Lincoln County News
October 8, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our Tour appearance in Pottstown, PA and probably what will be our last Corvette event of the season. My thoughts are now focused on upcoming treatments and a new plan of action to bring my disease under control.

September 24, 1998: Ben and I are in Shrewsbury, MA tonight for a Cruise Night at the Hebert Candy Mansion. The Cruise Night is sponsored by Corvettes United, a local Corvette Club. Ray and Ken, officers of the club, have set up tonight's Cruise Night to benefit the Tour. Ray says that their weekly Cruise Nights have raised over $2000 this summer for local charities.

Though skies are partly cloudy and the temperature is nippy, there is a tremendous turnout of cars. It is the last Cruise Night of the season and everyone is enjoying the last gasp of summer. We have a prime parking spot and I set up our display on a stone wall next to our car. Before it gets too busy, I have a few minutes to wander through Hebert's Candy Mansion. It is an old stone building that has been converted into a candy store and factory. It is a good thing that we don't live closer to Hebert's because I could do significant damage in their store, especially to any stock of dark chocolate covered creams. Unfortunately, Hebert's is out of small boxes of creams so I settle for a sample box of six cherry cordials.

Ray comes over to check out our display. He is dressed in a t-shirt, a tight black leather jacket, and an Elvis wig that looks like a small black animal has died on his head. Tonight's featured entertainment is an Elvis impersonator. Hopefully, it will not be Ray. A DJ plays music and calls numbers for door prizes until the real Elvis appears and goes through his routine, which is actually quite good. He is dressed in a white beaded jumpsuit and is chunky enough to be a "late" Elvis. He tells the crowd that he won first place in an Elvis impersonator contest out in Las Vegas several years ago.

During the evening, the Area Director from the local office of the American Cancer Society stops by to meet me and take photos of the car. She is new to ACS and very excited about working with the recently merged New England operation. It is wonderful to have enthusiastic folks like her involved in cancer control activities.

Before we leave, Ray and Ken present us with a check for proceeds from the evening. They tells us that they would like to support the cause next year and invite us to return when Cruise Nights resume in May.

September 25, 1998: This afternoon we arrive at Peg's house in Princeton. Poor Bill is working nights on a film in New York City. He leaves around 3:30 pm. each day and arrives home at 7 am., so he will miss the Somerville Cruise night we are attending this evening.

Harry and Elaine, our friends we met at Carlisle, are driving down from Fairlawn, NJ to join us for dinner and Cruise Night. Elaine had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer last October. When I saw her at last week's Cruise Night, she told me that her doctors had found some calcifications on her latest mammogram, and have scheduled a biopsy for October 6th. She is naturally worried and concerned. I try to reassure her by telling her that it is probably just scar tissue from her reconstructive surgery. Microcalcifications caused by scar tissue have appeared in all of the mammograms I have had since my surgery. The two biopsies I have had proved the calcifications to be benign. Hopefully, this will be true in Elaine's case.

I can identify with Elaine's fears. She confides that she thought her cancer was behind her. Her doctors are planning a surgical rather than a stereotactic needle type biopsy. She is worried that the biopsy will ruin the wonderful job that her plastic surgeon did on her reconstruction. In any case, the biopsy will tell her what she needs to know, so she can deal with it and get on with her life. Elaine is a very strong woman and can handle whatever comes along. Still, the wait for the biopsy is excruciating. Then, there will be another wait for the lab report. The wait and not knowing is the worst part about dealing with cancer.

Peg, Ben, Harry, Elaine and I have a wonderful dinner at Alfonso's in Somerville. Harry keeps us fully entertained with an endless stream of jokes from the Internet. Though I am sure he is an excellent CPA, he probably missed his calling as a stand-up comedian. No doubt his sense of humor helps them both cope with Elaine's cancer. Elaine has planned a trip to Israel late this Fall. She has always wanted to go to Israel and this is her dream trip of a lifetime, much like my summer cross-country Tour. I am happy that Elaine shares my philosophy of "don't wait". Life is too precious to put off living your dreams and doing what you always wanted to do.

I have been hesitant to tell Elaine the details of the bad news from my latest tests. I have also avoided telling a few of my other friends whose cancer is not as advanced as mine. I am afraid that they will worry that their disease will progress like mine. Every cancer patient is different. No two cancers respond exactly the same to chemotherapy or radiation. Some cancers are more stubborn and require different approaches. It is a question of finding the "magic bullet" that will work. Still, we must all face the reality that some cancers can be cured, and some cannot.

