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This poem is dedicated to my mom and dad…

 

How many times have we driven past that airport tower, its beacon lighting a path to a future beyond our shores?

How many times have you helped lug my suitcases?

And how many times have you stood by those glass doors,

Waving good bye, wishing me well?

 

The first time, you held back tears as you squeezed my hands in yours.

Good bye for now, you said, go out there and make us proud.

So the plane brought me to my future across the wide, blue ocean.

Hello college, hello knowledge.

 

The second time, I held back tears as I squeezed your hands in mine.

It’s snowing over there, I said, and I miss you already.

Oh, be brave, our dear, be brave. You’ll always be our little girl, you said.

So I put on my winter coat and courage and kept on marching because you believed.

 

How many times have we driven past that airport tower, its calming stillness tugging me to the rootedness of home?

This time, your smiles are tired but you’re beaming.

You say, we’re proud of all you’ve done.

Hey, I say, I may be a grown woman, but I’ll always be your little girl!

 

I walk through the glass doors and turn my head in gratitude.

I’m waving good bye, and wishing you well.

 

Published!  A story I wrote about my personal experience with cancer was published in a cancer newsletter, What Makes You Stronger.   The full version is below for your eyes only:

I remember it well.  It was the 10th day of work at my new job at one of the US’ top 10, fast-paced public relations agency.  It was late Friday afternoon.  I was engrossed in developing a new business proposal when the phone rang.  The voice was that of my breast specialist.

“Sharon, I didn’t want to let the weekend come without calling you first,” she said.  “The core biopsy shows that you have cancer.  My advice is for us to remove the tumor as soon as possible.”

That fateful day.  That fateful phone call.  I was 33.  I had breast cancer.

Just a couple of weeks before, I had felt some pain and a lump at the 12 o’clock position of my right breast.  Upon discovery, I found my way to the breast specialist.  She announced confidently that the lump I felt was probably fibrodenoma, a benign breast lump that was no cause for alarm.

“However,” she added, “just to be safe, I’ll do a needle biopsy for you.”  Well, that needle biopsy led to a core biopsy, and very quickly, to my cancer diagnosis.

After hanging up the phone, I walked out of my office, dazed.  I blurted out the news to Mary, my only colleague left in the office that Friday evening.  Mary leapt to her feet, gave me a big, protective hug, and tears began rolling down my eyes uncontrollably.

Soon, word spread to my circle of family, friends, colleagues and the larger community.  “What?!  This can’t be.  You’re too young!” was a typical reaction.  Indeed, life has thrown me a sour, sour lemon.  What confronted me next was the reality of facing my new life as a cancer patient head-on.

I had a lumpectomy within a week of my diagnosis, and because of my relatively young age and the fact that we haven’t had kids, the doctors recommended that I go through Invitro Fertilization prior to starting chemotherapy and radiation.  I injected myself at 10pm sharp every night to spur the proliferation of eggs in the uterus.  Under my husband’s loving watch, most of the injections were done in the safety of our home.  But on a memorable evening, with syringes in toll while on a company retreat, I wandered into public restroom in a crowded Las Vegas Hotel, and proudly carried out my nightly duty.

The IVF procedure was successful, and the doctors fertilized eight embryos.  So now, when anyone asks if I have kids, I tell them, “I have eight frozen ones!”

As soon as IVF was over, I started chemotherapy, one session every three weeks.  As soon as my hair started falling, I found myself on the barber’s chair, chopping them off before I lost them all.  Wigs and hats and scarves became my constant companions.  Throughout the chemo sessions, I continued working a full-time, sometimes-overtime schedule, with just a couple of days off around the chemo sessions.  I don’t know how I did it.  I pray never to have to go through this again, and pray for this dreaded disease not to befall upon any more family members.  After all, I was the third, after my parents, in my immediate family of five with a cancer diagnosis.

Radiation followed chemotherapy, and that lasted for almost two months.  When I thought life would resume to normal after radiation, I was greeted with another lemon – a scare on my MRI report, which then began a series of more doctors’ appointments and tests.

