Lincoln County News
May 14, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes plans for my upcoming TV appearance. I celebrate the half-way point of my radiation treatments. My mother and sister arrive for a short 5 day visit. And sad thoughts on parting with my old car.

April 17, 1998: I thought I already had my 15 minutes of fame with the front page newspaper stories about my cancer. Apparently, I now have another shot at fame and fortune. Today, Channel 6 (WCSH), the NBC affiliate in Portland, called the newspaper and wanted to speak to the LifeLines columnist (yours truly) about an interview. My editor, Judy, phoned me to relay this information. I then called the TV station and arranged to have Diane Atwood, the Health Beat reporter, come out next Thursday to interview me. She plans to film me writing my column and undergoing my radiation treatment. I guess this may be "a day in the life" of a cancer patient story. I was curious how Channel 6 found out about my column. According to Diane's assistant, the newsroom had spotted my column on the Internet and their interest was piqued. I don't know when my interview will air, but the newspaper has assigned Sue to follow the filming day as a story. So rest assured, my readers will be informed.

The famous television interview will take place while my mother and sister are visiting me. This is both good and bad news. The good news is my house will be thoroughly cleaned by my sister and inspected by my mother, so no dust bunnies will appear on camera. The bad news is the possible on-camera comments that may emanate from my sister or mother. I can imagine Mary Ann telling the viewing audience that I used to beat her up when we were little kids. I admit this is true, but two million viewers don't need to know about it. I have already instructed my mother to say, "Yes, I always knew Sandra would grow up to be a famous writer, from the day she first picked up a pencil and...".

Some other considerations for my film debut include Lurk going on-camera, which will be unavoidable. He will sniff every piece of camera equipment, the camera operator, and Diane Atwood. And he undoubtedly will perform his daily routine of walking across my desk and computer keyboard. He has no fear of strangers, in fact, he welcomes them into his home and pesters them for attention. I also plan to inform Channel 6 that if they really want to capture a day in my life, they must film me at Canfield's Restaurant, my frequent local "hang-out". I also have some left-over boxes of marshmallow peeps from my peep diet that can be used as props in my office. I don't think that Diane Atwood, who is a toothpick-size health and fitness reporter, has ever eaten a peep or cares to know about its nutritional value.

Today, marks the end of my third week of treatment. I have reached the half-way point! Contrary to the doctors' predictions, my throat seems to have improved greatly over the past week. The only complaints I have are fatigue, the continued tenderness in the rib area and a slight itchy rash which has developed in a few spots within the radiated area.

Mary Lou was my driver today, filling in for Sue. Now that ski season has ended, Mary Lou has returned from her mountain hide-away. She has generously offered to drive me to any of my treatments. Mary Lou will also be hosting my mother and sister at her B&B, The Snow Squall, next week. My sister wanted to make a little "vacation" out of their visit, so they have booked themselves into B&B's along the way. Mary Lou and her husband, Bob, are the ultimate hosts and their inn is absolutely charming. I will envy my sister and mother having fantastic breakfasts while I munch on my Cheerios.

Tonight, Ben, Paul, Sue and I had a return review of Maxwell's Restaurant in Bath. We had neglected to sample the prime rib last time, so tonight all four of us ordered it to make sure it was acceptable. It passed with flying colors and we still had room for a delicious bread pudding with rum sauce for dessert. Paul politely refused dessert, claiming he was too full. He then proceeded to finish half of Sue's pudding and some sauce from mine.

We arrive home to a message on the answering machine from Christy. Due to problems at work, she will have to be in her office on Monday and cannot come up to visit. When I call her back, she fills me in on her busy work schedule. Fortunately, she will at least have the chance to visit with my mother and sister on Sunday before they drive to Maine on Monday morning. Christy says she hopes to spend a weekend with us in May. My daughter's life is becoming so full with work commitments and we see her less and less. At least we have e mail and phone communications, but I still miss seeing her and watching her grow into such a talented, confident young woman. It saddens me to think that my illness may prevent me from seeing the woman she is yet to become.

April 18, 1998: My brother, Ray, called me today. He is the youngest of my siblings, and my only brother. I have not heard from him since Christmas. I think my illness is difficult for him to accept and its shows in his voice as a sense of sadness, frustration and helplessness. In one of Mary Ann's recent e mails, she noted that my mother was concerned about Ray's apparent inability to discuss my illness. I suspect that Ray, in dealing with my illness, must face his own mortality. He is very career-oriented and an over-achiever (like me) , who has worked hard to make a name for himself in the graphic design business. Perhaps, my illness illustrates for him how fragile life is, how in a moment, all that you consider important can be taken from you.

