Tag Archives: diagnosis




Today was the day. Annual mammogram. As much as I tried to play it down, rationalize it as just another doctor appointment, the fear got inside me, danced on my heart. Strong emotions, from deep within, crept up uninvited. Worries about worst case scenarios. Visions of the train leaving the station again. Brought me to tears having to validate the answers to the check-in questions – yes to positive mammogram, to lumpectomy, to mastectomy, to implant. It still doesn’t seem possible that healthy little me is a cancer survivor.

It is with incredible relief that I say my fears were unfounded: mammogram normal. YAY!!!  Indeed, a case of False Expectations Appearing Real. I can let go of that fear now…ahhhh.

Overall, this year’s experience was better than last year’s. Guess that’s not surprising – having been through something once makes it less unusual the next time.  I wrote a poem after my 2012 mammogram that seems appropriate to share here.  Then, for a few moments, I thought I had another abnormal mammogram. Words somehow seem inadequate to capture all that raced through me mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically; I just can’t seem to capture the fear and anguish that moved through me, nor the enormous sense of relief upon hearing the actual results.

Here’s to another year of being cancer free…

By Vicki L. Flaherty

The anticipation –
if you can call it that –
had been building.
The appointment was imminent:
first annual mammogram
since the ‘big surprise’ of 2011.
My ‘bosom buddy’ and I
playfully refer to the procedure
as our ‘mammo’.
As if it is something fun.
In actuality, it’s not.
Scary now.  Dreadful.
We know what can follow
this miraculous diagnostic procedure.

The reality comes vividly to life
in the breast imaging waiting room.
A form to fill out –
update actually, since last year’s ‘gram.
Heartbreak as I change
the ‘NO’
for biopsy and lumpectomy
and mastectomy and reconstruction
to ‘YES’.
All in pretty pink ink.
It forces me to accept the reality of it all.
Will cancer continue to challenge me?
‘Til when?

Joking with the radiologist:
“At least I just get to do one boob now.”
The jest releases pent up anxiety.
She plays along:
“Maybe you should get a discount.”
My left breast –
the apparently good one –
squeezed flat, then from the side.
The awkwardness and discomfort
taking my mind off the fear.  
What will these images show?
Will the train of cancer start
chug, chug, chugging again?

I find myself waiting
back in the lounge.
Reading a magazine
or trying to – distraction welcome.
A doctor calls my name.
My heart begins to race.
He invites me into the examining room.
“Oh, my God!” races through my mind.
Here we go.
I’m light-headed.
In disbelief.
The train is leaving the station again.

I have to shake my head,
clear it when he says:
“Nothing abnormal.”
And, again, in my head –
or was it out loud this time? –
“Oh, my God!”
“What a relief.”
The train isn’t moving.
At least this year.

© 2013 Vicki Flaherty

(I selected the above photo because it is an image I have of a healthy breast. You can read more about the bouquet here.)


Waiting Game



It was 2 years ago that I was at the hospital for my breast biopsy. I remember the fear when they put the hospital wristband on my arm. Something about it. An acknowledgement. I am having surgery related to cancer. This is REAL.

I knew what to expect thanks to one of my Mom’s friends who had the procedure a couple month’s before, and thanks to one of my dear friends sharing her experience. Even so, I was scared. I felt fragile, like I might break. Mostly it was the possibilities that I let race through my mind that took the wind out of me.

I kept focusing on relaxing. And I kept repeating a mantra offered by my dear friend: Heaven is right here where I am, and this is the place to train. I didn’t know what I was training for, but it felt right. Now I know I was on the training ground of life. I kept reminding myself about how alive I felt. I gave my all to being present, even if I was sitting with fear, anticipation, and uncertainty.

I remember entering the biopsy room, so big and sterile. There was comfort in being told what was happening each step of the way – positioning the breast, getting lidocaine, inserting the biopsy needle, implanting the marker (in case of cancer and surgery), taking images…

I remember Jim being there in the waiting room, supporting me, helping me to be brave and strong.

I found this in my journal from 7/28/11:

for the call.
No cancer?
Heaven is right here.
Where I am.
Envision healing light enveloping.
Be calm, still, quiet.
Rest here.
Connect with my spirit,
The soul in me.
Love myself.

That was the seed of the poem I wrote as I waited for the caboose of this waiting game train to move on by.

Waiting Game
By Vicki L. Flaherty

Here I am again.
For the results.
I need answers.
And data to shape my future.
Will this fast moving train slow down?
Or will it speed full ahead?
Mammogram abnormal — biopsy needed.
Biopsy performed — lumpectomy next.
“Dirty” lumpectomy margins —
mastectomy needed and done.
Pathology on the breast and lymph nodes —
What will it be?
Cancer, or no?
Cancer here but not there?
Or cancer everywhere?
Odds are, I’m clean.
Not much consolation.
Here I am again.
For the results.
And data to shape my future.
Will the train please slow down.
Will the train please stop.

