End Of The Rainbow

Posted March 4, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America



Is there gold at the end of this rainbow, glowing just outside our house? I think that it’s safe to say: yes, there is, although it’s the sort of gold that you might prefer to avoid.

The targeted drug that Shel was taking was making him feel terrible, and there was no sign that it was actually making him any better, so he has decided to stop taking it. Today he enrolled in the hospice program, and we will be doing everything we know how to do to make the rest of our life together as full of joy, grace, and peace as it possibly can be.

It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever made in our 20 year quest to manage his cancer. If you’ve been following his story, you know that we’ve tried just about everything available in the U.S. and in France. He’s gotten better, he’s gotten worse, we’ve hoped, we’ve despaired, and we’ve been constantly looking for the Next Good Thing that medical research had to offer him. We’ve finally run out of options, and we’re stepping off that roller coaster.

Now our job is to live as well as we can, knowing that we don’t have all the time in the world. To continue to love in the face of loss, to try to laugh a little every day, and also, to fold the laundry and clean the litter box, because you still have to do all that, while you can.

So I guess the pot of gold may be a new-found peace. I’m not sure, I haven’t had the time to test my theory yet, but I’m thinking this will be true. Since we’re suddenly freed from the constant pressure to search for and try out new treatments, with all the side effects they entail, in theory we’re now fully available to live in the moment, which is supposed to be a sweet place. Maybe we’ll see each other more clearly now, through this final prism. We might even discover new things to love about each other. Maybe there will be rainbows every day. Spring is coming soon, and it’s a beautiful time to be alive.

Drama Queen

Posted February 14, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: ,


You all must think I’m a total drama queen. Every couple of years I come here and tell you that Shel’s about to die, and French Letters goes all dark and dramatic.

DSC_8079Sometimes we’ve been in France, sometimes in America, but the despair has always been the same. I wish I could exclaim Alas! in English like I can say Hélas! in French, without sounding affected, because alas is the only thing we feel at the prospect of Shel’s impending end. We never get to the Resignation or Acceptance stages that are supposed to be part of the process of dying. We are never resigned, never can accept the idea, and generally gnash our teeth and thrash about at the prospect.


It’s all we’ve talked about for the past few weeks, except when we’ve been talking about the Olympics. Looking death right in the face and never learning equanimity. Expecting Shel to die any day now. Freaking the fuck out, actually.

But now he’s been taking the new drug for a little over a week, and he’s feeling a bit better. He’s gone from saying “honey, stockpile the morphine” to seldom taking any. He’s been saved so many improbable times, by heaven knows what – should we sell our stock in Kleenex and dare to hope again?

How It’s Going

Posted February 7, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America


DSC_8077People ask me all the time how Shel’s doing. I think this is the truest answer, to say how he’s not doing. Now I’m the one who’s driving when the two of us are in the car, I’m loading the dishwasher, I’m putting out the garbage and recycling, I’m getting the paper and the mail in the morning, I’m doing Shel’s laundry, and heaven help me, sometimes I’m even making the coffee. These are things I wouldn’t have thought of doing just a month ago, because these were Shel’s jobs. Now they’re mine.


And I’m learning that it’s a sacrament to fold Shel’s laundry.

Light A Candle

Posted January 23, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America


IMG_7292Friends and dear ones, light a candle for us, please, because we’re in bad shape over here. Shel’s in a lot of pain, plus now he’s doing ten more days of radiation for spinal metastases. The insurance company, predictably, refused to pay for the targeted drug, but we’re appealing that and are keeping our fingers crossed.

I wake up in the morning, my pillow already damp with the first of the day’s tears. Mascara is utterly wasted on me. Toby is learning to go outside, on a leash, and shivers when he realizes how big and cold the world is outside the house. Me too. Shel struggles valiantly on, like the gull flying past, now finding a bright evening ray, winging over dark water, catching the last of the light.

