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Lincoln County News
June 11, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my visit with Tom, my oncologist, to discuss what comes next in terms of treatment. My friends and business associates host two wonderful benefits for our Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour. Finally, my new car arrives!


May 12, 1998: Today, June and Frank drive me to my appointment with Dr. Tom. The staff in the reception area has changed since my last visit. Julie has moved away and Arline has taken a new job with another doctor's office in the same building. I will miss them both, but the new staff is very helpful and friendly. Cindy comes out to say hello, while another nurse, who is in training, takes my vital signs.

Tom arrives and gives me a quick examination. He notices my red and blistered neck and asks if it is sore. He also inquires if I can still feel the two lymph nodes in the neck. One is no longer noticeable and the other is small and hard, which may be scar tissue. I tell Tom that I haven't checked the neck nodes recently because the area is so sore from the radiation.

We discuss prescriptions that I will need on my trip and what tests need to be done before I leave. A re-xray of the rib area and a complete blood work-up will be necessary. Tom says I can postpone my mammogram until I return. Tom reports that my bone density study came back low, as Dr. Richardson predicted, showing bone thinning in the spine and femur test areas. I have borderline osteoporosis, and will need to start a daily regimen of calcium and Vitamin D. At the very least, I can take some comfort in knowing that the rib fracture is now probably a result of bone thinning. Tom says an osteoporosis drug will be needed to keep the condition from worsening. He suggests that a new medication, Raloxifene, may be the best choice as it has shown some promise in treating breast cancer, as well as osteoporosis. He says that the amount of research data on using this drug for breast cancer is still limited, but anticipates that more data and research findings will be presented at oncology conferences within the next six months.

Tom had originally planned to put me on a drug regimen of Tamoxifen, a well-known breast cancer drug, after my radiation treatments. Tom explains that Tamoxifen and Raloxifene operate similarly by suppressing the estrogen supply to cancer cells, though Raloxifene apparently does not effect the uterus or cause uterine cancer. He says the main risk of taking Raloxifene is blood clots. Tom believes that Raloxifene may be the better choice for me as it has been proven to be effective in treating osteoporosis and possibly breast cancer. I can take one pill that will help treat both my cancer and my bone thinning. He plans to call Dr. Richardson to ask his opinion before starting me on this drug.

I am sad to see June and Frank leave today. In early June, they will be moving to a beautiful condo with a view of the mountains in Vermont. I am sorry to lose such good friends. I hope June gets a computer and e mail so we can keep in touch frequently. She says I must stop in on my cross-country tour.

May 14, 1998: I have had a busy week. Yesterday, I had lunch at Le Garage with two of my business friends, both named Linda and both from Yarmouth. They brought me a beautiful basket of pansies in all different colors. It will brighten my doorstep and remind me of my two friends every time I walk by.

I am driving to a state Chamber Of Commerce meeting at Fisherman's Wharf in Boothbay Harbor today. This is a long trip by myself and a long day as it includes the conference, lunch, a cocktail boat cruise and dinner. I have a late start after waiting for important phone calls. I finally arrive about 1/2 hour before the lunch. Everyone is glad to see me and Nancy from the State Chamber office gives me a lovely get-well card that everyone has signed. I an overwhelmed by how many of my fellow business associates have been following my daily progress through reading my columns.

During breaks in the presentations, I am back and forth on the phone with the big Corvette Dealership in New Jersey. After nearly two months of considering my proposal for sponsorship of my Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour, they tell me it is not in their budget and they can't tie up a car for the summer. I am so annoyed that I don't even bother to question why. I don't need or want a sponsor who can't be open and honest up front. I have learned in business dealings, that it is best to immediately move on to Plan B when Plan A falls through. My Plan B is to procure a car through another dealer or private source and seek a major sponsorship elsewhere. I will work on this tomorrow.

The cocktail cruise on the boat from Fisherman's Wharf is relaxing and the scenery is beautiful. Everyone circulates and has a chance to socialize. I spend half an hour discussing my illness and plans for my Tour with Don, who lost his wife to pancreatic cancer about two years ago. He tells me how cancer has dramatically changed his life and how his wife valiantly fought her disease. He urges me to not give up. Don says that I am probably the only one on the boat who "knows what it is all about". I understand what this kind man is saying. He recognizes that I have faced my mortality and know what is really important in life.

