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