I’ve been neglecting you lately and here’s why: it’s because cancer really sucks. I could say that life’s been complicated, difficult, that we’ve been having to do a lot of thinking and worrying, that after all we’re alive and in the south of France so how bad can it be, that life is full of hard choices and we all have to cope. Or I could just say that cancer really and truly sucks. You choose.
We’ve been through the cancer mill an uncountable number of times over the past 15 years, but this time is one of the hardest. After all, we just got a long term visa, rented our house, sold our cars, and moved to France, ready to settle in for a good long time. I’d write my book about the life of a small cooperative winery, Shel would continue to improve his French and play music, Beppo and Zazou would continue to eat duck for breakfast and rabbit for dinner as French cats do. And yes, we knew that cancer would always be in the equation somewhere, as it always is.
What we didn’t imagine was that cancer would come front and center so soon, catching us suddenly, unaware, in the same way that Zazou surprises the little birds huddling hopefully against the winter cold, tearing at our plans and sitting heavy on our hearts.
There are a lot of wonderful things that one can say about the French health care system, and they’ve mostly all been said already. Everyone gets cared for, most people pay little or nothing. That’s the usual nutshell. But here’s the thing that we’ve learned only recently, although it fits well with other things we understand about France. The French tend to be risk-averse, especially as compared to Americans, with our legacy of the cowboy mentality and pioneer spirit. In America there’s cutting edge care, even ragged and bleeding edge care, although it’s not available to everybody, not even to half of everybody.
In France if a couple of people die while taking an experimental drug, that’s likely to be it for that drug for quite some time, maybe forever. No one else will face the same risk. Whereas in America if a hundred people die while taking the same drug the attitude is more likely to be “well, they had cancer anyway and it was better to try this, especially if some people were helped by the drug, than to do nothing at all.” Americans sign a huge sheaf of papers stating that we accept the risk, and then we swallow the bitter pill bravely, hoping for the best.
Shel’s cancer has been getting worse and we’re kind of running out of options. We’re having a devil of a time getting it treated here, which is where we want to be. It would be easier to get it treated in the US, although not at all easy, but that’s not where we want to be. It’s a hearts and minds game: heart says France, head says America. Heart says don’t give up on happiness so easily, visit more offices, make more phone calls, fill out more forms. Head says just give me a pillow and a sedative and wake me when it’s over.
I wanted to give you a recipe today, because it’s been a long time, but I just don’t have it in me. Instead, if you have a recipe that makes you happy to be alive, please post it in the Comments section. We all need it.