Monday, November 22, 2010

15 years in the making

15 years ago I seriously thought about entering the health care field as a physical therapist. I went as far as taking a couple of science classes and putting in 150 hours as a volunteer in a hospital and sports rehab clinic. I think I would have enjoyed being a pt but was discouraged by the thought of going back to school and nixed the idea. 3 or 4 years ago I started thinking once again about the health care field. This time I was considering pt or nutrition but again the thought of school slowed me down. I really don't like sitting in a classroom and I also don't want to be a broke student again so the thought of school doesn't make me happy at all. I didn't really nix the idea of pt or nutrition this time, I just didn't make any moves.

So here I am once again, thinking things over. I thought about social work for a ny minute. Mostly because mine helped me so much and partly because I wouldn't need so many prerequisites to get into that program. I often find myself thinking about new careers when I move to a new area and have to start looking for work, as is the case right now. And I have finally made a move towards that career in healthcare. A lot of factors have pushed me over that edge of indecision. For one thing, I found myself applying for the same job as I did years before. I have been working as an accounts payable clerk for the last 8-10 years and while I am great at it, I really can't go further into the accounting field unless I take more accounting classes. And while I love math and loved the hectic pace of ap life, I always felt that if I had to work holidays and crazy hours (to meet deadlines) then I wished it was for something more worthwhile like saving lives or something. More importantly, I found myself applying for jobs that I wasn't qualified for at all, such as patient care assistant at one of the hospitals. I actually called the hospital to see what I could do to try and get one of those jobs and I discovered that you can take a course to become a certified nursing assistant (cna). Yes, in as little as 5-8 weeks I could get enough training in and take a test and start working with patients/residents.

After much research and some soul searching and a leap of faith, I am now a week and a half into my cna program. I have already put in 25 hours in the classroom and 16 hours in at a skilled nursing facility and am loving it so far despite my inadequate bed bath skills today that left me sweating (and not from a hot flash). I have to admit that I was a bit nervous that I had to put in my clinical hours working with the elderly as I have posted before that I'm a bit afraid of them. I've never been around the elderly too much. None of my grandparents lived near us or lived too long. My one grandma did move in with us the last couple of years of her life but she could get around pretty well on her own. We didn't have to dress her or bathe her or feed her. We cooked for her but I bet she could have done that on her own. So anyway, 2 days in and I really enjoy my residents. Many of them don't speak much, if at all but I talk to them because I know they can understand me some of the time and sometimes I can get a smile out of them. I find my hours in the classroom pretty tolerable because it is practical and I'm learning so much.

Where do I go from here? Well, I will be looking for work once I get my certificate and will most likely end up at a skilled nursing facility. My days at the nursing home are filled with feeding, giving bed baths, changing and cleaning residents, using lifts to get them out of bed and transferred to a wheelchair and dealing with dementia and depression. And while that is going on I'd like to start taking a bunch of science classes I need before I can apply to get into nursing school. That could take me a couple of years which is why I wanted to go ahead with my cna program. I've had this burning need to start helping people and couldn't wait to get started. It's hard work especially for someone like me who likes to be good at something immediately. Giving a bed bath (quickly) and taking care of multiple residents (in a timely fashion) is going to take lots of practice. But it sure is rewarding.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

making strides, san francisco style

Giant trees, dancing lions, bison, ocean waves breaking and lots of pink men and women walking. Hmm...must be in san francisco golden gate park for the 2010 American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event! DW and I were excited to be a part of the walk this year. After all, our good friend has worked for acs for years and works very hard on the northern california strides walks. I had the chance to volunteer last friday and help set up in the rain with my friend and dozens of acs workers, getting everything prepared for the walk on saturday. Banners were hung, tables decorated in pink and white, signs readied for placement along the route, thousands of tees folded in the gift shop tent, intermittent music played as the sound people worked on the stage area, port-o-potties stocked. A lot of time and effort go into these events pretty much year round. Marketing/advertising, logistics, coordination and the works. The payoff is the massive amount of money raised for research, programs and outreach. Over $574,000 has been raised so far from the bay area walks alone.

