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Lincoln County News
December 10, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our Thanksgiving and preparations for the holiday season. Barbecue is the hit review. I test my energy levels at an all day meeting in New Hampshire. And, in a surprise development, my Christmas wish is granted early.

November 26, 1998: Today, we are celebrating Thanksgiving at home. Christy and Nils arrived last evening and will assist in dinner preparations. I have taken charge of the stuffing and the turkey. I will supervise preparations for the rest of the meal from a seat on the sofa, where I intend to watch the Macy's Parade. Macy's Parade and the arrival of Santa Claus on his goose-shaped float are the kick-off for my holiday preparations. As soon as the turkey turns into leftovers, I will go into high gear finishing my Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts and decorating the house.

Christy and Nils leave as soon as dinner is over. It is a nasty blowing rain and I worry about their drive home. They insist on returning home as early as possible to salvage what's left of their house, as Oops and Spot have been left alone for 24 hours. Unlike most cats and typical of dogs, they immediately eat all of the food that is put out for them, even if it's three days worth. Then they switch into a search and destroy mode. Plants, trash, tissues, and paper are all open game. Alarmingly, Christy said that the cats have even stolen some rather large household items, such as a big sheepskin duster with a long extension handle. They managed to drag this out from behind the dishwasher. Christy found only a few pieces of the duster, which led her to believe that the rest was probably eaten. I am ashamed to admit that these are my grandcats. Fortunately, they do not come to visit me.

November 27, 1998: Christmas shopping and decorating have taken on an all new meaning for me during my illness. I am particularly selective in choosing gifts for family and friends. I look for gifts that will last long after I am gone. Last year, I selected a harbor buoy wind chime for my parents. I figured that every time it chimes, it will remind them of me. Because of my decreased stamina, I am also debating about how much time and energy to expend on decorating the house. Today, Ben put strings of outdoor lights on two bushes by our front door. I intend to get a small Christmas tree for our enclosed porch.

My most important Christmas decoration and always the first to be put up, is my antique crèche set. Given to me by my late grandmother, the Nativity scene with its wooden stable and plaster of Paris hand-painted figurines is at least 80 years old. It was handmade in Germany and brought to this country by my Austrian great-grandparents. It is very fragile, but remarkably intact despite the generations of children who played with the camel, donkey, four woolly sheep and spectacular gold gilded angel. Only poor Joseph seems to be the worst for the wear. His cloak is crumbling in places. The donkey is missing one ear and has had a makeshift leg repair done by my great-grandfather. He used match sticks to brace its two broken legs.

I remember my grandparents setting up the crèche on their fireplace mantel each year. My great-grandfather drilled a tiny hole in the top of the stable roof and installed a miniature red bulb. He rigged up a transformer to power the little flashlight type bulb that threw an eerie holy-type light upon Mary, Joseph and the Christ child. Years later, when my grandmother gave me the set, I asked about the light. She said that she had stopped using it and the transformer disappeared. A few years ago, I had Ben install a tiny white flashlight bulb. We couldn't find a red one. It's hooked up to a small battery and once again I have a lighted crèche. It is very comforting to surround myself with the trappings and traditions of my childhood. Though I am separated by many miles from my family, and my grandparents have passed away, the crèche is a form of connection for me to those in this world and beyond. A reminder of Christmases past and what Christmas is really all about.

November 27, 1998: The rolling restaurant review is headed to someplace with a menu that doesn't talk turkey. Paul and Sue have suggested Beale St. Barbecue in Bath. The pulled pork is our unanimous choice and all, except Paul, have the sense to order the plate rather than the platter size portion. Barbecue aficionados must try Beale St.'s tasty, moist and tender pulled pork.

Paul disappears to search out bottles of hot sauce. His choice is Matouk's because it is Jimmy Buffett's favorite. Paul proceeds to mix up his own concoction of hot sauce blending Matouk's with the house barbecue sauce. He is deliberate and slow in preparing this mixture, so the rest of us are almost through eating by the time he finishes his perfect hot sauce. You have several side choices with the plates, but we highly recommend the jalapeno cornbread, barbecued beans and cole slaw. We also ordered the house salad as an extra. The dressing is great and the combination of lettuce, red onion, mandarin orange slices and toasted almonds is superb. There were no raw sugar packets, but we gave Beale St. 5 stars anyway as there was no stuffed roasted turkey on the menu.

