Rats!  Rats, I say!!

Rats, both literally and figuratively.  When we built our house at the edge of the desert a year and a half ago, we incorporated an outdoor spa into the landscaping.  The drain hose for the spa is located behind the access panel which is secured with something like five million screws.  I may have exaggerated that number just a touch, but it nonetheless presented a pain in the butt for me to remove the panel every 60 days when I change the water.  So the landscaper simply drilled a hole in the access panel allowing the hose to “hang loose” outside the spa.  The hole was covered up by the steps, it was a perfect solution…..or so I thought. One evening while scurrying in the adjacent desert, Mr. Pack Rat decided to check out our spa.  He discovered my drain hose, but decided that the hole needed to be enlarged so that he would have access to the inside. What a fine job he did!  

 I put out a “contract” on packy, so he should soon be gone, followed by a thorough cleaning up the mess under the spa. Fortunately it does not appear that he did any damage, he was using it to store all the stuff he picked up around the hood, including bait from a neighbors trap!  My friend Jeff, aka the Magical Metal Man, has constructed a metal shield that will fit very tightly around the drain hose.  It will be installed after the cleaning. Solution is in process. 

I began my third treatment today.  I reviewed the results of yesterday’s blood work with my PA.  My blood counts are normal, my kidney and liver functions are right on, my immune system is taking the treatments in stride……but the Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) test shows elevated numbers (not good).  The CEA test detects protein associated with the growth of malignant tumors.  A normal CEA number should be less than 2.5 for a non-smoking adult. My CEA number after surgery was 9.3, just before my first chemo treatment began four weeks later it had increased to 10.8 and now, another month has gone by, it increased again to 11.5.  Rats!   Rats, I say!  It’s like I’d been given a placebo chemo regimen resulting in no side effects but no tumor reduction either. A sugar pill infusion?  “Don’t get excited Mr. Asbell, the CEA marker is not definitive.”   It is true that you can have a low CEA number and be riddled with cancer.  Also some initial chemo treatments can cause the number to rise temporarily due to the death of tumor cells and their release of protein into the blood stream. I have only had two treatments and just one with Avastin.  Avastin, the drug that starves the tumors, often takes about three treatments before the results show.  So it’s time for Jimmy to chill.   I will have a CT scan in mid July after my fourth treatment, the CT scan is definitive. 

But since my body is doing so well processing all the chemo drugs, I am allowed to have glass of wine with dinner every other day.  That’s ONE 6 oz glass of wine.  Well, at least it’s a start and we’ll see how it goes.  Tonight it will be a 2010 Atalon Pauline’s Cuvée from Napa Valley.  Chef is preparing filet mignon, with brussel sprouts bathed in Crumpy’s butter sauce and a blend of brown rice and quinoa. Life is good.


Saguaro Summer Gifts

Sizzling hot mid-June in southern Arizona marks the transition to the rainy season. The monsoon rains have not arrived quite yet, but lightning over the mountains and a tease of a few fat drops splattered the windows late last night. Throughout the Sonoran desert, giant saguaro that began blooming in spring will begin to produce fruit in late June. The flowers start as tiny, alien bumps that sprout from the saguaro tops and arms. Birds, bats, and bees do their pollination work, mostly at night as the saguaro’s flowers usually last less than one full day. 

Last year our neighbors Buzz and Pat planted a magnificent giant saguaro in their front yard. Transplanting a ten foot tall saguaro is no small undertaking and is best left to experts. On my morning walk I noticed its blossoms have finally opened. A sure sign this sentinel of the desert, as native people once called them, is happy in its home here on Easter Lily Lane.  

In mid-July it will be two years since Jim and I moved to Quail Creek. When I reflect on all that has occurred in those two years, it makes my head spin. First, Jim’s thirty-one year career at Mitsubishi came to an abrupt end when the mother ship in Japan closed his division. A month later our sister-in-law Susie’s life nearly ended with a ruptured brain aneurysm. She remains profoundly disabled. Last July my sister Katherine died of ovarian cancer after a brutal seven year fight. She was only sixty. And then three months ago, Jim’s Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis landed at our door.

For those of you who think we have weathered all these storms without difficulty, or assume that we have some special brand of wisdom, faith or philosophical outlook that keeps us from going bonkers, I assure we have no magic bullets. Heck, we don’t even have good wine to soothe our souls right now. Our fourth week of Prohibition has begun. Jim is off to the oncologist office right now for a weekly blood draw, preparing for Round 3 of chemo tomorrow. Right about the time we mark that two-year point next month, he will have a CT scan and tumor marker tests to see how well chemo is actually working on all those bad boys in his lungs and liver. 

For all of you who take the time to read this blog, send messages of support, prayers, cards, gifts, edible goodies and love, we thank you heartily. They really do help keep us strong.

In addition to all the other things going on in our lives in July, we will also pause to remember someone we never met. His name is Alex Newport-Berra. Last year, on a gorgeous July day in the Colorado Rockies, Alex lost his life in a fall. A gifted athlete and teacher, Alex was just thirty-three years old. For our neighbors Pat and Buzz and their family, on that day we will put aside our own troubles and remember Alex. We are grateful Pat and Buzz have shared Alex’s story with us. Sharing their grief helps us with our own burdens. 

When I look at photos of Alex with his strong body and handsome youthful face, I see something that reminds me of Jim Asbell that has nothing to do with age or physical abilities. Jim and Alex could not be more different in that regard. What I see is a twinkle in Alex’s eye. A playful sense of humor, a competitive spirit, a resilient nature. An ability to find joy in unlikely places and to live in the present. I think Jim and Alex would have liked each other quite well, despite their totally different lives.

