Lincoln County News
September 9, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes the Corvettes at Carlisle Show and the successful Benefit Auction for the American Cancer Society. I get mixed news from my x-rays and CAT scans while Lurk's x-rays reveal arthritis.

August 28, 1999: The Corvettes at Carlisle Show is in full swing. Ben and I are up at 5:15 am. each day and at our booth until 6 pm., the typical vendor schedule. I am still dealing with an upset stomach, in addition to my usual bone pain. My pain seems to migrate and today it's in my right shoulder. I attribute this to driving my golf cart. The Carlisle staff has kindly loaned me a golf cart to get from the parking area to our booth in the Exhibition building. The steering on the cart is quite vague and stiff, but it sure beats walking.

Our friends, Elaine and Harry have arrived from NJ. We will be joining them for a late dinner this evening at the California Cafe in Carlisle. Tom and Charlene arrived exhausted at midday yesterday after driving overnight from Maine. They have kindly offered to man our booth today while Ben and I attend the Celebrity luncheon. Afterwards, I will pick my favorite Corvette for a Celebrity award, speak at the Fashion Show, and attend the Benefit Auction. A very full and tiring schedule.

Our booth has been busy with an incredible number of folks stopping by to say they have read about the Tour in the car magazines. Many folks sign my Memory Book and share their personal stories about cancer. I meet prostate, breast, lung, lymphoma, kidney, and melanoma cancer survivors. Some are people I met last year who want to update me on their progress. Others tell me about family members and friends who are battling the disease. I hear the same urgent plea from all, we must find a cure for this disease.

I was particularly pleased to talk with Bob, the public relations director for Carlisle Productions. Shortly before last year's show, Bob was diagnosed with melanoma. He had extensive surgery to remove the melanoma, and bravely managed to work full-time at the show despite the pain of 35 stitches and elaborate dressings that needed frequent changing. Bob looks very well, though he admits his energy level has slipped. Recently, he had a number of lymph nodes removed and one was positive, but the doctors felt that this node had been involved last year and had been overlooked. Bob will need no further treatment at this time, but he will be monitored closely. I maintain a good stock of skin cancer pamphlets at my booth. The incidence of melanoma has drastically increased in the past several years and folks should be alert to the symptoms of this deadly form of skin cancer.

One of my old Corvette Club friends comes by to tell me about a fellow member who has just been diagnosed with stomach cancer. I am shocked to hear the news. Bob and his wife, Marcia, are displaying their 1996 silver Collector's Edition Corvette in the Fun Display field. I hop on my golf cart and find Marcia setting up a canopy tent by their car. I tell Marcia that I am so sorry to hear the news about Bob. She seems close to tears and we chat a few minutes before Bob arrives. Bob looks very well, but says he is moving slower these days due to his energy level. He describes how earlier this summer, he was having difficulty digesting and swallowing his food. Doctors found a 3" tumor in his upper stomach that was pressing against his esophagus. It turns out that he was lucky to have the tumor in this area as it gave him an early warning signal that something was wrong. Stomach cancer is rare in this country and often goes undetected until it's in a late stage. Bob said his cancer is an early Stage III. He will be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor. Then it will be removed surgically.

Bob has already had his mapping and tattoos done for his upcoming radiation treatments. I tell him I had asked for tiny tattoos of Corvettes, but the tattoo artists at the radiation center wouldn't accommodate my request. Bob also had a portacath implanted surgically in his upper chest to facilitate his chemo. He shows me the scar and says it was a relatively simple procedure. I am curious to hear how the procedure went as I may have to have a port put in for chemo at some point. I stubbornly (and stupidly) refused having a port put in for my last chemotherapy regimen. Now my veins are so thin and scarred from chemo, it is difficult to find a good vein for IV's and blood tests. Chemo and blood tests can all be done easily and painlessly through a port.

My thoughts and prayers are with Bob and Marcia as they face the months of treatments ahead. I have met so many people who are starting this incredible journey of uncertainty. A cancer diagnosis throws you into a strange world of medical tests and procedures. You quickly learn the language of cancer terminology and soon you are casually bantering about white cell counts, chemo drugs and the like. Sometimes, it all seems like a weird dream and you wonder when you will wake up.

Later, Ben and I attend the Celebrity luncheon. Nearly 300 are invited and we sit with our sponsor Corvette Mike. After the luncheon and my short speech at the Fashion Show to promote the Benefit Auction, I head to the car display field to pick a Corvette for my Celebrity award. I chose a beautiful 1962 Honduras Maroon Corvette with custom wheels because it was almost identical to the first Corvette I drove back in 1966. The owner of the car is thrilled to be picked for an award. He is from NJ and he and his wife drive the car regularly. I deliberately chose a car that was driven to the show because I firmly believe that Corvettes should be driven and enjoyed, and not just displayed.

