1st Chemo Session

Sorry about the previous blank post.   I would blame it on the cat, but he’s across the room fast asleep.  I finished by first session this morning, so far I have not experienced any side effects.  I hope I didn’t Just jinx myself!  

My session began Wednesday morning.  I plopped myself down in a comfy recliner, put my feet up and waited for the nurse to fix me up with today’s special.  An appetizer was served first, a simple flush of my spiffy new power port.  The power port is about the diameter of a quarter and it is discreetly hidden under my skin on the right side of my hairy chest (more about that later).  The advantage of the port is that to infuse chemo or dye for a CT scan, the nurse simply inserts a special needle thru my skin into the port.  It is painless and quick.  No pokey-pokey as the nurse looks for a good vein.  Of course the chemo nurses here are very good at finding a vein, but as the chemo sessions mount the veins breakdown, making it more and more difficult, painful and stressful. This boy will most likely doing some form of infusion therapy for the balance of my life, so I am thankful for the cool titanium power port. 

Jimmy’s very first chemo session

The next course was a delightful anti nausea medication and then leucovorin.  This took about an hour.  I kicked back, plugged my ear buds into my iPhone and dialed up some Bill Evans jazz.   The entree was served next, a superbly prepared 5FU.  Ah… 5FU, my favorite suicide inhibitor that will kill the bastard tumors.  I can hear their little screams now, a lovely sound it is.  The 5FU is served in a sloooooow infusion over a 46 hour period, so I decided to take the entree “to-go”.   They placed the 5FU into a small pump, hooked it up to my power port and tucked the pump into a pocket in a binder that wraps around my mid section. The binder fits under my shirt, very stealth.  The nurse put a water proof bandage, with VERY secure adhesive, over the port so the I could take a shower.  They said au revoir and bid me a fond adieu.    

This morning, 46 hours later, I went back to the office to return the empty pump.  Everything was fine and dandy until the nurse removed the water proof bandage (the one with VERY secure adhesive), from my hairy “monkey man” chest.  I felt like Steve Carell in the Forty Year Old Virgin.  OUCH!!!  I will be shaving that patch for the next session! 

How Many Toes? 

Last week while waiting for me at the as I was undergoing my PET and CT scans, Lee noticed the following door knob sign:  

The  RedToeNail was an “on line” cancer support forum created by Dr. Phillip Berman in 2005.  In 2004 he was diagnosed with Advanced Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) that had matastasized in his liver, brain and bones.  In 2004 only 15% of those diagnosed with NSCLC made it one year.  He considered himself a dead man walking “with hardly any time left on the bio-clock.”   Well he surprised himself and one year after diagnosis he was still alive.  As a reminder of how blessed and fortunate he was, he painted one of his toe nails bright red and created RedToeNail.org.  He committed to paint an additional toe nail on every anniversary, hoping for a full set.  Although he didn’t accomplish the full set, he did complete one foot.  He successfully extended his life significantly beyond the odds. 

The odds of living one year after diagnosis of Stage IV matastasized Colon Cancer is about 50/50, much better than Dr. Berman’s odds.  But my odds of making it five years is under 10%.   I do like the RedToeNail concept. It’s silly, fun and celebratory.  I am hoping to do a complete set of toe nails and then on to my finger nails.  That’d give me a sweet twenty more years of painting cats!  But I have a serious dilemma, Lee wears red toe & finger nail polish. Since we have a pact of never wearing matching outfits, red nail polish is off the table. So…how about green & electric yellow, the Oregon Duck colors?  What the hell, why not paint my nails with the Oregon logo!!   

 Here I am entering the PET scan tube, what fun!  I like this picture, my hair looks more brown than grey.  Tomorrow we visit with Dr P to go over the results and implement a treatment plan.  Hopefully a Plan that will result in  “20 painted nails”. 

Fighting Weight!

After a period of weight “stall”, I am once again gaining weight.  Special thanks to my neighbors and friends who hosted Lee and I the last couple of evenings for anniversary feasts, you pushed me into the “170 Zone”!  Woo Hoo!!

  Twenty-two pound weight gain since surgery, but who’s counting?  Five more pounds for my ideal weight!

Sweet Sixteen

Most people take a day to celebrate important milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. In the Asbell world, the really important things take at least an entire weekend to savor and enjoy.

Sixteen years ago today, it was the day before our wedding. What were we doing? Wine tasting with family and friends, of course.

Sparkling wine fun at Mumm Napa.
Sparkling wine fun at Mumm Napa.

But how about exactly one year before the wedding? Even Jim would be hard-pressed to remember that. It took some digging. It turns out we were in Italy. Today while I was looking for something else, I came across this photo of Jim in Florence with the Ponte Vecchio behind him. Kindly ignore the stranger next to him with the man purse.

Florence, Italy. May 22nd, 1998.
Florence, Italy. May 22nd, 1998.

And what is on the agenda for this year’s wedding anniversary? An exotic trip? Fancy gifts for each other? Surely there must be some insanely good wine to drink as the window before Jim’s chemo gets shorter?

The truth is we rarely give each other “STUFF” anymore. My gift to Jim is this:

Cards from our wedding weekend.
Cards from our wedding weekend.

This year we will spend time together and revisit all the memories contained in these cards and notes from our wedding. The one on top is from my sister Anne and her family. They gave us a gorgeous set of pasta bowls. Her card says “Eat lots of pasta! Have a wonderful life!” Tonight, we will heed that sage advice and enjoy “Italian Night” with our host and native of Tuscany, Moreno Giannasi. How fitting is that?

