Lincoln County News
November 12, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my second IV infusion treatment. My Halloween Costume party was a big success, but partying takes its toll on my energy levels.

October 29, 1998: Today is my second IV infusion of Aredia. Dr. Tom's office is busy and all the chairs are filled in the chemo room. Cindy checks my vital signs and weighs me. Much to my delight, I haven't turned into a giant blimp yet. I am having some fluid retention from the Megace drug I am taking, but apparently, it isn't showing up on the scale. Tom comes in to talk to me and review how I've been doing. He says that in two weeks, I can have the tumor marker blood tests to see if my tumor levels are responding to treatment and hopefully dropping. I will also have a CBC done to check my blood counts. Tom seems pleasantly surprised that for the past week or so, I have been feeling better and haven't taken a pain pill. He examines me before he heads out the door to a conference, and I go down the hall to the chemo room.

The chemo room is freezing today and everyone is bundled up in blankets, and complaining. It's cold and windy outside and Cindy says that the windows are drafty. The hospital owns the office building. I am surprised that they haven't fixed the windows or heated the office to 100 degrees like the hospital rooms. My hands are like ice, which means my veins have gone into their magic disappearing act. They have a habit of going into hiding when they are cold or when they sense we are in Dr. Tom's office or the hospital lab. I always spend a few minutes rubbing the back of my hand to bring the veins up. That doesn't seem to work today, so Cindy has me run my hands under warm water. Fortunately, it's enough so Cindy, the needle expert, is able to hit a small vein in one try. The IV is off and running and I have about a two hour wait for the bag to finish. Cindy takes beverage orders and serves those of us in the room, almost like we are on an airplane or should I say, a two hour chemo flight. A new nurse who I don't recognize, comes in and asks if I am the lady who was on TV. It is strange to be recognized for my fleeting moments of TV fame.

The IV goes quickly and I manage to write three or four letters. I am still picking away at the stacks of fan mail that came in while I was out on Tour. Being tethered to the IV, I might as well do something constructive rather than just sit there reading People Magazine. The only time I read magazines is while waiting in the hospital or Dr. offices, and those occasions are frequent enough that I never have to buy a magazine.

October 31, 1998: Today is Halloween and tonight is my famous annual Halloween Costume party. I am running around like crazy preparing food and putting the final touches to this big social event of the century. My daughter, Christy, is driving up from MA to help me with the party. She is going to spend the night, so we will have the chance to visit and catch up. Christy arrives around 10:15 am. I didn't expect her that early and welcome the assistance. She runs out to the grocery store for me and helps me get the last party items in order.

I have put Christy in charge of party games. While I try to rest on my bed for a few minutes, Christy and I think up the names of about 20 Halloween or horror movies. Each of our guests tonight will get a label put on their back with the name of a movie. They will have to guess the name of the movie, in a 20 questions type of game. Next, we figure out the rules to a dictionary game where a person chooses an obscure word from the dictionary and writes the meaning on a piece of paper. The person then shares the word with everyone else, but without telling the meaning. The rest of the group must write their own definitions which are then mixed into a pile with the correct answer. Then an appointed reader will read all the definitions and everyone gets to vote for their favorite or whatever they think is the correct answer. Points are awarded based on votes.

After getting our games in order, naptime is over and I help Christy with her costume. She is going as Monica Lewinsky. I have found a black wig for her in my costume closet. She has brought a blue dress with a piece of white felt attached to it with a yellow strip over it that says, "police evidence" . To complete the outfit, she stuffs her dress with some dacron falsies, puts on a black beret and wraps a tie around her neck with a cigar in the tie knot. Christy says this is the first cigar she has ever bought, and it will be her last. She makes a very striking, thinner, and I think much prettier Lewinsky. I hope my friends will be on their best behavior tonight and not tease her too much.

Ben is coming as a hobo tonight. He assembled his costume from Salvation Army cast-offs and has worn it on previous occasions. The costume consists of a disgusting pair of bright green polyester pants, mismatched socks, a faded and torn pale blue striped shirt, an ugly tie worn as a belt, a hideous tattered plaid sport jacket and hat, plus a ratty fake gray beard. The effect is further enhanced, or should I say made more disgusting, by the unbuttoned shirt and unzipped fly.

