Lincoln County News
August 6, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

July 19, 1998: The Black Hills Classic Corvette event is now over and our friends, Tom and Charlene, are headed home. Everyone at the event made us feel welcome and support for the Tour was encouraging. I am continuing to be touched by the countless number of people who are sharing their personal stories with me about cancer. During the Classic, I spoke to 750 people at an evening banquet. You could hear a pin drop when I told them that one in two people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. I said that if it wasn't you, it was the person sitting next to you. 1.2 million people will be diagnosed this year. That's the reality of cancer.

Right this moment, I am waiting at the Rapid City Airport for my friend, Dot, to arrive. Earlier today, Ben flew to Boston, where he'll spend the night at our daughter's house before returning to Maine tomorrow morning. He hated to leave, but he has been on an unpaid leave of absence from work for over a month. I remind him that one of us must work to pay the bills. Ben will be home until mid-August, when he will fly out to join me in Nevada.

Ben was not sorry to leave the hot weather. Yesterday, Charlene, Tom, Ben and I went to the Spearfish Festival in the Park. It was 108 degrees! Sweat was pouring off of us, but the many craft booths were calling to Charlene and me. Ben and Tom lack the shopping gene and were reluctant participants. Finally, Charlene suggested that the boys do the Classic's Poker Run to Devil's Tower. We thought that Ben and Tom would prefer a "close encounter" rather than a shopping experience. Fortunately, they agreed and drove off in Tom's car.

I was at the Park for more than just shopping. I was scheduled to meet the media. Jan, a reporter from the Rapid City Journal, interviewed me at length and took some photos for a special feature article. As soon as that was completed, Amanda, from KOTA TV in Rapid City interviewed and filmed me for a lead story on the 10 o'clock news.

One of the highlights of our Tour appearance at the Black Hills Classic was the caravan of Corvettes from Sioux Falls to Spearfish, South Dakota, a distance of 400 miles. Over 250 Corvettes gathered for the 7 a.m. start at Schulte Chevrolet in Sioux Falls. The caravan went off right on schedule and traveled at 65 mph. Other cars had gone on ahead at their own pace as the speed limit was 70.

Our first stop was Al's Oasis in Chamberlain for breakfast. We were in the lead group of VIP cars, number five, so we had finished our breakfast before the last cars arrived. The Oasis was fully prepared to handle the crowd and we were back on the road within 45 minutes.

Ben and I decided to depart from the caravan after the Oasis, so we could travel faster. South Dakota is quite flat and wide open, and the highway is quite straight. There was very little traffic and hearing no warnings of police activity on our CB, Ben wanted to check our speedometer. After a quick stomp on the gas pedal, Ben set the cruise at 151 mph. This lasted about 15 seconds until we closed in on the vehicles ahead. It was an interesting experience, and I had no sensation that my car was going that fast. It was not vibrating, only the engine noise was louder. It also felt like more power was available. The cars are technically capable of reaching 172 mph. Once Dot gets here, we'll re-test the speedometer out in Montana, where there is no daytime speed limit.

Another highlight of the caravan was Wall Drug, our lunch stop. Wall Drug is an incredible experience. Giant billboards announce it many miles ahead. We saw the first sign in Minnesota! If Wall Drug doesn't have it, you probably don't need it. Lots of tacky souvenirs and displays mixed in with the drug store and cafe. I had Ben photograph me next to a huge fiberglass rabbit and riding a stuffed bucking bronco. I resisted the urge to climb atop a giant purple jackalope. We visited the Wall Drug Cafe for buffalo burgers, which tasted like regular hamburgers to me. At least, we can say we tried them.

Charlene and Tom had gone ahead of the caravan so Charlene could do laundry. I gave her a huge pile of our laundry as well. When we arrived in Spearfish, Ben and I found Charlene standing in 90 plus degree heat, amidst piles of clothes, in the Spearfish Laundromat. I told her it looked like she was running a Chinese laundry.

