Lincoln County News
July 8, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our five day Tour appearance in Bloomington, IL at Bloomington Gold, one of the largest national Corvette events.

June 25, 1999: Bloomington Gold is in full swing. We have our booth display set up in the main lobby of the Interstate Exhibition Center, with our car on display just outside. Bloomington Gold is one of the largest Corvette shows in the country. It features a huge car auction, thousands of vendors, the famous Road Tour (a parade of over 1600 Corvettes) and its premier purpose: a judged show where Corvettes vie for Bloomington Gold, the ultimate certification for Corvettes.

Many of the people we met on the road last year are stopping by our booth to say hello and to see how I am doing. It's a delight to sit at my table and have everyone come by to visit. Last year, I spent much of my time making connections, introducing myself to the Corvette business and show community, and explaining my mission and purpose. Now, I am well-known, a celebrity of sorts. It is very exciting to be in demand, as all of the show coordinators are coming by to review plans for our upcoming appearances at their events. Reluctantly, I have limited this season's Tour schedule to five big shows. I don't have the energy and stamina to do 3 1/2 months on the road again like last year. Also, my upcoming treatment schedule will probably require that I be close to home. Despite trying to stick to my limited schedule, I allow our NCRS friend, Steve, to talk me into doing the NCRS Regional Meet in Woburn, MA. It is a 3 day show, but I figure I will do the final day, July 10. The meet is only three hours from home and we can visit our daughter, Christy, who lives only 15 minutes from the show site.

Many fellow cancer survivors that I met last year stop by to say hello. I get updates from Sandy and Sharon, both Corvette vendors and breast cancer survivors. Sandy is almost one year past treatment and looking radiant and healthy. Sharon is 14 or 15 years out and doing just fine. She retired from teaching this past year and we chat about adapting to major change in our lives. I also meet several cancer survivors that are four and 5 years out from their diagnosis, who share their optimism and enthusiasm about beating cancer. A strapping young firefighter with a short blond crew cut comes by to make a donation and tell me that he's nearly finished treatment for lymphoma. He confides that his cancer was found during a routine yearly physical and boasts that he has kept working throughout his chemotherapy. I also meet Doug, an assistant for Bill Locke's Special Bloomington Collection, a display of 25 very rare Corvettes, some worth a quarter of a million dollars. Doug tells me about his battle with prostate cancer. He finished treatment over a year ago and is now back at work full-time.

Doug also has the privilege of chauffeuring Elfi Duntov around in a golf cart. Elfi is the First Lady of Corvettes. Her late husband, Zora Arkus Duntov, is acknowledged as the father of the Corvette. Zora passed away of cancer in 1996. Elfi and I became acquainted last year at Bloomington and have remained in close touch. Elfi is in much demand as a Corvette celebrity, and she spends hours patiently signing autographs. She tells me that she still can't believe that Zora is gone. She misses him terribly, but by attending these events and meeting so many Corvette owners, she is keeping Zora's dream alive. I tell Elfi that I am sure Zora is very proud of her for carrying on his mission. Zora loved Corvettes and sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow Corvette owners. Though Elfi is well into her eighties, she maintains a rigorous schedule that puts me to shame.

I also hear some sad news from two of my Bloomington friends. Cathy, a staff member, lost her mother to breast cancer. She writes a donation check and tearfully shares the grief of her recent loss. Tom, a vendor I met last year at Bloomington, is struggling to keep the faith. His wife, Ellen, whom I visited in Cincinnati last July, has been battling breast cancer for 16 years. Tom describes her current medical problem of fluid build-up in her abdomen. She has had so much chemo, that Tom describes her as "a walking chemical dump". He is very frustrated and worried and confides that he's afraid that Ellen will not live past Christmas. I try to console him and ask if he and Ellen have discussed " arrangements". He shakes his head "no", but admits that now may be the time to have this talk. His says his daughters have not fully accepted their mother's situation and perhaps he needs to have a frank discussion with them as well. Regardless of anyone's state of health, it is wise to discuss funeral arrangements. It is so much easier to make arrangements in advance when you can discuss the personal wishes of those involved.

