Lincoln County News
September 10, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes our Tour appearance at Corvettes At Carlisle, the largest Corvette event in the country. This weekend show proves to be one of my most memorable stops this summer.

August 27, 1998: We are in Carlisle, PA for Corvettes of Carlisle, the largest Corvette event in the country. Last night, when we arrived at our hotel, I had a message waiting for me from Sandy, who is involved with planning some of the weekend events, principally the Fashion Show. She wanted to meet with me to review details.

I met Sandy in Bloomington earlier this summer. She is a delightful, friendly lady whom I liked immediately. I am looking forward to working with her. Last night, I finally reached her by phone and we agreed to meet at the hotel. However, when I sat down and opened my briefcase, she admitted that she had called this meeting for another reason. She informed me that several days ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer! She told me that she was shocked by the news. She has always been vigilant about her health and her mammograms. Previously, she had a biopsy which proved to be benign. Last week's biopsy showed a malignancy.

Her anguish and concern were heart-wrenching. She was fighting back tears during our whole conversation. It is so overwhelming to receive a diagnosis of cancer when you are feeling and looking perfectly healthy. You ask yourself, how can this be happening? She had so many questions and concerns. She had not broken the news to her family yet, other than her husband, though she was planning to do so after Carlisle. I tried to answer her questions and give her some advice. Ten thousand things must be running through her mind now. She seemed determined to get through the weekend and keep completely focused on her job. She warned me that she would not discuss her cancer again during the weekend, and this would be our only conversation about it. I told her to call me or write me at any time. She will be undergoing surgery in about three weeks.

After this nearly two hour meeting, I went back to my room, feeling exhausted and emotionally drained. I wondered why this unusual, but poignant meeting had signaled the start of my largest Corvette event on the road. What more lies ahead?

This morning, we drive to the fairgrounds and meet with Bob, the Public Relations Director for Carlisle. He has been assigned to handle the details for our appearance. Bob had written me in late July to say that he would soon have more empathy for my cause! He was scheduled to have surgery for melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer.

Poor Bob is hobbling around and valiantly doing his job, despite the incision in his back that required 35 stitches. What a trouper! He walks us to our spot on the show field where staff members are erecting a tent canopy and setting up a table and chairs for our booth display. He is concerned that the location will meet with our approval. Ben and I couldn't be happier. The tent will provide cover from sun and rain, we are situated in the middle of the Fairgrounds, right at the end of a main aisle in a prime visibility spot!

After lunch, I meet with Bob in his office to review details and to compile some introductory remarks for Chip Miller, head of Carlisle, who will be introducing me at the VIP luncheon. Bob and I also talk about his recent ordeal with melanoma. He went to Johns Hopkins for his surgery and received top medical care. It has been a frightening experience for him and the healing process has been long and involved. Fortunately, a sampling of lymph nodes showed no spread and hopefully, he will not require further treatment. I admire his ability to go on with his job and stay fully committed to producing this huge Carlisle event. Bob is much like me in the sense that keeping busy with work or focused on important goals is a form of therapy.

After our meeting, I am introduced to Bill, Chip's partner, and John who is the new CEO of Carlisle Productions. They are genuinely interested in the Tour and our effort to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. They assure me that they will do everything possible to promote our appearance and to further the cause.

Late in the afternoon, we return to the hotel. Tom and Charlene have arrived. We have not seen them since the Black Hills Corvette event in South Dakota. We drive to a local restaurant for dinner and to catch up on all the latest news. We have a busy weekend ahead, their car will be parked in a different row at the show, and we will probably not have much time to spend together. Charlene and Tom offer to fill in at my booth while I am at the luncheon and the Fashion Show where I am giving a short speech. I am thankful to have such good friends who volunteer so freely of their time.

August 28, 1998: Today, is the official set-up day at Carlisle. Vendors are arriving with big trucks and trailers and setting up miles and miles of booths. Everything related to Corvettes will be sold including new and used parts for any year Corvette, accessories, supplies, repairs and service, clothing, and jewelry. If you can't find it at Carlisle, it probably doesn't exist. In 1990, when we came to Carlisle to find parts for my '63, I had a shopping list of about 15 items, all of which I found at reasonable prices.

