In my 8 years living in France and writing about it, about the cultural differences, how much I hate the dog poo on the sidewalks, the many fun things to do, falling in love and integrating into a French family, the food and the wine, the frustrations with the bureaucracy and even becoming a French citizen, there is one sentence I never, ever expected to have to write on this blog.
I have kidney cancer.
I'll pause for a moment to let you catch your breath. I've known this since just before Thanksgiving, and I'm still catching mine.
OK then. Let's all exhale together.
What seemed at first to be a whopper of a kidney stone attack nearly three weeks ago has turned out to be something much bigger and more serious. There's a tumor on my right kidney (there is also a nice big stone in there for good measure). And it's the tumor which started the internal bleeding which caused all the pain and put me in the hospital for a week.
The great news is, my left kidney is in perfect shape and should serve me well for the rest of my life, and I feel very fortunate to be able to say that.
The bad news is, the right kidney, and its uninvited hitchhiker, will have to go. In actual fact, the kidney is now, for all intents and purposes, defunct, because in order to stop the bleeding they had to block bloodflow to the kidney and consequently to the tumor. At least that's one tumor that won't be getting any bigger. That's the procedure I had done in the hospital over a week ago. It was agony and the pain afterward was considerable because, come on, that was one pissed-off tumor that didn't like it one little bit that the party was over.
I now chalk that painful episode up to "my 'childbirth experience'".
What we're waiting on now is the game plan from my urologist: when will the surgery be. What's involved. What the recovery time will be. Will chemo be necessary or not, afterward (it might not). And this is where I get to rhapsodize over the French health care system, which has now risen to new heights in my opinion.
My médecin traitant (primary care doctor), Dr. L, was the one to break the bad news: the high-res CT scan showed that there was a tumor on my kidney that was bleeding, and although it was possible it might not be cancer, the signs seemed to be pointing in that direction. That man could not have been more compassionate or sensitive in his handling of that conversation and that very scary word that no one ever wants to hear. I thought I was there just to pick up a referral letter to the urologist, but that was partially a ruse to get me in hisoffice so he could talk to me face-to-face. Georges wasn't with me, so we phoned him and the doctor explained everything to him a second time, in French. Dr. L stressed how important it would be to talk about how I was feeling (little does he know, talking about my feelings has rarely been a problem for me) and that Georges and I would need to talk candidly about it as well (also not a problem for us). He also gave me some Xanax, a mild dose, to help with the stress of the situation.
It was around this time that I realized that the word "cancer" in French sounds a lot like how you pronounce "concert" in French. But this will be no symphony, that's for sure.
Dr. L has referred me to Dr. D, a urologist who has offices two blocks from our house. I had total confidence in Dr. D even before I met him, because Dr. L had referred me to my gall bladder surgeon 4 years ago and he was wonderful. So if Dr. L tells me someone is good, then he's good and I don't need to worry about it.
When Georges and I met with Dr. D, he explained that in France, by law, when there is even a suspicion of a tumor, the doctor is not permitted to make unilateral decisions about the patient's treatment. Instead, he has to present the case to a group of colleagues from various medical disciplines. This approach means that the patient is spared having to run around and waste valuable time getting 2nd or 3rd opinions; the group of doctors get together, look at all the data, and they make a collective recommendation for treatment, surgery or whatever is involved. This gave us a lot of confidence that whatever Dr. D would recommend, it would be a sound recommendation that we could trust.
And there's one more really awesome part of this: Dr. L told us that when a patient has a big illness such as cancer, the health care system will cover it ONE HUNDRED PER CENT. Yes, you read that right: 100%. As in FREE for us. As in we pay NADA. So one thing we won't have to worry about is mounting medical bills. Merci, France.
There are still pieces of the puzzle to be put into place, but I am hopeful that my surgery could be pushed off to just after the New Year. If that's the case, we'll spend a quiet Christmas at home in Paris (do you know I've never actually spent Christmas IN Paris since I've lived in France?) and maybe Georges and the Garçon will get to take a short trip south to see Georges' sister; I'll stay here and rest up.
The bottom line is this: my attitude is that there is only ONE acceptable outcome in all this, and that is complete and total perfect health being restored once I go through whatever is necessary. The journey won't be fun, but the destination is assured as far as I am concerned.
I know you will have questions and you may want to share stories of people you know who went through this or that. I very much appreciate expressions of good wishes, prayers, healing thoughts for me, Georges and both our families, but need to say this: it's important to me that I surround myself with only positive people now. So if you could refrain from sharing stories about other people's experiences, even those with happy outcomes - because their experiences aren't mine and everyone is different. I will reserve the right to suppress comments that aren't in keeping with the spirit of positive energy and healing I am creating around myself at this time. Thanks for understanding.
I'll post here periodically with updates on how things are going or what's going to happen when.
I don't know that I'll ever look at a kidney bean in the same way again. And yes, cancer totally sucks.