Wave #2

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. img_2610On 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.

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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. img_2634

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.

 

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Seventy Years In Seven Days, Wave #1

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.

Meet Mr. Norman

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josh norman

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!

Map Maker, Map Maker…Make Me A Map

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.  

V.I.P.

Jimmy’s parking

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.  

Adaptation

Today is the first day of our latest little travel adventure. Our pursuit is to maximize enjoyment of life in this “in between” time. We are spending this evening in Tuba City, AZ. Not exactly the gourmet capital of the world. Denny’s is the top rated restaurant. It gets worse. This is  a dry town. Fortunately, we have a portable wine cellar in tow and I anticipate take out pizza is tonight’s fare. 

Approaching Tuba City, the painted hills are striking.

You may recall that our snowbird friends from Steamboat Springs invited us to visit them at their alpine hometown, enjoy some fine wine, great company, the golden Aspens, and then travel to Wyoming to root our Ducks on to a, so far, undefeated season. A great plan! Lee even improved it by planning couple of days upfront to explore Monument Valley  and Arches National Park on our way to Steamboat…most excellent. Many plans were made including the purchase of DUCK tye-dye vintage logo shirts.

However the weather gods decided to literally piss on our parade. The forecast for game day on Saturday was constant rain in the low 50’s at kickoff, and down to the mid 30’s overnight. Sounds like fun if you are dumb and in your 20’s, not so much if you are pushing 70 with cancer and a suppressed immune system. I really didn’t want this to be my last Duck game. So, Monday afternoon an executive decision was made to sell our Duck tickets on line. We sold two tickets Monday night and the other two Tuesday. Lee got on the computer and changed our return through Canyon de Chelly, with a three hour jeep exploration trip. Should be a great adventure and we hope to watch the Duck victory on TV. Not what was originally planned, but adapting to the situation while keeping the goal of enjoying life front and center is what we do.

Our previous mini trip was to Capistrano Beach, CA. The sight and sound of the ocean inspired Lee to create the painting below and she is working on another from that trip.

Capistrano Beach

Jimmy has been catching up on pet portraits with a memorial to Zunie, a rescue puppy who lived a long, full and adored life. As you can see an elderly Zunnie just returned from the puppy parlor after getting her fur all done up, complete with pretty bows.

Zunie

Macho Man

Yesterday morning over breakfast Lee reminded me of a project that we needed to get on the calendar, a project neither of us relished. The project had been on my mental calendar for a couple of months and I have found that as a master of procrastination, placing an undesired task on the calendar is of little value other than codification of something to put off. In olden days, if you wanted to delay an undertaking on the calendar, you had to erase it…rarely successfully, as you could see the shadow of the project as a reminder of your failing as a human being. But today with electronic calendars, there is no evidence of procrastination. However, yesterday I needed no stinking calendar, I was a man of action! As soon as I had read the details of Saturday’s glorious DUCK 77-21 victory for the fifth time, I sprung immediately into action.

The little woman of the house was not prepared for such bold action. She was not expecting me, nor wanting me to do the project myself. She reminded me that we had many friends and neighbors that would be glad to lend a hand. Silly girl, she obviously knows little about MACHO MAN!

Most of you are aware of my challenges of nearly seven decades. But I do not want or readily accept excuses. Obstacles are to be overcome. Even with my life of physical limitations I have usually found “workarounds” to accomplish the task at hand and that results in enormous personal gratification. So what if I am now facing muscle wasting from the combination of cancer, prednisone, and post polio. I laugh at it, ha! But even with my normal predisposition to tackle the task head on, my mental state was amplified beyond belief last week during our California vacation when my friend Max rolled out his Harley Sidewinder, the macho man of all bikes. Look at my macho transformation: hat on backwards, no helmet and a bone-chilling snarl!

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I completed the Sunday project with only one bad muscle strain. I had budgeted for much more pain because I am MACHO MAN! All kidding aside, so far I am more than holding my own with the muscle wasting. I put a program in place and feel stronger than I did two months ago. But I know it will be an ongoing battle.

We had a great trip to California. Anita and Max live on the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is gorgeous, inspiring and peaceful. Just what the doctor ordered after two-and-a-half years of stress. The ocean feeds all of your senses. It is cathartic. Lee was enthralled and is currently working on a painting from our seaside adventure.ocean.JPG

But the ocean is not the only elixir for stress. I have found fine red wine to be quite effective as well. As luck would have it, Jimmy’s quest for rare treasure was once again rewarded when I spotted a Shafer 1985 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon tucked away along with Marcassin, Colgin, and other liquid loot in Max’s cellar.wine cellar.JPG

We had a fabulous dinner at Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach (a definite must try) where we enjoyed the Hillside Select and a 2005 Colgin Tychson Hill.dinner.JPG

Then we were off to a world class art show at the Festival of the Arts along with the Pageant of the Masters. The Pageant of the Masters is a unique and amazing multimedia presentation that has been a sold-out staple in Laguna Beach for eighty years. It runs for six weeks each summer.  pagent.jpg

The next morning we headed to a rather unusual neighborhood wine shop called Bob’s. Cheap everyday wine along with OMG rare wine and a really large selection of ordinary candy bars. If you want a vertical of Mouton, Bob’s has it. If you want a Cup of Gold candy bar, Bob has it. Ordinary candy bars and the rarest of wine? It is a strange and unique shop. Bob sits in his Barcolounger chair as you meander about. I inquired about a vertical of Heitz Bella Oaks Cabernet. The Bella Oaks vineyard from the 70’s and 80’s was known for luscious fruit and soft smooth tannins. He had some, but not a vertical…not that I would have purchased it anyway. But he did have an obscure wine, “Chercher Trouver” 2009 Blackwood Vineyard Napa Valley, that he claimed was of the Bella Oaks style and flavor profile.  I purchased one and boy was he was spot on. Delicious.bobs.JPG

After nearly destroying Max’s new mail box as I backed out of the driveway, we said our good byes to Max, Anita, and the cool ocean breezes to head back to the desert to visit Oregon friends, Ken and Susan, who have transplanted themselves in Palm Desert. It was a 35-degree jump in temperature in the two-hour drive from the coast. It was beautiful in Palm Desert as well, at least from INSIDE the house. Yikes was it hot. But it was great to see old friends, toot around Palm Springs and Palm Desert, listen to Frank Sinatra, and reminisce. ken susan.JPG

It has been a while since I have completed a painting. But that is changing. I’m back in business. The editor of the Green Valley News, who has been very supportive of my mission to help people faced with terminal illness, commissioned a painting with two conditions: 1. A blue background 2. No painting of a Duck. A graduate of the University of Arizona, he is definitely NOT a duck fan. So, I painted him “A Very Wild Cat.” Lee and I got all Ducked out and presented it to him last Friday.

P.S. it says “GO Ducks” on the back.  Great fun!gvn wildcat

If you get the feeling from this post that we are having fun, you are correct.  I am on hospice, this is what early hospice is about, living life to its fullest. I am still in contact with my research oncologist, but until something materializes, I will remain on hospice. Next week Lee and I embark on our next adventure to Monument Valley, Arches National Park, visiting friends in Steamboat Springs, CO and then attending the Oregon Duck game in Laramie, Wyoming. Hospice is taking good care of me as I travel. They will be providing oxygen several days before we leave should I need it for the higher altitude. But I may lend the oxygen to the DUCK mascot to help him with all the push ups he has to do for every point the DUCKS score.

Party on dudes and dudettes!