Why Cooksister is so quiet


I know I promised to get the round-up of EoMEoTE#7 up this weekend but as the more observant among you will have noticed, it’s not up yet.  Nor is my own entry.  And for a change, there is a reason for this lack of posts – a reason that is not connected to my pathological procrastination problem.

Occasionally on this blog you get to meet friends of mine – and some of the first friends who appeared were Donnie and Christelle at whose house we prepared our IMBB#6 entry.  I met Donnie through Paul (he of the butternut soup!) and not long after, I met his girlfriend Christelle who is fabulous and gorgeous in every possible way.  They quickly became good friends and I was thrillled to hear that they were moving to London at about the same time as Nick and I.  They are some of our most cherished friends in London – people with whom we can laugh about good times shared in SA, chatter away in Afrikaans and at whose house we always feel at home.

Shortly after they came to have lunch at our house this February, Donnie called me out of the blue late one night and told me that Christelle had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.  She had experienced a few symptoms but always managed to rationalise them as something harmless, as you do.  But after a proper examination, the doctor had diagnosed cancer and had urged them to start treatment as soon as possible.   Although the invitations for their planned wedding at home in South Africa in April had already gone out, there could be no delaying treatment, and so the wedding was postponed and at only 29, Christelle embarked on the frightening and lonely road of chemo- and radiotherapy.

Although she desperately wanted to go home and be with her family, she could not.  At home, she would have no medical insurance and no way to pay for treatment, whereas in England, she has both medical insurance and access to state hospitals.  So instead, her parents flew over to be with her for about two weeks of the six week treatment.  The treatment finally finished in about mid-May and despite the doctors’ initial optimism that a single course of therapy might be sufficient, they had already started making noises about a second course.  And in addition to the side-effects of the therapy, Christelle was experiencing daily pain from an inflamed bladder and kidneys which had dogged her from before her diagnosis.  But we assumed that she would slowly start returning to her old self as the treatment took effect and the side-effects wore off.

Last week I received another unexpected call from Donnie to tell me that Christelle was in intensive care after her kidneys had apparently stopped functioning.  She was not conscious due to the heavy sedation she had been given and was consequently on a respirator, being fed via a feeding tube.  She was also on 24hr dialysis and Donnie had been advised to tell her family to fly over if they could.  The doctors were not sure if they could reverse the effects of the kidneys ceasing functioning and felt that anything could happen over the next few days.  In the space of 6 hours, her parents had arranged plane tickets, emergency passports for Christelle’s brother and sister-in-law, packed and boarded a flight to Johannesburg to fly to London.  I cannot begin to imagine how long that 11 hour flight must have seemed to them.

I saw both Christelle and her family at the hospital on Thursday night (the night they arrived).  They were all trying to be strong and positive for her and she looked so frail and so alone amidst all the tubes, the drip stands, the monitors and the dialysis machine where you could see her blood circulating and being filtered.  It was both extremeley upsetting and completely surreal.  She was not conscious, but we had been encouraged to talk to her as the sedation was not so heavy that she might not hear and remember things said to her.  So no crying and despondency by her bedside, only talk of positive things, however hard that seemed.

Last night I saw her again and the news was largely good.  She is off the dialysis machine as her kidneys are functioning again.  Her sedation is lighter so she was somewhat responsive (although still not conscious) and her family are over the moon.    The doctors are hoping that when she is stable enough she can be moved out of ICU and ultimately to another hospital which has an oncology department and the facilities to perform an MRI scan to see whether it is the cancer that has caused her kidney trouble or an unrelated infection.  So we are pretty far from being out of the woods yet, but somehow her family can stay positive and rejoice in the tiniest scrap of good news.  They are truly inspirational people.

