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Lincoln County News
June 4, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes an emotionally rewarding day spent at the American Cancer Society's annual Living With Cancer Conference. Plans for my summer cross-country Corvettes Conquer Cancer Tour are in full-swing, and my radiation treatments come to an end!

May 6, 1998: Today is the 20th Living With Cancer Conference in Augusta. The day-long conference is sponsored by the American Cancer Society and incredibly, I have attended every one. The participants are cancer patients and survivors, family members and friends, medical personnel, clergy and other support people. Each year, the conference has grown and this year, nearly 350 people were in attendance. Governor King gave a 15 minute address and described his personal experience at age 24 with melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

The highlight of the conference was the keynote speaker, Cara Dunne, a 20 year cancer survivor who was blinded by retinoblastoma at age 5. Her cancer has recurred twice since childhood. Despite her handicap, Cara has dedicated herself to excelling in all of her endeavors. She was a silver and bronze medalist in the 1996 Olympics for tandem bike racing and was named the 1997 Female Athlete of the Year. What an inspirational young lady who has not let cancer interfere with her hopes and dreams.

Another popular feature of the conference is the patient panel. This year's panel consisted of two men and three women, who were long-term survivors of different kinds of cancer. Each described their personal experience with cancer and conveyed the message of hope and optimism to the audience. The rest of the day was filled with excellent workshops. It is always difficult choosing which ones to attend. I signed up for the session on new diagnostics for breast cancer, led by my surgeon and friend, Wes. I also attended the spirituality and cancer workshop and served as a panel member for the Support Group workshop.

I received permission to skip my radiation treatment today. My friend, Dot, drove me to the conference along with her friend, Gloria, a fellow cancer survivor. It was the first Living With Cancer Conference for Dot and Gloria and they seem very impressed with the day. Many of the members of my Cancer Support Group were also in attendance. It was a long day for all of us, but very emotionally fulfilling. Seeing the Augusta Civic Center filled with cancer survivors makes you realize you are not alone. There was so much positive healing energy generated by this gathering of cancer survivors from around the state.

May 8, 1998: Today, Sue is my driver and we go to Canfield's for lunch. I have been losing my appetite somewhat, probably due to my sore mouth and impaired taste buds. I am avoiding spicy foods, pepper, vinegar, and lemon which seem to burn my tongue and mouth. I am also drinking my coffee lukewarm and choosing cold drinks like iced tea and ice water. Despite my compromised taste buds, I still enjoy desserts and ice cream. It surprises me that none of my treatments have really put a serious dent in my appetite.

When I had my first cancer at age 28, I lost a tremendous amount of weight. As a result, I became very weak and didn't feel like eating. I have never forgotten how I forced myself to eat back then. I lost 30 lbs. and looked like a skeleton. It took me two years to regain my weight and energy. Of course, that was long before my peep and butter cream addiction. Also, now that I live near Canfield's, I doubt that I will ever have a weight loss problem. Lisa, the waitress, has suggested having T-shirts made that say, "Body By Canfield's". I can be their official model for the shirt.

Paul and Sue have plans for the weekend, so Ben and I will be conducting the on-going restaurant review with our Corvette friends, Tom (of peeping Tom fame) and Charlene. Tonight, Charlene tells me that she purchased one package of the elusive white peeps a few weeks ago. White peeps are very rare in Maine. She says she will give them to me when we get together again, two weeks from now. Canfield's is hosting a special dinner to benefit my cross-country cancer crusade and Charlene and Tom will be in attendance.

For the Canfield's dinner, Sue has suggested that I put a peep at each place setting. I only have 30 peeps and need 40, so Sue says I can slice the peeps. What a sacrilege! I also can't imagine trying to neatly slice marshmallow peeps. Fortunately, Charlene has offered to donate her 10 white peeps to the cause.

Tonight's roving restaurant review is returning to Maxwell's in Bath for the prime rib. Tom orders a dinner special with shrimp and swordfish, and the rest of us order the prime rib. Ben has been trying to convince Marianne at Maxwell's, that the prime rib recipe has changed over the years. He claims that the garlic seasoning on the prime rib is much less than it used to be about ten years ago. Ben loves lots of garlic and seasoning on anything. Marianne says she has asked the chef to increase the garlic level, but it still isn't quite enough to Ben's liking. I am far less of a meat eater than Ben, and am more enamored of the fantastic popovers that come with the prime rib, so I stay out of Ben and Marianne's garlic debate. I also take home about half of the meat, so I can save room for dessert. Tom and Charlene share a key lime pie, Ben orders carrot cake and I choose the wonderful mousse.

