No Longer 18?

It was  a beautiful day yesterday, bright sunshine, gleaming blue sky with a nice soft breeze.  After lunching alfresco at the Union Pub House on a scrumptious house cured pastrami sandwich, it was time to visit my surgeon.  Despite my little infection, I am doing very well. When I complained of fatigue and lack of energy, she reminded me that I’m no longer 18 years old.  Yikes, I hadn’t noticed that!  I still look 18 in the mirror….at least when I take off my glasses. She went on to tell me that my recuperation from this surgery is better than over half of her patients. It’s been only three weeks and full recovery can take up to 8 weeks.  I’m doing great, she says.

It did make feel better that my rate of recovery is better than average. However, it soon dawned on me that statistically only 8% of stage four colon cancer patients survive five years.  So the top 40 percentile isn’t going to cut it.  My five year plan requires me to be in the top 8%.  

One of the problems I’ve had the past year is weight loss and the surgery exacerbated that trend. I was very gaunt and down to 148 lbs.  As I approach the rigors of chemo , I need to be at my “fighting weight” of 175.  The last ten days I feel like I’m in training camp, with my trainer and nutritionist Lee pushing high protein shakes and high carb foods.  I am indeed in training, in training for the fight for my life.  This morning I weighed in at 160.1!  Progress towards the successful completion of my five year plan.  Tomorrow we meet with our oncologist to put together our initial assault on my cancer. 

Although I have worries and fears, these past few days have also been wonderful. Thursday I made the official post surgical unveiling of myself at a neighborhood potluck.  The support and caring from my neighbors is heartwarming and Jerry’s ribs were amazing. Then my friend of 30 years, Mark, flew down from Portland for an extended weekend visit.  It was wonderful to see him and be able to share my enthusiasm for my new southern AZ home.  Lots of memories were relived, lots of laughter and a few tears.  A few of our  new friends joined us for feasting and wine cellar exploration with more laughter ensuing. A great time!

I love living in southern Arizona, I love living in Quail Creek, I love living.  


 Heading in the right direction!


For John and Dana

Today Jim and I are toasting my brother John and his bride, Dana. They got married about an hour ago in our old hometown. We wish them a long and happy life together. The champagne flutes we are holding in this photo were presented to Jim and I as we cut the cake at our own wedding. weddingday

My baby brother John and I have always loved old Warner Brothers cartoons. It is hard to see, but the glass Jim holds is the odiferous love-struck skunk, Pepe LePew. In the cartoons, an overly amorous Pepe pursues, bet never wins, the object of his desires. We’re so very happy John has finally wooed and won the love of his life. Welcome to the family, Dana Pritchard.

Toasting each other 5-23-99 with Pepe LePew and a wine bottle shaped cake.
Toasting each other 5-23-99 with Pepe LePew and a wine bottle shaped cake.

It is of course, a bittersweet day for us since we were not able to attend this wonderful family gathering. We are very lucky though, because our good friend Mark Portrait has come to visit for a few days. Mark and Jim go way back. Here’s Mark and his bride, Ellen, on that same magical night in Napa Valley when Jim and I got married.

Mr. and Mrs. Portrait at our wedding.
Mr. and Mrs. Portrait at our wedding.

Ah, love.

Comfort Food

There is nothing quite like comfort food to soothe the soul. On those days that are just “hard”, days you feel worn down, comfort food can bring you home to where everything is just as it should be.  Everything is just right, at least for the moment.

Well tonight is “comfort food” time at casa del Asbell. For the first time in 18 days, days of pre and post surgery, the door to casa del vino was opened and a treasure was secured for our utter enjoyment.   Ahhhhhhh, comfort food.  The wine I chose was not the most expensive, or even close to it.   I selected a 2012 Syncline Subduction Red.  This is from a small winery in the Columbia Gorge in Washington State. They specialize in wine varietals from the Rhone Valley. The Subduction Red is a juicy blend of several varietals and goes marvelously with the grilled Italian sausage, grilled asparagus tips and scalloped potatoes with goat cheese & herbs de provence that  Chef Leelee has prepared for this evening.  Comfort food Asbell style!!  Vintages of this wine over many years have provided wonderful memories for us.  Everything is just fine.

For the next couple of weeks, until the start of chemo, we will be exploring our cellar treasures…in moderation.  There is still healing from the surgery to do and the battle ahead requires my best physical and mental efforts.  But tonight we are enjoying our comfort food and we toast you, our friends and family.  



Garbage Bags, Duct Tape and Nurse Cindy

File this story in the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” category.

This morning as I slaved away at the computer, I heard the shower water running. The patient was bathing unassisted for the first time since surgery, unless you count some help from a cat who likes to lap up free range shower water. I went in to see if anything was needed and discovered the shower was not quite complete.

There he stood, naked, sopping wet, with a king-size outdoor type trash bag fashioned into a skirt about his middle. This stunning designer garment was held together along the seam by duct tape, naturally. A small strip of first aid tape at the waist area secured the skirt to his skin to ensure no water would run directly onto the belly wound sites. I began to giggle and had to resist the urge to get the camera.

