Lincoln County News
October 29, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my final days in New Jersey and visits with my sisters, brother and parents. A bad reaction eliminates a promising drug from my treatment plan. Another drug is selected and a new treatment plan is scheduled.

October 16, 1998: It is a sad day of good-byes. Today, I am leaving my sister, Peg's house and will return to Maine on Sunday. First though, I will visit my parents at their beach house in Barnegat Light. My brother, Ray, is driving me down there this morning.

I was spared a trip to the symphony and to hear the violinist last night when my sister Mary Ann canceled out because she was ill. Instead this morning, Mary Ann, Peg and I made plans to go to the Carousel, Princeton's breakfast hangout. The restaurant is so tiny and cramped that you sit elbow to elbow, but the food is great. I am not feeling well, having awoken with a vicious headache and dizziness. I barely manage to eat half of my breakfast. Yesterday, I also woke up with a headache, so I am beginning to wonder if it is related to the new drug, Arimidex, that I just started taking.

After breakfast, we return to Peg's and I haul all my belongings out to my brother's car. I am looking forward to visiting with him, even for just these few hours. I say my tearful good-byes to Peg and Mary Ann. I am not certain when I will be back down to Princeton. They promise to drive up to see me, perhaps in November.

On the way to the shore, Ray stops by his house to introduce me to his new dog, Pogo, a miniature black and tan dachshund puppy, with big front feet and long ears. Ray warns that Pogo may bark at me, but I must smell like family and after a few sniffs, he licks my hand. Pogo was purchased for my niece, Laura, but immediately bonded with my sister-in-law, Jo Ann. Much like Spanky, my sister Peg's Jack Russell who is permanently attached to her. Spending time with Spanky, I have learned to be more of a dog person, though I am really a cat person at heart. Both Spanky and Pogo are small dogs about the size of Lurk, my cat. Lurk also exhibits dog-like behavior, so it isn't much of a stretch to fall in love with these two dogs. The past few weeks, Peg and I have had some fun with Spanky who likes to dress up, or should I say, doesn't mind being humiliated by wearing dog clothes. Spanky was wearing a little Kokopeli scarf that Peg bought for him on our trip this summer. I suggested that it was time to change his outfit for the season, so we went to WalMart and bought a tiny tot's size Halloween vampire costume. The outfit, which fit him perfectly, included a black cape with stand-up collar, a bat insignia, and a little gray vest. Peg and I laughed ourselves silly as Spanky ran around the house, his cape flying in the breeze, all excited about his new outfit. I told Peg that we should rename him Count Dogula or Count Spankula. Peg promised to take the Count out trick or treating on Halloween, and will send me photos.

After leaving Pogo, Ray and I continue on our hour long drive to my parents. During the trip, to keep my mind off my increasing nausea, I talk about highlights of my Tour and Corvettes. Ray shares a passion for them and owns a beautiful '98 silver convertible. I haven't seen Ray in over three months and it was so good to catch up on the latest news in our lives.

I also told Ray about a crazy dream I had about him two nights ago. It seems that Ray was hosting an office party for his staff and their family. It was a large gathering (very odd since Ray has only one employee!) and it was taking place at a resort area on a bay. Ray had a large VW bus, colorfully painted with his company signs. The bus was very unusual because it was designed to travel on water and had water skis underneath it! Ray and all his office staff and family were on top of the bus and having a great time out on the water. A large boat was towing the bus. Ray told the boat driver to, "Take it up to 100!". When he did, everyone fell into the water and was laughing. The boat turned around, picked up the soggy partygoers, and took them safely back to shore where they watched and laughed as the bus slowly sank. Unfortunately, the local police then arrived to inform Ray that his sinking bus was a navigational hazard and would have to be removed. Then another man arrived, apparently a salvage diver, who said he could retrieve their valuables, wallets, purses, etc. Ray said he had his wallet. Then I woke up. If this dream has a hidden meaning, it eludes me. Ray says he hopes it doesn't mean he has to hire a huge staff!

When we arrive at my parents, we immediately leave to have lunch at Mustache Bill's, a local diner. I order a cup of soup and iced tea, which I barely touch. Fortunately, everyone eats quickly and we return home in short order. I am focused on getting upstairs to the bathroom so I can throw up, but my parents who are unaware of the full extent of my discomfort, want me to see my Dad's flower garden. I take one look and barf on the rose bushes. Well, actually, I tried to direct it more towards the mulch.

