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Lincoln County News
May 21, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal describes a week of both sad and happy events. My old car heads to its new home in Indiana. My friends and I are filmed and interviewed by Diane Atwood and camera crew from WCSH-TV.

April 22, 1998: My 1963 Corvette (Velvet) is one step closer to being sold and going to a new home. Last night, I e mailed photos to Michael, a prospective buyer in Indiana, and conducted an adoption interview by phone. Michael has already met some of my criteria for providing a good home: he has owned a Corvette, belongs to a Corvette Club, intends to drive and show my car, has a garage, and his wife is equally involved in "Corvetting". I inform Michael that I must also interview his wife. He probably thinks I am some kind of weirdo, but he agrees to have her phone me when she gets off work. When his wife, Diane, calls, she seems hesitant and a little scared. She no doubt wonders what this strange woman wants to ask her. She is calling on a speaker phone, probably so Michael can also hear my questions! I ask Diane if she likes Corvettes, what she does for work, about her children, and a whole barrage of questions. I am impressed with her answers and she seems like she will be a good "parent" for my car. I then ask her to put Michael on the phone. He has already booked a one-way plane ticket from Indianapolis to Portland tomorrow. Much to his relief, I tell him that he and Diane will be the new owners of my beloved Velvet. Michael can barely contain his excitement and says he will bring photos of his home and garage to show me. He knows that I will need to "see" Velvet's new home. I hang up the phone and realize that I have less than 24 hours before I will be signing over papers and surrendering my keys. Through my kitchen window, I can see Velvet's dark profile through the garage window and I burst into tears.

April 23, 1998: Today is my big film debut. Diane Atwood from WCSH TV in Portland is coming out to interview me and follow me around for the day. We will meet at the Radiation Center in Bath, where Diane will conduct interviews and film my treatment. The next stop will be Canfield's, to film my regular routine of eating with friends. Libby, Dot and one of my fans and pen pals, Sandra and her husband, Jim, will join me, my mother and sister. Sue will also be there in both her newspaper reporter and eating role.

As luck would have it, I have a "bad eye" day for my film debut. I no longer have "bad hair" days because I have wigs instead of hair. Last night, when I tried to remove one of my disposable soft contact lenses, the right one stuck to my eye. When it finally broke loose, it rolled up and hid in some secret place inside my eye. I had a contact lens disaster once before, but was able to locate the lens within 15 minutes. Last night, I was so tired, I gave up and went to bed with the lens still in hiding. It hurt, but I managed to sleep until 3 am., when I awoke feeling like a boulder was lodged under my eyelid. Ben phoned First Alert, the free 24 hour emergency information service offered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They suggested flushing the eye with water for 15 minutes. So I subjected my eye to a stream of running water for 5 minutes, which was all I could take. I then went back to bed, not knowing whether the lens was in my eye or had washed down the drain. When I awoke at 7 am., my eye was swollen, puffy and red. Perfect for going on camera. I will have to wear sunglasses or ask Diane to film me from the other side.

My radiation appointment has been changed to 11 am. today to accommodate the filming and allow a 45 min. time frame for Diane to interview the staff at the Center. I arrive shortly before 11 am. with my mother and sister, and Sue pulls in behind us. Sue will be photographing the entire proceedings and will also interview Diane. I feel like the ultimate celebrity, with both newspaper and TV coverage!

I have already changed into a gown and entered the radiation room when Diane arrives, accompanied by her camera man, Dennis. She comes right into the room and introduces herself. She is very friendly and looks just like she does on TV. Diane is familiar with all the radiation equipment and procedures because she was a radiation technician at Maine Medical Center prior to her television career! Both Diane and the radiation technicians immediately notice my "eye disaster" and express concern. The eye really looks awful and it feels almost as bad as it looks. I tell Dennis to film me from an angle that won't show it.

Dennis surveys the lighting situation and determines that he will need to film with the lights off. The technicians decide to do my treatment first, then turn off the lights and do a "simulated" treatment so Dennis can film me at a close-up angle. When the filming is wrapped up, I change into my street clothes while Diane interviews the technicians and Dr. Gilbert. While the interviews are being conducted, Jane, one of the head technicians, generously offers to give my mother and sister a tour of the treatment room and the equipment. She welcomes them into the room and explains the entire set-up.

After the interviews are completed, Diane and Dennis follow us to Canfield's Restaurant. When we arrive, my friends are all waiting for me at several tables set up in the back. Lisa is waitressing today and she has prepared for her television debut by purchasing a new outfit and telling all her customers about the upcoming filming. We decide to order lunch before doing any interviews. I am pleasantly surprised to see that Diane, the health and fitness reporter, does not order the fresh fruit and yogurt daily special and goes for the fish and chips. Dennis seems in seventh heaven with Canfield's lobster roll. I am very disappointed with Libby and Dot, who both order a diet lunch of fruit and yogurt and no dessert. They are trying to give Diane the mistaken impression that they eat only healthy low calorie foods when they come to Canfield's. However, I know otherwise. Sue was holding back as well, claiming she really didn't want to eat. I am considering asking Dennis to come back to Canfield's with a "hidden" camera sometime, and we will expose the truth about what my friends really eat.

