Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The see-your breath temperature is a pleasure after the too hot summer as I wait for the pre-dawn bus to take me into the city. When it comes it is filled with a few businessmen trying to beat colleagues into the office and high school kids on their way to the Lycée founded by Jean Calvin 500+ years ago.

The curriculum is modernized from the old Latin, Greek, Bible and Hebrew of Calvin’s time. One sun-bleached blond teenager sits in the aisle, her notebook on her lap finishing her math homework by copying answers from long exercises onto a single sheet. I’m always impressed by the notebook system of French schools and how neat the work is.

The lake is changing colour from dark gray to light gray as the bus passes it. The Jet d’Eau is not on yet.
I’ve allowed time to try a Pumpkin Spice Latté and pumpkin muffin at Starbucks before my appointment. I read the Tribune de Genève, finding the plans to substitute train service in some areas with buses and the story of a robber who dressed as a bank employee complete with badge allowing him code access, interesting.

“24 juillet 1942” I tell the receptionist at La Maternité. I know the drill. I’m a birthdate more than a patient.

“Follow the yellow line, first floor.” She hands me a sheet of labels coded with my medical history.

I don’t have long to wait. 

“Pourquoi six mois?” The technician asks after telling me to strip to the waist.

I tell her that I’m not taking the after-cancer medication, which is why I allow my breasts to be pressed into rectangles twice a year as a compromise. I don’t regret my decision. My joints no longer ache and morning sicknesses at my age was unwelcomed. The survival stats with my type of cancer, my stage, my treatment were not that different for those that followed the plan and those that did not.

The pressing over the doctor tells me I’m clean. Although I had a thermographie last month telling me the same thing, I’m relieved. A routine worry niggles at strange times.

On the way home I get off a couple of stops before mine to walk by the vineyards and watch the pickers with their metal baskets on their backs. The vendage is far from completed with many of the vines still heavy with grapes. A truck heaped to the brim with purple fruit is parked to the side and one of the pickers adds his bounty to the pile.

The lake is now in full colour. The leaves are yellowing, not the brilliant colours of my native New England but beautiful.

It is 10:45 and each moment of my morning has been filled with tiny delights and I’m so grateful for the Swiss medical system. I’m so grateful for being alive and able to be surrounded by so many sensations.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I made the decision as of February 1 not to take the medication they told me to take for five years. Early mornings were like being newly pregnant, my joints ached and I was losing my hair. Dr. Tran had shown me the stats for women with my type of cancer at my age with my treatment and the difference in survival rates were not huge. People in my age group are dying of all sorts of things including being in my age group. The alternative she said was Avastin. I wasn't sure. I have a great disregard for medicine in general and wish doctors would look more into the tests before prescribing including the parameters of the tests and who would pay for them. For new drugs it is impossible to know the long term effects, but at 69 and 3/4s I'm not worried about what the drug will do 30 years from now. I took the prescription and didn't fill it. It was great feeling normal again. I'm no fan of the FDA. Afterall they are funded by the companies whose products they test which is a major conflict of interest. Last November they stopped recommending Avastin for breast cancer.