Audrey, a young 74 year old,
throughout her life a sportive, horse-riding mother of two children who has
successfully overcome the handicap of replacement of both hips, was, about three
years ago, diagnosed as having a cancerous tumour of the colon.
I really am glad that women talk to each other about things, especially when they make us men talk about things as well. I am married to Belinda and we live with my parents and two Labrador dogs in a chateau that we are renovating in the Dordogne. Belinda (I call her Bee) has asked me to write this down and send it in to the site. I feel awkward doing it but I've got my father's permission and if I'm too embarrassed to tell the story, that's a bad reflection on men in general who feel too embarrassed to tell the doctor about a lump they think they have found in their scrotum.
My father has always been the strong silent type. He and I are both journalists and we both married journalists so when Bee and I have children, I think you can guess what they are likely to do as a future career. We moved to France in 1998 when we all decided that we could earn enough between us to fund joint retirements. My mother writes books and my father writes for a technical magazine. Bee and I are freelance and can travel back if needed but we all love our French home and are happy to make this our long-term future.
In 2000, just after the Millennium, my father found a lump in his scrotum. For someone who hated personal revelations, he rather surprisingly told me what he had found rather than my mother, in a 'what do you make of this then, old chap' sort of a way while we were defrosting some pipes in the farm dairy. I asked him if it was something new or if it was his old plumbing. Ironic when you think that we were cursing old pipes at that very moment! Definitely new, he assured me, so I mentioned it to Bee who brought it up with my mother during their preparation for supper that night. I suppose you could say we all got there in the end but it could so easily have not got mentioned until too late. My mother minimised it with Bee and said that it was a young man's disease wasn't it and finally she agreed to confront him later. She did and packed him off to the doctor the next morning.
I won't go into the treatment and what happened exactly. While happy for me to say that he has recovered completely thanks to the excellent, speedy response of the doctor in our local village and at the hospital where he underwent surgery and radiotherapy, my father really feels that it is undignified to reveal any more than that to the world at large. That's his generation, I suppose, they bear their treatment stoically and with calm acceptance, but it doesn't get discussed outside closed doors as it isn't 'done'.
As I said in the beginning, thank goodness women talk about things and bring them out in the open. I love my father and hope to have him with me for many years to come. I saw the testicular cancer section on this site, especially the self-examination section and hope that every man or his wife reading it will immediately go and check - I had never checked myself before my father had testicular cancer but I do it monthly in the shower now and feel that I'm doing my own MOT.
When I got the results, I knew the significance of a malignant melanoma and immediately assumed that my life was to be foreshortened. The melanoma was 0.45 mm deep – a 'debutant' they called it but another deeper slice was taken off to check whether the cancer cells had penetrated deeper into the skin. As this was being biopsied, I had a radio (X-ray) and an echographie (ultrasound). The biopsy and the other tests all proved clear and I was told that early detection had allowed full treatment by cutting off the tumour at a very early stage in its life. Regular visits to dermatologists followed and I was particularly impressed with the l’hôpitalisation du jour at the 6 month point when I was examined by three doctors and had several potentially dangerous moles removed. As far as the French health system was concerned, the danger had passed and the important thing was to look for any new problems ; when I came to the UK, however, they were only interested in following up the original problem.
More recently, I had cause to visit an ENT specialist and ended up having an MRI scan. This indicated a pigmented node near the site of my melanoma so, in light of my history, I was referred to another dermatologist. This threw my mind back two years and again, I was faced with an uncertain future. As it turned out, the pigmentation of this node was explained as fatty tissue on a lymph gland and all the tests indicated everything was normal. Accordingly, I am on two month review and am just beginning to adapt to the long term once again. Whilst medically or surgically my story has little content, the psychological impact was significant and caused me to do a lot of thinking about life and what I wanted from it.
Like many people, I suppose, I didn’t appreciate life until I realised that it was being threatened - death was never far from my thoughts. Two things in particular were of help. First of all, my death is not the worst thing that could happen to me. In order of severity, one or both of my children becoming vegetables would be the worst thing followed by the same thing happening to my wife. After that, the death of my children then the death of my wife would be worst. Even before my death, my becoming a vegetable would be worse. So, putting my death in context, it is quite far down the scale of the worst things that could happen to me. Everybody will die, it’s just a question of when.
I think the other positive aspect which came out of this is the realisation that
life is too short to worry about trivia ; the important thing in life is your
family – not jobs, not the pursuit of power or money and not materialism. Reflecting back to France, one of the most important things we did when moving
there was to learn the language ; to live in a foreign country and not be able
to understand what’s going on around is crazy. Whilst my French is not
scholarly, I was able to communicate and understand what was going on and what
was being said at all times. My advice for those living there is to get to grips
with the language if you haven’t already done so.
