It’s hard to believe it has been almost 1-1/2 years since this goofball left us. He was the most remarkable human being I have ever known, and I miss him more deeply than any words could ever express.
Jim Asbell’s 31-month battle with colon cancer taught me many things about myself, about life, about this man I thought I knew so well. I am profoundly grateful for all of these experiences, good and bad. Life continues on though, and that is exactly how it is supposed to be. Jim did not want for anyone to feel sad for long. He had a great ride and wished the same for all of us.
Work goes on too. Jim did quite a lot of work on behalf of of cancer patients. Among the many groups he supported was the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
On Saturday, April 6, 2019, Jim’s presence will be remembered at our local Relay for Life Event. You can honor Jim’s memory with a donation to my fundraiser. The link appears at the end of this post. I’ll be wearing his red cape and walking with his team mates, who collectively have a goal to raise $30,000 for this year’s event. My personal goal is $2500 and I am only a few hundred dollars away from this goal. Donations can be made securely online. Checks can be made out to American Cancer Society and mailed to me. Let me know if you need my address. Anyone in the local area is welcome to come walk a bit with me. It’s a low-key, casual stroll kind of thing. Contact me for details.
To those of you who have donated, I humbly thank you. Helping those with cancer was important to Jim. As a 21-year breast cancer survivor, it’s important to me too. To those of you considering making a donation, please know that all amounts are appreciated, your donation can be anonymous, credit and debit cards are accepted, and that’s enough about that.
Place: Casa Asbell at 521 N. Easter Lily Lane, Green Valley, AZ 85614
For those who are unable to attend, please just toast Jim with something delicious wherever you may be.
Please also consider a donation in Jim’s honor to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Below is a link to Jim’s fundraising page. Online donations can be made via credit card. If you would like to make a donation via check, please make your check out to “American Cancer Society” and mail it to me at the address above. I will make sure Jim’s page gets credit for the donation.
In this morning’s Green Valley News, editor Dan Shearer wrote this piece honoring Jim and the gifts he shared with his community. Thank you, Dan for the privilege of allowing Jim to tell his story, his way.
On Sunday morning when Jim woke up at 6 he was already in great pain. I asked him if he wanted one lump or two, meaning one morphine pill or two. He held up two fingers. An hour later, still in pain and coughing, I knew he was in trouble and called hospice. I’d given him everything I was allowed to at that point for relaxation, pain, and cough.
Within a few hours his hospice nurse had changed all of his medications to liquids and the pharmacy was en route. She told both Jim and me he was dying. His breathing was labored, oxygen levels were dropping, and he could no longer speak by the time his new drugs arrived and had been administered. An hour after that, with his cough controlled, pain at bay, and still wearing his game day Ducks T-shirt from the day before, he slipped away quietly, just before 1 pm.
Our friend and retired nurse Patti Dennis arrived early and stayed the entire day, providing medical support, comfort, and doing all the stuff I just could not do. Her husband David came later and helped too. They made the most difficult day of my entire life bearable, and allowed Jim Asbell to leave this world exactly in the manner he wanted.
No one could have known the day before that Jim would leave so quickly. Our friend Lynn came and dropped off soup, flowers, and a card on Saturday morning. Jim’s hospice volunteer came in the afternoon and they watched the Ducks squash Utah. Although Jim was exhausted, I woke him up to enjoy a bit of dinner on Saturday evening, delivered courtesy of our neighbor and friend, Sandy. Jim had a few sips of Chardonnay, followed by a small glass of red wine. Sandy made an unusual dessert and he was not sure he’d like it, but he gave it a try. It was his favorite ice cream, Cherry Garcia, doused with a special tart cherry liqueur. He loved it. It was the last thing he ever ate.
Late on Sunday afternoon, Jim’s body was transported to Phoenix. He chose to donate his body to medical science. When he’s done teaching medical students about the mysteries of the human body, he will be cremated and his ashes will be returned to me. A tree will be planted in his honor. Patti, David, and I toasted Jim with a beautiful Zichichi old vine Zinfandel from the Dry Creek area of Sonoma. It was a choice worthy of the man.
Jim did not want any type of religious service or a formal memorial. When his friend Jeff Elliot passed, his wife held an informal open house and Jim decided that would be okay for him too. So, in a couple of weeks I will host the Jim Asbell memorial happy hour at our home. Details to follow once the date is set.
