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Lincoln County News
July 30, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

July 8, 1998. Today, we arrive in Collinsville, Illinois for the National Corvette Restorers Society Annual Convention. The Convention features judging and certification for 1953-1982 Corvettes, as well as a full schedule of meetings and social activities. The Corvettes in attendance will be judged on a system based on correctness and how closely the cars resemble factory or showroom condition. At least one model from each year is represented. Most are immaculate and in beautiful condition, and some have been driven over 2000 miles to the show! The Corvettes come from all over the country and Canada, and various Road Tours were put together to allow cars to meet and travel together.

The event is being held in the new convention center, conveniently located next to several hotels. NCRS Membership Director, Gary, and his wife, Sharon, have kindly arranged for our lodging, registration and evening dinners for the two days we are attending. Gary and Event Coordinator, Steve, welcome us to the Center, offer to assist us in our set-up and direct us to a prime parking spot on the concrete apron, just outside the main doors. We set up our booth in a highly visible area outside the entrance to the large indoor judging and car display room.

Over the past few days, I have been searching for ceramic Route 66 Diner trinket boxes. I had purchased one for myself early in our trip at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Ohio. It was a close-out item. I have been using it as a display on my table, and everyone has tried to purchase it from me. It is definitely a collectible because it has a little red mid-fifties Corvette parked outside the Route 66 diner, and being made in China, something was lost in the translation and the outside packing box says Route 66 "Dinner" instead of "Diner". I figure I can offer a free Route 66 "Dinner" box to those who make a significant contribution to the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour. I am already using the 1997 red Corvette promotional models for donation incentives.

Cracker Barrel restaurant is supposedly closing out their line of Route 66 trinket boxes, so I have stopped at every restaurant along the way to purchase any left in stock. My car is already overloaded with four months worth of luggage, two large boxes containing promotional models and now about 8 dinner boxes. Ben is distressed when I walk out of Cracker Barrel with another 6 boxes. He informs me that I will be riding in the car with the boxes on my lap. I have already had another 7 shipped to my sister, Peg, who will hold them for our events in August.

Fortunately, for Ben's sanity and my riding comfort, my hunch on the dinner boxes proves accurate. In no time, folks are making sizable donations and snapping them up. I send Ben out to another Cracker Barrel several miles away to purchase the few diners they have in stock. He thinks I have gone a little over the edge, but I'll do whatever it takes to boost donations to the cause!

Many folks stop by the table to put names in my memory book or to share their personal experiences with cancer. One man tells me that he is a melanoma survivor, and urges me to remind everyone that tanning is dangerous. A woman shares with me how thyroid cancer has impacted several generations of her family. Another woman approaches the table with her husband. He tells me that he had surgery and radiation treatment for an oral cancer in December. I ask him to write his name in my book. As he reaches to pick up the memory book, he comments that he lost his Dad to cancer and should write his name in as well. His voice breaks and is choked with emotion. He walks quickly away from the table and his wife turns to me, her eyes filled with tears. I walk around the table and hold her in my arms, as she struggles to compose herself.. She explains that the whole cancer experience is still so fresh in their minds. I tell her that it's tough to deal with this disease, but with her support, he will get through it. I describe how one of my friends in my cancer support group successfully overcame several bouts with a similar type of cancer.

I find that it helps to hear about others who have successfully faced the same diagnosis and treatments. So often, patients and family members feel lost and alone, overwhelmed by the unfamiliar world of cancer treatment and the medical jargon that accompanies it. You quickly learn a whole new language when you're diagnosed with cancer.

Tonight, we enjoy a buffet dinner and live entertainment by a band called ShBoom. It is a 50's and 60's style format and the band was fantastic to watch, and not just hear. The band members did excellent impersonations of Elvis, Joe Cocker, the Blues Brothers and others. Later, I was surprised to learn that the band is comprised of two doctors, a prosecuting attorney, and several other professionals. In my estimation, they were good enough to quit their day jobs!

Later in the evening, Sharon from NCRS asks if we'd like to meet Dave McLellan, former Chief Engineer for the Corvette Division of Chevrolet from 1974-1991. Dave is much revered in the sport as being responsible for developing the C-4 Corvette design used for the 1984-1996 Corvettes. Ben is practically jumping out of his seat with a million questions he wants to ask Dave.

When we are introduced to Dave and his wife, Glenda, Dave suggests we move to a quieter room, so we can chat. Both Dave and Glenda are sincerely interested in the purpose of my Tour and make a very generous donation. Glenda is particularly concerned about my health and well-being. Oddly, we immediately touch upon religion and faith, and for nearly an hour, we sit and discuss faith, trust and spirituality. Glenda asks if she can lay her hands on me and say some healing words. It was bizarre to spend this time with Dave and Glenda discussing faith and healing instead of Corvette design, yet this unusual encounter seemed almost pre-destined. I felt a tremendous sense of inner peace afterwards and had the best night's sleep I've had in months.

The kindness and generosity of the folks at the NCRS Convention far exceeded my expectations. We raised over $2600 in two short days. The further I travel, the more confident I feel that my mission on this Tour will be fulfilled.

July 11, 1998: Today, Tom and Charlene, our Corvette friends from Maine met us in Fremont, Indiana. They will be traveling with us to the Black Hills Classic, a Corvette event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We will join with a caravan of 400 Corvettes driving from Sioux Falls to Spearfish.

Ben and I arrive at the hotel early in the afternoon. We decide to go lunch at Mulligan's, a restaurant located at the golf course, just across the street from the hotel. We leave word at the front desk to tell Tom and Charlene that we are at Mulligan's. We are seated at a table by a window that faces the hotel, so we can watch for their arrival.

We are just finishing lunch when we see a new 1998 Pace Car Corvette pull up to the front of the hotel. It's easy to spot these special edition purple Corvettes with their yellow wheels, trim and decals. We immediately determine that Tom has bought a new car and sold his silver '98 convertible. Tom and Charlene have owned a succession of Corvettes over the years. In fact, such a quick succession in the past 4 years, that Ben and I have lost track. Charlene says Tom can't resist a special model, though before we left on our trip, Tom swore that he was going to keep his silver convertible for awhile. Famous last words!

Soon, Tom and Charlene walk through the door of the restaurant. We tell them we are not surprised by the change of Corvettes. It is great to see our friends. It has been almost exactly a month since we've seen them, and nearly a month since we left Maine. We tease Tom and Charlene about their new car, but it really is an impressive looking vehicle. Traveling together, our two Corvettes will turn a lot of heads.

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