September 27, 1998: We have traveled to Pottstown, PA for a benefit car show hosted by our friends Joe, Carol, Mel, Betty and Marian from the Classic Glass Corvette Club. Their club is brand new, and a very friendly and enthusiastic group. This is their first Corvette Show, but plenty of advance planning has paid off, the weather is warm and sunny, and lots of Corvettes attend. They present us with a check for $500, which is the most we have received from any individual club! It is amazing what a small group of less than twenty people can do to organize such a successful event.

While we were at the show, Debby, one of my old high school buddies that I hadn't seen in 10 or 15 years, stopped by to see me. She had read an article in the local newspaper about my Tour appearance and the car show, which was held about five miles from her house. I was surprised that she recognized my married name and figured out it was me! It was fun to reminisce and catch up on the latest in our lives.

September 28, 1998: Today, Peg and I met my sister, Mary Ann, for lunch. I hadn't seen Mary Ann since our time together in Idaho, Utah and Las Vegas. Mary Ann brought me a photo album filled with great pictures from our trip together. We had fun looking through the scrapbook and re-living our summer adventures. Peg has also assembled photos of our summer travels together, and will put them in scrapbook form as well.

Mary Ann learned from my parents the bad news about the spread of my cancer. I had phoned my parents last week to fill them in on the results of my bone scan. They then passed along the news to Mary Ann and my brother, Ray. Mary Ann and Peg have since had a conversation about my situation and Peg has determined that she wants to be part of my future care. She has suggested that I could come stay with her and receive my treatment in New Jersey. In 1994, when I was first diagnosed, I received chemotherapy treatment through an oncologist, Dr. Harvey Rothberg, in Princeton, NJ. Harvey is a friend and colleague of my father's. He is still practicing medicine, though he has cut back to a couple of days a week.

I have some tough choices to make in the near future. I hate to leave Ben, my friends, Lurk, and my home in Maine. I will also regret leaving the security of my doctors here. I have decided to take it one step at a time. I first called Dr. Dy, the oncologist I met in Illinois, for an "outsider's" view and opinion. He suggested that I choose one medical oncologist who will oversee my treatment. He also recommended that I be as close as possible to an urgent care facility. He also told me what his plan of action would be regarding cat scans and tests. He suggested scans of my neck and chest nodes, and MRI's or scans of the bone areas in question. He said that the course of treatment would depend on where the cancer has spread. I will keep Dr. Dy's recommendations as a reference point. First and foremost, I will wait for Tom's evaluation and suggested course of treatment. In the meantime, I have scheduled a one hour evaluation appointment with Harvey on October 8th. I have been through surgery, two regimens of chemotherapy, radiation, and my current drug treatment. I am running out of options now, so I want to be sure that I exhaust all possibilities and make the best choice possible. The pain in my bones is becoming more of a problem. I find myself relying on several pain pills a day. I am willing to go through an aggressive treatment regimen again, but I want to have some assurance that it is worth it. Though it is hard for me to relinquish my independence, I must also think ahead to a time when my care will be in the hands of others.

September 30, 1998: We are on our way back to Maine. Last night, we spent the night at our daughter's home. It was awkward to talk to Christy about my latest news. She has so much going on in her life right now. It seems that every time we get together, we end up talking about medical situations. Christy had talked to Mary Ann and heard about Peg's suggested arrangement for me to stay with her in Princeton. Christy says it's a good idea because I enjoy a close friendship with Peg, that goes beyond being just sisters. She says I could also stay at her house if I chose to get treatment at Dana Farber in Boston, but she points out that I would be alone all day and plagued by the wild out of control grandcats.

On the way home, I stop at Tom's office for a two hour IV infusion of Aredia, a drug that helps prevent calcium loss from the bones. Tom examines me first and we discuss the results of the flat plate x-rays. As expected, they do not show much detail, except some bone thinning. He orders cat scans of my neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis which will be done tomorrow morning. The IV infusion goes well under Cindy's expert care. Cindy said this drug has minimal side effects and will offer some protection against further bone deterioration. Tom knows that I am headed to NJ next week for an evaluation with Dr. Rothberg. In the meantime, he is still trying to reach Dr. Richardson at Dana Farber to discuss my current situation. I will see Tom again in one month, for a second IV infusion, and he will be in touch with me by phone to discuss test results. I find myself back in the familiar frustrating routine of waiting for tests, reviews and evaluations!

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