Tomorrow night we are looking forward to dinner with two couples in our neighborhood. They will have no idea it is our anniversary until they read this mushy blog post. Sharing dinner with friends who enjoy good food and wine two nights in a row seems to me an ideal Asbell sweet sixteen wedding weekend.

Cheers!

Whew!!!!!

I went to the gym today for the first time in six weeks.  While I was gone some joker relabeled all the weights, can you believe it!  The 50 lb labeled weight was really a 70 lb weight, the 70 lb was really a 100 lb, etc.   It took me a few reps to figure it out and then I made the adjustments.   Good thing some friends have been helping me exercise my right arm the past few days or I wouldn’t have been up to the gym this morning.  Gotta keep in shape. 

   My good friend Paul came for a visit from Oregon bringing my favorite Zinfandel, Turley Dragon!! Being a gracious host, I drank it. 
 The next day Lee and Linda cooked a great meal while Paul, Moe and I raided the wine cellar.  A good time was had my all!

Although my weight has plateaued, I continue to gain strength and feel better daily.  On Thursday I have a PET/CT scan to establish a base line for my chemo treatment. On the 26th we meet with the oncologist to go over the results and begin treatment.  Live life to its fullest!

I’m Back

Just back from our six day exploration of northern New Mexico, it was time for another follow up appointment with my surgeon. You may recall, that at my last visit she responded to my complaints about fatigue and weakness with a reminder that I was “not 18 anymore”.  So for this meeting I donned the t-shirt below: 

  She laughed and was very pleased with my shirt, she even wanted to get one for her husband, an orthopedic surgeon.  But she was even more pleased with the improvement in my recovery from surgery and gave me the OK to hit the gym and spa next week.  I am gaining strength every day and got quite a workout walking on our trip.

Despite the surprise snow in Taos, our vacation was most excellent.  I can see why so many artists locate in the Santa Fe and Taos area; the color of the sky, the clouds and the vistas are breathtaking. However the highlight of our trip was our visit with Lonny and Judy Sisson at their home in Albuquerque.  Lonny is one of America’s great artists.  Although we have been acquainted only a few months, they graciously invited us to visit when they learned of our trip to New Mexico.  Lonny is a man of great passion, focus and genius. His advice on painting is to “keep painting with enthusiasm and the daring to fail.”  Words that not only apply to art, but life itself.  

 
Vacation aside, I continued with my task of reaching my “fighting weight” as chemo treatment approaches.  Thanks to all the cookies, cake and brownies from our friends along with my high protein, high carb diet, my goal is in sight.  I have gained 19 pounds since surgery!

  

Jeff’s Magical Toyland

Lee and I are really looking forward to our trip to New Mexico. Touring galleries, exploring museums, taking in the enchanted vistas along with fine dining accompanied by the finest fruits of the vine await us!  However, Friday evening the brace that supports my left leg went “snap, crackle, pop” and ceased to offer any support. Fortunately I was also wearing my outriggers (aka, crutches), so Jimmy did not fall down and go boom.  Still, the broken brace presented a dark cloud on our vacation horizon.  I do have an old “beater” emergency backup brace, but it would severely curtail any ambulatory activity. My brace manufacturer is in Oregon and the turnaround time for repair is about two weeks, which would be just in time for chemo.😞

Enter my friend Jeff Elliott and his Magical Toyland.  Jeff is a master of all things metal.  Jeff has mysterious powers and he can bend, shape and fabricate any metallic substance.   Jeff happily repaired my brace and I have been putting it through its paces the last few days on my morning walks.  I’m so glad the brace broke BEFORE our vacation and sooooo glad that Jeff could invoke his super powers on my behalf!

  My repaired brace with Jeff in his amazing metallic toy shop 

On Wednesday Lee and I met with the final member of my cancer treatment team, a palliative care nurse. Although my cancer is treatable, it is not currently curable.  My goal is to extend my life as long as possible, but only if my life is worth living. The oncologist focuses on the cancer, the palliative nurse focuses on the rest of me, they work together to best achieve our goal.  It is possible, though highly improbable, that treatment could buy me enough time until a cure is found. 

While the odds are stacked against me , I’ve been an over-achiever my entire life.  I contracted polio at age ten months.  I lived in poverty and in foster homes until I was eight. While in college my History professor passed over me for an internship at NangYang University in Singapore despite my 4.0 GPA in history.  His assessment was that I was not a scholar, I was an overachiever, and thus not a qualified candidate for the position. I was offended and angry. But upon reflection I realized that he was correct.  I have never been the fastest, strongest or smartest in any venture or organization I’ve been involved with. However I’ve always been at the top in achievement and performance. I somehow get it done, I achieve beyond my measurable abilities. I am an an overachiever and I am proud of it.  Like athletes who don’t measure up on the practice field, but somehow out perform their more talented opponents, I am a gamer.  While my brain understands that my life is likely very short lived, and I am taking steps to manage and protect the quality of my life for myself and for Lee, I am accustomed to somehow overachieving.  I remain a gamer and this is my biggest game. 

Little Jimmy coming home from Sunday School
Last night Lee and I attended the final session of the “snow bird” season for the Wine Tasters.  A fun group of wine enthusiasts, of all different levels of wine knowledge, but with a common passion for fun and enjoyment of wine.  Most members will be gone for all or part of the summer and will reconvene in the fall. A good time was had by all and a perfect send off for our New Mexico vacation.

  Thank you to our hosts, Ralph and Mary, for a great evening