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Archive for July, 2011

After hospital and emergency surgery, I have spent the month at a much slower pace, trying to recuperate. “Rest,” my doctor said. Easy for her to say, but there were some things too important to put on the back burner, namely ATHENA.

This takes some background info. Last year through divine providence I met MarthaMertz, the founder of ATHENA International (http://www.athenainternational.org/). Twenty-eight years ago, Martha had a vision about women and leadership. I highly recommend you read her book, Becoming ATHENA, for the history of her very important journey. It is powerful, intelligent, and inspiring.

On her quest to learn how women lead, Martha realized that women use eight principles for leadership. When I read her book, I “got it” immediately and thought, “These are rules for all of us to live by. These would be wonderful taught at the prison.” I asked Martha if she would like to go to prison to do a program for Gina’s Team, our organization that brings educational programs into prisons and juvenile facilities.  That request is usually greeted by stunned silence, but Martha also “got it.” She immediately said, “Yes.”

So last December, Martha went to Perryville Prison in Goodyear, AZ for Gina’s Team to conduct an “ATHENA World Café” to introduce the women in prison to these principles. Here they are:

 The ATHENA Leadership Model*

Live Authentically. Being true to yourself. An inner clarity centers in core beliefs, grounded in ethics, and honed through reflection. A sense of purpose, pursued with integrity. Authenticity is the single most important quality of leadership. Leaders know their values and remain true to them.

Learn Constantly. Continuous development of skills and competencies, regardless of your level of achievement. Understanding built on experience, intuition and self-directed learning. The art of listening; the ability to learn from role models, bad as well as good. Leaders seek knowledge.

Advocate Fiercely. Passionate, personal devotion to something that deeply matters. Acting with unswerving commitment tempered by respect and compassion. Generating a powerful force for good. Leaders champion what they believe is right.

Act Courageously. The willingness to stand alone and speak the truth, to question assumptions or challenge the status quo. The determination to act honorably, consistent with your values, even in the face of fear or loss. Leaders dare.

Foster Collaboration. Valuing the gifts each individual brings, with a perspective that is global and a spirit that is inclusive. Deepening understanding, awareness, and knowledge through diversity. Encouraging participation from those who are often overlooked. Leaders welcome others to the work of leadership.

Build relationships. Connecting genuinely with those around you. A willingness to bond with others, profoundly and productively, with trust and respect; to reach beyond status and self-interest in search of meaningful connections. Leaders engage, empower, and trust.

Give Back. Leaving a worthy legacy for your community and the world. Recognizing that with success comes a responsibility to enrich the lives of others. Generously devoting voice, position, and resources to advance the greater good. Leaders serve.

Celebrate. The age-old practice of gathering to mark important times. Strengthening bonds of unity through creative expression, rituals and traditions. Memorializing moments, triumphant or tragic; sharing joyful or solemn reflection. Leaders remember and rejoice.

The women in prison also “got it.” The feedback was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. We then went to prison officials to see if we could teach it as a continuing program.  We were delighted when the answer was Yes. And so Martha’s new journey began. She has taught ATHENA Leadership in China, India, Dubai, and all over Europe and the United States, always to women who already have a measure of success and education. This would be the first time in prison where 50% of all inmates enter with less than an eighth grade education.  Rarely do they think of themselves as leaders and for some, this could very well be a paradigm shift.

Martha didn’t want to teach this alone. She wanted to team teach with me. I was thrilled and deeply honored. As a former prisoner, there is no doubt I have an “inside knowledge” of how things run as well as what inmates’ expectations are.  However, since I am a former inmate, we had to get special permission for me to be allowed back in to teach this class and are grateful that the administration shared Martha’s vision and decided to allow it. Once all this was accomplished and class schedules were set, we attacked the curriculum. Our first class was June 23.

Research done. Curriculum completed. Handouts copied.  All very professional. We are ready. But we are women and so we also had another serious conversation, “What are we going to wear?” There are lots of rules, beginning with no orange (no problem for me), no brown or khaki, no low-cut or sleeveless tops, no short skirts, no excessive jewelry. But I do know that inmates are starved for color so I always recommend that to our volunteers. Finally we really are ready.

 To be continued…

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If you remember, last Thanksgiving I started the reconstruction journey with a preventative mastectomy on my opposite side and expanders inserted in my chest. I started it with deep gratitude that I was still alive and I have Medicare. Two weeks after the first surgery I had to go back in for the surgeon to remove a large triangle of necrotic skin that refused to heal. More anesthesia brain but never mind. I’m so thankful to have such a great surgeon.

After that healed, every two weeks I went in to have the expanders filled. What’s that like? Imagine being hit in the chest with a baseball bat. Oh well, the pain only lasts a day or so. The problem is, one breast was fuller than the other (radiated skin takes more to stretch);  add to the equation, one was lower than the other. Nothing fit and I wore the same two black baggy sweaters the entire winter. My friends graciously chose not to notice.

Finally in March, the last surgery. The expanders were removed and the implants put in. At my age I only wanted a small B cup, just so my clothes fit and I wasn’t lopsided anymore.  And that is what I got. It was wonderful. For nearly four glorious months, I had a 65 year old body with a 20 year old chest! I was balanced. I didn’t have to wear that big brown rubber prosthetic on my chest that feels like a heater. I was so grateful and happy.

Then two weeks ago I woke up and realized I was lying on a wet sheet. When I turned on the lights, I saw that my previously healed incision was leaking and the skin on my chest the diameter of a basketball was bright red and very hot. I knew something was wrong but told David I would call the doctor in the morning. Why are we all so stoic?

When I did call at 7:30, she immediately ordered me to meet me at her office. She took one look and said it was hospital for me. Turns out I had a very serious staph infection brought on by the radiated skin rejecting the implant. I can’t explain it but it seems to happen a lot. I spent the next two days hooked up to uber anti-biotics and Sunday night she removed the implant. I felt so sad, like I was losing the same breast twice. Thankfully, that didn’t last long. Yes, my clothes don’t fit again. Yes, my chest is lopsided and I’m still battling the infection which is now about the size of a softball, but I am alive. I am so thankful to have a wonderful surgeon and a husband that kicks into caregiver without a single complaint.

What’s next for me? I’m healing and have taken this week to rest. I feel really tired and look forward to regaining my energy. Next November, right before Thanksgiving (sound familiar) I will go in for the alternative to an implant. It’s a surgery called a tram flap, longer and more complicated but not prone to rejection. I do so want to be balanced. Nine years of lopsidedness and the dreaded brown rubber breast are enough.

With respect to Oprah, here is “what I know for sure.” There are other women who have it much worse in this breast cancer battle, especially women in prison. I know that journey. It is lonely and scary, inside even more so.  If you know anyone in the midst of the journey, hug them, send them a loving card, show them you care. It is a difficult journey, unique for each person. We all respond differently to treatment, but everyone responds to love, inside or out.

If you have a survivor story, I’d love to hear it and I know my readers would too. That’s what inspires us all to keep going.

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