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Lincoln County News
February 26, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes the after-effects of my last chemo round and my plans for a special cross-country journey.

Feb. 7th and 8th: My daughter, Christy, drives up early Sat. morning to help me out for the weekend. She and her husband are leaving on their first real vacation next Wednesday. They are going to Jamaica for one week and they're very excited. I tell her she should be home packing for her trip, but she insisted on visiting. I am feeling tired with intermittent nausea, but we spend a few hours shopping in Brunswick where Christy loads up on film, suntan lotion and other trip accessories before we head to lunch at Applebee's. At Applebee's, we run into Don, a fellow cancer patient from my Support Group. He is interested in hearing the latest update on my treatment. Don e mails me frequently and is far more faithful than me in attending meetings. He is a lung cancer patient, who is receiving chemo and is currently undergoing a series of CAT scans. He has done very well and is a true survivor because of his strong positive attitude. I met Don about two years ago and he takes a sincere interest in the progress of our fellow group members. He is a "cheerleader" who is constantly urging us all to stay focused and positive.

Sunday, Christy and Ben spend the day together before she heads home. It is a good break and a chance for them to visit without me and my illness intruding. They leave for a New England Corvette Club meeting in Portsmouth, where clubs from throughout New England are gathering today to plan the upcoming Corvette season.

Libby has agreed to baby-sit me and arrives at 12:30. We have lunch at Canfield's before heading out to the Maine Mall. Ben does not know the full details about the shopping expedition. Because of my condition, he would certainly be opposed to this undertaking, so I don't tell him. I probably should have my head examined because I feel tired, weak and "out of it" mentally. Shopping is like a shot of adrenaline for me, and a form of recreation and exercise. I particularly enjoy picking out clothes for other people and helping them spend THEIR money.

Libby and I set a new world's record for shopping. We assembled a complete wardrobe in only 2 1/2 hours, for her upcoming trip to Italy. Libby kept asking me if I felt O.K. I was crazed, like a caged lion that had just been let loose. It must have been a combination of the lure of the Mall, spending Libby's money and having been housebound for too long.

Ben arrives home with many stories and details about the regional Corvette Club meeting. Christy read a short letter I had written to the group, thanking them for their cards, notes and get-well wishes and also announcing a special cross-country trip that Ben and I are planning to make early this summer. As soon as my treatment is finished and I am well enough, we plan to take six weeks and travel cross-country in a Corvette. I am selling my 1963 Corvette convertible that I have owned since 1977. I have very mixed feelings about selling my prized possession because I am so sentimentally attached to this vehicle. After much anguish, I have decided to purchase a new Corvette. It will have all the creature comforts I need on such a long trip, like air conditioning, comfortable adjustable seats, and more luggage space. The sale of my beloved 1963 will go toward financing the new one. I hope that it will sell quickly and above all, go to a good home.

My dearest friend and fellow Corvette owner, Polly, has been urging me to do this trip. Polly and I have battled cancer together. She fought long and hard and left this earth on November 17, 1997. I miss her so much, but now she is my Guardian Angel. I feel her presence with me daily. Her Corvette license plate was DON'T W8. That was Polly's credo, don't wait until it is too late. I have always wanted to drive across the country and I cannot wait to fulfill my dream.

My cross-country trip is not just for pleasure. It will be a mission to promote awareness of cancer and raise funds for cancer control and research. All of the funds raised will be donated to the American Cancer Society and hopefully, people will respond generously to my appeal. I plan to speak to Corvette groups across the country about this disease and the toll it takes on too many of our family members and friends. I also want to spread the message of hope and survival, about living life to the fullest. Equally important, Ben and I will be able to spend precious time together.

Ben told me that the New England Corvette Clubs immediately responded to my letter describing the trip. In an overwhelming gesture, two fundraisers were planned to assist our trip. I am glad I wasn't there because Ben said there wasn't a dry eye in the room when my daughter finished reading my letter. I have known most of these folks for over twenty years and have attended all of these annual meetings since 1978. I was sorry to miss the meeting, but I would have been a teary-eyed basket case had I been there.

I am overwhelmed by the generosity and support of my friends. I still cannot comprehend the scope of this outpouring of help. I am wondering what huge undertaking I have created with my journal articles and now this trip. My spirit and commitment are strong and I pray that my body will cooperate and allow me to finish two important pieces of business: my journal and my trip. I plan to take my readers along with me by filing weekly articles from the road by lap-top computer.

