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Lincoln County News
January 20, 2000

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my continued recovery at home. I continue to surprise my doctors and get great news on my x-rays and hospital tests. Cuddles is testing our patience as he shifts into full kitten mode.

January 10, 2000: Today, I feel quite rejuvenated after my sister Peg's visit. This was such a boost to me emotionally. When I left the hospital last Wednesday, I was really worried that I was too weak to summon my energy. Dr. Peter thought I could do it and it would be therapeutic to be home, while I sensed that Tom was more worried about my blood counts. Now I know I made the right decision as each day I am feeling stronger and elated that I made the right decision to "watch" my situation from home rather than a hospital bed!

The power of the human body to attempt to heal itself never ceases to amaze me. Of course, I try to add my own dose of positive thinking and focus to speed up the process. Some of the events I will describe this week will only serve to underline how important we as individuals are in helping in our healing and recovery.

Today, my helper is Mary Ann Canfield and we have an enjoyable day where I am feeling quite peppy. Mary Ann is anxious to get me back on to the full "Canfield Diet", however, I am slowly going from an all liquid diet or IV's which I have been on for at least two weeks, to a light semi-solid diet which consists of cream soups, cream of rice, ice cream, custard, pudding and juices. I really welcome this change because I love ice cream and puddings. It is important to slowly make the transition as my intestines are still healing and I am on this "watch" for the intestinal perforation.

January 11, 2000: Lynda is my helper today and we have a good visit. I have decided to conserve my energy and do tub baths that I do at my bedside. I am not feeling strong enough to sit on my shower stall seat and shower. I figure that will be my goal for next week as I regain strength. Having worked many years ago in the hospital when I was considering entering nursing school, I became very proficient with bedside baths and have never lost the knack. I can manage to do all my bathing with just a little help on my back. I have told my helpers if they are too modest, let me know and I will have Ben help me in the evening. Lynda is not at all concerned about helping me and does an excellent backrub. When you're in the hospital or in any care setting, it sure doesn't take long to lose any sense of modesty. I was never one to be concerned about such, but I don't want my helpers to feel uncomfortable.

This afternoon, Tom and Charlene dropped by to visit. While I was in the hospital, I received a disturbing e mail from Charlene. Poor Tom severely injured his left hand on the job. Tom is a master welder and apparently his left hand got caught inside a press brake. I am not familiar with the equipment, but it mangled his hand and he had to have his middle finger amputated at the first joint. I gather the injury could have been worse as Tom is right-handed. Tom's hand is bandaged like a mummy and he says he has been doing well as the painkillers have numbed everything. Tom was fortunate that when the injury occurred, he was taken directly to Maine Medical Center where a hand surgeon was on duty. Tom will be out of work for about three weeks and the surgeon says he thinks with rehabilitation, the injury should heal well. Part of one of Tom's fingernails was involved, but the surgeon said that would grow back in. It has been a tough year for Tom and Charlene, first with the surprise closing of the firm where he worked for many years, and now this injury.

January 12, 2000: Today is Mannitol day. This is the disgusting liquid that Dr. Peter gave me to drink every other week. Basically, it is like liquid Drano. It cleans out your intestinal tract to prevent any further build up of the problems I had before in my upper intestine. I decide to drink it slowly and alternate sips with apple juice. There really is no disguising it, but I figure if this will prevent future problems, I will follow Peter's orders.

Today, Debbie, my visiting nurse from CHANS comes in for her weekly visit to check me. She is very pleased with my progress and says that my lungs sound good and my portacath seems to be operating well despite the strange clicking noises that come and go. Debbie has arranged for me to have weekly visits from both an OT and a PT therapist. I am anxious to start a physical therapy regimen to build up my strength.

January 13, 2000: I have been looking forward to today with mixed emotions. I am headed to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick to have my full round of x-rays, blood tests, a check of the clicking portacath and my appointment with Dr. Tom. I have been feeling so well, I hope that it will be all good news, however, I have been on such ups and downs during the past three months, I hardly know what to expect.