Lee here, typing for Jim. After 165mg of morphine yesterday, it was mutually agreed he would not be taking the computer keyboard for a spin. Here are Jim’s thought’s, dictated to me, with some editing:
Way back in the last century, there was a b-grade cult movie called “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.” It was the kind of cheesy flick that fans knew the lines to, and the one that got repeated throughout was “Wherever you go, there you are.” While doing some research on this quote I learned it was really old, and was probably first expressed by Confucius.
To me, that quote is about living in the moment, not the past or the future. It’s about being truly present, being mindful of the here and now. Living in the here and now is what Lee and I are doing.
It will not be long before people will be referring to Jimmy in the past tense. We know my disease is progressing and although no one can say for sure, it does appear from the symptoms, that it is moving rapidly.
During my thirty-one months of treatment I was one very lucky guy not to experience any significant side effects that could not be managed. Maintaining a good quality of life and buying time until medical science could come up with an answer was my focus. When I was accepted into a cutting-edge immunotherapy trial as one of only forty patients in the country, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, it did not work for me. At least I got my shot. I accomplished my goals.
Along the way I went through some unexpected changes. I began to write about my experiences and outlook on life. I wrote a book with the hope that I could help others deal with bad crap like terminal cancer. The blog I started to keep people informed began to grow. A series of articles for the local newspaper followed. I never expected to become a writer or a speaker, but here I am. I also never anticipated that I would become a painter of joyful critters, completing a total of almost one-hundred paintings. Most of my paintings have been of people’s pets. Whether they were gifts or memorials, they brought joy to the recipients which in turn, brought joy to me.
My goals now have shifted. There are no more treatments. I want to complete anotherchapter for my book, and Lee will finish the details at a later date. I also want to complete as many paintings as possible. I still want to spend time each day, even on the bad days, finding something simple to enjoy. Today I watched butterflies dance on a bush in my sunny backyard. I want to write more blog posts too. I’ve been having some interesting dreams I’d like to share.
Thursday I had a chest X-ray to help determine if I really had pneumonia or if it was just the disease causing more problems. There are no signs of pneumonia so, it’s just the stinking cancer. The focus of my hospice team is on making me comfortable without being too dopey to accomplish my goals. Yesterday, my research oncologist Dr. M confirmed the time has passed for considering any further treatments. He called while I was in the shower. Lee spoke to him. This brilliant scientist apologized to my wife. He was genuinely sorry there’s no cure for me.
During the time after my trial ended and this recent turn of events began, Lee and I had a great time visiting with friends in Oregon and California and seeing a more of the natural wonders of Arizona. When I first got diagnosed with colon cancer I knew the odds were against me seeing my 70th birthday. I exceeded my doctor’s expectations and my 70th birthday was a humdinger. Thank you one and all for the love and support that helped me reach all these goals.
I don’t know where I’m going from here, but wherever I go, there I’ll be.
Anyone who’s been married a while knows that sooner or later your spouse is going to be seriously ticked off by something you said or did. Although this post might not be what Jim Asbell wants to say, and certainly won’t be said in his delightfully goofy way, I think it’s time everyone knows that Jim’s health has taken a serious turn for the worse. I’ll probably be in the doghouse for publishing this unauthorized message, but that’s okay.
It’s only been ten days since Jim’s 70th birthday extravaganza but everything in our world has changed. It’s the wee hours of the morning and for the second night in a row, Jim’s awoken in very bad pain. A big blast of morphine has helped him drift off to sleep again, but the pain is here to stay. His hospital bed has been moved into the family room. A wheelchair is his primary mode of transport when he’s able to get up. He’s dying and he knows it.
Hospice has done a good job of providing for Jim’s medical needs. They treated him for suspected pneumonia and he has shown some small improvement, but his lungs are so compromised by the progression of his cancer there’s not much anyone can do. In addition to pain he’s experiencing some short-term memory problems, dreams that blur the line with reality, extreme muscle weakness and fatigue. He remains on four liters of oxygen and morpine around the clock.
I’ll be in trouble for saying his thoughts are too scattered and his hands too weak and clumsy to write a post himself. But it is true. I’m also in the doghouse for making him use a plastic glass. Falling asleep mid-sentence has made for some pretty bad spills and broken crystal. He can still drink a very small amount of wine, but Saturday night after one glass of wine he felt suddenly drunk and could not stand up using his crutches. For three days he did not get out of bed at all.