Is that another cancerous growth close to my original surgery site, or not?  We didn’t know for sure and the tests were inconclusive.  My only option now was to wait and go through another MRI in six months.

But in the meantime, I have decided that “when life throws you a lemon, let’s make lemonade!”  So, with the support of some friends and family, I threw a “Kiss Cancer Goodbye” party.  We rented a venue with a magnificent view of the lake.  A couple of girlfriends contributed with delicious, healthy, gourmet foods.  We had an on-site chair masseuse for all who desired relaxation.  Another friend, a belly-dancing teacher, dedicated a “dance of health” to me.  Then came a tear-jerker video presented by my journalist friend.  All present responded with love, and some with happy tears.  That was the best day of my life since my cancer diagnosis!

Now, on to making more lemonade.  After radiation, I was recruited to join the Exercise for Bone Health Clinical Study organized by the Northern California Cancer Center.  This study randomizes post-chemo treatment cancer survivors into an exercise or control group.  I was randomized into the exercise group and have since gained a personal trainer, a free YMCA membership and a three times a week exercise regimen.

Throughout the study, I feel I’m contributing to the welfare of future cancer survivors.  And for the very first time in my life, I am taking exercise seriously and benefiting greatly from it.  Radiation fatigue? No more!  Stronger bones?  Definitely!

Now, is trouble brewing?  Is cancer knocking?  Let’s make more lemonade!

###

Xmas Shot

Biography

Thankfully, that suspicious lump turned out to be benign and Sharon has been cancer-free for three years now.  Sharon is a public relations/management consultant and writer.  She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Dan, and cat, Pandora.  She can be reached at www.shotofinspiration.com.

This post is dedicated to Alicia Parlette, her family and best friends.

Alicia P

Photo Credit: Monique Sady, Alicia Parlette's Facebook Page

In 2005, Alicia Parlette, a copy editor who had just started her career at the San Francisco Chronicle, was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer at age 23.  Some people might have chosen to deal with a cancer diagnosis and treatment privately, but from those early days of testing and diagnosis, Alicia had an opportunity to write about her experiences.  She embraced that opportunity fully, and as a result, touched thousands upon thousands of lives.

This morning, I was saddened to read about her death.  And as my eyes devoured the Chronicle story, I found myself moved to tears, and became thoroughly inspired by the way she lived her last few years.  Alicia might have spent only 28 short years in this world, but  she had taught us so many of life’s precious lessons by showing us how to live.  What are these lessons?  Here are my top three, and I’m sure there are many, many more…

  • Find Blessings in the Midst of Tragedy – Alicia wrote that “tragedies are linked with blessings, and that among my many blessings is a chance to write my story.”  Instead of moping and shutting down, Alicia wrote about her experiences with courage and warmth and opened up her world to many others who may have had to face similar situations.  Her Facebook page is full of wall posts from people thanking her for having inspired them.  Here are a couple:  “My dad has cancer, and reading about her struggle helps me and continues to as my dad fights against this horrible disease.” (Leslie Beebe).   “To her family and closest friends… I, too, watched and waited as I lost my best friend… the longest and yet most meaningful three weeks of my life.” (Linda Petsche)
  • Pursue Your Dream – Come rain or sunshine, sleet or snow, or even the dreaded Cancer, Alicia never lost sight of her dream to become a writer.  She wrote that that “if I go through this life-changing ordeal and my body just wears out and I die, I will die a writer. The one thing I’ve always wanted to be.”  Indeed, the one thing she had always wanted to be, she became.  Shortly after the very first part of her series titled “Alicia’s Story” was published, the San Francisco Chronicle received an outpouring of feedback – more than 2,300 people from around the world wrote, emailed, called or posted online comments.  Alicia had struck a chord.  Alicia’s story was their story.  Alicia, you became a writer indeed, and one who will not be forgotten for a long, long, long time.
  • Life is Never Too Short to Love - I read of the love between Alicia and Lucas Beeler, about how they met on BART back in October, and how even as her last days drew closer, they decided to have  a private commitment ceremony.  And by the time I got to the part about Lucas giving her the wedding ring worn by his mother and grandmother, I could not stop my brimming tears.  

