Early this morning the taxi took me down to the Institut du Cancer de Montpellier. This is a vast, impressive pile of concrete and glass, luckily at the entrance to Montpellier on our side. This is regional centre for cancer for the whole of the Languedoc Roussillon region. I found its imposing presence reassuring: this is the place to be to deal with cancer.
The first steps inside are classically French: intimidating and impersonal. The taxi driver, Luc, showed me the machine into which I had to insert my carte vitale (health card containing one’s personal data) and then I had to indicate on the touch sensitive screen which doctor I had come to see. Out popped a ticked with a number and instructions to wait until called.
After that things got more human. My number came up on the screen and I went to desk C where I was greeted in a friendly way by a receptionist (far better than our arrival at Beau Soleil).
When at last I saw my oncologue radiothérapeute (oncology radiotherapist), Dr Elizabeth Kerr, she was brilliant. She was friendly and approachable (explaining her name was because of Scottish grandparents), extremely concerned that I should understand exactly what had been done so far and what were the options for treatment now and why, and that I should understand what was involved with radiotherapy. I’ve been given a whole lot of bumf, including a very well presented booklet on endometrial cancer treatments, and I rather suspect that she is the consultant involved in this work.
Dr Kerr stressed that of course there was no guarantee of elimination of the cancer, but that the purpose of the radiotherapy was preventative: to try to ensure that no cancerous cells had escaped during surgery and remained in the abdomen. She said that chemotherapy was only used if the cancer had moved to the other organs, which it hasn’t in my case.
I asked about the potential damage to the gut and bladder of radiotherapy, and whether they used a technique called IMRT. She said yes, it was difficult to shield other organs, which is why they would be giving 25 light doses of radiotherapy rather than a big blast, to give the gut and bladder time to recover a little each night. (And yes, they had been using IMRT for over a decade.) Most people don’t have major problems following this radiotherapy, but she warned that the main side effects could still be diarrhea and fatigue (not helped by the daily taxi trip to Montpellier) and that it was important to follow the advice on diet during radiotherapy to avoid unnecessary problems.
The diet is pretty grim: pretty well everything I like is ‘déconseillé’! I can expect a summer eating very bland hospital type food, while watching my visitors enjoy more appetising fare.
Meanwhile I’m digging into the stock of delicious spiced meals, made by my brother in law, Peter, while I may still eat spices.
On Monday I go back to Montpellier for scans and then I have to wait while Dr Kerr and her team set up the complex program to target the relevant areas. The actual radiotherapy will start on 9 July and continue until about 13 August (I still have to get the dates and times).
At the end I will have one larger dose of internal radiation, through the vagina, targetted exclusively at the cervix, the point at which the cancerous uterus was removed. I apparently get more information and counselling from the very nice nurse, Rosie, who is to be with me at all sessions from now on.