Wherever Alex is at this moment, I am sure he’d be glad to know that giant saguaro in his Mom and Dad’s yard has put down roots and blossomed in its new home. So have we. 

Rainbow Chaser…..

You may recall that early on in this cancer “adventure” that we declared that we were going to take a balanced view in my quest for living.  A balance in the quality of life as well as the longevity.  We were not going to be chasing any rainbows. But what if the rainbows chase us??  Who am I to challenge that?  One of our neighbors took the photo below, clearly showing a rainbow ending inside our house!   


Could this be the reason why I haven’t had any side effects from the chemo so far?  Could this be my “pot of gold”?  Mine is not to reason why, but to only reply……”Yeah Baby”!  

Speaking of chemo, I began my second session yesterday.  My session is really a two and a half day session. Wednesday in the chemo suite hooked up for infusion via my titanium power port, followed a portable pump that secretes the secret sauce for 46 hours and then back to the suite for disconnection on Friday.  This session included a new drug into my cocktail, Avastin.  The initial dose of Avastin is quite large, so I enjoyed about four hours of jazz (Kenny Barron, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans and Harry Allen) via my iPhone as I lounged in the recliner.  Avastin dries up the source feeding the tumor growth by slowing the creation of new blood vessels.  Starve you bloody tumors, STARVE I say!!!  Normally I would have had Avastin from the beginning, but they chose to hold off to make sure all my wounds (especially internal) were healed from my April surgery.  That’s right, you need new blood vessels to heal a wound, so Avastin can be problematic. 

Speaking of healing, last week into this week I had a horrible bout of flu and or cold.  My darling Lee was very concerned as the next chemo session approached. So what could she do?  Well she simply snatched it from me!  My symptoms cleared and simultaneously her chest and throat hurt and along came sneezing, coughing and nasal congestion.  She took the whole ball of wax!  Is that love or is that love?  She is feeling a little better today and hopefully a Golden State victory tonight will complete her healing process. I sure hope so. 

I’d like to thank Lopez Painting for the stellar job they did for us.  On the day of my surgery, a window was replaced on our house, frame and all. We were told to wait two months to allow the stucco to dry before re painting.   

 Ernie, of Lopez Painting, did excellent work, but he did require constant supervision.  Thank you Ernie!


Today Lee and I had our meeting with our pallative care nurse. We are utilizing this service to help us keep focus on the quality of life during my treatment for extending my life.  If left unchecked, medical procedures too often destroy the essence of life in futile efforts to prevent death.   A lose-lose situation in our view.  Today’s meeting was a review of my first chemo experience, more of a relationship building meeting.  The hard decisions may be down the line as treatment progresses.  

Tonight Lee and I watched a film on Netflix,  “Hector and the Search for Happiness”.  I highly recommend this film.  Laughter and tears bundled with a bit of fluff, a touch of sentiment and a happy ending.   As Lee can confirm, I do like happy endings.  It is easy to get distracted with all the cancer crap and lose sight of happiness; anxiety and fear is not a condusive environment for happiness.  Even though we are not in a happy situation, we are finding happiness every day.  Two fat sweet dumb cats, great friends and neighbors and our love for each other is a breeding ground for happiness.  I feel blessed for that. 

Perhaps the most intensely happy day of my life was in 1992 on a twisty mountain road in the Oregon Cascades. A beautiful dry sunny spring day, while rounding a corner the road was covered with gravel and I lost control.  The car spun toward the edge of the cliff, I was to alter the course only to discover that now I was heading directly at a semi truck.  It seemed an eternity those few seconds as I propelled toward the truck. Then  the collision, watching the front end of my car collapse in slow motion, a surreal experience.  I knew I was a dead man.   But after it stopped, I wasn’t dead. I didn’t even have a scratch. When I realized that I was indeed alive, every pore of my being was grinning ear to ear.   Boy was I HAPPY!

Twenty-three years later I once again find myself in a life threatening situation.  My pores are ready to grin again.

Chemo Crud and Golf Cart Lust

it’s been a week since Jim ventured into chemotherapy land. He’s been taking it easy in the triple-digit heat, but today, despite a low-grade fever, nasty sore throat and drippy nose, he was certain he would win a drawing at the Green Valley Farmer’s Market for a shiny new golf cart, so off we went.

There were a total of ten finalists. Three had been drawn in advance. A good sized crowd waited while the remainder were selected at random from all the entries. It seemed to take forever. The lemon tartlet, croissant and bread I had just purchased from Madame at the Cafe Francais booth for fattening up chemo boy were starting to ooze in their white bakery bags from the heat. 

Much to my surprise, not only was Jim’s name called as a finalist, the eight people ahead of him were not winners when they tried to turn their keys. Two of my Quail Creek neighbors stood with me and waited for Jim’s turn. No golf cart joy for Jim, but a gift certificate to a local restaurant will buy a nice lunch.  

A lousy photo of Jim turning the key.
When the fun was over it was off for a chest x-ray, followed by hurry up and wait at the doctors office and the pharmacy. Antibiotics, cough medication and a secret potion of magic mouthwash are all at work now and should have him feeling better just in time for more chemo next week. Naughty Jimmy also learned he had overlooked a blood draw and had to visit the vampire. 

On a brighter note, the cat painter has begun a 16 X 20 image of kittens in a basket. Since he usually paints small, this larger canvas will keep him challenged. Here is the preliminary sketch: