Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Well, there are only a few spaces (two to be exact) left on the advent calendar, and the long-anticipated morning will be upon us…crushing us with joy and merriment. (The anticipation of a long winter’s nap is the only item on my wish list.)

Holidays can be so dang much fun, that often the boredom of January becomes quite alluring. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not Bah Humbugging the season, but there is just a little inherent stress pulling off the whole ho-ho-ho thing. And I confess that sometimes I’m tempted to cut corners…like not hanging stockings by the chimney with care, but hiding them in the attic to see if Santa can find them there.

Last week, our five-year old grandson, Carter, The Observant, looked at me in alarm. (This in and of itself is not that unusual, as many people often do the same thing!) But he said, “Grandma, your eyes are cracked!” I went to the mirror to see just what cracks he was referring to. (And I had my plastic surgeon’s number of permanent speed dial, just in case.) Staring back at me from the mirror were two startlingly bloodshot eyes. I mean, these eyes were not just cracked…they were shattered! We were both traumatized, but in an effort to reassure him that everything was OK, I said, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong, Carter…it’s just Christmas!” Carter became more alarmed than ever, and staring up at me with his lids so widely extended, they resembled cartoon eyes in the dark, he asked, “Grandma, are my eyes cracked?”

Well, needless to say, I went straight to the fridge, took out six cans of anything wet that was liberally laced with caffeine, and, after imbibing the entire contents of those (and watching every episode of the old “Andy Hardy” movies), I decided it was time to recalibrate just what we are trying to celebrate, and how the holidays should be observed. Cracked eyes are an integral part of the holidays. Now, I do not expect to look in the mirror and appear feloniously attractive, but when it requires daily triage and a tub of industrial strength mortician’s putty to make me socially presentable, and still I scare little children, I’m doing something wrong somewhere. Being recognizable, but awesomely unlovely as something I strive to achieve, I fear there is enough mounting evidence to convict me of spiritual dwarfism.

I do not think it necessary to be haunted by three ghosts during the night. (Obviously I’m the scariest thing in the house at present.) But I have given considerable thought (which has required inordinate pressure on my one firing neuron), and I have come to some conclusions. One can become a victim of progressive but imperceptible transformations that lead to a descent into the insipid and vacuous.

First of all, I think that it is possible for dense forest to obscure vision and intrude upon unobstructed views. Forests are deep, dark, musky and fragrant, and generally to be admired. But larger grandeurs can go unheeded as we are propelled through the overambitious celebrations inherent in the season. The gift of “second sight” is a spiritual and intuitive gift, often the result of trial or tribulation. It should not be rendered impotent by the tedious but irresistible.

Secondly, earthly success is not the criterion of merit, nor the measure of true greatness. Nor are acquisitions.

Finally, especially at this time of year, to accept the gift of this miraculous birth is to acknowledge the responsibility of giving something back. I intend to.

So for now, these are my holiday observations, which will influence my 22 top ten resolutions for 2009.

In the meantime, I am including a list of our favorite words of 2008, an idea I borrowed from Brodi: (I think they’ll make my “favs” list in ’09 also)

Survivor, Dr. Mulvihill, resect, fu-fu, NED (No Evidence of Disease) Whipple, Prayer Warrior, Clot, Gratitude, Zofran, “Pissy,” Family, Friends, Angels, Miracle, Love.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Clot

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Well, in an effort to prove that good intentions pave the way to…heck, (actually, the way is less “paved” than “oiled”), I am more convinced than ever that I am being held hostage in some kind perverted sit-com. My neighbor, Margaret, and I had one of those recurring “Lucy and Ethel” moments I would very much like to attribute to “caffeine withdrawal delirium tremors” or lack of oxygen to the brain due to ascending dizzying heights as we try to summit Mt. Everest. Sadly, this is not the case.

I plan to record the incident exactly as it took place, no embellishment or “deranged dumbing down” to mitigate the graphic effects in order to maintain a PG rating. Viewer discretion is advised. And in order to protect Margaret’s privacy, I will call her, “Ethel.”

So here are the facts, in no particular order.

Recently, a neighbor of ours had shoulder surgery. Now, there is no convenient time to be incapacitated by pain, but the holidays are the worst. Ergo, in an effort to render aid to the afflicted, Margaret and I decided to take dinner in to Linda and her family. We’ve done dinners together before, with tolerable success, and, by now, we pretty much know the routine. Margaret would make the soup, and I would do the rolls and dessert. I mean, it isn’t exactly rocket science. Two reasonably bright adults could carry this off without a foreboding sense of impending doom.

We had our menu, our assignments, our designated time of arrival, and that over-all furry feeling that we were rendering service and helping lighten someone else’s burden. What could possible go wrong?

Well, Margaret picked me up right on time. She had carefully placed a large (and I mean large) pot of home-made tortellini soup in the back of her Highlander, and the aroma was so good, I enjoyed schnucking the steam up my nostrils. In fact, I had garlic breath just from inhaling second-hand condensation.

So the two of us, complete with our feast and holiday mirth, drove the few houses up to the Barker home. Margaret parked, put on her emergency brake, and pressed the button of her remote control rear door lifter. And that sucker lifted. Boy Howdy, did that door lift! Now, this is where we ran into disaster. The one and only circumstance that we had not factored into the routine, was the fact that the Barkers live UPHILL from us. I mean, WAY UPHILL! I’m talkin’ Mt. Killimanjaro uphill.

As the two of us sat there, we heard a sickening whooooosh in the back seat, and it does not require a deep understanding of quantum physics to know what was about to happen. It was one of those moments when things seem to proceed in slow motion, and one cannot get to ground zero in time to prevent disaster.

The massive tureen of soup began its precipitous descent with a downward trajectory toward the asphalt. Now here’s where it gets interesting. In perfect symmetrical synchronization, Margaret’s “SSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIHHHHHHHHHHHH…matched exactly the length of time it took for the soup to slide out of the back seat. And the staccato “T” at the end coordinated in flawless harmony with the clatter of metal colliding with pavement. Dang! She really did herself proud. Talk about big finale! (Not to mention perfect timing. No orchestra conductor could have done better.)

The oath pierced the tranquility of the silent night like the plaintive bellow of a love sick elk in the wilderness. It was awesome.

And so we did the only thing that rational people can do at times like these…we laughed hysterically, maniacally, preposterously!

We tried to mop up the mess with my rolls. However, they were not intended for industrial waste management incidents, and it was a comically useless exercise. There was a massive oil slick that extended the length of Mt. Springs road, but curiously did not reach down to the front of our particular homes. Unfortunately, for weeks now, our entire neighborhood has smelled like an Italian restaurant run by a chef with a garlic fettish.

It was a pity that Margaret is so shockingly expletive-impaired. Had she learned the elocutionary skills I did, she could have stuffed the atmosphere with many more words and melted the snow from the street at the same time. Aaah, but I was duly impressed with the simplicity, power and timing of her chosen obscenity. I gave her a 9.9 for her dismount, and her masterful coordination of cuss and clatter.

Our impeachment as neighborhood hospitality chairmen is pending. In the meantime, we have decided to comply with multiple suggestions that we voluntarily place our names on the “marauding culinary offenders” list and register our good intentions as lethal weapons!

The Clot is currently in the midst of celebrating our little brains out for the holidays, and we have met all the demands of the dictatorial traditions that would have made Charles Dickens envious. Our place looks like the centerfold for Currier and Ives, and the adults are on the verge of nervous collapse.

But we are unrestrained in our joy that it is this year and not last…although I do admit that Christmas 2007 taught us more about the Nativity and the life of our Savior than any prior, and those lessons have continued to today.

Recently I came upon a parody of a poem that I wrote in a facetious attempt to relate the realities of the holidays, and as I re-read it, I rather thought it was fairly accurate. I include it just in case it may reflect what others may be experiencing at the start of the holidays.

‘Twas the month before Christmas,
And all through each mother’s heart,
She was counting the moments
Before the frenzy would start.

The Thanksgiving turkey
Causes mothers to smirk,
For before it’s leftovers,
We must go to work.

Yes, it’s that holiday panic
And for six weeks we’re sick,
For without some slick tricks,
There will be no St. Nick.

So armed with our plastic, checks,
And don’t forget cash,
We brave hail, sleet and teen drivers,
And to crowded stores we dash.

