Wednesday, 29 October 2008

If at First. . .

The nurse has been here this morning and left with more tubes of my blood. If I don't get a phone call from the hospital by about 6 o'clock, I'll be going for my third chemo session tomorow.

Addendum: No call: tomorrow it is.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Anemic and Leukopenic

I got out the blood results and tackled them with Google. I am both anemic (not enough red stuff) and leukopenic (not enough white stuff). Other stuff is low, too.

But the key was on a post-it which I noticed (post-its are useless; you write them and forget them) stuck to the Blood Test Results folder in the notebook I was given to organise my treatment life. There the nurse had written:

Globules blancs
* neutrophiles > 1500

That, she said, would determine whether I could have my chemo session or not.

Lo and behold, the blood results show:

Poly Neutrophiles 30.4%
1186 / mm3

So now you know.

If you're curious about those other things in the illustration, my Eosinophiles, Basophiles, Lymphocytes and Platelets are normal. My Monocytes and Erythrocytes are low.

But my CA-125 marker (normal <24.50) has dropped from a high of 4460.60 to 2542.70 after my first chemo to 820.60. That means the treatment is working!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Testing, Testing

In answer to the question, "What happens when my blood work is off?"he hospital telephones to cancel my chemo session and we wait for it to look better. My booklet tells me that if it gets too bad, transfusions might be in order.

Then the hospital calls and reschedules. I've been rescheduled for next Thursday. I will have blood drawn against next Wednesday. It has to be checked within 48 hours of the chemo. Because of the timing, I do it the day before.

The nurse comes to my house (French medical care, folks!) in the morning and drops the blood off at the pharmacy. It's picked up at the pharmacy at 10 A.M. and delivered to the lab in Nyons, 27 km away. Before 5:30 P.M., the lab faxes Dr. Litor, giving her time to telephone if I can't have the treatment.

I get a copy of the results in the post. Then I know which cells to yell at so they shape up.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

F on the Tests

The hospital just telephoned and cancelled my chemo session for tomorrow. The results from this morning's blood tests aren't good enough. Nick answered the phone and I have no more details, but I should receive my own copy of the results tomorrow or Friday. They'll telephone with another appointment.

Well, rats! I feel good.

Back to writing about the house.

From Rick to Ruin

Not quite a ruin, but certainly a wreck. We are buying a house.

I know, I know. What happened to the straw bale house? We're still ready to build, but we cannot find a piece of land to put it on. The land is either classified flood plain (most of it), agricultural, with no building allowed (much of it) or it's mountain (or next to it) and protected. My theory is that the French government, while boasting of its rural underpinnings, secretly wants everyone to move to the city.

So we are buying this house. It includes the bit at the right, but not the car.

It's main drawback is it is smack on the road. The second drawback is that it has a great view of the Citroën garage facing it. However, since it's also smack in the middle of the village, the speed limit is restricted, giving the cats a sporting chance, and the family that own the garage are really nice; it's the garage we use.

Here are the good bits (besides being available).

The house is an old postal relay. Please note that, having moved out of a former school, we are temporarily resident in a former gendarmerie, and are moving into a former relay. History 'r us.

On the ground floor there is plenty of room for Nick's workshop and wood storage as well as a -- ta ra! -- shop.

The left end is a garage leading into a tiny inner courtyard. I love inner courtyards! Removing the garage doors and part of the wall will get us back to the original arched entryway. We'll put in a grill cum door, tile the garage floor and courtyard and it will look very Spanish.

At the side entrance there is a bathroom, built into -- ready? -- an old wine vat painted white. Cleaned up, it will be fantastic.

The floors are a combination of old dark red tiles, called tomettes -- not beautiful, but interesting -- and rammed earth. We plan on keeping as much of the floors as we can.

Upstairs will be our apartment: 2 bedrooms, bathroom, a real kitchen and big living room in stone. In back, at upper floor level (the house backs onto a mountain) there is a strip of land that will be ours and an olive orchard that we can stare at. We'll open up the back end of the living room and make a terrace, so the dogs can be upstairs or down. Maybe the cats can learn to roam the mountain instead of the road.

Because it needs new everything, including a roof, we'll be able to do much of the ecological stuff we wanted to do in the straw house: eco insulation, solar hot water, underfloor heating, at least in the living room which, currently, does not have a floor at all, and in the bathroom, which currently does not exist at all, water recuperation, LED lighting and so on.

