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Lincoln County News
October 7, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a whirlwind trip to PA for a Tour appearance while I contend with increasing pain and nausea. Relief is in sight with a firm plan of action that includes radiation and weekly chemotherapy.

September 25, 1999: Today, we are leaving for a Tour appearance at a Corvette show in Pottstown, PA despite the fact that I am feeling very ill and in pain. I made the choice to go as I was afraid to stay home alone. Fortunately, Ben is doing all the driving on this 1100 mile two day odyssey. The show, a special benefit for the Tour, is sponsored by the Classic Glass Corvette Club. Several of the club members are Corvette friends we have known for many years, so their efforts and kindness are very special to us. There is no way we could miss this show.

On the way down, we stop in NJ to visit with my sister Peg for a few hours. It is a gorgeous warm fall day and we have a leisurely swim in Peg's pool. Peg has fixed some delicious appetizers for poolside and we plan to order in pizzas for an early dinner as we have yet another 1 1/2 hour drive to Pottstown tonight. I am feeling increasingly nauseated and my lower back and hip pain is intolerable. I decide to take one of my stronger pain pills. Within half an hour, I am leaning over Peg's patio and barfing into her holly bushes. I must be working on a weird record of vomiting in my family's gardens. Last fall, I had an allergic reaction to one of my hormonal pills and promptly threw that up in my father's rose garden. I figure that I have three more gardens to aim for: my brother, Ray's meticulously landscaped yard, my sister, Mary Ann's vegetable garden, and Christy and Nils' newly planted flower and vegetable garden.

As amusing and pathetic as this all seems, Ben, Peg and Bill are worried and alarmed. Ben and I quickly depart for Pottstown, with Ben swearing all along the way that he is going to take me to a hospital. I stubbornly refuse. When we arrive at the hotel, I crawl into bed and send Ben out to buy a heating pad for my back.

I slept until 10 am. the next morning. Ben arose early and went to the show. He returned at 10:30 am. and I dragged myself out of bed to make a three hour appearance at the show. Then, I returned to the hotel and went back to bed. We drove back home the following morning. I was in such pain that the trip seemed more like 900 hours than nine. This was my last scheduled Tour appearance of the year and I seriously wonder if Touring will ever again be part of my future.

September 29, 1999: Today is another marathon car drive, this time to Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to meet with Dr. Bunnell. After the PA trip, I am dreading getting into the car. My back and hip pain is out of control. Figuring that the pain killers were nauseating me, I stopped all my prescription drugs except for Zantac, which is helping to settle my stomach. I am taking only Ibuprofen and Tylenol, though they only manage to take the edge off the pain. Mercifully, my heating pad also provides some relief. At my daughter, Christy's suggestion, I have put myself on the BRAT diet which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast with various other bland foods included. I have not been able to eat properly in weeks with all the nausea and pain, and just two days on this diet have really helped.

My appointment at Farber is at 4 pm., rush hour in Boston. Ben and I arrive early and have only a 45 minute wait to see Bunnell. I have brought my x-rays and bone scans for him to review. Bunnell is concerned by the progression of the disease in the bones. He confirms what I suspected that the nausea is a reaction to the pain killers and the pain in my hip and back are related to the increasing tumors in those weight-bearing bones. He says I belong in treatment immediately and suggests I start a weekly chemo schedule of Taxol with radiation to my lower back and hip area. He says he will call Dr. Tom tomorrow morning before my scheduled late morning appointment with Tom. Bunnell thinks that the Taxol regimen will be better than Taxotere for me as they can regulate the Decadron, a steroid drug given to prevent allergic reactions to Taxol. I have had significant problems with Decadron in the past. Bunnell says if I tolerate the first treatment well, they can back off on the amount of Decadron.

After escaping Boston through late rush hour traffic, we drive to Christy's house in Bedford for a quick visit and dinner of take-out Chinese food. Christy has ordered me won ton soup and it is the first meal I have been able to tolerate in weeks. Circling the dining room table are the now slightly slimmer grandcats, Oops and Spot. They are on a diet of a reduced fat cat food and feeling the effects of deprivation.

September 30, 1999: Another marathon day of Dr. visits. Ben and I meet with Dr. Tom. He has already talked with Dr. Bunnell and the plan of action is decided. I will start weekly Taxol beginning October 14. Tom tells me that he wants to be present during my first Taxol treatment because of possible complications and reactions. I feel very reassured that I will be in good hands. Radiation to my hip and back will also be necessary, so Tom places a call to Dr. Jeff Young, my radiation oncologist. Miraculously, Jeff can fit me in for a consult later today at the Radiation Center in Bath. Jeff will be in charge of my radiation treatments.

Knowing that my pain is still an issue, Tom orders a prescription for a low dose Fentanyl patch. Similar to morphine, this drug is released in minute amounts to manage pain. Hopefully, the drug will not nauseate me and I can use it until the radiation and chemo start working their magic. I ask Tom if I can discontinue my Aredia treatments and await the release of Zoledronate which should be on the market in three months. He concurs and I leave the office feeling that we have negotiated a well-planned program of treatment and pain control.

Next, it is off to meet with Jeff Young, the radiation specialist who should have been an actor or soap opera star. He is too incredibly good-looking to be an oncologist. Those Mel Gibson looks shouldn't be wasted on a doctor, though Jeff is one of the most highly respected and skilled radiation oncologists in Maine. Well, at least his looks make office visits most pleasant. My readers should not interpret my comments to be in anyway sexist. They are the words of a pain-crazed, nauseated and deranged patient.

Jeff checks my x-rays and bone scans and says that two weeks of radiation to my right hip and part of my lower back in the sacrum area should handle the pain and kill some of the bone tumors. He schedules a visit next week to the Maine Medical Center facility in Portland for mapping, where they do a simulation and line you up for the radiation beams. You also get your radiation tattoos during this visit. The tattoos are tiny bright blue dots which are used to align you with the radiation beam. I ask Jeff if they have different colors to choose from this year, since they refused to do miniature Corvette tattoos for me during my last radiation treatments. Jeff says it is too hard to line up the beams on the Corvette wheels. Guess I will have some more blue dots to add to my tattoo collection.

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