Me: What the hell is that thing?

Him: Well, you said the nurse told me to just tape a plastic sandwich baggie over the site so it would stay dry until she got here.

I will spare you the details of what the nurse actually said, what I told him, and his unique interpretation. When our very sweet home health nurse arrived and I told her about the garbage bag skirt we all had a good laugh. The belly wound is looking better today and that is all that matters.  

Nurse Cindy and Garbage Bag Man

Not to end on a down note, but there may have been some confusion yesterday regarding the pathology report. Yes, the surgery went well and Jim is a good candidate for chemo, but nothing has changed. There is no cure for metastatic colon cancer that has spread to multiple organs. The best case scenario is that chemo buys time. We will move forward with treatment, eyes wide open, pragmatic in our decision-making. We share our experiences as a means to help ourselves as well as those who know and care about us. Jim has made it very clear to all of his medical team that we are not “chasing rainbows,” as he puts it.

For today, it is enough that healing from major surgery continues. Since Jim is tolerating a wider variety of foods well, he got a BLT for lunch. Bacon makes everything in life better.

Bye Bye Beardie, Bye Bye

  Jimmy models his lovely beard for all to see!

It has been two weeks to the day since I have had surgery to rid my body of a large nasty tumor.  There were many instructions from the hospital on that day.  The most intriguing to me was the request not to shave. Since I was to be on blood thinners it could complicate things if I knicked myself.  These instructions were held in place for my entire stay.   That would give me a six day head start on a beard, a “safe haven” from spousal nagging.  Hooray!!  

Once we got home I shared my enthusiasm regarding my 6 day beard with Lee and it was remarkable how well she stifled her excitement.  Over the past week Friends remarked how “Hemingway-ish” I looked.  Then I looked in the mirror and all I saw the old man and the sea. What?  I’m in the desert, not the ocean, and I’m not an old man.  Really, I’m not!  So this morning off with the beard.  Yes, this looks familiar.  Although my bride wasn’t quite gushing, I could tell she approved. 
   Not a hair on my chinny chin chin!

This afternoon we visited with my surgeon.  She reaffirmed her initial evaluation that the remaining colon shows no signs of cancer.  The pathology report showed cancer in only 1 of the 19 lymph nodes.  From what she observed and the state of my general health, she is confident I will have good results with chemo. She removed the JP drain ( yeah!!!), but noticed signs of infection in the main incision. She cleaned it out and prescribed  some antibiotics. I will have a home nurse change the dressing every day until I return to the surgeon next week. Yippie Skippie!  

An Outing for Jimmy


For the first time in nearly two weeks little Jimmy enjoyed a purely social outing. Yippie!!  Lee and I enjoyed the Quail Creek Fine Arts Club meeting on Friday. It was fun to visit with our art friends and discuss their new projects.   My recovery from the surgery continues in a positive progression. Pain is now under control and subsiding and my guts starting to come around.  We have a meeting with the surgeon on Monday afternoon. 

In the meantime my mission is to soak up the beautiful sunshine and enjoy all the goodies designed to enhance my waistline.  


A Room With a View

The 1986 Merchant/Ivory film adaptation of E.M. Forester’s 1908 novel remains to this day, one of my favorite romantic movies. The room the title refers to is in Florence, Italy overlooking the Arno River. 

In the spring of 1998, Jim and I visited the south of France, Monaco and a heavenly slice of Italy that included Florence and the surrounding medieval hill towns. We’d been dating for a year and a half.
In Tuscany we feasted on wild boar, porcini mushrooms and all of the “B” wines. Brunello. Barberesco. Barolo. We toured Florence in a horse drawn carriage and walked across the Arno River on the city’s oldest bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. Although there have been shops on this bridge since the thirteenth century, since 1593 only goldsmiths and jewelers have been allowed to ply their trade there. In a tiny shop on the Ponte Vecchio, Jim bought me a beautiful souvenir. A gold ring set with a sapphire and four small diamonds. A ring I have worn every day since.
Not long after this dreamy vacation I discovered at the ripe old age of thirty-six that I had breast cancer. A year later, after surgery, chemo, and radiation treatments, Jim and I got married in the Napa Valley with a weekend-long celebration of “life, love and gluttony” as our rather unusual wedding invites declared.
In one way or another cancer has been part of our lives for a long time. Imagine the courage of a man who asks a bald-headed lady to be his bride? That’s Jim. Now that Jim is in the cancer hot seat, that courage and tensile strength is more apparent to me than ever.
Recently, our neighbors Buzz and Pat invited us to meet Buzz’s brother, the artist William Berra. Their home is filled with Bill Berra’s sublime, luminous paintings. While he has painted landscapes and figurative subjects throughout the world, Italy remains one of his favorite places to paint.
Today, we accepted the temporary loan of one of Bill Berra’s paintings. We’ve set up a special nest in the guest room for Jim to recover from surgery. From the bed where he has been snoozing he now has a magnificent Berra painting of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio. 
Thank you, Buzz Berra, Pat Newport and of course, the artist William Berra, for Jim’s new room with a view.