flour
moving from gurney to bed,
nausea overcoming me
when I try to move.

Ordering dinner,
despite a lack of appetite —
yum, yum, I think sarcastically:
mashed potatoes, broth, bagel, cake, jello, apple juice —
surely one of these will inspire in the wee hours?

During the quiet of night,
comforting myself in the love bathing me,
knowing my family is sustaining itself
with much needed sleep.

Celebrating at midnight
my first trip to the bathroom
without “the bucket.”

Even taking a short walk —
today’s version of a marathon is:
teeny, tiny, slow, slow steps about 20 feet.

Sleeping in spurts,
constant visits from nurses —
vitals to check,
meds to administer.

Waking to “the day after surgery”
and a new day of recovery —
my rebirth beginning.

Eating my first solid food:
Angel food cake —
how symbolic?!
The delicate bread
reminding me of birthday cakes past,
Mom and Mother-in-Law.

Rejoicing in my family reunion:
Holding my husband’s hand
having his strength to carry me.

Seeing Mom and Dad smiling
filled with delight
their girl has her color back.

Hearing the long awaited words:
“Your discharge papers are ready.”
Being wheeled away from room 4645,
into the warmth of the fall Iowa day.

Thinking life is good going home,
as memories of the past 48 hours
begin to fade into the light.

To the mountaintop

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photo taken en route to Capadocia Turkey

photo taken en route to Capadocia Turkey

Maybe it’s the change of seasons, maybe there is something deeper going on…I’m not sure. I have the sense that I am back on a path where things are not very clear. Maybe it’s just a short detour off this delicious road that I found where I see the mountaintop. Maybe I’ve found a mountaintop and I’m on the path to another one. There is certainly lots going on in my life that might be making it challenging to see clearly the way ahead, that might have lured me off course, or even obscured the view of the mountain looming ahead.

I found myself setting an intention for clarity during my yoga practice last night.  I trust it will come. Not by sheer magic…but because I am asking for help, reaching out to others, and I am slowing down and being alert to signs and signals that can point me in the right direction.

I found my poem, Climbing to the Mountaintop, really resonated for me this morning. This poem was written two years ago, almost to the day, 9/21/11. Even before my mastectomy I could see that cancer was taking me on a very powerful journey. Today I feel work inviting me to stretch and grow in powerful ways (I started a new job at IBM in Leadership Development yesterday).

Climbing to the Mountaintop
By Vicki L. Flaherty

I’m on a journey to a mountaintop.
I can’t see the peak, through the clouds,
but the path looms ahead.

I move deliberately forward —
one step at a time.
A detour here or there,
but that’s not the way.
I find it lonely there,
afraid and lost off course.

I turn back to the main road,
where there are people, always people
to hold my hand and guide me
and to nourish my body and soul.
They give me strength,
encouraging me along when it is hard,
when so many things obscure the view.

If I slow down and look around
I find I can see the way ahead,
from a place of calm.
There are signs —
sometimes such very subtle signs.
When I feel them or see them
or hear them or touch them,
I relax and breathe,
opening to the magic and mystery.

I will get to the top of that mountain,
and it will be a glorious day.
With clarity, I will see the valley below
and the path I took to the summit.
I will have new wisdom —
founded on experience walking the path.
And from this magnifi cent place
of incredible beauty and light,
I will begin to see another path
from which to begin moving
to the next mountaintop.

Finding My Way

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by Vicki Flaherty, Sagres (Algarve) Portugal

by Vicki Flaherty, Sagres (Algarve) Portugal

In the roller-coaster of emotions yesterday (see Mammo), I found myself writing…in that cathartic place of moving my emotions from my heart into my head and shaping them like clouds, their texture and meaning evolving, until they are tamed on the page.

Finding My Way
By Vicki L. Flaherty

How do I respond to the lone tree in the field
whose branches are outstretched with uncertainty

Shall I walk up to it and wrap my arms around it
with a grip that gives it no choice but to melt

Can I step into the gentle stream we create
floating in the soothing, clear water

Will I move with the grace of the river
carried to a place of peace

Will my eyes follow the direction of the light
where hope opens like a flower

Can I fill my sails with trust
and move moment by moment to find my way

© 2013 Vicki L. Flaherty

Noticing

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courtesy of danesculptor.com

courtesy of danesculptor.com

In yoga, our guide sometimes reminds us to notice the sensations in our body – usually during a resting posture that follows a more strenuous posture. I notice how my muscles are fatigued, or how my heart is thumping a bit from the tension of the preceding posture…maybe I notice the pressure on my hands or the feeling of my toes against the mat…

After my mastectomy, I was in high gear for noticing, as the poem below from my book describes. Then as the months moved on, there was less to notice. But, even a year later, there was always a pull, a tension, a tingle, something…I often felt the need to massage the scar across my breast or under my arm pit where the lymph nodes were removed (wonder what the folks in the gym thought when I did that…). Sometimes my pectoral muscle, which holds the implant in place, felt tight or somehow seemed burdened by its additional responsibility.

However, this weekend, when I slowed down (you have to slow down enough to notice stuff!), I noticed how I was not having any sensations in my right breast, where I have the implant. In a good way. It’s like the skin has done it’s stretching and the muscle has adapted to its new friend. When I pause to notice the sensations, there is no difference between my left and right breast. From what some other survivors told me, I wasn’t sure that would ever happen. I’m delighted that it has. A great way to celebrate the upcoming 2-year anniversary of my mastectomy surgery which is coming up next month (9/27/11).

Noticing
By Vicki L. Flaherty

I noticed how glad I was to get the bandages off.
I noticed how cleansing it felt to finally take a shower.
I noticed how freeing it was to have the drains removed.
I noticed how I reached back to brush my hair the way I like it.
I noticed how I made the bed without exhaustion.
I noticed how the discomfort under my arm disappeared.
I noticed how taking a walk did not tire me.
I noticed how my arms were extended to the sky during yoga.
I noticed how the scars changed from dark to light pink.
I noticed how the tingling sensations occurred less often.
I noticed how the skin of my breast was not so numb.
I noticed how I am not noticing anything anymore.

© 2012 Mostly My Heart Sings

touched.changed.connected.

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TCC

July 6th was pretty much like any other day for me this year. I am lucky for that. That day marks the 2-year anniversary of my abnormal mammogram.

Cancer touches you.

While events in my own life are not triggering raw emotions of that time – when fear and uncertainty seemed to rule the day, what’s going on in the lives of others moves my heart in ways that I cannot explain.

Cancer changes you.

I recently blogged about how meeting a young woman newly diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer touched me unexpectedly. And, today I found myself crying as I read an email from a colleague who lives on the other side of the world and shared news of his wife’s diagnosis of cancer in her lungs, liver and hip. A Pema Chodron quote that was posted on radiatingblossoms has helped me realize that the source of my tears is compassion:

Compassion

 Cancer connects you.