On sales clerks, on charge card,
On to the next mall!
Now wrap it up, wrap it up,
Wrap it up, all!

I’ve made out my list,
And I’ve checked it twice.

Each year this old scramble
Gets progressively absurder.
My gift list now includes
Gold, Frankincense and myrrh…der!

I buy clothes, I buy bows,
I observe all traditions.
I buy flour and sweet stuff
To make sugar plums for visions.

I make out our bills,
I made out our will.
And I decorate
Till I nauseate.

I buy and I lie,
I bake till I ache,
I join choirs, build fires…
Is that the budget I just heard break?

I’m more like the Grinch
Than that right jolly old elf.
And I cry at my thigh size
In spite of myself!

Did someone else buy
More than I bought???
There’s no twinkle in MY eyes…
There’s only bloodshot!

I’m no longer merry.
Great! The tree just drooped.
I’m hassled and harried.
And I’m just plain pooped!

Yes, ‘tis the month before Christmas,
And I say with a sigh…
If I survive this darned season,
Just let me sleep till July!

Merry Christmas, loved ones.
The Clot

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I cannot believe it has been so long since my last blog entry. I have some explanations, but no excuses. Somewhere along the way, I lost control of the steering wheel, and my vehicle took quite a detour.

Suffice it to say, Murphy’s Law has become a dictator of late.

To begin with, our computer was down. OK! OK! I know. That’s like saying my oven isn’t working, so I won’t be cooking. Yeah, like that’s gonna fly! It doesn’t exactly constitute a seismic shift in my daily routine. However, in order to arrange for IPS (Internet Provider Service for my geek-impaired comrades), Dennis made no fewer than 38 appointments for technicians of dubious background who pledged to arrive sometime within my lifetime (roughly between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on non-specific days of unspecified seasons). He then left for work in an exceedingly agreeable mood under the na├»ve assumption that all is well…all is well.

Well, the first two guys who eventually appeared looked like refugees from central casting for extras in the latest horror flick. Each had scrupulously ensured that no two spiked hairs on their heads or other body parts pointed in the same direction simultaneously. That must have taken some doing, because both looked like offspring of Sasquatch. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against spikey hair. Each morning when I drag my saggy, groggy carcass out of bed, my coif could strike envy in the hearts of every severely deranged Goth. It’s just that it was a little unsettling to be alone in the house with two guys wearing black fingernail polish and armed with drills!

I won’t repeat the monologue Dennis and I shared that evening, since some of the language was graphic and may be disturbing to younger audiences. Suffice it to say, the computer is up and running and resuming its usual distractions…and Dennis is satisfactorily apologetic. (By the way, check out my new pearl earrings!)

I also spent a week one day at Welfare Square… canning. I know. I know. The thought strains the limits of credulity. Nevertheless, it is true. My assignment was to screw the lids on jars of pear sauce. No brainer, right? I watched as the pear sauce foreman demonstrated the technique with admirable dexterity, barely able to conceal a yawn. I mean, really, how hard can it be?

The jars move in lines of four along a conveyor belt. Four women, two on either side of the conveyor belt, take a lid from a nearby box, and twist it on the pre-assigned jar. My jar was #3.

We assumed our appointed positions, hair nets claustrophobically bound to our scalps. Suddenly, the belt began to move with a jerk. I was armed with my lid in hand, ready for my pre-emptive strike in anticipation of bottle #3. It arrived. I slapped the lid on the jar, I twisted with the exact amount of foot pounds of pressure per second per second, and #3 bottle of pear sauce went merrily on its journey around the corner and out of sight. Slick. Bring it on!

Things proceeded with astonishing regularity for the course of about 3 lids, and I felt myself easing into a tranquil tedium. However, there must have been a defect in the #4 lid. It did not settle into the grooves at the mouth of the bottle as its predecessors had. In a panicked attempt to rectify the deviant, I leaned over my sister-in-law trying to readjust the miscreant lid. By that time, the next quartet of jars was coming at me with obvious sinister motive…malevolent and intimidating. I was trying to grasp a lid from a mountain of unrecognizable metal, while resuming my position on my stool, but I missed. My alarm transitioned instantly to frustration, and the cursive mutterings under my breath became curiously amplified. Before long, I couldn’t grab a lid nor even locate my #3 bottle before it rounded the corner with a vengeance. Vicki managed to salvage several of my #3’s while maintaining her unbroken rhythmical cadence by seamlessly placing a lid on each of her #1 jars. (No wonder my in-laws always liked her best!)

I feared the retribution of the pear sauce warden, but the situation was so reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory. It was my worst nightmare…trapped in a 50’s sit com with Lucy Ricardo and a hair net!

Of course, I started hysterically, maniacally laughing till the mascara tears blurred my vision, and several bottled quartets with steamy pulpy contents undulated in parastaltic hiccoughs past my station in mocking contempt. Mercifully the machine temporarily broke down, and we got a momentary reprieve before it was up and running again, and I
was forced into confrontation with an endless onslaught of demon Mason jars.

After an eternity (actually it was about 2 &1/2 hours) our team was replaced by the next shift. (I’m sure it was a humanitarian gesture on the part of the pear sauce warlords) But we were allowed to purchase 7 cases of the pear sauce…available only to those who had taken a shift with the cursed lids. This pear sauce is like mother’s milk to us. For several months, it was the only food Dennis could eat and retain. The stuff is like pulpy gold. My happiness to see the end of my shift was exceeded only by the joy of the entire canning staff, and I emerged into daylight staggering and disheveled…bloodied, but not bowed. (And my car was triumphantly loaded with 84 jars of pear sauce and one discarded hair net.)

I am happily retiring my hair net in the rafters of Welfare Square…at least until we finish off jar # 83!

We cannot keep count of all we are thankful for this year. Dennis actually has muscle mass ( due, no doubt, to copious helpings of pear sauce). I have been known to sleep in excess of six hours without interruption. When sleep eludes me, however, I count canning jars by fours until, by degrees, utter boredom over-takes me, and I fall into a stupor.

We will celebrate Christmas with greater simplicity…and greater intensity, and count dear friends and family as life’s sweetest gifts.

The Clot

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Since it’s almost Halloween, how about a little something to raise your “spirits?” Dennis returned to work part-time after nearly a year sabbatical. (Actually, during that year, we really didn’t “sabbat.”) Only after a year’s leave, does one understand what a privilege it is to go to work, in spite of being “marked” by the precious bodily fluids that go with the territory of his chosen profession!

His patients have welcomed him back with open arms, (and clenched jaws) even though he is armed with his usual array of instruments specifically created to produce angst and discomfort in wee folk. He comes home tired but exhilarated, smiling and grateful. Returning to his practice is a pretty ambitious undertaking, but with the assistance of amazing colleagues and patients, he’s absolutely loving it.

Because his chest dimensions have been seriously compromised by the considerable physical down-sizing that has occurred of late, he may have to get a smaller stethoscope…one that doesn’t completely obscure the radius of his entire sternum. (The Latin-root medical term for this syndrome is “chestus minimus,” a condition currently affecting us both.) Actually, I think his stethoscope takes on the appearance of a large, Olympic-size medal, which is quite appropriate because, after all, he has endured a marathon of angst and discomfort. In fact, I’m thinking of having the hearing device engraved with “e pluribus unum.” Loosely translated, it means, “I da man!”

Halloween is not exactly our favorite holiday. It will mark an anniversary that haunts us still with the specter of last year’s diagnosis. However, in spite of everything, we have been planning what we ought to wear for the occasion. Dennis wanted to borrow my fake fat butt, if and when I ever felt like I was emotionally prepared to give up my “security cellulite” for a day. (I took exception to the term, “security cellulite,” as if it provided a degree of comfort that caffeine and chocolate could not!) I tried to re-channel his thinking to alternative costumes, but he kept insisting, until I was forced to confess that the fake fat butt I always wear... wasn’t fake. There! Now, was he satisfied??? We just barely started speaking again last night! (He has decided, for the sake of the marriage, to be a scarecrow. Most fitting!)

And just when you thought the stock market was more than you could “bear,” some numbers are actually going up. Dennis’ labs are definitely bullish, (with the glaring exception of his weight.)

Doesn't he look great?!! And just wait til you see his x-rays!