I am ten years older than Ray and I have achieved much in my life, both career and business-wise. More importantly, because of my three bouts with cancer, I have tried to contribute to the good of others in the 23 years that I have done volunteer work for the American Cancer Society. I say this not to be self-serving, but as an acknowledgment that my volunteer work has given true meaning to my life. My work and career success pale in comparison. And, according to letters from some of my readers, my column is helping them to cope with and understand cancer. Hearing from my readers and knowing that I am helping them makes my days brighter and more meaningful. I am confident that my life has been full. I have been blessed with the love and support of friends and family. What more could I want, other than "time"? And what person, whether they're healthy or ill, doesn't want more time?

April 20, 1998: My mother and sister, Mary Ann, arrived today for a five day visit. It is so wonderful to have them here with me this week! I haven't seen them since Christmas. We have already planned how we will spend each day.

My mother has brought a giant cooler filled with all the fixings for several meals. This includes an enormous ham, beef and fresh vegetables for making a soup, homemade chocolate chip cookies and most of the pots and pans from her kitchen. My mother has also brought a private stash of candy bars. My mother and I share a genetic pre-disposition to sugar and chocolate. I have saved 5 slightly stale pink peeps for her. Just last week, she informed me that she loved peeps, but they had to be stale! My mother is 73 years old and I had no clue that she shared this peep passion. Mom checks the peeps and says they aren't hard enough so she widens the hole in the cellophane to hasten the staleness.

Within an hour of my family's arrival, the ham is baking in my oven and my refrigerator is bursting at its seams. After my kitchen has been fully transformed into the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen, we drive over to the Snow Squall B& B in town. Mary Lou and Bob are there to graciously welcome us and to give us a quick tour of the inn. My mother and sister are pleased and excited about their beautifully furnished rooms. After they unpack, we return to my house for a photo session.

Sue is just pulling into my driveway when we return. She wants to get photos of my family for a newspaper article. Sue will have a busy week covering the filming of my upcoming TV appearance. Before I can even introduce Sue to my family, the phone rings and it's Diane Atwood, from Channel 6. Earlier today, I had faxed Diane some background information which I thought might be helpful to her in conducting my interview. We discuss some of the information and review the schedule for Thursday. Diane and the film crew will arrive at my house around 11 am. They plan to film me typing my column in my office. You can be sure that Mr. Over-size Furry Paperweight (Lurk) will walk across my desk or keyboard and demand equal time on camera. The next film segment will be lunch at Canfield's. I have invited Canfield regulars: Dot, Libby (who has just returned from her European tour) and Sue to join me and my family. Bobbye thinks her Dr's appointment will keep her from attending and Lynda will be out of town. Sue says she will be doing reporter duties during lunch, but I know she'll be eating coconut cream pie. After lunch, the film crew plans to follow me to treatment.

Tonight, my mother and sister accompany me to the Cancer Support Group meeting in Bath. Even though it is a small group this evening, my family can meet some of my friends and fellow cancer survivors. During the meeting, my sister and mother both have the opportunity to express and acknowledge their feelings about my illness and its impact on our family. They also seem moved by the cancer experiences discussed by the other group members. I am grateful that my mother and sister could be here this week to attend the Support Group meeting and to see how important this group has been to me.

April 21, 1998: Mary Lou has invited me to join my family for breakfast this week at the B&B. Today, Bob has prepared sausage and French Toast, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. It is an absolutely fantastic breakfast, though Mary Ann insists on sticking to her diet and eating cold cereal. She refuses to try my guaranteed weight-loss Peep Diet.

After breakfast, Mary Ann swings into full gear cleaning my house and tackling loads of laundry, while my mother makes tapioca pudding and starts her two day vegetable beef soup recipe. I call Canfield's to warn them of the upcoming lunch and TV filming on Thursday. I ask the owner, Mary Ann Canfield, to save us three tables and request that her daughter, Lisa, (the 5 star waitress) be there to take our orders. I also place a take-out order of three lobster rolls for today's lunch. My family has to have lobster rolls when they come to Maine.

My phone is ringing off the hook this week with people calling about my 1963 Corvette. I have placed an ad in a national car magazine, and received calls from California, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and Maine. Everyone wants to buy my car, but first I must decide who will provide the best home for "Velvet" (yes, my car has a name). I have warned all prospective buyers about the interview and adoption process. I will be interviewing them by phone and asking a series of questions. I have sent photos of Velvet to several of the prospective buyers, and my final decision will be based not on price, but who will provide the best home. She has been part of my life for 21 years. I feel like I am "selling" a member of the family, or at least, putting her up for permanent adoption. Choosing the right home is very important to me because selling Velvet has been a very difficult decision and it will most certainly be a sad parting.

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