By Colleen Lawton, MD, FASTRO, and
H. Joseph Barthold, MD, FASTRO
The following interview of Sucha Asbell, MD, FASTRO, was conducted on April 23, 2021, by Colleen Lawton, MD, FASTRO, and H. Joseph Barthold, MD, FASTRO.
Colleen Lawton: So, Sucha, let’s just start with the easy, the softballs at the beginning. Most of the questions are pretty softballs. But anyway, so where were you born and where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about the early years.
Sucha Asbell: Okay. I was born in Philadelphia in 1942 at Hahnemann Hospital, where I worked many years later, but it is now closed. I grew up in Philadelphia. I wanted to be a doctor, but my father said no. So I decided to be a ballerina, which didn’t work out either. I did high school locally. I took the advanced class because I graduated in February. It wasn’t good for college because you were in the middle of the year when you started and you didn’t get the same orientation. So I skipped my last six months of high school and went right to college. I did college in three years because it was very expensive. I was at the University of Pennsylvania and the credits there were double what it cost at Temple University, also in Philadelphia. So I took a lot of summer courses at Temple and was able to decrease the amount of money my parents had to pay. My brother was then in medical school, so there was a double problem. My mother didn’t work like my father. My father was a doctor, but he didn’t make that much money. He wasn’t a specialist. He was just a family doctor. So that takes care of high school and college. The University of Pennsylvania, of course, is in Philadelphia. I commuted by subway for the first couple years. My parents finally bought me a used car, so in the last year I didn’t have to carry the textbooks. In those days we didn’t have computers. So the textbook for biology and the textbook for chemistry, et cetera, were like phonebooks. It was really a chugalug to carry them to and from school, so I was glad to have a car.
Colleen Lawton: Yes. So you chose medicine ultimately because the ballerina thing didn’t work out?
Sucha Asbell: No, no, no. I really wanted to be a doctor, but my father said that it would be very hard to raise a family. It wasn’t a good idea and it would be like opening Pandora’s box. I’d never be able to feel comfortable with all the things that could go wrong and whatever. But then, years later, he changed his mind. Anyway, it didn’t matter whether he changed his mind or not. I somehow rather decided to try to go that direction. I think I wanted to marry a doctor. But if I couldn’t, I’d be one. And so I became one. Maybe that’s it. I’m not really sure anymore. I got into Woman’s Medical College I think by luck. I just was very lucky. Because I finished school in three years, I wasn’t in the right cycle to apply at a medical school and I would have been having to wait a year. I stopped by Woman’s Medical College (MCP) to get an application on my way to get my passport to go to Europe. I was going to try to dance in a dance troupe in Europe. When I got to MCP, they said "would you like to take a tour?" So I took a tour. When I got to the second floor, there was a lady there that I knew. It made me really nervous because I had been in a beauty contest the year before and she was the judge. I told her I wanted to be a dancing doctor and she told me I was full of excretions. So then I saw her there and I was alarmed. She said, “You’re really going to go to medical school? Come with me.” She took me down to the dean and she said I want this lady admitted. That was in June or May of the year I started medical school. The dean said your grades are good enough and we’re on our second list. We’re not on the people that are on our first list and your grades are better than those. So if you take some kind of chemistry course, we’ll admit you in September if you get a B or better. I was lucky. I got a B or better and went to medical school in September, so I didn’t lose the year. I had a good experience there. That school doesn’t exist either anymore. That became Hahnemann and then became Drexel. So now it’s Drexel. Anyway, so I got my MD in 1966. While I was in medical school, my brother, who was a doctor, went into radiation oncology. He said it was a good field for a woman because there were not too many emergencies so you could have a better home life. He introduced me to Luther Brady who got him interested in radiation oncology. So when I finished my residency at Jefferson - where I had taken my internship, Simon Kramer was my chief - I then went to work for Hahnemann and worked for Luther for several years.
Joseph Barthold: What years with Hahnemann were you there?
Sucha Asbell: What years? ’71 through '76.