His glucose is 110, albumin-4.2, and his liver enzymes are good. I really don’t understand exactly what albumin is (I always thought it was some sort of spice.), or the confusing accounting system of a routine lab report. But I can gauge an upward trend by the doctors’ smiles, and today, I didn’t need a second opinion. The only number that’s down is his tumor marker – 25 – and that is very good.

Dr. Mulvihill says Dennis’ incision is looking good and still grinning happily. It has no nodules or asides. There is no edema or symptoms of diabetes or jaundice. His eyes are clear, he’s NED, and there is no pain in the ribs, back or spine.

And the Mulvihillism for the day is, “Things couldn’t be any better!” (We rap that mantra daily)

The economy may be crashing, but Dennis’ numbers are definitely our best investment. No headlines can bring us down. Sometimes the laws of gravity don’t always apply.

This afternoon we went for a walk and kicked leaves. It was a beautiful day. We accept the miracles with love and gratitude.

Love to all,
The Clot

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Well, the day is rapidly approaching when Dennis will reclaim custody of his stethoscope, his tongue depressor (an instrument solely designed to render the tongues of children very sad), and his gag swabs, (solely designed to gag), and return to work. As with everything of late, we have mixed emotions. On the one hand, Dennis can’t wait to see his “super troopers.” They are absolutely delightful. He has even been thanked by young patients who have endured particularly disagreeable procedures…once the gag reflex has recovered enough to form words…observing charming etiquette prompted by their moms. The children are spontaneous and cheerful, and can reignite one’s enthusiasm for the welfare of this world in the hands of this up-coming generation.

Dennis has also missed the daily association with the finest colleagues and co-workers in the medical field. (They provide welcome diversion from the incessant presence of…me!)

We have long anticipated this day
We welcome Wednesday!

On the other hand, preparing for a day that at times we wondered would arrive, is a little like anticipating the first day back to school. We are stock piling our dwindling time with such copious fun, that our erratic and bizarre activity is rendering us chronically and moronically exhausted…and slightly light-headed. But we don’t want to squander one precious remaining moment by getting adequate rest. No. No. A suspension of perpetual merriment might cause our eyes to lose that look of the characters in cartoons indicative of the profoundly stupid.

For instance, today we decided to go roller blading at Liberty Park. (That decision alone is compelling evidence of our splendid neurological decline.) We put on our roller blades, and Dennis helped me negotiate the curb to the sidewalk. Talk about the inept leading the impaired!

It wasn’t long before a young man skated past us with extended, gliding strides, graceful, controlled, poetic. He would alternately coast and propel, all with exceeding velocity…and hubristic and entirely inappropriate self-confidence!

Well, needless to say, I was inspired. So I channeled my inner Apollo Ohno and embarked on my first lap of the day. I wasn’t afraid of falling, really. I have no pride. Vanity, yes. Pride, no. Besides, I found solace in the reassuring presence of multiple concentrated cellulite clusters centered around my landing gear. These clusters are programmed to deploy upon impact. They’re not exactly aerodynamic. In fact, they provide enough drag that I can comfortably maintain minimum speed while giving the illusion of forward thrust. In addition, varicose veins intersected with splotches of red on a background of astonishingly pale, quivering thigh flesh presented a wonderful image of geriatric patriotism that caused many of our fellow blade brigade to remove their baseball caps in a gesture of respect. It was all good.

However, we have always loved to roller blade, although ability, unfortunately, has not necessarily been the by-product of practice.

Sometimes things happen that make particular days memorable. A while ago, Dennis and I were roller blading at Liberty Park when a young girl skated past us. She was obviously skilled and able…and pretty. It wasn’t long before she had completed a lap, and passed us again. This time, we noticed that she had worked up a bit of a sweat in the heat of her workout. In fact, the more she skated, the more she perspired, and the more she perspired, the more transparent her skimpy attire became. (It seemed to me the attire became skimpier with each succeeding lap!)

On the third lap, I became aware of an interesting phenomenon: in spite of superior and more aggressive blading skills, not a single male passed her! There accumulated an ever-increasing multitude in her wake. The visual absurdity made me laugh out loud.

Suddenly, I heard the screech of fire engines and their high-pitched screaming sirens. I looked across 7th East to see smoke billowing in the sky and obstructing the view with black. It was alarming, to say the least. But what was hysterically remarkable, was that not one man’s eyes were diverted by the on-going, unnerving catastrophe. Remarkable! I thought it all exceedingly funny,…until I said, “Wow! Would you just look at that fire!” And Dennis said, “What fire?” I ceased to be amused. In fact, it was very nearly the last statement in mortality that he uttered. Luckily, I did not have my lawyer on speed dial.

We weathered that particular atmospheric disturbance, but ever since then, I scope the terrain for perspiring, athletic young women capable of distracting one from a life of devoted sobriety, before lacing on the roller blades. And whenever we hear fire engines screaming by us with ear-shattering sirens, I say, with the sweet, guilt-laden delicacy innate to my gender, “Wow! Would you just look at that fire!” ‘Nuff said.

There is nothing as messy and delightful as a backyard picnic with grandchildren. Everything tastes better when stuffed in the mouth with small, particularly grimy, germ-laden hands. Sterile procedure is discarded, and one only hopes there is an adequate accumulation of immunity to withstand the assault of food with discoloration of dubious origin. Such moments are forever recorded in the heart.

We are savoring the time. We regret the close of one day, and rejoice in the beginning of the next. In spite of, and perhaps because of, everything that has happened, we consider our lives blessed beyond measure.

Our love to all,
The Clot

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


We knew that she could do it! And indeed she did. Dr. Kate O successfully completed the Lotoja (Logan to Jackson) secured the yellow jacket, dethroned Lance Armstrong, and won “Rider Cup.” By our calculations (with the aid of an abacus and severely impaired maniacal mathematics), it works out to be a distance of exactly 10,000square miles and approximately 2,347,986 pedal rotations, not counting the occasional downhill coast. This was done over treacherous terrain where the official set of guide books cite the possibility of unimaginable peril that belies the tranquil beauty of the wilderness. She was able to successfully fend off plagues of flying locusts, infectious insects, grizzlies, swollen knees, fatigue, a husband who questioned her sanity, and young children who repeatedly asked the age-old query first uttered byAdam,…”Are we there yet?”

Actually, our version of this remarkable accomplishment is not exactly the unvarnished truth. In fact, the truth was not only varnished…it was shellacked. But the point is, Kathy O’Mara, with guts, perseverance, and determination, completed a grueling ride…and dedicated her efforts to raising funds for the Huntsman Cancer Center. That feat needs no embellishment. In the end, she delivered a check for $4,200 on behalf of Dennis and all who suffer from this unspeakable affliction. What accolades could be extended except deep and sincere appreciation, and the pleasant thought that one of those dollars might just be the one that tips the scales in favor of discovering a cure. I know that day will come, an answer will be found, and we can delete the expletive, expunge “The Great Obscenity” from our vocabulary, and only hear it referred to when we are researching the plagues of ancient antiquity for a history class.

To all who made a financial contribution to the cause, we sincerely thank you. And for all who have made emotional contributions and supported morale, we are indebted. May you all be blessed for your generosity. And to Kathy, our love.

And now for an up-date on Dennis’ current condition. He’s terrific. He is getting stronger every day because he works out like an insane gym addict. Well, in point of truth, that is a monumental exaggeration! However, he does amazing things with his gigantic, inflated work-out ball. As his lovely assistant, my duties are to retrieve the capricious little sphere when it rolls with wild abandon down the hall, and mock and jeer as he’s going through his regimen of stretching and building exercises to the point of such exasperation that he chases me through the neighborhood, and we both get a cardiac work-out. He is still shy a “hunka,” but he is at least “one hunka and holding.” (Actually he looks like he’s just gone 15 rounds with Jenny Craig!) He has ponderous pectorals, but it is a daunting task to accumulate body mass on a steady diet of pablum and rain water. However, he is sensibly proportioned and less acutely angled. His bowels are unbound, and so is his enthusiasm. (Call me later if you feel the need for greater clarification.)

I have taken a solemn oath to “blog lite,” but that vow will not be implemented until a later date. My apologies. But I have been seized by “keyboard purge,” and I fully intend to empty the contents of my final firing neuron into cyberspace. So, fair warning: fasten your seat belt, or proceed with caution. Viewer discretion is advised.

