Lincoln County News
July 29, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my frustration with rising tumor marker levels and clinical trials put on hold. My car wins big at the drag races and the review team returns to Graziano's. It's "meet my readers" week and Leaping Lurk becomes Limping Lurk.

July 16, 1999: Today is Inacom Drag Racing Day at Oxford Plains Speedway. Inacom, the company that Ben works for, was challenged by a competing firm, Downtime Computers, to an afternoon of drag racing. Cars and motorcycles from both firms will race for fun and trophies. The two companies have hired the track for the afternoon and arranged for a catered lunch.

In preparation for race day, I asked Chuck Mallett, a well-known Corvette race car driver for some driving tips. He advised us to change the tire pressure settings, empty out the cargo area, and fill the gas tank. We've followed his instructions and are ready to race.

We arrive at the track at noontime in 96 degree heat, not a good day to be out on the hot asphalt. Nearly twenty Inacom employees have brought their cars or motorcycles. Downtime has fewer representatives, but owner, Ted, is a veteran Oxford drag racer. He is driving an intimidating black Camaro with a modified engine, fancy lettering, and racing tires known as "slicks". Ted checks out the Corvette Mike and Mallett Racing stickers on my car. I sense that he thinks my car may be a real contender, even though it's never been raced.

Ben has been looking forward to race day with great anticipation. A former professional drag racer in the 1960's, Ben has never lost interest in the sport. It has been nearly 30 years since he last raced and his reaction time is probably not as sharp, but his instincts and experience are still intact.

The track officials hand out release forms to sign and tech inspection forms to fill out. The track crew will inspect every vehicle to make sure it is safe for racing. I have drag raced a few times in the past, so I fill out a form, just in case I decide to race. Women's reaction times tend to be quicker than men's, though inexperience in driving skills can easily negate that benefit. I am having some leg pain from my bone tumors, so I will take a pain pill, spectate and be a reserve driver. Today is Ben's day to play and enjoy himself. Meanwhile, I will have fun watching all the boys and their toys.

Though track officials predict only two time trials (practice runs) apiece, Ben manages to do five with very good reaction times. Despite the oppressive heat, my car is running extremely well and very consistently. Ben has been running the 1/8th mile track at around 80 mph. in 9.12 to 9.38 seconds. The times would be faster if the weather was cooler. Ben knows from experience how to stage a car at the starting line. I watch from the base of the timing tower, so I can observe his starts. Two of the track officials comment on how quickly and effortlessly my car leaves the starting line. Not bad for a daily driver with over 51,000 miles on it.

The actual races, or eliminations as they're called, include vehicles ranging from a Geo Metro to a Nissan Maxima, a Ford pick-up truck with cap, an MR-2, a Mitsubishi, three Harley motorcycles, two Corvettes, Ted's race car, and basically everyone's daily driver! Everyone is evenly matched using a bracket racing system, so even Metros can race against Corvettes. You choose the time you expect to run, based on the time you ran in time trials. For instance, Ben chose a 9.12 which matched his best time during time trials. This number is called your "dial in" and is posted on the window of your car. The key is to choose a time that closely matches what you've been running. At the starting line, the starter "dials" your time and that of your opponent into the computerized timing light system. The lights are then automatically programmed for each vehicle, and the cars with the higher times (the slower cars) receive a handicap with their lights starting first. The first car to cross the finish line is usually the winner, but not always. A red light, which occurs by leaving the starting line before the light turns green, is an automatic disqualification. Also, a driver can "break out" of their bracket. If you run faster than your dial-in time, you are disqualified, even if you cross the finish line first.

With each race, Ben becomes more focused and intent. He runs against his boss, Bob, in his 1996 Corvette and beats him three times. Then he beats his boss's Harley motorcycle twice. During time trials, Bob manages to eke out one win on his Harley. In eliminations, Ben defeats five competitors to capture the title of Top Eliminator and the first place trophy. By the end of the afternoon, I am more concerned about Ben beating his boss five times than his winning Top Eliminator.

Ben's boss is having the time of his life. He is running around like a little kid going from one toy to the next, switching from his 1996 Corvette to his Harley motorcycle. Even though eliminations are over, he keeps challenging Ben to another race. Bob narrowly loses two more times to Ben. Fortunately, he is being a good sport and loving every minute. I suspect that Drag Day will become a regular company outing.

