Lincoln County News
February 19, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

Feb. 2nd: Today may be the first day of my last chemo treatment. I have my fingers crossed that my count will be the magic number of 3500. Ben drops me off at Bobbye's house in Brunswick. Bobbye reassures me that she is sure it will be a go. After my blood count, we indulge ourselves in a coffee and croissant at Wild Oats in downtown Brunswick. I can hardly contain myself, knowing that I won't know my count until I see Dr. Tom later this morning.

Finally, appointment time arrives, and I meet with Carol, Tom's Physician Assistant. She tells me my count is 3400, but because one of the white cell elements looks good, they are going ahead with treatment! Great news, only two treatments after today.

The chemo rooms are booked to overflowing. Bobbye heads out to shop at L.L. Bean and I sit in the waiting room for about 20 minutes. While I am waiting, several patients ask me if I am the writer of the cancer journal in the newspaper. I am becoming a literary celebrity! When a chair becomes available in one of the chemo rooms, I notice that copies of the newspaper have been strategically placed on tables in each room. (Honestly, I did not put them there, even though I may resort to this once my "book" is published.)

Cindy appears with my drugs and IV's and spends a long time examining my veins. She is concerned about their condition. Finally, she chooses my left hand and makes a good connection. We are avoiding my right hand because of the vein blow out during the last chemo round. A small area on the top of my right hand is still tender from that ordeal.

Treatment goes quickly today and soon Bobbye is back and we head to Shop 'N Save. Bobbye says that if she doesn't go there everyday, or the management doesn't see one of her checks daily, they call her at home to see if she's O.K. We pick up a few lunch items and even though I am feeling nauseous, she always finds a way to make me eat. Being from the "South", Bobbye fixes our sandwiches on Wonder Bread and puts some kind of red hot sauce on her's. According to her, there are many kinds of hot or red sauce and Southern cuisine requires that you put it on everything. If you don't use hot sauce, "mynaise" can be substituted. That's how you pronounce mayonnaise in Atlanta.

After lunch, I take a long nap before Ben arrives to pick me up. Bobbye gives us a dish of freshly cooked black-eyed peas, which we served over rice for dinner. They were delicious. I'm learning to eat southern style now. Bobbye says grits casserole is next.

I have a lot of nausea tonight, so I take one of my "golden" $45 Kytril pills. Carol was able to get me six free sample pills from the drug rep. I will dole these out carefully.

Feb. 3rd: My friend, Melissa, is my driver of the day. She was a regular driver for me during my chemo treatments in 1994 and 1995, and it's good to have her back. Today, I am feeling very nauseated and an hour before my treatment, I break down and take one of my Kytril pills, leaving me now with only five of these magic bullets.

When we arrive at Tom's office, the assistants, who are keen observers of patients from day to day, comment that I look a little "peaked". The office has a "reunion" atmosphere because many of the patients who have shared a chemo room with me before, all seem to be scheduled for chemo today. I enjoy catching up on their news and many of them comment on my journal. I wish my readers could see the smiling faces and hear the laughter of these patients undergoing treatment. I am sure this is not the picture most people have of chemotherapy.

As nauseated as I am, my biggest concern is the condition of my veins. With just two treatments left, I have been urging my veins to hang in there. Come on, guys, only two more days! Cindy doesn't like the looks of my hand veins, so she tries my left elbow vein which is a good wide one, but a difficult angle for IV's and drug infusion. Fortunately, the vein works, and being so wide, the chemo goes quickly.

On the way home, Melissa and I decide to visit McDonald's for cheeseburgers and milkshakes. During my previous chemo, I discovered that I could keep down a milkshake, during periods of serious nausea. It must be a combination of the sweet and milk that works for me.

Before stopping at my house, Melissa drives me over to see her new house. It is absolutely beautiful, with a wonderful water view. She has not moved in yet, and her basement and hallway are piled high with boxes. She has taken a whole day to be with me, when she should have been spending her precious vacation time moving and unpacking.

Feb. 4th: My last day of chemo! I feel sick, but happy. I am on emotional overload today. While I am waiting for Libby to arrive, Melissa comes to the door with two large homemade chicken pot pies and a giant pan of chocolate frosted brownies! Being on the "edge" today, I hug her and break down in tears. I don't know how she has made the time to do all of this for me and I'm touched. Libby arrives just in time to get in on the emotional scene. I know this is going to be a day of many tears and joy.

The mood at Tom's office is upbeat. Everyone knows this is my last day. Cindy takes a long look at my veins because the options are limited. The decision is made to use my right arm elbow vein. We usually avoid the right arm because of the extensive surgery that I have had on that side, hampering blood flow and lymph circulation. The right arm was further compromised by the vein blow-out which occurred during treatment several weeks ago. The elbow vein works perfectly and the IV's finish quickly. Cindy tells me that this was the last vein she could use. If I had to have one more treatment, I would have needed a port-a-cath surgically implanted to handle the chemo.

The IV's went so quickly that I am out in the waiting room by the time Libby arrives with a ham sandwich and a small box of Valentine's candy. We return immediately to my house where we plan to share the ham sandwich. Libby is always calorie counting and I assure her that sharing this sandwich is all good protein and low fat. Of course, I bring out potato chips and pickles, the huge pan of Melissa's brownies and open the Valentine's candy. I've just laid this spread out on the table when Sue calls to see how my last treatment went and how I am doing. I tell her we are celebrating with double chocolate brownies and candy and she agrees to come over and assist in the celebration. Being nauseated and on chocolate overload, I keep out three brownies for myself and wrap up the rest for Sue to take home and to the newspaper office. Ben arrives home during the big chocolate fest and is quite surprised to find me holding up so well. He also brings me flowers to mark this special day.

My mother calls tonight to see how I am doing and to say she is glad my treatment is over. I sent my parents the two newspaper articles that Sue wrote about me. However, I deliberated long and hard about mailing them my journal articles. My journal is very personal and I have openly shared with my readers, thoughts and feelings about my family. I was concerned that my family might feel rather exposed or uncomfortable with their role in my journal, but I took the risk and mailed the first two submissions to my parents with a note attached, explaining my purpose. Tonight, my mother acknowledged receiving them and caught me completely with surprise by her response. She explained that she and my Dad had been reminiscing about my childhood, particularly about little amusing things I did when I was a baby. She said they were going to put these anecdotes down in writing.

After I got into bed tonight, I broke down in tears when I told Ben about the phone conversation. My first thoughts were that my parents were writing my eulogy, or perhaps recording my "life history" for my daughter or future grandchildren. Ben said he was sure that was not the case, and I know he is absolutely correct. He explained that like me, they are also putting their thoughts and memories down in writing. We are all dealing with this illness, trying to make sense of our life situations and finding a release in the written word.

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