I love September. And I love autumn. It is that interim time that gives ample opportunity for reflection…and birth. I have heard that most people have September as a birth date. That is certainly the case in our family. We have a cluster of birthdays, including both our daughters. I guess that is due in part to the wondrous biological consequence of cold Utah winters.

Erin was born on September 11th. I can legitimately claim rights to having given birth to the original terrorist. Osama has nothing up on this Mama!
Brodi was born exactly three years and one week later…in spite of my vociferous proclamations of “never again!”

To say that Erin was colicky is profoundly understated. We actually financed Dennis’ medical school education from funds accrued on winnings from ill-advised friends willing to wager that no baby could cry that loud for that long. We emerged with a medical degree and minimal debt. Happily, the colic eventually subsided…upon acquisition of her driver’s license. And there was a merciful if momentary decibel lull in our household. One of Dennis’ most endearing attributes as a pediatrician is his empathy for parents of colicky babies. But she came trailing streams of laughter, that we fondly refer to as “The Comedy of Erin.”

Brodi, although she could pass for Erin’s stunt double, was an entirely different phenomenon. I remember taking my new-born for her six-week check-up with our pediatrician, and pouring out all my worries concerning this baby. I explained that she only cried when she was hungry, and when I fed her, she stopped. In addition, she would actually sleep for four to six hours at a stretch, and then wake up happy. What could possibly be ailing her? Dr. Lloyd listened very carefully, and then asked me if I had ever considered the possibility that her behavior was normal? The thought hadn’t entered my head.

There is no question that this year’s birthday celebration was singular. We celebrated not just the birth of our daughters, but the joy of who they are, their vibrancy, their radiant personalities, their humor, and our bonds. I saw these young women of inestimable consequence shoulder burdens of epic proportion in times so trying if defies description. They could shed their tears, bind my wounds, invent nonsensical limericks, and simultaneously breach hospital etiquette by vociferously celebrating the wholesome restorative occasion of flatulence. Now, that is my definition of multi-tasking! And that’s my definition of “normal.”

I sometimes wonder where the time has gone. And yet I can account for every minute…especially of this past 11 months. I sometimes wonder where the time is going. That, I’m not sure. But I am going along for the ride, and I rejoice in my traveling companions.

Finally, autumn’s quiet does stimulate reverie. Part of extracting wisdom from experience is reflection. At the risk of stating the obvious, it seems to me that adversity has purpose not readily identifiable at the moment of its descension. One cannot philosophize as one is being ground to fine powder. But it also occurs to me that tribulation generates a plethora of “ities.” A particular by-product is unity. Prosperity does not seem to possess the unifying properties of hard times. When mortality becomes reality, we seem to reorder our priorities to reflect the people, the relationships and the kindred spirits we hold most sacred and value most deeply. Perhaps the need to gather, unite, huddle, circle the wagons, comes from our primal understanding that there is strength in numbers, and that we were never intended to negotiate this mortal existence alone. When life proceeds without hindrance, as we busily raise our families and establish our kingdoms, we tend to allow the tyranny of busyness to postpone our attention to other vital things. But adversity, calamity, catastrophe, wake us up, shake us up, and gather us together, even as we maintain individual distinctions, under a common canopy, like many people under the same umbrella. This is the highest form of “herd mentality.” This is a good thing.

As you can tell, full hearts are our harvest. We are so grateful for your love, your friendships, your portion of our joy. We are grateful for off-spring whose comedy has been an essential element of endurance. Collective clothood is good.

We love you all,
The Clot

Saturday, September 6, 2008


I suppose I’ve always known that some day I would have to try to impose order and hopefully ever-deepening understanding on our most recent collection of yesterdays. This is difficult, because I must not only remember, but revisit. Not an easy assignment. This has been no ordinary time. I feel compelled to throw illumination on not just events, but emotions, and widen the lens on circumstances that can overwhelm when taken in its entirety. So I move forward in increments, knowing I am not always equal to the task. But such times as these are etched on one’s being and the shadows demand to be assessed, pondered and assimilated. I am obligated to extract wisdom from our extraordinary experiences and forge them onto our souls in order to preserve our intense and significant perspective. Our lives have been transformed. We must deal with it.

On Monday, August 11th, Dennis was scheduled for his final infusion. We have been anticipating this day for a very long time, and I thought it would never get here – sort of like a pregnancy that seems to exceed its due date. But when it arrived, I was surprised at the mixed emotions it brought. I was so prepared to start celebrating the infusion conclusion. The floats were ready for the parade, the fireworks were waiting to be detonated, and the “chemo royalty” were practicing their rhythmic, synchronized hand-wave. I had been feverishly rehearsing the “Sussa Favorite Marches” medley for my tuba solo, while simultaneously inflating balloons with my nostrils. It was a “go.”

The infusion preliminaries require the weekly blood draw to see if Dennis’ counts would allow for one more pint of gemcytobene. We had hoped that the numbers would cooperate, and we could belly up to the tubes and raise a pint of Huntsman’s finest with our fellow infusees. The math, no matter how we tried to tweak the numbers, was simply too fuzzy to permit the procedure. Dr. Jones pronounced Dennis officially done with chemo, and congratulated him on his endurance.

So the celebration began.

Our infusion station was surrounded by the most remarkable technicians and friends you’d never want to meet. Erin and Brodi joined us as the Huntsman Hospital Harmonizers sang with occasional harmony, their song of congratulations with heartfelt gusto, and presented Dennis with his bona fide diploma of cheme-ology, (he has now been endowed “chemo-brain emeritus,” a title of exceeding distinction) and a blanket to warm his bones…of which there are many! And then they did something I have never known them to do. There was a massive group embrace, consisting of multiple individual hugs. There was Deann, the Zen Master of needles, who can extract blood from a stone…on the first needle stick.

She eventually retained eminent domain on his vein. Karen, who called Dennis a “hottie” even when he barely tipped the scales at 100. (She seemed to recognize he is actually a spiritual stud!)

Judy, who is always humming, and will cheerfully take requests if you have a favorite tune. (She did have a little trouble, however, with Deliverance’s “Dueling Banjos,” but she gave it her best shot!) So many, so dear.

These people have blessed this experience and mitigated the trauma with their kindness and tender care. Theirs is not an easy errand. Sometimes circumstances are trying no matter which side of the chemo-bag one is on.

Finally, it was time to make our final “goodie lap.” We had brought scones, ambrosia, nectar of the gods, and all manner of culinary delights. (In a gesture of supreme humanitarianism, I opted not to inflict my culinary prowess impairment on those who have already endured so much.) And as we spoke with everyone, there was great encouragement and congratulations exchanged, and reminders to keep fighting the battle in the war in which none of us enlisted. The moment was sweet, and a little more tender than we had anticipated. It was most difficult to take leave of Dov, (“Bear”). (I have to confess I have “tee-shirt envy.”)

He has colon cancer and a wicked sense of humor, as you can tell from his chest graffiti. It would not be an exaggeration to say we know him inside and out! But under the circumstances that have assembled us together, there is no room for restraint or sensitivities. We all speak openly of conditions that are heinous. Perhaps some words seem offensive in polite society, but cancer, the great unwelcome guest, has never been polite. “Cancer,” after all, is the greatest obscenity.

And then the four of us left the room we had occupied with great regularity for so long. No one looked back. It is a place we will miss, but never want to re-visit. And we went to lunch. And Dennis was with us.

When we eat at The Point, it is usually because we are waiting for Dennis to have a procedure, a stent replacement, an infusion, or an operation. But this day we were a Clot, and there was great joy in the moment. Sometimes the ordinary is so miraculous. It felt like the first Monday following the week of the Creation. A lot of work had been done, and now we were responsible for sculpting our own existence. Easier said than done. But we will make it happen.

Autumn is the season of nostalgia. It is good to look back and try to remember. What have I learned to this point? That will be an inventory that will occupy the remainder of my life. But the summary would have to include the following.

I have a better understanding of the nature of miracles and the privilege of adversity. From this comes wisdom.

I am learning to appreciate the corrosive power of doubt, and the healing power of love, two powerful opponents. Of the two, love is the greatest.

I have learned to pray as if it were an Olympic event by prayer warriors who have been in training all their lives.

It takes a village. I have suffered anguish because we could not do it alone, and then come to the enlightening discovery that we were never meant to do it alone.

