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Lincoln County News
January 22, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

Dec. 10th (1997) - My first chemo session. Accompanied by my husband, Ben, I stop off at the Cardiology Department at MidCoast Hospital in Brunswick to turn in my heart monitoring device. I wore this 24 hour monitoring device to determine if I have any heart irregularities. The chemotherapy drug that will be administered to me today is Adriamycin, a potent drug that can cause heart damage. The doctors want to be certain that my heart is healthy and can withstand any side effects of this drug.

Next, it's on to the hospital lab for a blood count. Cancer patients practically live at the lab because we have our blood counts (primarily white blood cell counts) done frequently, sometimes once or twice a week or at least before the start of each chemo round. I have like a "Frequent Flyer" status here, except without the discounts. Actually, it's a standing lab order and the results are faxed to my doctor in minutes. I also know most all the technicians by now and you sense that they follow your weekly progress in a friendly way. As I finish the blood count, I feel apprehensive about my upcoming chemo regimen. Will it be anything like my chemo sessions of two years ago?

My oncologist is Dr. Tom Keating. I have known Tom for over 10 years as a friend and colleague through my work with the American Cancer Society. In June of 1994, I began a new relationship with Tom, as one of his cancer patients. This was an awkward change for both of us, but we have adjusted to an open honest relationship where we can say anything to each other. In fact, I probably have a better relationship with Tom than most patients, because we know each other so well and know our limits and capabilities. There is no finer oncologist in the state of Maine than Tom Keating.

At Tom's office, I am greeted warmly by Julie and Arline, the office assistants. Both tell me I look so well. Cindy Campbell, the IV oncology therapist is waiting for me in the chemo room. Cindy is always so relaxed and smiling, and her clean cut blonde looks could put anyone at ease. I meet with Tom in the examining room to review the upcoming procedure. I tell Tom about a tender spot located along my right rib cage. It is quite sore, but appears to be muscular in nature and not deep seated. We agree to add this to the watch list.

Next, I am led to one of the chemo rooms. I choose the one furnished like a small lounge with reclining chairs, a TV, magazines and except for the IV poles and emesis basins, you'd might think you were in a private waiting room. Cindy offers me a variety of drinks. It reminds me of taking a plane trip, with Cindy the flight attendant bringing drinks, magazines, pillows and blankets. Cindy leaves the room to prepare the drugs.

I slip on my "sailor bands", which are tightly knitted wrist cuffs which function much like acupuncture. When placed correctly on the wrists, a tiny button puts pressure on a nerve and tendon, supposedly reducing nausea, seasickness or motion sickness. The bands are sold in marine supply stores. Chuck, a sailor and one of my good friends from the cancer support group, shared his pair with me during my last chemo in 1994-95. The bands got me through the last two sessions when all my anti-nausea drugs seemed to fail.

Cindy returns and carefully examines the veins in my hands and forearms. "I like this one", she says. I tease her about her Dracula type tendencies. Cindy says that in her line of work, she always is noticing people's veins. She is gentle and careful about inserting the IV needle and tapes everything neatly in place. The first bag of saline solution is started, a flush of hydrating fluid. This takes about thirty minutes. Cindy adds the Decadron, a prednisone drug that assists with nausea, Ativan a relaxant and anti-nausea drug and the bag of Zofran, a strong anti-nausea medication. Next, it's time for a syringe push of the Adriamycin.

Dr. Richardson, my oncologist from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the head of the Bone Marrow Transplant team, is in charge of my protocol and treatment. It is basically a research treatment program. My local oncologist, Tom Keating has been allowed to administer this special protocol under Dr. Richardson's direction, using a larger than standard dose of Adriamycin, a potent chemotherapy drug. Dr. Richardson has also ordered special daily mouth care drugs and rinses to prevent mouth sores and infections. He has also written "popsicles' into my treatment regimen, to administer with the Adriamycin!. The idea is to keep my mouth wet and moist during this part of the treatment. Tom laughs at the popsicle order and being a health nut, would probably prefer me to suck on chipped ice and not frozen sugar, but the order from Dana-Farber wins out. I have selected some delicious strawberry fruit pops which bear a striking resemblance to the bright red Adriamycin drug. Adria is a dangerous chemo drug to administer. Should it touch the skin, it can cause a 2nd or 3rd degree burn. Cindy slowly injects the Adriamycin into the IV line and checks for any cooling or burning. I focus on my popsicle and all goes well. Day 1 is done.

