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Lincoln County News
April 23, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my first week of radiation treatments. It is also a strange week of fortuitous events as plans come together for my summer cross-country Tour to raise funds for cancer prevention, control and research.

March 27, 1998: Today will finally be radiation day #1. This morning, I am selling daffodils for Daffodil Days, a yearly benefit for the American Cancer Society. We have a table set up at Yellow Front Market in Wiscasset. I am scheduled to work for about two hours with Allie and Joan. We sell a few bunches and Sue comes by to take our photo for the newspaper.

I always run into friends and business acquaintances in the grocery store. A fellow business owner, Lois, comes up to the daffodil table and asks me which "week" is it, or at least that was what I thought she said. I am out of it today. Lois says she knows what week it is. (That's good because I don't.) She apparently wants to know which "wig" it is, since she knows that I have names for my wigs. Lois laughs when I tell her it's the NJ Shore Italian Ladies look. I describe Jezebel and Julia Roberts, the other two wigs. I also tell her about Dru, my friend and visiting mortgage loan officer, who came over one evening this week to discuss mortgages and try on my wigs. Very few banks offer this special service and even fewer bank officers are willing to try on my wigs as part of their job. Lois knows Dru and says she intends to discuss the Jezebel look with her.

Sue is going to be my driver today. After a quick trip to the polls to vote in the town election, we head to Canfield's for lunch. We tell Lisa the waitress, that we are still conducting our on-going restaurant review. It will probably take a year to check out Canfield's menu and complete our review because Sue and I keep ordering the same items from the menu. After lunch, we head out to the Ash Pit Road for a walk. Chazz, Sue's dog is with us. Sue opens the back hatch of her car and Chazz bursts out like a speeding bullet. He is off in a flash and sniffing something disgusting that Sue hopes he won't roll in. It is nearly 70 degrees today and it's hard to believe we just had 5 " of snow last week.

Sue and I round up Chazz and head to Bath. The staff at the treatment center is more cordial and today. I change into a gown and within 5 minutes, I am lying on the table and the radiation treatments are underway. There is only a little humming noise from the x-ray machine and within 10 minutes the treatment is over. Sue is surprised to see me back so quickly. We couldn't have been in the building more than 20 minutes all together. I hope my treatments always go this quickly and smoothly.

Ben brings me a beautiful lily plant tonight. He knows that tiger lilies are my favorite flowers and this plant resembles a tiger lily. I have asked him to bring me flowers each week to cheer me up. Not being a gardener, I hope I can keep these poor plants alive.

Spring has truly arrived because we took my Corvette out of winter storage. Tonight, we drove it to Fat Boy's in Brunswick. I know that today's 70 degree temperatures are premature. Spring is fickle in Maine and next week, we could have a snowstorm. So, I will take these good days as they come. I have made it through a long winter of chemo and despair. My friends, family, flowers, and the mental images of riding in my Corvette on warm summer days have given me the strength to go on.

March 30, 1998: Day #2 of radiation. All weekend long, I have had pain in my right shoulder. It started Fri. evening after my first radiation treatment. I also notice a soreness in the area of the fractured rib. I am wondering if this may be a reaction to radiation and I will mention it to Jeff today. I worry about any bone pain because it could mean that my cancer has spread to the bones.

June and Frank are my drivers today. It is another beautiful, unseasonably warm day. Solo, their dachshund is in the back seat without his blanket today. He is not eyeing me with a suspicious look, so I must no longer be a stranger.

When I arrive for treatment, I speak to the nurse, Donna. I mention the rib tenderness and shoulder pain and ask to meet with Jeff. I am told that he is out of town, but Dr. Gilbert is in and can talk to me after treatment. Donna asks if I have been doing my skin care. I don't know what she is talking about. Apparently, I am supposed to be applying an aloe gel 2-3 times a day to the radiated area to lessen the irritation that will develop over time. I also learn that I should not be using deodorant or talcum powder on the radiation side. Unfortunately, no one at the Center informed me of these specific instructions or discussed a daily care regimen with me. I am concerned about this oversight and plan to mention it to Jeff.

Following the treatment, which takes only about 5 minutes once I'm on the table, I meet Dr. Gilbert. I describe the rib tenderness and explain that my doctors are keeping an eye on the fracture area. When Gilbert hears that there are several doctors involved, he comments that I don't need one more in the mix. He is absolutely right. I will wait until Wednesday when Jeff comes back.