I have come to understand that “Family” is comprised of members who do not necessarily have genetic proximity.

Hope is often gauged by the pound and by the prayer.

And I know even better the efficacy of harsh language and the poignancy of a particularly well-crafted succession of expletives that can be as satisfying, and possibly more appropriate, as the most articulate poetry on certain occasions.

So, stop the world, we want to get back on.

Our love to all,
The Clot

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Greetings, Fellow Clotters,

I have been aggressively remiss in my blogging lately, but I do have some really nice, if not necessarily valid excuses. We took our family to Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in July, and the sweltering humidity really retards one’s ability to conjure thoughts. ( In fact, about all I could conjure condensed in my arm pits.) Dennis claims it’s “aggravated chemo brain,” but that only works for him. I guess I could rightly claim “sympathetic chemo brain” from standing for prolonged time in too close proximity to the infusee. Whatever. But in an effort to avoid having bad blogs happen to good people, I will try to be brief. (OK. OK. I know what you’re thinking! Don’t say it.)

After spending a fair chunk of July in the South, I cannot understand how Scarlet O’Hara could possibly wear the drapes from Tara’s windows after June. It was mind-numbing hot. Oh, I guess I could understand plantation shutters, or possibly a valance and some tie-backs. But not full-blown portiers from the family mansion!!! And did I mention humid? We were in a perpetual state of “jock sweat,” no matter how much deodorant we applied. (Actually, in the South, the preferred term for ladies is “glisten”…we do not sweat, we “glisten.” But I’m a Yankee. Yankees sweat. There were times, however, that I “moistened,” but that is a subject for another blog!)

Ah, but I digress. Dennis’ infusions are being tolerated rather well, although he can get quite tired because the effects of the chemo are cumulative…of course, this fatigue usually occurs at the end of a day of non-stop physical and mental activity. I tried to explain that normal people are supposed to be tired at the end of the day. That is what nature intended. Nighttime is nature’s way of turning off the lights so we will go to sleep. He is definitely unclear on that concept. (Residual effects from medical school) However, we only have one more infusion scheduled with this last cycle, and then we are done. I mean DONE! Now, I am the one unclear on the concept. It has been a rather long road, and “done” doesn’t seem to register just yet.

The other day, Dennis and I again reviewed the inventory of his organ warehouse, and we realized that we cannot account for his appendix. Neither of us can remember its being mentioned by any of the doctors, or seeing it on any scans of ultrasounds. I’m not exactly sure if it should be considered on a strictly “need to know” basis. But still, I would like to be informed just exactly how many body parts he’s down. His incision site is healing nicely, however. In fact, his scar looks like a big smiley face on his mid-section. It makes us all happy just looking at it. (Keep that in mind if you’re having a bad day. With a little advanced notice, you can come over, and Dennis can flash his belly for you that will have you tossing the Prozac!)

When we returned from our vacation, Erin and Dave got a dog for their family. He’s a tiny adorable furball they named “Duke.” We had suggested “Bark Obama,” but Asher couldn’t say “Bark.” So “Duke” it is. They are training him to go outside to potty, where the whole world is his toilet. They are trying to do the same with Asher. We have noticed, however, that since the episode with the rat and the Physicians Desk Reference, there are new and creative threats of discipline being made to pets and grandchildren to keep them in line. Erin says, “I have a PDR, and I know how to use it!” I’ve also heard, “Get the PDR PDQ!” After editing and critiquing Brodi’s current manuscript with my red pen, she commented that the pages looked like an army of red ants had been marching across the paper when someone dropped a Physicians Desk Reference on them. (I guess I did get a little zealous with my corrections!) OK. OK. A giant book of prescriptive medications is not exactly a better mouse trap. But perhaps if Bush had touted it as a “weapon of mass destruction,” it would have sufficed as effective saber rattling, and the world would be at peace.

And now, another word about cancer. It is a loathsome affliction. It is a thief. It plunders and robs and violates all that life holds dear…health, joy, productivity, future, peace of mind…without discrimination or remorse.

Cancer has faces and biographies. For instance, take Dov. (His name is Hebrew for “bear.”) He is a young man battling colon cancer that has metastasized into his liver. He is married with two young children, and he is a delight. His infectious personality lights up the whole infusion room. The other day he came in with a tee shirt that read in big bold letters, “F--- Cancer!” The whole population cheered. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve actually said something similar, if not better. I’m not quite ready to have it inked on the base of my skull, but it is profound, nonetheless. And guess which of those two words is the biggest obscenity.

Dov is a “Cyrano soul.” He does hard things with panache!

We are getting so close to our fund-raising goal for the Huntsman Cancer Institution. What a terrific cause. There are so many faces and so many biographies. And each person we have met has touched our hearts, as have all of you.

We express our love to each of you.

The Clot

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Brodi here. Regarding the previous post, many have questioned whether my Dad really dropped the Physician's Desk Reference from his balcony in order to squash a mutant rat, or if this is just a case of my mother's superflu-osity (it's totally a word) getting ridiculously out of hand.

So to let you all know, it's true! I asked my Dad about it, and he told me it was really the heaviest object he could think of. I amended this to the heaviest object he could think of... and still lift!

Just wanted to verify the facts for you. I think he's very funny.

Brodi and Clot

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Last Friday we had our three-month consultation with Dr. Mulvihill, and, as always, it is better than an infusion of endorphins. As I have said before, the doctor is well-acquainted with all Dennis’ residual organs, and has pronounced him greater than the sum of his remnants.

We were reviewing the inventory of the “Dennis Warehouse,” and we figured that with all the remaining component organs factored in, and his current weight, he is half the man he used to be. That’s OK. Anything over half…we round up.

So here is the current statistical up-date:

1. Gall Bladder: fond memory
2. Stomach: ½ of original
3. Pancreas: ½ to 2/3 remaining, but happily generating enzymes to the best of its ability.
4. Small Bowel: even smaller
5. Organ Placement: deranged and re-arranged

Bottom line: No asides. No edema. No sweat. But the best news of all is his tumor markers: They are at 24. This is well within the parameters of normal. We are very glad. Dr. Mulvihill advised Dennis to let his body be his guide on activities, but there are basically no limitations as to what he can do. He can golf. He can play tennis. He can even take up running. (Memo to selves: Get personal trainer, STAT!) In fact, the list of things we can do now was so exhausting that we came home and collapsed in our loungers panting and whimpering.

Then Dr. Mulvihill commenced kneading Dennis’ mid-section with unusual vigor…and I immediately went into the fetal position. I have been the sworn guardian and protector of the surgical site,- militant and territorial-and have been known to throw myself bodily between his equator and an approaching grandchild. So you can understand my reflexive, aggravated cringe as I saw the surgeon’s hands head for the restricted area with no sign of hesitation or restraint. However, Dr. Mulvihill has such skilled hands, he can locate, massage and interpret the current status of any residual organ while simultaneously detecting and identifying the miniscule culinary fragments of Dennis’ most recent meal. So I have solemnly vowed to relinquish obsessive custody of the domain…the world is now welcome at Dennis’ belly!

In addition to other questions, Dr. Mulvihill also addressed the issue of post-surgical belching. He not only encouraged it, he celebrated it! Basically his attitude was…if it feels good, do it. (This advice often runs contrary to our basic up-bringing, so we must be discretionary) This is all good. We were thrilled because Dennis has developed the gift of speaking full sentences in one gaseous expulsion. This newly-adopted skill has provided some remarkable conversations at the Ashton household. It has also significantly impacted any impending disagreements. I find it impossible to rebut a debate with someone who presents his side of an issue while belching. When I laugh, I lose! Dennis has yet, however, to best our daughter, Erin, when she’s in top form. She can recite the entire Gettysburg Address without interruption – all 272 words – and take a bow, all within the context of a single belch. Even Abraham Lincoln would envy such oratorical prowess. Dang! We’re so proud of her!

Of late, our neighborhood has been the target of a rat infestation. Actually, I exaggerate. It is a single rat. It has been the uninvited guest of several surrounding houses, but a few days ago, it paid a social call to our residence. Dennis noticed it as he was working in the yard, and its reputation had preceded it. It was a behemoth from the depths of Beelzebub. The thing was huge…Ratus Gigantus! We named it “Ratzilla.”

