Lincoln County News
September 3, 1998

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a switch in co-drivers, as Peg, my sister, flies home and Ben joins me after being back at work for one month. Our appearance at Corvette Mike's in Anaheim, CA is the highlight of our West Coast Tour. Road-weary with aches and pains, I begin the nearly 2900 mile trek back East.

August 15, 1998: Today, Peg is flying home to New Jersey. I am so sorry to see her leave. We have had such a good time on the road, especially in Gallup, New Mexico. Peg and I wrote a thank you letter to Rosemary and Ricardo, to express our appreciation for their kindness and hospitality. We even struggled bravely to write part of the letter in Spanish. Included in our letter were some ideas for messages on Ricardo's bakery sign. Ricardo puts up catchy slogans on the sign board outside of his store. He told us that one of his sign messages, "Get Your Buns In Here!", was mentioned in Reader's Digest a few years ago!

Ricardo said it was difficult to constantly come up with new ideas for his sign. So, Peg and I sat in our hotel room one night and came up with about 20 silly ideas which we included in our letter to Ricardo. Most were pretty lame like, "We're On a Roll", "The Fastest Buns in the West", "Our Donuts Get A-Round", "We Make Lots of Dough", and "A-Dough-Be", among others. We laughed ourselves silly, and I think that evening will be one of my special memories of Peg being with me on this trip. I will see Peg again in September and until then, we'll keep in touch by e mail and phone.

Ben's flight comes in on time into Reno Airport. I haven't seen him since July 19th. He has been home for nearly one month, and back at work. Amazingly, he said things had gone well in his absence and he just stepped back into the regular job routine with minimal hassle. He also had a chance to bring Lurk back to our house for a few weeks.

Lurk had been on his extended summer vacation with Rich and Mary Ann. Ben said that Lurk ignored him for the first few days, as if he was slightly miffed about being removed from his vacation home, where Rich and Mary Ann spoil him rotten. But after a few days, Lurk settled back into his home routine, and took up residence on my side of the bed. I am afraid that Lurk has forgotten about me and I have asked Ben to talk to him on a daily basis. This also includes giving him special hugs and kisses from me. Unfortunately, Ben doesn't quite relate to that. When I was in New Jersey for chemotherapy for three months in 1994, I would call Lurk on the phone. He would rub his head against the phone and purr into the receiver! And Ben thinks Lurk doesn't know or care!

After leaving Reno Airport, Ben and I head out for California. We are staying in the Sacramento area tonight. We will be spending only a few days in California. It will be my first time on the West Coast, other than being in the San Francisco and LA Airports going to and from Hawaii in 1971.

August 17, 1998: Today, Ben and I drove through miles of farm country and vineyards in California. I had no idea that so much of California is farmland. I guess I should have figured that out from seeing all of the California produce in our grocery stores back home. We drove by almond and pistachio nut groves, apricot, avocado, nectarine and apple trees, fields of strawberries, melons and carrots. We saw truckload after truckload of plum tomatoes, probably on their way to processing plants where they will be turned into tomato sauce and related products.

August 18, 1998: Today, we are in Anaheim, California at Corvette Mike's store. He has a beautiful shop, filled with many pristine previously-owned Corvettes for sale. Mike is waiting for us when we arrive. We had planned to stay at a local hotel, but when Mike asks me if I am tired of staying at hotels, I respond that I have stayed at a different one every night since mid June! He insists that we stay with him at his home in Anaheim Hills. He suggests that I go back to his home this afternoon to rest up for our appearance and reception tonight at his store. He leads us to his home and tells us to just enjoy ourselves and relax.

Mike and his wife, Sandy, have a beautiful home at the top of the Anaheim Hills. Steep canyons line the California hills and you can see how these areas are prone to mud slides and wildfires. The canyons are loaded with scrub and brush, and very exposed to the elements. Seasonally, conditions can be very dry and windy. Drainage areas for the rainy season provide only moderate relief during flooding.

Mike's home has a nice view of the valley. His yard is landscaped with small palms, pines and Eucalyptus trees, which are so common in California. I had to ask a landscaping man what kind of tree this was. Eucalyptus trees have leaves similar to willows, and they have a shaggy bark that peels off in huge sheets, much like sycamores.

Ben and I spend two hours relaxing at Mike's house and enjoying his backyard pool. I also get in some quality cat time by talking and playing with Rodeo, Sandy's Himalayan cat. He is as friendly as Lurk, though he does not enjoy being picked up. While at Mike's, I have a chance to see some California wildlife in his yard. I spotted a California Thrasher, Mexican Jays, some wild rabbits, and a family of screech owls who live in Mike's pine trees and drive him crazy at night.

