Sunday, March 30, 2008


Greetings, Dear Ones,

OK, Dennis and I went up for the third infusion of gemcitabine in this first series of chemo. We get next week to rest up. Then we will do two more series of three infusions with a Friday off in between. Does that make sense? I hope so, because I’m always unclear on the concept. We have six remaining infusions…and this phase of chemo is complete. From there, it is surveillance, where Dr. Mulvihill and Dr. Jones will surveil on a regular basis. This will be an interesting transition…a little like free-fall. I can hardly imagine what it will be like sculpting days without chiseling programmed appointments at HCI into our regular routine. What do people do with all that time? Clean house? Oh please, say it ain’t so! How does one organize life to give full recognition to difficulties without being victimized by them? And what should I put on my grocery list? So many questions, so little time. Oh well, we don’t have to cross those bridges now.

I just want to focus on some lovely numbers. Dennis’ vitals are quite pretty: temp – 96.6; pulse: - 83; oxygen: - 99. In addition, brace yourself…he is tipping the scales at a buxom 109 ½!!! But the sweetest number of all is 36. As of Friday, his tumor marker was 36. 36! According to Dr. Jones, this is NORMAL! WOW! Read ‘em and weep! Which is what I did. We were exhilarated. We were so excited that Dennis went into rapid-mode absorption and sucked up his complete bag of chemo in record time. And after that, he had enough energy to lightly turn his fancy to thoughts of spring…and fertilizer. (So much for romance.)

We went to get some pre-emergent for our lawn, but were told we were a little tardy for pre-emergent. (I suggested we try my own personal pre-emergent, but Dennis didn’t think Red Bull would promote lawn growth.) He also nixed the idea of sprinkling gemcitabine, citing the fact it might leave a carbon footprint the size of New Jersey. The guy has no imagination! The man at Smith’s referred us to a product called (and this is the unvarnished truth) …”Liquified Worm Poop.” Now I admit I am not savvy on worm physiology. I was granted conscientious objector status by my biology professor, so I didn’t have to dissect the critters. Being conscious to take the tests seemed to be a major consideration.(However, after seeing Dr. Mulvihill’s 8x10 glossies of Dennis’ Whipple, I have been radically de-sensitized to anything visually disturbing. Worm guts would be a walk in the park!) I’m not exactly sure just how they harvest worm poop, but it did conjure up visions of worm colonies being fed a steady diet of prune juice and laxatives. Anyway, we passed on the liquid worm poop (no pun intended) and decided to just dig up whatever doesn’t look like lawn. In our domain, that could be anything from crabgrass to grandkids.

We are quite pleased with Dennis’ ability to tolerate this third-phase of chemo. He has some nausea, but is able to manage. There has been minor hair down-sizing, but the scalp looks healthy, pink and shiny. It even allows for lipstick application when mirrors are not available. He is also taking nutrition by mouth, and visions of peristalsis dance in his digestive system. I’m just glad he isn’t going through simultaneous radiation. Talk about “scorched earth.!” Dennis continues to absorb, which is very efficient because it goes all through the night. And when we wake up in the morning, he is fat and squishy. We are so used to the ubiquitous tube feedings that we think of them as “Canned Chub.” And each container is filled with densely packed calories just waiting to morph into more Dennis. The guy has plenty of backbone… but it is less apparent. He is becoming more visually perceptible, and will soon be his old self …a “hunka, hunka burnin’ love!”

Actually, we can never be the same again. And this is OK. We realize that there are no guarantees, but we have never asked for guarantees…only hope. We know the source of that commodity, and we have it in abundance. Sometimes it seems we have been skiing this black diamond slope a long time, with all its inherent hazards. But we are grateful for storms that make us aware of whom we can rely on. Confronting difficult predicaments has given us greater wisdom and understanding and renewal. And it has clarified for us just what it is we value most. Each of you has helped us impose order on the chaos with your optimism, love and prayers. We are better people because of your friendship. Please know of our deep and sincere appreciation.

Our Love to All,

The Clot

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Happy Easter, Dear Clotters,

I apologize for the tardiness of the latest “Dennis Up-date,” but in the finest tradition of “Dancing With the Stars,” we have been busy rehearsing our River Dance clogging and trying to suck in our stomachs, hips and thighs to accommodate the requisite wardrobe tights.(Thigh-sucking is very hard.) Dennis has succeeded brilliantly, as you can see from the video, and has been practicing his leaps and bounds…which is a great segue (pronounced se-gue) into his recent progress report.