May 18, 1998: It seems strange to not have the daily routine of treatments. I particularly miss seeing my driver friend. In her e mail, Lynda says she hopes we will continue to meet regularly. I want to continue our friendship as well, so we set a date for next week.

Tonight, will be the social event of the year for me. Canfield's is hosting a private dinner to raise funds for my cross-country Tour. I have invited only 41 friends, as seating is limited. I am very excited about this evening and have written a speech about the purpose of my Tour. I am not a speech writer, but last night, I sat down at the computer and composed it in half and hour. My thoughts seemed to flow easily and my words came straight from my heart. I asked Ben to listen to my speech and time it. When I was finished, I looked at him and he was in tears. I never anticipated my words would have such an impact, but perhaps, they must in order for people to realize how important it is to raise funds to find a cure for cancer.

We arrive at Canfield's in time to put up posters and place name cards at each seat. I also bring two red Corvette models, and a large map of the United States. I have put little yellow post-it notes on the map showing each place we will be visiting.

Canfield's is normally closed on Mondays, but Mary Ann and Rich have opened the restaurant just for us and prepared a complete turkey dinner with all the fixings, plus a choice of three desserts, including my favorite chocolate cream pie. All of Canfield's staff have offered to work tonight and are donating their services. I am just overwhelmed by the support of my friends. It was a very special occasion having all of my friends together in one room. My speech went well and everyone had a great time. At the end of the night, Ben and I were astounded that over $1500 was raised for the Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour!

The past few days, I have been busy searching for Velvet's replacement. Time is running short and it would certainly make sense to drive a Corvette for my Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour. My daughter, Christy, who will be joining me for one leg of my trip, says she has visions of driving to the Grand Canyon with me in a rented Ford Escort. However, I have faith that a new Corvette is in my future. One of my good Corvette friends, Sonny, who's in the car business, is in hot pursuit of a new Corvette. He says that a used 1997 Corvette will be available at a car auction in Connecticut this week. I tell him I want a red one with as many options as possible. I have my fingers crossed that I can get this car.

The past two weeks, we have been booking appearances at the biggest Corvette events in the country. First, we will travel to Bloomington, IL for Bloomington Gold, the official national judging and certification event attended by serious Corvette owners and collectors. Many thousands of people will attend this 3 day event. After that, it is on to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the Black Hills Classic and the world's largest caravan of Corvettes (600) which travels 400 miles across the state to Spearfish. The next stop is the Vette Fest in Boise, Idaho, followed by Vettes on the Rockies in Frisco, Colorado. Finally, we come back east to Corvettes at Carlisle in Pennsylvania. And all along the way, I will be doing public speaking engagements.

May 19, 1998: Tonight, my business associates are hosting a public reception for me at the Muddy Rudder Restaurant in Edgecomb. When I arrive, it looks like a wedding reception! Gordon and Brenda from the Rudder, have arranged and donated a beautiful display of hot and cold appetizers. The buffet tables are covered with white linens and fresh bouquets of lilacs and irises. Jim, from Sentimental Journey, has also volunteered his time to provide the background music.

I was very busy meeting and greeting as many of the guests as possible. Everyone was happily socializing and enjoying the food, cash bar and music. Mary Lou from the Snow Squall handled all the arrangements for the reception and introduced me to the gathering. As I looked out at the audience during my speech, I realized how much I will miss Wiscasset and my friends this summer. My daughter says that four months on the road and living out of a suitcase will wear thin very quickly, but I am looking forward to meeting new friends and traveling to places I have never been. Yet, I know some day while I am traveling, I will think back to this night and wish I was home.

This morning, I got good news about a replacement for Velvet. Sonny called to say that a dealer friend of his has purchased a Torch red 1997 Corvette at a car auction in Connecticut! He will have the car for me before this weekend! I can't believe that he has found one so quickly, but he has been working around the clock trying to find one. This car has all the options I want, including black leather, power seats, CD player, a glass roof panel, plus all the standard features. It is supposedly a well-cared for, one-owner car with 10,000 miles. The mileage doesn't concern me as I will be putting lots of miles on it during my Tour this summer!

