Lincoln County News
July 23, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

July 3, 1998: Tonight, we are staying outside Cincinnati, Ohio. We are meeting Tom and Ellen for dinner. I met Tom at the Bloomington Gold event last week. He described how he and his wife have been dealing with her breast cancer since 1984. Tom was asking many questions about what was new in breast cancer research and treatment, so I thought it might be helpful for Ellen and I to meet in person and discuss some of these issues.

Ellen has obviously been through many rigorous treatments over the years. Several years ago, she had a bone marrow transplant which was a tough ordeal. Though the cancer has spread to areas in her bones, she is holding her own. She hopes to start on a new drug regimen this summer. We discuss some of the new drugs available and I encourage her to be tested for the HER 2 antibody, which I had done last October. Though I was not a candidate for the research treatment, about 25% of women test positive. Ellen is going to check it out. She has gone through a period of losing her will to fight aggressively against the disease. She says she intends to get back on track and be more assertive now. I think she will do well. She is a long-term survivor and it is difficult to always stay positive and focused. As I said to her, what's the alternative? Even if there may be no new options or treatments, there is always hope. We mustn't lose sight of that.

July 4, 1998: Today, we drive to Beaver Creek, Ohio for an auto show. We do not know the exact location of the show, but we spot an old Rolls Royce ahead of us. He pulls into a gas station and we follow, figuring he is headed to the show. He tells us he is going to an even bigger show in Xenia, OH so we decide to follow him and do that show instead.

It is showering intermittently and not the best day for a car show. Not many cars have turned out for the Xenia show, probably because of the rain. We are set up and parked for about an hour, when a lady comes by wearing a Corvette T shirt and hat. She asks if we know about the auto show over at Wright-Patterson Air Base sponsored by the Greater Dayton Area Corvette Club. She says that is where all the Corvettes are today. We determine that it is less than a 20 minute drive, so we pack up and drive over to the air base.

The show is just getting underway and about 25 Corvettes and some other cars are already there. The host club welcomes us to the show and allows us to park our car and set up our display, free of charge. The president of the club tells us that they have about 60 Corvettes in their club and this is the 2nd year of their show. All of their members are busy parking cars, running the registration table or cooking in the food tent, where they will be selling food items all day. Later on, there will be a fireworks display. It is not raining at the air base, and the weather is windy and partly sunny. It is hard to believe that it was raining in Xenia, only several miles away.

The president of the Corvette Club introduces me to the DJ who is announcing the show. He allows me to make a few remarks about the Tour and to invite people to stop by our display. Many folks come by and are making donations and one family group purchases three of my promotional Corvette models, by making larger contributions to the cause.

About 6 pm., the sky turns very dark with an approaching storm. Ben and I decide to pack the car quickly and leave. We manage to get everything packed and loaded into the car before the skies open up. We travel back to the hotel in this huge deluge. We then go out for dinner, not knowing if the skies will clear in time for the fireworks.

When darkness arrives, the showers have ended. Since Ohio looks so flat, we figure we will be able to see fireworks displays from the hotel's second floor balcony. Sure enough, we watch several fireworks displays, the closest being probably 2-3 miles away. It was quite an elaborate display, though we had no idea which town it was in.

July 5, 1998: Today, we arrive in Cloverdale, Indiana, a halfway point for us en route to St. Louis. It is a rural farming area, but De Pauw University is only a few miles up the road. Ben and I notice tourist information about 42 covered bridges in Putnam County, the county in which we are located. Several bridges are only a short drive away, so we decide to visit the ones closest to the hotel. The area around Cloverdale is beautiful farm country with fields of corn and soybeans. We see lots of birds and wildlife, in addition to many herds of cows and cattle. During the past few days, I have seen meadowlarks, blue birds, cattle egrets and night hawks which are not regular visitors to the area around Wiscasset.

We find three of the bridges, all of which are narrow single lane wooden structures spanning the same muddy river. Each one is literally out in the middle of a cornfield. One bridge is the longest wooden one that I have ever seen. It has several windows on the sides to allow light inside. All three bridges date from the 1880's and have been well-maintained. Ben and I drive through back-country roads, becoming somewhat lost, before managing to re-trace our path to our hotel. It is very relaxing to drive back-country roads on a warm summer evening, listening to the cicadas. Cicadas mark the true return of summer for me.