On Friday we started our weekly trek to HCH, with our hearts full of sunshine, our nose full of Jevity, and our gut full of chemo. It was a great day. We were eagerly anticipating the blood draw, the vital signs, and the gemcytobene infusion. (Try to channel the fun.) It had been a full week since we had had a new tube jammed down Dennis’ throat, (the only thing lovelier than “hose ram” is “hose extraction”) and I guess we were experiencing withdrawal withdrawal.

Dennis’ vital signs look pretty good. His blood pressure is down, his oxygen level is up, and …TA-DAAAAAA…so is his weight. In fact, it has exceeded his blood pressure numbers, and is aggressively threatening to over-take my scale statistics. This is all very good.

The labs are looking impressive also. His platelets have grown so large they’ve become actual dinner plates, and the things that should be up are, and the things that should be down are also…with one tiny exception. His neutriphils. I’m not exactly sure just what neutriphils are. I would have guessed they were some sort of cosmetic regimen. or perhaps an undergarment device to augment a significant dearth of vital bodily protrusion. Actually, I was mistaken. (Whoda thunkit) Apparently, neutriphils help the body fight off infection, so they’re even more important that mere vanity enhancement. We were advised to take extra precaution with hand washing and food preparation. It would also be unwise to wipe any grandchild’s nose, whether moist or crusty or of dubious origin, on the front of Dennis’ t-shirt. So, having been properly instructed, the chemo infusion began. I rather enjoy infusion time. I get to talk to him to my heart’s content, and he cannot escape.

This up-date would not be complete without including the most recent results of Dennis’ “less-than-vital-but-important-none-the-less” signs:

“Her”matocrit count: Marked rise in tolerance threshold of all the “hers” in his life.

Shy-lets: Noticeably higher level of embarrassment that all his bodily functions are blogged far and wide.

Chat-crit: Elevated evidence of maintaining a two-way conversation…i.e. discussing real estate with Brodi. For Dennis, that’s borderline loquacious.

NHT: Nose-hose tolerance. The patient extraction of Cheerios from nasal passages inserted by youngest grandchild practicing the concept of “share.”

Dennis ably managed to negotiate the annual Easter egg hunt without interventional digitalis. He was T-boned by adoring grandkids who only know that Grandpa has a lap that is a great parking place to nestle diapered nether regions in need of momentary refuge from chaos. (a.k.a. lap-sitting). It is great to see him poundin’ the gemcytobene and swillin’ the Jevity. He is even taking food by mouth. The other day he ate some ham fried rice from Benihana without any premature exit from any orifice. Now I’m not suggesting that there was no consequential methane resulting from the digestive process (a.k.a., flatulence), but we call that “NORMAL,” among other things. (Oh, how I love that “N” word!) In addition, Dennis changed three light bulbs (Yes, 3!) without breaking a sweat or compromising his tubing. We are beginning to get a life. Only 7 more chemo infusions, and then surveillance. But who’s counting?

March has been a month of celebration. Saturday we enjoyed the holiday by hunting Easter eggs and filling our stomachs to near cookie-toss with Peeps and jelly bellies. Sunday is a holy day, when we rejoice in the knowledge that we were created, ransomed and ultimately restored. All miracles proceed from that singular event. We find it more than a little ironic that one of our darkest days fell on Halloween Eve, and there is now the greatest light on Easter Sunday. This is more than a mere time change. There seems to be a message here. And we celebrate the love and support that has been given to our family unceasingly. You may not fully understand what your kindness, generosity, and tender thoughtfulness mean to us. Some things you may deem too insignificant to record in your memory are indelibly written on our hearts. You have made time to minister to us in ways that exceed your awareness, but when this whole thing began, we were four for each other. The numbers have grown immensely, and we will be ever grateful. How you have blessed our lives.

Happy Easter, Dear Ones.


