Sunday, May 25, 2008


What a difference a week makes. Dennis’ numbers are back in the black and lookin’ good. His pulse is 82, oxygen 97%, temp. 97.7, and blood pressure – 100 over 58. The doctor offered to write a prescription for medicinal potato chips to give those numbers an assist, but we decided just to stick with the salt lick for the time being. (We don’t want to get addicted to prescription chips.) He popped some lovely veins for the technicians, and they got a gusher. Hooray! But the loveliest number of the day is his weight…it’s 128, and that’s without the nose hose. Actually, he was wearing clothes and shoes, but they were skinny clothes, and getting buck naked in front of the other infusees is something Dennis shies away from. I don’t see why. His abs and his labs are really quite attractive.

Soooo…it was full cheme ahead. Dennis bellied up to the bar, pounded down the entire bag of gencitobene, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, turned his shot glass upside down on the table, and swaggered, John Wayne-style, outta the joint. What a man! Still crazy after all these years!

So, after preparing for infusion, we are preparing for Disneyland. As you are well aware, this is not just a family vacation…it is a celebration. And the Ashton Clot plans to rock California. But first, we must actually get there. Easier said than done.

I have pledged to pack light, so I made my “necessities only” list to help me resist the urge to pack the superfluous and mindless. I am committed to the neat and simple, so I can achieve the lofty goal of maintaining sanity and my gravitational center as a dozen crazed and depraved family members attempt to negotiate a theme park whose central icon is a helium-voiced rodent. Therefore, I am including a list of strictly essentials that will minimize our need for luggage and still ensure an awesomely brainless good time.

Joan’s list of essentials:

  1. Make-up…enough to guarantee I don’t lower the property values of the entire state of California.
  2. Eyelash curler…to curl a dozen sets of eyelashes
  3. 12 hair brushes…just in case the girls forget theirs and want to borrow mine. Mathematically this factors out to one brush per family member.
  4. Extra hair dryers…refer to item #3 for distorted reasoning and explanation.
  5. Extra diapers…in case babies have accidents.
  6. Extra Depends…in case I have accidents.
  7. 8 changes of clothes…because I am heavily into excess.
  8. “Do rags”…in a futile attempt to obscure clammy and sodden hair due to humidity.
  9. More make-up…to make up for the “do rags.”
  10. Enough snacks with absolutely no redeeming nutritive value so the grandkids all rise up and call me “the favorite.

Dennis’ list of essentials:

  1. Toothbrush…to brush his tooth.
  2. Volumizing shampoo…to volumize his hair. Hey, this stuff really works. He may not have more hair, but the two he has are definitely louder!
  3. Speedo…OK, svelte has its privileges, and besides, we’ll be on a private beach. But that’s one picture I will definitely blog! So stay tuned.

Well, that ought to do it. If we don’t bring something we need, we rely on our motto: “When we forgot it, we bought it.”

I actually dread the whole process of traveling by plane. We’ve had some rather singular experiences with the security protocol in airports, and it’s made for some recollections that even in hindsight stretch credulity.

This really happened when we were returning from Hawaii. As I successfully emerged from the metal detector, a security lady who had x-rayed my carry-on had managed to locate something that looked suspicious and sinister. She asked me to identify it. I said, “It’s an eyelash curler.” End of incident? No, indeed. She seemed unable to comprehend, so I felt compelled to further enlighten her, and said “…to curl eyelashes.” She seemed like a member emeritus of the chronically confused, and asked me what that little tube directly adjacent to the curler was. I correctly identified it as…mascara. (I kept looking around for hidden cameras that would suggest I was on “America’s Funniest Videos”)

The woman then announced she was going to have to confiscate these items. I was incredulous, which in itself is incredulous, because I’m a mother…I’ve seen everything!

I wasn’t sure exactly what her reasoning was. Did she actually think that I was a member of some subversive terrorist organization, whose diabolical plan to take over the world somehow centered on my cosmetic bag? Did she suspect I would rush the cockpit, get a chokehold on the pilot, insert his eyelashes in the crimper, and threaten to curl his lid hairs till he pleaded for mercy, turned the plane around, and flew me to Tooele? And then, just to make sure he knew I meant business, I was prepared to apply two coats of mascara? Now, I do admit there is a certain terrorist element to the average daily beauty regime. Of course, I do confess to graduating “mascara-cum-loudly” from the Abu Graib Institute of Water Boarding and Professional Make-up Artists. OK. OK. I guess when I really think about it, the items in a cosmetic bag could also qualify as Weapons of Mass Destruction. There are even some items…like the eyelash curler…that ought to be registered as lethal weapons. But I don’t think that qualifies me as a suspicious character capable of malicious mischief…well, come to think about it, the jury’s still out on that.

