Lincoln County News
August 27, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my travels through the Southwest with my sister, Peg. An unplanned stop in Gallup, New Mexico, brings us new friends. This leg of my journey is fraught with both medical and technical problems: an emergency visit to a Nevada hospital and my laptop computer breaks down.

August 5, 1998: Peg and I have re-arranged our travel schedule to allow for shorter travel days. My back and ribs have been giving me discomfort and pain. We will spend two days in Santa Fe. Peg has been to Santa Fe before and says I will enjoy the historic downtown with all its shops. Peg plans to do most of her Christmas shopping there. Santa Fe is a very attractive southwestern city. All the buildings are constructed of red adobe with tile roofs. The downtown district is quaint and very old with beautiful mission churches.

We drive to a downtown parking garage, so we can walk to the center market square. The square is lined with Navajo and Pueblo vendors who have spread their silver jewelry, pottery and other craft items out on colorful hand-woven rugs on the sidewalk. Other vendors sell bunches of red chili peppers, some intertwined with garlic. Chili peppers are used for seasoning in most Southwestern style cooking. The chili pepper seems to be the national symbol of the Southwest. Chili peppers are on everything from pottery and furniture, to clothing and jewelry.

Another popular symbol in the Southwest is Kokopeli, a flute-playing Indian fertility god. Legend says that Kokopeli lived many centuries ago and traveled from village to village, playing his flute and bringing good luck and a good growing season for crops.

Peg and I walk through most of the downtown shopping district. We are doing more looking than shopping. Our feet are killing us, but we manage to complete much of Peg's Christmas shopping and mine as well. Peg is surprised that I have kept pace with her. We have walked most of the day in the hot sun. I tell her as long as I stay focused, I can force myself beyond my limits. Our final stop is a Mailboxes, Etc. I have absolutely no spare room in my trunk, so Peg is shipping her purchases home.

August 7, 1998: Peg and I are staying in Gallup, New Mexico today. We check into our hotel on historic Route 66. I wanted to see a remnant of Route 66, the old road which once connected East to West. The road has since been replaced by major highways and many of the old motels, restaurants and tourist stops have gone out of business. A few still linger on in faded neon, their paint peeling.

Our small hotel is very nice and clean, but has a strange odor. Peg says it smells like Tandoori chicken. The smell, which is emanating from the owner's quarters, has permeated our room and the entire hotel. The odor reminds us that we have missed lunch, so we drive down Route 66 to Earl's, a busy local eatery.

Shortly after we are seated, Navajo and Zuni Pueblo vendors selling jewelry and craft items, approach out table. Peg and I are intrigued by this unique table-side shopping experience. Throughout our meal, about 10 vendors came by. Some were very young children, and some barely spoke English. Roving restaurant vendors are apparently a way of life in Gallup.

We also learn that Gallup is the wholesale jewelry Mecca of the Southwest. The town is the crossroads and trading post of the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni Pueblo Reservations. The streets of Gallup are filled with wholesale jewelry stores. Peg and I visit the Pow Wow Trading Post, one of the largest. Veronica, our salesperson, is very friendly and helpful. She shows us around the store and describes many of the native arts and crafts. Veronica has lived in Gallup for only a few years, but she is familiar with all the local attractions. She suggests we visit the local museum and see the Zuni Tribal dances which are held downtown at 7 pm., every evening in the summer. Veronica offers to fill us in on more local activities after she gets off work. We plan to meet her at the El Dorado Restaurant next door.

Peg and I tour the Gallup Historical Museum for fifteen minutes before they close for the day. It is a small free museum with very interesting memorabilia on mining, which was once a major industry in Gallup. After leaving the museum, we meet Veronica and her husband's aunt, Louise, at the El Dorado. Louise is a pure blood Navajo who was raised in California. She returned recently to Gallup and is just now learning the Navajo language. She describes how difficult is was for her to find a job and a home. She said she sought the advice of a Navajo medicine man who helped her find her way. According to Louise, medicine men are much in demand for medical and psychological advice, and are often booked months in advance. Louise suggests that I consult with a medicine man about my cancer. She describes how a relative's child with serious development and growth problems, was cured after three visits from a Navajo medicine man. Peg thinks seeing a medicine man is worth a try. I don't think that my insurance company will cover it, but I may consider it anyway.

