Lincoln County News
October 14, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a week of pain and great sadness as I lose one of our best friends, Rich Canfield.

October 1, 1999: This week has been a true test of my strength and endurance in the face of grief, illness and pain. I have struggled for two weeks to get the pain in my hip and lower back under control. Unfortunately, every prescription pill has led to nausea and vomiting. Today, Dr. Tom is trying me on a low-dose Fentanyl patch which he says will not cause vomiting and nausea.

Figuring this may be a safe time to do a restaurant review, Sue and Paul are joining us at Richard's Restaurant in Brunswick. Paul says he's been having a holsteinschnitzel attack. Even though I am hobbling around in pain, my appetite is intact, and weinerschnitzel sounds just fine to me. I manage to eat half my dinner and take the rest home in a doggy bag.

As we are leaving through the back door of the restaurant I am overcome by a few puffs of cigar smoke coming from the lounge. Suddenly I feel very ill and start looking for bushes. I quickly find some stubby little shrubs in the back parking lot. I barf for several minutes and Ben seems surprised by the sudden turn of events. I warn him that the attack isn't over yet and to find me a plastic bag for the ride home. I almost make it to our doorstep without having to use the bag.

We go inside and I rip off the patch - it has been on only 8 hours. I know it must be the source of the problem. The vomiting attacks continue until 4:00 am. In desperation, I resort to my "top gun" treatment, one of my 2 Kytril anti-nausea pills that cost $45 apiece. It does the trick, and I sleep until 10:00 am.

Sat. Oct. 2, 1999: Ben calls Dr. Tom to report on last night's vomiting episode. Tom says it is obvious that I cannot tolerate the heavy pain medications now, and will need to resort to my old pattern of Tylenol and ibuprofen every four hours and to stick to my Zantac and BRAT diet. I am not looking forward to the pain lasting through my radiation treatments. Tom decides to order two different drugs to address the pain: Amitriptyline, an antidepressant which helps nerve pain, and Ultram, a prescription analgesic. Hopefully, this combination will work.

Late this afternoon while I am resting, I receive a phone call from Mary Ann Canfield. Rich has just suffered a massive heart attack and is being rushed to Miles Hospital by ambulance. What a shock, but I try to console Mary Ann from my bedside post. There is no way I can drive up to Damariscotta in my condition. I feel so helpless as she and Rich have been such dear friends to me. Mary Ann has a long list of religious and moral concerns she is facing including cremation, lining up a good funeral home and the ethical point of pulling the plug since poor Rich is now only being kept alive by machines. I suggest that her priest could be very helpful to her and her family in working through these issues when it comes time to make the final decisions. My heart goes out to Mary Ann and I would have given anything to hold her in my arms and reassure her that God would provide for Rich. I assure her we will keep in touch by phone. Mary Ann is now surrounded by her entire family who has flown or driven up from NJ to be with her. Thankfully, she has her family by her side during this difficult time.

Rich and I shared a common bond of dealing with a life-threatening illness. We would often sit at a side table at Canfield's and discuss our daily ups and downs. Rich's situation was much worst than mine as he was dealing with a triple heart by-pass, thyroid problems, diabetes and daily dialysis! He took 35 pills a day, in addition to his insulin. Sometimes this combinations of pills would conflict. It was a pharmacist's nightmare to keep on top of everything Rich was taking. I called Rich the Bionic man as he always seemed to keep going despite the worst possible circumstances. Like me, he would have his good and bad days. Dialysis to Rich was like taking a number and lying there for 5 hours. He would often talk about the fellow patients and would mention quite matter of factly when a member would pass away.

Rich kept on going primarily because of his strong love for his wife and family. Right to the end, he would push himself way beyond human endurance to snowplow his driveway or mow his lawn. A real fighter, he never wanted to lose control or give in to his disease.

Rich and I also shared a love for cats and moreover, cats liked Rich immensely. Since Lurk was a frequent visitor to Rich and Mary Ann's house, he took a permanent liking to Rich, curling up on his recliner or sharing his side of the bed. Mary Ann felt slightly miffed because she was the one who fed, brushed and fussed over Lurk. Rich also called Lurk, "Lurch", who was a character in the old TV series the Addams Family. Several of my other friends make the same mistake but fortunately Lurk responds to just about any name.

I never knew the real Rich before his illnesses. He worked several jobs and managed a seafood restaurant and Bar in NJ. In his few minutes of spare time, he loved wood crafting and cabinetry. He carved beautiful designs on many pieces of furniture. I was sorry that "retirement" in Maine never gave him the time to pursue this hobby. Tonight, I can hardly fall back to sleep worrying about poor Rich.

Sunday Oct. 3, 1999: I have promised to attend two of the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events today. I am in extreme pain and can hardly walk. I manage to do the kick-off speech for the Lewiston event at 8:30 am. and lead the march in my Corvette. Then I return home to rest and a phone call from Mary Ann saying that the cardiologists and neurologists are examining Rich and that the news is not good. A decision to pull the plug will be made around 3 pm.

At 3 pm., I am at the Damariscotta Making Strides event. I am presented with a pink flower and a pink balloon of hope. I released my balloon at just about the same time that Rich was taken off life support. It was a fitting tribute to a man who filled his life with hope and determination and shared his love with all. As Mary Ann told me later, Rich said he was going to a much better place where he would be finally free from pain and where he would forever be smiling down on her.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)