Lincoln County News
April 16, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission talks about two new developments: My hair is beginning to grow back and I am starting radiation treatments. I am also considering expanding my new-found literary talents into writing a restaurant review!

March 20, 1998: I think my hair is starting to grow back. Looking in the mirror today, I notice that my head has some quite noticeable peach fuzz. It is also itchy like it was when my brother-in-law, Bill, first shaved it off. My fuzz looks like Curley of the Three Stooges. I must tell my sister, Peg, that I no longer look like Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

I remember teasing poor Polly about her hair when it first started to grow back. Polly used to have thick dark brown hair. After chemo, her hair grew back in dark gray! I told her it looked like mouse fur, but she insisted it was more like squirrel fur. From that point on, I called her "squirrel head" and "Rocky The Flying Squirrel". My hair better grow back in its original brown color because I don't want to be a squirrel head.

Tonight is another roving restaurant review night. Sue and I meet for a quick lunch at Canfield's to discuss plans for dinner. Sue comments on how we always plan the next meal while we are eating. We decide to go to dinner at Le Garage tonight.

The menu is so huge and varied at Le Garage, it's a challenge in deciding what to order. We have excellent meals tonight and Paul goes for the Finnan Haddie and Ben for the kielbasa. I can almost predict what the men will order. During dinner, we discuss how we could write a restaurant review column for The Lincoln County News. Sue, Paul, Ben and I have been going out for dinner every Friday night to different restaurants. We are the obvious choice for restaurant critics because we enjoy food. We also hate tiny portion nouvelle cuisine meals, and we always eat desserts. We do serious eating, we are not food wimps and cholesterol does not scare us away.

So, if any of my readers would like to see a restaurant review column, please call The Lincoln County News at (207) 563-3171 or 1-800-339-5818. Tell them that you would like to see Sue Cereste and me write a restaurant review column. Attention restaurant owners: Give us a call and we will be happy to review your restaurant in exchange for free meals. We will take your photo and write up a nice story. Our philosophy is that every restaurant has its own merits. We certainly won't compare Red's Eats to the White Barn in Kennebunkport. However, by our standards Red's has faster service and better lobster rolls. You won't see us comment on "unimaginative wine lists" or a "poorly constructed Bechamel sauce". Instead, we are in search of the best fried onion rings, fish chowder, fried clams, hamburgers, Finnan Haddie, Chinese, Cajun and Mexican cuisine, and any desserts containing large amounts of chocolate. We're talking real food, folks.

March 25, 1998: Today is my first day of radiation treatment. Dot from Wiscasset has volunteered to drive me to the Coastal Cancer Center in Bath. She is one of the many readers who have called or written me to offer assistance. Eventually, Dot and I met and it turns out that I know her husband, so we are not complete strangers. Dot wants to treat me to lunch today. Before Dot arrives, I get an e mail from Sue suggesting we meet for lunch and dessert to fortify me for my treatment! I phone her and tell her to meet Dot and me at Canfield's.

Canfield's is mobbed today and poor Lisa is the only waitress. I tell Lisa that we are conducting an "on-going" Restaurant Review and that is why we are always there for lunch and dinner. Dot tells her we are reviewing waitresses. Lisa receives our 5 star rating today because she efficiently handles all of the tables by herself. Fortunately, Dot has a good sense of humor and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, which meant we drove out the other patrons by our laughing. At one point the laughing got so out of hand, Sue nearly choked on her coconut cream pie and had to leave the table. I thought we were going to have to use Dot's knowledge of the Heimlich maneuver from her experience on the Wiscasset ambulance crew.

After lunch, Dot drives me to Bath in record time. Dot's husband, Bill had warned me that she drove fast like a New York cabby, or something to that effect. I told him that was fine, because that is how I drive. Bill obviously is unaware that I own a Corvette. Of course, I never drive it over the speed limit. Dot assures me that Bill was only joking about her driving and she hopes I am not worried. I reply that I hope she does drives fast, or at least faster than Ben. I describe how Ben drives slower and slower as he has gotten older. This is an aging male phenomenon. For every year in age, there is a corresponding drop in miles per hour. Men become what one of my Corvette friends calls "old farts". When I was traveling on my job, I used to get behind these old farts in pick up trucks doing about 43 miles an hour. It drove me nuts. Ben is down to the 45-50 mph. range now and dropping fast.

