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Lincoln County News
January 14, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a boring New Year's Eve and a record-breaking return trip from NJ. It's now Lurk's turn to visit an oncologist. We prepare to leave for Florida, and our Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour appearance at Disney World.

December 31, 1998: New Year's Eve at Peg and Bill's house is rather subdued and anti-climatic. First, poor Ben is home alone in Maine celebrating by himself. Secondly, Peg, Bill and I have overindulged ourselves at dinner tonight, so we forego the caviar and champagne Peg had planned for midnight, and retire to our beds by 11 pm. We're a bunch of party poopers, though Peg's gourmet French dinner of escargots, French onion soup, French bread and Caesar salad contributed to our rapid demise. I am glad that I am not facing a weigh-in on Dr. Tom's scales until January 25th.

January 2, 1999: Ben drove down from Maine yesterday to pick me up. We are leaving early today, hoping to stay ahead of an advancing snow and ice storm. We say our hasty good-byes to Peg and Bill. We will be back to see them this Friday when we head down to Florida. We are quickly tiring of this crazy commute from Maine to NJ. However, trying to stay ahead of the storm, Ben and I set a new land speed record in the Corvette. We arrive home in Wiscasset 6 1/2 hours and 422 miles later, with three quick pit stops included. Whew!

We pick up Lurk at Mary Ann and Rich's house. He has had a brief 36 hour stay, and fortunately a good one. Obviously, the medication/vitamin mix the vet has put him on is working. Mary Ann reports that Lurk has been eating well, and keeping Rich company. He has also been acting his normal Lurk self and trying to sneak out Mary Ann's front door.

On Monday, I plan to call a veterinary oncologist, a dog and cat cancer specialist in Brunswick. I want a second opinion on Lurk's tentative diagnosis of a pancreatic tumor. It is still so hard to believe that Lurk is seriously ill. Aside from his thinness, he is his normal Lurk self. However, I am determined to do everything possible to help my good buddy and personal secretary. Lurk has been with us for almost 15 years, and he's part of our family. Though I can deal quite well with my own cancer, the thought of Lurk having cancer leaves me feeling empty and helpless, much like my own family members must feel about my illness. The roles are suddenly reversed for me. I can only hope and pray that some of the medical technology that is helping me survive will also be available to Lurk.

Tonight, it feels like we have been in three time zones. We left NJ at 8:10 am., we were back in Wiscasset by 2:20 pm., picked up Lurk and did our food shopping, and now we are meeting Paul and Sue for a dinner/restaurant review at Maxwell's in Bath! We have fallen behind in restaurant reviews because of the holidays. To simplify tonight's review, we all order the prime rib. In my opinion, Maxwell's has the best prime rib in the area. It's very tender with good seasonings and a nice hint of garlic. Actually, I love the prime rib because it is the only entree served with Maxwell's wonderful popovers. They could be a meal in themselves. We were very pleased with our dinners, so much so that none of us had room for dessert. We gave Maxwell's a 5 star rating for their prime rib.

January 6, 1999: Today, I am taking Lurk to Dr. Gail Mason in Brunswick. She is a veterinary oncologist specializing in the treatment of dogs and cats. I have picked up Lurk's x-rays and reports from our regular vet. I have told poor Lurk that I am taking him to see a special doctor who will hopefully make him all better. I really believe that Lurk has some sense and understanding of what is happening to him. Recently, I have found him staring at me intently. For those of you unfamiliar with cat behavior, cats will rarely look directly at you, particularly if you return their gaze. They become uncomfortable and will divert their eyes if you stare at them. I am wondering if Lurk is trying to tell me something by this unusual behavior. Is he saying, "Help me"? Or is he saying, "good-bye"?

I bring out Lurk's carrier box and he happily steps inside. Obviously, he thinks he's headed to Aunt Mary Ann's house. About twenty miles later, when we arrive at Dr. Mason's office, Lurk is immediately greeted by barking and sniffing dogs and the familiar vet smell. Lurk lets out a few warning meows to announce his presence to the dog community, and hunkers down in his box to await the inevitable poking, prodding and other upcoming unpleasantries.

I meet with Gail Mason, a very friendly and reassuring person who is well-versed in cancer care for pets. She checks Lurk's x-ray and points out the tumor. Though it appears large on the x-ray, Gail cannot feel the mass during Lurk's physical exam. She says it is possible that Lurk's medication, which contains Prednisone, could have shrunk the tumor already. She will be doing an ultrasound and some further blood tests on Lurk. She is hopeful that something can be done for him. Meanwhile, I have to leave Lurk and wander Brunswick for four hours while these procedures are being done. Unfortunately, when I return, Gail is too tied up with other patients to meet with me to discuss the findings. Because of her and my busy schedule today, she will have to call me later this evening. Poor Lurk makes only a few protesting cries on the ride home. I talk to him the entire way home, telling him how long and how many miles left to go. Though he smells of rubbing alcohol and is hobbling slightly from being stuck with needles, he immediately springs out of his box and heads for his food dishes. He is none the worse for the wear, and I am absolutely exhausted from the long day and toting him around in his carrier box.

January 7, 1999: The vet does not call until this morning. Fortunately, it is positive news. Lurk does not have a pancreatic tumor. However, one of his kidneys is distorted and shows an area that is thickened and filled with fluid. The scan shows what may be scarring from kidney or bladder infections, or more likely a cyst, which could be malignant though Gail says that kidney cancer is very rare in cats. Lurk's affected kidney is not functioning, but Gail reports that his other kidney has excellent function. All of Lurk's other tests are normal and his liver is showing no signs of metastatic disease. She comments that Lurk is in remarkably good condition for his age. She recommends that we bring Lurk back in three weeks for another ultrasound exam to see if the spot has changed in the kidney. If no change is noted, we will have him monitored regularly. If further growth or change is noted, Lurk will be a good candidate for surgery. The kidney would be removed and his remaining kidney will take over. For all practical purposes, Lurk has been living with only one kidney functioning properly, so Gail says his recovery chances are excellent.

This is wonderful news about my good buddy. Today, I pack Lurk back into his carrier box for the trip to Mary Ann's. Unlike yesterday, Lurk resists going into the box and I have to collar him and force him in. I know he thinks he is headed back to the vet's. I feel awful about doing this to him, and hope he soon realizes he's going to Mary Ann's. Later this evening, Mary Ann calls to report that Lurk is all settled in and has eaten a good dinner. He will be in good hands while we are away, and I am even more relieved to know that his health condition is not of urgent concern.

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