Tom and Charlene will be joining us for a few segments of our cross-country tour, as we will be attending at least two events together, one in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and the other, a caravan of 400 Corvettes from Sioux Falls to Spearfish, South Dakota. I am very excited about seeing the western part of the country and the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Tonight, I can hardly look at Tom and Charlene's new 1998 silver Corvette convertible. It is a beautiful car, but it reminds me of Velvet going away. I am still working on getting a car for my Tour. It is frustrating, but I have faith that eventually all of my plans will come together to make the Tour a success. My daughter, Christy, says she has visions of traveling to the Grand Canyon with me in a rented Ford Escort! Right now, I must have faith that I will have a Corvette for the Tour. More importantly, I am focusing on the purpose of this trip. I am determined to raise funds for cancer research and treatment and speak about my experience with cancer. I want folks to know that life goes on after a cancer diagnosis. Above all, I want to promote hope and optimism as we search for a cure for this disease.

May 10, 1998: I awake this morning to a sore and reddened neck and shoulder. Blisters have formed in the creases of my neck and the skin is peeling. It is hot and sore to the touch , so I liberally cover the area with ointment that Donna, the nurse, has given me. Donna has been faithfully checking my neck each day and giving me sample tubes of an ointment that really seems to soothe the irritation.

Today is Mother's Day. I called my mother this morning to wish her a happy day. She is planning to go out with my sister, Mary Ann, to lunch and to a local garden center to choose a plant. Mary Ann and I wanted my mother to pick out a rose bush or other shrub for her yard, as a Mother's Day gift. Mom wants a butterfly bush. It will grow quickly and eventually have large lavender blue flowers that bloom all summer long. The flowers attract many butterflies, as well as hummingbirds. I am sure that the bush will soon be covered with Monarch butterflies. In 1995, when I had 3 months of chemotherapy treatments in New Jersey, I spent several weeks at my parent's beach house. That September, I will never forget the sight of millions of migrating Monarch butterflies that had stopped to rest on the sand during their long journey to South America. A sea of orange and black wings literally covered the beach and rock jetty.

Christy also called to wish me happy Mother's Day. We celebrated last weekend and opened my gifts then. She gave me a white sun hat and a pretty orange shirt for my summer trip. Ben has given me red roses and a cute nightshirt with a picture of snow leopard kittens on the front.

Ben and I travel to Sebasco Resort for Mother's Day Brunch. Even though it is a rainy and dreary day, Sebasco is still a beautiful spot on the coast. The new owner of Sebasco has made some attractive changes, a pleasant face-lift, without sacrificing the charm and ambiance of the old resort. We are seated in the dining room at a table right next to the Governor and his family. When we go up to the buffet table, he is standing right next to me. So I tap his shoulder and introduce myself. I congratulate him on his excellent address at the Living With Cancer Conference. I tell him that I was unaware that he was a cancer survivor. He comments that having an experience like cancer certainly affects your entire life. Governor King is a very approachable person and genuinely interested in people. I admire that he has managed to keep his family life intact and can frequent local restaurants. One time, I met and spoke to him at Fat Boy's Restaurant, where he had arrived on his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Today, I also talked to my sisters, Mary Ann and Peg, about joining me for segments of my cross-country Tour. Mary Ann will fly out to Spokane and join me from July 23-29. Christy will then meet up with us in Las Vegas. Mary Ann will then fly home and Christy will travel with me to a big Corvette event in the Colorado Rockies. Christy will fly home from Denver and Peg will fly in the same day and accompany me for nearly two weeks. I am so happy that my family will be able to share in this Tour, and be part of what is one of the most important endeavors of my entire life.

May 11, 1998: I cannot believe that today is the last day of radiation treatments! According to Donna and the Dr's, my skin has held up well and I have come through with flying colors. I will miss the daily routine of treatments. Frequently, in my Support Group meetings, we discuss the "loss" of a daily treatment regimen. Most patients feel a sense of security when treatments are on-going. Something is actively being done about your cancer. When treatments end, it is like a security net is being pulled out from under you. You are on your own. You wonder if there are still cancer cells floating around in your body. What will zap them now that radiation and chemo have stopped? Will the cancer flare up again? Will it travel elsewhere in your body? So many scary unknowns and uncertainties.

Jane and Murray, the technicians, congratulate me today on completing my treatments. Jane hands me a diploma with my name on it, signed by the nurses and technicians. I tell Jane I feel like I have completed a course without having to do any homework! The diploma from the Center is a thoughtful gesture that acknowledges the completion of treatment, giving the patient a sense of accomplishment and closure. The staff at the Center are happy to see folks complete their treatment regimens, but I am sure they will miss seeing their "regulars".

I meet with Dr. Gilbert today, in a final exit interview of sorts. He is very pleased with how I have done and says I only need a follow-up visit with Jeff the first week of June, before leaving on my trip. Tomorrow, I have an appointment with Dr. Tom to determine which tests I will need and what my drug regimen will be.

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