Lincoln County News
December 2, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a series of tests to determine the source of my increasing bouts with pain, while Cuddles suffers from a bad case of the sniffles. Christy and Nils join us for a festive Thanksgiving.

Nov. 20, 1999: I am continuing to experience severe pain. I have tried a combination of different medications including Tylenol, Valium and Darvocet. None of them seem to be giving me much relief. I find myself concentrating and focusing on other things to distract me from my aches and pains.

Tonight, the restaurant review has moved to my kitchen because I do not feel well enough to go out. Paul and Sue have brought in Chinese food from the Cuisine House in Brunswick. It all smells so good, but I am only able to eat one steamed dumpling and a few bites of vegetable low mein. Nevertheless, their company and the conversation keep my mind off my discomfort.

Cuddles is settling very comfortably into our home. He has taken over the blue armchair in our living room that was Lurk's favorite. You would never guess that he has been a resident for only a week. Cats have a way of taking right over and assuming control of the household. He is even sleeping on our bed, just like Lurk always did.

Cuddles is also recovering nicely from his declawing procedure. He appears to be having only minor pain and is limping slightly on one foot. Mercifully, his pain pills seem to be working. However, yesterday we noticed he was sneezing frequently. I was pretty certain that he may have caught a cold from being at the vet hospital. So Ben took Cuddles down to be checked out, and the vet agreed that Cuddles most likely picked up a virus during his stay. Cuddles was running a slight fever, so the vet prescribed a 10 day regimen of antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection. I didn't realize that poor Cuddles was sneezing for nearly a day because his sneezes sounded like one of his squeaker toys!

This weekend we were invited to Bar Harbor by our friend Marian to help close her inn for the season. Every November she has a "closing party" for her friends and I told her we would try to make it for at least part of the weekend. I am in so much pain that I tell Ben to call Marian and cancel our plans to attend. This was a very depressing decision for me because Marian's opening and closing weekends have been a ritual for us for the past 5 or 6 years.

November 23, 1999: Today, I am in such pain that we place an emergency call to Dr. Tom. Unfortunately, Dr. Tom is not available, but his associate, Dr. Polkinghorn is on call. He promptly returns our call and suggests that I come in to the office immediately.

Dr. Polkinghorn is particularly concerned about my shortness of breath. I am unable to take deep breaths without pain in my rib cage area. In addition, the pain and muscle spasms in the middle of my back have increased significantly since my visit with Dr. Tom last week. Dr. Polkinghorn calls the hospital to order a chest x-ray before my appointment with him.

Ben and I go to Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick and wait for over an hour for the x-ray. After an hour's wait, Ben returns to the front desk to inquire when it will be my turn. Due to some strange glitch, my name has been crossed off the list because the technicians thought my x-ray had already been completed. The receptionist apologizes profusely when she realizes the mistake and I am quickly whisked into the x-ray room.

After the x-ray, we walk over to Dr. Polkinghorn's office. I have met him informally, but this is my first official office visit with Dr. P. He examines me and then Cindy takes my CBC and gives me my weekly Epigen shot. Dr. P reviews the results of the CBC and reports that my hematocrit has inched up two points, which is good news. I am moving out of the range of needing a blood transfusion. He then reviews the results of the chest x-ray and determines that the bottom of my lungs is not fully inflating, most likely due to the pain in my rib cage.

Dr. P wants to rule out the possibility of a blood clot in the lungs, so he calls the hospital to order a CAT scan of my chest area. He also orders an MRI to check the thoracic region of my spine to determine the source of my pain. Fortunately, the x-ray department is able to accommodate both of these tests immediately, so Ben and I walk back over to the hospital. The preliminary test results will be phoned to Dr. Polkinghorn as soon as the tests are completed.

After the tests, we return again to Dr. Polkinghorn's office to learn the results. The CAT scan shows no sign of blood clots, however, the MRI shows a series of tiny fractures running the length of the thoracic spine. This explains why I have been having so much pain in that area. Since I am supposed to have my regular appointment with Dr. Tom the next day, Dr. Polkinghorn defers to Dr. Tom and suggests that these findings be discussed in detail with Tom tomorrow. We have spent nearly the entire day between the Dr's office and the hospital, and Ben and I finally arrive home around 5 pm., totally exhausted. I am disheartened by the findings of more fractures in my spinal area, though I was half-expecting that this was the source of my pain.

November 24, 1999: Christy is flying in from Norfolk, VA to join us for Thanksgiving. She has been in Norfolk for two days of business meetings and plans to fly to Washington, DC, change planes in Boston and then fly into Portland, hoping to arrive by 10:30 am. However, the entire east coast is socked in with heavy fog and after many flight cancellations and changes, Christy finally arrives around 5 pm. It has been a very long day for her, but we are so happy she will be joining us for the holiday. Her husband, Nils, will drive up tomorrow morning from Boston.

Christy will be learning to roast her first turkey. She insists that I relax in my recliner, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and relay instructions to her in the kitchen. It will be an easy dinner as Mary Ann Canfield has prepared a pumpkin pie and my friends, Mary Lou and Bob have dropped off a homemade apple pie as well.

It is so important to pass on simple holiday traditions. Roasting a turkey only takes time and advance preparation, but I can remember being a nervous wreck when I cooked my first turkey. It took me two days to do all the preparations and I swear it took 12 hours to cook the turkey. I was so used to having my mother and grandmother do all the cooking. Especially now with my illness, I think of many things that I want to pass along to my daughter. There are so many family memories and traditions that I want her to remember and treasure forever.

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