Why am I telling you all this?  Partly to explain why blogging about food is the last thing on my mind right now.  Partly because I hope that Christelle’s story can be a cautionary tale to my female audience.  Please never neglect your regular check-ups. And get anything unusual whatsoever checked out by your doctor.  Fast. Cervical cancer is eminently treatable if caught early.  And partly because I am hoping that everyone reading this can spare 30 seconds to say a quick prayer for Christelle, light a candle or just send her some positive thoughts.

And if you feel you want to give to a worthy cause, just before she went to hospital, Christelle set up a fundraising page to raise funds for Jo’s Trust, a charity offering medical advice and support specifically to women with cervical cancer.  They really helped Christelle and Donnie with information both in the early days after diagnosis and throughout the treatment.  You can donate securely on-line and if you are a British taxpayer, 28% (the tax saved) will be added on to your donation at no cost to you.

Christelle and Donnie have also had nothing but praise for the Willow Foundation, a charity which arranges special days out for seriously ill young people (16-40) – kind of like the Reach for a Dream foundation for grown-ups.  Sadly, Christelle’s special day out arranged by the Willow Foundation was scheduled for this past weekend, but we are hoping that she will recover sufficiently to be able to take her day out later in the year.

Christelle, please be strong and please come back to us soon. We love you so much.


**UPDATE – 7 June 2005**  Went to see Christelle in hospital again tonight.  They are reducing her sedation gradually, so today she is conscious.  Still a bit drugged up and sluggish, but conscious!  They only removed the ventilator tube from her throat at lunchtime, so her voice is barely there and she is mouthing words rather than really speaking, but she is at least communicating again.  Her family are over the moon.  She is still having oxygen every two hours and still has a nasal feeding tube, but her kidneys are functioning again and there is a reasonable expectation that she will be stable enough within a couple of days to have an MRI scan so that we can see what the status of the cancer is.   So not out of the woods yet, but at least she seems to have found her way back onto a path that might lead out of the woods.

**UPDATE – 11 June 2005**  Visited Christelle again late this afternoon.  I can’t believe it’s the same person we saw last weekend!  She was on dialysis again when I arived, but is sitting up in bed and is speaking again and even laughing a bit.  Yesterday morning they removed her nasal feeding tube and the challenge now is to get her to eat to regain her strength.  Nothing rich, sweet, salty or spicy appeals to her – even some of her favourite foods from before the treatment now leave her cold.  Her dad Bennie is suggesting a cold beer :-) and the doctors say that’s fine, as long as she starts taking in calories again.  I tell her to make the most of it – it’s not every day you hear your doctror say that.  The next step is to get her out of the ICU and into a general ward,  and from there to another hospital where she can have an MRI scan.  I had dinner with her family after our visit and they are like people reborn – the relief in the house is actually palpable.

**UPDATE – 14 June 2005**  Just spoke to Christelle on the phone for the first time in ages!  Yesterday she was moved out of ICU (after almost 2 weeks) and into a general ward – so clearly the doctors are very happy with the progress she’s made as regards her kidney problems.  She says she is astonished at how much her muscles weakened over the past two weeks – it feels as if she is a baby again and learning to walk all over again.  Of course, now that she is no longer sedated, she has had time to ponder her future again.  She’s finding the wait for a bed at another hospital where she can have an MRI scan extremely frustrating and tense.  There is talk that a bed may become available later today or tomorrow, but being an NHS patient, everything depends on how far along the queue you are.  So we wait and we hope and we pray.

You may have noticed that Christelle’s dad Bennie left a comment below.  He is overwhelmed by the kind messages on support that so many of you have left – people who haven’t even met his daughter.  Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers – they mean more than you will ever know.

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  1. says

    Oh, Jeanne…I’m so, so sorry to hear about your friend. She is in my thoughts and prayers- I do hope she is doing better soon.

  2. says

    Jeanne, if anyone has an excuse to neglect a food blog…it’s you!
    My heart goes out to your friend, and of course she’ll be in my prayers. Please let us know how’s she’s doing?