The French medical system is regarded as one of the best in Europe and I have no
complaints at all about the way my case was handled.
My name is Kathleen. I am sixty-six years old and I have Leucaemies Aigues Myeloides known as LAM or Acute Myeloid Leukaemia known as AML.
How did it all start? For three days, I had felt desperately tired and the fourth morning was even worse. Out of curiosity, I took my temperature which was normal, then I took my blood pressure. As I have always tended to have high blood pressure, I was more than surprised to get a reading of nine. I phoned the doctor, he wasn't there, but his wife answered the phone. He arrived ten minutes later, took my blood pressure, lowered my bottom eyelid and telephoned for an ambulance, then telephoned the Clinique St. Hilaire in Agen (thank goodness I'd chosen to go there, rather than the hospital at Auch, otherwise I would have been sent to the University College of Toulouse.) This was the 25th of June 2003.
My five days at St. Hilaire were a living nightmare. The nurses couldn't get blood samples easily, my two arms from above the elbow to the tips of my fingers were black with bruises. The tops of my two legs were black, blue and green from injections - even now, nine months later, my legs are marked. Then there was a machine to which they attached me with 'suckers'. Every time I moved, I lost a sucker and the machine gave the most horrifying screeching noise - day and night. I don't need to add anything about the food, except to say that it was inedible.
On the fifth day, one of the nurses came in and spoke with a voice full of reverence and told me that I was being transferred to Haut Leveque Hospital near Bordeaux. It sounded as if I was going to Paradise Island, but I still didn't know what was wrong with me and I'm a very curious person.
I was soon in bed in a room on my own. Then a nurse came in to list my jewellery. Wedding ring, couldn't take it off! Two pairs of spectacles, upper and lower dentures, then she asked if that was all. I said yes, unless you counted my wooden leg. She started apologising and I started laughing as she sounded just like Queen Ann in 'The Queen's Favourites' by Jean Plaidy. Thank goodness she found the funny side of it - eventually! It wasn't until I read the hospital leaflets that I knew that I had leukaemia. Strangely enough, I wasn't shocked or surprised. At least I knew what I had to face.
I had several days of tests and it was decided to place a catheter in the vein of my neck (jugular) which meant that blood samples given and transfusions received were painless. My hair started to hurt. I asked if it was possible for an appointment with the hairdresser, but was told that I had far more serious problems to face. Another three days and I was in agony. I couldn't bear the pain of combing it or laying my head on a pillow. I asked one of the male nurses if he had a friend who was prepared to hold me and clamp a hand over my mouth to stop me screaming while he shaved my head. Oh the relief, no pain! I was bald but hair would grow again.
A day or two later, I was given nine capsules to take to eliminate from the stomach and intestines all undesirable elements. In the middle of the night, I needed to go to the bathroom. I can vaguely remember being picked up off the floor and put onto my bed and the following morning, I found that I had the cot sides up and was forbidden to get out of bed. Then followed the most frightening experiences. I couldn't lie down because I had attacks of what felt at the time as if I was drowning. Oxygen masks didn't help. I had a feeling that the staff thought I was putting it on, but I was terrified. Almost immediately I had an unreasonable fear of drinking out of a 'bol' or even an ordinary glass. That problem was soon sorted out by giving me a beaker with a spout in the lid. I knew I had to drink as much as I could, because it was now in the middle of the heat wave and I was eating nothing.
Just before I started the treatment to destroy the leukaemia cells - and everything else, I was put on antibiotics. Two days later, I started to lose my hearing. I asked the doctor in charge to change the treatment, because that particular antibiotic or family of antibiotics always had the same effect. Of course, it was put down to my fertile imagination, the same as all my other little problems but three days later, I was stone deaf.
In the mean time, one of the internes asked me if I was prepared to participate in an experiment he felt might help me. Of course I would. No problem at all. Down came the cot-sides. I sat one side of the bed and he sat the other. I felt a needle going in between my ribs then a gush of warm fluid. He had drained off one and a half litres of fluid from my left lung. He was so happy with himself and I was too. Unfortunately it didn't stop the attacks. Two days later he came back and tried again but without results. He said he was going to ask a colleague to try something out and promised it wouldn't hurt. This young man came with what I surmised was an ecography machine. With this he marked the spot. Another litre was drained off. I still needed oxygen, but was now on a 'lunette' which was so much less cumbersome. I asked about the fluid on the lungs at a later date and was told that some patients have fluid in the legs, some in the abdomen, or like myself, the lungs. I suppose it was a sort of complication.