July 6, 1998: I awake this morning to the sound of Ben retching with dry heaves. He is sitting on the bathroom floor and is obviously in misery. He tells me that he is so dizzy he can't stand up. In addition to the dry heaves, he says he hears a rushing sound or pressure in one ear. This is our first medical emergency on the road, and I am thankful it is not me. I have to shift into the caregiver mode now.

First, I want to rule out serious problems like a heart attack or stroke. After asking Ben a few questions about his symptoms, I determine he may have an inner ear infection. I never had one, but from knowing people who have had them, I know that extreme dizziness and nausea are the prime symptoms. Though he is having no pain or other symptoms, poor Ben is totally incapacitated by the dizziness. I tell him that he will have to try to get up or at least help lift himself off the floor. He tells me to call an ambulance, so they can get him up off the floor. I tell him not to worry, I will get help lifting him and will take him to an emergency room myself. I tell Ben to close his eyes and concentrate on "working through" his nausea. Meanwhile, I am thinking to myself, thank heavens that men don't have to go through pregnancy or childbirth. They would never survive morning sickness or pain.

Since my back has been giving me problems and the bone thinning in my spine is a serious issue, I decide not to attempt lifting Ben off of the floor by myself. I go out to the front desk and inquire if they have a wheel chair. They do not, but I explain my predicament. I tell them that if I can get Ben into the car, I will drive him to the emergency room of the hospital. Last evening when we were out sightseeing, we drove by a new county hospital about 5 miles from our hotel. Ironically, because of my condition, I take note of hospitals and their location. Though not planned in advance, the last few places we have stayed were within a couple of miles of a hospital!

The desk clerk comes to the room with an office chair on wheels. We haul Ben up into the chair and manage to roll him out to the car. Ben is clutching a plastic ice bucket which I gave him for barf purposes. It is not easy getting a limp man into a Corvette and I hope I never have to do that again. My car is showing reserve fuel, so I quickly pump a few gallons of gas, at the station next door to the hotel. In no time, I am back out on the road at breakneck speed. I pull up to the hospital's emergency entrance. The receptionist notices the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour signs on my car and comes right out. I tell her I need a wheelchair. I am sure she is wondering who is the patient, since I am sporting my chemo crew cut.

Ben is rolled into one of the ER cubicles, lifted onto a bed and hooked up to monitors. The nurse hands Ben an emesis basin. Meanwhile, I fill out and sign the necessary paperwork for insurance purposes. The doctor comes in and introduces himself. I know he is not from Indiana because his accent reminds me of Peter Sellers playing Inspector Clousseau. I explain Ben's symptoms and suggest it may be an inner ear problem. The doctor examines Ben, and just to rule out any cardiac problems, he orders a cardiogram and a blood test. After examining Ben, the doctor says it is definitely an inner ear infection. He orders an injection to control the nausea and dizziness and says he will give Ben a prescription for Antivert, that I can get filled at a local pharmacy. Ben is half asleep on the bed and the injection now knocks him out. The doctor says that the ear infection was probably viral-related and is not contagious. He says Ben should be feeling much better in a few hours and the infection should be gone in two to three days. He suggests that an ear, nose and throat specialist could look Ben over at a later date, though he says there are none on staff or in the county. He says we can look one up in St. Louis, if necessary.

I drive into town to get the prescription filled at WalMart. When I return, the nurses have tried to sit Ben up in bed, but with limited success. He is still too groggy. The tests results are back and the cardiogram and blood work are normal. I ask for copies of the results so I can have them with us during our travels, and in case Ben has any further problems. I am already traveling with a heavy envelope of my own medical information.

The nurse says Ben can leave now. I ask Ben what he wants me to do about our room and reservations for our hotel in St. Louis. We have now been in the ER almost three hours. Ben says that he can open his eyes now and will try to sit up. I give him the choice of going back to the hotel in Cloverdale and spending the day sleeping, or sleeping in the car while I drive us to St. Louis, about 200 miles away. He opts for seeing how he feels in the car.

The nurse rolls Ben out to the car in a wheelchair. Fortunately, he is able to stand up and get into the car with only minor assistance. Ben tells the nurse that I am a Stage 4 cancer patient doing this cross-country Tour, and now he is a patient. She laughs and wishes us well. I drive back to the hotel. Ben thinks he feels well enough to travel to St. Louis, so I grab a luggage cart, load up our luggage and check us out of the hotel. It seems strange to be doing everything by myself today, but I am glad that I can still take charge of situations and have the energy to see them through.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)