I feel tired, but no real ill effects. It's been a long day, almost 10 hours. Ben and I take time to do food shopping on the way home. By the time I arrive home I'm cranky and exhausted. I slip into bed for a relatively comfortable night's sleep.

Dec. 11th- Day 2 of Chemo: Today, I will have two visitors accompanying me to treatment. Libby, my friend from Waldoboro, arrives with a fresh pot of homemade carrot soup. We plan to enjoy this after the treatment. Sue Cereste, from the Lincoln County News also arrives. I've invited her to join me to see the chemo treatment firsthand and meet the medical team involved with my care. It turns out that Libby is squeamish around needles, blood and vomit. I discuss this with nurse Cindy and she says this no problem. We'll keep Libby in the waiting room until everything is hooked up and then Cindy will bring her in.

Sue seems more assured and willing to tough it out so she comes right into the chemo room with me. Sue inquires if she can take photos and ask questions. Cindy is very agreeable and says that she's had newspaper people in before. She tells Sue that Tom is very busy today and may not be able to be interviewed. She suggests a time for Sue to phone him. I ask Cindy if we can speed up the treatment today as I thought the three hours yesterday was excessive. Cindy suggests a flush with 10 cc of saline instead of the full bag of saline. She discusses it with Tom and we agree to try this. Sue takes photos as Cindy prepares the IV lines and asks how I feel and what it's like. Cindy brings Libby into the room after all the lines are in place. Libby looks greatly relieved. Cindy takes drink orders and I begin my regimen of spring water and popsicle.

The treatment goes quickly and soon we are home having carrot soup and blueberry pie. I tell Libby she can leave, but soon regret having eaten any soup or pie. Nausea is setting in quickly and I retreat to my bed. I'm half asleep when the phone rings. It is John calling, the husband of my dear friend and fellow cancer patient, Polly, who passed away less than 3 weeks ago. He is so sad and distraught. We talk for over an hour. Words can't express the huge loss we are feeling.

Polly was only 46 when she succumbed to a valiant fight against lung cancer. Polly and I were day-to-day close when she lived in Brunswick, but a move back to her hometown of Pensacola, Fl. put us in touch by letter and phone and through some crazy psychic connection we both shared. Polly had called me in mid October to tell me that her cancer had spread to the brain. She was frightened and desperate and unsure which route of treatment to try. I talked her through her options, making suggestions and did my best to calm her. How ironic, that just a few days before, my own cancer had been diagnosed as returned and spread. I could not bring myself to deliver this bad news to Polly. I told John that during the many phone conversations I had with Polly in Oct. and Nov., I couldn't tell her about my cancer coming back. I felt I had to give her every ounce of hope. John said simply, "She knows, Sandy. She's looking out for you. She's there for you".

Polly went so quickly. She had chosen a series of 30 radiation treatments to the brain. Just two short of finishing, she had a massive heart attack and stroke. Polly told me she was tired of fighting, she was ready to go. I miss her so much, but many times I feel her presence. Polly has psychic qualities and it would often scare me how much we knew each other's thoughts. She was so full of life and had the craziest sense of humor. Her deep southern drawl will forever linger in my mind.

I get out of bed and open my jewelry box to carefully review the selection of "WalMart Angels" that Polly had given me for use in "time of need." This was typical crazy Polly, cheap gold angels on a card, one for each day of the week or circumstance. "Wear your angels", Polly said, "I'm fixing to make you better and besides, if you forget to take them off, they go through the washer just fine." I whisper a prayer, "God help me, Polly, help me make it through this."