Mutation Celebration

Posted January 14, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America


DSC_6097-001This is our dear friend Bill, who died completely unexpectedly this week, and Shel, who is a mutant. Yes, although we’re unspeakably sad that Bill has left us, we’re so glad to learn that I Married A Mutant.

Shel’s test came back positive for the BRAF genetic mutation, which means that a protein that is involved in cell growth is faulty in my Best Beloved, and also, that there is a targeted drug that might possibly help him.

Quite a week this has been, so far, with such terrible and such wonderful news, tumbling over each other, all raw and unruly. Quite a week.

Scattered, Shattered

Posted January 9, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America


DSC_6730Cancer will steal your soul, if you’ll let it. It scatters your hopes, shatters your dreams, leaves you trembling in the dark, tossing fitfully, waking to a tear-soaked pillow. And that’s just the disease I’m talking about.

Sometimes the treatments are so harsh that you’d pretty much rather die than take them. That’s how Shel felt last week, trying a new and ultra-toxic drug. But this week we both feel even worse than that, because of a medical error. We’ve been waiting for five weeks, since his biopsy for genetic sequencing, to see whether he’s a candidate for a treatment targeted at a specific mutation that he may or may not have. But yesterday we learned that the surgeon, after performing the biopsy, never correctly completed the paperwork to have the lab analyses done, and so the five weeks have been utterly wasted. Five weeks during which Shel’s been sliding painfully downhill, really suffering.

It hasn’t all been bad, I guess. We had Christmas, and New Years during that time. We had family and friends. We sat by the fire, harvested our first oysters, drank a lot of Champagne. And we had hope. Hope that although Shel gets visibly worse with each passing day, the results of the biopsy would allow him another treatment option. When we found out yesterday that the hospital had made a huge error, we had one of our darkest days.

Now, amazingly, inevitably, we’re daring to hope again, because now that the error has been discovered they’re making a mad dash to get the results. We’re hoping that Shel will have the mutation, and that he’ll be able to tolerate the treatment if he does. We’re hoping that he’ll be able to hang in there a little longer, that his pain will diminish, that his appetite will come back, that he’ll be able to wash the dishes without getting out of breath, that he’ll feel joy in something, that he’ll be at peace with the way it’s turning out, that he’ll be able to choose his moment and his way to leave us, and that it won’t be too soon.

Please keep him in your hopes and thoughts.

Fini, Le Foie Gras

Posted January 6, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America, Posts Containing Recipes

Tags: , , ,

DSC_8014Sadly, amazingly, we’ve just about come to the finale of our year-end foie gras and duck orgy. After making my terrine de foie gras, I found myself with a small bowl of vividly yellow foie gras fat that had spilled over the terrine pan, which I stuck in the fridge for “later.” Well, later finally came, and boy did I ever put it to good use.

Above you see a little poêlée de légumes, a simple pan sauté of vegetables that was made transcendent by the addition of foie gras fat. I sliced a couple of small turnips and browned them in the fat, sprinkled with some porcini salt. Blanched and shocked some green beans, tossed in some slivered red cabbage, and let it all dance together in the skillet for a few minutes. It was a fridge-cleaning dish, to be sure, but the foie gras fat made it unearthly delicious.

And then I made a foie gras sauce for the roasted chicken I served with it. Using a variation on the recipe I posted here. I sauteed a finely diced shallot in foie gras fat until it was translucent. I added a big glug, let’s say about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dry sherry, and simmered it until it was reduced to a few tablespoons. Then I added an equal-sized glug of heavy cream and simmered that until it was reduced and thickened. And finally, I crumbled the last few ounces of my foie gras terrine into the sauce and let it melt. The roast chicken, on a bed of the vegetables, blanketed in the silky foie gras sauce, rendered us speechless. The moral to this tale: the next time you have some fresh foie gras, be sure to save any rendered fat – it proves the maxim that having a high class of leftovers makes for the best thrown-together meals you could ever hope to taste.

I’m still dreaming of that duck paté, though, and looking for the slightest excuse to make it again. Perhaps you’re coming to dinner sometime soon?


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