Portrait Eliane Frochaux


From the fight against leukemia to commitment

Published on June 06, 2024

Eliane Frochaux has fought her way back to life after a serious illness. She was diagnosed with blood cancer 14 years ago and was treated at the USZ. Today, she helps out there as a volunteer.

I was still working at the airport after retirement age and suddenly became unusually short of breath when climbing stairs. I also had breathing problems when hiking. I couldn't classify these symptoms and initially thought I was allergic to my cat. But my work colleague urged me to see a doctor. The dermatologist who tested me for allergies found nothing and sent me on my way. A blood test finally brought clarity: I had blood cancer, more precisely acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This diagnosis was of course a big shock.

Difficult time of treatment

I had to go to the USZ for treatment and initially thought I would be able to go home again after two weeks. But things turned out differently. The first chemotherapy started shortly afterwards and brought with it severe side effects: nausea, high fever, inflammation of the small and large intestine. The first four weeks felt like a fever dream. I didn't even realize what was happening around me. Until then, I had always worked, was fit and physically active. Suddenly I was simply doing nothing, lying in bed all day and being artificially fed. That was a very stressful time. Fortunately, I tolerated the second chemotherapy somewhat better and was allowed to return home after two and a half months. When I read the doctors' reports from back then, I realize how close it was. If the treatment had started two weeks later, I wouldn't have made it.

Search for a suitable stem cell donor

Weakened by the treatment, I had to relearn a lot of things at home. Even simple walking was difficult for me during this time. At the same time, the search for a suitable stem cell donor was underway. My relatives were out of the question, but a young man in Germany was a perfect fit. After a few months, I had to go back to the USZ, where I received a stem cell transplant. Everything went according to plan and after a month I was allowed to return home. From that point on, I knew things were looking up.

Gratitude and a new task

I am very grateful for the excellent care and the competent doctors at the USZ, who always answered all my questions and accompanied me through this difficult time. I also wrote a letter of thanks to the stem cell donor from Germany. It took a long time for me to fully recover. It was a tough time, but I got through it. After my recovery, I was looking for a new job, which is how I came to volunteer at the USZ. For 11 years, I have sometimes stood at the main entrance to the USZ and sometimes in the oncology and hematology departments - exactly where I was once a patient - and helped people. Be it just finding the way or simply having a nice chat. The contact with people and the opportunity to help mean a lot to me and give me structure. I am very grateful for my health and so I can also give something back to the USZ.