Tag Archives: mastectomy

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:

contentment

The paragraph below is underlined:

contentment2

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.

contentment3

Healing Energy

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healing energy

Today is the day after her surgery. I don’t know what she decided to have done…lumpectomy, mastectomy, single or double, implants or not…and I don’t need to know. I hold her in my heart, sending her my love, my heartfelt prayers for her recovery, my intentions for her life of health and happiness. So many memories come flooding to me today as I think about my friend M in a room at the UIHC hospital, recovering with her dear sister at her bedside. My soul smiles upon her, knowing she is moving ever closer to clarity and grace and hope in her life.

I dedicate today’s poem – that I originally wrote in the fall of 2011 after receiving a beautiful gift of flower essences, prepared especially for me by my friend Ginny, to my friend M.

Flower Essences
By Vicki L. Flaherty

My friend’s sweet hands blend the essence of flowers.
She creates a healing elixir, especially for me.

Her beautiful gift created with hope at her fingertips.
Each flower representing a need;
each accompanied by an affirmation:

Self-Heal to bring me healing —
I awaken the self-healing power within me.

Sweet Chestnut to comfort me in the darkness —
I feel a shining light through my suffering.

Hibiscus to honor my femininity —
I experience loving warmth in my body and soul.

Love Lies Bleeding to connect me with universal love —
I can bend but not be broken.

Rock Rose to address my fear —
My courage is rock-bott om strong.

White Chestnut to release my anxiety —
A calm presence creates freedom within me.

Star of Bethlehem to support me through shock —
I see my star shining renewed and whole.

Walnut to move me through this transformation —
I welcome new possibilities into my life.

Other posts about my dear friend M and how she touches my heart:

Soul touching – https://mostlymyheartsings.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/soul-touching/

Where the clouds end – https://mostlymyheartsings.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/where-the-clouds-end/

I can’t seem to let go of her – https://mostlymyheartsings.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/i-cant-seem-to-let-go-of-her/

Healing waters – https://mostlymyheartsings.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/healing-waters/

(Any WordPress bloggers know why the hotlink button on my blog might no longer be active?)

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

A friend for the journey

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Me and Dana at the 2012 Relay for Life

Me and Dana at the 2012 Relay for Life

October will always make me think of BBD (Bosom Buddy Dana).  It was around this time two years ago that we first met – at the first cancer patient yoga class that I attended after my surgery. My intention was just to sit quietly and take in the sanctuary of my fellow survivors’ presence. I had only been to class a few times – and I knew there was incredible healing and loving energy to be had there.

As I sat on my mat after class and listened to the woman speaking to the instructor, I vividly remembered my first class in late September, when Mary  approached me afterward to welcome me to the group and ask about my story. I started to cry as I said, “I’m having a mastectomy.” for the first time out loud. Putting everything into those words made fear echo deeply through me. Mary understood. She’d had a mastectomy a handful of years before. She asked if it was OK if she hugged me. Yes, oh, yes, that would be so comforting.

As I relived my moment, I saw my soon-to-be friend living her moment. Sharing out loud with the instructor that she was having a mastectomy in a couple of weeks, she had started to cry. I continued threading the circle of caring and compassion that is our yoga group, and I approach Dana asking if I could hug her. We stood in the doorway after class for 15 minutes…and a very special friendship was born.

Moving Together
By Vicki L. Flaherty

There she was.
She appeared shaken,
a bit hidden in the darkness.
Her voice quivered —
with familiar fear.

Tears welled from nowhere,
her body calling for comfort.
I opened my heart to her,
and she reached for it.
A thousand feelings
communicated in our embrace.
As the others supported me,
I am holding her now.

Sharing with her,
I see how far I have come,
how I’ve learned
so much so quickly.
We’ve been walking together
side-by-side for months,
though not knowing.

Now we find we are walking
hand-in-hand on the journey.
Where the path will lead,
we do not know.
There’s comfort knowing
we’ll move ahead together.

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.

The darkness is an anchor

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Port13 419c

One of my fellow blogger friends posted a poem, A Dark Thing Inside the Day, on her lovely and inspiring Radiating Blossom site today (thanks, Carol). Linda Gregg’s piece of art really resonated for me – I have no idea the meaning it had for her; no matter, she’s touched me.

As I sit on the cusp of the 2-year anniversary of my breast cancer surgeries (lumpectomy on 9/7/11, then mastectomy 9/28/11), and cope with the fears that seem to spit up days before my annual mammogram, I found special meaning in the poem. My deliciously abundant life – blessed with a wonderful husband (I love you, Jim Hogan), a family full of love and lightness (thanks Mom, Dad, Mike…), an awesome collection of inspiring friends, a wonderful home where I am nourished and comfortable, a challenging and satisfying job, and fantabulous vacations (just back from two weeks in Portugal) – is like strokes of bright and beautiful pink coloring over a deep, dark purple spot. I find it significant the author says “The thing is hardly  visible (a lot like mostly a heart singing?) – it is not completely hidden. It’s there. It lingers. Not quite haunting. Like a haze that passes over from time to time (like the clouds that swept over the coast of Portugal one morning as we headed to the beach – photo above).

One might think cancer haunts me. No. It’s not like that. It’s more like an anchor. A counter weight. Something that keeps my life in balance. Blesses with me with perspective, understanding, grace, clarity. Something that holds me in place, in peace.

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

LOVE

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Mom & Dad

I vividly remember the day we all went to the hospital for my mastectomy. I was so calm and utterly afraid at the same time. I felt strong and like I could fall apart in a moment. I was vulnerable yet determined.

Mostly, I remember the incredible love and support surrounding me. Jim at my side – always reassuring me and knowing just what to say to keep my heart from feeling heavy. And, there were my parents, who arranged their plans to be with us.

We were all in the waiting room, although not for long (for once, hardly a wait!). I remember sitting across from my parents. I could tell they felt much the way I did – vulnerable yet determined. I recall glancing up at them and how the power of their love washed over me. I wrote LOVE out of that memory.

My parents will celebrate their golden 50th wedding anniversary on February 22nd. I am looking forward to honoring this incredibly special love that has been at the foundation of my life. They are Valentine role models!

I love you, Mom and Dad. Every day I am grateful for you.

LOVE

by Vicki L. Flaherty

They sit quietly.
They are calm, or so it appears.
They hold each other’s hands,
channeling their strength to each other.
They steal glances and kisses,
grounding themselves in the love that bonds them together.
They smile,
They speak soft ly, kindly.
They focus on being supportive.
They are here to give.
They continue to give.
It’s never-ending, a parent’s love.

 
Their precious baby girl.
A grown woman now.
A challenge along her journey.
They want to remove the obstacles for her.
Yet, they know, as they always have, this is her path.
She’s strong.
She’s spirited.
She can do this.
In her own unique way with grace.
And, how do they know?
The same way they knew she’d climb all the mountains before:
LOVE.
Their love.
It gives.
It continues to give.
It’s never-ending, a parent’s love.

© 2012, Vick Flaherty, Mostly My Heart Sings