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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Flophouse Week in Review

The weather finally cleared up here in Versailles and this past week was glorious.  Too nice to stay indoors and tickle the keyboard so I spent most of it gardening, walking (slowly) around town and receiving visitors.

For me the week begins with Sunday mass at Sainte Elisabeth de Hongrie, a little church in the neighborhood called Chantiers near the train station of the same name.  It's a very modest structure - nothing like the St. Louis Cathedral which is closer to the castle - but I like it because it's small and if you attend mass there regularly you get to know people.  As I said before I had some trepidation about going to French mass but the parishioners were so welcoming that I kept coming back and little by little began to participate more and more in the life of the parish.

Last Sunday when I was there I met a Frenchman who is married to an English-speaking Canadian.  His English was impeccable (a bit like my spouse's) and we exchanged phone numbers after the mass.

I also had some time before the service started to chat with a young woman who is always there before every service selling flowers.  Her name is Samuela.  This time she had bouquets of daffodils (jonquilles) and I bought one for the house.  As we talked I learned that she is from Romania (a fellow immigrant) and a small child at home.  She asked about the little paper daffodil I had on my coat which was from last month's campaign against cancer called Une Jonquille pour Curie (Institut Curie).  When I told her that I was being treated there for breast cancer she handed me a second bouquet for free.  A small act of kindness from someone who has her own difficulties.  It was humbling and it really moved me.  As I thanked her and walked into the church she smiled and said, "Bonne Messe, Madame."

I'm a creature of habit and my weekdays always start the same way:  a yogurt and coffee for breakfast and then I go outside to walk the garden.  Every day there is something new.  The lilies are up and the nasturtiums too.  The forsythias are almost finished blooming.  The tulips are just getting started.  The lettuce looks good so far.

I've been told that I have a green thumb (la main verte) but I don't think it's anything innate.  It's more about keen observation and experience.  As I walk the garden in the morning and afternoon I watch the path of the sun across the beds so I can get a good idea of what parts are sunny and which ones are shade.  When I work the beds I crumble the earth in my hands and feel for the quality of the soil  This is something, by the way, that technically I'm not supposed to be doing.  When I had my surgery they removed the lymph nodes (ganglions) on the right side and I've been warned that I should not be gardening without gloves lest I cut or scrape my hand or arm and get an infection.  But looking at the soil is not enough for me to know what I need to do with it and so I have compromised.  I always wear gloves when pruning, digging, and setting out plants but I remove them when I just can't stand it any more and I'm dying to touch the earth.  Then I go inside and thoroughly wash up.

My gardening methods seem to work and most of what I plant grows well.  Some notable exceptions are the azalea my mother-in-law gave me (it died) and the peonies I brought over from our apartment - of the four I planted only one made it.

Wednesday was a big day because I went in for my PET scan (Positron emission tomography).  Wikipedia has a picture here.  Here's how the test unfolds.  In the morning I'm allowed some coffee and two biscuits (no sugar) and then I can have nothing but water until after the test.  Upon arriving at the clinic the technicians start a saline drip and once they have checked me for diabetes and they are sure I am properly hydrated they inject me with a solution that contains sugar and a radioactive tracer.  Then I had to lie there for an hour in a darkened room - no reading, watching movies or anything that would cause my brain to be active.  Once the hour is up I'm put under the scanner and am asked to lie very very still.  After about 20 minutes, the test is over and they serve me a nice lunch (the bread at the clinic is really good).  And then I walked back to the train station and took the public transportation home.  This test left me kinda shaky and sick but the weather was good and I walked slowly back to the house.  The results will be back early next week.  What is the difference between the PET scan and the tests I had last week?  Well, the former looks for markers in the blood that might indicate that the cancer has returned.  Those came back OK.  The PET scan is to check for cancer in other parts of my body.  Once the cancer in the breast get into the lymph nodes (my case) it can travel more easily to other parts of the body.  That is why I had chemotherapy.  So this test is to check that all is (or isn't) well elsewhere.  Here is what they are looking for - scroll down to see the scan images.

I have mixed feeling about being asked to take another test.  On one hand it is an extra security and if something is wrong, it is best to know right now.  On the other it's a real effort to manage the stress.  Very easy to "live in the wreckage of the future" and imagine all sorts of horrible scenarios as you wait at home for the results.  The best cure for that is to get out in the garden, call friends, chat via email and get out of the house.

