Lincoln County News
June 3, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a return review to Richard's Restaurant, and recreational shopping with Sue. An inspiring and moving Relay For Life unites all in a common cause.

May 21, 1999: Today, the American Cancer Society holds its Relay For Life in Brunswick. This 18 hour overnight event takes place at tracks all over the country on different weekends, usually in May or June. Teams run, walk, or jog to raise funds for cancer research and control. I have attended several Relays in the past few years and they are all very inspiring events. The Relay begins with the Survivor's Lap and cancer survivors of all ages walk, run or use wheelchairs to get around the track.

This year, our local relay is being held at Bowdoin College's Whittier Field in Brunswick. Ben and I drive down in my Corvette and park inside the gates to the track. Tents line the infield as forty teams set up camp for the long night ahead. Many of my friends and fellow survivors are signing up for the Survivor's Lap and getting their medals to wear around their necks. Dr. Tom and Connie from the American Cancer Society make a few introductory remarks and to my surprise, I am introduced as a special guest, the LifeLines columnist! After a soloist sings the national anthem, a Marine color guard leads the large group of survivors around the track.

A pleasant older woman standing next to me introduces herself as Bea, a 20 year survivor of lymphoma. She's from Turner, ME and asks if we can link arms to walk around the track. Her daughter is on the Bowdoin Medical Group team and will be running in her honor. As we walk around the track, the teams in the infield and spectators in the stands stand and applaud. For many of the survivors, just being able to walk the track and return again each year to Relay is a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

After the Survivor Lap is over, Ben and I assume the role of newspaper reporters. Ben takes photos of a team from Bristol called Al's Pal's, in honor of Al Sproul. The dedicated little group is dressed in blue T-shirts emblazoned with their team name and a reference to a biblical passage from Isaiah. They have set up an unusually creative tent site which won second place in the tent decorating competition. Our photos cannot begin to capture the enthusiasm and commitment of this inspired team.

After our photo session, Ben and I drive a few blocks to our restaurant review at Richard's. Sue is joining us alone as Paul and his buddies are on a fishing expedition upstate. I tell Sue it is probably a black fly fest rather than a fishing trip. I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would go tenting in the boonies, with no facilities, and sleep on the ground at the peak of black fly season. Sue suggests that the guys are probably sitting around drinking beer, beating off the flies and lamenting the lack of fish.

Since we have reviewed Richard's previously and found it very much to our liking, tonight is only a follow-up. Our waitress this evening is very cordial and knowledgeable. She remembers all our orders without writing anything down. I always order off the German menu (Richard's specialty) and select my usual, wienerschnitzel with spaetzel and red cabbage. Ben has the Hunter's Chicken and Sue tries the chicken with asparagus, topped with a sauce. We order extra pretzels which are brought out warm with little buttery rolls. We especially love Richard's spicy hot mustard for pretzel dipping. I read somewhere that eating a teaspoonful of spicy hot mustard clears your sinuses better than a nasal spray. If that's true, Richard's mustard is an excellent remedy for a head cold.

We pass on dessert as Richard's serves chocolate-dipped strawberries as a courtesy with the check. They are the perfect final touch since we are too full to consider the delicious apple dumplings and German tortes.

After dinner, Sue heads home and Ben and I return to Relay for the best part of the event, the luminarias. The luminarias are small paper bags filled with sand and a votive candle. You can purchase a luminaria in honor of a cancer survivor or in memory of someone lost to cancer. We purchase three: two in memory of my friend, Polly, and my grandmother, and one in my honor. At 10 pm., all the luminarias are lit. Over 600 of them, shining in the darkness, encircle the track. It is silent except for a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace. Then, the names of the 600 are read. A man steps to the microphone and, in a powerful and beautiful voice, sings all the verses of Amazing Grace. People walk slowly along the track searching for the names of their loved ones. Some folks have decorated their luminaria bags with artwork, photos or poignant messages. The silence is overwhelming and tears fill everyone's eyes. I look up at the crystal clear night sky and see millions of tiny bright stars winking. I like to believe that there is a star for each person who has lost their life to cancer. They are surely looking down and smiling on us tonight.

