Lincoln County News
January 21, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our trip to Florida, as we take the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour to a five day appearance at a national Corvette Show at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando. A day-long visit with Ben's friend, Steve, who is battling lung cancer, adds further impetus to our mission.

January 8, 1999: We are leaving for Florida today. We have been invited to bring the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour to Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando for the National Corvette Restorers Society annual show. We are on the road by 5:45 am. trying to get ahead of a pending snowstorm. My Corvette does not handle well in a few inches of snow due to its wide tires, though on slick, slightly icy conditions, the traction control system works great. We are hoping to get to my sister Peg's house in NJ before the snow begins. Unfortunately, the storm arrives ahead of schedule and we hit snow as we cross the NJ state line. It takes us about twice as long as usual to drive the stretch from the Garden State Parkway to Peg's house. We arrive around 1:30 pm. to find Peg and Bill just finishing shoveling their driveway. The snow continued throughout the evening, so we were glad to just settle in at Peg's and be off the roads.

As usual, Peg has fixed one of her delicious home-cooked meals and our room is all ready. I tell Peg that we have been using her guest room like a hotel, since we have been visiting so frequently. I suggest we put a sign up in front of her house that says The Farley Hotel.

January 9, 1999: Today, it has warmed up slightly and the snow is melting off the major roads. We leave Peg's after breakfast and drive to Ambler, PA to visit with Ben's old buddy, Steve. Steve was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996, and had surgery and radiation. Later, the cancer metastasized to his brain and more radiation and chemotherapy treatment followed. Now, like me, Steve's cancer has spread into his bones. According to his wife, Terry, Steve is doing much better than he was a few months ago. Treatments to the brain had affected his memory and mental functions. He was very ill during his chemotherapy and was helped over the worst of it by injections of Nupagen, which helped me through the worst of my chemo last winter. Steve is now fully alert and recovered, though he limps noticeably from the bone tumors in his spine and pelvis. He is obviously in pain. I suggest to Steve that he ask his doctor if Aredia, the IV drug I am receiving, could be used to treat his bone tumors. Aredia is currently used in treatment of breast cancer that has spread to the bones. If Aredia shows promise in treating bone deterioration, why not use it on other cancer patients who have bone tumors.

After talking to Steve for a few minutes and hearing the way he describes his illness, I sense that he is not in control of his disease. It is not that he seems resigned to dying, it is more like he has never taken charge of his treatment. He never asked many questions or made an effort to research his treatment options. In fact, for someone who has been through a few years worth of all kinds of treatment, he knows very little about his cancer. Steve asks me what I would do, and again I repeat what I told him two weeks before, to call MD Andersen Cancer Institute which is recognized world-wide for its lung cancer treatment and clinical trials. I also suggest that he and Terry find a cancer support group and start attending meetings.

Terry takes me aside and fills me in on what's really happening from her perspective. She says that Steve is still in denial of his illness. According to Terry, he has never accepted his cancer diagnosis. She has had to push him into seeing doctors, asking questions and getting information. Terry is teary-eyed as she confides that she can no longer continue to push Steve. She says it is time for him to take charge and make decisions. She says he will have to make his own decision to really fight this disease. I hold Terry's hand and ask if she has told Steve this. She hasn't, but she knows the time has come to tell him she can no longer be in charge of his illness. I suggest they seek counseling and find a cancer support group. Hopefully, the support and encouragement of others living with cancer will benefit them both.

I feel sorry for Terry. She and Steve were married in 1995, and that same year, Terry lost her father to lung cancer. His illness was advanced and the treatment he received was extreme and eventually, lethal. Sadly, she says her father was never given treatment options. His death is still a very painful memory for her. Not long after her father died, Terry's mother, who had successfully overcome breast cancer, died suddenly of a massive stroke. Then, Steve was diagnosed with lung cancer. Terry is justifiably on emotional overload. I tell her that though it certainly doesn't seem fair to have so much piled on her shoulders, I believe that God knows how much a person can bear and maybe that's why some of us seem to be assigned such overwhelming burdens.

Steve hands me a check for the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour before we leave. I have asked him to make a phone call to MD Andersen, and to find a local cancer support group. I don't know if Steve will follow through. I think Terry needs to have the conversation with Steve that she is dreading. She wants to help him, but she can do no more without his commitment and involvement. Caregivers and supporting partners can only do so much. It is frustrating for me to see patients chose not to take control, but I recognize that choosing not to be in control is a valid choice that must be respected.

January 10, 1999: Tonight, we are staying in Dillon, South Carolina at South Of The Border, a 50's motel that is basically the eastern version of Wall Drug in South Dakota. I stayed here once as a teenager and was most impressed with the fake Mexican decor, pink flamingoes, and tacky tourist atmosphere. Though the rooms and the individual covered car ports outside your door have remained unchanged, the complex has greatly expanded to include a small amusement park, El Drug Store, Pedro's Diner, several cafes, an African Shop, and lots of molded fiberglass animal statues like Wall Drug. Ben has never been below North Carolina, so this is quite the experience for him. He takes several photos of my car next to some giant pink flamingoes. The place is deserted and we figure it must be off-season at this huge rambling neon shrine to faux-Mexicana.

January 13, 1999: Today, we arrived in Orlando after two overnight stops, Savannah, GA and St. Augustine Beach, FL. We had never been to Savannah and though our stay was brief, we enjoyed walking the historic riverfront district. We thought St. Augustine Beach was lovely. There really isn't much of a beach except at low tide, and a sea wall has been built in front of many of the hotels and oceanfront properties. I imagine that during hurricane season, many of the homes must be in peril as they are built right next to the seawall. The weather has become increasingly warmer. Though the south has been in a bit of a cold spell, it is warming up this week. Savannah felt balmy with temperatures in the high 60's. St. Augustine was warmer yet, and Orlando is in the 70's by the time we arrive in the early afternoon.

We drive directly to the show site at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. We search out the event coordinator, Ed, who shows us to our potential booth and display site. The tent has not been set up yet and there is a possibility that we may be assigned to another spot tomorrow. Vendors are just beginning to set up, and we have the time to visit with a few of our vendor friends that we met last year. Nancy, of Perky Vettes, asks how Lurk is doing! She has been following my column on the Internet, so she knows what is going on in my life. Perky Vettes sells beautiful embroidered Corvette shirts and jackets. Their booth is always popular and crowded, and this may be our only chance to talk to them.

Nancy tells me that they want to do something to help the Tour. Either by making a special shirt that we can sell or some other way to help us raise funds. I will be thinking about this the next few days and hoping to come up with a good idea that will work for both of us. We also chat with Gary and Sharon from NCRS, the organization that is hosting the show. They have a huge tent filled with books, car models, NCRS hats and shirts, and all sorts of items for sale.

We leave the Sports Complex and drive to our hotel in Kissimmee which is conveniently located within two miles of the show site. The Kissimmee area is filled with hotels, restaurants and stores all catering to the crowds that come to Disney World. It is a very busy place, day or night. I can't imagine what this area must be like during school vacation week.

January 14, 1999: We arrive at the show site early this morning to confirm where we will set up our booth and display. Bill, one of the show officials, meets us and takes us around to view several potential sites for our booth. After a quick conference with Bill and Ed, the event coordinator, we decide to park our car at the entrance to the vendor area. It's a highly visible spot and we can put our table display next to the car. The only drawback is there is no tent or canopy for this spot. It's clear and warm now, so we will gamble that the weather will continue to cooperate. If not, we can move the table to a nearby tent. Bill says the rain is all gone now, but I've heard that line before.

Today, vendors are still arriving and setting up. Corvette Mike, our Tour sponsor, will also be taking several booth spaces, so we expect to see him later today or tomorrow. Tonight, there will be a private reception for NCRS members. We are invited and that will be an opportunity for us to meet many of the show participants.

As I sit at our booth writing this column on my laptop computer, Ben is cleaning my car and using touch up paint on some of our little road scars, the inevitable tiny stone chips. I have put a couple of signs on my car to amuse and intrigue the Corvette audience. One sign says that my Corvette is probably the highest mileage C-5 Corvette in existence, the C-5 being the model designation for 1997-1999 Corvettes. In fact, we just turned over 40,000 miles on the odometer when we passed through South Carolina. The other more interesting sign reads, "Want a test drive? Let's talk a donation...". This has created quite a stir and I think I may get some takers.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)