After lunch, Diane interviews Sandra, Jim, Libby, Dot, Lisa and Mary Ann Canfield. Dennis films them all and also gets some shots of my columns that Mary Ann had posted on her bulletin board. He also gets a shot of my sister and me entering the restaurant.

Next, it's back to my house for filming me at my computer. Lurk checks out Diane, Dennis and his camera equipment. Diane has four cats and quickly settles down on my office floor with Lurk. With all the camera equipment and people jammed into my small office, I decide to put Lurk out on his tether in the yard. I am afraid that with all the commotion, Lurk, the master escape artist, will sneak out an open door. I don't think Dennis got any footage of Lurk, but His Furriness did receive an on-air mention.

Diane asks me to type at the computer while Dennis films me. She also looks through my stack of fan mail while I read an excerpt from one of my columns, so Dennis can do an audio. Later, we adjourn to the living room for an interview. I describe my peep addiction and diet. We also discuss more serious topics such as my journal, cancer and patient issues. Diane seems genuinely interested in my column and what I am doing, and it's easy to converse with her, even on camera. The time goes quickly and soon it's 3:30 and I have to be at my eye doctor's in Brunswick for a 4 pm. appointment to resolve the eye disaster. When my mother, sister and I make a hasty exit, Diane and Dennis are filming and interviewing a nervous Sue on my front doorstep.

The eye doctor says I have a nasty abrasion on the cornea and an infected conjunctiva from the lens disaster. He can't find any trace of the lens, so it probably was flushed out with the water. He gives me a prescription for antibiotic drops and says not to wear a contact lens in this eye until it heals. Since I am in the neighborhood, I duck into Midcoast Hospital for a blood test. Dr. Tom wants me to get a blood count this week. What a day! When we finally arrive home, I am exhausted, but more is yet to come. Ben is at the airport picking up Michael, who is flying in from Indiana. Michael is coming to look at Velvet, though the purchase and adoption is pretty much a done deal.

Michael's flight is delayed and Ben finally arrives home with him around 8 pm. I quickly size up this interloper who is taking away my car. He is gracious and polite in a friendly "mid-westerner" type of way. Knowing that he is under intense scrutiny, Michael produces photos of his house, garage and his wife, Diane. He has even taken the photos we e mailed him and super-imposed them on the background of a page from his Corvette Club scrapbook. I guess Velvet looks almost at home in the photo. After making Michael eat a ham sandwich and a little snack, I finally take him out to the garage to meet Velvet.

I watch Michael's face as we turn on the garage lights and take off the car cover. He seems in awe as he walks around the car and looks it over. I can tell that he is pleased. I ask him if Velvet looks as good as I described her on the phone. He says he is very impressed and that Velvet is even better than he expected. He says that he has never owned something as nice as this car. I can tell that Michael will take good care of Velvet. It has been a long day for me, so I excuse myself and go off to bed. I leave Ben and Michael to sort through all the paraphernalia that will go with my car and to do up the paperwork. Michael is spending the night at our house and will drive Velvet to Indiana tomorrow morning.

April 24, 1998: Today is a sad day of good-byes. My mother and sister are headed home after a short five day visit. My house has been spotlessly cleaned and my refrigerator filled to capacity with home-cooked meals. I don't know when I will see my family again. Hopefully, after I finish radiation, I can make a trip down to New Jersey. It was a tearful parting as my mother and sister drove away shortly after noon.

Earlier this morning, Velvet left for her new home in Seymour, Indiana. A steady rain was falling, as Michael backed Velvet out of my garage. Rain trickled slowly down the windshield and ran down the sides of Velvet's fenders. It looked almost like she was crying. A few minutes earlier, when we started her engine and warmed her up in the garage, the left headlight would not come up. The headlight motor was balky and needed a little assistance in cranking the light into the "up" position. Then, the rubber on one of the windshield wiper blades suddenly ripped apart. In the past, Velvet rarely has had a mechanical problem of any kind. I wonder if today's mechanical glitches, like little "protests", were signs that she was sad and reluctant to leave.

I broke down and cried as Michael drove up the street and headed home on his long journey of 1100 miles. Ben, my mother and Mary Ann all tried to comfort me and direct my thoughts toward my upcoming summer trip and my weekend visit to Bar Harbor. Ben and I are going up to Bar Harbor to help my friend, Marian, open up her inn for the season. I will need this trip to relax and take my mind off Velvet.

Ben takes me to treatment today since we will leave for Bar Harbor immediately after my appointment. Today marks the end of my 4th week of treatment, only two more weeks to go! Everyone at the Center is excited about yesterday's filming. The segment is supposed to be aired this evening on the 6 o'clock news. Several short promotional spots have already aired earlier today. I missed them all, but Libby, Mary Lou and Lynda have called to say they've seen them. Ben and I will set our VCR to record the segment as we will be in Bar Harbor.

As we pack the car to leave, Ben brings out a miniature model of a red 1998 Corvette that he purchased at WalMart a few weeks ago. I had placed the little car on the top of my computer for inspiration while I write my journal. Ben puts the model on the dashboard of our car. He says it will cheer me up and take my mind off Velvet. Right now, I am still in mourning and every time I look at the little red model, I start to cry. Maybe, in time, I can accept that parting with Velvet is bringing me one step closer to a new car and my cross-country trip.

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