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Lincoln County News
June 17, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a weekend of fun and relaxation in Rangeley. The restaurant review heads to Waldoboro and a sudden and scary episode lands me in the hospital.

June 4, 1999: Today, Paul, Sue, Ben and I are headed to Rangeley for a weekend of solitude and relaxation. One of my friends from the business association, Charley, and her husband Don own a beautiful lake house on Loon Lake near Rangeley, and kindly offered me the use of their lakeside retreat. Charley wanted to repay me for helping her with the Wiscasset Regional Business Assn. Guide. She also thought I could use some R&R. Charley's kind offer really touched me as I know her lakeside home is reserved for family use only. I feel privileged to be considered family.

I have invited Paul and Sue to join us as Charley gave me permission to bring friends. I am not sure who was more excited as Paul took off from work today, packed the car with tons of fishing and camping gear and hooked up his boat trailer. Sue was also raring to go. We left about 4 pm. with stops in Augusta for food shopping and dinner at Olive Garden. We arrived in darkness and after a wrong turn or two found the little dirt road that led to the house.

The house is not what you would call a camp or cottage. It has three floors, 2 full baths, sleeps ten, has a laundry, heating system, full kitchen with dishwasher, a fieldstone fireplace and woodstove, and is basically a year-round home. In any case, it fits my idea of camping. Charley and Don have decorated the house with beautiful Adirondack-style camp furnishings. It is elegantly casual but comfortable, and I immediately felt at home.

The lake is small and private with only a few homes. Regulations permit only canoes and non-power boats, so it is silent except for the chattering of birds and red squirrels which visit the feeders on the front and back decks of the house. We saw lots of moose tracks, but no moose came to the salt lick in Charley's yard while we were there. Large reddish snowshoe hares came out of the woods to romp in the yard and stare at us. At night, we could hear a lone bullfrog in the lake. The loons nesting at the far end of the lake were quiet or out of earshot. It seemed odd to not hear a distant car or truck, see the glow of streetlights or hear any man-made noise. The silence and pitch-black darkness were spooky at first, but I soon realized this was what Charley meant about true peace and quiet.

Paul served as head chef this weekend. He fixed two wonderful breakfasts: eggs, bacon, and English muffins on Sat., and pancakes and sausage on Sun. Using his nifty folding portable charcoal grill, he prepared barbecued spareribs and grilled eggplant on Sat. night. He also mixed up a batch of the world's best Margaritas. The rest of us pitched in with the other kitchen and household duties, while Ben did much of the cleaning.

Sue and I went for a canoe ride on Sat. and watched the boys fish with no luck from their canoe. Sue claimed she didn't know how to paddle, so I put her in the bow and did much of the maneuvering myself from the stern, while yelling instructions to her to paddle or stop paddling. Not very professional, but we avoided many rocks in what is a very rocky, shallow lake. We fared far better than Paul and Ben who ran aground on a huge rock about the size of Plymouth Rock in the middle of the lake. I was sorry I didn't have my camera. I learned my canoeing strokes nearly 40 years ago as a camper on the Belgrade Lakes. I hated camp, but I never forgot certain skills and paddling a canoe was one.

A fishing expedition by canoe early Sun. morning, and another attempt using Paul's motorboat on Rangeley Lake produced no fish, though we saw several on Paul's fishfinder. The fish were probably lurking under the boat and laughing at us. Paul's motorboat was running erratically and not at full throttle, which probably scared the fish away, or at least that's my theory or excuse. Sunday afternoon turned cloudy and threatening and a heavy rainstorm hit as we were cleaning up the house and doing laundry. We opted to fix a late lunch and play board games on the enclosed porch. I managed to beat Ben and Sue in a game of Jeopardy by wagering recklessly in Final Jeopardy and knowing that Alvin Rozelle's nickname was "Pete". Paul played the emcee role of Alex Trebek. What a fun weekend! I hadn't played that much since I was a kid.

June 8, 1999: This morning, I chaired the last publicity meeting for the Wiscasset Area Community Fair. It is a relief to have this major project out of the way. Next week, I have to pack and get ready for our trip and Tour appearance in Illinois. I will miss the Fair after all this planning. I hope my readers will go and tell me all about it when I get home!

