Lincoln County News
December 30, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my slow but, very encouraging recovery. I look forward to family Christmas plans. Though my Dr visit goes well, I prepare for a critical blood transfusion next week to boost my red cell count.

December 20, 1999: I have had a good weekend and am feeling slightly stronger each day. The changes are slight, but positive, and I keep reminding myself to be patient and let nature take its course. I know I am healing well because my digestive system is nearly back to normal and I have been able to eat any foods I've tried. It has been three months since I have eaten what I considered a normal diet. I have had no coffee, spicy foods, roughage and then suffered through the bland BRAT diet for a full month. I thought I would never be able to go back to my restaurant review style of eating and sample whatever turned my fancy. It is amazing how our bodies in time can heal themselves.

My Dad the Dr. and Tom have given me the green light to eat anything I want! For me, with my sugar and chocolate addictions, this may prove to be dangerous over the holiday season. By the time I finished my radiation treatment last month, I had lost all 30 lbs. of my drug induced Megase weight which had taken a year to accumulate. I am happy to report that the Megase blimp has fully deflated. I am to the weight I want and should be, so I am not hauling around extra pounds to tax my already tumor stressed bones. I also figure I can cheat over the holidays as friends and family continue to mail or deliver daily care packages of cookies, fudge, and candies.

Speaking of food, my dear mother is concentrating on creature comforts she feels I must have. Being over 500 miles away, she is frustrated as she can't be here in person to help me, but she has arranged to have cleaning help for me weekly and now that I am home from the hospital, she wants me to have a hearty lunch daily. She knew that my helpers prepared my lunch, but she was concerned about their extra work and what I might be eating. So Mom sent me a check to have luncheon take-out food for me and my helpers. Mom said to choose any area restaurant, with of course her personal preference being Canfield's. I think Wiscasset will be seeing a sudden spike in its restaurant take-out business and we can thank my mother for helping to boost the area economy.

Today, my helper is Sherry, a reader of mine and the catnapper lady. It is her first time as helper and we have a great day together getting to know each other more personally. She not only has a full day to visit with me, but a chance to spoil Cuddles. Cuddles has had quite a shake up in his routine. He has been here barely a month, but the house was empty for two weeks while I was in the hospital, so he spent his days and evenings alone until Ben returned home. Now I am back and helpers are here all day and there is much hustle and bustle. He is excited about the company and is very playful. I forget what it is like to have a "toddler" cat who is raring to play and get into mischief. The vet guesses Cuddles is between one and two years of age. Lurk was 15 1/2 when he passed away and his playful moods lasted maybe 10 seconds a day.

December 21, 1999: Today, my helper Jane is here and we have an ambitious project. Jane has suggested we make peanut butter fudge as thank you gifts for my friends and helpers. I have already wrapped small gifts of tree ornaments or votive candle holders for my helpers, especially those who have dietary restrictions and wouldn't welcome food and candies. Jane is always so thoughtful and creative and she makes any task go quickly and easily. My role in the fudge project is minimal. I supervise, pack and gift wrap the boxes and in no time we're finished.

Today, Connie, Regional Director of the American Cancer Society, stops by to visit and join us for lunch. It is so good to see Connie. She spends most of her time traveling and I am lucky to catch her by phone or e mail once a month. Connie and I are veterans from the ACS office in Brunswick. She has been on staff probably close to 20 years and I have worked with her since then. Connie promises that others on staff will be up to visit me. I miss what used to be my regular stops into the Brunswick office.

December 22, 1999: Today, my helper Carolyn is here and we have a most fun project planned, decorating my Christmas tree. Ben has already put on the strings of lights. Ben has never liked doing ornament hanging. He is very content to sit back and watch me decorate. Other folks have told me that their husbands are the same way, declaring that decorating and placement of ornaments are a woman thing. Carolyn and I accomplish the task quickly and she enjoys hearing the stories behind each of my ornaments. Most of us collect our tree ornaments over the years and I can remember where each one came from, all special little Christmas memories for me that I treasure.

Later, in the afternoon, we get a surprise visit from my friend, Gary, and his six year old daughter, Taylor. We exchange our Christmas gifts and Taylor has the time of her life playing with Cuddles. She brings out all his toys and with her boundless energy manages to thoroughly poop him out with playtime. If she didn't live so far away, I would have her come up daily to exercise him.

December 23, 1999: Today, is my Dr appointment with Tom. I am very apprehensive about my first trip out of the house since coming home from the hospital. I am worried about my energy, using my walker and cane and negotiating what will be a lot of walking. Fortunately, Dot is my helper today and she is always taking friends to the Dr and aiding with nursing care. I am in good hands. Our trip to Brunswick in Dot's van goes beautifully and comfortably, and I have no pain. I go prepared with pillows, but end up not needing them at all. The biggest challenge is pushing the walker over a short stretch of rough pavement and the long walk from the handicapped entrance which is at the far end of Tom's office building. I negotiate it well and soon we are waiting in Tom's office.

It is lunch hour and Cindy, Natalie, Janice and the office crew are gathered enjoying their break. I have brought them a box of the homemade fudge which is quickly opened and sampled. Cindy finishes her lunch then gets my vital signs and takes me down to an examining room where she checks my portacath and flushes it with saline. She is also able to draw blood from my portacath for my CBC, blood chemistries and tumor marker tests. She says my portacath site is healing beautifully.

Tom comes in and is very pleased to see how well I am doing. He is greatly relieved that between the morphine, which I am taking at the lowest possible oral dose daily, and my other medications, we have my pain situation completely under control. Also the TENZ Unit is doing its job in completely eliminating my thoracic back pain. We review my medications and Tom suggests we try cutting back on my anti-nausea Kytril pill over the next week, otherwise no changes.

Cindy comes in with my CBC counts. Tom says my platelet and white cell counts are fine, however, my hematocrit has dropped to a dangerous level of 19. I can no longer avoid a blood transfusion. I am really surprised that the level is this low and so is Tom. He says my color is so good and I am not exhibiting symptoms such as shortness of breath which usually go along with these low levels. Tom wants me to have two units of blood transfused as soon as possible. The Epigen shots to boost my red cell count have apparently not worked. I ask Tom if my transfusion can wait four days until December 27th. I want to have Christmas at home and enjoy Christmas Day and the 26th with my daughter Christy and sister, Mary Ann who will be up to join us. Tom relents and I promise I will call him if I notice the slightest change in how I am feeling. Meanwhile, Tom calls the hospital to arrange for the transfusion.

I will check in at patient registration at 7:30 am. on Monday the 27th at MidCoast Hospital in Brunswick. My blood will then be cross matched and checked. That will be easy, I am the common O positive blood type. The transfusion will take about eight hours and will be done in the Ambulatory Care Unit. I will receive two units of blood right through the portacath and I can move around, sit, lie down and they will also feed me. I plan on bringing some easy reading or some trashy magazines to while away the time.

I have fought having blood transfusions now on two occasions. I will resist no longer as Tom says the transfusions should boost my red cell count into an acceptable range. After all the pain and the two weeks in the hospital, I am learning to curb my stubborn tendencies, and this time I will do what needs to be done to preserve my health.

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