9 pm. comes and nausea is now fully out of control. I have a very strong stomach and vomiting is a rarity for me. I first attempt to make myself wretch, but with no luck,. Next, I decide to brush my teeth and the gag reflex takes over. I wretch for a few minutes, but vomit only a small trace of fluid. I am now tired and aching and crawl back to bed. My sleep is racked with waves of nausea. When I awake, I wonder how will I make it to treatment today. The nausea is totally out of control.

Dec. 12th. Day 3 of Chemo: On his way to work, Ben drops me off at my friend, Bobbye's house in Brunswick. Bobbye lives only five minutes from the hospital and Tom's office. Bobbye notes my "green color" and assures Ben she'll take good care of me until Ben returns in the late afternoon to pick me up.

When Bobbye and I arrive at Tom's office, I immediately tell Cindy I am in big trouble. I ask her how many people throw up in the chemo room and she assures me that many do and they're prepared for it. Cindy asks about my symptoms from the previous night. She appears concerned and returns with Tom. Tom is genuinely upset and apologetic for the nausea and suggests a new approach. He says he has observed that some patients who have had previous chemotherapy often develop a tolerance to anti-nausea drugs, so that the second time around these drugs are ineffective. New approaches have to be found. Tom suggests we switch off the Zofran and use Kytril, a strong anti-nausea drug that worked well for me two years ago.

He asks if I could manage to swallow a small Kytril pill. At $45 a pill, I am determined that I will swallow it and it will not come back up! First, Cindy connects a full bag of saline to flush out my system. I swallow my $45 pill with a tiny swig of water. Cindy continues to hydrate me with IV fluids before adding the Ativan, Decadron and finally the Adriamycin. The Adria is followed with another full bag of saline flush. I make it through! Tom comes in and tells me that unless I can tolerate drinking plenty of fluids today and manage to keep them down, he may have to put me in the hospital for IV's. This is not the news I want to hear so I am even more determined to tough it out.

I go back to Bobbye's house and get comfortably tucked into her sofa in the den. I feel nauseous, but sleep fitfully until Ben arrives. Eating is out of the question, but I drink Ginger Ale and spring water to avoid the "hospital trip". Ativan seems to do nothing so I keep my sailor bands in place and have a miserable might.

Dec. 13th Day 4 is much the same. Ben urges me to continue fluids. Tonight is our Corvette Club Christmas Party. In my demented stupor, I determine that I will make this party. I double up on Ativan, drink fluids and rest all afternoon. The trip to Warren seems to take hours. My friends are surprised and alarmed to see me looking shades of gray and green and essentially being completely out of it.

My friend, Bobbye, urges me to eat and I go through the motions of tasting a clam dip and some shrimp. I have no idea what I am eating. After a half hour, I am ready to pass out and ask Ben to help me out. I am sound asleep within half a block and arrive home with no recollection of the trip, party or getting in bed. My brain must have been fried by chemo to have done something so stupid.

Dec. 14th Day 5: Ben and I meet Tom at his office to start the first of 10 days of Neupagen. Neupagen is a growth hormone which will artificially boost my white cell count during treatment. Tom will administer the first dose in a syringe much like insulin, to monitor any side affects. All goes well.

Now Ben will be playing Dr. for the next ten days and will administer my daily shot of Neupagen, giving me the shots in either the arms or stomach. Earlier this week, Cindy had instructed Ben in giving me the shots, using an orange to practice on. Ben is very mechanically inclined and immediately got the hang of it. Ben is a good Dr. and the tiny needles are barely felt.

Tom inquires about my nausea and hydration. I tell him I am doing my best to drink, but I can't eat. The only drug seeming to help the nausea is Ativan, as the Compazine gave out two years ago. Tom writes a prescription for two Kytril pills, the $45 apiece golden pills. I decide to guard them with my life and take them only as a last resort.

Dec. 15th Day 6: Ben gives me my Neupagen shot before leaving for work, I am feeling less nauseous and manage to eat some soup, saltines and plenty of fluid. My energy is returning in an odd way. I feel hyped and agitated, much like I had overdosed on caffeine or similar to the effects that large doses of Decadron had on me during my treatment in 1994-1995. Decadron would make my heart pound and I couldn't sleep at night. I was totally wired. I have the odd feeling that one of these drugs is causing this agitation.