On our way home, we meet Paul and Sue at Graziano's in Lisbon for our weekly review. It is a welcome relief from the heat to wait in their air conditioned lounge. Tonight, Graziano's isn't overly crowded, probably because of the heat. The owner, Joe, comes over to chat with us and talk about my Corvette.

Not being very hungry, I order spaghetti and meatballs. It's delicious and I still have plenty of left-overs to take home. I could easily make a meal out of just the Italian bread and the house salad with Graziano's fantastic homemade Italian dressing! Paul orders the baked ziti, one of his favorites, and Sue has a seafood pasta with shrimp and scallops. Ben selects a veal in a light caper sauce. Ben and I pass on dessert, but Paul and Sue can't resist sharing a tiramisu. Living so far away from Graziano's, sadly our visits are few and far between.

July 19, 1999: Today, I am taking Lurk to the vet because he's been limping the past few days. I suspect he took a flying leap off my dresser and sprained his leg. Lurk often makes flying leaps to open windows or off the dresser onto my bed. Lurk is 15 and not particularly agile in his old age. He has sprained his leg in the past while attempting similar weight-defying acrobatics.

The vet thinks it's a sprain, a soft tissue or tendon injury, and not a broken bone. She wraps the wrist of Lurk's right leg in purple vet wrap, a kind of self-adhesive ace bandage. She puts some bitter orange on it to discourage him from chewing on the bandage. The vet says that even if the bandage only stays in place for 48 hours, it should help. Lurk is quite good about the whole procedure, but returns home hobbling even more due to the weight of his cast. He looks pathetic and forlorn. I tell him that we both getting old and have bone problems.

July 21, 1999: This week must be "meet my readers" week. Ben and I went to Karen's Restaurant for breakfast on Sunday. We went earlier than usual and found the restaurant packed and the tables full. I was searching for seats when a woman called to me. It was Angela, one of my MA readers and a fellow breast cancer survivor I met last year. She and her family spend a week camping in Maine every summer. She e mailed me a month ago to ask for restaurant recommendations from my list of reviews! Angela hoped to connect with me in Maine, but thought I was out on Tour. So, this was a pleasant surprise. We all sat down to breakfast and had a wonderful visit.

Today, I met one of my CT readers, Jinny, for lunch at King Eider's. She summers in New Harbor and has written me beautiful letters on a regular basis. It was very exciting to finally meet a pen pal in person. What a delightful, intelligent lady! Earlier in the day, a clerk at Rite Aid in Damariscotta recognized me from my photo with Lurk. Then, after lunch. when I went to get my hair cut at Profiles in Waldoboro, two ladies recognized me and told me how much they enjoyed reading my column. I told them nobody will recognize me now after my hair cut.

On a depressing note, this is also medical update week. Dr. Bunnell finally returned my calls yesterday. I asked him about the LHRH hormonal injection and he said it would be of no help to me. He has only used the injections in pre-menopausal women, and said he had seen no data about the drug's effectiveness in post-menopausal women. He also informed me that both the cancer vaccine and the 5-FU oral chemo trials have been put on hold. The chemo trial did not pass the Review Board at Farber. It has been returned to Bunnell and his associates to make changes. He can re-submit the modified trial for consideration next month. This leaves me with no clinical trial treatment options for at least another month. Regarding the Endostatin trial, Bunnell said that a preliminary qualification sheet has been drawn up, and I do not meet the acceptance criteria. I told Bunnell I will phone him next month to see what might be available treatment-wise.

This afternoon, I phone Dr. Tom's to get my blood test results. Cindy tells me that my CBC is fine except for the lower than normal white cell count, which is normal for me. My tumor marker levels are not good. They have risen from 384 in May to 569 now. I was disappointed as I actually feel better now than when the last test was taken in May. Between Dr. Bunnell's discouraging news about the hormonal injections and clinical trials, and my tumor levels continuing to rise, I am frustrated and unsure of what to do next for treatment.

I will be visiting my family in New Jersey for the next two weeks. This will be a much needed sanity break from doctors and my medical situation. Ben will drive me down to my parent's house in Barnegat Light this Saturday. I look forward to relaxing and seeing all of my family, and drawing on their emotional support to help me make some tough decisions about my future treatment plans.

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