When we return to Mike's shop in the late afternoon, we get my car washed and the oil changed. The reception is scheduled from 5-8 pm. Mike has invited his staff, preferred customers and the public to meet me and hear about my Tour. I also have the opportunity to meet Mike's family, including his wife, Sandy, daughter, Gina, and Mike's sister, Sheila. Also in attendance, is Mike's advertising agency, Icon Communications. I enjoy meeting and talking to Toy and Kent who work at Icon. They are responsible for helping Mike produce his newsletter. This month's issue has a front page story about me and the Tour, with a special invitation from Mike urging his readers and customers to support my Tour.

Tonight, Ben and I spend a delightful evening talking to new friends and supporters. One man came from Scottsdale, Arizona. Most of the folks I spoke with had a friend or family member who had dealt with cancer. Mike has set an excellent example through his generosity and kindness. Many of Mike's customers came forward with donations and Mike insisted this was only the beginning as he would personally solicit the help of others by phone or in person. With the help of his 15,000 newsletters, Mike will get the word out to many more. What Mike is doing just reinforces in my mind that it only takes one person to make a difference in the fight against cancer.

August 19, 1998: Ben and I hate to leave California. We are on a tight schedule to get back East to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the largest Corvette event of the season, Corvettes At Carlisle. We have nearly a 2900 mile drive to complete by August 26th. With my back and ribs bothering me, I do not want to travel more than 400 miles a day. That is about all I can comfortably stand.

We have only spent a few short days on the West Coast. I did get a chance to get my feet wet in the Pacific Ocean in Morro Bay, CA. The water there was as cold as it is in Maine, which surprised me. Most of the coastline was shrouded in fog and the LA area was bathed in a grayish haze which I guess is smog. We stopped in Ventura to walk the longest wooden pier in California. It looks much like the famous Santa Monica Pier, though it is nearly 3/8th's of a mile long. There were people fishing and relaxing in the sun, and of course, surfing. I was surprised to see off-shore oil rigs. I didn't realize that oil was part of California's industry.

August 20, 1998: Today, we are in Flagstaff, Arizona. Ben has never seen the Grand Canyon. I felt guilty that he missed that while Christy and Peg got to see it with me. We have taken the Southern route back, so we can take a quick swing to the Grand Canyon. Basically, a drive-by! We have picked a good day, as it is clear and warm. The Canyon is also not too crowded when we arrive in the mid-day. Ben is going crazy with his camera and video camera. A few times, I have to pull him back from the edge of the Canyon. It makes me very nervous. I don't like heights, though I must admit that I got very close to the rim, much closer than Ben thought I was capable of doing. I remind him that each year, many people are injured or killed in falls at the Canyon.

The visibility in the Canyon is spectacular today and you can see the Lodge on the North Rim. I also spot three groups of mules with riders making their way back up the Canyon. Mule rides are available, but it was not something I felt physically able to do. Besides, we are making just a quick trip through. On our way out of the Canyon, we stop to see Oliver at his Navajo jewelry stand. Marie, his wife, says Oliver has taken a vacation day. I introduce her to Ben, and now Marie has met three of my family members: Christy, Peg and Ben. I tell her I am a preferred customer since I have returned twice in the past few weeks. She agrees and insists that I take a silver necklace at no charge as a birthday gift. Last week, Ben mailed one of our little promotional Corvette models to her son, Russell, for his birthday. Russell loves cars and horses, she says. Today was Russell's first day back at school. Out West, schools begin much earlier than they do back East.

Marie tells us that they had a little excitement at the booth yesterday. They discovered a young rattlesnake curled up in the shade in the back of their booth. They had to remove him with a large piece of wood. Marie said, rather matter-of-factly, that he was quite aggressive. She said that they usually see about one rattlesnake a year. They used to have an old one that was quite lazy and was missing most of his rattles. I was greatly relieved that we missed the snake. I have seen lots of lizards, including some cute striped ones the past few days. As my daughter, Christy, aptly puts it, the only reptiles she and I can tolerate are those with legs.

August 21, 1998: Ben and I are stopping in Gallup, New Mexico to meet Rosemary, and Ricardo #1 and #2 for lunch today. We are basically stopping for lunch on our way through to Albuquerque. Though they have invited us to spend the night, our schedule is tight and we must make Albuquerque this evening.

We meet Ricardo and company, at his bakery and drive from there to Janero's, a small local Mexican restaurant, located in the heart of the residential district. Though it is nearly 2 pm., the tiny restaurant is filled with families, all local Mexican Americans. We get the last seats available. Rosemary says that the food is authentic and sometimes, it can be very spicy hot. She is ordering sopadillas, a Mexican bread stuffed with ground beef and fresh guacamole, and served with green chili. This sounds good to me. Ben orders the enchilada which is enormous. The sopadilla was the best Mexican food I have ever eaten. Ricardo was eating plain sopadilla bread with honey, which is the way most Mexicans prefer it. As before, Ricardo begins our meal with grace. We join hands around the table and pray for our shared friendship, and a safe, successful journey for us.

