Lincoln County News
January 7, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our Christmas visit with my family in NJ. My Corvette is photographed from head to toe, and Peg has her lucky day. My dad is slowly healing, but plagued with further problems. Devastating news about Lurk dampens our holiday.

December 24, 1998: Yesterday, Ben and I drove down in my Corvette to my sister, Peg's house in NJ. It is so good to be with my family over the holidays. Spanky, Peg's Jack Russell terrier, is running around and checking out all the gifts under the tree. He zeroes in on the dog toys that I have wrapped for him. Apparently, he can smell the rubber toys through the sealed plastic package and the wrapping paper. Peg has Spanky dressed up in a Christmas scarf. I have bought him a pair of stuffed felt reindeer antlers from Big Al's. They have a little bell hanging from one of the prongs, and are designed for pets or small kids. Peg straps the antlers to Spanky's head and he runs excitedly around the house before we finally entice him to sit for a few photos.

Christmas is a big eating fest at Peg's. She is an excellent cook and has baked a huge variety of Christmas cookies, candies and pans of her homemade lasagna. Lasagna is one of Peg's specialties that we usually have for Christmas dinner. She makes her own sauce from tomatoes from her garden, adds 5 different cheeses, Italian sausage and her homemade meatballs. It's probably 2000 calories a serving, but we love it.

Shortly after we arrived yesterday, it began snowing and it snowed through until early this afternoon. This is the first white Christmas in NJ since the 1980's. The snowstorm missed Maine, so it seems odd to have a white Christmas here and a brown one in Wiscasset.

December 25, 1998: Today is a picture-perfect Christmas Day with snow on the ground. I am thinking back to how I felt last Christmas. We were at Peg's and I had just finished my first round of high dose chemotherapy and was starting my daily injections of Nupagen. It was two weeks to the day from the start of my chemo. Cindy the nurse had predicted that my hair would fall out about two weeks after starting chemo. She was right on the mark. Huge hunks of my hair began falling out on Christmas Eve. Finally, on Christmas day, I had Peg's husband, Bill, hairdresser to the stars, shave off what little hair was left. It was very depressing.

Today, after a leisurely breakfast, we open our gifts. Peg has given me a small tabletop recirculating fountain. I plan to set this up in my office next to my computer. Perhaps it will relax me and inspire my writing.

December 26, 1998: Today, the New York photographer, Richard Prince, is taking photos of my Corvette for Chip Miller's company, Carlisle Productions, Chip's Collection, as well as for articles in Corvette Fever and Vette magazines. Richard has also been asked to get snow photos of Corvettes and we may be able to accommodate that request.

The weather is cold and the sky is gray with only hints of sun burning through the overcast. Richard says the bright red of my car and his camera filters will compensate for the lack of sunlight. We take photos alongside Carnegie Lake, in front of one of Princeton University's Clubs, and next to a historic farmhouse in the country. Richard even photographs the interior and engine compartment of my car, which are far from clean. Hopefully, his camera filters will filter out the dirt.

Tonight, Peg, Bill, Ben and I are joining our friends, Harry and Elaine, who are driving down from North Jersey to meet us for dinner. Elaine is a fellow breast cancer patient I met at Carlisle this past summer. We have kept in touch by e mail.

Elaine had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in October 1997. At Carlisle, she was celebrating being cancer free for nearly a year. She and Harry were looking forward to a November trip to Israel, her dream trip of a lifetime. Unfortunately, cancer often throws you a curveball. Elaine's routine check up and mammogram in September revealed microcalcifications in her other breast. A biopsy proved them to be malignant. Elaine was once again facing breast cancer and treatment options. She chose to have a 2nd mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery with a breast implant. Needless to say, her trip to Israel was cancelled.

Being a true trouper, Elaine came through her surgery with flying colors. Then, problems developed with the temporary implant that began leaking. Last week, Elaine returned to the hospital to have the temporary implant removed and replaced with a permanent one. Tonight, she is looking radiant and healthy. She and Harry have rescheduled their trip to Israel. Much like my summer cross-country Tour, I know Elaine will fulfill her dream trip of a lifetime.

