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Lincoln County News
March 5, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes the continuing after-effects of my chemo and on a more positive note, highlights of my trip to Bar Harbor and visits with friends.

Feb. 12: My anemia and shortness of breath continue, but I am following Dr's orders to sit or lie down, and no exertion. As long as I don't move quickly or reach down or carry things, I manage quite well. Last night, my feet and ankles swelled up. Tom believes the swelling is caused by the chemo and is not related to the anemia. In some chemotherapy patients, the veins become stressed (mine certainly have been!) and the blood flow is hampered and unable to circulate normally.

When I got in bed last night, I put a pillow under my legs and feet to elevate them. Cindy says to continue elevating my feet until the swelling goes down. If this doesn't work, they will prescribe a diuretic. Cindy said elastic stockings can also help, so I put on a tight pair of knee highs, which gave me relief and reduced the swelling quite quickly.

My friend, Marian, called me today. She is now home in Bar Harbor and recovering remarkably well from her liver surgery. Although one lobe of her liver was removed, Drs say she will be able to function normally. She is already back at work running her Victorian Inn and making plans to visit the gym and begin exercising. It's been less than a month since her surgery and her miraculous recovery puts me to shame!

Marian just received word that her father passed away this morning in Florida. He was 93 and lived a very active, healthy life up until a year or so ago, when a series of small health problems began. He used to drive from Bar Harbor to Florida every winter until two years ago. Marian finally convinced him to get on a plane and have his car brought down to him. He had his first plane flight when he was 90 or 91.

Marian is stoic about his passing and thankful that he did not suffer. He fractured his pelvis in a fall several weeks ago and knew he would return to a Bar Harbor nursing home or care center, and not his own home. Marian said it was almost as if he chose to escape this fate, when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was a wonderful man who lived a good long life. I told Marian she has obviously inherited his genes, with the way she has bounced back from her surgery.

I make plans to drive to Bar Harbor early Sunday to attend church and visit Marian. Ben and I will stay at her Inn Sunday evening and return home Monday morning. I know I am on restrictions, but I need this spiritual renewal.

During the past two years, I have spent much time in Bar Harbor visiting business clients. I regularly attended services at St. Saviour's Episcopal Church while I was in town, and was completely captivated by the Victorian shingle style church and its world-reknown collection of Tiffany stained glass windows. I learned that 10 of the 42 windows were in dire need of repair and the others required varying degrees of attention and restoration. In conversations with the Rector, my dark past as a former professional fund raising consultant was revealed. I offered to help him find a local fund raising professional to assist them. When my leads did not pan out, I finally agreed to assist them with the project.

At the time, I couldn't believe that I offered to do this when my work schedule was already too full and Bar Harbor was nearly a 3 hour drive. It wasn't the fee, since I had decided to donate a portion of my services. I just could not turn my back on such a beautiful historic building and its rapidly deteriorating art treasures. Even more compelling was the sense of spiritual security I felt when I first walked into St. Saviour's Church. I knew a higher force was directing my decision to accept this job.

Over $100,000 of the $350,000 needed to restore and preserve all 42 windows had been raised when my illness struck. Seven of the most endangered windows have already been completed with three more to be done this spring. Now that I am no longer able to work, a business associate has stepped in to oversee the grant writing and proposals. I feel confident that her expertise, combined with divine guidance will bring this project to a successful conclusion.

So, I am looking forward to this quick trip to Bar Harbor and St. Saviour's. I also need to hug my good friend, Marian.

Feb. 13th: Sue, Paul and Ben and I travel to Nobleboro Dinner House tonight for a wonderful meal. We have gotten into a Friday night dinner routine and I enjoy their company. I should be writing a restaurant review column, instead of a journal.

Sue brought me a large stack of "fan mail" this week. I received notes, cards and little gifts from folks in Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Many are writing to thank me for being so open about my illness and discussing my experience with cancer. Some have a family member or friend with cancer and can easily relate to my situation. I am deeply touched by their personal stories. By chronicling the role of my family and friends in my cancer journey, I have unknowingly suggested ways for others to support their loved ones who have cancer. I have also heard from cancer survivors, who share their stories. We are all traveling the same road.

