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Lincoln County News
August 13, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

July 27, 1998: The Boise Vette Fest went well. On Sat., Mary Ann and I set up our booth display at the car show in one of Boise's beautiful downtown parks. It was a clear, hot day and fortunately, we found a patch of grass in the shade for our display. Folks stopped by to visit with us and make donations, and one of the local television stations interviewed and filmed me.

On Sat. night, we enjoyed a party and dance, and Sun. morning, I spoke to a large gathering at the Awards Ceremony. As soon as I finished my speech, Mary Ann and I had to depart for our long drive to Salt Lake City. As we were walking out of the room, a woman stopped us at the door. She was in tears. She said that my speech so moved her, that she had to leave the room. She explained that her mother died of cancer last year, and the loss was still so fresh in her mind.

It has surprised me that my speeches have moved so many to tears. I keep my talks to five or ten minutes in length and try to make them upbeat and positive. I also describe fun things like my involvement in Corvetting. However, the subject of cancer is serious and can provoke strong emotions. Obviously, my presence and speaking out at these events is giving an emotional outlet to folks who personally identify with cancer. It is equally moving for me to see this reaction, as I too am still dealing with the physical and emotional issues of the disease.

Mary Ann and I are spending the night in Salt Lake City, Utah. We visit Ruth's Diner, another landmark restaurant from my "Eating Across The USA" book. In the morning, we drive to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City to visit the Mormon Tabernacle. Though non-Mormons are not allowed inside the Tabernacle, you can tour the Assembly Hall. Two young missionary Sisters give us a guided tour and show us photos of the interior rooms of the Tabernacle. These two college-aged girls are very enthusiastic and dedicated. It is refreshing to see young people who are so in tune with their faith, when so often you hear complaints that the younger generation has no grounding in religion. The Sisters and I discuss the importance of faith, and though our religions differ, they can appreciate the role it has played in helping me deal with my illness. Poor Mary Ann makes the mistake of telling the missionaries that she has no structured religious affiliation. No doubt, she will be receiving some literature from the missionaries in the near future.

After our spiritual encounter in Salt Lake, it was on to Las Vegas, the opposite end of the spectrum. We are spending two days at the MGM Grand Hotel in Vegas, the ultimate in casino opulence with its 5000 rooms. Mary Ann is treating me to this little extravaganza for my birthday present. I have never been to Vegas, and slot machines and casinos are a whole new world for me. In preparation for my Vegas trip, my mother took me in June to the casinos in Atlantic City. There I played the slots and proceeded to quickly lose all the quarters that my mother gave me. I have determined that slot machines are really defective money changing machines. You put in your coins or bills, and nothing comes back.

Mary Ann and I are overwhelmed by the size of the MGM casino. It is acres and acres of machines, roulette and blackjack tables. The MGM Grand is like an indoor city with every kind of shop, cafe or restaurant. After a brief two block stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard in 115 degree heat, we realize why everyone stays indoors.

Mary Ann has never played the slots. Foolishly, she decides to hit an ATM machine for cash to play the slots. She tells me she is taking out $100, and will play $50 today and $50 tomorrow. I know this is a big mistake. I have a pocket full of quarters. I have allocated only $20 to playing the slots, because I am familiar with the defective money changing machines. As expected, Mary Ann comes out the big loser, and I manage to play about one hour with my $10 in quarters.

Christy, my daughter, flies in to join us tonight. By the time Mary Ann and I finish the Grand Buffet at the MGM, Christy is out in the hotel lobby. Her flight has come in early. I haven't seen Christy since the benefit show in Chelmsford, MA in mid-June, and it's great to have her with me for the next five days.

In making our reservations for the MGM Grand, Mary Ann had inquired if our room would be large enough to accommodate the three of us. The desk agent was insulted. Some of the rooms at the MGM are large enough to house a cast of thousands.

July 28, 1998: Day Two at the MGM Grand. Mary Ann is reading our horoscopes from some magazine published by the MGM Hotel. Her's and Christy's horoscope do not sound promising. However, mine says to play the Blazing Seven's slot machine #1082. We decide to go down to the casino and look for that machine. We find several Blazing Seven's, but none with that number. I figure that the closest match is a Blazing Seven's nickel slot machine in the row next to the machines numbered in the 1000's. After dropping in two nickels, I hit a small jackpot of $10. A few nickels later, I hit again for $15. Mary Ann and Christy can't believe my luck. I have the good sense to quit while I'm ahead. Christy manages to break even on the machine she is playing, while Mary Ann continues her slide into the hole. I can't help but laugh at her misfortune.

Tonight, we go to the MGM theater show. It is flashy, loud, with lots of lights and special effects. It all seems to fit the grand scheme of Las Vegas.

July 29, 1998: This morning, Mary Ann leaves for the Las Vegas airport and her trip home to New Jersey. It is sad to see her go. We have had a lot of fun and laughs. Much to her surprise, she has loved driving my Corvette and living life on the road.

