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Lincoln County News
May 28, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my trip to an American Cancer Society meeting in New Hampshire. Nearing the end of radiation treatments, I prepare for a higher dose "boost". Thoughts of leaping lizards and yurt restaurants keep me amused, and "City of Angels" comforts me.

April 28, 1998: Today, I am headed out on the longest trip I have taken in several months. I am traveling to the American Cancer Society Board of Directors' meeting in Nashua, NH. I have missed several meetings and participated by conference call. I was supposed to travel with another Director, but she had to cancel her plans. So, I phoned Lynda, my friend and Thursday driver and asked if she would be interested in driving me to New Hampshire and spending the night at the Nashua Marriott. Lynda had previously offered to drive me to Boston, so I figured her offer might still be valid for other points south. Lynda was absolutely delighted. I told her she could shop at the Malls or go to a movie during my meeting. Instead, she says she has a close friend in nearby Merrimack and will visit with her.

My radiation treatment has be re-scheduled for 7:15 am., so I won't miss a treatment. Ben drops me off at the Center and Lynda meets me there. On our way to Nashua, we stop at Lynda's house in Yarmouth and I meet her cat, Abbie. She is a very friendly black and white kitty who seems to appreciate strangers even more than Lurk.

We arrive in Nashua and check into the hotel in time for lunch before my meeting. Lynda then leaves for Merrimack while I go into a five hour meeting. I have not seen my fellow Directors since December. Some of them have heard about my TV appearance and all of them have been following my column with great interest. We have about 25 Board members, and as a cancer patient, I see myself in a special role representing patients throughout New England. I believe that my presence at meetings will keep us focused on our mission to serve patients and devote resources to cancer research and control.

It's 8 pm. before I get out of the meeting and return to my room. Lynda is already in her pajamas and working on her knitting. She usually goes to bed early and is an early riser. I am more of a night owl. Lynda and I have a little PJ party and chat until 11 pm. I have kept Lynda up long past her bedtime, but we enjoyed getting to know each other better. I am so lucky to have met such a wonderful new friend, all as a result of her reading my column.

April 30, 1998: Today, I meet with Jeff before my radiation treatment. He has been at conferences and on vacation the past two weeks. He comments that it was more work than vacation time, and he looks a little tired from running ragged trying to catch up on work. Jeff carefully examines my neck area and nodes. He says the nodes have shrunk from the treatment, though one node may be larger due to scar tissue from the biopsy. I ask Jeff if he believes it is necessary to re-do all my CAT scans and tests following radiation. He says that he would be comfortable with doing just flat plate x-rays of the rib area. I suggest that he share that recommendation with Dr. Tom.

I am trying to avoid a huge barrage of tests and will ask Tom if I can perhaps have rib x-rays and blood chemistry studies done, and no more. I am also due for another mammogram and a visit to my surgeon, Wes, in Bangor in June. I called Wes's office and got his permission to re-schedule the mammogram in September.

Jeff tells me that I have done very well with my radiation treatments and I should be finished in about a week. He says that they will do a one-week "boost" starting next Monday. A boost is an increased dose of radiation to a smaller targeted area. It will be a photon boost that can be done at the Bath Center. Electron boosts can only be done at the Portland Center. I am happy to hear that I can finish up in Bath and avoid the drive to Portland. Today, the technicians will map out a new field for the boost.

Jane, the technician, marks out a new area on my neck and upper chest with a blue marker pen. She warns me not to wash off the marks over the weekend. I am afraid that the marks will disappear and Jane says she can give me some permanent tattoo marks. I decline the tattoo offer, so she gives me a marker pen for touch-up's over the weekend. I have four or five cross marks and Jane says I won't be able to wear revealing clothing until the boost treatment is over. I tell her that unfortunately that will put an end to my part-time career as a professional stripper. Fortunately, I have my literary talents to fall back on when all else fails.

May 1, 1998: Sue takes me to treatment today following a planning lunch at Canfield's. The planning, of course, is for dinner. Tonight the roving restaurant review is visiting Bullwinkle's Restaurant in Waldoboro. Bullwinkle's is very busy on weekends, so I phone ahead for reservations. I tell Jo Ann, the co-owner, that we are coming up to review the restaurant. Jo Ann has been reading my columns, so she knows what type of review I conduct. She says she'll warn the waitress.