If there’s a bright spot in all this, it is the love and support of our friends and neighbors. The list of people who have gone out of their way to provide help and comfort is so long I do not know where to begin. My freezer is stuffed with good meals, I have not needed to leave home to run errands, and if I need anything day or night all I have to do is holler. Today, in a panic to try and complete paperwork to buy out the lease on our vehicle, a friend swooped in with a notary public in tow so Jim would not have to leave the house. The notary, a total stranger, refused payment for his services and even took the loan documents to UPS for me. Jim tried to steal the guy’s pen. They exchanged bad jokes. Jim may be dying but his sense of humor is just fine.
For those of you who have ordered pet portraits, Jim’s behind schedule. He wants to keep painting and writing for as long as possible but right now it is slow going. Your patience is appreciated. So are your prayers and good wishes.
Tonight, along with a nice pot roast dinner, our neighbors Teri and Ernie brought this silly cake. Jim took one look at it and pronounced it a “Beavers cake” because of its orange and black colors. It’s been a lousy football year for both the Ducks and their in-state rivals the Beavers. Things are lousy for Jim and me right now too. It’s just the way life is.
After a spectacular birthday party on Saturday, my old friend Mark rolled into town last Tuesday evening, and the second wave of birthday festivities began. In my ongoing pursuit of superb vino experiences, we enjoyed a 2008 Colgin Cariad that somehow slipped out of Max and Anita’s luggage when they visited here last Spring. It was smack-your-mama good. On Wednesday we packed up the car and headed to Tucson for a night of fine dining and an overnight stay at one of our favorite resorts, Hacienda del Sol. We’d been trying for almost a year to get there, and after four cancellations due to illness of either myself or the cats, we finally made it happen. Another old chum from Portland, Harmony, joined us. Harmony and I met in the late seventies at a wine tasting. Mark and I met in the early eighties through work. The four of us sipped and supped on a special chef’s table menu with paired with wines to match. Classical guitar player, Eduardo, serenaded us.
Thursday the foursome spent the day at the resort so the girls could enjoy spa treatments and the boys could relax and take in the view of the Catalina mountains.
Friday we said farewell to Mark and had planned a fun evening with Harmony and some local friends, but it was not to be. Life can change very quickly when you have advanced cancer. Extreme fatigue, weakness and fever set in and poof, it was back to bed for Jimmy. If I were not on hospice it would have been an emergency room day for Jimmy. Instead, one call does it all, and my hospice nurse arrived late morning. She quickly determined I had the beginning of pneumonia, ordered oxygen and antibiotics for same day delivery, and arranged for more frequent nurse visits and an aide to assist me. I am grateful for early hospice. Without these services I would probably have been hospitalized.
From the very beginning of my cancer roller coaster ride, Lee and I have weighed every treatment decision carefully, knowing the toll that cancer treatment takes on the body. I’m not ready to kick the bucket, that’s for sure, but I’ve never pursued treatment at the expense of living life to its fullest.
When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, the average time from diagnosis to death was twenty-two months. I am now at thirty-one months. My goal at diagnosis was to survive as long as possible, and live as well as possible. I decided early on that sharing my philosophy and experiences with others through writing a book would help people struggling with serious illness. This led to what this blog has become, a newspaper article series, public speaking presentations, and over sixty paintings of critters.
There are no treatment options on the table that make sense right now, although that could always change. My plan is to ride the hospice wave for as long as possible, continuing to do what I can to help others through my writing and talks. I have so much more that I want to do and will continue to fight to keep the work moving forward. I’m not worried about me so much. I think more about Lee, and those I love, but I’m really focused on doing good work.
This week the plan is to get lots of rest, let the antibiotics and breathing treatments do their job, and recover from this pneumonia. I think recovery will also require Cherry Garcia ice cream, wine maiden service from Lee, and the comforts of home.
Thank you everyone for a super-duper 70th birthday extravaganza week.
Time really goes by fast when your having fun. It certainly doesn’t seem like seventy years since I made my grand entry to the living and the first half of the seven day celebration of my life is just streaming by. Lead by two three day waves of Oregonian friends joined by a day of rest in between.
