Last year, after being forced to cancel a trip to Hawaii, I booked a night’s make-up romantic getaway at Hacienda Del Sol, a delightful resort nestled up against the Catalina foothills in Tucson. This pre-paid, non-refundable “discounted special rate” was subsequently rebooked multiple times, each time cancer had other plans for me.
That was until Oct. 11, when we finally got to use our reservation and celebrate my 70th birthday. Life can change very quickly when you have incurable cancer. In my case, Stage IV colon cancer. The average life span at diagnosis was 22 months in March 2015. I have been playing with the house’s money for past nine months! I have been lucky so far, but we all know the house wins in the end.
About 12 hours after birthday festivities ended, extreme fatigue, weakness and fever set in and poof, it was back to bed for Jimmy. Without the hospice service I signed up for in August, even though I did not really need it at the time, it would have been an emergency room day followed by who knows what tests, and likely a war with the hospital over being admitted.
Instead, a single phone call to my hospice service put in motion a series of events that saved the day. Rather than go to the emergency department or get an ambulance, I called the hospice 24-hour staffed phone number. The nurse arrived later that morning. She quickly determined I had the beginning of pneumonia. After consultation with the doctor on duty, she ordered oxygen and antibiotics for same day delivery, and arranged for more frequent nurse visits and an aide to assist me. I am grateful for early hospice. Without these services I have no doubt that I would have been hospitalized.
In the wee hours of Saturday night, I had new pain, high anxiety and a very low oxygen level. At 2:30 a.m., not wanting to wake my wife, I called hospice. After a discussion with the nurse about what was likely happening inside my body, she offered to come out to my home. We scheduled an appointment and I saw her later that morning. From the very beginning of my cancer roller coaster ride, my wife, Lee, and I have weighed every medical decision carefully, knowing the toll that cancer treatment takes. I’m not ready to kick the bucket, that’s for sure, but I’ve never pursued treatment at the expense of living life to its fullest.
When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, my goal at diagnosis was to survive as long as possible, and live as well as possible. I decided early on that sharing my philosophy and experiences with others through writing a book would help people struggling with serious illness. Hundreds of people have purchased this book on Amazon as an e-book, talking book, or as a paperback. Profits from the sale of books go to cancer research. The book was selected for release by Arizona Talking Books, which means the book is available at no charge to the sight-impaired.
Writing the book led to a blog that is read worldwide, a newspaper article series, public speaking presentations and over 60 commissions for joyful paintings of critters.
Although there are some treatment options on the table, there are none that make sense for me right now, but that could always change. My plan is to ride the hospice wave for as long as possible, continuing to do what I can to help others through my writing and talks. I have so much more that I want to do and will continue to fight to keep the work moving forward. I’m not worried about me so much. I think more about Lee, and those I love, but I’m really focused on doing good work.
The short-term plan is to get lots of rest, let the antibiotics and breathing treatments do their job, and recover from this pneumonia. I think recovery will also require Cherry Garcia ice cream, wine maiden service from Lee, and the comforts of home. All of this is possible, thanks to hospice.
Jim Asbell’s book, “Live Well With Terminal Illness and Other Crappy Diseases,” may be purchased at amazon.com in paperback or e-book format. All profits go to the American Cancer Society. Contact Jim at: AsbellJim@gmail.com if you have any questions or if you would like to arrange for Jim to speak to your group.