Lincoln County News
April 30, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my first two weeks of radiation treatment. I also meet my new friend and driver, Lynda. A "milestone" e mail from my sister, Mary Ann, opens the door to a whole new relationship between the two of us.

April 3, 1998: Today is the end of my first week of radiation. Sue is my driver and we stop at Canfield's for a quick lunch before treatment. As usual, Sue and I use lunch time to plan where we will go for dinner. We decide to postpone our decision until this evening. Too many choices for our roving restaurant review, so we will let Paul and Ben decide.

During lunch, I notice a lump in my throat. It doesn't hurt to swallow, but it feels like something is stuck in my throat. Difficulty in swallowing can be one of the side effects of radiation to the neck area, though I was told that I wouldn't have any problems like this until week 3 of treatment. Today is the end of week one, so I think I will demand my money back for false advertising. Throat troubles could also seriously hamper my restaurant reviews, and I may have to request that my hamburgers and fries be pureed in a blender. On a more appetizing note, I can now justify ordering chocolate milkshakes!

[Warning! Health food fanatics and young children should NOT read the following two paragraphs which describe my special diets brought on by my cravings for sugar during chemo and radiation.] Speaking of food, I should describe the special diets I created to meet my sugar cravings. My Valentine's Diet, which ended in late February, consisted of eating 1 lb. of chocolate butter creams in five days. Because I ate all the butter creams before Valentine's Day, I whined and sniffled enough to make Ben return to Tontine Candies for more. The second installment of butter creams lasted through the end of Feb. when I had finally fulfilled my dietary requirements of fat and sugar. I am pleased to announce that I lost 4 lbs. on the Valentine's Diet.

I am currently on what I call the 40 Days of Lent Peep Diet which consists of 40 boxes of marshmallow peeps. Walmart's has a tremendous deal on these for 88 cents a box. Peeps are a healthy diet as they have NO fat! I always buy the yellow ones because they look more like chickens than the disgusting pink, purple, or blue ones. But as Easter approaches, parents have bought up all the yellow ones for the kiddies and I am forced to purchase pink ones for the final week of my diet. With my throat problems, I hope I don't have to put the peeps in the blender as that could be a very sticky mess. To date, I have lost 3 lbs. on the peep diet. I should patent these two diets and go on national TV to tout the benefits of this revolutionary approach to weight loss. Enough about my diets! Tom, my skinny oncologist is probably having heart palpitations as he reads this.

My radiation treatments take a little longer today because they are doing some x-rays. These will be used to study the treatment area. Over the past few months, my body has been fully zapped by both x-rays and radiation! I wonder if I will glow in the dark by the time my treatments are over? Yesterday, I went over to Bath Hospital to have another type of x-ray: a bone density test. This test will determine if I have any bone thinning, which may have contributed to my rib fracture.

Tonight, Sue, Paul, Ben and I decide to review Maxwell's Restaurant in Bath. When we lived in Bath, Ben and I went to Maxwell's every Fri. night for their famous prime rib. I was working late on Fri. evenings then, so we would call ahead and reserve two pieces of prime rib and arrive for dinner around 9 pm. We are no longer regulars but, Mary Ann, one of the owners was working tonight and she still remembers us. Ben orders the prime rib and I chose a veal picatta, while Sue selects a Greek shrimp dish and Paul opts for a baked scallop and lobster special. Sue and I always order dessert, even if we don't finish our dinners. This makes us ideal restaurant critics because critics must try everything. Paul and Ben watch as we polish off Fra Angelico chocolate mousses. The meal is superb and we give Maxwell's a 5 star rating.

April 6, 1998: Today, I received what I consider a " milestone" e mail from my sister, Mary Ann. She has been busy setting up her own consulting business, but we communicate by e mail several times a week. In the past, Mary Ann and I were not frequently in touch. Her job kept her very busy and her holiday commitments were usually with friends and not family. As a result, we often missed getting together in my once or twice a year visits to New Jersey. Recently, our relationship has changed significantly, and we have been brought much closer together as a result of her new home-based business, getting on e mail, and my illness.

In her e mail today, Mary Ann described how we grew up in what she called a "confrontational and alienating" environment where we never formed close family ties. This is an accurate assessment of our family and a sad commentary. Being the perpetual "fix it" type, I was always trying to form or repair relationships in my family. My repair efforts went largely unrewarded until my cancer recurred and my family began reading my journal. My journal has helped my family focus on me and my life, and not just my disease. As a result, I am forming closer bonds and new relationships with my mother and my sister, Mary Ann.

