Lincoln County News
December 31, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes pre-Christmas celebrations with our friends and a return restaurant review to King Eider's. Good news on the medical front: Dr. Tom is pleased with my progress and my dad gets optimistic news from his biopsy. I help a fellow patient in need, and we make plans for our holiday trip to NJ.

December 18, 1998: My Dad is in the hospital in ICU, but resting comfortably. One of his doctors came in this morning to give him some wonderful preliminary news about his lung biopsy reports. His lung inflammation is probably not caused by a malignancy, but pneumonia-related. A respiratory infection that he had about two months ago may have spread outside of the lung, causing inflammation, the accumulation of fluid and a partial collapse of the lung. A chest x-ray this morning revealed that his lung had re-inflated and was now back in the correct position, following yesterday's surgery. Barring any conflicting test results, they will release my dad in a few days and continue to monitor his progress. If this proves to be a pneumonia related infection, he may have to return to the hospital in a couple of weeks to have another surgical procedure where the lung is scraped to remove the infection and inflammation.

My mother was bouncing off the ceiling this morning when she called to tell me the good news. I was very happy for her and pleased that the test results came back so soon. I was really not surprised as I had a feeling that everything would work out well. Whether it's through positive thinking, prayer or both, my experiences have taught me that focusing on a positive outcome can be very powerful. My little shrine and candles for my dad also added extra impetus.

Tonight, we had to cancel our return restaurant review to King Eider's. Paul is sick with a bad cold, so Sue and I postpone the review to next Tuesday. Ben and I decide to conduct our own review of Salt Bay Cafe in Damariscotta this evening. I haven't been there in over a year, but it's as wonderful as always. Ben has the Scallops Mediterranean, a delicious combination of scallops with artichoke hearts, black olives, red and green peppers, and mushrooms. I join the Damariscotta crab cake war and order Salt Bay's version which are in a category by themselves since they are made with a mixture of crab, haddock and seasonings. Lightly breaded and fried, they are superb served with a delicious fresh salsa, though I also ask for tartar sauce. The crab cakes are accompanied by an excellent wild rice pilaf, and a vegetable medley of turnip and carrot. Of course, I save room for my regular dessert at Salt Bay, their fantastic lemon soufflé. We vow to return with the entire restaurant review team.

December 20, 1998: Today, Ben and I are trying to catch up on our Christmas cards. Instead of writing a note, Ben decides to call his old buddy, Steve, in PA who he has known for over 30 years. Like many other folks, Ben and I use Christmas time as a way to touch base with our long-distance friends. When Steve comes to the phone, he and Ben chat briefly about how I am doing and our Tour last summer. Steve then tells Ben that he has been dealing with lung cancer for the past few years. Ben had only heard bits and pieces of Steve's illness in the past, but now Steve pours out all the details. He is obviously depressed and hurting. Ben tells me to get on the phone. Steve gives me a quick rundown of how he has undergone surgery, and numerous radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Each time, the doctors told him they had stopped the cancer. However, it kept coming back and last year, tumor cells spread to his brain. Fortunately, it was in an area where surgeons could remove the tumor and follow it up with radiation treatment. The cancer has now spread into his bones, and he says his doctors have written him off. I tell Steve that my cancer has also spread into 15 areas of my bones and I haven't written myself off. I add that if any doctor wrote me off, I'd write them off and find a new doctor.

I tell Steve that he needs to do some homework. First, I suggest he call M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. This cancer research hospital is rated #2 in the country and is world renown for its clinical trials and state-of-the-art treatment for lung cancer. Steve had never heard of M.D. Anderson and is surprised that his doctors have not suggested this to him or even that he might be a candidate for clinical trials. I give Steve phone numbers and names of doctors at M.D. Anderson, plus the 1-800-4-Cancer hotline sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, and he promises me that he will call them first thing tomorrow. Steve seems absolutely elated. He confides that today is his birthday and this was the best present he could ever receive: cancer information that may help him, plus a message of hope and optimism. Like me, Steve is a Stage 4 patient. He feels inspired knowing that I am continuing to write my column and conduct my nationwide cancer crusade, despite the stage of my disease. I hang up the phone and have to catch my breath. So many times this year, I have had these chance meetings and conversations with fellow cancer patients, all of whom were hurting and in need of support. It makes me wonder if the precious time that has been given to me now is for just this purpose of outreach and helping others deal with their illness.