The Clot

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Hello, Dear Clottters,

Well, yesterday was a fairly momentous day for us, so I just wanted to keep the up-dates current. We had a day packed with appointments and possibilities. Our first stop in the drill was to get some blood drawn. It seems everyone wants surveillance over all of Dennis’ precious bodily fluids. He no longer has a PICC line or a port, so every time tests are run, he gets stuck. He doesn’t even wince these days, but I have scrupulously maintained my ability to fall in a heap at the mere thought of needles. Dennis and I are both glad I’m on the other side of the syringe.

Anyway, the next stop on our Friday excursion was with Dr. Mulvihill. And he had some good news for us. According to the labs, Dennis’ albumin number is up. In fact, it is a 3. Yes, a 3! Apparently that means that the level of his nutrition is increasing. Normal is 3.5 or 4. We are cruising in the neighborhood of NORMAL! Fasten your seat belts! Talk about rarified air. The rest of his counts look real good also. So I am validating those numbers. Numbers are our friend. In addition, his vital signs are wonderful. This is all good. However, his weight is about the same number as his blood pressure. (Some numbers are not our friend.) This is not good. So Dr. Mulvihill wants to see him again in one month instead of the customary three. That’s ok. I always enjoy visiting with him. But I did vow that the next time he laid eyes on Dennis, he would see a consummate chub! I mean cheeks filled out (the upper and the lower) inflated chest, chiseled biceps, and thigh implants. (I still believe in miracles, but I hope I didn’t over-promise my capability to deliver!)

As always, Dr. Mulvihill has an immense power of the positive. He declared that Dennis was “satisfactory” to begin chemo that very day. And then he delivered his standard “Mulvihillism.” He said, “There is no question in my mind that Dennis will get better.” I was euphoric. I wrote it down verbatim. I committed the comment to memory. I recited it like a mantra. I tried to suck it into my nostrils. I clung to it like a life raft. I was going to have it “inked” on my navel, but Dennis seemed to think that was going a bit far. Dennis has always been restrained by discretion. When we next met with Dr. Jones, she agreed with all that Dr. Mulvihill had said, and then announced, “Let the gemcytobene begin!” We were so excited that we tried to do our ceremonial chest thud…but we missed! (There is a shocking lack of “chest” in our family these days!) So we settled for holding hands with great gusto. That sufficed.

When Dennis was finally hooked up to that bag of chemo, and as we noticed the precious liquid entering his body through the IV, the Clot cheered. Even Dennis was excited. How do we know that? We could see trace evidence of a smile just to the side of his nose hose. Whoa! That’s borderline hysteria in our book.

Today is March 15…the Ides of March. It is also our anniversary. I won’t say how many years because those of you who can do higher math will be able to calculate that, according to my acclaimed age, I must have been married several years before I was actually born. (The only thing we cook at our house is the books!) But those of you who are into lower math and tabloid sensation…it’s plausible. However, the years are measured in units of days, and there have been thousands, days so pleasant I wish I could recall each one individually. In that time, we have gone from pre-med, to raising daughters, to welcoming grandchildren.

Why did we choose to marry on the Ides of March? Because we didn’t want to wait till the Ides of June. I am not exactly sure what “ides” are, or why they cluster in plurality instead of existing as a single “ide.” Perhaps it’s for the same reason people prefer to marry as opposed to remaining single. I understand that. Actually, on that day so many years ago, “I came to marry Dennis, not craze him.” (Great distortion of Marc Antony's famous speech at Cesar's assassination). Frankly, my dear, I’ve done both.

Today we went to the hospital yet again to have Dennis’ nose hose replaced. For those of you keeping score, this is the third time in a week. I was reduced to such irrational displeasure at the frustration, that I began making empty threats and hurling vacuous ultimatums (ultimati?) at no one in particular. Talk about “March Madness!” I was sorely tempted to order a hamburger and consume it in one fell swoop, but I am still so embarrassed by my shameful display of carnivorous indulgence, that I opted for self-restraint…but only with great reluctance! This is not how we might have planned to celebrate our anniversary. But it’s all OK. Our lives right now are what they are. And nothing can put asunder what was joined together on our wedding day. So we commemorate the occasion and celebrate the day. There will not be many gifts or tangibles…as is our custom. We’ll raise a can of Promote in Salutation. “Etu Den-e!” The Ides of March are only unlucky for Caesar and soothsayers.

