Lincoln County News
August 19, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes highlights of my trip to NJ. Lurk is on the road to recovery while I anxiously await tests to assess the current status of my cancer.

August 8, 1999: I returned home tonight from a two week visit with my family in NJ. The time went so quickly. Even though it was very hot and humid at the Jersey shore, I really enjoyed spending a week with my parents in Barnegat Light. My sister, Peg, was with me and we spent the better part of the week working on a mural. Peg is a skilled artist while I had to call upon my previous art training from 25 years ago.

Peg was asked to paint a nautical mural on the side of a large gas tank at the marina near my parent's house. She painted two marlins, two bluefish, a shark and a crab. I did the "bottom of the sea" work by painting seaweed, a starfish and clam. We worked on makeshift scaffolding and fortunately I had the lower part of the mural. We could only work a few hours a day due to the mid-nineties degree heat. I was thrilled that I found the energy to do this, though my pain pills deserve some of the credit. Creative pursuits like writing my column and this art project seem to get my limited energy in gear. By the end of the week, we completed the mural and signed our names. We plan to paint a mermaid sitting on a treasure chest on the end of the tank. I found a preliminary design for this and Peg will return in a few weeks to finish the job. I was glad that my artistic skills were still intact, though seaweed and starfish are not the most challenging objects to paint.

Before heading up to Peg's house in Princeton, we enjoyed several meals of soft shelled crabs, which I adore, and fresh Jersey tomatoes and corn. Soft shelled crabs are a regular on Jersey menus and you rarely see them in Maine restaurants. We also made two trips to Atlantic City as my parents enjoy going there once or twice a week.

The week at Peg's house went quickly. The weather was hot, but less humid, and we spent the afternoons swimming in Peg's pool and relaxing in the sun. I had a busy social schedule with dinners with my sister, Mary Ann, and my brother, Ray, my sister-in-law Jo Anne and my niece, Laura. I also met my old high school buddy, Kip, for a really fun evening at a Trenton Thunder baseball game. The Thunder are in the same league as the Portland Sea Dogs. I think these minor league teams and the young up-and-coming players are more exciting to watch than the major leagues.

Ben drove down last Friday to join me for a Tour appearance at Cruise Night in Somerville, NJ. The weather was fantastic and lots of cars turned out for the informal show. The Central Jersey Corvette Club handled all the arrangements and set up an impressive display of Corvettes. In three hours, the club members collected over $500 in donations for the local Unit of the American Cancer Society. I spent the time talking to cancer patients and listening to the stories of club members who had family or friends dealing with cancer. I finally met Paul, a recently diagnosed prostate cancer patient from NJ who has been communicating with Ben and me through a Corvette Internet connection. He will be entering a special treatment program in Georgia next week.

Our friends, Harry and Elaine came down from North Jersey. Harry spent a couple of hours on the sidewalk collaring passerby's for donations. He was a real pro at soliciting and offered his services at the Carlisle show in the end of August.

On Saturday, Ben and my brother-in-law, Bill, drove to Raceway Park in Englishtown for Corvette Day. Ben has been bitten by the racing bug after his day at Oxford Plains in Maine. He wanted to drag race my car again, this time on a 1/4 mile track. Also, Corvette Day featured an autocross. I was too tired and battling back pain to attend the full day of activities, so Peg and I drove down much later. When we arrived, Bill told us that Ben had been running around like a little kid, going back and forth from the drag races to the autocross. Despite his first time efforts at autocrossing, Ben came home with a 3rd place trophy.

August 9, 1999: Today, is my birthday and I am glad to be home and spending it with Ben. We have half of a delicious chocolate and gold combination birthday cake that Peg bought for me at Mendoker's Bakery, a famous NJ bakery. She surprised me with a little celebration and the cake last night before we left. I really don't mind birthdays and being one year older. I used to dread birthdays after the age of 30. Though the depressing thought that this could be my last birthday briefly crossed my mind, I am trying to focus on how lucky I am to have made it through one more year. A real cause to celebrate.

Lurk even joined in my birthday celebration tonight. He was very interested in the smell of birthday cake, but turned up his nose when offered a dab of icing. So instead, I gave him a small dish of Breyer's French Vanilla ice cream. He let it fully melt in his dish and reluctantly polished it off hours later. Ben says Mr. Picky prefers regular vanilla over French vanilla.

Lurk is slowly recovering from his leg injury, supposedly a soft tissue injury or sprain. He is no longer limping, though his right leg seems to over-flex in the wrist area when he puts weight on it. I am wondering if he should be in kitty rehab therapy. In any case, his appetite has not been affected. While Ben was away last weekend picking me up in NJ, Lurk was left to his own devices with lots of dry food and some dishes of canned food. When we arrived home, the dishes were licked clean and only a small pile of dry food remained. Lurk was looking fat and sassy, and I swear he gained two pounds while I was away.

August 11, 1999: Today is my treatment and appointment with Dr. Tom. Tom is very busy and running about a half hour behind schedule. He asks me what's up and I tell him, "my tumor marker levels", a little cancer patient humor. He shakes his head in agreement and says we'll do another tumor marker and CBC blood test today. My blood will be drawn during my Aredia treatment to save me a trip to the lab. I tell Tom that I think it's time for a bone scan and a chest x-ray, to determine where the cancer may be progressing. He agrees and says he'll order those, plus a CT scan of the liver. All of the tests will be done in the next two weeks.

I also tell Tom that I did a lot of thinking on my vacation, and decided that I will make my own decision about further treatment based upon the results of these tests. Tom seems comfortable with this approach. I also mention my concerns about continuing on the Megace which is no longer working or has lost most of its effectiveness. I attribute my recent bout of migraine headaches and hair shedding, not to mention huge weight gain to the Megace. Tom says the weight gain is definitely due to the Megace, and if my tumor markers have increased further, I can go off of the drug. Wonderful! I am tired of looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Tom says there are other options such as radiation to my bone tumor sites, a palliative measure to ease the bone pain though it does nothing to cure or stop the spread of the cancer. I will not do radiation unless I am certain it will be of benefit. My bone pain seems to migrate and not be confined to one specific site. I am managing on one to two pain pills a day. I felt greatly relieved today after telling Tom what I wanted for a course of action. I have always had a role in my care, but the time has come for me to consider research and complementary options that may step outside standard treatment regimens.

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