Thursday, 29 March 2012

Like Elvis I have left the building ....for a few weeks anyway!

Yesterday I switched off my work emails until June! The advice to take a few days off before I have surgery next week ringing in my ears. The pre-op at the beginning of the week made it all seem very real. And so the next few days are about getting organised, time with friends and family and of course relaxing.  And it's started well, with a concert by Karine Polwart in Greyfriars Church in Old Edinburgh. An atmospheric setting and beautiful as well as thought provoking concert. I recommend her work if you like fine voices and thoughtful lyrics. It was uplifting and just what I needed after what was an emotional day. And today a walk through the botanic gardens in the sunshine , lunch in the Russian Cafe then a massage leaves me feeling absolutely spoiled. Certainly it's restoring and better than rushing around and working up to wire as I did last year. So I am learning. Every days a school day you see...  Thoughts of the surgery are to be avoided really but I have been thinking about what would be a good outcome. A colleague suggested I was going to get the t..s (ahem) I always wanted!  To be honest i just wanted them to be as they were. But I think that's a pretty unrealistic expectation .  For 17 years I felt very aware of the impact of treatment and this last year I have had to wear a prosthesis. And frankly I hate it. So a good outcome for me is simply be not having to wear it. Anything else will be a bonus. And perhaps most of all doing this gives me my best opportunity to put it all behind me again. My dark side has found me thinking of what I could do with  the redundant prosthesis.  A ritual burning in the garden? Cut it up and feed it to the fish in the Forth? I mentioned to my vegan daughter that a wee marinade and it could pass for tofu in a curry maybe? ( you know to refuse a dinner invite to my house now!)  A less violent end could be a nest for a pink chick, knitted by one of our Breakthrough volunteers. The pink chick has become something of a legend in the office, being photographed I locations all around the UK and even has its own twitter address (BBC Pink Chick for my fellow twitterati). But perhaps the little fella deserves a better nest than that? All ideas welcome of course. Reasons to be cheerful are the support I have had from colleagues to take the time I need to fully recover. Also knowing I am in very good hands next week. My family are being hugely supportive too....and I am grateful to them all.  I am stock piling books and DVDs and the sun has been shining down on us all this week. Long may it all last. I leave you with the words of a song by Karine Polwart  -do look her up, you won't regret it. Follow the Heron Home  The back of the winter is broken And light lingers long by the door And the seeds of the summer have spoken In gowans that bloom on the shore By night and day we’ll sport and we’ll play And delight as the dawn dances over the bay Sleep blows the breath of the morning away And we follow the heron home In darkness we cradled our sorrow And stoked all our fires with fear Now these bones that lie empty and hollow Are ready for gladness to cheer

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Vive la difference?

I have had a busy week, visiting our London office and contributing to senior leadership team meetings, seeing friends and making new ones , chairing several meetings back in Scotland, time with my own team in Scotland ....oh and attending the final of the Institute of Directors dinner in Scotland  as a finalist. I admit I probably spent more in the hairdressers than most of the men there but as the category I was a finalist in was female director of the year , it made me reflect on how else are we different. And it's still very evident that more men are senior leaders and the more you go up the hierarchy the more that is true. It felt a fairly male event, yes the women were there but we were well outnumbered not just as guests but as finalists too.  Recently I read a Harvard review that peer assessment of men and women in successful organisations showed that that in most categories women demonstrated more of the effective leadership behaviours than men. And they weren't just in the soft skills like relationship building, people development etc, they were in problem solving, innovation, energy. When I learned that I had got through to the final and it was in the female category and I did have a moment of ...well is there a male director category? (you know how that one goes I expect). There isn't of course and i expect thats because until there is an equality in the treatment of women in leadership roles, in spite of their abilities , it probably is necessary to highlight the achievements in this way. Of course it's always good to be affirmed in a process like this and as a friend who helped me to see the value in the nomination said...it's a party! And indeed it was, a grand affair attended by cabinet secretaries and ministers as well as some amazing people who were very worthy finalists. Alas I didn't win but the woman who did had lead a programme on violence reduction in Scotland, requiring courage, vision and terrific leadership. A worthy winner indeed, so I wasn't too disappointed. I went to congratulate her, with genuine admiration for her work. She was delighted having only got tickets at the last minute, not a frequenter of such events. She had also just had praise from her child, who she had just phoned to tell the news. I liked her modesty and evident focus on what counts in her life. Let's  hope there is a time when these qualities are equally valued and rewarded in our leaders, because clearly it contributes to their success. I had been practicing my I am not disappointed because everyone's a winner here face, but in truth it's how I felt. I was proud to have got to that stage and to see our work acknowledged externally affirmed. I am immensely proud of all we have achieved since setting up in Scotland. Building on the firm and respected platform of the existing work of Breakthrough Breast Cancer we have campaigned effectively on breast cancer issues, increased our support from all sections of society and the workplace , informed the public on the success of our research and helped more people be informed about how to detect their cancer early. There is much more to do of course but we have got off to a great start. So this blog is to say a huge THANK YOU to the fabulous team in Scotland and my talented and committed colleagues based in London. And even more importantly that THANK YOU goes to our many hard working supporters who do so much to make it all possible. With more women diagnosed each year our work is far from done. So it's sleeves rolled up and on with the important business, the dress is back in the wardrobe but I know our time will come again! Reasons to be cheerful are I met some new people last week at a dinner and really enjoyed my evening with them. Great conversations and insights too. Looking forward to more of that. Also I am meeting an old school friend today, we have a long time to catch up on....and my hairs a different colour.Oops will she know me? And more time with another friend tomorrow..good times. My surgery is approaching fast .I am not sure I am cheerful about that but I know it's the right thing for me...more of that next week.Have a good  week ahead. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

For mothers and their children.

