Monday, April 23, 2012

Returning to Tomahawk

I lived in Tomahawk, WI from June 1980 until February 1989. Jim and I had moved there after he finished his residency in family practice at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL. We had what seemed to be a happy life there, and it was happy in my mind, and appeared that way to others. But Jim wanted a divorce, after 16 years of marriage. We separated in January 1987, and divorced in May 1988, 18 ½ years after our January 1970 wedding during a blizzard in upstate New York. Perhaps the blizzard was a foreteller of things to come. I planned to stay in Tomahawk after our divorce but when he married a 2nd wife I realized the town was too small for two Mrs. C’s. So I moved to the Twin Cities of Minnesota with our 3 children, who were 5, 8, and 10 years old. We lived in a great inner city neighborhood, and the kids went to a Catholic school.

The years passed. Our children grew up, went to college, and two of them married. I worked as a licensed school nurse for the Saint Paul Public School system. Most of my years were spent at a school for special needs and medically fragile children. I loved my job, my special kids, and my co-workers. I planned to work until I was 72 years old. I come from a family where people really don’t retire, they just keep on working.

In June 2002 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I continued to work. My youngest child was a sophomore in college, in Illinois. I went to court in November 2002 and changed my married last name to my grandmother’s maiden name of McBride, a name I had wanted since I was about 8 years old.  McBride means follower of Brigid. Brigid is the Celtic saint or goddess of hope and new beginnings so it was a very appropriate name to take. I’ve never regretted changing my name, even though I liked my married surname and had had it  for 32 years, longer than I’d had my Olmstead maiden name.

My youngest was in college, I didn’t know what the future held for me in terms of my health. I made the decision to sell my house. It was a hard decision. The house, a craftsman bungalow, was built in 1928 and I bought it from the original owner! I moved into a very nice apartment complex, which had an outdoor swimming pool. I’d been swimming laps for years but welcomed being able to swim outdoors during the summer months.

In February 2004 I had a recurrence of breast cancer, and underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Three weeks into recovery I made an eye appointment because I was having some loss of peripheral vision and increased floaters in my left eye. I was diagnosed in March 2004 with ocular melanoma, which is malignant melanoma inside the eye. My symptoms were from the tumor causing the retina to detach. This is a rare, orphan cancer with an incidence of 6 cases per 1 million people. It was a devastating diagnosis, even more so since I was going through breast cancer. I elected not to have my eye removed as I did not want to be a boobless cyclop plus removing the eye has no better long term outcome than have radiation to the eye. So I had radiation. For several years I had no functional site in that eye.

Then in May 2006 I was found by my sons to be in a semi-conscious state. I had worked on Friday. I had a horrendous stomach ache and shaking chills. I went to bed. Saturday passed, they found me on Sunday. I was admitted to the hospital in critical condition with pneumonia, septic shock, and DIC. My chances of survival were 50%. I survived. Whew. But I aged, a lot! I had no stamina. I returned to work in September 2006 but work was really hard. It was hard to draw up insulin having only vision in one eye. The pace at my job was fast and it involved a lot of physical activity. I was exhausted every day.  I was in bed early every night. I was only 62 years old but I knew I couldn’t keep this pace up. So I made the decision the time had come to retire, which just about broke my heart. My last day of work was June 13, 2007.

In January 2009 a PET scan showed a tumor in my right maxillary sinus. It was felt to be malignant, based on all the markings seen on the scan. The most likely diagnosis was metastasis from my ocular melanoma. It usually spreads to the liver but can spread anywhere. A biopsy showed it was a very rare papilloma tumor that is malignant by location, which means it tends to recur locally but doesn’t spread to distant sites. The sinus is close to the brain so it can invade the brain by eroding the bony barrier separating the two.  It tends to occur in elderly male smokers!   I had the tumor removed a month later and have regular follow up exams to check for recurrence.

In August 2009 I was found to have stomach cancer. It presented as GI bleeding. It is another rare cancer called GIST. I had surgery, which removed the tumor, clear margins. Like ocular melanoma there is no chemo for this cancer and if it spreads it tends to go to the liver. So I have every 6 month scans for both cancers, alternating between CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans.

I have been living on social security and a very small pension from the school district. My rent is high and doesn’t include any of my utilities. We even have to pay for underground parking, which is generally free in most places. So, as much as I love my apartment, my neighbors, my friends, and living in the city the time has come to move. My daughter and her family live in Tomahawk so I decided to return there. I never in a million years thought I’d return to this place that holds a lot of sad memories for me but I’m a pragmatist. I need to live where the cost of living is less and I prefer to have family wherever that place is. So, Tomahawk it is.

I hope to write about life in a small town. I also love to explore back roads and old cemeteries so I will write about those experiences too. It’s not too long a journey from Tomahawk to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, one of my favorite places in the U.S. I hope to share many of its back roads and water falls on my blog.

I'm only in the early stages of developing this blog. I have much to do to get it to look like what I envision so bear with me as I develop it.


  1. Hey! Welcome aboard the blogosphere. I am adding your blog to my list of blogs that I follow.

    What a life you have had. But you seem so positive and resilient. It's the hard times that seem to make us strong.

    I look forward to hearing more about small town Wisconsin.

    I love my blog. It is a great outlet. A great place to put one's thoughts and musings.

  2. Thanks Janet. What is your blog address? I've read it a few times but I'm developing a list to read regularly. You have a wonderful spirit after all your family has been through.