The village is only 11 km from Rémuzat, so we can still get back easily. There is a little grocery, the garage, a bakery, hotel, restaurant, bar and magazines. It's closer to Nyons. Farther from our doctor (on the other side of Rémuzat), but closer to the hospital. It's friendly. It's called Sahune.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Nag, nag, nag!

This edition is dedicated to Doobie, my Guardian Nagger, who prods me, worries about me and, altogether, makes me feel as though Someone is Watching Over Me.

NTR! (1)

I got some new hat/scarves sorts of things in the post today, thanks to Rachel's mother. I'll try to get pictures.

Nala, after four years of living with us and being fed raw, has finally chewed on a recreational bone. Twice! (Yes, I missed pictures of that, too.) I'm not sure the bone is the attraction. She chews and chews and the bone slides on the tile floor and soon it and she are on the other side of the kitchen, fancy that!, right next to the cats's leftovers. But we caught her in time.

It's been a busy week; hence the lack of posting. (Besides NTR.) Friday, Saturday and Sunday taken up with friends. Being in the village is a spur to socialising. Yesterday, all day in Avignon shopping for: hardware, wood, more hardware, Pyrex pot, more hardware and more hardware.

Today, we bought a house.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Thing About the Wig

The thing about the wig is it's alien.

You put on a hat or a scarf and it's an accessory -- decoration. It's part of you, your personality, your style.

You put on a wig and it's camouflage. And not great camouflage at that. You're worried it will move. Or that it won't move. Or that you will put your glasses on the wrong way, exposing its edges. Or that it just looks false.

Hats and scarves don't look false. And if they move a bit, it's no big deal.

Granted, with no hair peeking out from under my hat, I look like one of the seven dwarves, but it's a Look.

Here's my new hat.

Friday, 10 October 2008


Over on the Livestrong site, there is a questionnaire that you can fill in to get information on your treatment options.*

By the time I reached question 3, which involved reviewing some of the test results I have on hand, I was terrified into quitting.

I'm not gonna do that any more. :-(

* The questionnaire. Feel free to log in under my email address with password: cancer.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Tales from the French

When I enrolled at the Institut Français in London, my second-year syllabus began with a comic-book style serial about collegiate life. Young ones pile into their cars to return to university after the holidays and immediately have an accident. Lots of good vocabulary for changing one's plans, calling parents and breaking the news, dealing with emergency services, sojourns in hospital and other life event not dealt with in your Pocket Berlitz Guide.

Given the driving habits of the French, this approach to language teaching may not have been all that strange, but it was certainly not a scenario we anglais would have proposed. We began to recognise the depth of our cultural differences when, later in the year, we came to the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. In the French version, the rabbit dies.

For my "graduation" present, Parisian friends gave me a copy of Alphonse Daudet's Letters From My Mill (Lettres de Mon Moulin) with Daudet's classic tale of Monsieur Seguin's Goat (La Chevre de Monsieur Seguin), Farmer Seguin's goat leads a good life, but yearns to be free. M. Seguin keeps telling her it's dangerous out there while the wolf keeps coming to taunt her with his freedom. This this goes on for awhile until, eventually, the goat convinces M. Seguin to let her roam. This is a test: guess what happens to the goat?

Studying French in a French school gives you a glimpse into French culture that no English-authored text will ever achieve. The French are a dismal race. My theory, developed while writing that last sentence, is that they enjoy themselves so much in compensation for the doom that they know awaits.

All this is prelude to the account of my doctor's visit this morning. In an effort to catch up with my brother-in-law's stash of drugs -- he's recovering from spleen cancer -- I went to check out the state of my state.

The rash is neither uticaria (violet patches) nor erythema (red rash), as I speculated yesterday. (See why you need doctors?) It is probably caused by a low platelet count and, so, I'm having another blood test tomorrow. After I have the blood test, I have no idea what happens. I also don't know what a low platelet count means, so if anyone wants to enlighten me, it will save me hours of Googling. (Because one thing leads to another, you know, and I start with platelets and then I'm into white cells and the next thing you know, I'm in Columbian pre-history and cars runing on compressed air.)

Besides the prescription for the blood test, I have a new mouthwash, a new toothbrush, new shampoo, paracetamol and a patch in reserve for my next chemo session. But I still have a long way to go to catch up with John.

As I leave her office, I say to Dr. Martin, "But I feel fine, really."

And Dr. Martin replies, "It's early, yet."

Vive la France.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Leg Lurg

In case you are reading the Daily Journal, here is what the booklet from the Spanish hospital tells me: I might have uticaria (violet patches) or it might be erythema (red rash). It looks sort of like a red rash, but it's dark and there's so much of it, I can't tell if it's violet or red. It doesn't itch or anything; it just looks like I have the plague. I'll put the pictures below, so you can skip the gruesome details.