I have been back to work a few busy days and then off to London on Monday. It's my last visit before my surgery so I considered going down on the Sunday evening to allow me to make the most of the trip. But I realised just in time..that it's Mothers day. Close shave! My own Mum is over 80 and has been widowed for 17 years so these days are important.  But Mothers day can be such a time for mixed and powerful emotions. If your own Mum has survived breast cancer ( or indeed any other life threatening condition) then this could be your real opportunity to celebrate with her. And at Breakthrough we developed a lovely way to help you do just that. http://mothersday.breakthrough.org.uk/step1.html So go on spoil her any way you want to. And then there are the Mums like me who are reminded of how precious time with their families is , because the worst fear for me on diagnosis was what if I wasn't going to be there to see them grow up. I lay awake at night and calculated how many years I would need to see them through school, through university, through gap years and broken hearts and then to see them marry, have children, careers and MOST important of all, be happy in their lives. Of course I never got to finite point, a point where I would be ready to leave my time upon the stage , I wanted to be sure I would be here for it all and still do. I remember that not long after my first diagnosis was when Princess Diana was killed. Her children are a similar age to mine and I did feel a deep sadness for them. Never someone who was  particularly captured by her as so many were but what I felt was the human tragedy of a loving Mother who would never have wanted to leave her children. One journalist wrote that whatever else we knew of her, we knew that she would have held her heart together to be there for her children. It made me cry then, stayed with me all these years , and actually has moved me to tears as I wrote it again. It spoke my own truth , I too was that mother who would have held my heart together . And I know the women I have paid tribute to  before in this blog would have too, to have as long as possible with their children. So if you read this having lost your own Mum, know that she would have shared that with us. Mother day is hard for many but take time to celebrate your happy memories and honour them. Rest assured that our work in Breakthrough studying how to prevent, diagnose early and deliver the best care and treatment for breast cancer is all aimed at saving precious lives and changing futures for all affected by breast cancer and making sure that the future allows more families to celebrate Mothers day together. Do get involved if you can support us in what we do, it's supporters who make it all happen. You can find out more on www.breakthrough.org.uk. Reasons to be cheerful are of course here I am celebrating Mothers day after a restorative holiday. Spring is here and the weekend awaits. I hope you have a good weekend too, enjoying precious time with your Mother if you can but if not treasuring happy memories. But most of all being happy, its what all us Mums want. 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Being a snowbird

I had a little break from blogging having just enjoyed a much needed break in the sun. I got away from the demands of work, the iPad, blogging and twitter too! Quite the achievement really. What I didn't get away from however were boobs. A week in the sun they are everywhere. There were big ones, small ones, pert ones, pink, white and brown ones...and yes you are right that was just the men! So I figured my asymmetrical ones were not going to be noticed by anyone .... I therefore relaxed and stopped fretting. So i haven't had time for a long blog so  I wrote a wee poem....ahem! So the snowbirds land  Flying low across resting volcanoes To the land of black rocks  And glistening sea To the cacti of comedic shapes And palms providing a green break from the ash They are young and old Attracted by the sun and light For promises of happiness Some of it measured in hours Their relationships restored by time For storytelling and creation of new shared memories And so they stay Some for weeks , bronzing and  Creating a rhythm to their stay Punctuated by unrushed walks And meals slowly savoured Others like us dip in For a brief stop Carefully absorbing the restorative sun and light Time for rest , reading and contemplation Storing peace and preparing  ourselves  For what lies ahead.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The important questions?

A week is a long time in a charity and I embraced Monday tentatively. Less well than I wanted to be but determined to reclaim my life...but now its Friday I am feeling more human. More of those antibiotics have helped and the relief of a negative chest x-ray allowed me to let go of a growing burden of worry. I really hope it's all behind me now. It's been great to get back into the cut and thrust and also to be able to make plans for when I'm  off for my planned surgery. I realise I am going to have to tell people why I am off. With my history the suggestion of sick leave leaves people speculating on my demise. So no don't worry, not that but my attempt to restore symmetry and put all of this behind me. And one friend asked me in typically direct style..so are you getting big ones? Answer that... No is the honest answer but if pert is an option that's my hand up!  I had to pull out of some meetings around the constitutional debate this week due to workload demands. My role is to understand what the range of options might mean for people affected by breast cancer. And at this point in time it's honestly hard to know. Devo max ( is that not an antacid?), devo plus, indy max, you name it we have heard of it. But we have yet to understand or explore it all. At this stage my biggest concern is , will all the focus on the constitutional debate take eyes off the real issues important to the 4.500 women diagnosed every year in Scotland?How do we prevent the relentless increase of women being diagnosed? How can we ensure earlier diagnosis? Can we make personalised treatment and care a reality for everyone in times of economic hardship? Maybe my most important role is to ensure these questions are not forgotten. I recently read that Scotland rates 15 in the world on  soft power - meaning, in Joseph Nye’s classic definition, “the ability to influence others through culture, values and ideology rather than threat, violence or other forms of coercion."  It struck me that in my role it's soft power I utilise to influence change. It's good  news that Scotland measures so highly. I do believe we  have a collective responsibility to retain and build on this. So maybe those of us in the third sector have an important part to play? Reasons to be cheerful. It's light now when I am going to and from work and the signs of spring are plentiful. I have a short break to look forward to now I am getting better. And my girls weekend awaits . How lucky am I?