Finally, the woman modified her “heightened restrictions” red alert, and allowed me to retain possession of the suspected terrorist cosmetics, but she did insist on confiscating my deep-root hair conditioner, especially designed for high-maintenance platinum blonds. I was furious, but I reluctantly relinquished custody. However, if it had been my Pureology, I would have become gladiatorial! Security be danged! We’re talkin’ ultimate catfight!

In spite of “incidents past,” we are so excited for this time-out to be together, and to squeal because of the trajectory and plunge of the rides at Disneyland. We expect it will be funner than some of the rides we’ve been on of late. Because of the generous invitation of some dear friends, we will lie on a private beach and watch the waves roll in, and spend hours removing sand from the facial orifices of the Ashton Dozen. This is all very good. Can’t wait!

Thank you for your love and prayers on our behalf. We’ll be blogging from the land of the round-eared rodents.

We love you,

The Clot

Sunday, May 18, 2008





Good Morning, Fellow Clotters,

Well, this is truly a “red balloon” day.

Ding! Dong!

The hose is gone!

Let the joyous news be spread…

The funny old nose hose at last is shed!

For several days, now, we have been experiencing “nose-hose extraction anxiety.” So many questions have been swirling in our heads,…and they mostly center on me, which is most appropriate:

Will I still think consider him a “hottie” without the tube serpentining through his beard, around his ear, and down his nostrils? This can be very alluring, you know. It’s the “new” old adage that if you can’t pump iron, stuff nostrils! Hey, don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!

Will I feel pressure to perform in the kitchen, now that meals no longer consist of the contents in a pop-top can of formula?

Will I actually be expected to fire up the new oven in order to impress perfect strangers with spots that indicate the charred remains of a roast, potato or cookies?

Will I be able to find the man in this house without the “pushee thingee navigational system?” The old “big wheels on cement” locational device is better than any GPS.

And can I adjust to the “sounds of silence?” No more nocturnal whirring and hourly flushing of the line. Without the “security whiteout background noise,” will we be able to get any sleep at all?

Also, when the device is removed, just what will it haul up from those unplumbed depths? Lentils? An anchor? Josh’s lost magnets? Pictures of old girlfriends? (Actually, I made him eat them years ago, so I’m pretty sure they’ve already been processed and passed.) Tube removal gives new meaning to the term “out of body experience.”

There are so many things to consider as we transition away from being “umbilically bound.” He’s had drainage bags, tender timers, stents, fufu bags, PICC lines, multiple nose hoses, IV fluids, oxygen, infusions, defusions, delusions, expulsions, so many bodily intrusions it is borderline felonious assault…and flatulence!

And now he stands alone. His pushee thingee is propped in the corner, looking somewhat forlorn in its new solitude. These two have traveled in tandem so long, I almost think of them as a single entity. So…can I transition? YES! YES! YES!


Wednesday, we trekked to the Huntsman, hoping that Dennis’ latest numbers would permit him to receive a full infusion of the chemo. And so many of his digits were quite impressive. His weight is an incredible 125! I understand that qualifies him as a “welter-weight,” and he can now pick fights with anyone who weighs 124 or less. (I personally have discouraged him from pursuing the urge to engage in extreme cage-fighting with this new-found prowess…because I’m the only one who qualifies weight-wise…and he’s goin’ down if he even thinks about it!) He is currently taking it under advisement. However, his white blood cell count is just slightly low, and his granulocytes are a couple of foot pounds of pressure per second per second sub-par. So Dr. Jones decided to forego infusion at this time. At first, we were a little disappointed. But then we remembered that Dennis is a survivor, not a patient. (Sometimes transitioning is very hard.) So we decided to go shopping instead. We weren’t sure just what to purchase, since we already have toilets and a new stove. So we bought a whole bunch of rice gruel and some bubble gum. I don’t know why, but that seemed reasonable at the time. With a little more practice, I may finally persuade Dennis away from toilets and stoves, and over to see the new Z4. Now who’s delusional?

