Last year, I attended Caterina Rando’s Global Love Day (GLD) event and Caterina asked me to be one of her four speakers at her Global Love Day event last month. At the time I was honored and very excited to be offered this opportunity. Over time I put some thought into what I would say, but as the date got closer, I began feeling stressed about doing this talk. I got more and more nervous and uneasy. I was talking to my friend Katie Macks, telling her that I was going to call Caterina and decline the invitation. Katie encouraged me to step into my discomfort and to contemplate how I could show up and be in alignment with the message of GLD. For those of you who don’t know, Global Love Day is a fundraiser to support specific charities that support women and girls throughout the world. It is an opportunity to come together on behalf of others.
The focus for the speakers was overcoming life’s challenges and identifying how those challenges became the foundation for our becoming fabulous and wonderful entrepreneurs. Here’s the thing: I am very good at talking about what I do, what I’m good at, and what I know a lot about. But I have never spent much time talking about myself. The focus of this talk was supposed to be about my life! I recognized that telling my childhood stories was not comfortable. One of the things that Katie had said was that I needed to be vulnerable. And I was thinking “Oh my goodness, no wonder I’m feeling so uncomfortable, why the heck would I want to stand up in front of 100 women and feel vulnerable?” Good question Cynthia! With this thought in mind, I realized I needed to have a clear focus for my talk. I didn’t want to stand up and tell my “sad ass stories.” Like you, I have stories, stories, and more stories that underwrite who I grew up to be. My burning question was, “How do I have a vulnerable conversation without focusing on my childhood? “
It so happened that in the midst of my turmoil, I attended a workshop where we did a guided meditation. In this meditation, I received a gift from an angel that was connected to my life’s purpose. My gift was a snake. I relate positively to snakes and have always had affinity to them. I have a snakeskin on my mantle, I like the way they feel, I like the way they move, and I like the way they look. There are a lot of metaphors and analogies connected to the snake and after this meditation I felt compelled to connect to my snake self. I don’t really know if I have a snake self, but it seemed like a good idea! In keeping with the snake analogy, I decided to do my talk about shedding my skin.
Shedding my skin does involve a story, one that most people don’t know about me. And, it’s an adult story that has had tremendous impact on the last 25+ years of my life. I’m going to share this with you because it’s important for me to practice this feeling of vulnerability. Here goes.
One night, when I was 32 years old, I was driving home on a winding, dark, back road. It was about 10pm, I was listening to the radio and all was well in my world. Next thing I know, I am waking up from a dream that I’ve been in a horrible car accident. Sadly, it was not a dream and in one fell swoop, my life was not what it had been. I had been hit head-on by a drunk driver going 90 miles an hour on a country road.
As I began to regain my sense of self and my health, I realized two very important things: One, it had not been my time to die, I still had important work to do. Second, every cell in my body had been reorganized and I was not the person I had been before the accident. This was a major shedding and I was reborn in ways that I never could have imagined.
I couldn’t get any buy-in from the medical people about my sense of “cell reorganization” even after I grew five tumors. First was a Fat Necrosis breast tumor. This tumor was caused by the impact from the seatbelt, so, no real worries. Second, I grew a Large Cell tumor on my finger. Third, a grapefruit sized Fibroid tumor in my uterus, which required removing my uterus. Fourth, on my shoulder another tumor grew. At the age of 39, the last, but not least, tumor was an Acoustic Neuroma brain tumor. My good fortune continued as none of these tumors were cancer. That said, the Acoustic Neuroma resulted in the total loss of hearing in my right ear, and the loss of tear ducts and taste buds on my right side. My luck carried me forward as I came through the surgery not looking very different than when I went in.That was not frequently the case, so once again, I considered myself to be a very blessed woman.
I adjusted to life without hearing on my right side. It’s inconvenient but I get along. Soon after I had the Acoustic Neuroma tumor removed I started getting little flicks of pain on the right side of my face. Initially I assumed this was a result of the surgery. As time went on the pain got more frequent and more intense. I contacted the neurologist who had done the surgery and he told me that whatever was happening was unrelated. I saw neurologist after neurologist and nobody knew what was wrong but everyone told me that what was happening had nothing to do with my initial surgery.
Fast forward to 8 or 9 years after the Acoustic Neuroma surgery and the pain had become excruciating. The right side of my face felt like it was being randomly electroshocked and nothing stopped it. Finally, I got a diagnosis and I had a neurological disorder called Trigeminal Neuralgia. I’m assured once again that the Trigeminal Neuralgia has nothing to do with the Acoustic Neuroma surgery, they are not related and there’s no connection.
After several years of misaligned medication and then medication which might’ve helped slightly but rendered me catatonic, I finally decide to have surgery. Surgery was not the first choice because getting to the trigeminal nerve required entering my brain through the same place as the previous surgery. The surgeon didn’t think this was a good idea, but the pain had gotten so horrific that I didn’t care about what “might” happen; I needed some relief. Long story short, the surgeon performed the surgery and low and behold he finds a bone spur left from the Acoustic Neuroma surgery growing into my trigeminal nerve, which had caused all of the horrible pain!
The good news was the pain was gone; the downside was that the right side of my face was numb from having pried the bone spur out of my trigeminal nerve. I am not as numb as when I came out of surgery, but I still have about 60% numbness on the right side of my face and head.
You might understand why I call myself a “gifted survivor.” I clearly see where my perspective, persistence, determination, and ability to manage intense pain are the same tools I have accessed in building business after business. Obviously the business pain was not physical, but at times it was a painful process that required staying the path when letting go would have been easier.
In sharing this piece of my life, I see how who I am shows up where ever I am, whatever situation I am in, regardless of the circumstances. We are shaped by our experiences and I doubt there is much separation between who we are and how we appear in the world.
I encourage you to share a story, perhaps a vulnerable piece, a time when you used your innate and learned skills and when you applied those parts of yourself, you became even more of yourself.