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.
In the Spring of 1997 my then boyfriend Jim Asbell, planned a romantic weekend getaway to a place I had always wanted to visit. The wine country of Napa Valley, CA. The valley was an old friend for him and he delighted in plotting all the wineries and fabulous restaurants he wanted to visit with me.
In the days before the internet and smart phones we picked a secluded B&B, sight unseen and crazy expensive, tucked in the hills. We never met the proprietress. Her minion escorted us to our suite. Every inch of the bedroom, sitting area and bathroom were covered in butterflies. OK, so maybe the toilet did not have a butterfly seat, but just about everything else was draped, festooned, or piled with butterfly trinkets. The effect was frightening, and so were the under-cooked Costco mini quiches that constituted breakfast.
While the Butterfly Palace as it came to be known, was heinous, the trip was a delightful mix of food, wine, and romance that included a mud bath for two. That spa treatment turned out to be two tubs filled with hot water, gritty sand, and excessive aroma therapy. We laughed our heads off.
Two years later we were back in that same valley to get married at Storybook Mountain Vineyards so I guess the whole weekend turned out to be something very special.
Today, on my 56th birthday, James surprised me with this beautiful necklace. He commissioned our very talented friend, Marj Berra, to make this copper and turquoise butterfly necklace to remind me of that wonderful time in our lives together. And just for your viewing enjoyment, here is a younger version of my guy, snoozing away in the famous bedroom of the Butterfly Palace. Somehow he had accidentally bought black and white film for his camera, so your eyes will be spared the full blinding effect. Am I a lucky girl, or what?
Thursday afternoon at the Green Valley Hospital Emergency Dep’t. No, it’s not life-threatening, yes it is a bit of a bloody mess. Jim has an epic nosebleed. It’s a common side effect of the chemo cocktail he takes.
It may take a while to see a doctor. Nachos and margaritas will have to wait.
If you live in the Tucson area you have probably already received an email invite from me for “Jim Asbell’s Ducky Birthday Fiesta.” I am posting it here just in case I omitted anyone, near or far, who might like to join us.
Friends and Neighbors, Ducks Fans and Winos,
We will be celebrating Jim’s birthday on Saturday, October 10th at 5:00PM. Please join us at Casa Asbell for appetizers, vino, and birthday cake.