My dad the doctor, surmises that perhaps I am having a reaction to the Arimidex. He finds his Physician's Desk Reference book and looks up Arimidex. Headache, nausea and vomiting are on the list of side effects. He tells me not to take any more of the drug until I see Tom next week. In the meantime, I am feeling quite wretched, so I take an Ativan to quell the nausea and some Tylenol for the headache. By the end of the day, I am feeling slightly better, but drained. I skip dinner and go to bed early.

October 18, 1998: Ben has driven down from Maine to pick me up. Fortunately, I felt much better yesterday and was able to enjoy a ride in my Dad's little skiff, plus a walk on the beach. It was a quick visit with my parents, as Ben and I are driving home to Maine today. It is about 475 miles and if we make just a few stops, we can do it in eight hours.

My mother has made some homemade vegetable soup, sandwiches and cookies for us to take back with us. My parents hug me good-bye and promise me that if I need any help, they will come up. Mom says they have plane tickets they can use. As much as I would love to see them, I hope it will not be because I am so ill that I need assistance. I would much rather see them on their own turf, be feeling well and walking the beach.

October 21, 1998: Today, is my appointment with Dr. Tom. While I am waiting to see him, a woman named Patty comes over and asks if I am Sandy, the writer of the column. I am surprised by the number of folks who stop me on the street, in restaurants, doctor's offices or the hospital. They recognize me from my picture with hair, which I am starting to resemble more now that my hair has grown a couple of inches. Patty thanks me for "telling it like it is". She is particularly pleased that I spoke out about my problems with radiation treatments and she shares some stories about her radiation ordeals. Patty says her sister, who is frightened by cancer, finds my column helpful and informative. After Patty walked away, I felt rejuvenated. I am not feeling so great these days. The bone tumors cause me intermittent pain, some nights I sleep miserably, and some days are better than others. But, positive energy keeps me going and knowing that I have helped others is very healing.

When I meet with Tom, I describe my reaction to the Arimidex. He is disappointed, but says we can try another drug instead. He will put me on Megace, a drug that alters the hormonal milieu, similar to how Tamoxofen and Arimidex work. Tom says that Megace can cause fluid retention, which I experienced when I took the drug for two weeks back in 1995. The fluid retention can be managed with a diuretic and he gives me a prescription for one. He also adds that Megace can cause a weight gain of 5-10 lbs., and not just fluid weight. Oh joy, just what I need! I ask if that means I will turn into a big blimp. Tom laughs and says that he wouldn't quite describe it that way. He explains that Megace is sometimes used as an appetite stimulant. I can see myself now, pigging out at Canfield's every night and snacking on Cheese Doodles and M & M's at 3 am.

Tom says he will continue my monthly IV infusions of Aredia. He talked to Harvey late last week to review my status. Without elaborating on details, he says they both agree that my recent mammogram showing 3 areas of calcifications is the least of my problems. Instead of doing a biopsy, they will do a follow-up mammogram in six months. Tom says that I will not need another blood test for a few weeks. He will do a tumor marker test then to check my tumor levels. When I come in for my Aredia infusion next week, we will discuss possibly changing my sleeping medication. I have had trouble sleeping, though much of that is due to bone pain and lying on my broken ribs. I tell Tom that I take only one or two pain pills a day and he seems quite surprised that I am managing on these wimpy, Tylenol-based pain pills. He says I can combine them with my sleeping pill if I want. Throughout my entire visit, we never discussed chemotherapy and that was a relief. I want to concentrate on one thing at a time.

October 22, 1998: Today, Ben and I went to Merrill Auditorium in Portland to hear Bernie Siegel speak. What a delightful, funny person! Bernie is a surgeon who has worked for many years with cancer patients. Back in the late '70's, Bernie came to the realization that his surgical skills were not all that was necessary to treat cancer. Through much soul-searching and personal experiences with cancer patients, he discovered the true meaning of healing. A well-known author, Bernie has written many excellent books, which are available through libraries and local bookstores. I highly recommend Bernie to my readers. I share his same attitude and outlook on life: love, hope and optimism, mixed with a slightly outrageous sense of humor. It clearly shines through in all of his books and I hope it does the same in my writing.

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