The hyperactivity increases throughout the day. First, I tackle my house cleaning, and then it's on to wrapping all my Christmas presents. Underneath this nervous energy is nausea and malaise, but for the first time in days, I decide to eat. A pizza and small salad sound like a possibility. I manage to eat two small slices, a major accomplishment.

I get in bed at 9:30 pm. and tell Ben that I feel wide awake. He suggests I get up and read. Instead, I decide to turn on my computer and start writing my book or journal or whatever epic this will turn out to be. Fueled by Neupagen, the words flow fast and freely. It is now 6 am. I turn off the computer and come back to bed just as Ben is getting up. I feel wide awake and refreshed. I have pulled an all-nighter and feel none the worse for the wear!

Ben gives me my next Neupagen shot and I get up to eat breakfast and find something else to do. I do several loads of laundry and decide to turn my attention to my house plants. Using scissors, I trim off most of the foliage on all my house plants. As I work, my cat, Lurk, eyes me nervously. I decide to call Tom's office and report on my condition. Cindy comes to the phone and I tell her about the all-nighter, the house cleaning, the Christmas gifts and the houseplant haircuts. I ask Cindy if she had put Decadron instead of Neupagen in those syringes. She assures me that's not the case and summons Tom to the phone. "So, I guess you are feeling agitated, Sandy", Tom asks innocently. I repeat my days activities and Tom laughs and says he's short of help, can I come down and give him a hand. Knowing Tom is a marathon runner, I tell him I could run circles around him now.

Tom says he has never heard of such a side effect or reaction to Neupagen, but says he will call Dr. Richardson to discuss this. There is no way to cut back on the Neupagen dose as it is needed to boost the white cell count. All I can do is double up on the Ativan to counteract the side effects.

I am now counting the hours until Ben and I leave for our Christmas Trip to NJ. to see my family. This is the light at the end of my tunnel. I have been focusing on this upcoming trip to get me through these dark days.

Dec. 20th (1997): We arrive in Princeton, NJ on Dec. 20th for an 8 day stay. Though it's my hometown and I haven't lived here for 30 years, my brother, sisters and parents still live in town. I usually make the annual Christmas pilgrimage and occasionally a summer trip down to visit.

My sister, Mary Ann, is 22 months younger than I. She is single and starting a new career next week as a consultant, after 25 years with Johnson & Johnson. Ben and I drive to her house to visit with her first, as she is headed to New Hampshire with friends for the Christmas holiday. She is excited and a little apprehensive about her big career break and going out on her own. Used to running my own business from home, I assure her she'll do just fine. I tell her she needs a new wardrobe and present her with a pair of "Executive Footwear", Daffy Duck slippers.

Of all my siblings, Mary Ann is the least prepared to deal with my illness. She is the hypochondriac of the family. At one point during the early diagnosis of my cancer, she said "better you than me". She wasn't being mean. I am sure if faced with the diagnosis of cancer she would be an emotional and physical basket case, and probably dead within a week.

We leave Mary Ann's to spend the week at my sister Peg's house, just a few blocks away. Peg is 7 years younger than I, and of all my siblings, we share the closest bond. Those who do not know us, might assume we are twins. Peg is a little taller, her hair is longer and darker, but there is no mistaken the identical facial features, voice and mannerisms.

Peg recently gave up her head teaching job at a nursery school and is taking a hiatus to relax and learn to paint. Since my illness, Peg calls me nearly daily. She has my same take charge attitude and positive outlook and we share the same warped sense of humor. Peg's husband, Bill, is 15 years older than Peg. He is a hair stylist for the motion picture industry. His job takes him all over the globe doing film work, but in recent years, he has tried to confine his work to California and the East Coast so he can be closer to his family. Peg and I refer to Bill as, "The Hairdresser to the Stars".