After weeks of blood transfusions, chemotherapy, platelets etc. etc. and X-rays, ecographies and scanners, I was eventually asked where I would like to convalesce - either around Bordeaux or the Gers. It was a silly question. Of course I wanted to be as near home as possible. A very kind assistant social worker who had been of enormous help when my husband died of cancer and had since done all my paperwork including tax returns, was contacted and found me a place in the local hospital of my home town. There were only fourteen beds in the medical wing, the rest of the hospital was for retired people unable to look after themselves and long-stay patients. As soon as I arrived in Reception - on a stretcher complete with oxygen tank, I asked for a cup of tea. After more than two hours in the ambulance in the heat wave, I was so very thirsty. By the time I was in my room, attached to mains oxygen, my tea arrived. I drank it with great enjoyment, then realised it was an ordinary cup. That was the first time for weeks and the last time I needed the 'beaker'. Almost immediately, a male nurse came in with a thermos of tea and a basin of sugar, so that I could drink whenever I wanted. A short while later, I was helped from the chair (I couldn't walk) and put onto the bed. I lay down with only one pillow and never had another attack of breathlessness. It was like a miracle.
I was never told to do anything except to take the prescribed tablets and submit to blood tests, but eventually, I was able to walk short distances and at the same time reduce my oxygen until I was on zero, then I just rolled up the tube and strolled up to the nurses station. A few days later, I asked one of the three visiting doctors if I could have a "pass", which meant that I could go out between two o'clock and six o'clock each afternoon. I immediately telephoned my very good friend Jean- Pierre to ask if it was convenient to collect me so that I could get my car. He had taken my car and all my valuables from my home for safe-keeping because my place was completely surrounded by sunflowers and rather secluded. He arrived a few minutes later, having been on duty in the town. In uniform he is very impressive, tall, good-looking and the nurses started to tease me about him being my body guard (He is chief of Police Municipale). I was happy that first day just to drive back to the hospital, because the doctor at Haut Leveque said it was unlikely I would ever drive again. Not only had I proved the doctors wrong, but I had freedom with my four wheels! Also I had ordered a new car just before I had been taken into hospital and it was ready and waiting for me./ That was the 1st September. I was discharged on the 8th September.
How strange it seemed to be completely alone after all the fun and jokes with the nurses and all the staff. I still have to have regular blood tests, depending on which tablets I take. Sometimes twice weekly tests, sometimes once every two weeks. The evening after each blood test the doctor from Haut Leveque Hospital phones me and tells me to continue with the same treatment, to change it or that I need to go to the hospital at Auch for blood transfusions or platelets and occasionally to visit the heart specialist for ECG and ecography. My GP is faxed with all the information so that there is a complete dossier kept locally as well as at Haut Leveque.
I have no family - my husband died nearly two years ago. I have no brothers or sisters nor do I have any children. I don't even know any English people, but sometimes I seem to bubble with happiness. The French people give me so much affection and support and the French Health service is looking after me so wonderfully. I'm sure I wouldn't have been so well-cared for in the UK and I am very grateful.
I lead a perfectly normal life and allow no-one to say that I am ill. I have no pain, I eat normally so how can I pretend otherwise? My hair has grown well, except that I have to keep it fairly short because it's curly on the crown of my head and needs pots and pots of gel to keep it in order. My hairdresser tells me that it will return to normal some time after I finish with the chemotherapy, but that's a small matter.
I look forward to the day when I'm declared "cured" but in the meantime I am enjoying life.
I am an American who lives in the Var (83) and was diagnosed with Endocervical Adenocarcinoma in 1996. I had external and internal radiation at the Meridian Hospital in Mandelieu and then had an extra-fascial hysterectomy at the Hôpital de la Conception in Marseille. My professor was a fantastic surgeon.
Since 1996 I have participated in the ACOR cancer group for gynaecological cancer and have developed knowledge and experience with most gynaecological cancers but particularly cervical cancers. I have a lot of information files on cervical cancer in particular. I also have information on tumour grades, tumour hormone sensitivity, high-dose internal radiation and much more.
Fortunately the cancer treatment in France is superb so having to know all the ins and outs of your treatment is far less necessary than it is in other countries, but some people just need to know what is going on. I did reject the first surgeon which was "ordered up for me" by my gynaecologist in Saint-Tropez and followed wise advise from what I had read to go to an expert in the cancer field for my surgery. It made a lot of difference.