Tonight, my shoulder is increasingly painful. It is a burning type pain that doesn't seem to be affected by movement. I take one of my painkillers that Tom has prescribed for my joint pain, but it only seems to dull the pain slightly. I am now afraid to take my sleeping pill on top of the painkiller medication and I spend a restless night with little sleep.

March 31, 1998: Radiation is not supposed to be painful, so I want my money back. Not only is my shoulder painful, but the rib area is tender and the nodes in my neck and collarbone area are sore to touch. Maybe this means the radiation is doing its job, but at what cost? The Dr. of the day is Dr. Seitz, filling in for Jeff. After my treatment, I meet with him to discuss the pain issue. He seems very surprised and says this is not typical. He thinks that it is nerve pain or tissue inflammation caused by the radiation. He suggests taking Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory drug along with my painkillers. He says if it doesn't settle down in a week or two, he would recommend an MRI test to see what's going on in the shoulder area. I am hopeful that the pain may be temporary, but I will discuss it with Jeff tomorrow.

June is driving me today. Poor Frank is home recovering from a root canal and Solo is keeping him company. It is hazy and hot, and in the mid-eighties, more like summer rather than the end of March! I wish I could take a long walk in the sunshine, but instead I return home to sit in on the remainder of a 3 hour conference call for an American Cancer Society Board meeting which I was unable to attend in Massachusetts because of my treatment schedule. Another Board member, Susan, brought her speaker phone over to my house today, so we were both able to participate by phone. The miracles of modern technology!

April 2, 1998: It has been a very strange week for me. I'm not versed in astrology, but my stars and planets must be aligned or maybe it's something out of the twilight zone. I received two phone calls from friends out of my past, the very distant past, like 30 years ago. These friends were thinking about me and were drawn by some strange force to call me in the middle of the day!

Tonight, I decided to call one of my well-connected Corvette friends in Massachusetts. Dan is the founder and former Pres. of the National Corvette Museum. He had offered to help me find sponsors for my summer cross-country tour to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. I fill Dan in about my phone call to Kerbeck Chevrolet and he offers to make more contacts for me. Dan is well-known in national Corvette circles and his influence will be most helpful.

This morning, I phoned Kerbeck Chevrolet in Atlantic City, NJ. They are the world's largest Corvette dealership. I am hoping to purchase or lease my new 1998 Corvette from them and have them sponsor the Tour. I spoke to one of Kerbeck's representatives, Bruce, who was polite, but non-committal. He did seem interested and asked if I could mail them a written proposal for consideration. At least, I now have my foot in the door and my proposal will be mailed to them tomorrow.

After I hang up from talking with Dan this evening, he calls me back about 10 minutes later to ask if I feel up to taking a phone call from the former head of Public Relations for Chevrolet and GM Motor Division. Of course, I do! A few minutes later, my phone rings and it is Ralph Kramer, the recently retired head of Public Relations at GM and Chevrolet. Here it is 10 pm. and I am talking to a head honcho from Chevrolet, who is calling me from his garage! Ralph is out in his garage with his son, restoring his 1967 Corvette convertible. We chat about Corvette convertibles and I tell him I also used to own a '67 convertible. What a friendly, pleasant man! He tells me that Dan had called and told him about my illness and my plan to drive cross-country by Corvette to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Ralph then asks what he can do for me! I describe how I need sponsors for the Tour and a new 1998 Corvette. I also tell him about the proposal I sent to Kerbeck's. He says the contact at Kerbeck's would facilitate the process of delivering a new Corvette from the factory to me. This whole conversation seems like a dream. I can't believe my ears.

Ralph asks if I know anything about the "Race For The Cure", and if the American Cancer Society is the organization behind it. I am aware that several large corporations, including Ford Motor Co. are sponsors of the Race. I explain to Ralph that the Race For The Cure is not connected with ACS, but with the Susan Komen Foundation which raises funds solely for breast cancer. I describe how my Tour will be different because it will raise funds for all types of cancer. All proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society's research, cancer control and patient service programs. Though I have breast cancer, I don't believe that my cancer is any more important than the 100 other cancers that affect people. Through research, it is possible to find a cure for several if not all cancers, so targeting funds for just breast cancer, does not make sense to me. Ralph seems pleased with my proposed Tour plans and indicates that Chevrolet may be interested in partnering with ACS to raise funds for cancer. He promises to meet with Chevrolet to discuss the possibilities and says I will hear back from Chevrolet by mid-week.

What a week of fortuitous events! Pieces of my hopes and dreams are coming together. I firmly believe that divine guidance and my guardian angel, Polly, the Corvette Don'tw8 lady, are making this happen.

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