New Year Resolution: Don’t Wait Until Late in the Afternoon

It was late in the afternoon when my patient arrived at the oncology clinic. The treatment

Kaboom (ceramic) by jparadisi

Kaboom (ceramic) by jparadisi

prescribed required more hours than we were open. The oncologist prioritized his treatment for that afternoon and scheduled a second appointment for the next morning to complete it. The only problem with this plan was my patient didn’t realize he needed two appointments until I told him. His eyes expressed disappointment, but it was an expletive that escaped his mouth. He immediately apologized. “I’m sorry; it’s just that I don’t have that kind of time anymore.”

I understood exactly what he meant.

It was on a New Year’s Eve when I discovered a lump in my breast. At that time, I was a pediatric intensive care nurse working 12-hour shifts and a single mother. Life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. Once chemotherapy started, my oncologist prescribed light duty.  No longer a bedside nurse, I worked on office projects for the PICU manager instead.

My oncologist was hopeful. Still, I remember hearing her say there was a 32 percent chance I would die in 10 years. I was afraid. However, as a PICU nurse, I knew life could be short. This knowledge helped me gain perspective on my predicament. I’d had a good life. If this were it, how would I spend the next 10 years?

Since childhood, I wanted to be an artist. At 15, I announced my plan at the dinner table. In his thick Italian accent, my father said, “Sweetheart, you are talented and can be whatever you want, but get a job first. You will gain life experience, and then you will have something to make art about.”

Eventually, I became a nurse.

I thought about this while my chemo-bald head perched like a cue ball on the armrest of the sofa, eyes staring at the ceiling. I still wanted to be an artist. If this was the last decade of my life, I would spend it making art. I needed to start right away, because I may not have that kind of time anymore.

After recovery, I enrolled in art school and then transitioned into adult oncology nursing. In 2009, I completed a certification in fine arts and became certified in oncology nursing.

Today I am an artist and an oncology nurse. Cultivating creativity not only adds joy and accomplishment to my personal life, but it also flows into patient care. I believe it sustains my love for nursing after 26 years of practice.

Are you setting aside your creativity until late in the afternoon of your life?

Are you waiting for retirement or for the kids to leave home?

What if you discovered you don’t have that kind of time anymore?

What would you change?


Today: JParadisiRN On Doctors Radio Channel on Sirius XM 10am PT/1pm ET

Today @ 10 -1030 PT & 1pm ET  I discuss challenges of dating after a cancer diagnosis on Doctors Radio channel Sirius XM. I’ll be speaking from the points of view of both an oncology nurse, and as a cancer survivor.

Oh yes, there will be a blog post in the future about this one!

You Can Find Me Here: New Posts for TheONC

Resurrection Chair by jparadisi

It’s been a busy lately, and when it’s not, I’m  out enjoying the sunshine. Nevertheless, I’m keeping up with new blog posts both here, and for The Oncology Nursing Community (TheONC).

In case you missed it, last week for TheONC, I wrote When a Partner Doesn’t Do in Sickness and In Health, about the painful reality of partners leaving cancer patients at diagnosis or during treatment.

This week, I discuss helping patients cope with cancer in Helping Patients Build a Cancer Toolbox. is a new online social forum for oncology nurses and cancer care teams where they can leverage their collective knowledge, nurture professional growth and emotionally support each other in a secure environment, as registration is required.

Moderated by oncology nurses and key opinion leaders, TheONC features discussions and commentary covering key issues ranging from symptom management and palliative care to managing ethnic and cultural diversity.

Other resources in the community include:

  • A Library of resources including patient education materials and presentations by community members
  • Clinic Close-Up, where members can view video-based interviews with experts from large group practices, private practices, and academia covering a variety of topics
  • News items relevant to clinical practice
  • An interactive Quiz feature where nurses can test their diagnostic knowledge on a regular basis
  • A Calendar of national and regional events and meetings specific for oncology nurses and cancer support team members

TheONC is like having a weekly national oncology conference conveniently online. A wide range of topics have already been discussed, including Stem Cell Transplant, pediatric oncology, survivorship, nursing while going through cancer treatment, and much more. Once you’ve registered, posts can be saved for future reference.

Follow TheONC on Twitter @The-ONC, and Like us on Facebook.

The Complex Issue of Routine Mammogram Screening: a Personal Experience

photo: JParadisi

     I’ve had one mammogram in my life, and it was bad.

     My mammogram was not for screening; it was to diagnose the lump in my breast that  virtually appeared overnight a few days before. The black and grey films revealed a calcification so dense that a needle aspiration came up without any fluid. “Where is your baseline mammogram?”  the radiologist and the technician both wanted to know. “This is my baseline mammogram,” I told them.  “I’m not 40 yet; my insurance won’t pay for a mammogram until I’m 40.”

     The mammogram results confirmed the need for a tissue biopsy. The lump became a tumor, and 10 years later, I am a breast cancer survivor.

     Over the years, I’ve become more philosophic about surveillance labs. If the cancer recurs, it’s likely to find its home in my lungs, bones, brain, or liver, and I would have some tough choices to make. I’ve made lifestyle changes to increase my odds of remaining cancer free. However, while I believe I’m cured, like all cancer survivors, I know I’m out on visa from Cancerland, and my green card could be revoked at anytime. I’ve learned to make friends with uncertainty.

     My serenity is not unshakable though, as I learned when my daughter called one evening to tell me she scheduled a mammogram, because she found a lump in her breast. She wanted me to go with her. Of course I was going, as soon as I peeled my over-the-top-with- anxiety self off of the ceiling.

     The radiologist knew I was a breast cancer survivor and an oncology nurse. He  handled the situation deftly. Introducing himself to me in the waiting room, he requested I stay there while my daughter had the mammogram. He would call for me when he had the results, and explain them to both of us.

     I waited. As promised, I was called in and her films hung on the light board. I sat next to my daughter as he explained the lump was merely a bit of fatty tissue. Fortunately, my left-brain was functioning, and I could clearly see  he was right, even though part of me wanted to scream, “Just take the damn lump out, let’s be sure, this is my daughter!”  He explained her risks for breast cancer, and that she doesn’t need annual screening.  She is more at risk of suffering from too aggressive treatment than from the disease itself.

     Later, my daughter and I discussed my cancer experience, and how it affects her. I offered to go through genetic testing, but she asked me not to.  She will take reasonable precautions, but like me, she chooses not to live in the shadow of cancer.