May 22, 1999: Today, Sue and I are enjoying our form of recreation: shopping. Since Ben is doing a final wax job on my Corvette and Paul is presumably being eaten alive by black flies, Sue and I thought what better time to go shopping. I rarely shop these days as I have no energy and my back pain is made worse by standing and walking for any length of time. I do my food shopping on weekends when Ben can help me. Ben hates to shop for clothes or anything other than tools, hardware or car parts, so my recreational shopping has to be done with female friends or family members.

Recreational shopping is dangerous because it can be expensive. I had a short list of "necessary" items which I found at WalMart. However, items not on my list mysteriously jumped into my shopping basket. Fortunately, I got out of WalMart for under $100. Sue wandered around looking at clothes, magazines and paperbacks. Then it was on to TJ Maxx, Sears, Porteous, and Bookland where Sue could spend hours perusing books. Mixed in with all the shopping was a trip to the Bath Library and lunch at Kennebec Tavern in Bath. I arrived home exhausted, but pleased with myself for having done so much. Ben looked at me, shook his head and said he knew I would over-do it.

May 24, 1999: Today is my sister, Peg's, birthday. I sent her a set of beach towels to use by her pool. I also found the perfect birthday card. Last summer, during our Tour of the southwest, I convinced Peg to sit on one of those coin-operated horses that kids ride. I took a photo of her on the horse, and it's one of my favorite photos of Peg. Amazingly, I found a birthday card that had a picture of a little girl in a cowgirl outfit riding one of these fake horses against a desert background with fake-looking cactuses. The girl was waving a cowboy hat and saying Yippy-Aye-Kiyay and Happy Birthday. I made a color photocopy of Peg's photo, cut off her head and glued it over the cowgirl's head. Peg called me tonight to laugh about the card and reminisce about our southwest escapades.

Today was a long day for me. It began with a meeting to discuss the Wiscasset Fair Program, a project which is consuming all my time and limited energy these days. Next, it was on to MidCoast Hospital in Brunswick for blood tests. The lab was not running smoothly and I had a 45 minute wait. The lab technician was new and not very experienced. She looked at my arm, determined she couldn't hit a vein, and asked if they usually took blood out of the veins in my hand. I told her no and figured I better find another technician. One of the veteran technicians was walking by, so I flagged her down. I told the new technician that the veteran was familiar with my veins and could hit one every time. Though the veteran was working floor duty, she kindly offered to draw my blood, much to the relief of the new technician.

After my blood tests, I drove to the American Cancer Society office in Brunswick to meet staff members, Pam and Donna, for lunch. We reviewed newspaper clippings from the Living With Cancer Conference and discussed the publicity. Nearly 400 people attended the Conference and the comments and feed-back were all very positive. The Conference planning committee will meet for dinner in June to review the evaluation forms, and discuss plans for next year's Conference.

I arrived home to a phone call from the Katahdin Support Group, a non-profit organization that provides free services to cancer patients in Millinocket and the surrounding areas. The director of the organization had heard about my speech at the Living With Cancer Conference. Several cancer survivors from Millinocket who had attended the Conference suggested that I would be a perfect speaker for their Survivor's Banquet in October. I hesitated knowing it was a 3-4 hour drive from Wiscasset. The director offered to pay all my expenses and even a fee for my speech. She went on to describe the organization's services such as providing free transportation for patients to treatment centers. I looked at my calendar and agreed to do the speech. The director thanked me profusely. I will only charge for my travel and overnight accommodations. Cancer care in rural areas is extremely difficult as patients often travel hours to their treatments and doctors. Nearly 250 people will attend this banquet and for once, instead of traveling hours to Bangor or Augusta to hear a speech about coping with cancer, someone will come to them.

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