Category Archives: Strength

For Sheila C

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Hollyhocks on Lustica Peninsula, Montenegro

Hollyhocks on Lustica Peninsula, Montenegro

You are strong.

You are colorful and vibrant.

Your spirit is open and shines in the foreground.

And, it is beautiful. 

This post is dedicated to my friend Sheila Connelly who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. She’s sharing her journey at In Sickness and In Health. Sending you hugsful of strength, energy, light, and love, my friend.

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Refuge

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Hydranga, Presat, Montenegro

Hydranga, Presat, Montenegro

July ise an emotionally challenging month. A reminder. An anniversary.

3 years. 3 years since my diagnosis. July 25th, 2011.

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I’ve noticed how I am invited to experience once again my woundedness. The pain, the fear, the suffering. I wonder how it is that I remembers vividly the moment the nurse told me the biopsy showed ‘carcinoma’. Perhaps it is precisely because the feelings are so deep and intense that they are remembered – remembered not by what I think, or what I want, but by the emotions, by the substance of their meaning.

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This morning, Rachel Naomi Remen, author of My Grandfather’s Blessings, reaches me in her chapter “The Meeting Place” with potent reminders of my vulnerability and fear, and, more importantly, my strength and wisdom. She brings me comfort with her promise of the beauty of being genuine, intimate, and profoundly human, not just inside myself but in communion with others.

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As I touch this soft spot of my cancer, my hope is that I become ever stronger and wiser, able to find refuge in my sharing.

An alternative way

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Am amazing lily growing in abundance on the scorched point of Sagres, Portugal

Am amazing lily growing in abundance on the scorched point of Sagres, Portugal

I’m here with Rolf Gates and Meditations from the Mat again today. I’m on my fifth trip through this transformative book. For whatever reason, my first time through I decided to date the page when I read it. Today I’m on the reading for Day 66 and it has the following dates at the top:  2/9/2005, 4/2/2007, 11/9/2008, 10/4/2011 and now 5/2/2014. On October 4, 2011 I used a brown pen for the date – and for my underlines and notes. The reading is about Santosa, or contentment, and starts with a Yoga Sutras quote:

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The paragraph below is underlined:

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My notes grab the things I wanted to take away:

  • Alternative way to move through the world
  • Shift of focus
  • Contentment from the inside out
  • Events as opportunities to grow
  • Encounter our own magnificence
  • Moments in which to shine

I imagine that this reading was a breath of possibility to me back on October 4, 2011 – that was one week after my mastectomy, and I was reeling from my cancer diagnosis and focused on healing. I was practicing leaning into not just the ‘good’ but also the ‘bad’ to find peace. Nearly two and half years later, I find I still have to consciously grab contentment if I want it. So many dark whispers trying to drown out the song.

This passage definitely touched me. A peak into my files shows that I wrote the first iteration of my poem Contentment on October 4, 2011 and it was called Santosa.

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Nailed to the present moment

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when things fall apart

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This morning I started reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron again (thanks to my royal and regal friend Maureen Monte for the gift of this powerful book!). The first time I read it, I devoured it cover to cover. Some chapters I’ve come back to multiple times. The pages are highlighted, underlined, words in the margins. I love when I encounter a book that invites me in like this, that begs me to devour it, use it up.

Back for another helping.

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The first chapter “Intimacy with Fear” got me thinking about how I confronted head-on my fear during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I distinctly remember digging a deeper well with my anger. It was a sunny spring day, the kind that begs you to be happy and experience joy, where you find your feet moving along effortlessly, your mind wandering back or ahead to to be with people you love, to do things that inspire you. But I wasn’t feeling happy nor joyful and I wasn’t moving backward or forward in my mind. I was stuck in a dark place.  Right here, right now.

A dark hole, getting deeper. Falling. Through some sort of profound grace, I found myself embracing the possibility of getting lost in this hole. I looked into it with curiosity. The longer I looked, the more open I found myself. The closer I got to the depths of my anger, the softer it became.  

Pema speaks to how getting to such a place requires us to be ‘nailed to the present moment’. It’s only when we have nowhere to escape that we can truly confront the fear that so often runs us and rules us.

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Related post:

https://mostlymyheartsings.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/working-through-anger/

Seeing it

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Photoa Courtesy of Carol at Radiating Blossom

Last fall I found the job I’d been dreaming about for several years. I moved into IBM’s leadership development organization. Then, in January, I was promoted to a leadership role within the team. Ever since then, I’ve been in a whirlwind, and all sorts of feelings have been swirling around. From moments of confidence to fear, from hope to uncertainty, from calm to chaos, from peace to distraction…and so much more. Frankly, there have been moments of profound overwhelm. And, moments of incredible possibility.

This morning I came across the poem below that I wrote back in the summer of 2012. It’s unfinished but it spoke to me so I thought I’d share it in all it’s imperfection. The words resonated with me and connected me to how scary it is when I glimpse how amazing and powerful I can be. It touched me with its doubt and its hope. I frequently come back to my experience with cancer and the fear I felt then, the hope I grabbed on to. When I go there, I am reminded that there is nothing more important than my finding aliveness and joy in whatever I am doing and that life has a way of moving me with grace when I open to it, flow with it.