Then, while photographing my legs, Nick noticed my feet: the booklet doesn't describe white lurg, but I seem to have that too.

Going to my GP tomorrow to check it out and to get a prescription for the novocaine (not novocaine, but some kind of ...caine) patch that the pharmacy advanced me for my last session. I suspect I don't actually need it. I had such a long wait last time, its effectiveness was probably nil by the time they stuck the needle into the chamber.

Lurg Pictures

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Friday, 3 October 2008

Second Chimio

There, now. You have a new French word: chimio, short for chimiothérapie. Sh sound.

I love rolling up to the hospital and seeing the staff sitting outside for a cigarette break. Not right outside the cancer wing -- those are the visitors -- but next door. Hello in there!

This is Dr. Litor. She's much prettier than this.
I think I embarrassed her when I asked her for a
I embarrassed myself, too.

First stop: doctor. Good news: my CA-125 count, a marker, which had doubled in two weeks, has halved, again. It's still about 25 times as high as it should be, but the drop does mean I'm reacting to treatment. Bad news: I've gained 3 kilos. I do believe I'll have to stop spoiling myself quite so much.

The session went just like the first one, really -- nothing to report, medically. But the hospital was even more disorganised than last time and I had to wait even longer. The pharmacy was closing for the afternoon; some kind of maintenance, maybe repairs from the floods last month.

I didn't know this, but each patient's drugs are mixed in the pharmacy right before treatment, so yesterday all the afternoon patients had to come in during the morning, making a great shortage of beds. A nurse finally came around with a blood pressure machine on a roller rack and measured and took temperatures in the waiting area. Some were offered portable tables and lunch. The nurses promised me the next bed and asked if I'd mind waiting for lunch. No, not at all. Meantime, they started the infusion in the doctor's office and I sat in the waiting area until a bed was available. And lunch.

I amaze my Type A self that I don't get impatient; all because the nurse in the original interview warned me that they're always behind. Waiting is so much less a trial when you're prepared for it.

My roommate this time was a 28-year-old mother of three with breast cancer. Because her breasts are small -- she's terribly athletic looking -- they did a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy, so now she has reconstruction surgery to look forward to after her chemo and radio. Talk about unfair.

She had a great wig. I thought it was her hair and, after spending time with the coiffeuse in the morning, I was so sure I could tell the difference, too. It was very short, but she said her own is normally shorter. Punk, I suspect. Anyway, she was nice enough to say she thought my hair was real, too.

I'm still not crazy about it. I'm going to get more cut off.

Unfortunately, when I sent Nick to the pharmacist for my prescriptions I forgot to give him the one for Zophren and I'm having to struggle without until about three this afternoon. I do have my other anti-nausea pills and cokes, so I'm not doing too badly, but I'm looking forward to 3 o'clock.

I also slept badly last night for the first time in 2 or 3 months. Got up, watched the debate recap, read the reviews and went back to bed. Mio was still on the pillow. I grabbed a set of legs in each hand and wrapped her around my head.

I thought it best not to wake Nick at 5:00 am to get the appropriate picture.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

I Voted -- and other stuff

Yesterday I got around to downloading the paper Absentee Ballot forms and I voted. Sometime soon I will receive computer forms, by post, and -- in the finest Chicago tradition -- I will vote, again. As far as I know, however, only one AB gets counted. But I live in hope.

I have also updated my Daily Journal to reflect the absence of a couple of symptoms. It's easy to notice when something unusual is occurring, but I need to train myself to note when things are normal. Like when my appetite has returned to the normal huge and I no longer want to eat Cleveland. And I no longer feel pressure in my lower stomach.

It has just occured to me that I'm writing the journal in English. Fat lot of good that's going to do the doctor. I foresee a translation job this afternoon.

Tomorrow is my next chemo session. I'm going to the coiffeuse first, so she can trim the wig. Maybe I'll even wear it, at least for a picture. I prefer my hats, but I feel silly in people's houses and restaurants with them.

Nick has decided to take me to the hospital instead of the taxi. He'll get some of his own shopping errands done during the day and spend the time with me doing design work. The pharmacists (husband, wife, 2 kids, Frenchie) want cupboards covering one wall of their new flat.

I hope all my friends, of whom I didn't know I had so many, are reading this, because I'm having trouble keeping up with all my correspondence. All the support and love I am receing are a constant amazement to me as well as nourishment for the soul. Thank you, everyone.