Lincoln County News
October 15, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

October 1, 1998: Today, I am having cat scans done at MidCoast Hospital in Brunswick. I despise these tests because you have to drink three bottles of disgusting scan liquid. They tell you that it tastes like a vanilla milkshake, but don't believe them. I add chocolate syrup to it to disguise some of the taste. Fortunately, I have to start drinking the stuff at 6:30 am. when I am not fully awake. Not being a morning person, I manage to drink 2 bottles by 7 am. without too much difficulty. It is the 7:30 am. bottle, that I have to drink in the car on the way to Brunswick, that's the real killer.

Dr. Tom has ordered the scans to check the lymph nodes in my neck and chest area. In addition, they are doing scans of the abdomen and pelvis to check for evidence of disease in those areas. Linda, the cat scan lady, is sad to see me return for tests. She knows that the scans have been ordered because of the further spread of cancer into my bones. She is very kind and careful to make me comfortable throughout the 45 minute scan procedure. She gives me a hug when it is all over and wishes me well.

I hope to have the results of the scans tomorrow. I will be picking up all my x-rays, scans and reports to take to New Jersey with me this Saturday. Next Thursday, I will see Dr. Harvey Rothberg, the oncologist who handled part of my treatment in 1994. Harvey will be evaluating my current situation and I will be looking to him for a second opinion. Meanwhile, Dr. Tom is waiting to hear from Dr. Richardson at Dana Farber. They will discuss my case and determine a plan of treatment.

October 2, 1998: Ben has picked up my medical reports and x-rays this afternoon. Dr. Tom's office tells him that my scans look good. That is some relief after the bad news from the bone scan. Ben arrives home with the huge folder of x-rays and reports while I am being interviewed by a reporter from the Wiscasset newspaper. She is doing a follow-up story of my Tour and return home to Maine. Ironically, she is there to witness me receiving the news of my scans and watch as I sift through the scan reports from the radiologist. I am not too pleased with the wording of "liver metastases" used to describe areas that were thought to be benign cysts in my previous liver scans. I will ask Tom about this, but for now, I will take some satisfaction in knowing that no unusual changes other than the bone areas were noted.

Tonight is a sad parting. I have packed my bags for the trip to New Jersey. I am not certain when I will be returning to Maine. It will all depend on which course of treatment I will be receiving. Paul and Sue are meeting us for a much belated restaurant review at Maxwell's in Bath. We have not conducted a "review" since last June. At the last minute, Big Al and Melissa ask to join us and we have a fun evening together with lots of jokes and laughter. Afterwards, we walk down to the Bath waterfront to see a visiting wooden replica ship, the Endeavor. I hated to see the evening end. Sue gave me a little going away gift of a stuffed beanie rabbit. I have such dear friends. I will miss them all, but I know they will cheer Ben up and include him in their social activities.

October 4, 1998: I am at my sister Peg's house, in Princeton, NJ. Ben and I arrived yesterday with a couple of suitcases and what seems like a ton of medical files. For the first time in months, my Corvette is not fully loaded. The trunk and back of my car have resembled a band of traveling gypsies or something out of Grapes of Wrath with suitcases, boxes and clothes piled high. Ben is driving home to Maine today and returning to work tomorrow. It is a sad parting because we have not talked about a specific time for him to come back down to visit or to pick me up. We have left it open-ended. I will have my evaluation and review with Dr. Harvey Rothberg here in Princeton, this coming Thursday. After that, I will have some decisions to make regarding upcoming treatment. Peg and Bill have insisted that I stay with them. Peg says that she wants to help me out during the coming months. It is not fair to ask her to come to Maine and leave Bill and her son, Kevan, who is in high school. So, it is more convenient for me to stay in New Jersey, should I decide to do treatment down here.

October 8, 1998: Today, is my evaluation with Dr. Harvey Rothberg. It is pouring rain so I stuff all my records and x-rays into a large plastic bag to keep them dry. My entire life is in a kitchen-sized white plastic trash bag! After filling out all the insurance information at the front desk, I am ushered into Harvey's office. He is very cordial and kind and asks about my mother and father. Harvey has known my father for years as a friend and fellow physician. Harvey used to play golf with my dad. I tell him that my dad has pretty much confined his interests lately to his new boat, fishing and gardening.

We soon move on to the matter at hand as Harvey has to be brought up to date on the status of my cancer. He last saw me in October 1994, though he has some notes from Dr. Tom that are more recent. Harvey asks me questions and carefully takes notes of the sequence of events in my case since October 1994. He also inquires about my emotional health. He comments that he thinks I am much more at ease with my diagnosis than I was in the summer of 1994. He asks if I have had counseling or taken Prosac. I smile and say that back in 1994, things were very different. I was very stressed out from not being able to work full time because of my illness, and on top of everything, Ben had just lost his job. So 1994 was not a very good year for me. I have come a long way in the acceptance of my disease and in the healing process, especially this past summer. I explain that my Tour has really helped me focus on my emotional well-being.

Harvey examines me and says he will try to phone Dr. Tom this afternoon to discuss my status and a course of treatment. First, Harvey says he must spend an hour or so reviewing the huge pile of scans and x-rays. In the meantime, he sends me to the lab for several blood tests, including two tumor marker tests, which he says are newer versions of the one I just had in Maine. Harvey also tells me to discontinue taking Raloxifene, as he thinks the drug has not done anything for me. He agrees that I should continue the Aredia drug infusion monthly. He will call me tomorrow around 5 pm., if he has an opportunity to review everything with Tom. If not, he will call me on Monday. I don't mind waiting as I know Harvey is being very thorough and when he does call, he will have a suggested plan of treatment.

Ben and Christy call tonight to see how my evaluation went. I also get a phone call from Elaine. She received some bad news concerning her breast biopsy earlier this week. Two tiny areas of lobular cancer were identified and one 2 mm. area of invasive intra-ductal cancer were detected. Her surgeon will be presenting her case for review and will have a suggested plan of action for her by the middle of next week. I encourage her to focus her energies on what needs to be done to cure her cancer. She is a strong positive person and these qualities will see her through. Elaine says she is going shopping tomorrow as a form of therapy. I tell her to get her hair and nails done, too, but she says she already did that earlier this week. I also plan to go shopping tomorrow with Peg. My motto is "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping". Elaine and I are both in the dreadful "waiting" process. First, it was the wait for our tests and biopsy results, now it's the wait for our treatment plans.

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