December 1, 1998: Today, I have an extraordinarily long day that I will most certainly pay for later. I am going to a day-long American Cancer Society Board of Directors meeting in Nashua, NH. There is no way that I can do the 3 hour drive myself. Unfortunately, the format of the meeting is not conducive to teleconferencing, so I have hitched a ride with Alan, a fellow volunteer and one of our National Directors. He is pleased to have the company. Ben drives me to Alan's law office in Saco at an ungodly hour of the morning. Alan is a fast driver and loves fast cars, so we spend a good part of the drive talking about my Tour and my Corvette.

Alan and I are both senior volunteers. I have been involved with ACS for 23 years and Alan for even longer. Alan and I can get together, even after not seeing each other for months, and lapse right into a conversation about ACS business, picking up where we left off a year ago. We're like family, since we have worked together so long and know all the same stories and people.

The meeting goes well and my fellow Board members are pleased to see me after a few months away. I have brought some Tour photos with me, so everyone can see what was going on last summer. I am currently being interviewed for an article in a national ACS publication. Several of our Board members have heard that I was being profiled, so they are congratulating me and asking when the story will come out. Actually, I am not sure, but probably within a month.

Even though I arrive home at 9 pm. completely exhausted, I knew I made the right choice in going. Some of the topics for discussion today were cancer survivorship issues, and I needed to weigh in my opinion.

December 2, 1998: Today, is a day of mixed emotions for me. For the past three years, I have been in the middle of a family situation that has caused me much pain and anguish. Of course, I allowed myself to be put in the middle and that is my own fault and choosing. Essentially, my mother, father, and youngest sister, Peg have not spoken to each other in nearly three years. The cause of the rift has long since been forgotten and no one is really certain now what actually started it. Throughout the three years, I have tried to spend as much time with Peg as possible, especially over the holidays. I love her very much and wanted her to feel that she was still part of our family unit, fractured as it may be.

Being the fix-it type, I am always trying to bring parties back together, often to no avail. Last Spring, I wrote openly about this in my column. I am sure it was an eye-opener for my family, especially since I was airing out the family laundry in public. My mother took it quite well. She knows that I have a great tendency to speak my mind, a trait that I have inherited from both of my parents.

Anyway, an opportune occasion arose that prompted me to bring up once again, the issue of the family separation. My mother had to re-do a trust document that required the signatures of all of us children. I knew that my mother would have to contact Peg somehow to get her signature. As always, it was open mouth and insert foot time for me. I bluntly told my mother that this was an opportunity for her to open the lines of communication with Peg. I begged her and my father to make this call or visit. My mother tried to make excuses at first, but I persisted. In a previous phone call, she had asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told her I had to think about it. Now I knew exactly what I wanted. I told her I wanted her and Peg to communicate some time before the holiday season. It was just a plain and simple statement, but my mother knew I was serious. I could sense that the tables were turning.

After our conversation, I worried how Peg would react to a phone call or visit from my parents. Would she be bitter, would she turn them away? In probing phone calls to Peg, I was relieved to hear a willingness to end the separation. Peg was looking for a way to heal and to become part of the family again. I did not want to raise Peg's expectations, as I still did not know how this was going to play out.

It did and in a most swift manner. My father called Peg today and asked to meet with her to sign the papers. Oddly, my mother did not accompany him. According to Peg, he seemed sad and distraught. I received a message from Peg on my answering machine telling me what had happened. I did not return her call right away as I wanted to ask my sister, Mary Ann, if she knew what was going on. As it turned out, Mary Ann knew nothing of the visit. Peg then called me again and we talked at length. I tried to reassure her that at least my father had met with her. We were half way there and not to lose heart. I hung up the phone and prayed that this would still work itself out. What happened next must have been the hand of God. Peg picked up the phone and called my mother. They talked for an hour and resolved to keep in touch. I now have my Christmas wish.

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