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tunnel vision

Been looking at this tunnel for months now.  This year hasn’t been the best, but I really can’t gripe much, because it could be worse.  Yes, things can get worse.  I’ve had those years too.  It’s been a while since I felt like pieces of the sky were falling, and hitting my head, but this year has taught me that it is time to bring out the safety helmet before the next piece of sky whacks me.

I don’t mean to sound negative, and I am sure that there are plenty of oh woe is me blogs out there, and I am really not that type of person.  Mostly I’ve been numb and just not dwelling on this cancer in my breast.  I am good at avoiding stuff. When things get tough, I have a knack for just not thinking about a problem if there is nothing I can do about it. I have to say, this problem has given me pause though. Time to think about where my life is, where I want it to go, and things I haven’t done that I want to do.  We all think about things that way sometimes, right?  I mean, I know I can’t be the only person who has felt these things.

I feel like I have kind of skipped all those stages of grief that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about, and just went straight to numb. As numb as the armpit and shoulder where the lymph node was removed.  I’m glad for small things, like finding out this cancer has a 94%ish cure rate, and that the lymph node was negative.  It almost makes me feel ashamed for feeling this numbness.  But it is there, and I can’t make it go away, so I am focusing now on the light at the end of the tunnel.  And allowing myself to be numb for the moment.  Thinking as I watch the clock tick away and the hours go by until this next surgery later this morning to remove the cancer cells that were missed, and that the tissue biopsy revealed.

So I look at Goliath and wonder what it will be like to have a breast with a crater in it, dread being put to sleep and the loss of control over my own body, dread the discomfort and pain afterward because I am so effing ready to be well again, and not this recovering surgery patient.  I want my effing life back, things back to normal.  I have SHIT TO DO.

So, hurry up sunrise, and let’s get this show on the road.  I have a life to live.

the light at the end of the tunnel

 My parting shot is a favorite Pink song, that exactly fits my mood right now…(alert, explicit language)…

Is there anything in life BETTER than rock and roll????  

 …life is good, dammit, so raise your glass!!… ~cath
i am @jonesbabie on twitter

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sex, drugs, and rock & roll

#Friday Reflection prompt: Reflect on how it’s important to make the most out of life.

Several weeks ago Wretch noticed the Steve Miller Band was going to be performing  in concert  in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in June. I told her to book three tickets and we would drag Stevie Wonder along to it. We’d missed the Magic City Art Connection and Corks and Chefs on April 26 because SW decided to break his pacemaker that weekend. We gave away three tickets so that Wretch and I could spend the weekend watching SW lie in a hospital bed in ICU waiting for a new ticker on Monday.

At the end of May, after a couple months of testing and retesting with mammograms, ultrasound and needle biopsy, I got the verdict. Breast cancer, caught early, and was told the recommendation. Surgery (lumpectomy), radiation, and oral medication for a few years. Not a problem. I was ready.

Then it hit me.

The concert I had waited patiently for was in a couple weeks.

Oh hell no, I thought to myself. I am not missing this concert, or dodging elbows with a boob that is in a sling. I talked to the surgeon, and although my oldest daughter wasn’t keen on it (neither was middle sister when she found out later on), Wretch understood where my brain and heart were. With the music. The surgeon assured us I that I would not drop dead if I put my surgery off for 3 weeks.

So I did.

Sunday my ass was sitting in a pool of sweat in a plastic stadium seat heated to oven temps by the 90F setting sun at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. I sipped a glass of red wine in a plastic cup, groped SW a bit, and enjoyed some of the best music from the 70’s played by a couple of great bands, now old farts like me. (Steve Miller is 71.)

And damn, they can still play.

Some things just get better with age.

…rockin the good life… ~cath
i am @jonesbabie on twitter

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don’t bury me yet!

Today I got the verdict. After almost 2 months, a mammogram, a repeat mammogram, an ultrasound, and a needle biopsy. 

I have cancer.

There. I can say it. Because several weeks ago I had a meltdown thinking all the what ifs. So I am past all that shit, and to the point where I am just ok, tell me what the percentages are, what my options are, and let’s get this show on the road. 

My youngest daughter and I were sharing a Subway sandwich when the phone call came. She had just had a job interview, and we went out to grab a bite. And of course, after waiting for days, the call managed to come at a not so convenient time. But really, when you are getting news like that, is there ever a convenient time?

So, after about one split second, I thanked the surgeon for calling me, and made an appointment to see her in two days to talk about my options. Being a nurse, and having discussed possible options while I was having the needle biopsy, I kind of already know where I will probably go with this. 

The bad news was that it is breast cancer. But between you and me? I knew when I saw it on the ultrasound that it most likely would be. So today was kind of anticlimactic. Meh. 