Peg and Bill have two great kids, Kevan, 15, and Ryan who is 21. Ryan has his own job and apartment, while Kevan is still in high school. Peg's household is always bustling with kids, friends, her Jack Russell terrier, "Spanky," and all kinds of activity. Peg is the most "laid back" of my siblings, nothing fazes her. It is a true comfort and a home away from home, when I visit her. Bill also tells me, "Sandy, my home is your home. You are always welcome here."

Peg has waited to decorate her Christmas tree. She knew I would enjoy being part of that ceremony. She has also planned a special night out for the four of us to see a stage production of "The Christmas Carol". It was just incredible, and I never tire of seeing the same movie or production of that each year.

Dec. 23rd is my blood test at Princeton Hospital. The figures are much better than I expected at 2300, only 300 less than my 2600 test done on Fri. Dec. 19th. My Dad, Dr. Alfred S. Cook, ordered the blood test and asked that results be faxed within one hour to his fax machine located in my brother's office. My brother, Ray, took over my father's medical office building when Dad retired a year ago and now uses it for his graphic design firm. As a courtesy to former patients, my Dad still maintains a phone and fax line in my brother's office.

Ray, 10 years my junior and the only boy in my family, has a wacky sense of humor and a crazy imagination. When Ray notices that no faxed report has arrived within the promised hour, he immediately calls the Princeton Hospital Lab and demands the report be faxed immediately. The Lab thinking Ray is Dr. Cook, apologizes and quickly faxes over 2 copies of the report. To further compound the problem, the Lab questions the fax number and in a state of total confusion faxes a third report to a Dr. Stephen Cook, another Dr. Cook on staff who happens to be an orthopedic surgeon.

By the end of an hour, several faxes of my lab report have now gone to two Dr. Cook's. Ray and I dissolve in laughter, because the orthopedic surgeon will see one incredibly erratic white cell count with numerous abnormalities on a patient he has never seen . After receiving both copies of the lab reports, we then fax them up to my Dr. Tom in Maine. Mission accomplished!

Today, I am starting to shed a little hair, just a few hairs on the comb. Nothing alarming. I am reminded of Cindy telling me that in about two weeks my hair will fall out. Tomorrow will be two weeks. Is this the last day for my hair, I wonder? I spend extra time washing, combing and blow drying my hair. It's so shiny and healthy, how could it possibly go?

Dec. 24th: Exactly two weeks from the start of chemo and my hair is falling out in large handfuls. I keep combing and it keeps coming out. Oddly, it is thinning out evenly from all over my head. Because it is so even, its not noticeable. Tonight we are going to a gala Christmas Eve party hosted by friends of Peg and Bill's. Due to the impending hair drop, drastic action is needed. I select my long ash brown wig I had picked up at the American Cancer Society last week. Peg calls it "the Jezebel look". Perfect for attending a party where no one knows me or would know it's a wig!

Bill examines my other wigs and determines that the red wig, that I had also found at the American Cancer Society, requires massive work. I call the red wig my Julia Roberts look. Bill promises to work on it later in the week. He pronounces my frosted blond wigs I had gotten during my 1994-1995 chemo in perfect condition, with only a little spritzing of water needed to keep them perky. Bill prepares the Jezebel wig for me and shakes his head skeptically. He says it doesn't look like me. I don't care because I am going to the party incognito.

Once at the party, Peg and I immediately ensconce ourselves in the large comfortable downstairs bar and playroom. Our host is a gourmet chef by hobby and he has prepared a huge spread of cheeses, antipastos, pasta with fresh clams and mussels, salade nicoise, marinated tuna, a poached salmon aspic and too much more to mention. We stuff ourselves and down several glasses of champagne before moving on to Margaritas. The host makes a mean Margarita and after three very large Margaritas apiece, Peg and I quickly become the life of the party.

I have not consumed this much alcohol since my college days. Normally, one glass of wine a month is about as frequently as I consume any alcohol. In fact, I have not had any alcoholic beverages since starting treatment. So here I am the stage 4 cancer patient enjoying one last fling and not even feeling the effects of the drinks. Must be all the drugs and chemo in my system, I figure.