June 26, 1999: Today, I am cat sitting at my booth! I am cat sitting Doodle, short for Deuteronomy, who belongs to one of my vendor friends, Nancy. Doodle is a 9 year old male Siamese with a kidney problem. A couple of weeks ago, he underwent IV treatments. His two little front legs are shaved where he had his IV's. Nancy was afraid to leave him at home, so Doodle traveled with them in their vendor trailer all the way from MD. Nancy had an indoor booth the first day, but now she has an outdoor booth space in the hot sun. I suggest that Doodle might be better off indoors at my booth in the air conditioned lobby. Besides, I can use some quality cat time as I am missing Lurk terribly.

Nancy arrives around 9 am. with Doodle in a cardboard box. She has dishes for water and dry food, plus a small litter box. Doodle is dressed up in a harness leash looking very chipper. He immediately checks out the space under my table as well as the National Corvette Museum's booth next door. Stephanie from the Museum loves cats, so she is happy to have Doodle sniffing around and visiting. I tell Nancy not to worry, Doodle is in good hands. He sits on my lap for awhile, then eats a few bites, uses his litter box, and eventually wanders over to visit with Stephanie. As more people crowd into the Exhibition Hall, the noise level increases and Doodle becomes nervous. Some security people with squawking pagers are standing next to my booth. That's about all poor Doodle can handle and he frantically paws at a closed door behind my table. Not able to gain access, he dives into a stack of boxes between my booth and Stephanie's. He crawls into a box in the center of the pile and curls up in a ball. In minutes, he's fast asleep. That's the last we see of Doodle in public until Ben returns him to Nancy at the end of the day.

The strangest thing happened to me today. A man came up to me and said, "I have your old car outside". I stared at him, not comprehending how this stranger could possibly know about my former cars. He smiled and said, "the black and red Corvette". He told me it was in the back parking lot and I was welcome to open the doors and hood and check it out. Then, like an apparition, he disappeared! I sat for a minute not certain that this conversation actually took place. The man had to be referring to "Velvet", my black '63 Corvette with a red interior that I sold in April 1998 to finance my new Corvette. I had owned Velvet for 21 years and it nearly broke my heart to sell her. I knew that I couldn't do a 3 1/2 month road Tour in my old car with no air conditioning and little trunk space. So, with much sadness, I put her up for sale and interviewed potential new owners. Velvet went to a man in Seymour, IN, not the man who was standing at my table. A million thoughts ran through my mind. Should I go out to the parking lot and look for Velvet? Would it only upset me if I saw her?

When Ben came back to our booth, I told him about the stranger and asked him to tend our display while I went out to look for my old car in the giant sea of Corvettes parked in the huge general parking area. I figured chances were remote of finding it. I walked for 1/4 of a mile and looked up one long row and saw just the nose of a black '63. As I got closer, I recognized her distinctive mag wheels and red paint highlights. I patted her fenders and spoke softly to Velvet, who now has a number plate and no name. Though her paint still shines flawlessly, she has changed. Her red velvet interior is gone and replaced with red vinyl seat covers and door panels. She looks like any other '63 now, not my distinctive Velvet. The new owner has added his own personal touches such as chrome wheel spinners and a few chrome dress-up items in the engine compartment. I notice a For Sale sign in the window. I don't know if Velvet recognizes me, but I hope she does. I wonder if she has come looking for me. Maybe she wants me to buy her back, but I cannot afford two Corvettes.

I head back to the Interstate Center quickly, not daring to look back over my shoulder. I ask Ben to go out and take photos of Velvet. Just as I settle back into my routine, the stranger appears again. He writes his name, address and e mail address in my Memory Book. He tells me he bought my car last January from a dealer in Indiana. At some point, he learned that the car's former owner was the lady leading to the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour! Apparently, my car has changed hands twice since last April. The current owner says he's having some financial difficulties, so he's thinking of selling it. He tells me his price and I know he will have great difficulty in selling the car for that amount. I ask him to keep in touch and let me know if the car sells.

When Ben comes back, I ask him what he thinks all this means. I am a believer in fate and signs. What were the odds of my old car appearing at Bloomington and its current owner searching me out? I worry that maybe Velvet is unhappy and wants me to buy her back. In my darkest thoughts, I think perhaps she has come to bid a final farewell to me. Ben and my Corvette friends assure me that Velvet, in her new persona, has stopped by to say hello and to show me that she is alive and well, and doing just fine.

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