As one of the thousands of others who relate to your story, having had parents who were diagnosed with cancer, and having lost my dad and having survived cancer myself, I thank you deeply, and salute you for sharing your story and your life with us.  You may have lived 28 short years, but from the number of people you have touched, the lives you have changed, the pure soul that so clearly shines through in your writings, you must have lived at least 200 years, not!?

***

Note:  Contributions in Alicia’s memory may be sent to the Alicia Parlette Fund for Aspiring Journalists, Reynolds School of Journalism, Mail Stop 310, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557.  You can also share your thoughts, memories, prayers, or make a donation in her name at www.msparlette.com.

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This is a guest post by Jarie Bolander, Author of Frustration Free Technical Management.

Innovation and creativity are wrought with setbacks, stumbles and failure. All creative endeavors have that one point where all you want to do is stop. Stop working. Stop thinking. Stop worrying about the project. This place comes by many names – the wall, the edge or the brink.

Small_women_on_the_edge

Defining Moments

All artists, innovators and creative folk have defining moments that test their mental strength. These moments are brink moments when, for brief moments, we let the self doubt, insecurities and negativity get the best of us. These are the places we give up on our dreams. These are the places that make us not want to ever try again. How many of you have let these moments defeat you? How many of you just could not muster enough positive energy to push past this point? It’s sometimes hard to channel enough positive energy when trouble strikes. Remember all those negative people who told you that your dream was stupid. Can you visualize them? Shaking their head. Waving their finger. Telling you to go get a safe, secure, corporate job. Telling you that being an artist, poet, musician, writer or inventor is fine for a hobby, but a job, c’mon, that’s just crazy talk.

Teetering on the Edge

The brink is that defining moment where all hope is lost. Whatever you are working on is just not converging. It’s the point of exhaustion where going on seems impossible. This spot is the single most frustrating point in your life where you question everything. It’s a nasty cocktail of melancholy mixed with terror that feels like your whole world is collapsing in on itself. At this point, where all hope, dreams, desires and ego are on the brink of collapse, will be your most creative moment if you let it.

Embracing the Brink

Creative people need to embrace the brink and the defining moments it creates. The clarity that brink moments can bring is truly astonishing. The brink is the culmination of your creative process. It’s that last little push to finish your blog post, the marathon session to release your software or the one defining experiment that proves your invention. When you feel yourself teetering on the brink, wanting to give up, try these techniques to push past it:

  1. Take a step back: Too often, we get wrapped up in a problem that we lose our objectivity. Take a step back. Let your mind rest and regroup. Then, attack the problem again.
  2. Attack one problem at a time: Inventors sometimes face a myriad of challenges that hit them all at once. The desire is to attack them all at once. This method just distracts from the focus needed to solve difficult problems. The best method: list your problems and work on one at a time.
  3. Adjust expectations: Reaching too far can create artificial barriers that should be carefully analyzed. It’s fine to delay a feature or adjust the form factor as long as progress to the end goal is being made.
  4. Stop making it perfect: Probably the biggest barrier to all creative folks is the perfection fallacy. This mostly stems from critics that might look at your work and find a flaw. Well, get it over it. Most of them will never see the flaw – they will just be happy that you shared your work and ignore the critics – they are just jealous that you released something.
  5. Set a deadline: Real artists release their work. Without releasing your work, you are not an artist, inventor or writer. Sharing your work is how you touch people.
  6. Talk it through with a friend: Just talking through your challenges can inspire different approaches and ideas. Take a friend to coffee or drinks. Candidly discuss your setbacks and ask for advice.
  7. Collaborate with someone else: Sometimes your art is just missing that one piece to make it whole. In these cases, it can do you a world of good to find another artist that can help complete your work. Even sharing credit for your work is far better than not releasing it at all.
  8. Sacrifice something you enjoy till it’s done: Nothing will motivate you more than to sacrifice something you enjoy doing till you solve one problem or release your art.
  9. Celebrate the little wins: The little wins will sustain you until you can push past the brink. In reality, the little wins will build into the big wins and that will lead to your success. So, celebrate a bit when all seems lost.