It will be a long day as I start in patient registration around 10:30 am. Next it is on to the x-ray department for several x-rays of my lungs and abdomen. Once these are finished, I have a short wait as the x-ray technicians page Dr. McClintock, the radiologist who will be in attendance for the x-ray of my portacath. McClintock is temporarily held up elsewhere, but I choose to have him present as I trust his expertise. The portacath x-ray goes flawlessly and there is absolutely no sign of any slippage in the portacath position or the lines that feed out of the device into the venous cavities. So, the clicking noise remains a mystery and we will keep a close eye on it, but the important point is that the device is working perfectly.

After the portacath is deemed functional, Mimi the IV therapist comes in to draw my blood samples. By the time I get to Tom's office at 2:30 pm., they will have the results of these blood counts as well as the x-rays. Ben and I have a half hour break for lunch, where we go down to the coffee shop and Ben orders me a dish of 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce! He says I deserve this little treat after this morning's barrage of tests.

When I get to Tom's office, I am on pins and needles. Tom comes in and shakes his head. He says I have really surprised him this time. There is now no air showing behind the abdominal wall, no sign of any build up in the upper intestine, my lungs are clear and aside from some relatively minor issues involving increasing my breathing capacity in my lower lungs, it looks like I have beaten surgery! I am ecstatic! Also, my blood counts are even better than before and Tom seems quite satisfied. I could not have gotten better news!

Tom says I will not have to see him now for two weeks. At that time, we are going to review my liver scan. Over the years, I have had many liver and abdominal scans which show tiny areas of suspicious "unknowns" which could be cancerous. Seven or eight of these spots have already been identified as benign cysts which are quite common and in fact run in my family. However, it is always possible that one of these tiny spots could be cancer so we might want to take a closer look. I have suggested to Tom that I would like to have a doctor from Dana Farber or Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston follow this up. There is a new procedure using cryosurgery on the liver to isolate and kill very small cancers. It is designed to be used on very tiny spots and not large areas. Tom agrees with my suggestion and says that there is a doctor using this technique at Maine Medical Center.

January 14, 2000: Today, Sue is my helper and we have interesting and informative visits from Sara, my CHANS PT therapist and Michelle the OT therapist. Sara is going to be working on conditioning exercises for my legs, helping me to improve my balance and increase my abilities in standing and walking. Michelle will be working on increasing my upper body strength. She also showed me some handy adaptive equipment such as grab sticks and dressing devices to help reach items. Though I will not need most of these devices, it was very informative to learn about the variety of equipment that can make life much easier and safer for patients.

Poor Michelle turned out to have an allergy to cats and by the time she left, I was afraid I would have to give her oxygen. Cuddles, of course, has no clue that people are allergic to him and he always seems to get involved fully in any home health care going on here. To add insult to injury, Cuddles has been dedicating his mornings to creating some sort of mischief or havoc. I place some of the blame on Ben for riling him up and playing with him before he leaves for work, though I am gradually acknowledging that we have a young cat, a kitten who is one to two years old, and quite a change from a 15 1/2 year old Lurk whose playful spells lasted 10 seconds.

The beginning of the mischief and behavior changes started at Christmas when Ben thought he would buy a laser pen for Cuddles. Ben knew that this was a great source of amusement for our grandcats, however, for Cuddles, this suddenly became a device that Ben would operate and Cuddles would chase, but fully aware that Ben was pushing the button and Cuddles would do as little as possible to participate. The other toys that Cuddles got in his Christmas stocking included the usual mix of balls, catnip mice and toys that a normal cat would play with by himself. Well, not Cuddles. Mister Lazy now has to have you orchestrate all his play. After several hours of driving me crazy in the morning, Cuddles slinks off to either the guest room, couch or chair for a long siesta where he is building up his strength to attack us at night. Most of the night, he will curl up on Ben, but he will do sneak attacks landing on my stomach and portacath area, which I can't of course tolerate. So, Ben closes him out of the bedroom. He is quite good about being chastised. We generally hear a thump as he flops is 13 1/2 lb. body against the bedroom door, then a little weak sigh. Then we can sleep uninterrupted. I welcome my readers suggestions on retraining of cats, but if I remember correctly, isn't it the owners who need the retraining?

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