Lincoln County News
January 29, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my second round of chemotherapy treatment which occurred during the Great Ice Storm of 1998.

Jan. 7th: Day 1 of Chemo Round 2: Terrible ice storms blanket the state of Maine today. Ben drives me to my friend Bobbye's house in Brunswick. She takes me over to the hospital for my blood count. It's 4300 and that's a go. Bobbye then drops me off at Tom's office and goes off to run errands. Tom's office looks like Grand Central Station. Patients who have put off visits and treatments over Christmas are now all lined up. Every chemo and examining room is filled to overflowing. The ice storm causes a brief power blip at the office for about 10 minutes.

Treatment is over by early afternoon and Bobbye picks me up and brings me back to her house. I always feel so comfortable and relaxed with Bobbye because she takes full charge like a Mother Hen and pampers me. I feel like I am five years old again and my grandmother is doting over my every little ache and sniffle.

Bobbye, was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and I swear it is just truly ingrained in her to be the ultimate Southern hostess. She prepares a lunch that even I can manage to eat despite the nausea, and then she tucks me into a sofa in her den for a comfortable nap until Ben picks me up. Despite Bobbye's deluxe treatment, it's still another long exhausting 10 hour day before I arrive home.

Jan. 8th: Day 2 of Chemo Round 2: The terrible ice storms continue and I can't find a driver to take me to Brunswick, so Ben has to take off from work. Half the state is without power, shelters are being opened and a state of emergency is declared. We lose power at home for only an hour, so we are very lucky. I am worried where we will go if we lose power. We have no woodstove or other back-up heating system or generator. I cannot go to a shelter being so ill and having a seriously compromised immune system. With my lingering respiratory tract infection, I should not be exposed to large numbers of people. I suppose Tom would check me into the hospital.

We arrive at Tom's office to find no heat and power. It is 60 degrees inside. I bundle up in my parka, sweater and blankets. Cindy works by flashlight to start my chemo and IV's. It's a slow process in the dark and cold and I shiver through three hours of treatment.

Jan. 9th: Day 3 of Chemo Round 2: The ice storm rages on. Libby was supposed to drive me today, but I tell her to stay put in Waldoboro. Ben has to take off from work again to drive me to Brunswick. We arrive to a 60 degree office again with no heat or light. Due to the weather, few people have ventured in to Tom's office. I bundle up in sweaters, parka and blanket again.

Cindy is off today and an IV nurse from the hospital is filling in. My hands are so cold, it is difficult to find a vein that shows. We try rubbing my hands to warm them. Finally, the nurse locates a small vein on the top of my left hand. The vein is so small that the IV is dripping very slowly, far slower than normal. This bodes for a long difficult treatment.

After the saline and Kytril drip is finished, she readies the syringe of Adriamycin. Immediately after administering the Adria and a short flush of saline and Ativan, the small vein blows and gives out, puffing up the skin on my hand and pooling the drugs underneath the skin. The nurse immediately pulls the IV. This is an emergency situation. Should any of the Adriamycin leak out of the vein, it can cause a 2nd and 3rd degree burn to the surrounding tissue.

The nurse immediately calls Cindy at home and pages Tom. The pharmacy people run over with flashlights to locate a special emergency kit of a topical solution to be applied to the affected area. It takes 30 minutes to locate the kit. The nurse then starts a new IV in my other arm to finish the remaining drugs of my treatment. Tom arrives and decides that the area must be treated preventively, because we cannot be sure that some of the Adriamycin may have leaked from the vein. The solution and a protective pad is to be applied to the site every 6 hours. So far, I have no burning or pain, which is a good sign. The swelling under the skin may only be saline and Ativan, we hope.

I am miserable and freezing and ready to break down in tears after this ordeal. Tom, the nurse and Julie the office assistant look on helplessly. The ice storm has taken its toll on all of us and we are frustrated. I leave the office with a supply of solution and dressings to care for the affected area. Tom says he'll call daily to check up on me.

I arrive home to find an e mail from my daughter, Christy. She says she is driving up from Boston to help me for the weekend. This is the bright point of my day. I tell her to drive carefully on the ice and by 4:30 she is at my door. I am so thankful to have her extra help and care. She brings flowers, food and love. Ben has been doing double duty the past few days and is not able to easily balance the extra chores of driving, caring for me, cooking and cleaning, in addition to his work. It is also a relief to come home to a warm house with heat and lights and now I have the extra attention of my daughter.

Jan. 11th: Ben starts my 10 days of Neupagen shots today. I hope that the agitation and hyperactivity that occurred last time, won't reappear. Christy departs this afternoon and leaves me with a refrigerator full of prepared meals. Having my daughter here for two days was sheer pleasure. With the storm and the chemo, I am feeling the effects of isolation. I long for visits from my friends and talks on the phone. Yet, on the other hand, I feel so nauseated and tired, I'm not much company for anyone.

My mother has been calling me now at least once a week to check on me. This is a change from our past rather irregular communications. Her voice is soft and filled with concern and for the first time in many years, she tells me she loves me. We end our calls now each time with these words, renewing a bond that I hope will support us both through the times to come.

Ben checks in with several of our friends by phone today to update them on my status. It surprises me how many are unaware of how ill I have been or what exactly has been going on. I suspect that many are afraid and don't want to know. My friends know me as a strong willed, organized person who rarely asks for help. They are used to seeing me overcome incredible situations during my on-going bout with cancer. I am no longer the superwoman they may imagine me to be. Two years and repeated surgeries, 7 months of chemotherapy and now the current much more heavy duty chemo regimen are taking their toll.

Ben expects me to be the strong one, the anchor, the role I have always played in our relationship since we first met. We are polar opposites. I suppose opposites attract and maybe the fiery sparks of confrontation have made our relationship exciting and unpredictable. Ben also gives me much space and independence, which I relish. We have had a rocky relationship over the past 30 years. We have been separated twice, the most recent being almost a full year from Dec. 1996 until early Oct. 1997.

It is ironic how life sometimes works. In the first week of Oct., Ben and I agreed to get back together and make a serious effort to work on our marriage. Ben moved back into the house and we had less than one week to "work on our problems" when the recurrent cancer news struck. What is God telling us? What is important here? One thing is for very sure. I am relieved to know that Ben returned by his own choosing, and not because he had to come back to care for his cancer-stricken wife.

I am beginning to realize that circumstances have changed. Right now, I can no longer be the organizer, the strong one, the caregiver. It is time for Ben, my family and my friends to take over these roles. As I heal, so may Ben's and my relationship heal. I am tired, weak from chemo and an infection and disoriented by all the drugs. Sometimes, I forget if I have taken my pills and some days I don't know what day it is. I can laugh at this. My brain may be fried on chemo, but I know that someday things will be better. I won't always be doing this chemo thing. So, for now I sit back, relax and tell people I am "retired". Better days are yet to come.

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