I have done some counselling in France for cancer patients mostly for those diagnosed with prostate cancer. One was scheduled for internal radiation, so I was helpful in describing to him what it would be like, which made him decide to go ahead and do it. I've compiled a large file of information on the treatment of this cancer as there are choices to be made in France - internal radiation, radiation seeds, surgery, etc.
One thing that was very difficult for me was that my gynaecologist could not understand that I needed to know everything that was happening to my body. She thought I was deranged because I wanted to know exactly what class of hysterectomy I was going to have. She just wanted me to lie back and enjoy it. Knowing all about my cancer was my counselling. Since I didn't have anyone to talk with who knew what I was going through, I needed to know all that I could learn. When I did find out more information, I realised that I wasn't going to die and I knew that my gynaecological surgeon was going to perform the correct hysterectomy for my rarer type of cancer, something that was not going to happen until I changed surgeons.
In January 2000, I attended as a speaker at a cancer conference in Palm Springs, California, sponsored by the Centre for Cervical Health, a cervical cancer support and education centre in New Jersey, to describe my treatment in France versus treatment protocols received by other speakers from around the world.
Some people want to learn all they can about their disease, sometimes it's the spouse and sometimes people don't want to know anything but they do want someone to talk to. I would be very happy to help anyone who would just like to talk, would like to know about my treatment or what the treatment would be like here in France.
One thing I know well is the fear of the unknown and how terrifying that can be. It is probably the worst thing that happens. Just talking with someone who has been through a similar experience is the most reassuring thing to relieve that terror.
In 1999 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had accidentally knocked my right breast which had produced a blood clot around a tumour. Most breast cancer is hormonal - mine wasn't. It is not a disease that any other family members have had either.
Everyone who has cancer of any kind knows that it is a frightening and isolating experience and I certainly felt that at first. I was operated on at the hospital at Brive. Dr Collasson was direct and positive although I was doubtful of my chances at the time. Everyone, including the nursing staff, was extremely kind - the standard of care was high and at a time like that, I was glad to have a room of my own.
I knew that on leaving hospital I would have to have five weeks of radiotherapy (which does make you feel tired) and then six treatments of chemotherapy, which always receives a bad press. I had a catheter put in my neck at the hospital and I was lucky enough not to be ill all the time. Occasionally, things made me ill but I learned to avoid them, but I could otherwise lead a reasonably normal life. This treatment method is a bit constraining because you have to have injections in your stomach every day for a month (these aren't painful) and then see the cardiologist - but in my opinion, for the results it's worth it.
Dr Leduc, who is Head of Oncology, is easy to talk to and everyone took care to explain what was happening and make sure that I understood.
I went for a check-up five months after my last chemo session and as the result was good, I was put on yearly check-ups which I'm on now. When my hair fell out, I bought a superb wig (which I still use in emergencies) and when my hair grew back, I had some wonderful curls!
I lead a perfectly normal life in every way now and I know that there were other people whose cases were far more serious than mine but who are also now on yearly check-ups. I appreciate life all the more because of what happened to me and I think I was lucky to have such good treatment so quickly which has allowed me to put this behind me. It isn't even a bad memory anymore.
Hello there, I'm Mike, living in Juillac Le Coq near Cognac and five years down the road since I completed all my chemotherapy treatments which culminated in a stem cell transplant and hopefully has put my cancer problem to rest.
Mine is a long story, which one day I will put properly into words, but in the meantime I hope I can give some comfort to anyone suffering from whatever cancer it is you have. Mine was non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, yours may be of a different kind which entails entirely different methods of treatment. All my treatment was carried out in the UK, but I have no doubt that the treatment and care you are getting in France is as good as that I received in the UK.
There are three things that I have put to the fore when anyone asks about my illness, and they are...
I'm not a medical man, neither am I a counsellor, you have to be qualified for those. All I am qualified for is that I have suffered from cancer and feel I have some things I can share with you.
My husband and I bought a house and retired here 18 months ago, almost on a whim. We just happened to be on holiday and literally saw the perfect house being pinned up in the agents window and in 24 hours bought it and within three months we moved to Uzes in the Gard, knowing no one. Our family and friends thought us mad but we have five grandchildren and more on the way and the house is ideal, I remember saying we were only in our fifties and in good health so why not? My husband had been complaining of a mild sore throat and earache for months and eventually after five weeks we went and introduced ourselves to the local woman doctor. She didn't touch Chris (my husband), just looked down his throat and not knowing us at all said she thought he had a malignant tumour and that afternoon we were at the ENT specialist who said the same thing. Within ten days he was being treated for throat cancer.