Feb. 9th: Today, I had a scary episode. After coming up the basement stairs, I felt out of breath and my heart was racing. I immediately say down and waited for this episode to pass. Though my pulse finally slowed down, I felt increasingly weak and washed out. I was considering calling my Dr. or the ambulance, when Ben miraculously stopped in on his way to Thomaston! I worry about being home alone and having a problem such as this. Ben convinced me to lie down and call Tom's office. Tom was out of town so Cindy paged Dr. Clark, the doctor on call. Dr. Clark had me check my pulse several times and determined that the spell was not life-threatening. He suspected that it was probably a reaction to the chemo. He told me to rest and call the next morning, if the symptoms continued.

The symptoms subsided after about four hours, but then I was suddenly hit with a huge bout of nausea. I felt like I had just received chemo, but it has been five days since my last treatment. I took one of my precious Kytril pills, leaving me now with only two. Later, I took my sleeping pill and was able to sleep without further problems.

Feb. 10th: This morning I am feeling better, but weak. Cindy calls to see how I'm feeling. She thinks I may be very anemic, which could cause these symptoms. She suggests I have my blood test done soon and I will do so tomorrow. If the red blood cell count is down in the 24-26 range, they will probably do a transfusion of two units of blood. My count has been running at 30-31 in the past several tests. She says to take it easy and not exert myself. The least little exertion seems to make me out of breath.

I had a lunch meeting at Le Garage today with Dan, Mary and Larry from AMCI to discuss business and economic issues. Dan did the driving and also took me to the polls to vote. I moved VERY slowly and was out of the house for less than two hours. During lunch, I told Mary that she is now famous because she was mentioned in my newspaper article. She seemed surprised, but I assured her that I didn't use her last name. Dan immediately chimed in and said that when he read my journal, he knew which Mary it was right away. I told Mary to read the paper or check out the MidCoast Internet Services, Lincoln County News website because my article is posted and she is now world famous! I hope my friends really don't mind being identified in my journal. Perhaps, I should change the names to protect the guilty or label them X, Y or Z.

Feb. 11th: Keith, my Corvette Club friend, is my driver today. I have asked Keith to take me for my blood test because I really enjoy his company. We talk business, taxes, stocks, Corvettes and funny life stories. We also revisit Applebee's for lunch for my hamburger injection and Keith's favorite steak sandwich.

Keith tells me about a funny incident from his childhood, when he was growing up in West Bath. He and seven or eight young boys used to make slingshots out of old pieces of inner tube, preferably red inner tubes because they were more elastic. The boys would then hide out in the woods on Witch Spring Hill, overlooking what used to be old Route One, before the new highway was built leading into Bath. They would arm themselves with acorns as ammunition and shoot at the metal sides of passing tractor trailer trucks. Keith said it made such a neat "pinging sound". They also would lie in wait for the Greyhound Bus. Unfortunately, one day an acorn missed the side of the bus and cracked the windshield. The boys were scared and panicked, especially when they heard sirens approaching, and ran through the woods with the police in hot pursuit. Keith said they were never caught, but the slingshot activity was much curtailed and buses were no longer targets. Keith can really make me laugh and I need that kind of therapy these days.

Cindy calls with the results of my blood test. As expected, the red cell count has dropped to 27.3, down from last week's 31. Cindy says the chemo has adversely affected my bone marrow and curtailed the production of red blood cells. This anemia is causing my shortness of breath, weakness and rapid pulse. The Dr's orders are to continue to take it easy, no exertion and lie down as needed. Hopefully, the count will not drop into the 24-26 range, requiring a blood transfusion. I am supposed to monitor my situation, call the office as needed, or go to the hospital for another blood test if the shortness of breath increases.

(this section of Feb. 11th was not included in submission to newspaper)

Ben has spent the day checking on blood transfusions. I would prefer to get blood from a family member or friend and not the general blood supply. Unfortunately, Ben and my daughter have a different blood type, though my New Jersey siblings would be a match. Processing a donation from a family member or friend can be done, but requires a 7-10 day waiting period to test and analyze the blood before it can be administered. It is also more costly. Hopefully, I can tough this out and not need the transfusion. Cindy says eating red meat and taking iron supplements will not help or boost the count. It's strictly my bone marrow taking a huge hit and it needs to slowly rebuild.

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