Our love to all of you,

The Clot

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Hello, Clotters,

OK. I knew it would be a bit risky to write in gushing terms about our Good Friday. I know better than to tempt the random, flukey cosmic powers by suggesting we had the world by the tail…because that’s obviously the most vulnerable end of the tail to be on. And sure enough, poop happened. I was having lunch with some friends and telling them that things seemed to be looking up…when my cell phone buzzed. It was Dennis. And there was great frustration in his voice. Now, this does not exactly send red flags, because we’ve lived together so long, I just figured frustration was a side-effect of being married to me! But for once a different source was causing irritation. Apparently his feeding tube was kinked or blocked, and even after great efforts at flushing, he could not get his formula to pass through the nose hose.

It was imperative that we remedy the situation immediately, otherwise, he would have to be hospitalized over the weekend until Interventional Radiation could replace the whole system on Monday. So I had the waitress box up my hamburger, and I raced home. As we started our trek up to the Emergency Room, I suddenly became ravenous.

The aroma of the hamburger filled the car, and I began to salivate. Having been through this drill many times before, I knew we were in for a very long wait at the hospital, and opportunities for meals would be nonexistent. So I began to eat the hamburger as I drove. I don’t mean just “eat.” I wolfed, inhaled, snorted and gulped. Barely two chews per swallow. (I learned this culinary technique from our daughter, Erin.) I consumed that sucker so fast, it set a new low for bubbahood…oozing juices and all. I ate that burger in a feeding frenzy that ensured my established position at the top of the food chain forever. It was not pretty. And just at that moment, I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Here I was, rushing my 105 pound husband to the ER to replace a feeding tube so he could continue absorbing his glorified baby formula in the hopes that he would perhaps inch up to 106, and I had just consumed a cow…in record time, no less. Well, I was sick with remorse, guilt, shame. And I did what I always do when I am sick with remorse, guilt, shame…I started to laugh. More failed efforts at apology only caused more laughter. You know my motto: when in crisis, kill the fatted buffalo and begin the barbeque. By the time we reached the hospital, my expulsion of giggles had emitted partially moistened bun wads on my shirt. I was madly trying to remove the tell-tale sesame seeds from between my teeth as we walked up to the registration window…and, wouldn’t you just know it, they greeted us by name. I’m still embarrassed by the whole thing…but that was one delicious hamburger!

We were able to get Dennis a brand new shiny hose replacement, however. Installing it is a rather intricate procedure because all the organs in his midsection have been rearranged, and so it becomes rather technical, involving contrast dye and x-ray equipment. But the whole episode only took five hours total. And now he’s good to resume absorbing. I so look forward to the day when we can both humiliate ourselves by the compulsive consumption of solid food. I can’t wait till his breath smells of garlic instead of “eau de baby spit-up.” It will be nice to retire the whole hose system for mastication. Oh, there is such joy in anticipation.

We did have to postpone Dennis’s haircut, however. Pity, because there is undeniable evidence of creeping “helmet head.” I guess those are the consequences of an unscheduled ER run. Our son-in-law Dave, always the optimist, suggested we bury the tubing in Dennis’ beard so it would be less noticeable. I love our family. They make a party out of every situation. Sam, Brodi’s husband, keeps us entertained by hurling continual epithets of humiliation to the now-phantom mass. Seeing grown men get silly is a beautiful thing. Humor perpetuates a sense of well-being.

It’s funny how a slight adjustment in attitude can alter one’s whole perspective. Saturday night we changed our clocks ahead one hour for Daylight Savings Time. 4:30 AM arrived with premature punctuality. But my body was not convinced. My body knew instinctively that it was really 3:30. My biological clock has been ticking too long to be deceived by mere numbers on a time-piece. I do not love the extra early-morning darkness, I had a foreboding premonition that “Pissy” was going to be my alter ego from now on. However, I decided to look on the bright side and remain positive.

You know, the old “cup is half full” philosophy. So with that in mind, I decided that I had not lost an hour of rest…instead, I gained an hour of sleep deprivation. This minor adjustment in thinking allowed me to cheerfully go walking in the morning, even though it was darker, without fear of encountering that stealthy pod of nocturnal “were-skunks” that seemed so threatening on Friday. I felt empowered. There were birds singing so early I suspected they were insomniacs. And I noticed ever so many signs of approaching spring…crocuses in the gardens, and buds on the trees. I even saw a cloth rabbit hanging in a neighboring yard that swayed in the breeze and looked for all the world as if someone had just lynched the Easter Bunny. Very funny. I guess sometimes we must face the dark to see the light.

