Two years ago today, Simone – a very good friend of mine – died, of a pulmonary embolism caused by the Tamoxifen she was taking after having breast cancer, which had itself been caused most probably by years and years of unsupervised HRT.
The other day, when I went to the Vive la France! exhibition, it wasn’t just to collect brochures for my work, it was also to exorcise it: that’s where I saw Simone for the last time – 12 days before her death.
We’d known each other for exactly 30 years: we’d met in 1974, in Stratford-upon-Avon, where we both lived. She worked as a seamstress in the RSC costume department and was married to one of the most famous theatre designers of the time (he’d met her in France 18 years earlier and brought her back to England). She was separated from him, but it didn’t stop her colleagues from giving her a hard time. She felt isolated and we became friends immediately (although she was quite a lot older than me). We saw each other all the time over the next few months.
I returned to France at the end of the year, but kept in touch with Simone regularly. I stayed with her several times during the holidays. She stayed with me in Paris. Then, in the mid-’80s, she went a bit mad – her behaviour became very erratic. They put it down to the menopause and she was given HRT and everything went back to normal.
We lost touch in the ’90s, when I fell ill and stopped going to Stratford so often, but we still corresponded and talked on the phone from time to time.
In her 2003 Christmas card she told me she’d had breast cancer but she was ok. A couple of weeks later she announced she would be coming down to London to attend the Vive la France! exhibition and could she see me there, since the hall was very close to my house? As it happened, I was, like this year, updating a guide and would be going to the exhibition myself, so we arranged to meet. She sounded full of beans and I was very excited at the prospect of seeing her again after such a long time.
She was very late on the day and I nearly gave up, but just as I was preparing to move away from our meeting point, she appeared and we fell into each other’s arms. She’d been waiting in the wrong place, after going around the exhibition and seemingly buying every French product on offer. I remarked on the heavy bags she was carrying and how she should be careful not to overdo it. We had a very good time over a drink at the buvette, but after an hour I had to take my leave: the exhibition was closing soon and I still hadn’t got the brochures I needed. I took a few pictures and we parted, promising to keep in touch and see each other more often.
Two weeks later, I received a phone call from her son. The funeral had already taken place.
I want to slap her GP for repeating her prescription for HRT without giving her a thorough examination at regular intervals and for not warning her of the dangers of taking hormones for 20 years. As for Tamoxifen, the risk of developing blood clots is very small and it must have been balanced against the risk of a recurrence of the cancer. But by then it was already too late.