Lincoln County News
September 16, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a relaxing long weekend at Loon Lake. Limping Lurk is referred to a vet neurologist, and Dr. Tom offers me a new treatment option.

September 3, 1999: Per Dr. Jim Wahlstrom's orders, we have been monitoring Lurk's leg this week to see if his limping has diminished on the medication. It is no better, so I call Dr. Jim. He thinks that Lurk should now see a vet neurologist, and he refers me to an animal neurology group in Portland. He says they have the expertise and equipment to diagnose nerve injuries and diseases. I phone them and the earliest appointment I can get is for late next week. Meanwhile, poor Lurk will just have to hang in there and limp along. Though he seems somewhat lethargic, his appetite is still intact and he's his usual friendly self.

We are headed to the Rangeley area this weekend to stay once again at our friend Charley's lovely house on Loon Lake. Charley and Don have kindly offered us their lakeside home for the long weekend. I have invited Tom and Charlene to join us and I am looking forward to a quiet weekend of relaxation. Lurk is also going along for a kitty vacation.

Lurk is very skeptical about the car ride as it usually means a visit to camp or the vet. But being the complacent kitty that he is, he soon falls asleep in his carrier. We meet Tom and Charlene at the Olive Garden in Augusta for an early dinner. When we arrive at the restaurant, Ben walks Lurk on his leash and checks on him several times during dinner. It's over a 5 hour trip to Loon Lake including dinner and a stop at Shop 'N Save for weekend supplies and food. Lurk enjoyed walking on his leash, being greeted by passerby's, and sniffing the entire perimeter of the Augusta shopping center parking lot.

We drive down the dirt road to the lake house around 9:30 pm. A large bull moose is standing in the middle of the road licking salt deposits. He seems annoyed that we have interrupted him, but he returns to his task. The moose then gets down on his knees to better reach the salt. We are wondering how we are going to drive around the moose. Ben flashes the headlights a few times, and the moose slowly gets up and ambles off into the woods. Several hundred yards later, we encounter a cow moose with her calf. They quickly trot down the road and off into the woods. When we were at the lake in June, we saw tracks and evidence of moose, but never actually saw one. Seeing three moose tonight was quite a treat.

September 4, 1999: The weather has been glorious this weekend. It is still very warm for the end of summer. Last night was crystal clear and being so far from city lights and civilization, you could see every star in the sky. There are only a few homes on the lake and the quiet and blackness at night are overwhelming. The only sound is the loons serenading each other on the lake. For the first time in months, I got a good night's sleep without pain.

Tom and Charlene want to show us their son and daughter-in-law's future home site in Eustis, so after a leisurely breakfast, we take a long drive over bumpy roads. Brandon and Joy's home will be built with logs. The foundation is already in place on the shore of Flagstaff Lake which has shrunk to a pathetic ribbon of water from the drought.

My lower back has been jarred into permanent distress by the bad roads. When we return, I take a pain pill and decide to lounge out on the dock. Charlene and I watch Tom and Ben fishing from their canoe. The fishermen have no luck, but Charlene and I spotted several loons and a group of five diving ducks that we could not identify. The ducks were identical in color and size with crested reddish brown heads, and looked too small to be mergansers.

September 5, 1999: Ben and Tom are making a dump run or should I say a trip to the Transfer Station a short ways down the road. It is midday and they return to tell us that they spotted three moose at the Transfer Station and took pictures of them. It may be the same moose we saw the other night. The wildlife is very abundant up here. While I was standing out on the front deck, a gray and white bird landed on the railing a short distance from me. He cocked his head and looked at me as if he was expecting a hand-out. I called to Charlene to bring me a piece of bread. The bird then took pieces of bread right from my hand. Within a few minutes, several of his buddies arrived. None of them would approach me and instead were content to share pieces taken by the tame bird to a spot on top of a utility pole. We later left bread and grapes out on the railing and enjoyed watching the flock swoop down from the pine trees overhead. Tom, Charlene and Ben were wondering what kind of bird it was and I was quite certain it was a northern jay. When I got home and looked it up in my bird book, I was correct. It was a northern or gray jay, a rather tame bird which inhabits the northern woods.

Tonight, we decide to have dinner at the Rangeley Inn, a beautiful well-maintained old inn in the center of town. The dining room is quiet tonight as we think they have limited reservations due to being short-staffed. Many Maine businesses have had difficulty finding help this summer and now that schools and colleges are back in session, restaurants and lodging establishments are scrambling to meet the needs of the Labor Day crowds. Only one waitress is working the dining room, but she does a fine job. I am not really hungry tonight, so I settle for the inn's renowned lobster chowder which is like a New England clam chowder with chunks of potatoes and onions. It is delicious and not as rich or heavy as a lobster stew. Tom, Charlene and Ben all order the prime rib which is served with a mound of herbed mashed potatoes topped with a sprig of basil, and accompanied with a vegetable medley. Ben and I are stuffed, but Charlene and Tom manage to squeeze in a slice of key lime pie for dessert. On the way home, we have another moose sighting of a mother and calf just a few hundred yards from the lake house.

September 8, 1999: I am still trying to get back into the routine after such a fun and relaxing weekend at the lake. Today, is my Aredia infusion and appointment with Dr. Tom. When I arrive, Cindy checks my vital signs and hooks up my IV while I am waiting for Tom in the examining room. Since it takes 2 hours for the IV, I will be able to finish up sooner rather than waiting to start the infusion after my examination. Tom comes in and asks me if I would be interested in going on a TV program about breast cancer. MidCoast Hospital has an on-going health program called the Family Tree on the local cable station. They would like to air a program about breast cancer during October, breast cancer awareness month. I tell Tom I would be glad to do it, but I will be in IL for a Tour appearance when the segment is supposed to be taped. I offer to go to the station for an advance taped interview if this will fit their format.

Tom shows me an article that he found in a medical journal describing a weekly infusion of Taxotere chemotherapy for treatment of metastatic breast cancer. He thinks this may be a good possibility for me to consider. The regimen calls for less Decadron than Taxol chemo, the other treatment option available to me. Decadron caused significant problems for me during previous chemotherapy. Given with chemotherapy, Decadron serves many purposes. First, it reduces nausea. Secondly and most importantly, it helps prevent an allergic reaction to Taxol. And lastly, when used with Taxotere, it helps minimize fluid retention and possible build-up of fluid around the lungs.

The Taxotere regimen would be a weekly IV infusion for 6 weeks, followed by 2 weeks off. The regimen calls for 6 cycles and Tom says that means 6-8 months of chemotherapy on a weekly basis. He comments that this will tie me down in terms of having to be around for weekly infusions and blood tests, and that fatigue will be a side effect. The statistics in the journal article show that approximately half the patients had some response, response being a drop in the tumor marker levels. Side effects were mostly minimal to moderate. Of particular note, response was seen within one to two cycles. This means I could try the treatment for one cycle and see whether my tumor levels drop or remain stable. Of course, I can also weigh the side effects and see if it's worth it. With my luck, the regimen will be a 6 week fast hair loss and energy loss program.

Tom is still checking on the Zoledronate, the more potent form of Aredia. With the further progression of cancer into my bones, I think a more potent bone strengthening drug such as Zoledronate, could be very helpful.

Tom gives me a copy of the medical journal article. I will read this and consider my options during the next few weeks. I will be leaving for a Tour appearance at Mid America's Fun Fest Corvette Show in Effingham, IL next Tuesday. Charlene will be my co-driver and trusty assistant. It's a 2500 mile round trip and I will certainly have plenty of time to think about my future treatment plans.

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