Lincoln County News
February 17, 2000

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes the arrival of my parents, sister Peg and brother Ray for a couple of day visit. Other problems arise as I spend nearly two weeks time at Mid Coast Hospital.

Saturday, Feb. 6, 2000: I am still at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, and have been here since Monday. Today, I am looking forward to the arrival of my parents and my brother, Ray, who are coming from New Jersey to visit with me for three days. They make it in record time with Ray driving. When they arrive, it is a special treat for me because my sister Peggy has come with them as a surprise! All of them are staying at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, which is one of Ray's favorite places to stay in Maine. Everybody has the opportunity to talk to Dr. Tom and Peter Areson, my surgeon, to find out how I am doing. I have had some good days and also some bad days where I am groggy and not really aware of what is going on.

I am having several problems. In addition to the intestinal perforation, which seems to be actually healing itself, I have developed a fistula, which is an abnormal connection and drainage from the intestine into the uro-genital area. My gynecologist, Dr. Dick Cote, a real lifesaver to me many years ago for my first cancer (cervical), is brought in to examine me. This problem is more unpleasant than critical, and will be monitored closely.

In addition, another problem is two enlargements in areas of my liver. These may or may not be malignancies, but are suspicious. Lastly, my final problem is a small tumor next to the thalamus area of the brain. Dr. Tom has decided to treat this tumor with doses of decadron, a steroid. In addition, he has asked Dr. Jeff Young, my radiation oncologist, to provide his opinion on how best to treat this.

Sunday, Feb. 7, 2000: When my parents decided to come up, my mother insisted that my father have plenty to do because he gets bored. One of my winter projects was to paint a dark paneled wall in my living room, so on Sunday, Ben, my father and Ray clean, prime and paint the entire wall in a much lighter color to brighten the room. I was really thrilled to have this project out of the way because it is something I had been planning for a long time. Cuddles was excited by all the furniture moving, but the men managed to close him in the bathroom with his litter box for the time while there was actual wet paint.

Monday, Feb. 8, 2000: My father has been spending much time reading through my medical charts while at the hospital. Being in New Jersey, he has not had the opportunity to do this before and catch up with everything in full detail. I know that it must be very difficult for him to read the specifics of my medical records and treatment. Peg made the comment to me that my mother more than once had tearfully said that parents are not supposed to lose a child. It's just not the natural order of things, they are supposed to go first.

My parents, brother and sister say good-bye to me Monday evening as they will be leaving first thing in the morning. The parting is very upsetting to me because neither my mother nor my father are able to really say good-bye to me, even though it could be for the last time.

It will be a fast trip again as my brother will be driving. I know on the trip up Ray got my father's SUV up to 100 mph. They made it up from Princeton in 6.5 hours and my mother had very few opportunities for pit stops. In any case we got a phone call that they arrived back in NJ by mid-afternoon.

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2000: I have a wonderful surprise because Peggy has decided to stay on until Saturday. She will be flying back to Newark Airport in NJ where her husband, Bill, will pick her up. This will allow Peg to spend 4 extra days with me and to help Ben. I enjoy spending this quality time with her because she fully understands the situation I am going through and the decisions I have to make.

Ben has decided the time has come to contact all of my Corvette friends, American Cancer Society associates, readers and business associates to let them know of my current situation and hospitalization. This results in probably 90 e-mails and personal notes, much to my surprise and horror. I am contacted by what seems like hundreds of people by mail, phone and e-mail as well as personal visits. The hospital is deluged by phone calls and visitors, and Ben is stuck with answering dozens of e-mails. In addition, it looks like my room has been transformed into a flower shop. I have never received this many flowers in my life, with many beautiful bouquets and arrangements, some from readers and people I do not even know. It is very touching to me to hear from people whose lives I have reached through my column and through my Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour who are encouraging me to continue my fight against cancer. This is very inspiring to me and keeps me going.

From all of my connections throughout the Corvette community there is a tremendous response, including my sponsor Corvette Mike and many other leading Corvette people from around the country. One special highlight today is a visit from Terry and Leo, my two closest friends from college and fellow "car people", who drove up to see me from Connecticut, a 4 hour trip. I haven't seen them in many years.

Wed., Feb. 9, 2000: The onslaught continues with e-mails, notes, cards, flowers and visitors from everywhere. I am starting to feel substantially better as Dr. Tom tries different ways to treat the tumor in the brain. He is using decadron, a prednisone drug, to shrink the tumor and reduce the symptoms of swelling .

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2000: Today, I am getting my appetite back. In what could have been a risky move, I order a take-out dinner from Richard's Restaurant in Brunswick, my favorite: Weinerschnitzel, red cabbage and spaetzele. I can't believe that it all sits well. The restaurant review team is back in business!

Friday, Feb. 11, 2000: This morning is the first time, kind of by accident, that my surgeon, Dr. Peter Areson, Dr. Tom and Dr. Jeff Young are all together in my room at the same time to discuss my case. This is very reassuring, because I feel that we now we have a consensus on a plan of action. First, we are going to try continuing the decadron at a reduced level. If that doesn't work, they will try a 10 day course of radiation to the brain. Dr. Tom has ordered blood chemistries and blood counts to be done today. If these go well, I could be released from the hospital tomorrow. I will need extra nursing care, but it will be well worth it to be home.

Do any of you remember the old Saturday Night Live routine set in the Olympia Restaurant? "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, chip, chip, no Coke: Pepsi?" For some reason I have a cheeseburger attack at lunch today. I take a pass on the lunch they bring me and instead order up a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato from the coffee shop. It was excellent! But no Coke or Pepsi.

My ravenous appetite continues, and tonight I decide to do Beal St. Barbecue takeout! I have my usual pulled pork and house salad. Dr. Tom says I can have anything I want to eat. This sounds crazy, but I seem to be able to tolerate just about anything now. This is fantastic, being able to eat what I want to. What a way to go!

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2000: My blood counts show that my red count is dropping slightly. Rather than discharge me from the hospital, only to come back in a few days for a transfusion, Dr. Tom orders a one-unit infusion before I leave. This should tide me over for a while as my red count has been holding up quite well.

Despite the fact that I am going home, today is a very difficult day for me as Peggy has to fly home. Ben takes her to the airport and drops her off. My saving grace is that my other sister Mary Ann and her friend Deborah are driving up from NJ to visit and help me out for a few days. I am looking forward to meeting Deborah, a friend of Mary Ann's known as the Tostito Bandito. She and my sister have introduced me to "Hint of Lime" Tostitos. If you haven't sampled them or the new red pepper variety, you have to try them, preferably with Sister's Salsa from Blue Hill.

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