  3. says

    Rats!! Not to be flip, but cancer is really no fun.
    During her chemotherapy sessions, a friend (a very good cook) with ovarian cancer pretty much lost her appetite. I remember sitting in the hospital room with her when one of her neighbours visited, bringing in a big soup spoon and a jar of homemade chicken stock. It was the first time in days that we saw our frail friend get that dreamy look on her face as she smiled and ate spoonful after spoonful of the health-giving broth.
    Christelle and Donnie are fortunate to have you close by. I hope Christelle’s remission is long – so long that everyone, especially her, will forget that she has cancer at all.

  4. says

    Hi Moira, Stephanie, Brenda & Sprite
    Thanks you all so much for your kind words and your good wishes. I spoke to Donnie tonight and Christelle is off the ventilator, although still sedated, so things are looking up. Doctors are very pleased with her progress but obviously now the next step is checking on the status of the cancer – whether it has spread and what the next treatment option will be. So we’ll just keep praying and being positive.
    Hi Elizabeth,
    What a great story – thanks for sharing. The mysterious healign powers of chicken soup… As soon as Christelle is conscious again and eating approximately normally I think I’ll try whipping up a batch of chicken soup. She looks so thin and frail and in need of nourishment… But here’s the crazy thing – after 6 weeks of combined chemo and radiotherapy, she still has pretty much all her hair!
    I am really hoping and praying that the cancer is indeed in remission or is at least on the retreat, and that this most recent incident was due to a bad kidney infection rather than secondary tumours. I’ll keep you posted
    Thanks guys. Jxx

  5. says

    I’ve just noticed that streak of blonde hair to the right of your pic and it reminds me how small a piece of our lives our blogs can be. Cheers for letting us know and the very best to Christelle and her dedicated circle of loved ones. Positive thoughts on the way and don’t worry about us, we’ll be here when you get back.

  6. says

    I’m so sorry to hear about Christelle. My thoughts are with you all and I hope for a speedy recovery for Christelle.

  7. says

    I concur with Anthony. How insightful that the pic you used was the one of you sitting next to your dear friend Christelle.
    Thanks for sharing an otherwise private part of your life with us.
    Be assured that we are all thinking of Christelle, and pleased she has such a good friend in you by her side.

  8. says

    Hi Jeanne, sorry to hear about your friend Christelle. She will be in our prayers.
    And I hear your reminder on check-ups. I am due for one and been stalling on it for weeks. I’m making the appointment right now. Thanks for reminding … hoping for the best for your dear friend.

  9. says

    So sorry to hear that Christelle is in hospital. Please send her my best wishes and hopes for a quick and speedy recovery…

  10. says

    So sorry to hear about Christelle. She seems to have a wonderful support group that will surely see her through. My thoughts and prayers are with you and her family.

  11. says

    Hi Anthony, Augustus and Brian
    THanks for your kind words and good wishes. Very true what you all observe. In some senses you share so much of yourself on your blog, but when something like this happens you realise just how carefully filtered the information you normally publish is. Of course, I can talk about almost anything because food can be related to most aspects of our lives, but generally I try not to publicise too much info about friends as I am assuming that if they had my exhibitionist tendencies, they’d get their own blogs! But every now and again something happens that is too overwhelming not to write about, and suddenly you realise that there’s more to life than food. Donnie and Christelle have seen this post and all your comments and you can be sure that all this kindness from strangers is very very much appreciated.
    Hi Ana, Clare, Sally & Sweetnicks
    Thanks so much for your kind and heartfelt words. As I mentioned above, your love and concern mean so much to Donnie, Christelle and their families and friends.
    Hi Cecile
    You are so right about check-ups – we all try to avoid them!! But something like this really makes you realise just why you have them and how life-saving they can be. Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers.