I have decided to do something equally tasteless, and that is to come as an aging Play Boy Bunny. It is not hard for me to play the aging part. From my enormous costume collection, I have selected a very short tight black vinyl skirt, tight black knit top, wide fuschia pink belt and black fishnet stockings, plus a white bow tie and pink bunny ears. Rather than disgrace one of my regular wigs, I choose a really fake looking long ash blonde number from my costume collection. Christy says I look tacky, so I guess I'm all set.

Our first party-goer arrives along with neighborhood trick or treaters who seem to be surprised by a hobo, Monica and a weird bunny opening the door. Dean is wearing a red devil or Satan costume. Dean is pretty huge to begin with, so he cuts a rather imposing figure. Soon, Tom arrives dressed as a cowboy, with Charlene looking like Mother Nature or the tooth fairy. She has on a long flowing pale lavender negligee, and is waving a fancy wand and blowing bubbles. Sue and Paul arrive as Jimmy Buffett Parrot Heads, carrying Margarita mix and a portable blender. Both are dressed in Hawaiian style clothing and elaborate straw hats topped with plastic Margarita glasses. Sue's hat is covered with blue plastic sharks that I recognize as items from Big Al's Free Gift Bar. Next, Rich, the Vampire arrives with Mary Ann dressed as a clown. Lacking inspiration, Big Al comes as himself. He is accompanied by Melissa, who is dressed like a miniature Big Al with a black beard and a stuffed gorilla T-shirt. Gary comes flying in the door as Zorro the Gay Blade, Cheryl is dressed like Spider Woman, and little Taylor looks adorable in her angel costume. Latecomers are Libby dressed as a black cat and Mary in an Indian sari.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, particularly during the games. It took about an hour for everyone to guess their movie tag. Ridiculously, I was one of the last to guess mine, "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers". And here Christy and I had thought up all of the movie names! The dictionary game was a big hit. Needless to say, there were many funny and creative definitions for words, with politics and off-color remarks incorporated into many. All in all, the party was a huge success. I was exhausted by the end of the evening and retired as soon as the last guest left, leaving poor Ben and Christy to clean up.

November 1, 1998: Christy is leaving this morning, but first we are having breakfast at Karen's with Dick and Mary, old friends of ours from way back. In addition to being friends, Christy and I both worked for Dick and Mary many years ago in the newspaper business. If it wasn't for Mary, I would still be in the fundraising business and burned out from working for non-profit organizations. Christy credits Mary for inspiring her career in public relations. Mary and I keep in touch by phone and e mail and occasionally we meet for lunch. We have always been so busy, but Mary is working part-time now and I am "retired" or whatever you want to call it. I hope we will have more time to get together now.

Christy heads for home after breakfast. As usual, the time has just flown by. At least we had more time together this weekend than we have had the past few times we were together. When we arrive home, I put Ben to work cleaning while I supervise. He does an absolutely super job and in no time, I have a clean house. It's hard to believe I just had a huge party.

November 2, 1998: Famous last words! I am regretting that I told Dr. Tom last week how wonderful I had been feeling and that I hadn't taken a pain pill. I can barely drag myself out of bed this morning. I am feeling so tired, my bones are aching and I guess I overdid it this weekend. Ben says that I always overdo things, so it's no wonder I am exhausted. I suspect that part of it may be last week's IV infusion which can cause some after-effect bone and joint pain. I think my discomfort is more than just exhaustion. In any case, I am discouraged. I had one week of reasonable energy levels and no pain, and now I am back to square one.

Tonight, we are making a presentation about my Tour at our cancer support group meeting. It is a bittersweet gathering. We are celebrating the birthday of one of our veteran members, and also mourning the loss of a member who lost his courageous battle with the disease last Friday. In this group, we all realize how important it is to celebrate life and the time we have on this earth.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)