My final activity of the day is the Special Benefit Auction for the American Cancer Society. Volunteers and staff members from the PA Division of the Society have been manning the auction donation booth and cataloging auction items for the past two days. Many Corvette businesses and friends of mine who are involved in the sport have graciously donated a wide variety of items including autographed posters, prints and books, car models, Corvette clothing, jewelry, a Corvette go-cart, car parts and all sorts of Corvette memorabilia. The two hour auction draws an enthusiastic crowd and when the dust settles, over $15,000 is raised for the American Cancer Society! John, the Executive Director of Carlisle Productions, tells me that I have been a real inspiration to them and have brought a heightened awareness of cancer to the Corvette community. He adds that they hope to repeat the Benefit Auction next year.

August 29, 1999: Today, is the final day of Carlisle and I am extremely nauseated and miserable. It is all I can do to keep my head up, avoid barfing and greet people stopping by my booth. When the awards ceremony ends around 4 pm., Ben and I pack up our display and drive our car out of the Exhibition Hall. I say my good-byes to the six other women who were part of Chip's Collection. It has been an honor to be part of the special collection, but the high point of the entire show was the successful Benefit Auction which will go a long way toward helping the fight against cancer.

August 31, 1999: We arrived home yesterday to find Sue attending to Lurk. He had been quite vocal and yowled loudly when she stopped in to feed him each day. Lurk seemed disappointed to find it was her and not us at the door, but he remembered his manners and politely purred during her visits. Sue reported that Lurk has also been limping more noticeably.

Today, I took Lurk to see Dr. Jim Wahlstrom at Coastal Veterinary Care. X-rays showed that Lurk has two tiny bone spurs on his right wrist and possibly a pinched nerve. The diagnosis is arthritis and Jim said that a splint wouldn't help. He gave us a special liquid vitamin mixture for the nerve problem and a powder that gets added to Lurk's food to help his joints. Poor Lurk is getting old or as Jim says "mature", though he really is in excellent condition for a 15 year old cat. I remind Lurk that he now has arthritis like Ben, and we are all suffering from bone problems.

September 1, 1999: Today, Ben and I meet with Dr. Tom to discuss my test results and future treatment plan. Thankfully, the CAT scans of my liver and abdomen are not bad news. There are a number of tiny spots on the liver which have been labeled as metastatic cancer, but tentatively identified as benign cysts in previous tests. A few more spots are evident in this x-ray. Tom feels somewhat comfortable in saying that these spots are probably benign cysts, but he will order an ultrasound to check them as they did before. The flat plate x-rays are slightly encouraging because they showed that new spots in my spine and left femur might be osteoporosis and not tumors. Also, the tumor in my right hip, proved to be blastic rather than lytic. Blastic tumors are less dangerous as they form a bony spur rather than the serious thinning caused by lytic tumors. The majority of my bone tumors are lytic, but most are not in weight-bearing areas, so they are less prone to breakage. Of most concern are the tumors in my hip, pelvis, cervical spine and sacrum. In short, the bad news is I have more cancer involvement in the bones. The good news is that not all of the tumors are as serious as they could be.

I discuss chemotherapy treatment options with Tom. He is leaning toward putting me on a weekly treatment schedule of Taxol, maybe for a 4 week trial to see if it does anything for my tumors. He says there is a 40-50% chance that I may get a 50% reduction in the cancer cell level. It will not cure the cancer or my bone tumors, but it could reduce the pain. Of course, it could also be ineffective and cause annoying side effects. Tom explains that the chemo is not curative, only palliative, to treat the pain. Tom will be checking with Dr. Bunnell at Dana Farber regarding this one week Taxol protocol. Tom hasn't done this protocol before, but is willing to try it.

I also ask Tom about Zoledronate, the new super potent form of Aredia, the bone strengthening drug I receive by IV every 3-4 weeks. The drug is manufactured by Novartis, the company that makes Aredia. Zoledronate is currently in trials and not yet approved by the FDA. I suggest that Tom speak to the Novartis drug representative to see if we could use the drug off protocol, or basically in a personal test trial. Tom said he would check into this.

Since my digestive system is still in turmoil, I forego my Aredia treatment today. Tom says that some people build up an intolerance to the scan liquid after repeated tests, and this may have caused my abdominal distress. I will get my Aredia treatment next week. Hopefully, Tom will have more information for me by then. Meanwhile, I will continue to mull over my decision for future treatment.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)