Into the light

photo courtesy of thesuperherosofservice.blogspot.com

photo courtesy of thesuperherosofservice.blogspot.com

Light is playing with me today. I posted how delicious it is over at my This Abundantly Delicious Life blog in a post called Sunbeams. Light spoke to me again this morning when I was preparing to send one of my books to a new survivor friend. As I was rummaging through my ‘book box’ to assemble a package for her, I came across a poem I wrote about a year ago called Into The Light.

Into the Light was the first poem that I wrote ‘on demand’. A survivor friend of mine who was coordinating our local Johnson County Relay for Life asked if I would write a poem for the first annual Caregiver Ceremony that was being hosted as part of the 20th anniversary festivities at the Relay. While I was honored, I wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, the poetry that my friend loved was inspired by my own experience with cancer. It flowed out of me like a river of healing as a way for me to care for myself. Could I experience the same sense of flow by giving my heart over to caring for all the people who care for us survivors?

The answer came as soon as I got in the car after the request. It started with one little word bubbling up. The one invited others. I could feel the creative energy filling me. I remember opening the glove box and getting out paper and pen so I could capture what was coming. The flood gates opened – of course I could fulfill this beautiful request. As the ideas continued to flow in the week that followed, I wrote them all down. After some ‘percolating’time, I type the words into my computer and the creative process continued. The pieces started coming together beautifully. I was amazed.

Today’s post is dedicated to caregivers everywhere who give their hearts and talent.

Into the Light
By Vicki L. Flaherty

When a diagnosis spins our world out of control,
You are the balance that steadies us from the fall.

When we wait impatiently for answers to questions we don’t want to ask,
Your soothing voice calms and reassures us.

When decisions swirl around us as if we are drowning,
You are the air at the surface that helps us breathe.

When we are afraid and uncertain about what’s next,
You are the fortress protecting us from the storms ahead.

When the noise in our heads murmurs incessantly,
You are the quiet sanctuary where we find peace.

When we feel ourselves melting away,
You are the earth angels with outstretched arms holding us.

When the pain in our weary, tired bodies seems never ending,
You are the medicine that soothes our aches.

When we don’t have the strength to take another step,
You are the wind at our backs guiding us gently forward.

When the emotional wreckage is more than we can sift through,
You are the helping hand sweeping away our grief.  

When life feels like a scorching desert wasteland,
You are the oasis filling our souls with nourishing waters.

When our worries fall like a heavy rain,
You are the shelter protecting us from the damp and cold.

When we are lost with our destination unknown,
You are the home from where we find our way.

You are our husbands, our wives, our partners
You are our mothers and fathers, our grandparents
You are our sisters and brothers, our daughters and sons
You are our aunts and uncles, our nieces and nephews, our cousins
You are the family who hears our feelings hidden under the surface.

You are our friends,
You are our colleagues,
You are our spiritual guides,
You are the community who sees through the strength we wear like armor.

You are our doctors, our nurses,
You are our pharmacists, our therapists,
You are our healers and our providers
You fill the hospitals and clinics with wisdom and comfort for our pain.

You are the lights, like a million stars in the sky,
guiding us as we walk through the darkest hours of night.

You are the blanket that wraps us when we awaken from the dream,
warming us to the possibility of the sun rising and golden light.

© Vicki Flaherty, 2012


The magic of flowers



Last time I posted, I wrote about the association I have of healing with flowers (see Healing Energies).  I have a vivid memory of the first time this association became conscious. It was after my initial diagnosis when I was waiting at the hospital for my radiation consult. I recall closing my eyes and taking several deep breaths, releasing the stress and claiming calm. As my heart and mind and body slowed down and came to the present moment, I saw a vision of healing light on my breast (I was, after all, in the radiation department).

I kept working the image…bright yellow light, like sunshine, the kind that helps flowers to grow. The light shined on my breast and in my breast grew a healthy, beautiful flower. The flower multiplied until there was a raucous bouquet – of big white daisies, delicate and sweet purple columbines and pansies, pink roses, yellow tulips… They all stretched toward the light, toward the nourishing, healing light.  This initial vision of my breast as a bouquet of flowers came to me many times. I went to it regularly to connect with the possibility of healing and health. Ultimately, I scribbled out the poem, My Garden (below), to capture some of this experience. When I took the photo in this post of a late fall garden bouquet, it reminded me of my vision and the delicate beauty that resides in my breast (which had since been reconstructed).

My Garden
By Vicki L. Flaherty

I envisioned
Rich dark earth
That nourished seeds
And sprouted life
As flowers
A beautiful bouquet

Then there were weeds
So I put on my gloves
And grabbed my shovel
I gently uprooted
That which did not belong
So the collage of flowers
Would flourish in health
And incredible beauty

The garden has been invaded
Trampled by footsteps
Like a dog has enjoyed
A delightful little jaunt
Th rough the magic
Of Mother Nature

The flowers are crushed
The earth pressed down
It’s unnerving
The sensations and sadness
Of this new reality
I challenge myself
To move through it

And once again
I grab my gloves and shovel
And move the earth
Prepare the bed
For a floral display
That will emerge
Majestic and grand
Rich and colorful again

© copyright Vicki L. Flaherty, Mostly My Heart Sings