The good news? That it is very small, 7-8mm. Coming from the boomer generation, I had to use my converter app to figure out just how little it was. Eight millimeters is equal to 0.3149606299 inches. (Is that even a real number?) If you ignore all but the first two digits, that is less than a half inch. Little bit more than a quarter of an inch. Tiny. With, I am told, a 90-95% cure rate. That is good news.

I told the family, they were kind of subdued. A little bit of texting, a couple phone calls and silence. My family IS NEVER SILENT. So I can feel the gears in their brains working, from here to the west coast. I told Wretch before she left me at my office to tell Steve not to bury me yet.

It is going to take a lot more than a little lump the size of my smallest finger nail to stop me. 

Although I am thinking, maybe I could ask the surgeon to slip with the scalpel and do a tummy tuck while she is resculpting my right breast to match my left.

So, don’t bury me yet.

Oh, and ladies?  GET YOUR MAMMOGRAM. This cancer was so deep and tiny it couldn’t be felt, not by me or the surgeon. The mammogram we all love to bitch about having has most likely saved my life.


…life really is good. ~cath 
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter

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the week of living dangerously

The past week has been beyond weird for my family.  Specifically, for Stevie Wonder, Wretched Daughter and Grumpy Grammy.  It started out normal enough last Monday, April 20th.  But by Thursday it began to go downhill.  I’m going to share my week since then so that if you experience anything remotely like it, you will realize you aren’t alone.

Thursday SW (Steve) told me he had another dizzy spell.  This had been occurring more frequently the past few weeks, but I remembered that he first complained of some dizziness months ago (I tend to file information like that for future reference).  I got really insistent (the kids say I am overbearing when I am like this and they are right) that he call his cardiologist on Friday and tell them what was going on.

Friday he did just that.  Fridays are my off days now, and so I listened as he dealt with it.  The doctor’s nurse left a note with the doctor, and Steve paced waiting for the call back, which came late morning.  He was told to call the pacemaker clinic, who tried to access his pacemaker via the wireless machine that sits on his bedside table.  Only today, for some reason they didn’t receive any data…so next call was to St Jude’s to talk to the tech, who told him the transmission had gone through.  More phone calls followed, and finally the nurse asked Steve if he needed to go to the ER, and of course he said no, he was fine right then.

Saturday, SW went with Wretch  to Wal Mart, and he had a spell so bad he grabbed Wretch’s arm in the parking lot and bent over, which freaked her out.  He insisted on going in and shopping, leaning on a shopping cart (something he had never ever done before).  When they left, she called me even though he didn’t want her to.  My response was simple:

Take him to the nearest after hours clinic or ER NOW.

Princeton Hospital lobby

Steve agreed and Wretch carried him to the nearest clinic to have his vital signs checked and be triaged.  The staff at the After Hours Clinic told him that since he was a heart patient with a pacemaker, he should to go straight to the ER.  Steve, being the cooperative person he was, said he would, but to Princeton Baptist ER in Birmingham, an hour away.  Deb was totally wretched now about what to do, and I told her that if his vitals were ok (blood pressure was somewhat elevated but he was not symptomatic) then to come home on their way and get me.  (This decision would be a pivotal one later that day).

I had been putting some color on my hair (of all days to do it!) and by the time they got to the house I was almost ready to go.  I was giving orders about medications, clothes, etc to pack, because I KNEW they would keep him.  Don’t ask me how, I just knew what I felt the problem was after spending the time waiting on them reviewing all the odd signs and symptoms over the past several months.

Off we went to the ER, Steve quiet most of the way, until he said:

I feel worse today than I did the day they put the pacemaker in.

He could not put his finger on it, just a general feeling of unease.  I kept asking him different questions about how he felt, pain, etc.  Nothing but the feeling of just “feeling bad”.  This hardened my resolve as we got to ER.  Within a short period of time Steve was on a bedside monitor that showed a normal rhythm being paced.  The physician’s assistant came in shortly after that and had multiple tests run on Steve.  All were ok,  No odd findings and Steve was still feeling ok at this point.

Watching Steve, I still felt in my gut that something was not right.  Steve suddenly said:

I’m getting really dizzy now.  It’s bad.

I jumped up and stood looking at the monitor while this happened.  AND I SAW IT.  What had been causing my gut feeling.  Steve’s pacemaker was firing, but the ventricular lead was not causing a ventricular contraction as it should be doing.  So what I saw was several pacer spikes, with no heartbeat.  Then SW’s heart kicked back in and he said:

Ok, I feel better now.