When Dot and I arrive at the Cancer Treatment Center, the receptionist can't find my name on the list of appointments. She goes back to get one of the technicians, who tells me she changed my appointment to tomorrow with my approval over the phone several days ago! She did call me to change my appointment from 3 pm. to 2:30 pm. She paused, seemed confused and then asked if I could come in at 2:15 pm. In all of her confusion, she probably forgot to tell me that she had also changed the day! The technician seems annoyed and crabby about the appointment mix-up and says she can't fit me in today anyway. Rather than argue, Dot and I leave. I am surprised by the rudeness of the technician and frustrated that I can't start treatment today.

Dot asks if I have any errands. Since I am due for my weekly blood test, I suggest we head to Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick. The Lab is not busy and the technicians are punchy. This will probably be my last weekly blood test. Tom is putting me on a schedule of tests once every three or four weeks. I won't miss the needles, but I will miss seeing the technicians.

March 26, 1998: June and Frank drive me to treatment today. June arrives with a tin of homemade brownies, my chocolate fix for the week! June and Frank have brought their dachshund, "Solo", along for the ride. He is wrapped up in a blanket in the back seat. June warns me not to reach my hand back there because he might bite a stranger. I talk to Solo and look back at him. Only his long pointy nose is peeking out of the blanket and he seems mildly annoyed by my presence in "his" car.

When we arrive at the Center, I receive another cool reception at the front desk. June later comments to me that she would have dissolved in tears if she had been treated that way, especially as a new patient who had never been through radiation. I don't know what the problem is with the staff. Perhaps, they have had a bad week. It is very perplexing because I have only heard good reports about the staff from Polly and others in my Support Group. I intend to discuss this with Jeff.

Before they do my treatment today, they are re-adjusting the coordinates for my radiation. I lie on the hard x-ray table for about half an hour while the three technicians re-measure and mark me up with a black marker pen. During the procedure, one of the technicians is on the phone with the Portland facility. She is giving them measurements to enter in their computer to figure the new coordinates. The technicians seem abrupt and there is no friendly chit chat, only brief directions to lie still and not move. I inquire why the coordinates are being changed. They explain that changes are frequently made and the work today is being done here to save me a trip to Portland. When the procedure is over, I am told that I can not start my radiation until tomorrow! One of the technicians informs me that I can meet with Jeff today if I want, but usually patients meet with him only once a week. Before I can answer, the receptionist comes in and says Jeff wants to see me.

Thankfully, Jeff is pleasant and seems glad to see me. He mentions the appointment confusion and I dismiss it casually and say nothing about the coolness of the staff because they are within earshot. Jeff thoroughly examines my lymph nodes. He explains that he is fine tuning the coordinates for my radiation and wants to get it right the first time. I am all for that approach!

Today, I am wearing my frosted blonde wig, the one I call the New Jersey Shore Italian Ladies look. Jeff is absolutely enthralled by it and amused by its name. He comments that he has never seen a wig look so much like real hair and wants to know where I got it. I explain that my brother-in-law, the Hair Stylist to the Stars, procured this wig. I tell him about my other wigs and suggest that I wear a different one each day and have his staff vote for their favorite.

It's been a long day and still no radiation treatment. June and Frank drive me home and Solo comes out from under his blanket for a quick stroll around my yard. His tail is wagging and he lets me pat his head. As long as you don't go near Solo's car, he seems perfectly friendly. Solo is also "so low" to the ground, weighs about 30 lbs., and has only about a 1" ground clearance.

Peg calls me tonight. I haven't talked to her in ages because she and Bill have been back and forth to Los Angeles the past two weeks. Peg has been hobnobbing with the stars. First, she and Bill were invited to Billy Crystal's 50th Birthday Party bash. I had to get the whole run-down on which celebrities and stars were there and all about the fabulous food. I will not bore my readers with the details because you probably think I am making this up or stealing it from The Enquirer.

After the birthday party, Peg and Bill flew home for a few days, then turned around and went back out for the Oscars. Bill does Billy Crystal's hair, so Peg and Bill get to go to the Oscars and stay in some fabulous hotel. What a tough job! Bill works in a tux and Peg wears a nice gown. Billy Crystal got Peg a seat in row ten, directly behind the "Titanic" producers. I never did see Peg on camera, though. She was behaving herself and not waving and whistling at me. Peg said they were too tired to go to the Balls after the Awards. What a shame! Last year, Peg was backstage in the Green Room and she and Bill went to the Governor's Ball. Another year, I may smuggle myself into her suitcase.

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