So, in spite of time changes, tube changes, and attitude changes, it’s a great day.


The Clot

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Greetings, Dear Clotters,

Good Friday came early this year. It began in the morning when I asked Dennis how he was feeling. He said, “Good.” And he said it without hesitation or qualification. I was so amazed, that I asked follow-up questions. How’s the pain? Any nausea? Are you leaking? He said, “OK.” “None.” “No.” (We always try to converse in sentences of three words or less…and we succeed wildly!) Well, I was so thrilled, I decided right then to make an appointment for a hair cut. Dennis hasn’t had one since b.c.w. (Before Classic Whipple…see previous blog) And both hairs needed to be clipped. Dennis requested that I not use the toenail clippers this time. Since this was such a special occasion, he thought it warranted a real barber. I don’t know what the big deal is. After all, I graduated with honors from the Sweeney Todd School of Cosmotology and Meat Pies, and I can split hairs with the best of them! But whatever.

I had a premonition it was going to be a good day while I was on my morning walk. Just as I was rounding a corner deep in mental oblivion, I was met by a strange and rather foul odor. I was pretty sure it was not coming from me because, as is my custom, I had brushed my teeth just prior to inflicting myself on society. But with every step, the odor intensified. Being the usual quick study that I am, I finally identified it as the unmistakable “eau de skunk.” Judging by the intensity, it had to be a whole herd of the creatures. (yes, “herd!”) With each reluctant step, the “odorometer” increased until I really got worried, and I thought, “Oh Great! It’s dark, and I’m all alone. And I’m about to be attacked by a pride of kamikaze skunks! Now what do I do?” But just at that moment, the “Pissy” arose in me. And it wasn’t Pissy, the Mutated Dwarf. It was Pissy on Human Growth Hormones…Pissy on steroids…Pissy on performance-enhancing drugs! I was ready to engage. In fact, I welcomed the encounter. What a perfect outlet for my pent-up rage, going head to head with glorified rodents. Game on! But just when I was ready to go to the mattresses, the odor began to dissipate and eventually disappear. My heart stopped pounding, I removed the brass knuckles, and Pissy shrank down to his normal diminutive size and returned to the inner recesses of my subliminal attitude. I resumed my walk convinced that it was going to be a good day. Sometimes premonitions are really weird, but not to be denied.

I love words. Those who know me well…and read the blog…can attest to that! Words have such power. They can do collateral damage, it is true. But, more important, they have the ability to enable, to nourish, to re-direct, to over-come, to encourage, reassure, and define, to comfort, to give meaning, and to transcend predicament. There is a group of Baptist prayer warriors in Texas who have centered their prayers on our family. Every few days we receive a “prayergram” from one of them that begins with five beautiful words: “I prayed for you today.” And then there is a note of personal experiences, encouragement, scriptural references and expressions of love. And then they sign their names. I do not know Ben Massaras, or anyone else, personally. But I love each one dearly. I do know that shared adversity galvanizes people. And that prayer elevates both the one who prays, and the one for whom the prayer is said. Prayer and kindness and love are holy places, where, as an invited guest, one feels prompted to remove one’s shoes. This is the highest form of poetry. There is an articulation that is born of sentiments of the heart. Sometimes that power of expression does not require orality. Even words not spoken can generate the hope for the future that sustains us in the adversities we unavoidably encounter. Paul Wortley made a CD of a collection of some of his favorite guitar arrangements, and labeled it “Cancer Killing Music.” Optimism and good will are so therapeutic.

Dennis and I went walking at Liberty Park in the afternoon. And he felt well enough to crank up the pace from “mosey” to “stroll.” The velocity was such that no one was able to pass us. (In the interest of accuracy, there was actually no one at the park, but that is a minor detail and does not detract from the basic premise.) We did a full lap in 35 minutes, and never once did we stop for “navel inspection.” We listened to some old time rock ‘n roll, and Dennis sang “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” with the Beatles. I think he lip synced (lip sanc? Lip sunc? Whatever!) because I saw his beard moving, but I didn’t hear anything. However, in a moment of unbridled passion and shameless display of affection, we actually did hold hands. I told you this was a good day.