After saying our good-byes to Veronica and Louise, Peg and I drive downtown to the park where the Zuni Tribal Dances are held. A small arena with bleachers is filled with spectators, most of them local Native Americans. There is no charge to attend. A Native American official from the Chamber of Commerce introduces the dancers and describes the dances known as the Deer Dance and the Rainbow Dance. She says the dances are "social" rather than ceremonial. Four Zuni children come out in colorful costumes trimmed with deerskin and feathers. The oldest dancer is perhaps fourteen and the youngest barely five or six. Costumes are changed after each number and two young men chant and play drums to provide beat to the dancers. They perform for a full hour in the scorching heat. It was very interesting to see these young people continuing tribal traditions while several generations watched in appreciation.

Peg and I are going to Don Diego's, a local Mexican restaurant, for dinner. As we are parking my car at Diego's, a man in the parking lot is admiring my car. He tells us that he loves Corvettes. He introduces himself as Ricardo, the owner of the bakery next door to the restaurant. He, his wife, Rosemary and a friend are dining at Diego's tonight and they invite us to join them.

Ricardo and Rosemary are both Mexican Americans who were born and raised in Gallup. They have six children and several grandchildren. They are very friendly and talkative and want to know all about my Tour. They are particularly interested in learning about my illness and how my Tour came about. Before we start dinner, Ricardo asks us to all join hands and say a prayer for my mission this summer and for our shared friendship.

Ricardo has recommended several authentic Mexican dishes on Diego's menu to us. Peg orders the fajitas and I select the enchilada special with green chili, a Southwest staple. We thoroughly enjoy dinner, getting to know Ricardo and Rosemary, and brushing up on our Spanish. Our new friends are very patient and polite with our rusty Spanish.

After dinner, Ricardo invites us back to his home. We are so tired, we decline his offer, but promise to stop by his bakery in the morning. After breakfast, Ricardo will show us his house and take us to a local flea market, a big Saturday happening in Gallup.

August 8, 1998: We meet at Ricardo's bakery, called Glenn's Bakery, for a delicious breakfast of "cinnamon fries", which are really a glazed cinnamon roll. Ricardo had wanted us to sample his breakfast burritos, but Peg and I didn't have room. Glazed donuts are my downfall. In fact, I used to have a cat that also liked glazed donuts, so that was my excuse to buy them. I tell Ricardo that I am glad that his bakery is not in Maine because I would be a frequent customer, and then I wouldn't fit into my car. Ricardo shows us around the bakery and points out a variety of popular baked goods, including some pink and green pastel-colored mounds known as Mexican donuts.

Ricardo has brought his prize Model T street rod to work. He has owned it for 36 years! It is a cute little red roadster. He insists that I drive it to his house, and I, in turn, will let him drive my Corvette. Peg and I have fun driving the few blocks to Ricardo's house. I have never driven anything like this little car, but it has a Corvette engine and is beautifully built. Ben would get a charge out of seeing me driving something like this.

At Ricardo's, we park both cars and travel in his family vehicle to the huge flea market on the edge of town. Over 100 vendors have set up booths of crafts and jewelry, clothing, food, and typical flea market items. Many of the food vendors are selling homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks and Navajo fried bread which is similar to the fried dough you find at fairs in Maine.

When we return from the flea market, Rosemary has just picked up a friend at the train station. The visitor, also named Ricardo, is a retired priest or brother from California. To avoid confusion, we refer to him as Ricardo #2. Ricardo #1 greets Ricardo #2, saying, "Hola, Viejo!" Peg and I have to smile, because viejo means old man in Spanish, and Ricardo #2 is maybe about 50 years old. A few minutes later, Ricardo's brother drops by and is also greeted with an, "Hola, Viejo". Peg and I burst out laughing. We ask Ricardo if he ever greets anyone by saying, "Hola, Vieja", which means old lady. Both Ricardos and his brother look at us in horror. They explain that there is no such thing as "viejas", because if they used that term, it would get them in big trouble.