Embrace the Process

An important thing to remember is that some brink events will momentarily break you. Be ready to accept this, learn from it and move on. None of us is perfect. At times, we will fail but that does not mean we are failures. Whatever you create, the process of creation is also art. Embrace the fact that you put yourself out there, created something and let the world see it, even if it’s not perfect or not what you originally intended.

—-

About The Author

Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently working on breakthrough technology that will reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at The Daily MBA and has recently published his first book, Frustration Free Technical Management.  You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba

circles
Creative Commons License photo credit: lalouque

All things exist independently, yet interdependently.

Time: while the present exists in the here and the now, we can’t dismiss the shaping forces of our past, the consequences in our tomorrows.

Words: while letters are strung together to form words and sentences, they really come to life when we engage in the ideas and concepts conveyed.

Relationships: while two people in a marriage exist as two distinct individuals, these two people will also become one.

Learning about independence and interdependence teaches me a few things:

While I have the freedom to pursue happiness and self-fulfillment, I am at the same time very much a part of our larger world. I must not complain nor point a finger at imperfections, nor take for granted the blessings given me,  I must not stop remembering, remembering that I am part of the fabric of this society, its struggles and triumphs.

I remember my brief sojourn in New York City.

I saw a trembling, lonely, disheveled old lady at Elmhurst Park.

I know we are not in the least bit related.

But then again we are.

I gathered up my courage.

I decided not to fear or run away, not to judge or to blame.

I gently walked over, and offered her my bread.

***

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Please take a moment to drop a comment, perhaps share from your life or observations of how we are independent, yet interdependent?

This post is dedicated to my Singapore family and board members of the Singapore America Business Association and SingaporeConnect.

Growing up in Singapore, I spent many Chinese New Years basking in the carefree banter of a huge extended family, soaking in the vibrant festivities, collecting Ang Paos (red envelops with money!) and wolfing down bak kwa (jerky), pineapple tarts and candy.

We went from relative’s house to relative’s house in a convoy of cars – parents, uncles and aunts with screaming, gleeful kids in tow.  I played and ate at every stop, not realizing those were precious familial moments I would come to miss as I moved to the United States years later.

Well, it’s been too many years since I spent Chinese New Year in Singapore.  I have gotten used to simply celebrating as a little family, and have grudgingly accepted that this day is a regular work day this side of the Pacific Ocean.

But thankfully this year, my spirits lifted with a “shot of inspiration” from the Singapore America Business Association (SABA) and SingaporeConnect (SC).  My husband and I signed up for a SABA-organized Chinese New Year dinner party.  I dressed in a mandarin-collar outfit, sauntered into the Great Mall Mayflower Restaurant in Milpitas, and had a blast!  Well, literally, lion dancers “blasted” into the restaurant as cymbals clashed and drums rolled.  Some 300 people (including many kids) stood mesmerized by their agile jumps and kicks.  Catching up with friends old and new, partaking in a delightful 10-course meal of lor hey (new year dish), pepper crabs, roasted chicken, steamed fish and more, plus getting charmed by karaoke entertainers, I was transported that evening to a “home away from home.”

There are so many of us living in the Bay Area, in the larger United States, who left pieces of ourselves behind when we left our home countries.  How often have we thought back with nostalgia of the many festivities and family members who used to fill our days?  Now in our adopted country, these feelings become stronger during Chinese New Year.

But for that evening, some 300 of us who were far away from home experienced a slice of home.  Many amongst us didn’t have the chance to fly back for that reunion dinner, but we were able to eat, drink, laugh and ring in the Year of the Tiger with our “extended family” in a big and memorable way.

Special thanks to SABA and SC, especially Isabelle Lee and William Chang, for creating community home away from home.

Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

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I haven’t stop thinking about 94-year-old Carmen Herrera ever since I read about her in The New York Times. Her story is such a shot of inspiration that I just have to write about it here.