As most of you know, I have been on a quest of old rare, fabulous wines, memorable enological gems! The first wave of Oregonians are noted for traveling with such bounty in their luggage and they did not disappoint. But in addition they brought me a special bottle of wine, the very first vintage of Ch. Pegasus Pinot Noir. A very limited bottling with a hand printed label listing magical Pinot Noir clones comprising the blend , along with the organic elements of “earwigs, blood, sweat,curses”!
For the following evening Lee had planned on a dinner gathering with some local friends for a birthday party with our Oregonians. The wine theme for the evening was Zinfandel, a perfect match for antipasto, lasagna and Caesar salad. There were six October birthdays to celebrate, and one whose birthday was the night of the party. So the party was changed to an October birthday party, featuring the actual birthday boy David, who had the honor of wearing the special birthday hat.
To maximize fun and alleviate stress, Lee had arranged for a catered affair. However our friend Patti didn’t want Lee to anything but have fun and we switched the venue from our house to Patti’s and secured another Patti and her husband, birthday boy David, for assistance. Patti has a huge patio rolling up to the desert and it was a beautiful evening full of laughter and music.
I robbed a few minutes from the festivities to share two short videos. The first was a moment of the happiest day of my life when Lee and I shared our rather quirky wedding vows. The second was a view of my dream, our vineyard in Argentina. Then, just like the Jack Nicholsons character in One Flew Over The Coocoo’s Nest, Patti took over and it PARTY!!
Today was our day of rest. Fortunately my “peanut butter cookie popper” supplier dropped by with two baggies of poppers and a beautiful Oregon Duck bouquet of paper flowers. Life is good.
Josh Norman and I have many things in common. A Pro Bowl cornerback for the Washington Redskins, he is considered to be at the top of his field. I am also considered to be at the top of my field, it’s just that my field hasn’t been well defined as of yet. He is known for his bravado on the the field. Anyone who has watched a Duck game with me knows my bravado. It is legendary. So is my bullshit.
Monday night Mr. Norman suffered broken ribs and damage to the lining in his lungs when some massive 300-pound football player fell on him. On Tuesday morning, during my procedure to shrink the large tumor pushing against the back wall of my left lung, my radiation oncologist discovered that the tumor had penetrated the lung lining and worked its way into the bone, cracking some ribs. He altered his radiation plan and used three beams instead of the planned single beam to zap the tumor while protecting the delicate lung tissue. He was pleased with the results and feels I should still get the benefit of pain relief and the procedure can be repeated when necessary. Muy bueno!
As you might imagine, pain management has been a big focus recently at Casa de Asbell. Mornings have been particularly rough for me, but this morning was relatively good. So hopefully the modifications we made, along with the normal healing process of time, will continue the progress. Cancer weakens the the bones plus I have localized osteoporosis on my left side due to my polio adventure 68-years ago. So I will have to pay attention.
One of the temporary side effect of the radiation is grogginess and fatigue. This has given me the opportunity to experiment when reading the morning paper. I have found that there is very little difference in content when I read the paper with both eyes closed.
The good news is that the side effects and pain diminish as the day progresses. I am able to paint in the afternoon. Perhaps most importantly I am thoroughly able to enjoy Chef LeeLee’s cuisine and wine service in the evening. Live life to the fullest!
The map maker told me it was just routine to have patients hold identification signs with their pertinent data, but why so much interest in my tye-dye Oregon Duck shirt? Then I noticed his Washington Husky jersey!! Warning signs flashed before my eyes. What was this dawg plotting?
Over the past couple of months the level of pain in the left side of my back has gradually increased. Initially I attributed it to my ongoing battle with post polio, but the pain only got worse, to the point where excruiating pain was my reward for getting out of bed in the morning. Me and Mr. Morphine were becoming fast friends.
I was aware that a large tumor in my left lung was invading the lung lining and nerves in and around my ribs. It appeared that a consultation with my radiation oncologist was in order. Based on our previous conversation last fall I was not optimistic. But much to my surprise, he was quite confident that he could eliminate most of the pain and do it with only a single radiation session that could be repeated if necessary. He felt the initial session would give me six to eight months of relief. When I asked him what the down side trade off would be, after initially saying “nothing,” he further pondered and said I might have a little “sun burn” effect. Wow!!! My mapping preparation shown above was done on Friday and the 30 minute radiation therapy is on Tuesday morning. I should be feeling much better by my birthday!!