Tonight, we are doing this week's official restaurant review with Big Al and Melissa. Last Friday, Paul, Sue, Ben and I went to Olive Garden in Augusta. It could qualify for a review, but I decide to choose a restaurant we have never visited, Pine Cone Cafe in Waldoboro. Al and Melissa tell us that Pine Cone Cafe received an excellent write-up in the Portland paper earlier this year. I know Laura, the owner/chef, and frequently had wonderful lunches there years ago.

Al orders 1/2 of the chef's whim as an appetizer: portabello mushroom stuffed raviolis in a light mushroom sauce. We all have a chance to sample this delicious pasta dish. Melissa orders the same as an entree, Ben and Al select garlic-marinated flank steak in a mushroom sauce, and I have the local crab cakes served with a remoulade sauce. All are absolutely superb. We are served fresh salad greens in a nice light dressing, compliments of the chef. All of our entrees come with a fresh colorful vegetable medley and saffron rice. A basket of warm black olive Borealis bread is promptly refilled by our friendly, attentive waitress. We have no room, but we peruse the dessert menu anyway which features very tempting goodies from the Cafe's bakery. We vow to return another time for dessert.

I am feeling tired and with my bone pain bothering me, I barely make it through dinner. Melissa comments that I don't look well. Usually I can hide it, but apparently not tonight.

June 9, 1999: I awake at 6 am. with a violent headache. This is no ordinary migraine. I get up, take one of my pain pills and put a heating pad on my head. Nothing seems to help, so I take a shower and let the warm water pulse on my head. It seems to offer some relief, though when I step out of the shower, I suddenly feel very nauseated. In seconds, I break out in a cold sweat and am having dry heaves. This is most unusual for me, a person who has vomited less than ten times in their entire life and who has gone through months of chemotherapy with hardly a gag reflex. Something must be seriously wrong because my head feels like it's exploding. I tell Ben to call Tom's answering service to have him paged. A few minutes go by with no response and I think about how we are half an hour away from Tom's office and the hospital. Rather than wait any longer, Ben calls the answering service again to notify Tom that we are heading to the emergency room at MidCoast Hospital.

After what seems like hours, we finally arrive at the emergency room. Minutes later, Tom appears looking very concerned. I must look horrible. I am doubled over in pain and have been retching with dry heaves for the past hour. Tom asks me a few questions, examines me, checks my eyes and reflexes, and orders an immediate cat scan. One of the regulars from the lab comes in and draws a blood sample. She is happy to see me though not under these circumstances, she says. She is pregnant and bubbling over with excitement because she's having an ultrasound today. In a few hours, she will know whether she's having a girl or boy. It's hard for me to share in her enthusiasm as I am feeling so miserable. The emergency room nurse inserts an IV catheter in my hand and starts morphine and Compazine, before wheeling me off to the scan room. I am in such pain, I can barely hold still for the scan procedures. Finally, I am taken back to the emergency room to await a hospital bed. Tom will be admitting me for tests and observation.

I am taken to a room on the first floor where I drift in and out of a morphine haze for several hours. The nurses ask me to drink fluids. I can only manage a few sips of ginger ale. Dinner arrives and the nurse says I should try to eat something. I order soup and half a turkey sandwich and they bring me a full dinner instead which I promptly give to Ben. Later, the soup and sandwich arrives. Nothing seems to appeal to me so I eat a piece of a roll and two saltines. Mercifully, morphine and Compazine are offered to me every few hours.

Tom comes in to report that my cat scan was normal. Good news! But we still don't know what is causing the problem. Tom says there is a very remote possibility that it could be carcenoid meningitis caused by cancer cells getting into the spinal fluid, though my symptoms do not suggest this. He wants to monitor the situation, hoping that the pain will be gone within the next two days.

Ben leaves at 8 pm. and the nurse comes in with my sleeping pill. I doze off and on through the night as nurses come and go checking my vital signs. The sound of some whirring machine in another room keeps waking me. Beepers and buzzers go off constantly. Hospitals are not a place for rest and sleep.

June 10, 1999: I awake at 5:30 am. feeling tired and sore, but my headache is gone. I am ready to go home. Tom comes in around 8:30 am. and says I am looking much better. He examines me and says he still has no answer for what happened yesterday. He writes my discharge papers and says to call him immediately if I experience any more headache or nausea. He tells me that he has talked to Dr. Bunnell. They agree that going into the oral chemo trial at Farber may be the best treatment option for me at this time. Tom will get more information about this trial and we will discuss it hopefully next Fri. when I have my last appointment and treatment before heading out on the road.

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