Lincoln County News
July 15, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes visits with family, friends and fellow cancer patients on our way back from Bloomington. I return home tired, but encouraged by news of a new treatment option.

June 28, 1999: The Bloomington Show is over, and we are stopping in Effingham, IL before heading back East. Today, we are visiting Mid America Designs, the largest catalog supplier of Corvette parts and accessories. During last year's Tour, we met Mike Yager, owner of Mid America, and his staff members Janice and Tom.

Mid America hosts the large September Funfest Show which we attended last year. During the event, I conducted a cancer awareness evening for Mid America employees, Funfest guests and members of the community. Dr. Philip Dy, a local oncologist, assisted me with the program. It was well-received and we are planning to repeat it at this year's Funfest.

Over a casual business lunch, Mike reviews plans for Funfest and shows us a videotape of Denny Dent, a well-known performing artist who paints portraits to music. Denny will be performing live at Funfest. It should be very exciting. I saw Denny on the Today Show and his performance was absolutely incredible. My cancer awareness program will pale in comparison, but it is equally important to add an element of education to the festivities. We discuss inviting Dr. Dy back and involving the local unit of the American Cancer Society.

Ben and I meet with Dr. Dy at his clinic in Effingham this afternoon. Philip has been very busy with his practice, and his wife just had their second child a few weeks ago. He has been in Effingham over a year now and is beginning to miss the big city and the teaching hospitals. Philip moved from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia where he led a busy schedule and enjoyed teaching students at the medical center. He confides that he has been receiving offers to return to Philadelphia, as well as offers from other areas including Maine. Philip and his wife want to raise their family in a rural environment. A tough choice to make between the big city and the teaching hospitals, and life in rural America.

Philip and I discuss Funfest and he agrees to assist in a cancer awareness evening. He said he thoroughly enjoyed participating in last year's program. Philip asks how I am doing and I give him my medical update. He thinks that I have done quite well on hormonal therapy. He also comments that I am looking very good despite my aches and pains. He asks if my doctors have considered using other hormonal drugs instead of chemotherapy which he thinks will drag me down energy-wise. I explain that I tried two new hormonal drugs and had an allergic reaction to them. He suggests that I might consider injections of a hormonal drug known as LHRH angonist. He explains that this drug has been used very successfully in prostate cancer patients, and is now being used to treat breast cancer. The injections are given once a month or once every three months. Philip thinks it's worth discussing with Tom. He also mentions a new bone strengthening drug called Zoledronate, a much stronger form of Aredia. He says this may be an option for me if the Aredia loses its effectiveness.

I leave Dr. Dy's office feeling excited that there may be treatment options for me other than chemotherapy or a clinical trial. I have kept in touch with Philip by phone during the past year, and welcome his input. He is an expert on breast cancer and pain management. I feel fortunate to have so many skilled physicians working with me. Some folks may feel confused by having several different medical opinions, but I appreciate having a variety of information to weigh and consider.

July 1, 1999: Today, we are visiting Ben's parents and aunt in Philadelphia. His parents are doing fine and still live in the same house where Ben grew up. They recently had to give up their car and driving privileges, but they have worked out an arrangement with a live-in lady who drives them on errands as needed. They also have assistance with cleaning and upkeep of the property as well as a bookkeeper who manages financial details. Though it took some time to adapt to these changes, his parents have the comfort of living in their own home and can continue to enjoy their church and neighborhood activities.

Ben's Aunt Libbs is 92 and lives in an assisted living facility. She has severe osteoporosis and recently broke her collarbone in a fall. She is now recovering in the facility's health center and we stopped by to visit her. Poor Libbs is heavily sedated due to the pain from her fracture and extensive bone deterioration. I am not sure she knew who we were, not because of senility, but because of the fog from the painkillers. She told us that everything looked fuzzy. She kept up a running conversation and asked us a lot of questions. Sitting there in her recliner chair, she looked like a small frail young girl innocently asking questions. I'm not sure why this impression came to me. This may be the last time I see Libbs. If it is, I will like remembering her as this little girl. I shouldn't say things like "seeing someone for the last time". I bet plenty of people have said that about me.