A discussion ensues about the merits of Jose Cuervo Tequila. Peg and other party guests do not believe my assertion that there was a song in the early 70's called, "Jose Cuervo You Are A Friend Of Mine". To prove the point, I proceed to sing several verses. No one is convinced and I'm insulted. Needing validation, I suggest we phone the local radio station and request the song over the air. Using our host's cordless phone, Peg dials WPST. It rings and rings before an annoyed DJ finally answers. Peg loudly slurs, "Is this WPST?!" The DJ quickly determines that it yet another inebriated Christmas Eve caller and responds sarcastically, "No. This is WBUM!" Peg, not willing to settle for this insult, informs the DJ that he is drunker than she is and then hands the phone to me. I politely explain that I am visiting from Maine and that I am at a party where no one believes that there is a song called, "Jose Cuervo You Are A Friend Of Mine". I ask the DJ to play the song, though it is quite obvious the station is on autopilot playing all Christmas music. The DJ, anxious to end the call, says he'll look for it.

Peg and I listen to the station for the next half hour. Only Christmas music. Repeated phone calls to the station go unanswered, they must have caller ID. Ben and Bill are only slightly amused. Ben is not drinking and Bill is a recovered alcoholic so they wander among the other guests and pretend they don't know us.

Ben comes over at one point to check on me. The downstairs playroom and bar have gotten quite warm and several guests have thrown open the back patio doors to let in fresh air. Ben leans over and asks me, "Do you think that's too much hair on you?" Too much hair on me, I'm indignant! "What do you mean, I have too much hair?", I fire back. Ben looks terribly confused. He leans closer and says slowly, "I said is it too much air on you?" Peg and I dissolve in fits of laughter. It's amazing how my wigs and hair were first and foremost on my mind. That was truly the hair joke of the evening. I will also probably never be invited back to this fine establishment.

Dec. 25th Christmas Day: I wake up feeling absolutely wonderful. The drugs and chemo have numbed me to any chemical changes! Poor Peg is nursing a hangover, but rallies by noon. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast and make the opening of gifts last as long as possible. Large clumps of my hair continue to fall out at an even faster rate. I can't believe I have this much hair and my scalp still doesn't show.

Peg has prepared a huge lasagna feast with fresh Italian pastries for dessert. We all eat too much. I savor every minute of the day, treasuring every second of this special time with my family. Dr. Richardson says he hopes to give me many more Christmases to come. I hope he is right, but if not, I will always store in my mind the memories of this Christmas of 1997.

Dec. 26th D-Day For My Hair: Huge amounts of my hair fall out by the handful, yet oddly enough, the hair is thinning evenly all over my head. Now I can see my scalp through the hairs on top of my head. Peg suggests I take control of my hair and just cut it all off before it falls out. Great idea! This way, I'm in control. I will cut it all off now. I tell Bill that today is the day he can shave it all off. Bill says it's my decision and agrees that today or tomorrow really are it.

At 3 pm., Bill sets up a chair and the tools of his trade on Peg's back porch. The "Hairdresser To The Stars" as Peg and I call him, gently cuts and then shaves (not too closely) the remaining clumps of hair. Peg wraps up large hunks of my hair in two plastic bags. I want to save it as a reminder. I'm in tears and don't want to look in the mirror. Peg laughs and says I look like Sigourney Weaver in Alien. That does it, I have to go look. Hmmm, it looks like a Marine hair cut. Tiny little dark hairs cover my head, so it isn't a cue ball as I expected. I think I look like Curley of the 3 Stooges.

Bill has been busy styling the red Julia Roberts wig. Bill said it had way too much hair in it, so he thinned and restyled it. He places it on my head and tells me that the short hairs on my head will act like Velcro to hold the wig in place. Now I am a Velcro head.

Tonight Ben and I have dinner at a great Italian restaurant with my brother, Ray and his wife, JoAnne and my niece, Laura. I feel like everyone in the restaurant is staring at my hair. Perhaps, they think I'm Julia Roberts. After dinner we exchange gifts.