Mary Ann later e mailed me to tell me about her last desperate attempt to avenge her gambling losses, by dropping two quarters into a slot machine at the airport. Apparently, there are slot machines located right at the end of the boarding ramps! Of course, Mary Ann lost again. As she walked up the ramp to board her plane, she heard the dinging of bells from the machine she had just left. A man had hit a jackpot of 1000 quarters.

Today, Christy and I are driving to the Grand Canyon. Neither of us have been there before and we are unprepared for the beautiful wide expanse of the canyon. We arrive in late afternoon during a thunderstorm. As we walk to the edge of the canyon, the skies are clearing. We join up with a park ranger who is conducting a group tour. He is explaining the composition of the rocks and the theories that geologists have proposed about the formation of the canyon. The late afternoon sun makes the red, brown, beige and white colors of the rock vivid and vibrant. The ranger explains that this afternoon is particularly good for viewing because showers have cleared the air. Unfortunately, on many summer days, the canyon is filled with a thin haze of air pollution. Visibility in the canyon can range from 25-135 miles, depending on the air quality.

The ranger's final remarks stuck in my mind. He said that the canyon was a spiritual place for him. He suggested that we each choose a rock and sit and contemplate the view, and the serenity of the Canyon. Relax and enjoy the moment, he said.

July 30, 1998: Christy and I return to the Canyon in the morning. We each choose a rock to sit on and we relax and enjoy the moment. Today is clear and bright and the Canyon looks entirely different in the morning sun. We are overwhelmed by the total silence. Aside from the voices of occasional visitors strolling by above us, the Canyon is absolutely quiet. It is truly a spectacular sight and a spiritual experience. It is mind-boggling to consider that the Grand Canyon hasn't changed much in thousands of years. Our ancestors must have sat on these same rocks many generations ago and gazed in awe at the same view Christy and I are enjoying today.

After leaving the Canyon, Christy and I travel through the canyonlands of Arizona and the large Navajo Reservation. We stop at one of the many small Navajo roadside craft booths that sell silver jewelry, pottery and rugs. Christy goes on a jewelry shopping spree, but I manage to curtail my purchases to just one pair of beautifully hand-crafted silver earrings.

I strike up a conversation with the booth owner, a Navajo named Oliver. I ask him questions about the Navajo culture and he gladly shares some Navajo history. He explains that the Navajo Nation has approximately 220,000 members, spread throughout the country. The Reservation that we are currently standing on, is land that was originally owned by the Navajos many centuries ago. Three large mountains that are sacred to the Navajos, form the boundaries of this land. The land is quite arid and most Navajos eke out a living by raising sheep and horses, as well as making and selling silver jewelry, clay pottery and hand-woven rugs.

After saying our good-byes to Oliver, we head out on the road to Moab, Utah. We travel through many beautiful canyons of red rock and sandstone. Huge rock formations that look almost like sculptures or monuments tower over us. Some even resemble sand castle turrets. It is hard to believe that these formations which look like they are hand-carved or sculpted are purely the result of nature's own forces.

Today, Christy and I have managed to visit two restaurants in the "Eating Across The USA" guide book. Lunch was at the Tuba City Truck Stop, where we thoroughly enjoyed the recommended Navajo Taco, a delightful mixture of ground beef, cheese, lettuce and tomato on a lightly fried puffed dough. In Moab, we dined at the Fat City Smokehouse, which lived up to its name by serving huge portions of delicious barbecued beef brisket.

July 31, 1998: Christy and I are headed to the Vettes on the Rockies Show in Frisco, Colorado. Just outside of Moab, we take a short side trip into Arches National Park. The Park is like a different world with striking red walls of sandstone, grayish white limestone and brownish colored rock. We see several of the famed arches, including Delicate Arch, which is the most widely-photographed arch. Delicate Arch is also depicted on Utah's license plate. Christy is going through many rolls of film today. A new photo opportunity seems to crop up at each turn of the road.

After leaving Arches National Park, we follow the Colorado River along a winding road through beautiful canyons and fields. Once we leave Utah, we enter a flat desert-like area in Colorado. Looming in the distance are the snow-capped Rockies. As we drive through miles of sand and sage brush, we are delighted to spot our first prairie dogs! They are pale beige and slender with tiny heads. I was under the mistaken impression that prairie dogs looked like ground hogs, but they are really shaped more like a squirrel. We saw one prairie dog crossing the road and the other standing up on his burrow, which looked like a giant anthill.

The flat desert area we are traveling through suddenly gives way to rolling hills. We are now climbing steeper and steeper grades as we enter the Rockies. Christy and I have never been at such a high elevation, except in an airplane. We also travel through several tunnels in the mountains. We notice that many of the mountain tops have large patches of snow. It is nearly August, so I suspect that the snow probably never melts from the tops of some mountains.

In the late afternoon, we arrive in Frisco, near Vail, the site of the Vettes on the Rockies Show. The elevation is over 10,000 feet. I am feeling a little dizzy. Christy and I will need to adjust to the altitude change! We are staying in Silverthorn, about four miles from the show site. Thunderstorms are threatening and the temperature is in the low 70's, the coolest temperatures we have seen since leaving New England in mid June.

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