Lincoln County News
March 16, 2000

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

August 9, 1946 - March 6, 2000

 

Sandy's legacy: Lifelines readers responses to her column

Compiled by Christine Labaree and Sue Cereste

 

Sandy Labaree touched a countless number of readers during the two years she shared her struggle with the relentless breast cancer that finally overcame her March 6. She received many letters over that time and enjoyed reading and responding to each of them. Almost all who wrote had a personal experience with cancer or had a family member or loved one fighting the disease.

Sandy had no regrets and no pity for herself and simply took each day and made it hers. She shared herself as few people are able to do - with wit and humor, intelligence and grace, and with extraordinary clarity and bravery. And so, those that knew her, whether through her column or personally, were able to take part in her journey - and we are enriched.

Over the two years that she wrote her Lifelines column, hundreds of readers wrote to Sandy. They thanked her for sharing her life and they shared parts of their lives with her. They sent myriad sympathy cards when Sandy's beloved cat Lurk died and they wished her well. They wished for her pain to go away, for better medicine, for a cure. They sent their good wishes to her husband Ben.

Sandy appreciated every person that took the time to write or send e-mail messages, from Maine readers to others around the country. Some of them she talked with on the phone, some she met in person and they became part of her circle of friends. The following are excerpts from just a few of the letters, e-mails and cards Sandy received.

By e-mail: "It is difficult for me to put into writing, but however clumsy this comes out, please know that I appreciate your sharing this journey with all of us. You've dispelled so much of the fear and mystery surrounding cancer and its treatment, and somehow find time and energy to work for the funding of more and more research. I admire you so much for the courage you've shown throughout this battle."

From a woman who had met Ben a number of years ago: "Your column has meant so much to me because I see you as retaining your zest for life in difficult circumstances. The fact that you have shared your pains and worries, tempered with your love of good food and friends, and Lurk, of course, and Ben, seems to me to be the height of real living. You've proved that joy can be found if you only know how to recognize it. As such, you've been a beacon of hope for literally thousands of people. What a GOOD way to spend your life!"

One woman writes, after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, "Reading your column gave me hope, comfort and reassurance as I felt comforted by your humor and your positive spirit... You have touched both of us." Those comments were written in a sympathy card to Sandy on the death of Lurk.

A card postmarked Portland: "Just want you to know how many lives you have touched with your wonderfully witty, brave, informational column. Thank you. You have the blessings of living on forever in the thoughts and hearts of thousands. Who could ask for a better heaven?"

From an 74-year-old Indiana woman: "My favorite pastime is reading the Lincoln County News and your articles first of all. I wish you the very best, and prayers go with you, for less pain and many years ahead of you... I'm so amused at your articles about the 'Peeps' (enclosed was an article about Peeps - sugar candy formed into various holiday shapes - from the writer's hometown newspaper) - myself, I think they are quite horrible!"

Another reader wrote: "This is just a quick note to tell you how important your column is... For me, it is a biography of an intelligent and brave lady... but for others, it is an inspiration - and wisdom and humor - a guide for difficult times... Just keep doing what you're doing knowing that one more stranger admires and respects you!"

A Massachusetts woman wrote: "I've been following your column since you began back in 1998. I admire your courage in sharing what you are going through... We do enjoy reading your restaurant reviews and have been to some of them... I cried when I read about your loss of Lurk... Glad to hear that in spite of all the setbacks you were able to enjoy the holidays with your family. Also, congratulations on your 32nd wedding anniversary."

And one to Lurk: "Dear Lurk, Your lovely mistress will have to read this to you... A very special 'cat-to-person' touch is when you sheath your claws and reach out to pat her cheek with a soft paw. Do it for Sandy - she'll love it!... I know she's worried about you, so here's a special 'blessing touch' she can do for you when you're sitting or lying down near her with your head in easy reach. She's to take just one gentle finger and draw circles softly on top of your head, whispering 'cat halo - cat halo - cat halo' to you all the time..." The writer ends with this comment to Sandy: "Wish I could bless you by doing 'Cat Halo' on you myself. Maybe Ben or someone else will do it for me."

A Connecticut woman wrote to Sandy on March 1: "I always read your journal submission first because you write about your illness as well as your everyday joys in such an engaging manner. I am sure everyone tells you they feel as though they know you - you have the ability to 'speak' to your audience in such a personal and direct way. My admiration for your courage and zest for life knows no bounds... You inspire me to appreciate every aspect of my life, both good and bad."

And finally this, from a Maine reader, perhaps sums up what many come eventually to know as they care for loved ones during a last illness. This woman writer, along with other family members, cared for her mother during the last year of her life and made these observations: "It is we, who received the gifts. There are no colleges, workshops, nor seminars capable of the teachings we received. I quote a dear friend, 'All things can be learned, but not everything can be taught'."

She continues: "I wasn't sure why I was writing to you, but now I am. Simply to thank you deeply, reverently, for your courage, patience and humor. Thank you for reminding us of the singular purpose in living - to connect with one another - treat each other gently - and live in the moment with dignity and respect."

And her letter ends: "Life may be fleeting, but nothing endures like a message from the heart."

The End