Tonight we will make a pot of gruel and watch Bull Riders Only to see if Renato Nunes will stay the 8 seconds on “Booger Butt.” Can’t wait! We have had so many moments of appreciation today, none the least of which is the fact that Dennis can no longer eat and run. Now he simply absorbs and remains. This is a good thing. Adversity and joy can reside simultaneously with a fair amount of companionability. Thank you for sharing both.

All our love,

The Clot

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Hello, Clotters,

This blog has been a good intention for several days now. I am not a procrastinator…I’m just a ponderer…I ponder. But since this is election season, and the political buzz word of the moment is “change,” I thought I would up-date everyone on Dennis’ current condition…there is really no change, except for the better. Now, first the less good news…Dennis’ weight has diminished a little. (This is small change.) I won’t give specific numbers, but suffice it to say I have five pounds up on him. (Mostly in attitude.) He was right when he said a good portion of his massive 118 was water. I guess some evaporation has taken place. However, and here is the pleasant news, he is changing for the better, if not necessarily the bigger. His “absorption” is going particularly satisfactorily, (he can absorb with the best of ‘em) and the Promote is well tolerated. In addition, he has been able to eat some potato, a taste of yogurt, and a bite of banana! Now how’s that for front-page headlines?

In addition, Dennis and I have been doing some serious walking. We go regularly (well, by “regularly” I mean two days back to back) to Sugar House Park and “mosey” back and forth too many times to count. (Well, actually, it was four times). At the end of each “mosey,” we would check his incision for any sign of leakage, condensation, or suspicious moisture. I’m sure our fellow “mosiers” wondered if we had some sort of naval fixation. But there was no evidence that the internal dam had burst, so we would rejoice and keep moving. Now this most certainly qualifies as getting better. Bigger will come later. Big is highly over-rated. We are preparing to begin gemcytobene infusions on Friday, March 14th. Dennis will be big then.
We are looking forward to that with great anticipation…it’s kind of like living on the Wasatch Faultline and keeping our eye on the Richter Scale. As you know, this round of chemo will have a higher RPM than previously, and this might cause greater hair loss. Who cares? Hair is highly over-rated! However, this could actually be a good thing. Of late, Dennis’ chest hair has been growing in. This has caused significant “rib itch,” not to mention obscuring his “tatts.” Zero hair growth just might be a tolerable solution to both.

On Saturday, Dennis felt strong enough to attend Abram’s (our brilliant and gifted grandson) soccer game. The kid really does have “sweet feet,” and he scored all five of the team’s goals. Did I mention the kid’s a genius? Anyway, Erin and I were heavily invested in the game emotionally. We were cheering our brains out. Dennis was also caught up in the intensity of the moment…he smiled wildly. It is very interesting to watch our daughter watching her son play soccer. It is even more interesting to watch Dennis watch our daughter watch her son play soccer. Talk about a spectator sport. So much was going on besides the game. There are certain times that qualify as “Our Town” moments. You know, those unexpected, unimportant, indelible memories that register in the heart and imprint the image forever in one’s mind.

I have reassessed my interpretation of accomplishment. I used to gauge it by what tasks got done, or what distance was traversed. Somehow I thought I must always throttle up with greater thrust in order to make progress. I was mistaken. The greatest forward mobility often comes in remaining stationary while small occasions occur with aggressive regularity around you. Sometimes momentous things happen when one does nothing but ponder. This morning as I walked, some snowflakes began falling. They were lovely. I have heard it said that no two snowflakes are alike. Says who, and how do they know? I saw some flakes that bore an uncanny resemblance to one another. If they were not exactly alike, there must have been some common DNA somewhere, for there were striking similarities.

The morning light comes earlier these days, and soon we will be changing our clocks to daylight savings time…more sun time for soccer and extended walks in the park. I am a sunshine junkie. When hidden, scary places are exposed to light, they don’t seem nearly as frightening. Hope and courage are renewable resources, and bring collateral goodness. We are still putting out fires, but there is no backdraft right now. Change is a good thing.

The Clot