The story goes that Carmen has a deep love for painting.  It was a compulsion, something she simply couldn’t stop doing.  She started painting back in the 1930s, when she was in her ’20s.  Her paintings focused mostly on geometrical shapes and lines, forms and colors, and were considered  “ahead of her time.”

Rondo (Blue and Yellow)

Carmen Herrera's Painting, Image by cliff1066 via Flickr

Carmen was born in Cuba, lived in New York and Paris and eventually settled in New York.   Through the years, she labored quietly and produced a huge quantity of paintings.  But it was many, many years later, at age 89, that she sold her very first painting.  Today, her art is in in high demand and a recent painting sold at a whopping $44,000!

Now, at age 94, while homebound, resigned to a wheel-chair and afflicted with arthritis, she receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Walker Art Center.  The New York Times story quoted several people on her late-life success:

To bloom into full glory at 94 — whatever Carmen Herrera’s slow rise might say about the difficulties of being a woman artist, an immigrant artist or an artist ahead of her time, it is clearly a story of personal strength,” Mr. Zugazagoitia said.

We have a saying in Puerto Rico,” he said. “The bus — la guagua — always comes for those who wait.”   This came from her good friend Tony Bechara.

Indeed, the bus did come for Carmen and she is now basking in her success.  Reading Carmen’s story teaches me one thing:   If you have a passion, keep at it, keep at it, keep at it.  I’m willing to bet that even if Carmen didn’t receive the recognition she recently received, she will still paint, paint and paint and love, love and love it!

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This is a guest post by Chade-Meng Tan, Jolly Good Fellow (kid you not, this is his official title) at Google Inc.

Over the years, I’ve developed a 4-step plan to deal with my distress. I hope this would be helpful to you too.

In life, pain is inevitable, the suffering is ...

Image by tapperboy via Flickr

My 4 steps are:
1. Know when you’re not in pain.
2. Do not feel bad about feeling bad.
3. Do not feed the monsters.
4. Start every thought with kindness and humor.

1.Know when you’re not in pain.

When you’re not in pain, know that you’re not in pain.

This is a very powerful practice on multiple levels. On one level, it increases happiness. When we are suffering pain, we always tell ourselves, “I’ll be so happy if I’m free from this pain”, but when we are free from that pain, we forget to enjoy the freedom from pain. This practice of constantly noticing the lack of distress encourages us to enjoy the sweetness of that freedom, and thereby helps us to be happier.

On another level, I find that even when experiencing pain, the pain is not constant, especially emotional pain. The pain waxes and wanes and there are times (perhaps short intervals of minutes or seconds) when a space opens up where one is free from pain. The practice of noticing the lack of distress helps us abide in that space when it opens up. This space gives us temporary relief and it is the basis from which we launch our recovery and find the strength to face our problems.

2. Do not feel bad about feeling bad.

We have the tendency to feel bad about feeling bad (“meta-distress”, I call it). This is especially true for good people. We would berate ourselves by saying things like, “Hey, if I’m such a good person, why am I feeling this much anger?” This is even more true for good people with contemplative practices like meditation. We would scold ourselves by saying, “Maybe if you’re actually a good meditator, you won’t feel this way. Therefore, you must be a lousy meditator, a hypocrite, a useless piece of [insert context-appropriate noun]“.

It is important to recognize that distress is a naturally-arising phenomenon, we all experience it from time to time. Even Thich Nhat Hanh, the very symbol of enlightened peace in the world, once got so angry at someone he almost wanted to stand up and slug him.

Also recognize that feeling bad about feeling bad is an act of ego. It’s a reflection of our ego’s image about itself, and the net result is the creation of new distress for no good reason at all. The antidote is to let the ego go, with good humor where possible.

And remember, meta-distress is really bad economics.

3. Do not feed the monsters.

Let’s pretend that things that cause our distress are monsters that arise from and occupy our minds, wrecking havoc on our emotions. What can we do to stop them? They seem so overwhelmingly powerful, we feel so weak just stopping them from arising, and we seem powerless to make them leave.

