Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Just Follow the Tracks

I went against my better judgement. I listened to Donna-Lane on directions.

I know, I know, men are supposed to be terrible about asking for directions. But you need to understand that for at least the past 25 years, D-L has mostly taken public transportation or rode as a passenger in a car. Such experience is not necessarily conducive to being able to navigate - especially the convoluted street spaghetti system of Geneva (which is way worse than Boston).

I will concede that, one time, we were looking for an historic site, and she advised me to follow the No. 3 tram. She was right because that's how she had gotten to that site before.

This morning, we were headed to the canton offices in Onex, a part of town we rarely venture into. I had printed out the GoogleMaps directions and maps the evening before as potential reference ... though even that is tenuous because the street signs in Geneva are on the sides of buildings: small, not always visible, not always there at all.

I had a good idea how to get halfway to our destination but could have easily become confused the rest of the way. One reason we left almost two hours before my appointment to process my Permis B residence application.

Before we got to the Quai Dore and the Pont du Mont Blanc, which has been a construction bottleneck the past couple weeks, Donna-Lane suggested we turn at Eaux-Vives and parallel the Quai in order to get to the Bel Air bus/tram interchange. My gut said no, but I turned nonetheless. Weaving past the early morning delivery trucks, we arrived at Bel Air.

"Okay, you're on your own now," D-L announced.

"What do you mean?"

"Just follow the tram tracks."

Not only was I well off the map I had printed out, after just a couple of blocks the tram tracks made a wide right turn - down a street which cars are not allowed to enter! Now what?

We made a couple guess-turns until we came to an area I was familiar with - Plainpalais, a huge open park large enough for the annual circus. Found a parking spot to get out of traffic (a small miracle in itself) and started examining the maps we had available (which are not great).

Aha! We also had the TomTom GPS, and (another miracle) it had the canton office address already programmed from the previous time we visited there. Between Tom (actually Thomasina for the female Brit voice giving directions) and the street signs for Onex and Chancy, we managed to work our way to familiar territory. Arrived with time to spare, so we popped into Co-op for a pain du chocolate and tea.

On the return, actually heading for the hospital so Donna-Lane could have yet another blood test, we discovered a part of the city I had never been in with a beautiful fall view of the River Arve. (And quite close to the hospital, so perhaps a strolling destination in the future.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

86 the 5-FU

Cyclophosphamide compound
I like to know what's going on, the details, the rationale behind why something is done the way it's done. In French class, I'll often ask the derivation of a word, which I find often helps the context and helps me relate it to English root words. (Sometimes there is no context, other than "It's French!")

I thought I wanted to know the details of the chemotherapy drugs Donna-Lane is being given, the ones that are making her so lethargic about 2-3 days after the chemo session (she characterizes herself as a 'slug'). After reading a small mountain of medical jargon and laundry lists of potential side effects, I'm not so sure now that I might prefer not to know.

I'll share with you a little, but not so much to scare the shit out of you (yes, diarrhoea - Brit spelling - can be one of the side effects).

For the first three chemo treatments, spaced three weeks apart, the chemical "cocktail"is known as FEC: Flourouracil, Epirubicine, and Cyclophosphamide.

In reverse order,  Cyclophosphamide is sort of derived from mustard and works by inducing the death of certain "T cells" or T lymphocytes. When they operated on D-L, they found cancer in 10 of the 17 lymph nodes they removed. One of the possible side effects is infertility, so I guess we won't be having any children together.

Epirubicine is supposed to make cancer cell DNA "get tangled up" - that's the technical term one medical website used - so cancer cells can't divide and grow. Epi is a red liquid, so it's easy to see flowing through the IV tubing; it also makes you pee pink for a day or so. And it's the drug that makes your hair fall out, including all body hair.

Flourouracil, the 5-FU in the title, can also cause alopecia (hair loss), vomiting, the d-word, and a bunch of other stuff, including persistent hiccups (fortunately not for D-L), and mood disorders (not touching that one).

The 5-FU can also lead to "neutropenia" - in essence, an abnormally low number of white blood cells. After her 2nd treatment of FEC, Donna-Lane's white cell count was off the charts low, and she was extremely fatigued, so the oncologist decided to take her off the "F" and just use the "E" and "C" chemicals for the 3rd treatment. (We won't know how that's affected her white cell count until the middle of next week.)

After a brief break, during which we plan to go down to Argeles-sur-mer for a few days, D-L will enter the 2nd phase of chemo through Nov-Dec with yet another toxin injected into her body. Not sure of the name of that one, but I think it's made from the needles of the yew tree; we'll let yew know.

We remind ourselves this is all preventative. The doctors were confident they removed all the cancer with the operation. This 3 months of chemo, followed in Feb-Mar by 6 weeks of radiotherapy, is all just in case there's a stray cancer cell anywhere in her body. It's intended to prolong D-L's life ... but in the meantime, with low energy levels and tethered to the hospital every week, life is a struggle for her to enjoy to the fullest, as she normally does.

I invite you to read how she copes; check out her blog: http://breastisyettocome.blogspot.ch/

If you are being treated for cancer, or know someone who is, her blog (and positive attitude) may help you as well.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Exotic Soup

I was thrilled that Donna-Lane felt good enough to cook lunch, the first time in quite a few days, as she's been struggling with fatigue brought on by her chemo treatments.

She'd made a soup using a package of assorted veggies purchased yesterday at the Co-Op. I hadn't paid much attention to which veggies, though I remembered carrots being in the package.

"What's in the soup?" I asked, before scooping my first spoonful.

"Bali, carrots, celery, leek ...." she rattled off the ingredients.

"What was that again?" I'm a bit hard of hearing, though I did have my good ear pointed in her direction.