  12. says

    Hi Jeanne,
    Am just about back and so sorry to hear about Christelle. One thing I like about being late is that I get to read the update the same time as the news.
    My prayers are with Christelle and family. From your story it seems like she’s has the will to live in her and good for her!
    Glad to hear that her kidneys are functioning again. I am reminded of our neighbour who also lost function of his (doctors can’t explain the reason) and was about to have a transplant when someone suggested he try extra virgin coconut oil (2-3 tbsp per meal, I think). He did and has been on slow but sure recovery. EVCO is the rage here nowadays after it’s been proven to have bactericidal properties, among others. I wonder if it can help Christelle too.

  13. Bennie Fourie says

    Hi Everybody
    I have just read Jeanne’s website and was very touched by all the comments I saw. I don’t think many of you know her, if any at all, but like Jeanne said she is very special and her dad’s “Girl”‘
    I want to thank every one of you that took time to say a prayer for her. We as a family believe that her recovery is a gift from God for all the prayers that went out for her. Today is the 14th of June and her recovery is remarkable. She is in a general ward and the humor and spirit is back.
    Once again thank you ALL for your prayers and thoughts. My wife Joan, son Barend, daughter-in-law Janine, myself and all her family here and in SA can’t thank you enough. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.
    (Vir all ons Afrikaans sprekende vriende, ‘n baie GROOT dankie ook vir julle gebede. Ek weet nou hoe dit voel as n geliefde so ver van jou is. Sterkte vir julle almal)
    The Fourie Family
    P.S. I am sure Jeanne will keep you posted on her progress .

  14. says

    That’s the thing I’ve noticed about food bloggers…they’re just nice people. I manage a ‘regular’, non-food blog as well, and while there are friendly people out there, more often than not you’ll run into people who want to argue, or leave nasty comments…just because.
    But food bloggers? What a wonderful community! Everywhere I turn, I see supportive, caring people. I’ve made ‘friends’ with bloggers from around the globe, and while we may never actually meet, the events in their lives mean as much to me as if I’d known them since grade school.

  15. Christelle Deacon says

    Dearest friends,
    How do I stop myself from loving each and every one of you when I read your comments? Thank you all for caring enough to send me your prayers, wishes and positive energy. Without this I would not be home since Wednesday!
    I am still in some pain from the operation and find standing or walking a bit of a challenge. I get tired quickly but I am ready to get better and be my old self again.
    I do have to thank my wonderful friends Jeanne and Bronwyn, my family (mum’s always carrying food and drink up and down) my dad who is the best dad in the world and last but not least, my husband, Donald. Wow! How lucky can one girl be!
    Thanks to the doctors and nurses at the CCU at Middlesex Hospital. It is truly amazing how much they care, how well they looked after me and even the moral support I got when I was in tears some days through sheer frustration and just plain self-pity!
    Thanks to God who was with me every single second in my unconcious state and I believe is with me every single second today and always.
    Moira, I received your package today. You are a sweetheart and it made my month! I have already started tucking in. I really cannot thank you enough.
    Well, I guess I am a fighter and stronger than I thought I was. I am PROUD of ME!!
    My love to you all who cared so much. I will never ever forget you.

  16. says

    Hello there Jeanne,
    I only just happened onto this page and while I am late with my wishes, they are good ones, so I figured what the heck. I’m glad to hear that the worst seems to be over for now for Christelle and I think she is truly blessed, not just with this recovery, but to have a friend like you.
    I hope that if I were to ever find myself in that situation, I would have my own “Jeanne”to count on…
    Best wishes to all,

  17. says

    Hi Christelle,
    I’m so glad you liked your package! There’s nothing like a bit of American junk food, huh?
    Take care…my thoughts are with you, and I hope you continue to feel better and better. Please let me know if there’s anything else you might like!

  18. Steve says

    Christelle. rest in peace angel. I love you and miss you very much. Donald, if you are out there PLEASE get in touch. e mail me. Mel and I need to know you are ok. we miss you and worry for you. “we are all made of stars”…xxx