Firstly isn't it amazing to tell two strangers such awful news without knowing if they mentally, emotionally etc. could handle this sort of thing. I am, of course, immensely grateful to her for her quick actions and she has been a brick ever since. The oncologists and nurses didn't speak a word of English (why should they) and our '0' level French quickly improved. The treatment is now over and he is 'in remission'. The treatment was barbaric. How true the cliché is - the treatment is worse than the disease. He is left with all sorts of problems resulting from this. i.e. almost no saliva glands, swallowing is a problem and again another cliché - every headache is a tumour.
I can answer, now, so many questions people might have. I just happen to be in touch with a schoolfriend I have not seen for thirty years who lives in Canada and amazingly her husband also has throat cancer. We write to each other about three times a week comparing the different treatment and swapping recipes that are easy to swallow. I don't suppose we will ever meet but chat happily away and we both know exactly what the other is going through.
This is my story. We moved to S.W. France (47) in August 2002. A year later, my partner was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at Agen hospital. We had no French medical cover and were told our E111 would not cover the cost of treatment here. We returned to London where Andrew's case was fully diagnosed after extensive tests. He embarked on a course of radiotherapy and two sessions of chemotherapy which made him very ill.
In December we returned to France for him to end his days in the place he loved best. The local doctor always came promptly and prescribed all the relevant medications (at a cost). By mid-February it was obvious I could no longer care for him at home and so reluctantly we made the decision to return to London by ambulance. He died at Charing Cross hospital six days later at the age of 57. I have subsequently lodged the medical bills with L'Assurance Maladie Securite Sociale and am waiting to hear if the 2000 euros we paid out will be reimbursed on his E111. Andrew had nothing but praise for the hospital in Agen and would have much preferred to be treated here if it had been possible. Although this case has no happy ending I would be happy to assist anyone in the same unfortunate position but obviously I do no have much experience of the system here.
In November 2003 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nobody could have felt more lonely than I did last year and we had the double problem of dealing with all the bureaucracy in a foreign language. Fortunately, my experience with my husband stood me in good stead when it came to my own problem but it is terribly difficult dealing with it all on your own. My husband never had to worry about packing his bag, organising the ambulance taxi, arranging for nurses visits etc because I did it all for him. This time I had to do it on my own and when the chemo kicked in I felt very sick indeed. I have received superb treatment at the Institut de Bergonie in Bordeaux and I am responding very well to the chemotherapy although I have felt very rough.
I also have a little dog to take care of. I simply couldn’t have coped without the help of my friends who have been magnificent.
My story is about my husband's fight with melanoma. I've remarried now and my second husband is healthy but I always have that feeling that death could be just round the corner and that it's really important to live for now. That's why we're in France, I suppose, making the most of the rest of our lives.
My husband, James, had a mole on his thigh in the late 1980s. He ignored it but one day said that it was itching and kept bleeding when he had a shower. I'd read somewhere about the signs of cancer and an itchy mole was one of them so I asked him to go to the doctor. He kept meaning to and finally I made him an appointment as I was so concerned. The doctor said he'd take it off with a local anaesthetic in the surgery and that if we didn't hear anything, to assume it was alright. Well, we didn't hear anything for a couple of months and assumed that all was OK. This was in the days before much was known about melanoma - I certainly didn't know about it. James had a high-powered job and we had three young children so the worrying 'mole' got lost in our minds really.
James had to go away on business and while he was away, he phoned home and said he'd found a pea-sized lump in his groin. I said it was probably an inguinal hernia (I'd been a children's nurse and had seen hernias like that) but he asked me to make an appointment with the doctor for when he got home.
After he got home and went for the appointment, he discovered that the reason we hadn't heard anything was because the mole had got lost on its way to the histology laboratory some miles away and no-one had thought to chase it up. The doctor apologised and said that he had had a feeling it was a melanoma, but because he hadn't got a report back, had been too busy to think any more about it. James would have had the chance to have a complete recovery if that mole had reached the lab because he would have gone in to the hospital to have a large scoop taken out round the mole which would have cured him. As it was, the melanoma had spread to the lymph nodes in his groin and beyond.
James died two years later after a long, hard fight against an incredibly virulent cancer and finally of a brain tumour, a melanoma that was too dangerous to remove (he'd had one removed already from his brain) He died at home with us and having had four major operations to remove the different melanomas that sprang up all over him.
The lesson I learned and poor James had to learn by losing his life was that you should never assume that a test is OK just because you don't hear about it. It's called negative reporting. Our children lost their father and I lost a wonderful man because of it - please learn by our loss - that's why I've written this.