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


the4ofusut said...

I showed Nick your newest pictures and he asked "Is Dr. Ashton better NOW??" It was wonderful to finally say yes. We can't wait to see you back in the office.

Very heartfelt congratulations -

The Urrys

Debbie said...

What a wonderful celebration post! How wonderful to be done.
Much love!
Debbie (Duffin) Lambson & Family

Cam Ballou said...

How awesome that must feel, in so MANY ways! Your family is so strong and is a great example. We wish you the best :)

jerry said...

This stuff is conference talk material! (well, maybe excepting the pic and the part about expletives!)

cristie said...

my eyes are nose needs a heart is filled with gratitude for the clot. ((((hugs))))

Rozanne said...

Yesterday I had the wonderful experience of making an appointment with . . . DR. ASHTON! I have been waiting for this day since last October when we saw him last. Since then we have seen other capable pediatricians, but not one of them has called Easton a "super trooper" and they're just not Dr. Ashton! I'm still impressed with the concern you showed when Easton had his "manly issues" when he was born. I've never had a doctor actually call me at home to check up on us. We're looking forward to Easton's 2 year check-up. We're so glad things are going well. Hooray!
Rozanne Huff and family

Dennis and Nancy said...

Dennis and Joan, We read with gratitude you conclusion of the chemotherapy. It was so good to see you in person in May. WE send our love and admiration to each of you as "tough cookies" to go through all your challanges. Love, Dennis and Nancy

Anonymous said...

to the entire Ashton Clot- Thank you so much for allowing us to be a part of your journey, both the ups and the downs. I am so glad you are done and treasure the courage you have shown all of us as you have traversed the unknown and unpleasant terrain of cancer. I look forward to seeing Dennis back in the office and know we will need to make at least one more visit before Christopher ages out of the practice. Then we will have to come back for just friendly visits to say hi! I am so GLAD you have fought the battle and suceeded! Chris, Megan and Christopher

Amy said...

I am at a loss for words. I cried through the whole thing. Amid the harshness of life, there is beauty. Thanks for letting me see that.
Amy Jefferies