Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Red Hands, Red Feet, Warm Heart

For greater clarification of this blog entry, we recommend clicking onto Brodi’s blog link of March 28th

We got back from Disneyland last week, and we have needed to make some adjustments.  We lost an hour when we moved our clocks forward to accommodate daylight savings time.  It’s getting late early these days.  Morning always arrives sooner to Utah than it does to California.  My body is still running on Disney Standard Time, and showing up late to Utah deadlines seems to offend punctual attendees who do not consider obscene mouse ears on the head a legitimate excuse for tardiness.

Also, since our return, there is a shocking lack of amusement park rides to occupy our time.  No, the roller coaster doesn’t count.  And there are no diminutive Disney characters to cushion every trauma and “cute” us into projectile puking.  Unless, of course, you count our six rather adorable (not to mention gifted) little Yetis that are permanent members of the Ashton tribe. We wouldn’t trade them for all the French fries at the Goofy pavilion. 

Dennis managed the rigorous park-hopping quite admirably, assisted by a robust determination, caffeine, and a speedy wheelchair loaded with giddy grandkids.  

The “wheelchair set” receive privileged ride passes that allowed us to opt out of  waiting in long lines, which was quite an advantage considering how impatient five- and eight-year-olds can be.  To access compromising photos, click on to Brodi’s link.  She posted pictures that I’m genetically impaired to include.  They’re pretty impressive.

After settling back into our routine, we did our regular Huntsman run, in hopes of getting the weekly infusion of gemcitabene.  Since BYU’s amazing March Madness run, Dennis now refers to the potent chemo as “Jimmer-citabene.” Roger that!

Now, here’s the good news.  All his numbers were up – even his weight!  Oh yeah!  In fact, he actually had a “muffin top.”  That’s a noun that refers to the overhang around the mid-section created by pants that are a little too tight around the waist.  Actually, the last time Dennis managed a muffin top, he did it with a corset and pocket lint.  We were so proud, we paraded him around the infusion room like some kind of exhibitionist with a fetish for corpulence to the oohs and aahs of our fellow infusees.  A muffin top is the ultimate fashion accessory.  I’ve worn one for years - without the corset and lint. 

Unfortunately, over the last few days, the muffin top has disappeared, and he has resumed the contour of an unleavened breadstick. We thought we understood the concept of weight management.  Calories in and calories out, these are the basic components.  We’ve definitely mastered the concept of long-term weight-loss success. But hey, that’s OK.  We like bread sticks.  Pretzels are us. They’re unencumbered by contour.  Besides, we know that greatest change comes at the edges and works its way in to the center.  Dennis’ hands and feet are red, tender and swollen. This condition adds to his over-all illusion of bulk.  We know the chemo is a weapon of mass destruction, and there is obviously massive destruction going on with the cancer.  We can deal with side effects.  This is so good.

So many expressions of love, support and optimism have been sent, which warms our hearts and fuels our determination.  We are immensely grateful.  Some of our most inspirational expressions have come from our daughters.  Again, I defer to Brodi’s blog link.  It will be fairly obvious why she is such a compelling author, and an invaluable warrior in the battle we are waging.  We could not read her entry unmoved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We're Baaaaaack!

We just returned from Palm Springs, where we watched a polyglot of tennis and indulged our obsession for Rafa Nadal.  (Well, it was mostly Brodi’)  It was unanimously decided that we would depart the land of bloodsuckers, phlebotomists, latex gloves, infusions, labs, white coats and emesis basins for one brief shining moment, and see if we could put ourselves where the sun DOES shine.  (We’ve been looking in all the wrong places.)

Dennis bundled up like a gauzy refugee from Egypt, and we watched our daughter watch Rafa nimbly dismantle each opponent in a line of casualties that will keep him permanently cemented in the #1 position for quite some time.  We were sure Rafa would be able to locate her among the throng of 65,000 avid, (not to mention hormonal), mostly female attendees. But just to make sure she was distinguished from the others, Brodi brought her white, broad-brimmed hat.  Then, at just the right moment, she planned to stand up in a halo of bright light in a dark sea, (ala “The Natural) emitting a vapor trail of attraction that would direct Rafa’s undivided attention directly to her. 

Dennis and I rogered that as a plan of great potential.  We couldn’t wait to see how this would play out. But as with the best-laid plans of mice and men, this one, too, went awry.  Brodi forgot her white hat.  Luckily, Dennis had prepared for every circumstance.  As if prompted by the Fickle Finger of Fate, he had packed an extra hat.  Brodi donned the hat and then rose to her full height as radiant as a solar disc, at a moment so perfect, it couldn’t have been scripted better by Hollywood. 

Unfortunately, Dennis’s substitute hat was gray, green and brown.  Total camouflage!  No one noticed her…especially not Nadal.  He was completely myopic.  His focus never wavered from the ball. Shocked, she looked as if she could launch into a polyglot of expletives.  As Mother Superior Emeritus, I rose to the occasion – literally.  I erected myself, by proxy, to my full vertical perpendicularity, omnicompetent, pink and iridescent.  (My hat and my glasses were both rose-colored). I was magisterial, lustrous and uber-adorable.  And then we waited for Rafa to drop his racket and, as if wired by electrodes, climb over the moshpit to my daughter.