Happily, it turns out that our monsters need us to feed them in order to survive. If we don’t feed them, they’ll get hungry and maybe they’ll go away. Therein lies the source of our power. We cannot stop monsters from arising, or force them to leave, but we have the power to stop feeding them.

Not feeding monsters is very good economics.

4. Start every thought with kindness and humor.

In every situation, distressing or otherwise, it’s useful to begin each thought with kindness and compassion. Kindness both for oneself and others. The practices most useful for cultivating this quality of heart are Metta Bhavana (Meditation on Loving Kindness) and the Tibetan practice called Tonglen.

In my experience, the most important quality of kindness is its healing effect. Imagine taking a rough, spiky brush and repeatedly brushing it hard and fast on an area of your skin. Eventually, your skin will become inflamed and painful. Kindness is the quality of gently ceasing that harmful brushing action. If you do that, eventually, the skin will heal.

I also find it very useful to see the humor in my own failings. Everytime I lose my temper or involuntarily have a greedy or spiteful thought that doesn’t go away for a while, it’s like I’ve fallen off the wagon again. Of course, I can interpret falling off the wagon as a painful, humiliating and embarrassing experience. However, I found it much more fun to think of the experience as a scene in an old black-and-white comedy. Guy falls off wagon in the context of fast, playful music, makes a funny face, dusts himself off, and then climbs back up on the wagon in a quick, awkward, and jerky motion. It’s all very funny. So everytime I fail, it’s a comedy.

And since I fail so often, my life is a great comedy.

Post by Chade-Meng Tan.  To get more of Chade-Meng’s insights and writings, visit his blog here.

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Nelson Mandela, 2000

Image by LSE Library via Flickr

I have heard much about Nelson Mandela‘s 27 years in prison and his eventual release and election as South Africa’s first president in a representative democratic election.  But I didn’t know how he survive those long, drawn-out years in a tiny prison cell on Robben Island, until I saw the movie Invictus.

In a conversation on the big screen with Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, the captain of South Africa’s rugby team), Mandela (Morgan Freeman) shared with Pienaar that during his darkest moments in prison, his spirit was lifted and sustained by the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, and that he would not have made it through prison if not for the words of this English poet who lived from 1849 to 1903.

In that instant, I was reminded of the power of words to heal and inspire.  I was also reminded how our lives are more intertwined than we realize.  After the movie, I researched further and learned that Henley had written the poem from a hospital bed during a traumatic time after his leg was amputated.  I am sure he didn’t know that one day, many years later, his poem would deeply touch and save another great man – Nelson Mandela – who survived his darkest years to become South Africa’s “national liberator, savior, its George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one (Newsweek).”

I am completely blown away that a poem had saved Mandela’s life and perhaps changed the course of history forever.   Its message is simple.  Indeed Henley and Mandela led by example and showed us how to be “the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls.”

Well, without further ado, here’s the poem, may you be inspired!

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Have you ever had moments in your life when someone or something kindles a spark of gratitude within you and changes your perspective on life ever so subtly, or not so subtly?

Image via Wikipedia

I remember one instance, back when I was barely out of my teens, while attending college as a bright-eyed freshman.  It was the first day of a “Psychology 101” class.  Everyone in class looked around my age, except a 60-plus-years-old African American woman.  I will never forget what she said as we went around a seated circle introducing ourselves.

I have worked hard all my life.  I have made sure my five children grow up the right way,”

She began as her heavy-set chest heaved up and down.

“And now that my youngest has graduated college, it is finally my turn.”

Her happiness, well, glee, was apparent as she flashed a ear-to-ear grin at us.

The class greeted her story with spontaneous applause.  She became my inspiration, and taught me several things that day.  I was reminded of everything my parents have done to give me the opportunity of a college education.  I was inspired by my new friend, who may have delayed her dreams, but never let them out of her sight.

Have you had moments in your life when someone or something kindles a spark of gratitude in you?  Do share, for in sharing, and in knowing gratitude, lies the secret behind a happy heart.

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