I stood there watching him and saw 4 more episodes happen.  A few seconds each, it caused Steve to become extremely dizzy lying perfectly still on the exam table.The PA came in, and when he indicated they would probably send Steve home because they couldn’t find anything, I told him I didn’t think so.  I described what I had seen.  The PA  told us he was going to talk to the ER doctor.  In a couple minutes the doc came in.  He was very kind (as all the staff had been) and listened to me.  I explained what I saw and he said he had looked through the last hour’s strips and couldn’t see anything like that.  I told him in a firm but polite voice that I didn’t know what time it had happened, but that I was a nurse and  knew how a pacemaker was supposed to function, and THIS ONE WASN’T.  He smiled at me (a real smile, not a condescending one) and said he believed me, and that he would go look some more.  He said the tech from St. Jude’s was coming to interrogate the pacemaker just to be safe, at which time I relaxed just a bit.  The doc left to chase the elusive pacemaker strip, and while I waited, Steve had the worst episode he’d had, his heart rate dropping to 28 and getting very anxious and dizzy.  I stepped to the door and hollered for the first staff member I saw (turned out to be another ER doc but I didn’t know that) and I explained again, in a slightly less polite tone of voice, and thank god, this time I had a witness!  He listened to me explain briefly what had been happening, and I told him the episodes were getting more frequent and I was not taking him home until this was addressed.  He told me he would go talk to the doctor, and I waited again.

In just a minute or so the ER doc came in waving a paper and said “I found it!  You were right, and I also saw this last episode happen while I was finding this.”  At this point I looked at him and said “I knew I was right, I’ve been reading monitors for 20 years, and the ER doc said they were moving Steve immediately to the ICU part of the ER and were going to externally pace him.

More tests, external pacing (don’t let anyone ever tell you having your heart paced externally isn’t painful), and an injection of Morphine and Versed into Steve’s IV to calm him and help him rest. THAT lasted about 15 minutes, at which time he woke up, said he needed a shot of Scotch, and then made a ribald comment about me, at which the nurses at the desk laughed and asked if we needed the curtains drawn.  I told Steve sternly to BEHAVE or I would fix his pacemaker permanently myself.  He laughed and we waited….

He went to the CICU (Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) after the St. Jude’s tech told me he thought the wire was fractured.  To test this theory, while SW was in the ER ICU, the tech turned Steve’s pacemaker off briefly twice, and during those few seconds, Steve thought he was dreaming, but to us he looked like a dead person, skin waxy, eyes and mouth open and body jerking.  Wretch got through the first episode, but the second time I told her to get some fresh air and she left in tears.  I knew what was happening and the technology around me, and felt secure with the situation.  She just saw her daddy die in front of her.  Twice.

To cut things short, the pacemaker was defective for some reason, although Steve had been too vigorous with his activities and was told to take it easy on his left arm from now on by the surgeon who replaced the whole system on Monday.  Yep, Stevie Wonder had worn a 7 year pacemaker out in 2 years.  Not something the cardiology department saw every day.

By Monday I had also caught some bug and had a sore throat, ears that felt like they would explode every time I swallowed, and a cough that made me feel like I was coughing my lungs up.  But SW had a new lease on life, hopefully more than two years this time, and it was all ok.

I came away from this whole week feeling two things so deep in my gut that it was hard to deal with.

1. On Sunday, while we spent a long day together passing time, Steve took my hand during a moment alone, looked into my eyes and said “thank you for saving my life”.
2. If I had not been a nurse, I would not have known what to say to the doctors.  They were good doctors, willing to listen, but my training helped me identify the solution and communicate it to them. If I were not a nurse, I would not have been able to put all the pieces together in my mind and realize what was happening.

You see, the heart can’t be resuscitated with no electrical activity to sustain the beats.  That is what
fires the beats.  We live so far in the country that he would have died. even with CPR, long before any ambulance could have arrived.

Again I was left with deep feelings of gratitude, and of feeling that the reason I became a nurse goes much deeper than even I realized.

No, SW is alive and waiting for his first post op bite of real food

 …life is sweet; savor every moment. ~cath
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter


uncle bill and the submarine

This was first published as a tribute to my Uncle Bill on Memorial Day in 2011, and I decided to repost it today on Veterans Day as a tribute to Uncle Bill, and all the brave men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States.  Thank you, all.   