As wonderful as this is, it is purely palliative. It will do nothing to stop the cancer, but will deal with pain elimination. It will improve the quality of our (Lee and mine) lives. I am still on hospice and hospice is doing a great job for us. Meet my primary hospice nurse. Solving problems is her game, Liz is her name.
One of Liz’s solutions was a hospital bed. My initial reaction was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. But it immediately increased my sleep from three hours to six hours per night, which should further improve after my radiation. Of course my bed is not your ordinary hospital bed. Thanks to Linda, Harmony, and Jenny it is a cocoon providing protection against the demons. Linda, a master quilter, created the beautiful and powerful Duck quilt, and the Duck Pillows came courtesy of Jenny and Harmony. They will provide a peaceful and restful refuge.
And finally please meet Sam, my latest pet portrait. Sam lives in Sacramento and is an avid biker who rides in a trailer attached to his human’s bike.
Our splurge night on last week’s road trip was Thursday evening with dinner at Jeffry’s, Moab’s finest steak house, and lodging at “Sunflower Hill, A Luxury Inn.” Sunflower Hill is a half block collection of renovated homes surrounded and infused throughout with beautiful gardens. It is a colorful, peaceful and relaxing spot staffed by a very warm and accommodating folks. I was their “test” guest last week and they passed the test with flying colors.
Vintage inns, boutique hotels and B&Bs appeal to me. I prefer uniqueness over cookie cutter hotels. I’d choose charm over efficiency unless I am on a business trip or due to any physical “challenges” I may be encountering at the time. In the past couple of weeks I have been challenged by a lower back muscle that is severely strained. To remedy this situation I have to dial down the force my leg brace applies to my back. Unfortunately, reducing the force makes Jimmy less stable and more likely to fall. So stairs are even less friendly than normal and stairs without handrails are a big no-no. Well we thought we had addressed the hand rail issue for the stairs into the room, but what wasn’t addressed were all the stairs leading into the various buildings and lack of handrails throughout the property. Normally three or four stairs is doable even for me, but not last week.
When we arrived there was only one room that did not have any stairs. Fortunately we were able to make the room swap and our gracious host asked another guest to move his car so that we could park closer to the building entry. I merely mentioned that we had dinner reservations and how could we insure our spot would still be available upon our return? He said he’d make a sign and he made a dandy for this VIP. You will notice that the sign is even laminated, a key feature to protect it from the elements. Thunder, lightening and monsoon rains had been following us all day and were scheduled to arrive at Sunflower Hill.
About an hour before our dinner reservations, the heavens opened up. Rivers suddenly appeared, small cars floated by. The skies were like a waterfall. How were we going to get to and from the car? Little Lee came to the rescue with “trash bag” ponchos…..perfect attire for an upper crust dinning establishment. When I walked into the restaurant, the table closest to the door looked up. And what to their eyes should appear is perhaps a homeless man in his trash bag pulling it up over his derrière. Her eyes grew large as I smiled and exclaimed, “whew it’s wet out there, pardon me while I disrobe for dinner.”
We thoroughly enjoyed Monument Valley, unfortutely Arches was monsooning, so we skipped it.
The weather liars had the game day forecast all wrong, what a shock! But just as well. With my brace and back issues it would have been very difficult for me to maneuver and tiring at the 7,200 elevation at Cowboy stadium. So instead we headed down to Canyon de Chelly, just outside of Chinle…another dry town!
With its tall red canyon walls, some with cliff dwellings, contrasting with the vivid green of the cottonwood, it was beautiful. We took a private 4 wheel drive tour to explore the canyon from a life long resident, who had many interesting stories. Although they weren’t quite as interesting the third time we heard them.
From Chinle we drove back to Quail Creek where our neighbor Bob had a nice Cabernet Sauvignon for us to suck down as we gnawed on BBQ ribs and another Duck victory.
On the cancer front, in addition to my strain, I have had trouble sleeping at night due to moderate back pain. Me and my buddie morphine seem to have it handled now, but unfortunately it was disruptive on our little trip. My palliative care nurse recommended a nurse who practices various relaxation and healing techniques such as Acupressure, Reiki, Healing Touch and other techniques. I had my first session today. Next week I will meet with my Radiology Oncologist to see if there are any logical palliative options to do a bit of shrinkage and still working on the targeted therapy.