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Lincoln County News
September 30, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my Tour appearance with Charlene at Mid America's Fun Fest in IL. I return home to an ailing Lurk and an over-burdened Ben.

September 23, 1999: Last night, my friend Charlene and I returned home from IL. We had just completed a 10 day, 2500 mile round trip to Effingham, IL for Mid America's Fun Fest Corvette Show. Through sheer perseverance, I managed to do half of the driving. I was determined to do my share, though I had both good and bad days. Some days I was in pain, and other days, I felt quite perky. I hate the unpredictability of not knowing how I will be feeling from day to day, but I have learned to relish the good days and remind myself on bad days that tomorrow is another day.

Charlene and I had a fabulous time and every night on the road was like a little pj party. I had forgotten how much fun I had traveling with my female companions last summer. Ben had warned me not to lift my luggage or the heavy box of our booth display items. So poor tiny, pint-size Charlene followed me everywhere carrying my luggage and tote bags into the hotels.

Charlene was absolutely enthralled with meeting all the Corvette celebrities and thoroughly enjoyed herself at the show, despite being my personal slave. It was more fun for me to watch her having fun than to take part in the festivities. Of course, I had been to the show last year and had already experienced Fun Fest in all of its excitement.

Charlene also had the daunting tasks of keeping my car clean and shiny at the show, and packing the trunk of my car. With my increasing aches and pains, I have become a lazy slob while Charlene is meticulous and neat. I was content to stuff all of my possessions into the trunk with little regard for order or neatness. As long as the trunk lid closed, sort of like a trash compactor, I was satisfied. While I was resting in the hotel room, Charlene would sneak out and re-organize the mess in the trunk. Fortunately, she did this regularly as we did not have an inch of space to spare.

For me, the biggest highlight of Fun Fest was the cancer awareness evening the day before the show. Early show arrivals, all of Mid America's staff and the community were invited, and I was thrilled to see 250-300 people turn out for our 1 1/2 hour presentation. I gave a 20 minute speech and was followed by my friend Dr. Dy, a local oncologist who discussed the latest in cancer prevention, treatment and research. We were asked many excellent questions. When the program ended I had the opportunity to meet many of the attendees. Some were cancer survivors while others had family members or friends battling cancer. A few were newly diagnosed patients. A program like this would not have been possible 10 or 15 years ago as folks would have been reluctant to attend or ask questions. Thankfully, cancer awareness and publicly talking about cancer have come a long way.

On Saturday, the main day of the show, lots of people visited our booth. The weather was clear and sunny, and it was estimated that 6000 Corvettes and over 10,000 people were in attendance. Several pages of my Memory Book were quickly filled by cancer survivors or those writing poignant messages in memory of loved ones lost to cancer. There were many hugs and tears shed as folks shared their personal stories. One of the car magazine writers came over to interview me. When she asked me what my Tour was about, I handed her the Memory Book and told her to read some of the entries. My Memory Book has a profound effect on all who sign or read it. Cancer is about people and not just statistics.

Charlene is still raving about the show's Saturday night entertainment, a concert by Denny Dent. Dent is a well-known artist who paints portraits to music. During what he calls his "two-fisted art attacks", Denny uses handfuls of brushes to paint a portrait in just minutes, all done to musical accompaniment. With paint splashing and flying everywhere, Dent twirled his brushes onto huge canvases and created the likenesses of Elton John, Billy Joel and John Lennon. It was an incredible experience.

Another highlight of the weekend was almost too bizarre to describe, but Charlene insists this deserves prominent mention. On Sunday morning, we conducted a squirrel rescue. As we were driving out of the parking lot of our lodging establishment, I noticed a metal trap under a tree. Inside the trap was a small gray squirrel that was frantically trying to escape. It was crying pathetically and had scraped all of the skin and fur off of his nose trying to push through the walls of the cage. Charlene loves animals and this scenario put her into an adrenaline overdrive. Both of us looked for ways to spring the door on the trap. Charlene pushed with all her might on a hinge pin and we pried the door open enough for the poor frightened animal to squeeze out. He bolted for the nearest tree and disappeared, crying and chattering all the way. Charlene and I will not easily forget the sight of his bloodied little face. If someone was trying to trap a squirrel humanely, their efforts were certainly misguided.

During my absence, Ben was caring for an ailing Lurk and trying to unravel the mystery of his limp. This required visits and phone calls to the vet neurologist with expensive tests showing no sign of the problem. Lurk has actually perked up and is eating well. His minor episodes of 15 year old cat playfulness have returned. His limp is slightly less noticeable or he has learned to adapt to it. I am encouraged that the problem may not be a tumor as the condition does not seem to be progressing, but I have placed a call to Dr. Gail Mason, the vet cancer specialist who examined Lurk this past Spring. We value her opinion and will ask her guidance on how to proceed.

I returned home to a joyful Ben and Lurk who had missed me terribly the past week. Ben was relieved to see me arrive home in one piece. He was worried that I would be in pain and not up to the trip. He was also concerned that I would push my limits and he would not be there to help. I had hoped that having Charlene travel with me would give Ben a break from "caretaking". He has virtually taken over all of my former chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping. I thought he needed a little vacation break from me. I had hoped he would enjoy going out with Paul and Sue, and to a Corvette event in MA with Tom and Gary. I thought some guy things would cheer him up.

Instead, Ben said he missed taking care of me. More likely, I think he missed spending time with me. Maybe going to these shows is not only fun for Ben, but valuable time spent with me and memories he will always treasure. Going to IL would have been a problem for Ben as he has used all of his vacation and leave time. In the upcoming months, he will have to take unpaid leave days to accompany me to Dr. appointments and treatments. Also, we cannot afford to miss ten days of his paycheck. Ben has so much on his shoulders these days and he says he feels distracted and unable to concentrate. He is on emotional overload, a common problem for all caregivers who do everything and yet feel helpless as they watch their loved ones suffer. I worry that I tell Ben too much about how I am feeling, both physically and emotionally. It is so tempting for me to tell Ben everything as he is my husband and best friend, and as Ben says, I am never at a loss for words.

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