We really enjoyed ourselves traveling with Tom and Charlene. While in Sioux Falls, we conducted several restaurant reviews. Using a copy of "Eating Your Way Across The USA" that Sue and Paul gave us, we have been searching out some of the highly rated, low budget cafes and local dining places featured in the book. Minerva's was the place to go in Sioux Falls and we had to visit it twice to re-confirm our 5-star rating.

In making arrangements for our restaurant visits, Charlene and I stopped at the front desk of our hotel. We had noticed the hotel courtesy van driving in and out regularly. Perhaps the van can take us to the restaurants, we thought. Lazy Corvette people tired of driving. I ask Morgan, a young man working at the desk, where the van goes. He replies that he usually drives folks to the airport, and inquires where we want to go. We have decided to have beef, since we are out in beef country, and Timberlodge Steakhouse is our destination. Morgan hesitates at first, then agrees to drive us there. He tells us it is a great place for dinner, though he says he doesn't eat out because he is on a tight budget.

After a delicious dinner at the Steakhouse, we phone Morgan. Within ten minutes he is at the door of the restaurant. We give him a big tip and a doggie bag filled with a large piece of steak. As a further reward for his services, Tom takes him for a fast ride in his Pace Car. Morgan is thrilled beyond words. We missed our private chauffeur, Morgan, once we left Sioux Falls.

Getting back to the present, Dot's flight has been delayed an hour in Denver. Finally, the small turbo prop plane lands and pulls up to the gate. When Dot comes down the stairs, she is happy to see me waiting for her. She looks great, though she is no doubt tired from the long trip. We decide to check into the hotel in Rapid City and I will drive us to Mt. Rushmore, about 30 miles away, for a quick sightseeing tour.

Two days earlier, Ben, Tom, Charlene and I visited Mt. Rushmore and the Needles, an area of unusual rock formations. Mt. Rushmore was impressive and Dot is equally overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the sculptures on the mountain. The faces of Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln are exquisite in their realistic detail. The sunlight and shadows make the faces change in appearance throughout the day and evening. At night, a special light display illuminates the mountain.

July 20, 1998: Today, Dot and I are driving to Billings, Montana. After breakfast, I suggest we stop in Spearfish Canyon on our way west. Two days ago, Tom and Charlene led us through the canyon to Bridal Veil Falls, where we saw a wild mountain goat. He was pure white, quite stocky and large, and bore little resemblance to a domestic goat. He had crossed the highway next to Bridal Veil Falls, a scenic waterfall that cascades down into the canyon. Apparently, the Falls must be the goat's private territory and the three vehicles parked in the pull-off area had invaded his turf. The goat was jumping and prancing up and down and attempting to butt a big Buick or Chevrolet parked several cars in front of us. The occupants of the vehicle were throwing bread out the window in a futile and stupid attempt to attract the goat. Meanwhile, we and the other visitors, filmed the entire proceedings. Finally, the goat got disgusted or bored and walked a few feet up the side of the hill, where he munched on some tall grass and ignored us. I inched closer to him and was able to get some good close-up photos. Unfortunately, the goat was not out when Dot and I visited the Falls. Dot will have to see our photos and videotape.

Dot and I arrive in Billings, Montana in good time. I did all of the driving today, about 360 miles. We went through what is called the Great Plains. It is miles and miles of prairie grass, pastures, and fields filled with cattle and wildlife. Dot spotted a pronghorn antelope. It is beautiful country out here and now I know why my friend, Dean, who grew up in the farmlands of the Dakotas and Minnesota, calls it God's Country.

July 21, 1998: Dot and I are headed to Missoula, Montana today. Montana is absolutely spectacular country, a combination of rolling hills, mountains, and flat wide open plains and pasture lands. You can see for miles. No wonder Montana is called Big Sky Country. It is not a populous state and you can travel for miles and see only a ranch or two. In fact, some exits off the highway are marked, "Ranch Exit", and not for public access. Most of the people living on ranches must shop infrequently and drive long distances to the larger cities of Billings, Butte or Missoula for all their groceries and necessities. What a way of life!