However, my "fix it" efforts and my journal have been unsuccessful in resolving a situation that causes me much heartache and frustration: the alienation of my youngest sister, Peg, from the rest of my family. Today, Mary Ann made the astute observation that our family seems to only come together as a result of traumatic events, my illness being the latest. There are many families like mine that have no close bonds until tragedy strikes. I worry that the only way Peg will be reunited with my family is at my funeral. My family needs to recognize that I have moved beyond my "fix it" mode to the "flat uncomfortable statement of my feelings" mode. Now, I would rather say too much, than choose to say nothing. Life is too short, every day is valuable and I intend to leave this earth with no regrets.

To this end, I have asked Mary Ann and Peg to join me for segments of my Corvette Cross-Country Tour. I plan to ask my brother as well. Mary Ann says the "car thing is Greek to her", but she is willing to experience it. She suggests joining me for the Black Hills Corvette event in South Dakota. After which, we can journey together through the "Badlands", an appropriate place to discuss all this family business. I warned both of my sisters that I viewed this trip as a Thelma and Louise-type adventure. Peg's reaction was, "Great! I'll bring scarves and sunglasses for us, and one of Bill's guns!". Mary Ann said, "I'll join you as long as you don't take me on the part where they drive over the rim of the Grand Canyon." These comments illustrate the striking difference between my two sisters, but I love them both for their different, but endearing ways.

My plan for Mary Ann is to expose her to a new way of life: Corvette people, high speed driving and food other than tofu. Peg and I may have more of a problem in controlling our behavior. We tend to dare each other and do stupid, funny things. Because of our Christmas Eve Margarita debacle, I have suggested to Peg that for our trip, we should purchase matching T-Shirts that I saw at the Burlington Mall. In increasingly fuzzy lettering are the words: 1 Tequila, 2 Tequila, 3 Tequila, Floor. That should serve as a reminder and warning to us to behave properly.

April 9, 1998: I am meeting one of my fans today. Lynda has been corresponding with me by e mail for the past month. She has offered to drive me to treatments, and even though she lives in Yarmouth, she insists that coming up to Wiscasset is no problem. Though Lynda seems like a wonderful, caring person in her e mails, I am still nervous about our meeting. I suggest we have lunch at Canfield's, so we can chat and get to know each other before driving to treatment. Sue and I have decided that in evaluating "new friends" , we must first put them through an eating test. Dot has already passed with flying colors and is now my regular Wednesday driver. At the risk of divulging classified test information, applicants must eat a full meal. Bonus points are awarded for fried foods and desserts.

Lynda arrives and brings me freshly baked banana bread and a little black pill box in the shape of a curled up cat. She is also wearing a cute turtle neck shirt with printed designs of cats and balls of yarn. Obviously, Lynda is a cat person and we already have something special in common. Lynda passes the Lurk sniff test and receives his full approval before we head over to Canfield's for lunch. Lynda also passes the eating test, though she missed the dessert bonus points.

I am very happy that Lynda is everything I imagined her to be. It is difficult to fully assess a person over the phone or by e mail. I tell Lynda that generally, I am not a suspicious person who doubts people's motives. However, I have had several disturbing incidents since my LifeLines column first appeared. I have received a few phone calls and letters from people who prey upon cancer patients. They attempted to sell me miracle cure- type products or wanted to provide me with information on unproven methods of cancer treatment. I have also been receiving frequent letters from another person who has invaded my privacy by asking me where I live, my birthday and some other personal information I do not wish to divulge. I truly love receiving fan mail and the outpouring of love and support from total strangers gives me great comfort. But there is a line of distinction between support and those who wish to profit by my illness or those who are overly intrusive.

Lynda and I have a lot in common and I look forward to getting to know her better. She will be my regular Thursday driver for the next few weeks of treatment. Tomorrow is the end of my second week of treatment. Since Jeff was not in today, I met with Dr. Gilbert to discuss the swelling in my throat. It is getting more difficult to swallow. Dr. Gilbert is noncommittal and this frustrates me. Though he has no answers about how long this will last or if it will get worse, he assures me that they can check my throat every day when I come in for treatment. I am also becoming very fatigued. I expected this, but not so quickly. I still have four more weeks of treatment and I worry what condition I will be in by the end. I am trying to keep focused on my cross-country trip. Hopefully, planning and thinking ahead to summer days on the road will keep me going.

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