Dennis called me out to the upper deck, where we could get a clear view of the varmint from above. It looked like a small continent in a sea of grass. So we immediately devised a plan to take the little beast out. Dennis suggested we drop the current edition of the Physicians Desk Reference on it, and, with precision timing and an accurate aim, death would come quick and painless. But I thought the PDR might be over-kill. I know it’s a gender thing, but I figured there could be a kinder, gentler alternative while still accomplishing complete and utter annihilation. So I suggested dropping my anthology of Jane Austen instead. It’s lighter reading than the PDR, and the outcome would be the same…only lovelier. Jane Austen is so pleasant to read. But Dennis insisted that this was not exactly a Lizzie Bennett moment. The choice was either drop a copy of “King Lear” with additional harsh language, or the PDR. We opted for the latter, hoping to do the little bugger in with a preponderance of prescriptions. So Dennis raised the 10-pound tome above his head, chanted a mantra consisting of a list of ingredients and dosages of his favorite medicines for good luck, and released the PDR with great velocity in a downward thrust trajectory. We watched the split-second descent as if in slow motion. The Rodent, unfortunately, anticipated his impending doom, and in spite of its bulk, moved with the agility of a Rubick’s Cube master, evading “rat”ification by a nano-second. We continued hurling insults after the fact, but they were rather impotent in lieu of the obvious…NER…No Evidence of Rat. Actually, I think we were both secretly relieved not to have to clean up rodent remnants from the Physicians Desk Reference…or Pride and Prejudice…or King Lear. This was all good and quite tidy. However, if I see him again, I’m pulling out all the stops. Next time he shows his face…I’m getting out the Tolstoy!

We love you all,
The Clot

Sunday, July 6, 2008


We are now on the Monday rotations for Dennis’ chemo infusions, and it is such a pleasant way to begin the week. We fill up his tank in the morning, and we’re good through Sunday. Dennis’ lab numbers were down a “skosh,” but they decided to give him the full pint anyway.

Gemcitobene infusions are always cause for celebration, so to commemorate the occasion, we decided to drive up to Midway and attend an authentic Indian POW WOW before Dennis commenced with the nausea. I never really understood just what a Pow Wow was. It was a remarkable demonstration. There was such an atmosphere of tribal camaraderie and festivity, and all the participants wore the most beautiful native costumes of every color imaginable. There was a profusion of bird feathers adorning each ensemble and worn with elegance, dignity and pride. And they danced with conviction to drums and chants celebrating peace, harmony, brotherhood and love. At the conclusion of the PowWow, the chief did the Dance of the Eagle Feathers Staff, and everyone joined in. (Dennis and I sat this one out because he is so skinny, and I am so blond. In addition we got the boot from the judges of "So you Think You can POW-WOW") But we watched in earnest…and learned.

And then we began our descent down Parley’s Canyon, feeling warm and cuddly and singing “Kumbaya.” That lasted about a nano second. Talk about an exercise in contradiction! We were thrust back into reality on the first lane change! There was an ornithological exchange display among the vehicle population that made the PowWow seem bird-deprived by comparison. It gave new meaning to the term “flagrant fowl!”

It seems the single-digit greeting is standard-even anticipated- now days, and is so ubiquitous that one is de-sensitized to any shock value, which renders the exercise rather impotent. In fact, as spectators, we realized that there are some very entertaining and distinct patterns discernible in the ritual bird exchange…there is sincere and viable diversity of ornithological gestures. Caught in the cross-fire of flying flanges, we felt like research psychiatrists doing field study , analyzing the vast variety of sub-species and interpreting the underlying psychological pathology…sort of a perverted parlor game of “Name That Psychosis!”

Following is a list of “pigeon”holes we observed:
1. The Whole Flock or Multiple Personality salute: This involves the multi-passenger, ambidextrous, double-digit formational panoramic, all-inclusive salute. The host flipper leads his fellow flippers in synchronized geometric designs that would be the envy of an Olympic competition swimming event. It’s like a still-life, where all the pointy silhouettes resemble a forest of conifers against the evening sky at sunset. A moment frozen in time. It’s lovely, really.
2. The Deranged Narcissistic Complex salute: Also known as the Prolonged Single-Digit salute. Obviously it centers on the solitary birder. There are, however, some serious side-effects with this particular activity, because after so many hours, a call to one’s doctor seeking immediate medical help is recommended.
3. The Equal Opportunity exercise: (Sometimes known as “Scatter Shot”) This sign is flashed without restraint not only to the intended target, but also in every conceivable direction of the compass both longitudinally and latitudinally to include as many collateral vehicles as possible. This is considered friendly fire and goes by the mantra, “No Car Left Behind.”
4. The Manual Dexterity performance: (Also known as the Small Muscle Dexterity Flaunt) Usually displayed with endearing enthusiasm, great vigor, and amiability. The auxiliary digits gracefully bend around the central character to provide a tastefully artistic background with just enough restraint to not detract from the main attraction of the tableau. There seems to be no rational explanation for this particular phenomenon other than some guys just are free-lance birders.
5. The Casual Salute: The action of this rhythmic, back-and-forth gesture is borderline parade wave accompanied by a splendidly vacuous thin grin. (Can be symptomatic of social indifference, a lack of feeling of self-worth, or utter and prolonged sleep deprivation.)
6. The Paranoid Delusional or Soaring Talon salute: In this case, even the glaring fact that there has been no viable offense committed, it is flipped just in case someone is out to get him. This syndrome is most often indicative of those leading a life of devoted self-absorption, whose main claim to fame is the repetitive, machine gun, rapid fire, execution-style agility born of delusions of grandeur and a sense of entitlement. Not usually lethal, but often unintentionally comical!
7. The Mutually Co-dependent exchange: This is one of those socially awkward situations in which their overt feelings of inadequacy prompt one to feel obligated to return another flipper’s salute even though you know you may be accused of enabling. Often one must resort to “tough love.” This can be as hard on the birdee as on the birder. (Studies have shown support groups and rehab are frequently effective under therapeutic circumstances.)
8. Finally, the Holier-Than-Thou genuflect: As the name implies, this is simply the situation in which both the finger AND the nose are in the air. The birders in this syndrome generally love the buzz of this addictive exercise and its perceived empowerment, and do not welcome any efforts at intervention, prohibition, moderation, repression or remorse.

Our scientific investigation verified unequivocally the old adage, “Birds of a feather really do flock together.” It is fairly obvious that when one’s annoyance receptors are sufficiently blocked, observing the astonishing silliness of the bizarre and depraved qualifies as a most entertaining spectator sport!

There is so much to be learned when driving our highways. We have been edified by truck drivers in particular. Recently, there was some road construction going on that slowed traffic considerably. And there was a long line of big rigs…all the trucks were in a row, so to speak. Of course, everyone’s hazard lights were flashing, as is protocol. At the end of this long line of over-sized dinosaurs, was a Mini Cooper, whose hazard lights were also flashing. Talk about a big-rig wannabe! Visually, it was very funny. Now, I am ordinarily rather intimidated by the size of these vehicles, and the drivers’ sometimes galactic lack of consideration for their fellow travelers. However, the driver of the MiniCooper was blond with no apparent regard for the reputation of her sister platinums (platinuma?), holding a gigantic big gulp in one hand and talking on her cell phone with the other. Guess which vehicle struck the greatest terror in my heart! Aah, but I digress.
Anyway, on the back of one of the trucks was a two-line invitation that read:
“Be a flirt.
Lift your shirt.”
Well, we debated about accepting the challenge, but finally, against advice to the contrary,…Dennis lifted his shirt. When the driver looked in our car and assessed the possible options, he laughed and gave thumbs up. It was rather refreshing to see a different finger erected for a change. I personally took no offense. I considered it just another random gesture of trucker congeniality.

July is the month we celebrate the birth of our nation. This land is holy land. And fireworks are best observed with a grandchild on the lap.

I have not only a passion, but a reverence for history and the events that took place before we were born. Each new generation hears the echoes of the past.

There is a remarkable grandeur to our history, and just as remarkable grandeur to our present. Among the lessons learned must be a specific code of conduct: honor, dignity, compassion, are just a few of the virtues we must assume as we work through our own battles, wars, crises and heartaches. If we meet honor with honor, if we are courageous in the face of overwhelming adversity, and if, when there is nothing else we can possibly do, we simply bear witness, we will, by our very conduct, further sanctify and maintain the holiness of this land.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill:

This fortress built by nature for herself.
This blessed plot.
This earth.
This realm.
This America!