We just want you all to know how much small gestures of concern, help, guidance and consideration can alter certain situations. And how much we rely on others for an assist. This has been a refining and defining time for us. And we thank all who have rendered assistance during our confrontation with scary things. We share the joy of our latest news with all of you, Dear Ones.


The Clot

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Greetings, Dear Ones,

Wednesday was a rather long day at the Huntsman. Dennis had his weekly labs drawn to determine if and how much chemo he could receive. For some reason, there was a little trouble locating a cooperative vessel (a vein in vain, so to speak), and there were several “dummy pokes” that looked promising but yielded nothing. Dennis never winced, but I was just short of moistening my tutu. However, when things looked bleakest, the nurse hit the mother lode, and was able to harvest multiple vials, which provided a lot of “Dennis information.” I won’t list every result, but the numbers were good enough to qualify him for a full bag of gemcitobene. This was very good. His blood pressure was a little low, although I think that’s par for Dennis. Apparently when they suck out the blood, they suck down the pressure simultaneously. But we have discovered that looking at recent bank statements significantly increases the level of his blood pressure, (not to mention pulse, oxygen, and white blood cell count), so I always carry an extra copy of our finances in case of emergency.

There were a couple of numbers that are particularly exciting: Dennis’ weight is 125, which prompted us to go right out and buy some larger pants to compensate for the increased body mass. And, his tumor markers are 39, which is within the range of normal. This is all very good.

We also met with Dr. Jones for an evaluation and board meeting/planning session. She had done some research on the latest studies concerning the efficacy of continued chemo, and it was decided that three more months of therapy would be a good thing. Dennis and I concur with this plan, so we racked it. Dr. Jones said we could read her copy of the latest findings of these studies, and I thought it would be a good idea if I read it over. But then she thought better of it, saying that it probably contained more information than I actually needed to know…numbers, statistics, stuff. Hmmmm. Actually, there was a certain perverted logic to Dr. Jones’ reasoning that didn’t escape my notice. I think they call it “debilitating intelligence,” and I’m not sure the perilous pursuit of knowledge is always a good thing. One can obtain so much “smarts,” that there is a point of diminishing returns. It’s the “irksome competence” syndrome (from the Latin term “smartus horribilus”) and can result in mental spasms, decreased sphincter control and loss of friends. Besides, I read an article in the paper (so you know it must be true) just the other day that cited a fruit fly experiment showing smarter is not always better. Quote: “Scientists found that flies developed to learn faster fared worse than dumber counterparts.” “If it’s so great to be smart,” Kawecki asks, “why have most animals remained dumb?” I ask myself that question all the time. And I’m not really sure that an assumption of competence is efficacious. Stupid has its privileges. Think about it. Smart has no refuge. You’re stuck with cold, hard merciless information. There is no retreat, no sanctuary. You are a candidate for information burnout. Not so for the morbidly vacuous. When you experience the misty-eyed nostalgia for the good old days of being among the criminally deluded, you can always insert your head in the sand, where it is cool and dark and quiet…and the only drawback is granules in your ears. It is wise to play to our strengths, and to keep a tight control on “knowledge glut.” There is wisdom in the technique of the “under-think.” I have been wildly successful in my efforts. In fact, last week I purchased a pair of new pink sunglasses, and everything looks sunny and rosey. Dr. Jones ran interference. Dr. Jones is very wise.

And finally, Dennis got his final nose-hose replacement. The technicians have it down to a science. They were able to switch the old one out and the new one in with efficiency that would evoke envy and respect in the Indy 5oo! When this tube shuts down, we will have it removed…and bronzed…as a trophy of his remarkable perseverance. We will jump-start his gut, and from now on, all nutrition will gain entry orally. He is working diligently on the second “hunka,” and I suspect we will soon be shopping for larger pants.

He is really morphing into a veritable “hottie!”

On the way home from a morning walk recently, I was struck by the sight of our neighbor’s tree. Every autumn, Joe (“The Chainsaw”) Checchio whacks this tree back so severely that it is borderline arbor atrocity, and the neighborhood takes bets on whether it will survive the recent surgery. And every year, without fail, it is restored to its full beauty. So I have been watching for signs of life on my daily outings. And today, sure enough, against seeming evidence to the contrary, there is growth returning, and the tree will not only revive, but be more beautiful than ever. It is an inspiring vision of hope. Sometimes things that are reduced to the essentials, rebuild to greater strength. This is a good thing. Joe is also very wise.

