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Lincoln County News
February 4, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our return to Maine after a 3700 mile journey for the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour. Both Lurk and I visit our cancer specialists!

January 23, 1999: We are on our way home from Florida. We have just had a very quick visit with my parents in Barnegat Light, NJ. I wanted to see how my Dad was doing. He is looking better though he is still having pain in his back and side. The doctors have given him Prilosec, a drug for acid reflux and other stomach ailments. Dad says it is not getting rid of all of his discomfort. He is worried that if the pain doesn't clear up, it will mean further tests. Still there are no firm answers for what caused his lung to fill with fluid. This uncertainty must be a source of worry for him.

Meanwhile, my mother is preparing for her cataract surgery next week. She will have the worst eye done first and is hoping to have the other done as soon as possible. She is finding it difficult to read and do simple tasks. Cataract surgery is relatively minor and I know Mom will be happy with the immediate, almost miraculous results.

Because of the predicted freezing rain in New Hampshire and Maine, we have decided to stop today at our daughter's house in Bedford, MA. We arrive in mid-afternoon in fog and rain. Christy is fighting off a bad cold that she picked up at a conference in Las Vegas. She has just returned on a red-eye flight and is suffering from lack of sleep.

January 24, 1999: We have a short, but good visit with Christy and Nils, and even the grandcats behaved. We slip out early this morning as Christy has what turns out to be a full-blown case of the flu, and she needs to rest and recuperate.

We return home exhausted after our 3700 mile journey. I cannot believe we have been this far in such a short time. Waiting for us are stacks of mail and a happy Lurk who has been spoiled rotten at Rich and Mary Ann's house. Mary Ann said there was a day that Lurk and her cat went on a joint, almost deliberate hunger strike. Mary Ann immediately cooked up chicken livers for them. Lurk is not crazy about liver, though he will eat it as a component of canned cat food. Both cats ate only a small piece, so Mary Ann then opened up a variety of canned cat food for their dining pleasure. During our absence, Lurk also received daily tidbits of cheddar cheese and a saucer of milk.

January 25, 1999: Today, is my day-long visit to Dr. Tom for my check-up, IV infusion and the hospital lab for tests. I leave the house at 8:30 am. as I have lost my lab requisition slips and will have to get new ones from Tom's office. I pick up the necessary paperwork for my CBC and tumor marker tests and head right to MidCoast Hospital next door. I walk into the hospital lab around 9:10 and the waiting area is jammed with people. I have never seen it this busy, even when I was going every 3 weeks for blood tests. The lab appears short-staffed and the technicians and receptionist seem frustrated because a new computer system is being implemented. I spend over an hour in the lab. Fortunately, I had allowed myself plenty of extra time as my CBC report needs to be read and faxed to Tom before my appointment. Since my Aredia treatment is not dependent on the white cell count, the late arrival of my test results is not a significant issue. However, the lab cut it real close today, drawing my blood only 20 minutes before my appointment with Tom. One of the lab employees suggested I write a complaint to the administration about the delays, but now that I am no longer a "regular", I cannot get too agitated. In all fairness to others, I probably should write a note on behalf of everyone else who has to sit and wait.

My appointment with Tom goes well. My only complaints are the temporary flare up of the lymphedema in my arm while we were in the Florida heat, and nerve pain in my right leg probably from the bone tumor in my femur. I suspect that the bone pain is the same phenomenon I have observed each time I am due for my Aredia infusion. I develop pain in one of the bone tumor sites about a week before my treatment. Almost like a nagging reminder that my treatment is due.

The tumor marker blood tests taken today will take 2-3 weeks to process, and Tom said he will call me when he gets the results. I am also scheduled to see a new breast cancer surgeon. Wes, my dear friend and former surgeon has retired, so I must find a replacement. Dr. Lisa Minton was highly recommended and I have met her at American Cancer Society functions. Tom has arranged for me to see Dr. Lisa for a check-up and mammogram in February to follow up on microcalcifications that were noted on my September x-ray.

January 27, 1999: Today is Lurk's visit to his cancer specialist. Poor Lurk is hesitant to get into his carrier box as he suspects it is vet time again. As soon as we arrive at Dr. Gail Mason's office, he hears dogs and knows by sniffing exactly where we are. As usual, I have to tip his carrier box completely on end and empty him out onto the examining table. Once he is out, Lurk is very tolerant and cooperative. Gail weighs Lurk and much to our delight, he has gained half a pound in three weeks. Gail then takes him into the back room for a sonogram.

I leave Lurk and return in two hours to pick him up and hear the results. Good news. Gail says there is no significant change in the kidney, other than what are probably variations from x-ray to x-ray. She is reluctant to biopsy the kidney because of the danger of hemorrhage. She thinks that the growth in the kidney may be a fibroid type tumor as kidney cancer is rare in cats. If the process was malignant, we probably would have seen a significant change in three weeks. She comments that Lurk seems fine and the weight gain is a good sign. She suggests I bring him back in a month for a follow-up sonogram. At that point, we may discuss options with the surgeon on staff or just continue to monitor the kidney. Gail notes that Lurk's thyroid level is borderline and that may be the culprit behind the weight loss, rather than a tumor. She will test his thyroid level next month and put him on medication if necessary. So Lurk now joins me in waiting for our next tests and check-ups.

January 28, 1999: I have been asked to be keynote speaker at the American Cancer Society's 21st Living With Cancer Conference at the Augusta Civic Center on May 6th. This is quite an honor. Previous speakers have included Senator Olympia Snowe, Governor Angus King and Dr. Joyce Brothers, so I am in with some pretty good company. I have been to all of the Conferences, so maybe they figured I was a veteran attendee who earned this assignment. I have to do a 45 minute to one hour speech followed by a 15 minute question and answer session. I have never done an hour speech, but my family and friends have no doubts that I can easily ramble on and talk. I am thinking seriously of putting together some of my videotapes or slides from the Tour. Nothing like travel slides to lighten up an audience or fill a time slot.

I do hope that my readers will consider attending this wonderful day-long conference in Augusta. In addition to having the opportunity to see my slides, there are many informative workshops about cancer and coping with the disease. Excellent qualified health professionals conduct the workshops and there are many booths and exhibits with valuable information. A popular feature of the Conference is the patient panel. Each patient presents their own story and afterwards, the audience can ask questions of each panel member. The participants in the Conference range from newly diagnosed patients, cancer survivors, family members and friends of patients, to health professionals, clergy and anyone who deals with cancer. It is a most impressive event and I guarantee that you will walk away informed and inspired.

As I finish my column today, I look out my office window and see a flock of at least 30 robins. This is most bizarre for late January. The huge flock is feeding on my lawn and in my neighbor's yard. Robins always remind me of when I was first diagnosed with cancer. It was March 1994 and the robins had just arrived. Robins have became a symbol of hope and optimism for me, and I look forward to their return every year.

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