Sue is in rare form tonight and issues a Margarita challenge. I accept because Jose Cuervo is a friend of mine and I will stand up for him every time. Our Margaritas come in cute glasses with green cactus stems. Our waitress remarks that she knows who I am, that I am "the columnist". Her service is impeccable and she is quick to throw in little witty remarks that make our visit even more pleasant. Paul and Sue order the prime rib, Ben asks to have his salmon broiled Cajun-style and I order my old stand-by, fried shrimp. Sue and Paul order an appetizer of fried cauliflower served with a "Leaping Lizard" sauce. I assume no lizards were sacrificed in preparing this, though I will not swear to it.

During dinner, we discuss how we can write a real restaurant review and submit it to the newspaper. After our Margaritas, the discussion deteriorates to writing a fake restaurant review, creating a fake restaurant with perhaps Tibetan cuisine, with rather disgusting items boiled in yak milk. Patrons would be transported up the side of a small mountain by yak to the restaurant located in a yurt on the mountain's summit. We finally decide that many people might actually believe that such a restaurant existed, since we had planned on giving directions to its location. Figuring this might anger our readers when they found out that such a restaurant did NOT exist, we planned a retraction in the newspaper the following week. The retraction would state that, yes, the restaurant did exist, but not in Maine. In reality, the restaurant was located in New Mexico. We were confused about its location because we had been abducted by aliens and taken to this yurt restaurant near Devil's Tower. Readers can rest assured that even though the yurt is located in the southwest desert, no lizards (or sauces made from them) are served on the menu.

Following our superb 5 star meal, the waitress suggests we adjourn to the Bog, Bullwinkle's lounge, for karaoke. Not being a big-time performer, Paul immediately goes out to the car while Sue, Ben and I head over to the lounge. Actually, unbeknownst to Paul, we spotted a friend's car in the parking lot and went back inside the restaurant to find him. We find Big Al and Melissa dining in the room next to the lounge and chat with them. When we come out, we tell Paul that we have been singing, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" on karaoke. He believes our story. I fully intend to go back for karaoke some night, though Sue says it will take about 20 Margaritas before she will perform.

May 2, 1998: This morning, Christy calls to check in and make arrangements for a Mother's Day visit. It is a miserable rainy weekend and Christy had planned to do yard work. With the rain, she is now stuck indoors. I suggest that she drive up this weekend instead of next and I will count it as an early Mother's Day celebration. It has been almost two months since we have seen Christy and I am really looking forward to her visit. She arrives in mid-afternoon and we have the opportunity to catch up on what's happening in our lives before heading to dinner at Le Garage. I love to do holiday dinners at Le Garage. It has become a tradition for us at Easter, Mother's Day and many a lunch and dinner in between. Tonight, Christy also gets a first-hand look at the salvage work being done on the remains of the two schooners. She had recently mailed us a story from the Boston Globe about the removal of the schooners.

I am having difficulty eating this weekend. The inside of my mouth is burned from the radiation. It feels like it has been burned by hot coffee. I also have a few mouth sores on the radiation side. It is difficult to taste things and I am avoiding spicy foods and hot drinks because they seem to further irritate the area. I keep reminding myself that the soreness is only temporary because my treatment will soon be over, and any ill effects will be gone in a couple of weeks.

May 3, 1998: Today, we decide to go to a matinee movie with Christy before she drives back to Bedford. We see "City of Angels" with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan. It is a very moving and emotional movie, and one that should be seen more than once to fully grasp the meaning and symbolism. I suppose my take on this movie as a Stage 4 cancer patient may be different from many viewers. I know that I have been touched and aided by angels (or divine intervention) many times since my cancer diagnosis, and particularly, since the recurrence and spread of my cancer. I don't consider myself to be a religious fanatic, but I know from first-hand experience what it is like to feel the presence and power of something greater than my mortal self. It is my personal belief that many who have gone before me on life's path, are now with me on my own uncertain journey. It was very interesting to see the reaction of fellow movie-goers. It was intensely quiet throughout the movie and not a word was spoken when the movie ended.

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