Love to all,
The Clot

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Well, thankfully Dennis’ vitals and labs were somewhat improved this week. Last week, the numbers were rather diminished, and so it was decided that he could not receive his scheduled infusion of gencitobene because his immune system had no immunity. But this week, his ANC went from .7 to a ripped 1.7! And his WBC doubled from 1.6 to a mind-bending 3.3. Again, I am disproportionately moronic enough not to fully understand all the decimal places, but I know a pint of chemo when I see it. And Wednesday, Dennis received the full bag…down to the last drop. Ordinarily I recoil from the nuisance of technological devices, because I am easily overwhelmed by gizmos and wizardry. And the convergence of tubes and tethers leading into my husband’s innards tends to be just a little off-putting. However, going home down a pint isn’t comfortable either. I want every advantage in the battle we fight daily, and there is nothing in the world so monumentally useless as an intravenous needle preparation that must be removed unused.

Last week when we returned home, we decided to watch TV in an attempt to take our minds off our disappointment. And it worked. With great fanfare, the tinseltown ad gurus announced the latest coming attraction…the reality show…”Hurl!” Apparently the sole object of this bizarre and monumentally absurd stunt show is for the contestants to stuff themselves with food at a frenzied pace and then be tethered to devices that completely shift their center of gravity by whirling, spinning and distorting the individual body parts with centrifugal force until one begins to sicken, belch…and ultimately hurl. (Actually, this sounds like what happened to me at Disneyland. But that was different. I didn’t win $50,000! More’s the pity.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the preposterous as much as the next guy, and questionable bodily fluids don’t necessarily offend me…I just don’t get making it some kind of competition. At first we dismissed this whole reality phenomenon as exercises in mind-numbing brainlessness. But then we began exercising our own creativity, and, since we had some extra time with the cancelled infusion, we came up with some terrific ideas for competitive reality-based shows for the chronically vegetative…”Guts,” “Flatulence,” “Nasal Distance Expulsions,” “Corpulent Incontinence,” ...well, you get the idea.

I guess nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. I know I’m going to date myself as the “boomer” I am, but I really miss the good old days when we used to watch TV programs centered on mythical places like Mayberry, and the citizens were protected by a trembling Barney Fife, and everyone had names like Opie, Otis, Thelma Lou… and Aunt Bee, who prepared nightly meals with side dishes and dessert just before she went to choir practice. Things were infinitely simpler then, and the town’s inhabitants were a profusion of the endearingly addle-brained.

No one in Mayberry was bothered with bodily functions, let alone creating an athletic competition centered on them. There was no call for sphincter control due to the absence of sphincters.

Sometimes I find myself assaulted and insulted by the “entertainment industry,” who so often seem underequipped for anything remotely elevating. I am not an advocate of everything being perpetually profound. But there seems to be a profusion of producers who are bereft of discretionary judgment or accountability. We have deteriorated in progressive stages, beginning with a tolerance for things inane and proceeding to profound distortions of the ludicrous. There seems to be a migration toward increasingly disoriented delusions of entertainment…such a cruel misconception.

Now I am fully aware that Mayberry is something of an anachronism, but given the choice between the current entertainment menu and “the good old days,” I think I prefer the serenity of a porchful of rockers, fully-grown munchkins, and the agreeably imbecilic.

And while we’re on the subject of nostalgia, last week I went to a high school reunion luncheon. It has become an annual tradition for the women to gather, and it is so fun to get together and talk over old times. It is amazing that a group of women can pick up threads of conversations that began back in high school. Sometimes it seems there is a time warp, and I am not just sure where we are on the chronology spectrum. But I do realize that one is never too old to be 18. It is a matter of choice, and we can become “born-again adolescents” at will.

Now I’m not saying changes have not taken place. It is mutually agreed by all the women that our favorite household appliance is a good pair of tweezers. Remember how we used to pluck our eyebrows? Well, these days we no longer have need to pluck our eyebrows since…our eyebrows no longer exist. The hairs that used to be arranged in a saucy little arc over our eyes, have now migrated downward and re-located themselves in no particular pattern on the nether regions of our faces. Now, no one is averse to resorting to comb-overs to disguise age-related thinning female pattern baldness, but we do prefer the comb-overs not have their origins in the nasal passages.

Every lady at the luncheon has left detailed “last rites” requests of our daughters that before the tubes are pulled…pluck any hair sprouting in any region deemed socially gauche in polite society! That is a sacred oath that has been passed from mother to daughter for generations. And “mother’s tweezers” are bequeathed down the genealogical line of next of kin and referred to in reverent voices apropos of things of great worth. Our faces are beginning to resemble the portraits our three-year-old grandchildren have drawn of us. That’s OK, as long as the details do not include undulating rogue chin hairs. We can endure wrinkles that approximate the size of lacerations…but have zero tolerance for unruly follicles.

In fact, it is not just hair that has migrated. Many things have re-arranged and re-aligned themselves to all points of the compass. I guess some attributes become casualties of time, and we must all undergo the tectonic land shifts that compress and expand and cause stuff to converge and collect around our equators. But when old friends get together, time sloughs off, we are 18 again, and reliving the years when we all had toothpaste-commercial smiles.

Reunions are good. Nostalgia is better. Being 18 is best. Missing chemo infusions, however, can trigger aggravated anecdotal reverie that provides a brief reprieve and respite from reality and is rather refreshing.

It is all very good.

The Clot

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Brevity has always held zero appeal for me because it requires an inordinate amount of time. It is infinitely easier to blog long than to blog short. Editing one’s musings demands more firing neurons than I have at my disposal at the moment, (not to mention discretion), and I am in the throes of brain-drain neuro-muscular flab. (I think that’s a viable medical diagnosis.) Dennis thinks it’s a simple condition of “sympathy chemo-brain”…sort of like fall-out from prolonged exposure in close proximity to gemcitobene. He has assured me that full neuro function will return in due time. (He’s been saying that for years. Either he’s optimistic, delusional, or deliberately amnesiac of just how severely curtailed my brainbox activity can be.)

That said, Dennis’ vitals look reasonable to quite good. His weight has remained steady. He’s still down a hunka, but he is filling out nicely. We are anxiously awaiting the morning when he emerges from his crysallis buff, toned, bulky, and disfiguringly big. In the interim, we bought him some clothes more accurately proportioned to his diminished dimensions. (Having shirts with collars cinched into neck pleats by his tie is soooo tacky!) There is slight variation in his pulse, temperature, and blood pressure. But his height has remained constant, and we’re so proud of that. I was afraid when he was untethered from his pushee-thingee, he would lose the appearance of altitude, and I feared I’d have to retire the old stilletoes that were mandatory to maintain upward vertical proportions. This, happily, is unnecessary…I still walk funny, but I look tall.

I have always taken the procedure of drawing labs for granted, since the technicians are so skilled they make it look easy…that is, if one actually looks at the process. ( I steadfastly decline the opportunity.) But recently, Dennis’ veins have been somewhat contrary, and this has caused some frustration for the techs. One very persistent nurse was so determined to secure a hit, that I wondered if she was an aspiring acupuncturist, or perhaps resorting to some sort of voodoo maneuver. Of course, I suggested trying “enabling expletives,”… “persistent profanity,”… as a solution to this “sticky” situation and as an interventional humanitarian gesture on Dennis’ behalf. Hey, it works for me. However, she declined, citing medical oratorical ethics. Whatever. But Dennis now has multiple puncture wounds, and, even worse, I suffer from night sweats and extreme recurring needle aversion. How good can that be?

Unfortunately, after all that, the lab results indicated prohibitively low white blood cell counts, which prevented him from receiving this week’s chemo infusion. This means that his immune system will be somewhat vulnerable until he is able to rebuild his white cell population, and we can all once again cough and sneeze directly up his nostrils without restraint. He often wears a face mask, but I think it’s less about disease prevention than it is about going into the witness protection program as a direct result of some of my inquiries. And this circumstance will profoundly influence this weekend.