I also noticed metal gates at many of the entrance ramps to the highway. The gates are closed during winter storms to prevent access to the highway. Winter storms in Montana can be severe, and the wide open plains create dangerous drifting snow conditions that can trap motorists. Large wooden criss-crossing snow fences line many stretches of the road. In the mountain passes, there are "chain up" areas for truckers to help them negotiate the passes during bad storms.

I am doing most of the driving today, so Dot can enjoy the scenery and take photographs. When we pull into our hotel parking lot in Missoula, two photographers from the Missoulian Newspaper are camped out waiting for us. Michael and his summer intern are here to get photos for a feature article that reporter, John Reed, will be writing. Michael pulls out a blue mat from his car and lays it on the ground by my Corvette. He lies on the mat to take low angle photos of my car. Dot and I observe this with amusement. She says she will suggest that Sue use a mat like this for taking pictures for The Lincoln County News. Dot also takes several photos of the photographers at work. She has gotten carried away with photos during the past few days. She even had me climb atop a loaded luggage cart for a photo. She claims that she will send this photo to the LCN. I sincerely hope not.

When Michael and his intern are finished, they spend some time admiring my car and asking questions. I hand Michael the keys and tell him to take it out for a spin. He hesitates, so then his college-aged intern quickly offers to drive. They both hop into my car and disappear for about 15 minutes. When they return, Michael is driving and is all smiles. The intern remarks that driving my Corvette will be the highlight of his internship. He adds that fellow photography classmates will not believe that this was part of today's assignment.

While Michael and I wait for John, the reporter, to arrive, he points to his short crew-cut and tells me that he too has had a medical scare. He describes how a few months ago, three holes were drilled into his skull to ease the pressure of some medical condition involving the brain. He has recovered fully, but says he now appreciates what really is important in life. I can certainly identify with how quickly your priorities get re-arranged when you face a life-threatening situation.

John finally arrives to interview me and we adjourn to the breakfast area in the hotel lobby. He is a pleasant, friendly man and sincerely interested in not just my Tour, but me personally. From the questions he asks, I know that the story he will write will be very different from the usual press release-type stories that have been written about my Tour. John suggests that I stop by the newspaper office tomorrow morning to pick up some papers and negatives of today's photos. I promise him a drive in my Corvette. Earlier, during the interview, I described my 151 mph. driving experience in South Dakota. John listened and smiled, then informed me that he had been in law enforcement for 20 years before becoming a reporter. I immediately retracted my statement and told him I was only kidding, that it was only a dream I had.

Missoula is an attractive city. Dot and I are amazed at how long it stays light in the evening. We are near the end of the Mountain Time Zone. It is strange to see folks playing golf out on the golf course at 9:30 pm.

July 22, 1998: I am letting Dot do most of the driving today because she will be leaving me tomorrow. I also want her to have one last opportunity to enjoy Montana's no daytime speed limits. We arrive in Spokane in the early afternoon and enter the Pacific Time Zone. Today, is a combination travel and catch-up day for us. We find a do-it-yourself car wash where we thoroughly clean my bug-encrusted car. Afterwards, we find a laundromat, so we can catch up on our laundry.

Tonight, we are meeting members of the Spokane Corvette Club for dinner. Dick, the President, and his wife, Joy, lead a group of Corvettes into our hotel parking lot. Dick and I have been conversing by e-mail. He learned about my Tour through the mailing I sent to national Corvette Clubs. The Spokane Club is interested in meeting me and supporting my Tour.

The Spokane Club members are a friendly group. Typical of all Corvetters, we congregate in the parking lot and admire and discuss each other's vehicles, before we adjourn to the hotel restaurant for a delicious dinner. Dick and Joy tell me that their Corvette Club is just like mine back in Maine. It is more an eating club than a car club. The members of the Spokane Club give me some generous donations for the Tour. Dick tells me that more will be coming because they will be conducting a fund-raiser for my Tour at their upcoming Saturday car show in the park.