staying alive
Saturday came and went without the promised rain! DW and I joined 20,000 other walkers and enjoyed a 5 mile walk in a beautiful park setting, passing cheerleaders, the ocean, windmills and bison along the way. We got to the park just after the ceremonial kickoff so missed the rah-rah speeches but did get to see the lions (sorry don't know the name of the group performing) which are one of my favorite things! 20,000 is a ton of people but the venue is large and the start is rolling so for the claustrophobic, be unafraid. Also happy to report that traffic, parking and toilets were not a problem at all which is uncommon for an event this size. Since we missed the "official" start we took our time looking around at all the booths and also bought some t-shirts and other pink stuff.  I think I am really getting used to this cancer and brca thing because I was not emotional at all, just out for a fun walk in the park, even as I wrote down names of loved ones and decided who I was walking for. Since this was a breast cancer specific walk, decided to just put my family's names down that had bc and since my sticker read "making strides for" decided to just put down the ones still alive, since it's too late to make strides for the dead. At this point, I realized that everyone who is still alive from cancer (except for one, non-blood aunt) survived breast cancer. I know bc still kills many people, but in my family it has actually killed none. I don't know if that is because of the type we get, or if it has been caught early or because almost everyone had a mastectomy, but we get lucky when it comes to the boob cancer! Here are the numbers of birthdays we have celebrated post treatment: wt 0 (pbm), me 1(lumpectomy), sis-in-law 5 (lumpectomy), dad 10 (mastectomy), aunt 35+ (double mastectomy). Those are impressive numbers also considering my grandfather survived 10 years and an aunt around 30 after their mastectomies before dying of other cancers. Well that's a lot of damn breast cancer, you must be thinking...I surely must have been fearful of my own risk! Well, no call me stupid but I just did not know. So you see there is still a great need for education about risks. And while this walk had some great signs around the course reminding people about the importance of mammos, etc I would love to see more info about hereditary cancer. This would be the perfect audience to preach to since many of us are there in honor of family members. Having been to events by komen, livestrong and acs, I wish this was a banner or sign for all to see:
If you or any family member has had:
ovarian or fallopian tube cancer at any age 
breast cancer at age 50 or younger
breast cancer in both breasts at any age
both breast and ovarian cancer 
male breast cancer
If more than one family member on the same side of the family has had any of these cancers:
breast cancer 
ovarian or fallopian tube cancer 
prostate cancer
pancreatic cancer
See a genetics expert or talk to your doctor

How the American Cancer Society can help you: they offer many services for those affected by cancer. In addition to the $130 million they spend each year on research for cures, they provide a website full of info on all kinds of cancers and their causes, treatments, risk factors, statistics, preventions and new findings. They also are available by phone, 1-800-227-2345, 24 hours a day to help you with any questions you might have or just to be there if you need a shoulder to cry on. They also offer many services for patients that need help during and after treatment, such as offering rides to treatments, help with lodging if you have to travel for treatment and a variety of support groups. I mostly use their website to look up specific cancers that run in my family and figure out what the symptoms are and risk factors and any screening that can be done.

Oddly enough, acs was actually the one to tell me I had cancer. When I had my biopsy, the radiologist called me and told me that they found dcis and I would need to see a breast surgeon to have it removed. When I saw the breast surgeon, she also referred to it as dcis. So after my two surgeries to remove the dcis, I had been on the computer trying to learn more and I was just confused. DCIS is often referred to as a pre-cancer. At this point I was not sure if I had cancer and was a little embarrassed to ask my doc if I did or not.  So this is the question I emailed acs with: I recently underwent a lumpectomy for stage 0 noninvasive DCIS. I know they call this a pre-cancer. Does that mean I did not have cancer? Everyone thinks I had breast cancer and I don't really know what to call it. And this was their answer: Regarding your question, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a type of non-invasive breast cancer.  DCIS mean that the cancer cells are inside the ducts but have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. So almost a month and a half after I was given my diagnosis, I actually knew what the hell it was. My next stupid question is "so am I cured?" None of my doctors ever mention remission but I think that doesn't apply to me because my cancer was noninvasive. I like to tell people that I used to have cancer. Let's hope my brca mutation doesn't fuck that up.