Seeing it
By Vicki L. Flaherty

I glimpse it like a crack in a door
where the light comes in
or maybe it’s flowing out.

Mother always said it was there.
Father’s confidence pointed to it too.

Flickers like photographs
strewn across a table
bits of color
sparks of life.

She is beautiful.
A power all her own.
Grace dancing.
Hope shining.

Do you see it?
See it.
Please.

No.
Better if you don’t.

Her strength is overwhelming.
The possibility is frightening.

Cover your eyes.
Glance away from the light.

Peeking, though.
It pulls you.
You have to look.

Gradually appearing less real to me

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courtesy of misifusa.wordpress.com

courtesy of misifusa.wordpress.com

This morning when I read the post on Misifusa’s blog, The Presents of Presents: Why Should I Fear? (http://misifusa.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/why-should-i-fear/) ,  I thought about the grip fear can have on my life, how it limits what’s possible.

I was also inspired by my awesome friend Maureen who faced some of her fears head on. She boldly stepped out on a skinny branch to do something amazing that will shape people’s lives in powerful, positive ways. Check out her Project Butterfly: http://maureenmonte.com/project-butterfly/ to join her strong approach to life.

With such wonderful inspiration, I stretch into hope for a day of fear-less-ness…farewell to fear and all it creates in my life!

Fear
Vicki L. Flaherty

You spoke to me with your tantalizing words
You told me I couldn’t have it all
You shouted at me, vibrating through me:
Who I am is not good enough
What I want doesn’t matter

You laid yourself in front of me
You blocked entry to my soul
You covered the essence of me in noise

I missed opportunities when you showed up
You neutralized my relationships
You took the possibilities from my work
You led me away from discovery

I have lost so much because of you
You stole my sense of wonder
You squelched my curiosity
You made my dreams unimportant

Day by day I find the way
To ease you out of my life
Your false sense of importance
The expectations you create
Gradually appearing less real to me

My surgeon’s hands

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surgeon's hands

As I reflect on all I have to be grateful for, one of them is the excellent care that I received at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics during my diagnosis and treatment. I feel so fortunate to have a breast with which I am happy, a breast that feels natural, that gives me a sense of wholeness and femininity…a breast that I am not ashamed of or embarrassed by. I thank Dr. Sugg, my oncology surgeon, and Dr. Lawrence, my plastic surgeon, for their care and expertise. My friend – let’s call her AngelM – has the same surgeons as I did. I hope that she may trust them to help her find wholeness in her loss as well. (See previous post entitled Soul touching).

My Surgeon’s Hands
By Vicki L. Flaherty

Wise from experience
Certain in their task
Precise in their movements
Sure of their actions
They move with grace for me
My surgeon’s hands

I depend on them
I trust them
To remove the bad
To keep the good
To shape my body
My surgeon’s hands

Their work enables me
To let go of my fear
To feel whole
To be feminine
And alive
My surgeon’s hands

Soul touching

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courtesy of www.dreamstime.com

dreamstime.com

I introduced you to my young survivor friend earlier this year in Healing Waters and I can’t seem to let go of her. I vowed back in June that I would be here for her, not at all clear what that might look like.  She finishes her 12th course of chemotherapy on Monday (good news – it is working and has significantly shrunk the tumors). She has many difficult decisions ahead – so much information, so many uncertainties, such incredibly difficult choices. She’s a brilliant biologist and relies on data and logic to guide her decisions. The ground is so slippery for her now, given the overwhelming emotions and strong medication swimming in her system.

We met again yesterday, in a quiet lounge at our hospital. Her sister sat beside her, an anchor in the storm. (She came from their home country a couple of months ago on a 6-month visa.) My friend’s heart poured out as she shared her questions, her confusion, fears, and hopes. I shared my truths with her, still leaving so many questions unanswered. Through moments of tears, laughter, silence, sharing and opening, we became as one. Our souls danced together. I could almost grab the healing energy inside our circle of light. I barely know them and I know everything about them.

We are in a private room in the plastic surgery department. I sat in the patient chair. Last time I sat here I was confused and afraid, carrying so many questions. But, today is different. I feel strong and clear.

My friend and her sister sit in chairs across from me. I look deeply into their eyes. I smile gently, holding on to trust, trust that what I am about to do will be comforting and helpful, not scary and add to the confusion and feelings of overwhelm.

Slowly, still looking into my friend’s eyes, I begin to unbutton my sweater. I am completely focused on her as I uncover my right breast for her to see. I breathe again when I see a soft sweet smile rise to her tender face. I sense she finds comfort in what she sees. I move the other side of my sweater so she can see how the reconstructed side compares. We acknowledge the imperfection together. I invite her to touch my reconstructed breast, to see how the silicone feels when it’s been implanted. She gently compares my breasts. 

We continue to sit together for several minutes, me looking into their eyes, searching for the hope I want to give them. They appreciatively looking into mine, their hearts overflowing with gratitude for this tender moment together. Our circle of light radiates as I button my sweater.

This room will never be the same. We will never be the same.

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!

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.