May 21, 1998: Sonny calls me this morning to say my car has arrived by car carrier at Corvettes North in Waterville! Sonny has arranged to get the car through Dave, the owner of a Corvette business dealing in late-model used Corvettes. Sonny and his wife, Carolyn, will drive me up to Waterville as soon as Sonny gets off work. I phone Ben to let him know we will leave around 5:30 pm. He says he thinks he can be home in time to join us. I also call my friends, Tom and Charlene, who plan on meeting us up there.

Ben arrives just as Sonny and I are leaving. We pick up Carolyn and head towards Augusta. The skies are threatening and Ben said he had come through a thunderstorm and downpour on his way home. Just after Augusta, the skies open up. It is raining harder than any of us have ever seen, and we have to pull off the road several times. There are also tremendous flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder. Some are so close, that the flash and boom is instantaneous. I do not like thunder and lightning, but Carolyn is even more frightened than I am. She has slid down off the back seat and onto the floor of the car. I have to laugh, even though I am just as scared. Carolyn has unhooked her seatbelt because she doesn't want the metal latch touching her, just in case we get struck with lightning. I can sympathize with her. As long as someone is with me, I can handle thunderstorms, but if I am alone, I get extremely nervous.

The storm seems to be traveling with us and we never actually drive out of it until we enter Waterville. I am wondering whether my new car is sitting in a garage or out in this rain. As we turn into the driveway of Corvettes North, I can see Tom and Charlene's silver Corvette. They have arrived ahead of us and are standing in the open garage bay. I can just see the front of my new red Corvette, parked facing out of the garage. It looks beautiful! I still can't believe that this is my car.

I can't contain my excitement as I rush over to check out the new car. Tom and Charlene have been at the dealership for half and hour and Tom has thoroughly gone over my car from top to bottom. He has given it his full approval and says it's a beautiful car. Ben and I check it out carefully. It has been obviously meticulously cared for and appears brand new. Ben says that he doubts that the previous owner ever drove it in the rain, as the car is immaculate underneath. Even the interior still smells like a new car. Ben and I both take it out for a test drive before Sonny and Carolyn sign the paperwork.

My friends are obviously enjoying my excitement and Charlene is documenting everything on film. We remind each other that several years ago, we drove Tom and Charlene up to Lincoln, ME to purchase their new dark green Corvette. Ben took lots of photos and we have come full circle with them, being able to share in the arrival of my new car.

It is still misting rain and the sky is dark as we drive away in my new car. It is getting late and none of us have had dinner, so we decide to go to Governor's in Waterville. We park my new Vette alongside Tom and Charlene's. I still can't believe it is actually mine. We have a great dinner together and I keep thinking how lucky I am to have friends like Sonny, Carolyn, Tom and Charlene. Ben and I have known Sonny and Carolyn for 21 years. We met Tom and Charlene about 10 years ago. Though we don't get together as often as we would like, at least with good friends when you do meet, you can pick up right where you left off. We have so many wonderful shared memories and the arrival of my new car tonight will be added to the list.

May 22, 1998: Today, I have a newspaper interview with Susan Grey from the Wiscasset Newspaper. Susan wants to do a story about my upcoming Tour. Sue comes by the house and we have a long conversation about my illness and how it all started. I also talk about my Tour and our ambitious itinerary. I take Susan out to the garage and give her a very short ride in my Corvette from the garage up to my front doorstep. Despite the short trip, she seems to enjoy riding in the Corvette. She also takes some photos of me and the car. Susan tells me that she can particularly relate to my column where I described my sadness in selling Velvet and seeing her go away. Susan said she had a Saab once that she was very attached to and hated to see it go.

I am busy making phone calls trying to find a sponsor for my Tour. I am working on every possible connection that I have in the Corvette-related field. Still no luck. I am determined to do the Tour no matter what. I have talked to so many people, yet, no one wants to help finance a trip of this magnitude. Ben will be coming back home in mid-July to work for a month. I hate to even discuss it with him, but he may have to return home again in September to work. With my business closed and being on full disability, Ben has shouldered all the financial responsibilities. Now, he will also have car payments. The decision to do this cross-country Tour may seem reckless to many, but I know that with the extent of my illness, I may never feel well enough to do this trip at a later date. I don't want to regret not living my dreams.

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