Joseph Barthold: The reason I volunteered to interview you, Sucha, is because I met you when I was a medical student at Hahnemann and did a rotation in the department with Luther. Then I went on to join the residency there in '84, after a couple of years in the Navy. But I know I met you as a medical student. Of course I’ve known you for years since because you were very involved in RTOG and other things that I’ve been involved in. But I was trying to remember the connection to Luther. I’m glad you clarified that because I wasn't sure.
Sucha Asbell: Well, because he got my brother in the field, I indirectly got interested in radiation oncology. When I was finishing my residency, I thought, oh my goodness, I’m never going to get a job in Philadelphia. Luther said he’d take me on. So that was how my first job was with him. I worked for him for about almost five years. The reason I left, and I would have never left, was there was another doctor named Dick Torpie who’s now not alive. I don’t know if you met him. When he was a resident, he trained the same time I did. He got me a $10,000 raise working for Luther. Luther didn’t give it to me because my husband made a living and I didn’t need the money. I didn’t like that. Then I wrote a paper and he took all the information and put his name on it and didn’t give me any credit except as co-author but he mentioned my name in it. I wasn’t a co-author. Since I did all the work, I was really upset.
Colleen Lawton: This was Luther?
Sucha Asbell: This was Luther, yeah. I couldn’t get pregnant while in his department. That would have meant I would have to leave. Even though there was another woman in the department, she left the department and went back to Thailand. I was then the only woman there. I really was hurt by his lack of equality for women. He never realized it. I tried to tell him once or twice, but he never accepted it. Anyway, there was a job at Einstein in Philadelphia. My father was on the staff at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. So I was going back to where I had my stitches in my chin in the emergency room and where I could have walked to that hospital from my house. So I went there, and I was there for the next 30 years. So that was how I left Luther.
Joseph Barthold: We both have lots of Philadelphia memories. And of course, I knew Dick Torpie quite well. I also have some bad stories, but I will spare you those. I know that I met you as a medical student and I know you did some great things with training residents at RTOG, et cetera, when you were up at Einstein. So you're much appreciated.
Sucha Asbell: I really loved medical students. I was very heartbroken. I had only a few at Einstein, but not many. One of them was Rachelle Lanciano who runs the department outside of Philadelphia, in a nearby suburb. She always recounts that she remembers having rotated through the American Cancer Society program. Prospective doctors who sponsored visiting students. They could spend four or six weeks following you around. She said she went into radiation therapy because of me, and that was nice. I didn’t have much experience in teaching afterward. I mean Einstein didn’t have many teaching opportunities and it was really hard to do academic work there. Then, when I did do the academic work, it was hard to get it published. I mean I really struggled. When they heard Albert Einstein Medical Center of Philadelphia, a private hospital, not “university of,” they just didn’t take my papers. So I just struggled on and on and on. I finally got a couple published, but there were some doctors who blocked me. There were some pretty well-known radiation oncologists who put staples in my papers for stupid reasons.
Colleen Lawton: Why do you think that was, if you had to guess?