I encourage Ricardo to take Ricardo #2 for a ride in my car. While they are gone, Peg and I sit out on the patio and sip lemonade with Rosemary. She shows us her lovely yard and gardens and explains the names of each flower and tree. There are junipers brought from her parent's ranch, plus Navajo willow trees, trumpet vines and all sorts of flowers native to the Southwest. Orange hummingbirds are visiting her feeders. They are Rufous-Sided hummingbirds and are much larger and very different in color from the ones we have at home. Peg and I also try to get photos of the little lizards that are darting in and out of the garden. They are so thin and fast, we cannot capture them on film.

By the time both Ricardos return, it is obvious they have fallen in love with my Corvette. Not wanting to keep their hands off of it, they insist on washing it for us. I tell them they should open a business called "Dos Viejos" Car Wash, which means two old men car wash. Peg and I are having such a good time, that we hate to leave. Rosemary and Ricardo beg us to stay longer or return sometime to visit with them. They say they will pray for my health, my safe return and a successful effort to raise awareness of cancer. We have met so many friendly and kind people throughout my journey. Gallup was not originally one of our scheduled stops and here we have met some wonderful new friends.

August 9, 1998: Today is my birthday and Peg and I spend the day in Sedona, AZ. Sedona is located in the middle of a beautiful red rock canyon. The town is an arts community, but enjoys more of a reputation for its New Age crystals, spiritual healing, alien and UFO sightings. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, the only aliens and UFO's we sighted were on T shirts and other souvenirs.

August 10, 1998: Peg and I are in Williams, AZ. We have arranged for a low-budget $19 horseback trail ride. I am having serious back pain and probably shouldn't be doing this 1/2 hour ride, or should I say "walk". Peg tells the horse rental people that I have to be put on an ancient horse that can only walk, not trot or gallop. They comply by putting me on "Custer", better known as "Fat Boy", a retired show horse who is about 20 years old and blind in one eye. Fat Boy used to be one of the horses used in the mock train robberies held in Williams during the summer months. The train robberies and high-noon shoot-outs are still taking place, but Fat Boy has gone on to a new career.

Fat Boy plods along and is no trouble for me to handle. As we are rounding the home stretch, the lead horse and mine pass a tree and brush pile. Suddenly, there is a sizzling noise and the brush is moving. Peg's horse recognizes the disappearing rattlesnake and starts to hop and side step. Good old Fat Boy never saw it.

August 11, 1998: My back and ribs are really bothering me today. I also feel like I may be coming down with a lung infection. Peg and I are on our way to Reno, Nevada, where she will fly home and Ben will be flying in to join me. We are stopping in Las Vegas tonight, and though I hate to give in to my aches and pains, we head over to Desert Hospital's Emergency Room. It is a long wait, but the doctors and nurses are on the ball. Seeing me with my huge medical file folder in tow, and hearing my complaints, they immediately get me to the X Ray Dept. My rib situation is unchanged and they cannot see any other major areas of concern, though they admit that the flat plate x-rays cannot show all details. The doctor is more concerned that I may be coming down with bronchitis or some other infection. He writes me a prescription for antibiotics and cough medicine. He says he doesn't want me coughing as that could cause more ribs to break. I feel better knowing that I have been checked out quite thoroughly. I have not seen a doctor since the first week of June. I will have appointments back in Maine with Wes and Dr. Tom the week of September 21st.

August 12, 1998: Tonight, we are in Tonopah, Nevada, a small mining town in the middle of the desert and half way to Reno. I am working on my column and suddenly, my laptop computer starts making a zitzing noise. I immediately save and close out my file. Then a message comes up on the screen that there has been a major disk error. It is 10:30 pm. Pacific Time. I make the decision to call Ben, my computer expert, who is home sleeping in bed at what is 1:30 am Eastern Time. Ben is not too pleased by my call, though he is gentle in breaking the news to me that my computer has died. Not being technically oriented, I cannot diagnose or repair the problem, though Ben admits it is beyond repair. This means that my column for the coming week, all my e mails, my previous columns and my phone book, everything has now gone to some great computer heaven in the sky. Actually, I take this bit of news quite well. With all my problems this week, I guess this is just one more. I will call the Lincoln County News tomorrow and hand-write a new column and fax it to them. Talk about the old days of communication, I am back to writing by hand.

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