Lincoln County News
July 16, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

June 26, 1998: Ben and I arrive at the show site at the Interstate Center in Bloomington, IL at 7 am. to set up our display booth. I cover our table with a bright red tablecloth that matches the color of my car. I have American Cancer Society pamphlets on breast and prostate cancer, plus general information pieces about cancer awareness. I put up our American Cancer Society signs and logos and make a temporary sign for our car, directing people to our booth inside the exhibit hall. Nancy has arranged to have a banner made for the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour, but it will not be ready until tomorrow. I put out our little promotional car models that Big Al gave us and a Route 66 trinket box that I bought. It is a ceramic box in the shape of an old diner. A red late 50's style Corvette is parked outside the diner. It was a marked down sale item that I found at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Ohio. The trinket boxes are made in China and the outside packaging is very amusing. Instead of saying "Route 66 Diner" on the outside of the cardboard box, it says "Route 66 Dinner". That should make it a real collector's item, though I plan to keep it, rather than sell it.

Speaking of diners and dinners, we are trying to uphold the rolling restaurant review, without the able assistance of Paul and Sue. Using the book they gave us, "Eating Your Way Across The USA", we found one of the suggested restaurants in Indianapolis, on our way to Bloomington. The Dodds Town House was everything it was cracked up to be: true heartland Americana. Ben and I had delicious crisp fried chicken and shared an incredible slice of homemade cherry pie, made from tart fresh cherries.

Today, is a busy day at Bloomington. Many folks stop by the table to pick up information sheets about the Tour, make donations and to sign my memory book. The book is rapidly filling up with the names of loved ones who have lost their lives to cancer, as well as those who have survived the disease. Many people also share their personal stories, both happy and sad. Some people are reluctant to talk to me at first, probably because of feeling awkward about such a personal experience. I coax them along with questions and soon they tell me about the details of their journey with cancer. Others commend me for what I am doing. One lady who had surgery for breast cancer over 14 years ago, tells me that she can never do what I am doing. She says she would like to forget that it happened because it scared her so much. She confides that she is glad that I am speaking out for people who are afraid to ask questions or to discuss cancer. Several men come over and describe their experiences. One man has a young niece battling a brain tumor. Another has an ex-wife who has successfully overcome stomach cancer.

Many of the messages in my memory book are particularly touching. One man wrote, "in honor of my wife, Kathy, who is a cancer survivor and through the power of love will live a happy, normal life". Another man whose wife was very ill wrote, "in continual support and prayers for my loving wife, Debbie. May her love, smile and caring for her family and friends be realized in all of us." When I read messages such as this, I know I am not alone on my journey and the reason for doing this Tour is made even more meaningful.

Corvette Mike stops by the table and we discuss my Tour. He hands me a Mobil gas card and tells me to charge all our gas on the Tour to him! He also says he will send me another donation check. I agree to put some Corvette Mike decals on my car. Mike has two stores, one in Anaheim, California and a new store in Plymouth, MA. He sells mostly pre-owned Corvettes and is now also getting into selling wheels and a few accessories. He says he will give me a new set of chrome wheels for my car. During our travels, we will make an appearance at both of his stores and the wheels can be installed at that time. Mike and I also review his newsletter which he mails to 15,000 Corvette enthusiasts. We will be handing these out at our booth displays. Mike only has a small supply of them left and is hoping for an overnight shipment to arrive tomorrow. Before Mike leaves, I have the opportunity to meet his manager and assistant from the Plymouth store. In discussing the newsletter and listening to Mike talk about his business, I am very impressed with how knowledgeable he is of the Corvette business. He has a keen eye and ear for details, yet he does not seem to micro-manage. He has chosen good people to work with him. I look forward to working with him and getting to know him better.

Ben and I take turns manning the table, so we each get a chance to see the rest of the show. There are many vendors and booth spaces, both inside and outside the hall. I am glad we are inside in the air conditioned hall. It is 95 degrees outside and when I went outside to look at the cars and visit other booths, I could barely catch my breath because of the high heat and humidity.

Ben wanders over to the car auction. There are five car auctions during Bloomington Gold. Some feature parts and lower priced project cars. The main auction will be Saturday night when some of the most valuable Corvettes in the world will come up on the auction block. It is rumored that one in particular could go for one million dollars. Ben sees Corvette Mike at the parts auction and talks to him for about ten minutes. Mike asks Ben about me and wants to know how I am really doing. He is concerned whether I am physically able to do the Tour and how I handle it all. Ben tells him that Corvette events and Corvette people kept me going, kind of an adrenaline rush which lasts most of the day. Then I crash at night.