Every Friday I go to church and assure a presence from 11:30 to 12:30 at the Adoration of the Eucharist.  It is truly one of the highlights of my week.  From a purely practical standpoint, it gets me out of the house and interacting with people.  I always see people I know and this Friday I got to meet someone I didn't:  Sister Theresa who is part of the local Franciscan community.  Those are the benefits that I'm sure even the most secular will understand.  The other and more important part is that I use that hour to have a conversation with my creator.  What we talk about varies but I always try to begin with the things I'm really grateful for:  breathing, being able to walk and talk and read and write; my family and friends;  my garden and my house;  and the people at the clinic who are helping me.   The list always turns out to be longer than I originally intended and it really helps to put things in perspective and live in the moment.  Right here, right now, I am fine.

Then I turn my thoughts to the people around me and ask for intercession on their behalf.  Best way I know of to combat self-absorption - something that is all too easy to fall into when one is facing illness. This exercise helps me to recall that other people besides me are having a hard time and to focus attention away from the self.

When I leave the church at 12:30 I feel so much better.  It gives me peace, serenity, and courage.  I always light a few candles to Our Lady and I like to think that as they burn they represent my prayers which continue even after I've gone home and fixed myself a cup of coffee.

Friday saw a return of colder weather.  When I got home the younger Frenchling and I watched Friends, ate dinner and I made peanut butter brownies for dessert.  I'm also enjoying a new romance series that I just discovered:  A Neighbor from Hell series by R.L. Mathewson.

I've been a fan of romance novels (littérature sentimentale or, as my mother calls them, "bodice rippers") since I went to convent school.  It was the nuns that turned me on to Harlequin romances.  They loved them and so did I.  Ever since they have been my guilty little secret and I would pick up one from time to time when I wanted a break from the seriousness of the non-fiction I usually read.  I was always afraid that my friends and colleagues would find out about my addiction lest my intellectual and career credential suffered.  Today, to be honest, I am way past being embarrassed by this kind of thing. Anything at this point that makes me happy is a Good Thing.

When I had my surgery and was going through chemotherapy I returned to the world of romance novels with a vengeance and, boy, was I surprised by what I found.  Forget those Harlequins which had "rules" that kept them suitable for the under-17 crowd and Benedictine nuns - the new genres are contemporary erotic "adult" romance, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  It's not just Fifty Shades of Gray but books like Suzanne Wright's Feral Sins or the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs or the Kate Daniel books by Ilona Andrews.  I adore them and I owe a great debt to the authors because on the days when the chemo hit hard and all I could do was lie on the couch, they kept me happily entertained and focussed on something other than how wretched I felt.  Even now they are perfect when I am so fatigued that I just can't do much else.  Suzanne Wright just published her sequel, to Feral Sins, Wicked Cravings, and I plan to spend part of my weekend devouring that one which is getting excellent reviews.

And that is how the week went here at the Flophouse in Versailles.  Time to hit the garden.  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.


The Lady Dee said...

"It was the nuns that turned me on to Harlequin romances." I never knew that Nuns did this sort of thing. THis really made my day. You have a great one!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

It was a big surprise for me too.

Would you believe they also gave foot massages? I'm not kidding. When we had a headache or cramps we could up to the office and sit and have our feet rubbed. It was wonderful.

As a result of that experience it took me YEARS to understand people who had horror stories about nuns and canes. Not the kind of stories you find in those erotic novels (and shame on any of you who read that last sentence and thought otherwise) but real stories of abuse and draconian discipline.

That just wasn't my experience.

Have a lovely day, Lady Dee.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Oh and for those of you who would really like to read on the Wild Side (Fifty Shades of Gray squared) but don't know where to start check out this site, Kinky Book Reviews (keep this one away from kids and even young adults):

And I strongly suggest that you begin your adventure with The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton. I was a vit suspicious of it at first but it got so many rave reviews that I took a chance. Good choice - it's a great read.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the scan waiting period. I always had mixed feelings and nervousness each time.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Andrew, I've heard it referred to as "scanxiety."

Yes, I'm nervous but like you I have mixed feelings. If there is something going on I guess I'd prefer to know now and not in 6 months.

Another layer of doubt, of course, is that the tests aren't perfect. I've been told that the PET is about as close as we can get to being sure. We'll see.