The days that followed the emergency surgery to take out the ovarian tumor were a blur. I awakened to find myself in the intensive care unit of the hospital in St. Brieuc. I would remain there for several days being fed through tubes (oddly enough, I was never hungry). The number of tubes attached to me were incredible. I hallucinated weird stuff, thanks to the morphine that kept me out of pain. And everytime I woke up, there was Reg, standing by looking like he needed sleep. He held my hand and always had a positive word for me. I owe my life to that man! He also kept the kids informed and at my request told them not to come over until I was better and back at home. I never for a minute thought I wouldn’t go back home and be okay again.
THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION I CAN GIVE TO OTHERS ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER IS PRETTY SLIM BUT I’LL TRY: Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect , being located deep in one’s intestines. I had no idea how seriously ill I was until it was almost too late. My symptoms were constipation, unusual bowel movements, lower back ache and a general lack of energy. That’s it. All the symptoms that women commonly complain about. If you experience any of these, insist upon any and all tests available for detecting cancer. Do NOT allow a doctor to persuade you that you are okay. Better safe than sorry.
As a result of the operation to remove the cancerous tumor, I had a colostomy bag attached to my stomach to allow me to move my bowels into it. In other words, my normal way of going to the toilet would not be normal for some time into the future. I was so glad to have survived I didn’t mind the inconvenience of changing the stupid bag. I was ALIVE. And I was back home after a very long stay in hospital.
Thankfully, we were covered by the French National Health System so the cost was minimal. The system covered all of the cost of the surgery, hospital stay ( I had a lovely spotlessly clean room and wonderful nurses) and all medications. As aliens in France, we had what is known as a top off medical policy of minimal cost. I dread to think what would have happened if we had been in the USA. I expect we would have had to sell our home and be impoverished by this disease.
Looking back on the time I spent in chemo-therapy and in and out of hospital I have to wonder why Americans are so skeptical about national health coverage. Most of the civilized world recognize a person’s health is essential to their well being and provide the means to insure it. We had full control of what doctors we chose and what treatments we chose to take.
Some time before the crisis, my kinestherapist, Linda, had put me in touch with an English woman, Joanne Collier, who Linda recommended for doing my cosmetic work such as my toenails and removing those pesky chin hairs. While in hospital I got in touch with Jo and made arrangements for her to come to the hospital to do my toenails. I mentioned in passing that I dreaded going home as I knew Reg was not likely to have kept the house clean. She offered to clean house for me and generally do whatever needed done that wasn’t covered by the visiting nurses. She would be on hand when I was released. Reg had given Meg the word that I would soon be going home so now plans were in place for her to come over. I would also have the help of the visiting nurses.
About those angelic nurses who came every day to change bandages , make sure I was taking injections and medications, and generally recovering. The Health Service provides a team of 3 nurses who take turns on a daily basis. These are dedicated professionals who truly care for their patients. I loved having them visit and check to see that I was now eating properly (no problem there as Meg and Reg kept us well fed). My faithful companion, Coco, stayed by me on the bed and kept me amused.
A somewhat worried Coco was happy to be of assistance, bringing along his security blanket to my bed.
My next assignment was to meet my oncologiste, a lovely French woman doctor, who would get me into the chemo-therapy program. During our meeting at the hospital she advised there were different degrees of chemo I could chose from. The most extreme could be uncomfortable for some patients but would be the most effective. I chose that one. I would be picked up by the health service taxi and taken to the hospital for a day long treatment by injection once a month. I would be given lunch and volunteers would offer facials, pedicures, massages, etc. to make the day pass more easily. I was warned that the treatment might cause all bodily hair to fall out. I was told that the trauma of losing hair was less traumatic if I had the hair on my head shaved and got fitted with a wig. I took the advice and Meg stood by as a hair dresser came to my house and shaved my head. By this time we could actually laugh about my funny shaved head.
At my delayed birthday celebration I sport my new wig for a day at the coast with Reg and Kimi.
The family showed up that summer to celebrate my birthday and recovery. Life was almost back to normal… except for that bag hanging off my stomach. My oncologiste gave me hope that after another year I could be rid of that. She predicted I would be healthy enough for another operation to restore my colon. She also advised having a hysterectomy to prevent a return of cancer in my other ovary. With family gathered around and sunny beach days, I was ready for anything.
The Gang’s all here! And I am feeling hopeful. Me in the middle with daughter Kathy on my left and daughter Meg to my right and son Robert standing behind me with assorted granddaughters scattered around.
During the long hospital stays and even after returning home I had not been able to get back to my writing. But after the kids left, I knew I needed something to do, something that didn’t require a lot of energy. So I began to write again.
Reading and writing have always been high priorities for me. And once again they proved the right distraction. I put in an hour or two every morning writing. That novel would one day be finished.