Wednesday, February 17, 2016

So much for stereotypes

I had two concerns about radiation in Bern, which is about 2.5 hours from Geneva. Distance wasn't one of them.

1. I have done most of my medical stuff in French. My German, once quite good has descended into shopping German. Sometimes I can get the gist of a conversation, but not enough to deal with treatment details. I have even less understanding of the dialects of Swiss German. My daughter, when she was going to university in Germany would cross the Swiss-German border and often not understand what she was hearing nor would she be understood.

2. I had an image of a stuffy doctor. 

Entering reception, the smiley receptionist with short blond hair said, "Frau Nelson?" before I could say a word and we spoke French until she wanted to practice her  English. Forms were completed quickly.

I waited for the doctor to call me. He appeared: I am not sure of his age, somewhere maybe in his late 40s. He wore jeans under his white coat. "Madame Nelson?" 

Not Frau.

He spoke in French until he heard my accent and switched to English. I don't think he knows the meaning of the word stuffy in any of his three languages (four if you consider Swiss German a separate language). I quickly replaced the idea of stuffy with warm, competent, understanding.

He managed to add two appointments for that afternoon so the first of five weekly treatments could start on the 23rd. Realizing the distance he will schedule the appointments early afternoon. I may just set the alarm for 3 a.m. so I can appreciate not having to get up on treatment days.

He, too, is a history buff which I discovered when he explained that breast cancer had been treated with hot clay in ancient Egypt. That is known because of the hieroglyphics on tombs.

So what will they be doing?

My skin will be warmed to 42° for 45 minutes. Then the areas where the cancers were will be nuked for a few seconds. The heat causes any microscopic cells that might be lingering to come closer to the radiation. In other words they take on a kamikaze trait, which is fine with me. The radiation will be milder and do less damage to me. Instead of 25 nukings.

During the other two appointments, the attendants said they preferred English to French. They decorated me with pretty red designs as markers. I was photographed inside and outside my body.

I am ready for this last step soooo ready. So ready to get back to a normal life.



Friday, February 12, 2016

Life after chemo

Four weeks ago today I had my last chemo treatment, a killer dose 4x normal strength for many reasons which made sense as the good doctor, Nathalie B, explained it to us.

However, the side effects were a challenge. Exhaustion like I've never experienced sometimes made walking across the room a challenge. 

I never felt sick. If I were in bed, I felt fine, would get up to do all the things running thru my head and have to go back immediately.
The simplest thing was too much.

"This too will pass," became my mantra. I kept repeating other things, over and over in my head. The problem is from the chemo. It could be worse. No wonder I feel tired. I've been poisoned. If the chemicals are making me this useless and if there are any cancer cells hiding anywhere in my body, the poison better find them. I'm a wuss.  
The exhaustion mimicked the tides. There would be hours that I felt just normal tired.  

I worry that the feeling won't come back to my hands and feet and remind myself my mouth is no longer numb and my taste buds are no longer on holiday.

I worry that my hair won't grow back. That the first hair reappeared on my chin is little comfort. That my wig blew off solicited little embarrassment. The expression on the faces of the two teenagers standing nearby was worth it. I let Rick photograph my bald head. He wants to do it weekly to track growth.

I did make it to my landlord's for dinner and passed out. Missed dessert. I slept thru the night in the hospital: poor Rick did not.

There would be surges of feeling almost good. We made it to Argelès, which was medicine for my soul. A day didn't go by that some friend didn't drop in. I was able to free-write with my writing mate sitting on my bed.  Sorta like a literary pajama party.

On better hours we made La Noisette for an English breakfast and coffee with friends.

My husband was always there to help me thru the rough parts like walking up stairs and taking a shower.

He made wonderful meals, beautifully presented. Some days he was a short order cook and he brought back my favorite veggies from our local green grocers .  

For me the biggest frustration was being dependent and not doing most of the things I wanted to do. Making my own breakfast or emptying some dishes out of the dishwasher were major victories. 

The meals I would love to cook will have to wait until April when we return as will checking out the gardens as will organizing the things we moved from Geneva. 

I totally lost it over a garbage can and even as I was doing it, the words "idiot, it isn't important," were in my mind. 

Thru out this entire process we've carpe diemed all over the place.
Snuggling while watching Doc Martin or British mystery, making a snow rabbit (use your imagination, we are writers not sculptors) on the stairs outside our door, reading to each other from whatever book or article we think the other would like...these things were/are a reminder of what is good. 

My radiation treatment has been changed from 25 times for five weeks in Geneva to five times once for five weeks in Bern, a bit more than two hours away. Bern is a beautiful city. I want to share it with Rick. 

We have booked into a hotel Monday night before my first appointment on Tuesday. It promises a Frühstück with homemade jam. The rest of the appointments we will go up and back on the same day but we thought the first time should be special in a healthy way.

For the first time since June 2015 we are beginning to plan trips: Normandy to join my college friends leading a tour, Paris to see my Syrian friend and her husband, back to Argelès. Rick is heading for the States, my daughter is coming from Boston. These are things that normal people do. 

I want normal...I sooooooooooo want normal.