After leaving Libbs, we drive a few towns over to visit with our friend Steve who has lung cancer. Steve and his wife, Terry, were supposed to visit us in Maine next week, however, Steve is having medical problems and canceled the trip. Steve recently had a morphine pump implanted in his side. The pump, the size and shape of a hockey puck, administers morphine in small doses to control his bone pain. Like me, Steve's cancer has metastasized to his bones. It has affected his spine and hips, making walking painful. The doctors are currently fine-tuning and regulating his morphine pump. He is still having pain, so more adjustments need to be made. I tell Steve not to despair. I suggest they visit us later this summer or Fall, once his pump is working properly. These computerized pump devices can work wonders, but frequently they need a month or two of fine-tuning to fit the individual's needs. I leave Steve's house thinking that he, Libbs and I have become experts on bone pain.

July 2, 1999: On our way home, we visit another friend and fellow cancer survivor, Elaine, and her husband, Harry. I want to assure my readers that not all of my friends are cancer patients, but the odds of getting cancer today are such that half our friends and family members will eventually get cancer. We met Elaine and Harry at the Carlisle Corvette Show last year. Elaine has been diagnosed twice with breast cancer in the past two years. Her cancers were caught very early and did not require chemotherapy or radiation. She chose to have mastectomies and breast reconstruction and looks just wonderful. She is a very vibrant, outgoing woman, a perfect poster-lady for breast cancer survivors. I would love to have her join me out on Tour as she relates well with everyone.

I told Elaine that I really don't want to be seen with her anymore as I have gained 20 lbs. on the Megace drug and Elaine is thin and svelte with upper body perfection thanks to a top New York City plastic surgeon. Elaine wanted to reward her surgeon with extra work, so she opted for a freshening up of her face! I am not sure what was done, but when I saw her today, Elaine looked great and I looked about 15 years older and 50 lbs. heavier. The wonderful thing about any "perk-me-up", whether it's a new hairstyle or cosmetic surgery, is what it does for you psychologically. Harry says Elaine feels like a young girl. All the more power to her as she deserves to do things for herself. Harry takes me aside to tell me that Elaine is very happy. He confides that even though they have been married for 21 years, the two cancer episodes have brought them much closer together. Illness or any crisis can test a relationship, but couples can use adversity as a means of growth and enrichment. There is something to be said for weathering a storm together.

Harry and Elaine live in north Jersey. We are spending the night with them and going out to Baumgartner's for dinner. This restaurant in Ridgewood features gourmet Chinese food and a soda fountain with fantastic ice cream, a unique combination! We had Mango Chicken, Chinese dumplings, a spicy calamari and shrimp dish, spicy wontons, and Chinese duck topped off with ice cream sodas!

We also get some quality cat time with Elaine and Harry's three cats: Eddie, Gingy and Sammie. I am missing Lurk, but our trip has been filled with cats. Yesterday, we stopped in Princeton to have lunch with my sister, Mary Ann. It was so good to see her and her cat, Garbo. Named for her penchant for seclusion, Garbo has become more friendly and outgoing in her old age. Though I refer to her as Lurk's cousin, there's no family resemblance as Garbo is of Russian Blue extraction and Lurk is a domestic short-haired gray tiger.

July 3, 1999: Elaine and Harry have begged us to stay another day, but we are anxious to get home. I am exhausted and my bones are hurting. We arrive home in time to have dinner at Canfield's and to pick up Lurk who looks content and well-fed. Mary Ann said that Lurk and her cat, Princess, took turns eating out of each other's dishes and gobbling up large amounts of dry cat food. Lurk feels less bony and I am sure he has gained weight during his two weeks at fat camp.

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