I will not be able to crash early tonight. I have been asked to bring my car over to the Bloomington Relay For Life event at Bloomington High School. The Relay For Life is a national American Cancer Society fund-raising event held all over the country, usually in May or June. It is a 24 hour marathon of walking and running with teams collecting pledges. This is my second Relay event in a month. I attended the Relay For Life at Wiscasset High School in May. The Bloomington Relay is huge with 114 teams and a goal of $250,000! The field is mobbed when I arrive. We drive the car onto the infield of the track. After walking the Survivor's Lap, I am asked to take the microphone and address the crowd. I give a two minute speech about my Tour and the importance of the Relay events in terms of raising funds for cancer research and control. I emphasize my message of hope and optimism for fellow cancer patients and survivors. It brings a rousing response from the crowd, all of whom have been touched by this disease.

June 27, 1998: More people are at Bloomington today. Saturday is the big day! Many more folks stop by my booth, including Elfi Duntov, widow of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the founding father of the Chevrolet Corvette. Zora died two years ago from cancer. Elfi is a remarkable woman. She was Zora's devoted and constant companion, and her loss and sadness is evident in both her words and the message that she writes in my memory book. It must be difficult for Elfi to attend these Corvette events that Zora so loved. Elfi reminds me that without Zora, there would be no events like this. She is absolutely right. It was an honor and privilege for me to meet and talk to the First Lady of Corvettes.

A man shyly approaches my booth and takes a big breath as if getting up the nerve to speak to me. He hesitates then says, "My wife also has breast cancer. She has been battling it for 15 years." He then pauses and starts to choke back tears. I assure him that I know what he is going through. He tells me that he read about me in the Bloomington Gold program booklet (Nancy has put in a wonderful article about my Tour and a photo of me and Lurk). The man (Tom) says he finally got up the nerve to come over to see me. He said he was afraid he would break down. Tom and I talk about our mutual cancer experiences. He is interested in what new research and treatment is available for breast cancer. I give him some phone numbers to call. Tom has a battery restoration business and has a booth space at Bloomington, so we can't chat for long. I tell him we are going to Cincinnati next week, and suggest that we meet up with him and his wife then.

Tonight, is the giant Bloomington Gold road tour. Steve, the road tour coordinator, comes over to tell me that we will be leading the Tour tonight! We arrange to move our car out to the staging area at 4:30 pm. When the time arrives, Ben and I drive over to the area and pull in behind the police car that will escort us on a 60 mile road tour to Lexington, IL and back.

Despite the monumental job of lining up nearly 2000 Corvettes, Steve has the road tour right on schedule as we pull out around 5 pm. Those of us who have antennas on our cars, are given little American flags to place on them. We drive out to the main highway, and then turn on to a back road that leads to Lexington. It is flat wide open farm country. When we get to a curve in the road, Ben and I look back and can see Corvettes as far as the eye can see! It is an incredible sight and difficult to describe. Many local folks have come out to see what is probably the world's largest caravan of Corvettes or any make car, for that matter. Some people are sitting in cars along side the road, others have brought lawn chairs or are standing in front of their homes as we pass by. Everyone is waving and smiling as we drive by. Ben is busy videotaping the entire event. He is also trying to judge the length of this giant parade. When we reach Lexington, we turn around and double back, passing the Corvettes following us! Ben estimates that in doubling back, we passed 20 miles of Corvettes, meaning that the caravan is 40 miles long! Leading this parade was a chance of a lifetime for me and it certainly will be one of the most memorable parts of my cross-country Tour.

After we arrive back at the exhibit hall, we get a quick bite to eat before returning to the center tent for the big car auction. I am really tired after the long day and the excitement of the road tour, but I manage to last until 10 pm. We watch most of the valuable high priced cars go through. The feature attraction was a 1967 Corvette with only 11 miles on it. The car did not sell. It was passed with a bid of $700,000 refused! I wonder if the owner will regret this in the future. I can't imagine owning a vehicle valued at that amount. I am content to have my 1997 which will take me to many wonderful places around the country.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)