After lunch, we go back to Ricardo's house for a brief visit. Both Ricardos and Rosemary are still laughing about the letter that Peg and I sent them with the ideas for the bakery signs. Ricardo #2 says that the letter was funny enough to be published. He said that he thought Peg and I were quite a hilarious duo. Ricardo #2 is either a former priest or brother. He said he had been praying for us. He had forgotten our names, he said, so he had asked God to look out for Thelma and Louise. Ricardo #2 definitely has our number and hopefully, God is on the other end of the line.

I have difficulty pulling Ben away from Ricardo's house. Both Ricardos are car aficionados. Car magazines are brought out and looked at. Then, Ben has to have a tour of Ricardo's Model T street rod and his two restoration projects, a '55 Plymouth and '40 Ford pick-up truck. After much regrets and sad farewells, we finally depart about 3:30 pm. As we are leaving, Rosemary is packing fresh roasted green chili peppers into freezer bags. She had purchased a giant bag of fresh roasted peppers at the grocery store this morning. The peppers will be used in many of her recipes. The smell of the peppers was pungent and delightful, and will be one of my fondest memories of my trip and these wonderful friends we have met.

August 22, 1998: Tonight, we are spending the night in Shamrock, Texas. We have followed most of what was Route 66 today. Along the way, we have seen many of the famed Route 66 tourist sights including the Wigwam Motel, complete with its round concrete teepee rooms. We also saw the famed Jack Rabbit gas stop, the Blue Swallow Motel, the world's second largest cross and the leaning water tower in Groom, Texas, and in Shamrock, the beautiful art deco gas station and cafe, which just recently closed. Many of the books about Route 66 show photographs of these attractions and some give a brief history. It has been fun to see these bits of automotive nostalgia, built between the 1930's and the 1950's, when many Americans hit the road, and when automobile travel was an adventure.

My back is giving me increasing pain. Throughout the night, I was plagued with severe muscle spasms in my lower back. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep. I think part of the problem has been some terribly hard mattresses which are unforgiving when it comes to my broken ribs and sore back. I am looking forward to better mattresses and the break we will get at Carlisle. Once we are at Corvettes At Carlisle event, we will have no driving all day in the car and I can walk around and stretch. I am actually looking forward to standing at my booth space and walking the show site at Carlisle, which is acres and acres of enormous fairgrounds!

(Following day's events not submitted for publication).......

August 26, 1998: Today, we are on the last leg of our journey to Carlisle, PA. Ben figures it will be about 2900 miles from our last West Coast stop. We are doing this trek East in only seven days. Our last three overnights were in Joplin, Missouri, Effingham, Illinois and Zanesville, Ohio. We had a late start yesterday as we met with Mid America Corvette Supplies in Effingham to discuss arrangements for our appearance at their Fun Fest , September 10-13th.

Mid America's Fun Fest will celebrate their 25th year in business, and is an appreciation event dedicated to their customers. Over 3000 Corvettes are expected to attend. We met with owner, Mike, and his staff members, Janice, Tom and Mike's sister, Jeanie, who is a fellow cancer survivor. We are planning to do a special cancer awareness presentation the evening of September 10th. It will be open to the public and the Effingham community, and the early arrivals to the Fun Fest. Plans also include asking a local oncologist to assist me, and to be available to answer specific questions about cancer. I am looking forward to this evening as it will be more an educational format than what my usual speeches at Corvette events have been.

We got a rather late start from Effingham, due to this meeting. This proved to be fortuitous as we were driving into bad storms and tornados in Ohio. We arrived in Zanesville, Ohio at 7 pm. Earlier, around 4:30 pm., strong thunderstorms raged through and several tornados caused significant damage to towns not far from Zanesville. I have never been through a tornado, but in the Midwest, it is a part of life and folks are always prepared.

Weather is apt to be a major factor at Carlisle. A strong hurricane, Bonnie, is about to come on shore in North Carolina. We will have to see the path this takes. We went to Corvettes at Carlisle in 1990. Rain, before and on the last day of the event, turned the fairgrounds into a sea of mud. I hope that won't be the case this year.

I am looking forward to seeing Tom and Charlene, Dan and Karen, and our other Corvette friends at Carlisle. Many of the folks we have met at previous Corvette events this summer will also make the pilgrimage to Carlisle, the biggest Corvette event in the country.

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