How grateful we are for the return of Spring, and for the hope you have all so generously provided with your love and prayers. Our lives have been so blessed.

Happy Mother's Day, and our love to all,

The Clot

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Hello Dear Ones,

Today is the Friday we have off from chemo-infusion, and we are finding we must make some adjustments from the routine. Because there will be no lab results, I find I am going through “numbers withdrawal.” It is always a challenge to interpret what the alphabetical letters stand for, and then to understand just what all the fractured figures and decimal points signify. As you can probably tell from prior blogs, I have never felt compelled to cease and desist polluting cyberspace with a glut of misinformation simply because I don’t know what I’m talking about. In fact, as this presidential campaign sludges on, I think this renders me the most qualified candidate! I may be unclear on all the chemistry, but when the doctors smile, I have sense enough to put on my Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit and launch the fireworks. Although, I really do wish I had greater mathematical acuity. Being married to someone with logical brain function makes it rather difficult to explain an over-drawn bank account. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage during our fiscal budget discussions. However, with only two firing neurons to my name, it is easy for “brain whelm” to occur. But ignorance has its privileges. I simply channel my inner impairment, render my own interpretation of the evidence, and bewilder the mentally elite. This can be very satisfying.

There is a volunteer at the Infusion Center that we are particularly fond of, and we always miss his engaging personality when we don’t get to see him. I look forward to our weekly infusion of his enthusiasm. He is tall (at least he seems tall because we view him from a sitting position). He has an easy affability, and a wonderfully energetic voice that is delightful, uplifting, and comforting. I thought at first that he was Irish, because he always greets us with a very convincing brogue. There is a little of the blarney in that man, and we love it. He inquires how we are, and asks what we would like to drink, as if he has just been waiting for us. He then serves our beverage of choice as if it were the finest vintage… V8. But at that point, he changes into his Southern drawl, and I find I am inclined to cinch in my corset until my waist measures 18 inches, attend the barbeque at Twelve Oaks, and have outfits made from the window draperies of Tara. By then, he has morphed into an authentic Italian accent, and in spite of the weather forecast, he has us all believing the day is “bella!” He can revise the essence of every current circumstance. I will get a picture of him next week so you can see the face of a man who can alter the composition of dismal to delightful with his attitude.

We are also marking anniversaries. In three short weeks, we will be in Disneyland. And not only are we going to ride every whirling, rotating, plunging, barf-inducing ride in the park, but we are planning to do it without Dennis’ nose hose. This will make tossing our cookies a little more puke-friendly. It will be a bit of an adjustment seeing his face without the tracks of the tubing in his beard, but we will adjust. His weight is increasing with a steady upward mobility, and soon he will be greater than the sum of his parts. In addition, it is the 12-week anniversary of the Whipple. Dennis still has the tracks of the incision that indicate what took place at that site. But we only look at it when our glasses are fogged, and even then, not closely. What is not observed, does not upset. This talent for denial serves me well. Actually, that is not denial in its purest form… it is just functional distraction, which has its place in most any circumstance.

We have learned so much since October. Why, just this morning I learned that if you apply Mennen Speedstick Deodorant directly after shaving your armpits, it really, really hurts!

I have become bilingual with all the medical terminology that has engorged my vocabulary. (Trilingual if you count harsh language).

I have learned that love not only empowers, but edifies, and that love that goes unexpressed is impotent. It is truly a transforming phenomenon.

I have learned that, like Erin says, peace is often most conspicuously apparent in times of adversity. It’s kind of like the visual oxymoron of hail on daffodils on the first day of May.

I have learned that little boys and toilet lids have an adversarial relationship. (Google

And I have learned that in spite of everything, I am still dreading the thought of having a cavity filled that is so cavernous, the dentist’s voice actually echoed his astonishment. (Well, I guess we all have to achieve notoriety somehow!)

But what we have come to appreciate most is that love is essential to life, whatever the circumstances… and this is what we have learned from you. It is enabling and ennobling. And we will ever be grateful for this.

Our love to you,

The Clot