My nine year old niece and I have always been best buddies. During my 1994-95 chemo treatment , we spent hours together playing on the beach, building sandcastles, riding bikes, going to the movies or miniature golf, and playing every board game imaginable. Since that time, we have written each other regularly. I've decided to give her a very special gift. Wrapped up in a heart-shaped red velvet box is a sterling silver heart-shaped rhinestone necklace. It is the oldest piece of jewelry I own. It was given to me by my parents over 40 years ago at Christmas. Laura's eyes glisten and widen as she opens the box and holds up the tiny necklace that looks like real diamonds. A perfect gift for my little buddy who loves sparkling jewelry as much as I did so many years ago.

Dec. 27th: Showering sure is quick these days with no hair to wash. Instinctively, I reach to wring out my wet hair. It's a weird sensation to have no hair to touch, dry, or comb. I tell Ben that I will save money by not having to buy shampoo and conditioners or get haircuts. I look like a different person in my wigs, like someone with a fresh perm or new dye job. I miss my old hair. I tuck the two plastic bags of my old hair into the bottom of my wig bag, I can't bear to look at them again.

Today, we leave Peg and Bill's to visit my parents for two days before we head home. I hate to leave. It is a sad tearful parting. Peg has been so good to me through all my trials and tribulations. Even though she's my youngest sister, separated by seven years, we have always been so much alike. I have looked out for her and she for me. Everyone says we look, act and talk alike.

When Peg was 2 or 3 years old, she would sneak out of her bedroom every night, slip down the hall, and crawl into bed next to me. To discourage this, my parents put a little bell on top of Peg's doorknob so that when the door was opened, the bell would ring and drop to the floor, alerting my parents to this nightly escape. Little stubborn Peg persisted and found a way to frequently catch the bell before it hit the floor. I guess some bonds are just never meant to be broken.

Dec. 27 and 28: Ben and I visit my parents at their shore house in Barnegat Light, NJ. It is a beautiful home, refreshing and airy. In 1994 and 1995, I spent 3 months at the shore during my previous chemotherapy. The salt air and warm days at the beach made the chemotherapy so much more bearable. Salt and summer has restorative powers for me.

Mom and Dad seem happy and well, but I detect a look of sadness and concern, particularly in my father's eyes. My Dad the Dr., recently retired after 42 years in practice, knows only too well the course of cancer and its outcomes. My mom is recuperating quite nicely from an autoimmune disorder and is looking much better than I expected. It has been a long road back for her, but she seems to be doing much better and is daily gaining back some of her energy.

I sense that my parents are concerned that the return and spread of my cancer, has numbered my days on this earth. It must be hard for a parent to lose a child at any age. Life isn't supposed to work that way. Lots of hugging and kissing, huge displays of affection and "I Love You's" don't come easily to my parents, and I suspect I have inherited my grandmother's openness and loving attention which was showered upon me, her first and favorite granddaughter. As we say our good-byes, I fight back tears and tell my parents that I love them both.

Dec. 28th: Arriving back in Maine, I feel like I am coming down with a respiratory infection. My blood count on Dec. 29th is elevated to 4500, probably a good clue that I am fighting off some infection. Tom examines me and orders an antibiotic to take if a fever sets in. It does and I progressively feel worse. I am housebound for a week, missing our 30th wedding anniversary and New Year's Eve. I am depressed, too sick to consider going out or even leave my bed. Ben and I promise to celebrate later.

Jan. 5th (1998): My friend Libby drives me to Brunswick for my blood count. I am supposed to start the second cycle of my chemo today, but I am still sick with the respiratory infection, completely worn out and fighting an annoying wheezing in my lungs. My blood count is 3300, too low to start the chemo.

Tom examines me and is concerned about the wheezing. He orders more antibiotic and an inhaler to ease the wheezing. He tells me to come back Wed. Jan 7th for another count. The magic number to start chemo is 3500. Libby and I spend the day in Brunswick, because she has to visit her doctor, too. It's a long day and I arrive home exhausted.

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