Lincoln County News
December 17, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my battle with a stubborn sinus infection. Rave reviews for chocolate desserts and photo opportunities abound. The joy of family reconciliation mixes with the sadness and uncertainty of my father's sudden health crisis.

December 4, 1998: Tonight, the rolling restaurant review is headed to Back Street Landing Restaurant in Damariscotta. Ben and I have not been here since the restaurant was remodeled. We are seated in what used to be the former porch area with what must be a beautiful view of the river in the daylight, but it is after 7 pm. and pitch black outside. The menu has changed since our last visit, but we all found items of interest. Paul chose a duck special, Ben went for a Cajun combination, I had crab cakes and Sue had a seafood dish. For dessert, we ordered the fantastic chocolate creme brulee and shamelessly licked our bowls clean.

December 5, 1998: I am not feeling well today. I am coming down with some kind of respiratory infection. Last week, when I went to an all day meeting in New Hampshire, about half of the participants were sick with colds. Since I live such a reclusive life these days, I have forgotten how everyone goes to work when they are sick. I was just as guilty of this when I was working out in the public. I had to be on my death bed before I would stay home. It is no wonder colds and flu spread like wildfire. None of us are willing or can afford to stay home and miss a day or two of work or school. I also keep forgetting that my immune system is compromised.

Ben is a fine caretaker for me this weekend. I am not a good cold or flu patient. I can easily handle my life-threatening cancer, but let me get the sniffles and I mope and feel incredibly sorry for myself. Ben is very sympathetic and makes sure that I am comfortable, drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest. I spend the weekend giving orders to Ben from my bed. First, I send him out to do the food shopping. Next, comes the laundry and the housecleaning while I supervise. I am a professional supervisor these days and enjoying this new job more each day.

I still plan and put together most meals. Late last week, someone left a lasagna on my porch. Frequently, friends or fans of my column will bring us casseroles or desserts. Occasionally, food items are left mysteriously on the porch and I don't know who to thank. I assumed that the lasagna was from one of my loyal fans who has brought me lasagna in the past. I was ready to e mail her when Big Al asked how we liked Melissa's lasagna! Anyway, thanks to my kind friends we were spared frozen turkey leftovers.

December 6, 1998: This weekend, messages both phone and e mail have been flying back and forth between my sister, Peg, me and my parents. Once the initial avenue of communication was open between my sister and my parents, Peg said that it was like nothing had ever happened. She and my mother could talk at ease. That is the wonderful thing about forgiveness and reconciliation. Once the injured parties communicate and reconcile, all else seems to fall into place. It must be a tremendous feeling of relief for Peg and my parents to no longer have the huge weight of alienation hanging over their heads.

The resolving of the family separation has come none too soon. My cancer and my mother's autoimmune disease have been the recent major health issues in our family. Now, my father is facing a significant health crisis, the details and magnitude of which became apparent this weekend. My Dad has always been in excellent health, aside from a mitral valve heart problem that has been regularly controlled with no ill effects. Last May, Dad began experiencing shortness of breath. He was reassured when a barrage of tests determined that his heart was fine. Then, he developed a bad respiratory infection about two months ago, and the shortness of breath worsened. My father visited a lung specialist about two weeks ago. Chest x-rays and cat scans revealed the source of the shortness of breath: fluid had collected in one lung. The fluid was drained and tests on the fluid showed no malignant cells. Also, no abnormalities or tumors showed on the x-rays. It was suggested that the fluid could possibly be a result of the prior respiratory infection.

My father felt much better after the fluid was removed, but within a week and a half, his shortness of breath returned. This past Friday, the lung specialist confirmed that the fluid had come back, not a good sign. Now my father was facing another fluid removal, more detailed scans and tests, and ultimately surgery: a tissue biopsy of the lung. My father, being a doctor, knows all the medical possibilities, good and bad. My poor mother is struggling with the constant ups and downs of her autoimmune disease, asthma, and diminished vision from a cataract that is scheduled to be operated on the first week of January. I wish I could provide more than just moral support over the phone.

Meanwhile, speaking of health issues, I probably have a sinus infection. I have pain and pressure in the sinuses, and my temperature has passed 100 and is headed up. Time for Dr. Sandy to take drastic action. Dr. Tom gave me an emergency supply of antibiotic for my summer trip. I carefully count out my pills and determine I have more than enough for a full treatment regimen, so I commence with the antibiotic. With a compromised immune system, it is very easy for me to develop a secondary infection or pneumonia. I will call Dr. Tom on Monday if my condition worsens.

December 8, 1998: I am limping along nursing a sinus infection, but the antibiotic seems to be working. I am holed up at home, determined to recover before this Thursday when we are holding a press conference and presenting a check to the American Cancer Society for funds raised during our Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour. The presentation will take place at Strong Chevrolet in Damariscotta and my Corvette will be on display in the showroom. We will be presenting a check for $7500 to the Society, having already turned in over $2500. Additional checks have also been mailed directly to ACS, and though we don't have a final accounting, over $10,000 has been raised to date. The Tour account will remain open to receive donations that we anticipate from upcoming future events, and publicity about the Tour in the national car magazines.

Today, I am being interviewed by a reporter from the Times Record. I requested a phone interview as I am not feeling quite well enough to meet the public. However, a photographer had to come by and get photos, so I am forced to abandon my pajamas. Jill, a friendly young lady, arrives to take the photos. I asked her to come this morning as snow is predicted this afternoon. It is hard to believe that snow is on the way. It is warm and sunny as Jill takes photos in the field across the road and at the Wiscasset waterfront. Jill has never ridden in a Corvette, so I oblige her with a quick trip to Damariscotta with two small acceleration tests thrown in.

I will be having a major photo session sometime soon. A famous automotive photographer whose studio is based in Manhattan, called me last Friday. He has been commissioned to photograph the Chip's Choice cars. I made arrangements for him to shoot photos of my car in New Jersey over Christmas, or if our travel plans and weather do not cooperate, he will fly up to Maine in January.

Speaking of Chip, Mr. Collector himself called today to check in and see how 1/12th of his Collection was doing. He reached my intimidating phone message, so when I finally got back to him, he was all worried about my state of health. I explained that Ben's phone message allows me to rest and not take calls when I am not feeling well.

December 9, 1998: Today, my Dad had more fluid removed from his lung. This time, they removed all the fluid, completely draining the lung. X-rays and scans were then taken to see if anything was hidden behind the fluid. Dad also had his preoperative tests and blood work done in preparation for his lung surgery and biopsy next Thursday. My mother e mailed to say that the lung specialist had already called them with the scan results. The x-rays show a partially collapsed lung with thickening in the tissue lining the bottom part of one lung. Still, the findings give no clue to what is causing the fluid. Next week, the surgeon will operate, put in a drain and take a tissue biopsy. My father will be in the hospital for at least five days. Needless to say, he is not a happy camper. Doctors are their own worst patients.

I called my parents this evening to discuss today's tests and findings. Both my parents are agonizing through what I call the "wait", the frustrating wait for tests, surgery, procedures, or results. It seems that "wait" is automatically built into every medical situation. It is the unknown that concerns and frightens me. I would much rather know the gory details immediately, the good or the bad news. Once the facts are laid out on the table, I can come to terms and deal with it. I am sure my Dad feels the same way. My heart goes out to both my parents. In my condition and being nearly 500 miles away, I can only send them my love and moral support. Laced into our conversation tonight was a remark from my mother that my sister, Peg would be visiting and helping them at some point, and bringing my Dad some of her homemade spaghetti sauce.

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