By 10:30 am., I have my booth set up and ready to go. Corvettes are gradually trickling in and parking in the Fun Display area where they are parked based upon body style or special model. Our car is parked at the head of the C-5 Registry row which is 1997 and 1998 Corvettes. Dan, head of the C-5 Registry, comes over to welcome us and invite us to dinner with the C-5 group this evening. He also wants some information about our Tour to put up on their website. He says the Registry will do all they can to assist our cause. I would love to have dinner with the C-5 group, but we will be staying late at our booth. Dinner will be on our own and after 8 pm.

Ben has a real cleaning job to do on my car. It is covered with bugs and three months accumulation of road tar. The Meguiar's Wax and Cleaning products folks are setting up their vendor display directly across from us. Jim, his wife, Vivian, and fellow worker, Brett, introduce themselves and express their appreciation and support for our Tour. They offer Ben free cleaning materials and products, and in short order, Ben has our car washed, waxed, and looking better than ever! Vivian stops by our booth to give me a generous check for the American Cancer Society. She also kindly invites me to use their air-conditioned trailer if I need a break or rest.

By mid afternoon, our booth is very busy. I spend the day answering questions about the Tour and discussing cancer experiences with those who stop by to share their stories. I meet breast, melanoma, leukemia and prostate cancer survivors, and many who have family and friends dealing with cancer. I also look up Tom, the vendor I met at Bloomington, whose wife, Ellen, is a 15 year breast cancer survivor. Ben and I met with them in Cincinnati in July. She was having a tough time dealing with the spread of her disease. Tom tells me that her doctor has suggested a promising new drug treatment, but it will cost $2500 for a two week supply of the drug. She will not be able to try this because they have no drug plan and she has maxed out their health insurance. They cannot afford to pay $5000 a month for this treatment, and no assistance will be provided by the drug company because they fall through the cracks on income guidelines. This type of situation happens frequently and is a sad commentary on our health care system.

Corvette Mike also stops by my booth to drop off a couple of donation checks from his business contacts. He says he is still working on soliciting friends and customers. Mike also gives me a stack of his latest newsletters to hand out. The newsletter features a photo of me and Mike on the cover and a nice story about the Tour. In the article, Mike specifically invites his customers to send a contribution to the Tour.

Though he is such a busy man, Mike never misses a detail. Previously at the Bloomington Show, Mike said that for every customer that I refer to him for wheel purchases, he would donate $40 from the sale to the Tour. Mike has only brought Corvettes to sell at his booth, and no wheels. I tell him that my car, with its shiny set of Corvette Mike wheels, is a rolling billboard for him. I will crank up my sales skills and really push the wheel sales at Carlisle. Mike is offering a great price and folks will appreciate that $40 of their purchase will go toward fighting cancer!

I spend the rest of the day handing out my cancer detection pamphlets, accepting donations, having folks sign names in my memory book and promoting wheels for Mike. Ben and I finally leave the grounds around 8 pm. We are exhausted. We find a local Italian restaurant, Rillo's, tucked back into a residential area of Carlisle. The parking lot was full and we noticed at least 10 Corvettes parked there as well. The restaurant reminded us of Graziano's back in Maine. Our meals were wonderful and we returned to our hotel tired, but happy.

August 29, 1998: The Fairgrounds are mobbed today. Ben and I are busy every minute at our booth. Charlene and Tom come by around noon to tend our booth while we attend the VIP luncheon. The luncheon is held under a huge tent and is filled with over 300 people, (168 VIP's and their spouses). Each VIP receives a quick introduction, though Chip lingers on mine and does a full plug for my Tour. Ben seizes the opportunity to meet most of the top Corvette celebrities, including many of the Corvette racing team members who made racing history in the '50's and '60's. He also manages to get most of the celebrities to autograph my Tour banner!

After the luncheon, each celebrity was asked to go out on the show field and pick their favorite Corvette for an award. Only 168 Corvettes, out of the thousands in attendance, will receive one of these special awards. I have only 15 minutes to select a car, as I am scheduled to speak at the upcoming Fashion Show. Bob comes by to pick me up in his golf cart. I tell him to take me to the solid axle field, which means the older Corvettes from 1953-1962. There I find a pretty turquoise and white 1960 Corvette. It is in excellent condition, clean and sharp. In front of the car is a small sign that says the car is driven regularly, as well as taken to shows. The owners are seated in lawn chairs behind their car. I explain that I am a celebrity judge and ask about their car. They tell me they have driven their car from Syracuse, New York to this show. They are stunned and so appreciative when I inform them that I have chosen their car for an award. On the comment line of my judging sheet, I write that I have chosen this car because it is driven regularly and shown as well. My philosophy of Corvetting is to drive your car, keep it clean, and enjoy it.

As soon as I complete my judging sheet, I make a quick change of clothes and rush back to the hospitality tent for the Fashion Show. The tent is packed and its standing room only. Sandy, the Fashion Show coordinator, has organized a superb show featuring a full array of Corvette clothing worn by many Corvette friends who have volunteered to model. Elfi Duntov, widow of Zora Arkus-Duntov, and I will be the special guests. Sandy has also arranged for a display of dresses from the '50's. Elfi is wearing a beautiful strapless gold brocade gown that she made many years ago. Elfi is quite a lady. She was a dancer for the Folies Bergere many years ago! Now in her eighties, she is still a very attractive woman who looks 20 years younger.

During my brief speech, I address my remarks to the show theme, "Women Are Special". I focus on the importance of mammograms and check ups, and how women must take care of themselves and their health. I cite breast cancer and over-all cancer statistics, and describe how research is bringing us most closer to a cure. I urge the crowd of nearly 325 women to fight cancer in two ways: with a check up and a check. My remarks are well-received, and I hand out almost my full supply of breast cancer pamphlets. During the parade of fashions, some women come over to chat and thank me for doing the Tour and promoting cancer awareness. Several women tell me about losing their mothers and sisters to breast cancer. A family history of breast cancer causes much stress and worry for so many women. I wish that we had more answers and reassurance for women at high risk.

I return to my booth to find Ben engaged in a long conversation with Harry and Elaine, a couple from New Jersey. Elaine had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery this past October. Fortunately, her breast cancer was small and confined, she had no positive lymph nodes and she did not receive chemotherapy. She is very enthusiastic, and anxious to share her recent experience with cancer. Elaine has also helped other women find the best possible cancer treatment and care, which is so important.

Tonight, we are in the lead cars of the Corvette Parade into downtown Carlisle. We are #3 out of 400 cars. Elaine and Harry are also in the parade. They have asked us to join them afterwards for dinner at a little French style cafe. We enjoy an interesting evening of conversation and sharing our cancer war stories.

August 30, 1998: The last day of Carlisle! We are busy at our booth this morning. We hope to leave Carlisle around 2 pm., for the four hour drive to my parents' house in New Jersey. I am looking forward to visiting with them for two quick days before we hit the road for Bowling Green, KY and our next Corvette event.

While Ben and I are planning our departure, two men drive up in a golf cart. Jeremy, a Carlisle staff member, and Bob from Sears National Tire and Battery, have stopped by to announce that I have been chosen by Sears for the prestigious Die Hard Award. The Award is given by Sears NTB to the person who has done the most to promote and support the sport of Corvetting. I am absolutely astounded, what an honor! Jeremy says they understood our schedule is tight and they will arrange to present my award at 2 pm. In addition to a beautiful plaque, Bob informs me that the Sears award includes a set of new custom wheels. He notices that I already have a set of Corvette Mike wheels on my car. I suggest that Sears sell the award wheels and give the proceeds to the cancer cause. Bob seems slightly surprised, but he likes my idea and says he will work with his office to arrange for this. I guess they are not used to people refusing gifts. Bob and Jeremy ask me if I need anything for my car. I mention that one of my rear tires is showing some serious wear. It is probably a defective tire, but then again, I have put over 17,000 miles on this car in about 2 months! Ben and I know that we will probably have to replace both rear tires before this trip is over. As Bob and Jeremy drove away, a weird thought crossed my mind. Die Hard is very appropriate for me. Like the battery, I somehow manage to tough it out and keep going. Too bad I don't have a lifetime warranty.

At 2 pm., we drive our car to a special display area set up in front of the packed grandstands. Jeremy takes the mike and introduces Bob, who presents me with the Die Hard Award, for the person who has done the most to promote the sport of Corvetting. He explains that I have requested that my award of wheels be sold and the proceeds given to the cancer cause, which Sears NTB is very pleased to support. Chip, the Director of Carlisle, then takes the mike. He puts his arm around me and describes how we first met and talked on the phone many months ago. He notes that all the folks at Carlisle appreciate what I am doing to raise awareness and funds for cancer control. He says that he knows that our tires are wearing down and announces that Carlisle Productions will be putting on a new set of tires for us, so we can safely continue our Tour! I am so overwhelmed and choked up, and at a total loss for words. I can only manage a weak, "thank you". All of our Corvette friends, many with tears in their eyes, are watching and applauding. Ben is getting photos of this rare occasion, one of the few times that he has ever seen me speechless.

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