December 27, 1998: Today, Ben leaves around 9 am. for his long drive back to Maine. Peg and I are headed to Barnegat Light to visit my parents and relieve my sister, Mary Ann, who has been helping out while my dad was in the hospital. We arrive around noon.

My mother looks good, though a little worn from the stress of the past few weeks. My father looks tired and seems slightly depressed. He has been having intermittent pain in his back and side, and not the side where he had his lung surgery. He is obviously worried and concerned about this latest development. My dad, the doctor, is focused on diagnosing his own problems. He is frustrated that in forty years of practice, he says he never had a patient with this bizarre lung fluid problem, which is now compounded by the mystery pain on the other side. My father is now waiting for his chest x-ray and doctor's appointment which is two days away.

December 28, 1998: Today, we are headed to Atlantic City to meet my parents' friends, Roger and Linda, at the casinos. My father insists on joining us for this outing, mostly as a distraction to his pain and worry. My mother convinces him to stop at the hospital on our way, so he can get his chest x-ray done a day early. When we arrive at the casino, dad wanders off to play his favorite poker slots where he never wins, but always manages to break even. My mother is the veteran slot player, who always seems to come out on the plus side. My parents go to Atlantic City every Tuesday. It is a form of fun and entertainment for them and their friends to play for the day, and enjoy the casino buffets.

I have been to the Atlantic City casinos only once before, and as before, I quickly lose all my quarters in the defective money changing machines. Peg, however, is always lucky. She walks up to a new machine called Slotopoly, puts in a few quarters and wins a $500 jackpot.

Knowing my luck or lack of it, I concentrate my energy on the fantastic dinner buffet at Trumps. My parents and their friends have free dinner credits for all of us. Linda tells me to think positively, and believe I am a winner. She says she's sure I'll win something after dinner. She's right. I look down at the floor next to my chair and see a large Alaskan King crab leg that has obviously fallen off of someone's plate. I suggest that should I slip and fall on this crab leg, I could probably sue the casino for about 2 million. That's the only way I would ever win money at a casino. Peg and I are laughing hysterically, so it is impossible for me to fake this accident. I wrap the crab leg in a napkin and stuff it in my purse. Later, the crab leg mysteriously appears in Peg's bed.

December 30, 1998: Good news! My dad's chest x-ray showed that the fluid has nearly disappeared, and his lung is fully inflated and in the correct position. The doctor ordered sonograms of my dad's kidney and gall bladder to rule out those areas as the source of the side and back pain. The test results were fine. The doctor suggests that the pain may be stress-related, such as an ulcer or perhaps muscular pain. He and my dad agree to keep an eye on it for a few days and treat it with anti-acids, a heating pad for the back and some minor pain medication.

Today is Ben's and my anniversary and we are spending it 450 miles apart. We plan to celebrate two weeks from now when we take the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour to Florida for a special appearance at Corvettes at Disney, a huge national Corvette Show.

Tonight, Ben e mailed me some heartbreaking news. Poor Lurk has a large tumor, probably cancerous, on his pancreas. Lurk has been acting his normal self, though recently he has been more finicky about eating, and has lost weight. At first, I attributed it to him being separated from us this summer, and all his Canfield's treats. I had asked Ben to take him to the vet this week to be checked. A blood test showed that Lurk had low blood sugar, and a subsequent x-ray revealed a tumor on the pancreas. For now, Lurk will be getting a twice-daily dose of a medication and vitamin mix. I plan to discuss Lurk's case in detail with our vet as soon as I return home. I am not certain if anything can be done for poor Lurk. Surgery is apparently out of the question. I will also do some research on possible treatments for his condition. Maybe Lurk could benefit from some of my cancer medications.

Lurk will be 15 years old in April, and he has always been a very healthy cat. I have told him in recent years, that I was sure he would outlive me. Now, it looks unlikely. I hope and pray that my dear Lurk may still have a few of his nine lives remaining.

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