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Lincoln County News
September 23, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

Dear Readers: I will be in Illinois on a Tour appearance and without my trusty laptop. Instead of my daily journal, I would like to dedicate this column to Steve, a special friend who passed away this summer after a long and courageous battle with lung cancer.

I first met Steve in the fall of 1967. He was a friend of my husband, Ben. Steve, my husband-to-be, and two other mid-twenties-aged men rented a large farmhouse in Gwynedd, PA. The farmhouse was more cultured than the famous Animal House fraternity, but its parties were almost as legendary. The all female college I attended was only a few miles away from the farm, so it was the logical hunting grounds for the farm's inmates. An invitation to "the Farm" was a well-known phrase on campus.

Steve was a perfect gentleman. Unlike some of his fellow roommates, you could hold a normal conversation with him without him leering at you or harboring ulterior motives. Steve was always interested in other people. He was curious by nature and asked a million questions. Even the smallest details excited Steve and his enthusiasm was infectious. He asked about my courses at school, and my plans for after graduation. We talked at length about our hobbies as Steve and I both enjoyed cars. When Ben and I got engaged, Steve was very happy for both of us. He thought it was a match made in heaven because Ben was such a car nut and as Steve would say, "such a good guy". As always, Steve saw the good in everyone.

Ben and I married and left the Pennsylvania area in 1973. We saw Steve infrequently, but every year we would exchange Christmas cards and a phone call. Steve's first marriage ended in divorce. He came to Maine one summer and brought his two children with him for a short visit. We took them out to dinner to Maxwell's in Bath. Steve loved the old brick walls and nautical decor. For years after, he would remember Maxwell's and ask us if it was still there.

Several years ago, Steve met Terry his second wife. A delightful girl and a perfect match, they married at an old resort hotel in Wildwood Beach, NJ. Ben and I were delighted that Steve had remarried after years of being on his own.

Terry later told me that their first year together was wonderful. Then, Terry's father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Terry spent much of her time helping her father and mother get through what was a very painful ordeal. Terry's father's medical care was lacking and he suffered in extreme pain and passed away a year later. Shortly after, Terry's mother who had been in perfect health, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Terry was devastated and turned to Steve to help her through a most difficult time.

Not long after Terry's parents died, Steve began having pain in his back and shoulder. Numerous trips to doctors could not determine the source of the pain. The pain worsened and in a round of routine tests, cancer was detected in Steve's lung. How ironic for Terry! After losing her father to lung cancer, Steve was now facing the same battle. The cancer had already spread to Steve's lymph nodes and within a year, metastasized to his brain. Tumors were removed from Steve's brain and he suffered some memory loss which gradually returned. Then, the cancer spread to his bones.

It was during one of our Christmas calls that we learned of Steve's lung cancer. Steve being naturally curious wanted to know all the details of my cancer and treatment. I filled him in on everything and suggested ways he could do his own research on the latest lung cancer treatments. I suggested he try Aredia infusions for his bones which he did and which provided him some relief from bone pain. Ben and I kept in touch with Steve by phone and made several visits to his house this past year. Steve and Terry made plans to fly to Maine to visit us over the 4th of July.

About a week before his visit, Steve called to say that the doctors were having trouble adjusting his morphine pump and it looked like he would have to cancel out. Ben and I were on our way back from a Tour appearance in Bloomington, IL, so we stopped in to see Steve in PA. We visited just before the 4th of July, so I told Steve that we had come to see him since he couldn't come to Maine. He looked more tired and thin than when we had last seen him a couple of months before. Steve was obviously in pain and moving slowly from the bone tumors in his hips, but he gamely kept up a running conversation. I told him that July was too crowded in Maine and to plan on visiting us this fall. He promised us he would do so. As we drove away, my last image of Steve was of him leaning on his cane as he stood on his front doorstep. He was marveling over our shiny red Corvette in his driveway. Like a little kid, he kept repeating, "That is so neat. That is so neat!"

Steve passed away quietly just a couple of weeks after our visit. We'll miss you, dear friend. You were so neat!

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