Every country has its own traditions for honoring those who serve in the military.  For the United States of America, we have two major days to honor these men and women.  Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. 
Today is Memorial Day.  A day when our country honors those who have served and fallen, and those who continue to serve in our Armed Forces.
uncle bill
I decided to tell this story of my Uncle, Bill Jones, as a tribute to him, and also as a tribute to all the men and women who have served in all the branches of service.
Uncle Bill was my dad’s older brother.  He was about 9 years older than dad.  He enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served on a submarine.  I don’t know a lot of details about Uncle Bill because he died when I was 2 years old, but I will tell you the story I know:
Uncle Bill was young when he enlisted, about 20 years old.  He was assigned to serve on a submarine early in the war.  And the submarine he served on had an important mission: to sneak into Tokyo Bay and prepare for an attack by the US, by sending information back about fortifications in the bay.  Let me add that the US was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the feeling of vulnerability it gave our country.  So this daring plan came about as a way of showing the enemy that we could also hit them at home.
Tokyo Bay was filled with underwater mines.  But Uncle Bill’s ship did sneak in.  And while it sat on the bottom of Tokyo Bay, Uncle Bill had an appendicitis attack.  It was serious enough that he required surgery.  Right there in a submarine sitting on the bottom of Tokyo Bay.
There were two problems:  No surgeon on board (not even a doctor) and no medical supplies beyond the most basic kind.  I guess the thinking at the time was that if a submarine got hit, it was going to go down, and there wouldn’t be much need for a doc or medical supplies at the bottom of the ocean.
What they had on board was someone with the rough equivalent of a medic’s training.  And a medical book that gave information that could be used.  (Sort of a do-it-yourself appendectomy book.)
So the medic (or pseudosurgeon) took kitchen utensils (knives and spoons), and had them modified by a machinist on board, and operated on Uncle Bill using basic anesthesia. 
Uncle Bill survived.  He also survived World War II. 
Hollywood incorporated his story into the movie “Destination Tokyo” with Cary Grant and John Garfield.  They called my Uncle Bill to Hollywood as an advisor on the film. 
How do I know all this?  Because I had a Grammy who loved to tell her granddaughter stories.  I listened to the stories and was amazed at them.  When Grammy told me this one, she also showed me the newspaper clipping about it, and I remember seeing the photo of Uncle Bill standing with some other people on the movie set.  And I have something that was with Uncle Bill while he served:
So every Memorial Day,  I spend a few moments saying a prayer for the safety of those serving.  And I remember the story of Uncle Bill and the submarine.
I also think of all the families who wait at home for the return of their loved ones.  And of all the loved ones who will never return.  Men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
grammy and uncle bill
How did my Grammy manage to get through World War II knowing she had a child on a submarine somewhere in the South Pacific?  She crocheted.  Bedspreads and tablecloths.  With a tiny crochet hook and delicate cotton thread, she worked her worries into works of art.  I have one of the tablecloths she did.  My baby sister has a bedspread.  So for me, that tablecloth is a link to Grammy and how the mothers and wives and sisters and daughters waited and worried and prayed.
God Bless them all.  And God Bless America.

…life is good. ~cath
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter


by any other name, it is still skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma.  Also known as skin cancer, it appeared on my left hand years ago, a tiny reddish spot near my wrist.  It was barely visible, and I hardly paid it any notice, until the past year or so when it started growing in size.  I’d look at it from time to time and think I needed to mention it to the doctor.  But since I rarely went to the doctor, I would always forget to mention it.

Until a few months ago when I finally did mention it and he looked at it.  Then pronounced the fateful words.

“I think it may be a basal cell carcinoma.  Let’s send you to a dermatologist to have it taken off.”

And so I found a dermatologist, who took a biopsy, and called me a few days later to tell me that it was indeed a BCC and that she was sending me upstairs in the clinic to the dermatology surgeon, so that I would have a linear scar instead of a big white flat scar.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that one small skin cancer makes a very large incision scar.  Micrographic surgery will give me a 99% chance of cure and not having to go through this again.  The scar and its size doesn’t bother me.  I am not a vain person after all.  I just wanted it gone and to stay gone.

What I do chafe about is the fact that I have to steri strip it for a month and not bend the wrist too far for a couple months at least, so that the incision has time to heal.  Otherwise it might dehisce and have to be resutured.  I don’t like the fact that I have to stop and think when I do something to make sure I don’t bend my wrist too far.  It slows me down and makes me have to pay attention to a part of my body I never pay any attention to, because I just expect it to do what I want it to do without fuss or muss.  I do not make a very patient patient, but I am trying to be.  To follow doctor’s orders as I have urged so many people to do over the years is difficult when I want to just be done with this whole episode.

Two things I have learned from this experience.
1.  Tanning and overexposure to sun can take years to manifest itself as a skin cancer.
2.  The earlier you seek treatment, the less drastic the treatment will be.  Had I gone to the dermatologist years ago, the scar might not be an inch long now.

Early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Have you looked at your skin lately?  

…life is good. ~cath
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter