Thanks to Team Eric! Memories. Hitting Play Again.
It's been a long time. 10 months to be exact, with some of it going real fast, and other times going real slow.
During this time I had help from "Team Eric". This is what Di's family called themselves as they sent me their love, photos and messages. We then extended the moniker to all friends and family around the world.
Being too tired to send messages to all myself, Di took charge of all communications and would read and show them to me instead. They never failed to help me and strengthen my resolve to get through this. A huge thank you to all. Know that each message, photo, video, virtual hug and thoughts helped.
Team Eric included my parents of course, who opened their house to Di, Princess and I as soon as we rushed back to France. Without them the transition would have been very difficult if not impossible. All my love.
Last, a key part of Team Eric were the dozens of medical professionals who helped daily and showed us warmth and humanity. No amounts of thanks will ever make good how I feel about all of you. From Dr Michallet, my oncologist, to Caroline -our liaison nurse- to all at Centre Leon Berard, the pharmacies, home visit nurses and so many more.
It was a long 10 months for sure, and this blog -originally made for friends and family to follow our adventures from a single easy access- turned into our memory book as well as a reminder of what was waiting for us. So I found myself reading and re-reading it, remembering each stop on Enfin, each walk with Princess and Di. The laughs and joys that they brought us.
So I will use this post as a way to pen down some of the fresh memories of those last 10 months, both to share but also as a reminder of my luck and what we went through. It's also a way of closing this chapter as we hit "Play" again.
Coming down from Canada after the diagnosis felt both very fast and excruciatingly slow. We pushed Enfin a few times, and the boat had no problem taking us safely closer to Portland each day. On the way we solved a myriad of small problems, from air fares to finding a long term marina, to arranging travel for Princess, getting admitted to a top cancer hospital. All that with spotty internet as we were cruising down the coast for 12 hours each day.
I found myself fairly calm -never losing a night's sleep- despite the diagnosis and fearing what it could mean. I had clearly been misdiagnosed 2 years prior and I knew that cancer treatment success is vastly dependent on early diagnosis. I was starting my battle 2 years late. Would it be too late? Part of me supposed so, but I was determined to fight whatever battle I could.
I was also glad that at least -in the worse case scenario- I would be at my parents, with Di and Princess. Surrounded by those I love. I knew I'd have my French friends not far either, and almost asked my best friend in the US to join me for a good hug too.
The first appointment with Dr. Michallet was life changing. Not only is she the top of her specialty, she has a bright positive personality and a very human approach. Her words that we were not 2 years too late and that I could not only go to remission but even 5 years later be cured were a ray of sunshine. She arranged for a battery of pre-chemo tests, and all came back very good. I was in otherwise great shape, with excellent pulmonary, renal, heart functions, no prior virus, etc...Clearly the good healthy life I'd been living on Enfin was going to help.
She was very happy, knowing she would be able to "hit me" as hard as she needed. I asked her not to spare me, and not hesitate to go with harsh treatment. Not that she would, but I wanted my message clearly heard. From that day "Mission Remission" became "Mission Remission, Guerison". (Cure in French but it only rhymes in French!)
And so it began. Every 2 weeks, sometimes a little more depending how I responded, I'd have another round of chemo therapy.
First chemo. Notice my smile! I kept that smile throughout the 12 treatments, even when the cumulative effect and higher doses were taking their effect and making my daily life harder.
Chemo is different for all I'm told, but I've never heard anyone say it's a joy and pleasure! It definitely wasn't comfortable. There were easy days, and harsh ones, but I kept an eye on the prize and Mission Remission.
I apparently had some initial allergies to the strong treatment, and responded with very high temperatures, scaring the medical staff around me. For a while there was a lot of activity in my room, only slowing down after a battery of new tests confirmed I was not in septic shock. Even in my daze I felt the tension being released around me.
I had pretty much all the side-effects I was warned about. If anything, the further along the course you are the easier it gets. Not that the pains and aches are any easier, but you know what's coming. You know it'll stop, and you know you're surviving and killing the cancer. So you take it day by day, dream of the better days, and concentrate on building strength. Yet the treatment is sapping it faster than you can rebuild.
A common initial effect of cancer is the huge amount of calories it burns, and that you must do all you can not to lose weight. So a good side effect meant that I had to eat stupidly large amounts of food at first. Being in France helped, and I consumed amazing quantities of croissants, tartes au flan, eclairs au chocolat, cassoulets, and so much more. I roughly ate 4,000 calories a day just to maintain my weight. The Doctor was very happy to see me gain weight back as the chemo and my heavy eating did their thing. You can imagine the number of grocery trips and meals Di had to prepare! Oh, and chemo burns your mouth and sense buds, so eating is not always a pleasant experience, but with Di's help I always ate.
Later on, my experience as a sailor helped fight the chemo induced nausea.... By eating stupid amounts of heavy food. Bread, cassoulets, etc... Eating was a huge part of my fight.
I know we all refer to this as a fight, and in many ways it is. The pains, aches, hard times, the mental and stubbornness you need are all fights in their own way. So your mental is very important and all medical professionals say so. Positive mental attitude really helps and demonstrably so according to studies.
But let's be clear: Cancer isn't a mental illness, it cannot be cured by mental power only. For those who "lose their fight" it wasn't a character fault or a weakness. There's only so much attitude can do. Cancers evolve, mutate, stop responding to chemo, etc.... None of that is the patient's lack of fighting and each fight is different.
My course of chemo ended with doubtful Petscan results, so Dr. Michallet ordered an investigative biopsy. When all tissues from the biopsy confirmed the visual necrosed aspect, I was official declared in complete remission.
I felt like an 85 year old, simple squats being almost impossible and certainly very painful, but I knew my strength would come back month by month. We had done it!
"Mission Remission" is achieved, and I'm now on "Mission Guerison". That'll take 5 years of remission with no relapse. I am currently in a 2 out of 3 chance of no relapse, not bad odds, but the 1 in 3 risk remains as a hanging threat.
I'll be under close medical surveillance at first, with my next Petscan scheduled for October, and as they come back clean, the surveillance will decrease.
So back to the boat we go, plans altered and life changed, but strong and getting stronger by the day. Ready to hit "Play" again, my heart now much bigger from all the love I received from Team Eric.