"Bali, ......."

Hmmmmm. She's been searching recipes on the internet. Must've come across a recipe for some South Pacific-themed vegetable soup.

Then I looked in the bowl. "Barley!"

"Yes," she replied in her Boston accent, in which they don't pronounce 'r's': "Bahley."

Guess there won't be a floor show of Indonesian island dancers after lunch.

By the way, I love bahley. 
D-L's dueling blog on the subject can be read at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2015/10/the-look.html

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Donna-Lane caught me cheating on her.

As we crossed paths in the hallway and kissed, she gave me a knowing look. Then we both started laughing.

She smelled the chocolate on my breath.

And I hadn't offered her any.

Neither of us said a word. I knew what she was thinking just from the look.

Not long ago, when we were in separate rooms, I broke a piece of chocolate off a larger bar. She heard the crack of chocolate.

No sneaking around on her when there's chocolate involved.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Today, Much Better

Today was an overall good day. Not perfect. But productive.

First, Donna-Lane's heart is fine. Nice young cardio doc took some scans, including showing D-L the blood flowing through her veins. No worries there. Even found a lone street parking space into which I deftly parallel parked. The karma kontinues.

Stopped for a pain au chocolate noir and tea at the cafe at Manor. D-L waited for me while I did the grocery shopping, but by the time I finished she was fatigued again and lay down as soon as we arrived home.

Fortunately, J returned from the mountains, which enabled me to drive around to Montreux (home of the famous jazz festival) for an interview with a fascinating guy who's Swiss company has come up with a radical new seat design and a customized approach to business aircraft cabins.
Drove home the other way, through Evian (home of the famous bottled spring water), so in effect I drove around the entirety of Lac Leman - 176 kilometres. Traffic was a crawl at times, but that just gave me a chance to enjoy the spectacular mountain and lake scenery. At times, I could see successive mountains, the nearest one fairly clear and dark, the next less clear and less dark, the third and fourth even lighter and hazier as in a painting.

The lake view was quite ethereal - pale blue water with streaks of navy and mottled with a hazy pinkish-white sky, which yielded to even paler blue sky. As I rounded the promontory and came through Evian, though, there was a bright yellow sun setting, flashing vivid orange ripples across the water. Over time as the sun dipped below the line of the Jura mountains, the sky and clouds above evolved into hues of salmon and ivory. (The photo does not do justice to the mood of the lake I observed.)
Returned home to find Donna-Lane feeling stronger.

Good day. Good day.

Yesterday Was a Merde Day

Pardon my French, but it was one of those rare shitty days. We don't have many. We have a lot of very good days, and quite a few in the wonderful category. But yesterday was an accumulation of frustrating, annoying, irritating crap.

Started with a trip to see Donna-Lane's oncologist. We're averaging about three trips a week to the hospital, plus occasional home nurse visits, plus weekly physical therapy. Our Peugot is almost like a driverless car and all we do is program in the destination.

D-L was feeling really drained from chemo treatments. We went to the wrong floor at first for the breast cancer centre, neglecting to check in at their reception, so back down then back up. Only to be told she needed a blood test before seeing the doctor. It wasn't on the schedule we'd been given, as were previous blood tests. Nurse said it was supposed to be automatic every time. News to us. Walk out of the building, around the corner to another building, upstairs, prick the finger, get the lollipop (the blood tests are in a children's wing), downstairs, around the corner, down the hall, up to the 2nd floor again. More tiring, unnecessary movement for my wife.

So D-L saw the doc, who wanted her to get a cardio scan in case the chemo has damaged her heart. First we'd heard of that possible side effect. Fortunately the doc got an appointment for the scan the next morning (though at 10 til 8; I'm not big on early mornings and counting the two-day conference I attended this would be three 6am wake-up calls in a row).

After discussions with the doctor about possibly changing the chemo cocktail, we left but Donna-Lane needed to check with the nurses regarding future schedule. I found a seat in the hallway (the salle d'attente was full) and tried to fix my iPad, which has been weirding out for a week. I wasn't aware, then, that D-L had gone back to see the doc because they had given the doc the wrong blood test the first time. White cell count was even lower. Not good. Now she's really fatigued.

She waits in the hospital lobby while I retrieve the car from the parking garage about 3-4 blocks over. Takes me 20-25 minutes to get back to the hospital because it's now rush hour and another hour or so to get home, even weaving our way through communes (Swiss suburbs, not hippie havens) away from the city centre.

On Facebook we learn the latest bad news about a relative in the States who has some serious health issues from a recent accident. We're concerned too about the spouse and others who are very close and anxious. We're also waiting on medical test results for another relative. And we learn that a friend in the expat community has a, hopefully temporary, medical issue serious enough to keep them offline.

As I'm cleaning up the kitchen, I rub against something rough, thinking it's dried spilled food on the stove. Closer inspection, the cooktop is cracked. No idea how it happened, and the owner of the house is in the mountains. We'll buy a new one.

We receive word that the Indiana federal judge has denied the requested preliminary injunction in D-L's lawsuit against the US government (with six other expat plaintiffs) to throw out the onerous FATCA financial information reporting scheme which is causing overseas banks to arbitrarily close the accounts of any Americans. Kinda tough to live day to day without a bank account, eh? The lawsuit will continue - somebody has to stand up and speak out against bad laws and regulations.

All of this, though, doesn't begin to stack up against what our relative is going through. Or migrants forced into barbed-wire camps like animals because they seek a better life in Europe. Or the poor people still in Syria who are being bombed daily by at least 10 different countries, reducing that beautiful country to piles of rubble.

Hope your day was better than theirs. And ours.