No matter where I travel, I have found Corvette people to be kind and generous. Dot and I enjoyed ourselves and our new friends tonight, and we were sorry to see the evening come to an end.

July 23, 1998: I wake up at 6 am. this morning with a sharp pain in my ribs. I sit up in bed and try to assess the situation. It hurts to breathe and touch my right side. It soon dawns on me that I might have re-fractured the rib that was injured last November. Dot wakes up and sees me sitting up, hunched over in bed, and asks what's wrong. I describe the pain and we both agree that I have probably re-fractured the rib from all the car washing, luggage lifting, etc. All I can do now is relax, not lift or reach, and take my pain pills. Fortunately, I have brought along a good supply of Darvocet for pain management.

Dot is leaving today and my sister, Mary Ann, is flying into the Spokane Airport. Dot is worried about me, but I assure her Mary Ann will take charge. We ask the hotel's courtesy van driver to drive me to the airport and bring Mary Ann and I back to the hotel. That way it is less work and exertion for me. Dot tells the driver to take good care of me.

Dot's son, David, soon arrives with her two grandchildren. Dot is very excited to see them all. She hasn't seen her grandchildren in nearly two years. Dot has David carry out my luggage and load it into my car. As payment for his services and because he is a car buff, I let him drive my car while Dot and I say our tearful good-byes. I am going to miss my dear buddy and fellow fast driver.

Thankfully, Mary Ann's plane arrives on time. It's great to see Mary Ann, who I haven't seen since April. I am relieved to notice that she is carrying only a few pieces of luggage. The trunk of my car is overflowing, and I must carefully fit in each piece of luggage like a jigsaw puzzle, otherwise the trunk lid won't shut.

Mary Ann is excited about her leg of the journey. She has never visited Washington, Idaho or Nevada. I warn her about my rib problem, but assure her that I will be fine. I tell her I will drive us to Lewiston, Idaho tonight, our half-way point to the Boise Vette Fest. As long as I can sit without twisting or moving, my rib discomfort is kept to a minimum.

After departing Spokane, we travel through miles of wheat and alfalfa fields, and rolling hills. A mountain chain is looming in the distance. I am looking for the famous Idaho potato fields, but see none. Later, I learn that most of the potatoes are grown in the eastern part of the state. Right before we get to Lewiston, we pass by the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. It saddens us to think that so much of the beautiful land we have passed during my entire trip, once belonged to Native Americans. They are now relegated to living on reservations, in conditions that would be unacceptable to most of us.

July 24, 1998: Mary Ann is driving today. She has bought a new camera for her trip and she stops frequently to take photos of the beautiful mountains and canyons we are driving through on our way to Boise. The rock formations and views are breath-taking, and we take a side trip through the Snake River Canyon. We stop in McCall for lunch at a cafe with an outdoor balcony overlooking the Payette Lake. We indulge in smoked trout sandwiches, a local specialty.

After leaving McCall, we follow the Salmon River through the Salmon River Canyon, past Cascade Dam and Lake. We pass large peaks nearly 10,000 feet high in the Sawtooth Mountain range, before we descend to the flat valley where Boise is located. We check into our hotel in late afternoon. The Vette Fest folks are all out at the drag strip in Emmet for the racing events. We get directions to the drag strip and arrive in time to see the end of time trials and the beginning of the races. We watch the races for about an hour before heading back into town for dinner.

Mary Ann has never been to a drag race and as she says, "This car business is Greek to her." Actually, she really is getting into the Corvette mode. I think that the Corvette driving experience surprised her. She likes driving my car. I couldn't convince her to race it tonight. If my rib had not been injured, I would have been right out on the track and in the thick of it. It seemed strange not to have Ben with me tonight. Being a former drag racer, Ben would have been in his element. I took particular note of the times that 1997 and 1998 Corvettes were turning. Mostly, in the mid 14 second bracket and around 96 mph. in the quarter mile. That would be equivalent to what my car could do on the racetrack.

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