Apparently, the rest of the audience hadn’t seen “The Natural.”  The only reaction came from those directly behind us requesting that the scrawny blond woman in the pink hat and rose-colored glasses please sit down because I was blocking the view.  It seemed to be a mandate, which, if unheeded, could have led to an ugly incident of civil disturbance. 

So I resumed my seat and finished watching the rest of the match, unhindered by the number one tennis player in the world leaping into our laps.  I suggested that next year we bring extra white hats, an arc light, and some pre-recorded background music for mood.  One really must plan for these boundless opportunities for misconduct.  I only hope that Rafa can hang on to his number one ranking for one more year.

Just before we were to board our plane for Palm Springs, we received the news that Dennis’ latest tumor markers had dropped 20 points and registered normal.  The number glowed as if seared by a lightning bolt on a sea of white hats. We were joyous, and hardly needed a plane to get to California.  It more than compensated for the disappointment of the camouflage fiasco.    


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No Ifs, Ands or Butts

Brief up-date:  Dennis is doing remarkable well, all things considered.  He is enduring infusions of toxic spirits, venomous agents designed to annihilate unholy cancer cells while causing one to question the order of the universe.  He also pops daily oral xeloda pills the size of Charlie Sheen’s delusions…both equally hard to swallow!  And finally, he tolerates my constant presence inquiring how where he is on a scale of 1-10.  Geez, the man should be canonized!  Hercules himself would have failed that task.

We have a paper with a series of 24 faces whose expressions gauge how he’s feeling at the moment.  I’m always trying to get him to point to the face with the most accurate reflection.  Recently, he pointed to a face that looked shy and self-conscious.  Underneath, it was labeled “Love-struck.”  WINNING!

We continue our battle.  Whatever it takes!  There are no “if’s” in our household.  However, there is a shocking lack of butts.  Butt flab was the first casualty.  So far, my efforts to remedy that situation with saturation bombing of the “no butt zone” with concentrated calories have been wildly successful…for one of us.  Pity.  But our confidence and optimism are robust.

With Dennis’ port, he now has greater chest dimensions than I do.  It doesn’t take much these days.  I try not to covet – bulk is bulk.  We’re all coping as best we can.

Erin and Brodi provide comic relief with everything from self-deprecating monologues to unfiltered harsh language.  Great strategy.  These are brazen acts of defiance.  It all serves to keep us focused on our goals.  They continually inspire me with the same stubbornness and determination of their father.

I’ve heard it said how much more attention people pay to their fears than to their joys.  We pledge not to be convicted of this crime.

No if’s, ands or butts.  We are going to do this.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Houston, We Have a Problem

We just got back from a trip to Houston, where the M D Anderson medical facility is located.  M D Anderson is not just a hospital.  It’s a metropolis unto itself.  It is immense.  It’s like a whole society dedicated to cancer patient care.  
Because of compassionate intervention on the part of some friends with more influence than Guido the Thumb Breaker, we were able meet with Dr. Bob Wolff, one of the premier pancreatic cancer doctors in the world.  We liked him immediately.  He is not only knowledgeable, but intuitive.  In the course of our extensive interview, he said he had plan A, B, C, D, and E.  He said that the way to fight this condition was with blunt force, and from Dennis’ history, Dr. Wolff recognized we were up to the task.  In fact, he tipped his hat to Dennis for his fortitude and stamina.  He said that reading over the record of what Dennis has endured curled his hair, which was sort of funny because he bears a strong resemblance to Kojak.  In short, Dr. Wolff made us stop our car, put it in reverse, and head in the opposite direction.  It was a game-changer, and has fortified us in our quest to resume fighting this scourge.  
For now, we will continue on the current protocol of gemcitabene and capecitabene.  It is a potent cocktail, but tolerable.  In fact, Dennis is doing quite well.  There has been minimal hair loss.  However, that may change.  It’s OK.  I will simply resume my role as the “hair whisperer.”  Dennis still has an abundance of chest growth, and we may have to resort to the old thoracic comb-over.  We will just brush it all upward toward the scalp from the right ear, arcing over the cranium, by-passing the medulla oblongata and eventually down to the left ear.  That, along with the surgical mask he wears to fend off germs and discourage panhandlers, he is ready for the witness protection program.  I guess that’s my main assignment as his official “chemo-sabi.”
We flew to Houston on a wing and a prayer.  It turned out to be many prayers.  It was like a pilgrimage to the Mecca of cancer care, which is not a bad comparison since we are waging jihad on this plague. M D Anderson and Huntsman Cancer Institute are also a potent team. Our hearts are full as we feel the tender concern, prayers, love and positive thoughts that are bearing us up in this crusade. You have covered our backs.  Because of that, we will keep our heads in the game and fight on.