Since Dennis’ birthday and Father’s Day both fall on Sunday, we planned a double celebration complete with pyrotechnics and a pachaderm parade. However, with the recent immunity restrictions, we have decided to exchange the elephants for hot dogs in tin foil dinners, and the only “trunks” at our party will be worn by the grandkids as they play in the pool. And we are so fine with this. Sunday will be an occasion for our usual deranged Ashton Family gathering. The grandkids will be simultaneously chattering at “Alvin the Chipmunk” velocity, which always makes us wish that children came with subtitles. And the adults will be franticly trying to clean up messes that appear suspiciously like ubiquitous Rorschach inkblots. The family men will be pounding down “Little Debbies” while Dennis performs his long-awaited rendition of “Little Darlin’,” complete with the falsetto DoWop in the background. The girls have threatened a gift of a custom Speedo complete with suspenders and “hunka hunka burnin’ love” embroidered wherever it can fit for their father’s birthday. There will be no protest from either of us. I recall when we received tickets for the River Dance performance which took place while Dennis was still in the hospital recovering from massive surgery. So we gathered in his room prior to curtain time, raced to Kingsbury Hall, and then cell phoned the performance to him when the program began so he could hear the music and the amazing tap dancing that sounded like a thousand typewriters typing in synchronization. Illness is often the mother of innovation. And we will watch our daughters with grateful hearts. Oh, there have been times as they were growing up when we had just cause to strike our names from their birth certificates…we wouldn’t have been convicted by a jury of our peers. We have been known to identify them with genealogical epithets: “Those words are so Dorrity-esque,” or “She’s definitely acting very Young/Gates/Ashton!” I can even detect a little generational degeneration when I see some of my characteristics flagrantly apparent in the youngest child’s latest tantrum. It’s OK. Dysfunction is so entertaining. In spite of the challenge of raising a family, we wouldn’t change a thing. Through it all, we have never had “beget regret.”

Circumstance is a great instructor. There is a lady we have become acquainted with in the infusion center who is currently undergoing chemo for breast cancer. She is bald and beautiful. And at the base of her head, where there used to be hair, she has a tattoo in bold letters. The ink reads CANCER SUCKS. No poet or philosopher could have said it better. It is a profound proclamation. And she is an exemplar of lovely dignity and courage. It is amazing how easy it is to strike up a conversation with someone bearing such graffiti. I offered to ink some two-word bit of profound wisdom on the top of Dennis’ head with my magic marker, but being well acquainted with my generational oratorical inclinations, and having a certain reluctance as to just what those two words might be, he respectfully declined the offer. Hmmmm.

So this weekend we can hardly wait to celebrate the opportunity to hang one more up on the calendar. We look forward to the hip-huggers and knees-squeezers to remind us what’s most important in life. This is all very good.



The Clot

Thursday, June 5, 2008



The first full day of our vacation was totally invested in Disneyland. The second full day of our vacation was invested in recovery. It’s startling how much energy is expended having a good time…almost as much as having a bad time. And the old axiom that time flies when you’re having fun is a concept I’d practically lost contact with (although I’ve also known time to fly even when we weren’t having that much fun.) Time has its own tyranny.

So it was decided by wise consensus (and long-suffering exhaustion) that we would all spend the day at the beach. I never realized how vast and essential the Pacific Ocean is. And it has such a commanding personality. As Dennis and I reclined on a deck that faced the water without any interference, we studied the tides, the ebb and flow, and at times, the tempest. The ocean doesn’t just roar; sometimes it hums. It is always morphing into one of its multiple personalities, and as much as I tried to concentrate on reading my book, it sucked my eyeballs out to the horizon and kept them hostage there. How pleasant! And then, of course, I had to discuss it all in great length with Dennis. He listened patiently, as he always does, but he was unable to get any reading done either. So we hauled massive tomes home, which, in spite of great intentions, remained unread. This was all very good.

The kids absolutely loved the beach, the water, and the sand. Oh, how they loved the sand. They dug for hours like miniature archaeologists huddled together building castles and trying to run away from crabs. This is not an easy task, because, as you know, crabs travel sideways in an effort to escape perceived danger. So as the kids tried to avoid the archaic mindless beasts, the archaic mindless beasts were trying to avoid the same…and they just kept running into each other. As an observer, this was very funny. There were, however, code red moments when I had to rush to assist one of the grandkids escape. But then I became embroiled in avoidance maneuvers…as a participant, it was not nearly so funny.

Kids can run in every direction simultaneously and with such speed, it is kind of like the images of the rats in the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. At the end of the day, when the wee folk had sand in places that compromised their dignity, we removed bathing suits, hosed them down, and corralled the dirty half dozen into the hot tub on the deck. It took a massive effort by the six adults to herd the six children into one place at one time. So once this was accomplished, we were reluctant to remove them. (And by doing this, we were able to successfully avoid having to pay a nuisance tax levied by the state of California.) But that is what I love about California. Morning begins an hour later than it does in Utah by popular mandate, and the evenings are also prolonged for the benefit of surfers whose addiction extends till past sundown. All the children stayed in the hot tub until they were squishy and pruney, and there was still plenty of daylight left.

I wonder when the time will come when five boys and one girl sharing a hot tub after a day of play on the beach by the Pacific Ocean will notice that one of these is not like the others. It wasn’t this time. I was glad.


One of our favorite parts of this whole experience was listening to the children pray. Necie’s prayer consisted of several songs and some sort of dance step with accompanying contortions. Carter, our story-teller, prayed for peanuts, and then asked that his Daddy will be blessed if he ever buys a boat and crashes in the water. We all agreed that this was important…and tried to avoid eye contact. Adult prayers are boring in comparison. I’m sure whoever was listening to such supplication welcomed the comic relief.

Our long-awaited celebration was a joy to all of us. Sometimes it takes life to help us identify the miraculous in the commonplace…and to understand how profoundly dear family and friends are. Paths cross, realign themselves, interact and interconnect, and become parallel. And somehow we are no longer acquaintances, but comrades, fellow travelers on a shared journey. This is all good.

We love you,

The Clot

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


We’re baaaack. And I must admit I still have jet lag. Of course, I started our vacation with jet lag, and that was days before I boarded the jet! Our family spent a week at maximum speed with minimum drag, and it all resulted in perpetual lag. But the Clot was able to do something that seemed like a dream just a few weeks ago.

Erin and Brodi always accuse me of excessive verbiage, but they don’t appreciate the fact that what they read is the edited version of what I actually write. However, in an attempt to achieve brevity and blog responsibly, I will give an up-date of our “California Dreamin’” trip in an initial installment followed by 2 sequels. So here goes.

Dennis has been tolerating his chemo treatments so well, that our flight to Disneyland was never in jeopardy. This was such a relief, but we were still concerned about his strength and stamina. We were determined that we would have a good time, but not compromise his health in any way. So we devised a “park-hopper” plan that consisted mainly of going on a ride, and then hopping over to the nearest bench to rest. This seemed reasonable for the first five minutes. Something had charged his batteries, and he not only maintained the pace, but set it. Now this was rather remarkable because there was an even dozen of us, six of whom were children. There was a collective energy source that could have fueled the world. I kept insisting that he rest at somewhat regular intervals…mainly so I could recover my equilibrium and avoid resorting to my secret reserve of emergency digitalis. We were at sea level, and I was sucking wind like I was about to summit Mount Everest.

We had three passes to Disneyland, and the first day there I have no doubt we set a new endurance record for riding the most rides in the shortest amount of time. Brodi negotiated our way through the park that would have made Lewis and Clark proud. She has a particular genius for fast passes, which allowed us to access any ride with such efficiency, that we rarely had to wait at all. (That, and the fact there was a certain deference that was accorded to a man wearing a protective surgical face mask. We were just glad Dennis wasn’t mistaken for a character out of the latest Disney movie.)

But I discovered an irrefutable fact of fantasy…you actually can have “Disneyland Saturation,” “giggle glut,” “merriment melt-down.” We rode on every conceivable contraption invented by the mind of man that whirled, twirled, twisted, tilted, contorted, shook, rattled, rolled and glided. But I did have to draw the line on, of all things, a children’s ride. Claiming strict observance of the Word of Wisdom in order to gain a religious deferment from riding on the whirling tea cups, I ran immediately to the nearest concession stand and ordered a “mouska-mammoth” diet coke in a futile effort to stem the rising tide of nausea. In a supreme irony so apropos to the condition of childhood, why is it that a kid can endure every mechanically perverted barf-inducing invention for nine uninterrupted hours, and then puke in the back seat of a car from motion sickness?

More to come!
The Clot