December 21, 1998: Today, is my fourth IV infusion of Aredia and my monthly office visit to Dr. Tom. Tom comments on how good I look and is pleased with how well I have been doing. I am feeling very well, except for the dreaded after-effects of my antibiotic treatment. Nearly every time I take antibiotics, I end up with a yeast infection. Some researcher could make a fortune if they could discover an antibiotic for women that would not cause a yeast infection. I describe to Tom about how I played doctor, diagnosing and treating my sinusitis. He listens carefully and then examines me. He admits that I diagnosed it correctly and chose the correct antibiotic treatment. However, he makes me promise that the next time I get an infection, I will call him to make sure that I have the correct antibiotic on hand to treat it. Tom sympathizes with my nagging little yeast infection. He will order some pills that will get rid of it quickly. Unlike Tom, most men have no clue how annoying yeast infections can be. I suspect that if men regularly got yeast infections involving a crucial part of their anatomy, a quick cure or vaccination would have been found years ago.

I was weighed in today and the results were discouraging, another 2 lb. gain. Tom didn't say anything about it, but I immediately reminded him. He said he knew I would say something. I am on the way to blimp status, having gained 6 lbs. since starting Megace, the weight gain culprit. I always gain weight over the holidays, so this does not bode well.

Today, Lynda, my Yarmouth friend I met through my column, drives me to my appointment. We have not seen each other since May. This will be our little pre-Christmas get-together. She has packed us a delightful picnic lunch of shrimp salad sandwiches which we share in one of the private chemo rooms while I get my infusion.

This was not a good IV day for me. Mimi, the fill-in nurse from the hospital, had trouble finding a vein in my left hand, the only one they can use for my IV's. My veins have gotten so thin from all my previous chemotherapy treatments and of course, they go into their magic disappearing act as soon as I walk into Tom's office. Mimi used an infant's size needle on the first attempt, but the vein blew out. Luckily, on a second attempt she hit a much smaller vein which worked, but made the IV run in slower. I wish there was such a thing as vein rehab or exercises to improve them.

December 22, 1998: Today is a milestone for me. My first haircut in over 14 months! My hairdresser, June, at Profiles in Waldoboro is happy to see me return. She has been following my progress through the column, so she knows that I have had no hair to bring in to her shop for service.

Tonight, is the postponed 3rd restaurant review of King Eider's. Charlene and Tom join Paul, Sue, Ben and me for the review, Christmas celebration and gift exchange. Tom and Charlene have given us one of Tom's metal yard sculptures, a free-standing bird feeder made from a shovel, assorted mower and bicycle parts. It's a real work of art, highlighting Tom's artistic and welding skills. Sue and Paul give us a bottle of hot sauce and a silver picture frame with the word, "meow", and a fish bone design, obviously intended for his Lurkship. Coincidentally, we gave Paul two bottles of Matouk's hot sauce, and Sue a Navajo silver lizard pin purchased during my trip out west.

This is Tom and Charlene's first visit to King Eider's Pub. We all had a fun time and marvelous dinner. Continuing to participate in the great Damariscotta crab cake debate, I must order them again and so does Tom. Ben and Sue stick with their favorite, barbecued salmon. Paul tries the steak with bleu cheese walnut sauce and Charlene wimps out by choosing fish and chips. Everyone agreed that the 5 star rating should remain in place. Our only complaint was that there were no raw sugar packets on the table. Either Sue disappeared them all before we sat down, or Eider's management removed them from the table when we booked our reservation.

We return home tired, but happy. I will miss seeing our friends over the holiday. Tomorrow, we are making the long drive to my sister, Peg's in New Jersey. I still have last minute packing to do, and Lurk is nervously eyeing the suitcases. Lurk does not realize his good fortune. Mary Ann and Rich have insisted on taking him to their house for Christmas. They were insulted when I mentioned I had booked him at the kennel for boarding. So, now he is going to Fat Camp, where he will celebrate the holiday with Canfield's fried haddock and shrimp, freshly prepared to order.

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