Many of the cards I receive have cats on them and/or references to my fine feline companion, Lurk. I show the cat pictures to him and read him any cat comments. One dear lady, "Sandra" from Mass., sent me two cards and a little spiced hot mat for coffee or tea mugs. Lurk is attracted to potpourri and spices, probably because of the herb catnip connection, and he greatly enjoyed sniffing the mat.

Feb. 14th: Tonight, Ben and I are invited to Libby's house for a Valentine's Party. Libby is a superb cook and we are treated to gourmet appetizers and a wonderful lasagna. She has invited her friend, Susan. Susan is now on my list of friends since she brought an absolutely decadent chocolate and whipped cream dessert, and she also enjoys reading my column. Satisfied readers and chocolate are my top priorities, and not necessarily in that order.

Another one of my good friends, Dean, also attends the party. He brings me a beautiful pale pink rose and a lovely Valentine's card. It is difficult to get Dean out of his house. Libby says he is glued to his recliner, but I think Dean is just selective of which social events he attends and the company he keeps. He is one of my favorite people because he has a huge repertoire of jokes and he always makes me laugh. He should have been a stand-up comedian. Dean is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He has traveled to many different places and has had a variety of careers.

Dean lost his beloved wife to cancer several years ago. She was smart, witty and so talented. I tried to support her and Dean during her tough treatments and the recurrence of her cancer. Libby and I attended her funeral on a hot, humid summer's day. Afterwards, we went back to Libby's house, where we sat in her garden and I cried for half an hour. Dean is still in mourning and I don't call or visit him as frequently as I should. I am afraid my cancer will open up fresh wounds that haven't yet healed.

Feb. 15th: Ben and I leave at dawn to drive to Bar Harbor. We stop at Moody's Diner for breakfast. It's a cold, crystal clear day and we can see the distant mountains against a shining blue sea. Even before we reach Bar Harbor, I am already feeling "restored". Today is also my last Neupagen shot, another cause for celebration. I am heeding Cindy's orders and sitting and not exerting myself. The slightest exertion still seems to bring on the rapid pulse, tightness in my chest and shortness of breath.

We arrive at St. Saviour's for the 10 am. service. The congregation is small today and the Rector, Father Hughes, is on vacation. I miss seeing him and filling him in on my progress. I am on the prayer list at St. Saviour's and several other churches, and I am comforted by so many spiritual connections. Just sitting in St. Saviour's today and hearing the words of the familiar service, restores my soul.

At coffee hour following the service, I meet an 80 year old woman who is a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed and treated over five years ago, Ruth is now healthy and active and doesn't look a day over seventy. We soon discover that we have many mutual acquaintances, Marian for one. Bar Harbor is a very small town in winter.

At lunch at Galyn's downtown, we run into Harriet. I have known her for years through the American Cancer Society, and she too is a friend of Marian's! Harriet is 80+, has survived colon and breast cancer, and has had a double mastectomy and a colostomy. A former nurse, she leads a very busy life helping others in Bar Harbor and world-wide. Every year, Harriet volunteers her time and nursing skills to assist medical teams that provide free services to the poor in Central or South America. She is one incredible lady.

Marian joins Ben and me for dinner and we catch up on the latest news in our lives. She enjoys taking a break from the Inn and the telephone. Her son, Scott, has managed the daily duties during her operation and recovery time. Marian closes the main Inn in the winter, but she has a separate building with suites which she rents by prior arrangement. After we leave, Marian will also be closing the suites to do renovations. Marian always has a renovation project going. She should have been an architect or interior designer. While lying in her hospital bed, she probably spent many hours mentally re-designing her room or the surgical floor.

We leave Bar Harbor early Monday morning. The trip has been so quick and we have done so much in just a 24 hour period, it seems like I have been gone a week. Being housebound and not exerting myself, I have forgotten how busy and full my schedule used to be. I look forward to better days when my energy returns. Maybe when this long winter ends, Spring will rejuvenate me.

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