Sucha Asbell: That was an anti-female situation I’m pretty sure. One of them was in the same specialty, was doing the same area that I was in, and wanted to get a paper with similar data ahead of me into the journal. What happened was I had found out that prostate patients were getting anemic when you gave them both Zoladex and Casodex. If you have Zoladex and Casodex at the same time, you got almost complete blockage of testosterone. It took me a while to figure out what it was, but it was turning off the red blood cells from being stimulated without the testosterone. So people can be pretty anemic. I didn’t realize there was a difference between Afro-Americans and whites in terms of normal because when I went to medical school there was only one normal. But there is a difference. The average American male that’s white would be going from 10 to 14 hemoglobin, but the average black male would only go to 12. So when they stopped having stimulation after several months of both of those agents, they became anemic. They got severely anemic if they were Afro-Americans. Their hemoglobin was around 8. I got nervous that they were bleeding in some place. So I called the company that made the different medications, and I called the NIH, and I called everybody. Nobody could give me an explanation why I was getting all these anemic patients. So then I called a few other hospitals that were doing the same protocol. It was a research protocol then to see whether -- it was the beginning of using the anti-hormone. Yeah, anti-androgen. So I got these four hospitals that were not too far away from me, on the East Coast, to give me all their black and white patients. I checked all their hemoglobin and I could see that they were seeing the same thing I was seeing. Since I had done bone marrow biopsies and colonoscopies looking for bleeding sources, I knew that it wasn’t that. I thought maybe there was some enzyme missing in the Afro-Americans. But if they’re finding out about the hemoglobin being different, I suddenly realized that if you stopped the Casodex, the Zoladex wasn’t 100 percent, and the hemoglobin came back up again. So I tried to publish it and I got blocked. It wasn’t for content. They said because I didn’t get permission from RTOG. Well, I didn’t need permission from RTOG. These were from the other hospitals and there wasn’t a RTOG protocol asking for those blood counts or checking them. They just put me through a lot of red tape. I eventually got Jim Cox to take care of it, to get off that problem. But I could only get it published in a journal called Prostate, which wasn’t really what I wanted to do but at least I did get it out there. But it was a struggle. I had a lot of other struggles like that trying to do stuff from Einstein. Eventually, you know, you get clobbered enough and you start giving up.
Colleen Lawton: Do you think it was more an issue of them, of the powers that be, thinking that you weren’t at a reputable place as opposed to being a woman or somewhat both?
Sucha Asbell: No. I think it was more competition. I think that they could publish something very quickly with the numbers of patients they had available and beat me out. Since I wasn’t into that hierarchy of worrying about whether I published or perished and since I didn’t have a name for myself, it was different. So I think part of it was that. I mean I had other incidents. Like I was supposed to be the chairman of Intraoperative Radiation Therapy because we got an intraoperative suite. I got into difficulty continuing with that because of power struggles. I mean their committee didn’t ever work out to be anything better, but it was a struggle. So there were lots of struggles. As a female, I will tell you that I was one of the few at the beginning. There were five known female radiation oncologists when I started my residency other than the people in my department which was run by Simon Kramer. It was low numbers at the beginning. But as women became more in medicine, so the numbers grew in radiation oncology. So it became much more filled with women. There were more women approaching the field, but I could remember on my hand the number of people. I knew all of them. They were considered the greats. I mean Vera Peters and two of the others that were at M.D. Anderson. Sarah Donaldson’s about the same generation I am. But West Coast people are a lot more liberal than East Coast people. They were more accepting of variation. In fact, if you want to hear a funny story, when I was finishing my internship, they had the closing exercise at the Union League which at the time did not permit women in except if you came in the backdoor. So I was the only female in 27 interns. I came in the backdoor and they all came in the front door. And I didn’t realize it, but at the time they were giving out diplomas. I never knew it because I didn’t come in that door. Last year I joined Jefferson's staff, which was where I took my residency, and they said I had to produce my papers from my internship. And I said, "what papers for the internship?" "Oh, you have a diploma." I said, "No, I don’t." So they said, "Well, you have to get one." So I called and I set it up to get the diploma. Weeks and weeks went by. I called to see why was there such a delay, and she said because your original diploma is still here, would you like to have it? So here it was 50 years later, I mean literally 50 years later that I got my diploma from Jefferson for my internship. I didn’t even know that one existed. So that’s some of the stories.
Joseph Barthold: That’s a classic Union League story.
Colleen Lawton: Yeah. That was funny but sad, yeah.
Sucha Asbell: So I stayed at Einstein for 30 years. When I got to be 65, they were pushing me out the door. I didn’t want to sue, so I just left. I went into Locum Tenens for a while and wound up working at Cooper. They were short of doctors, so they asked if I’d stay on. That was 11 years. So I went from age 65 to 75 at Cooper.
Colleen Lawton: And it sounds like you work part-time with the same department now?
Sucha Asbell: I worked full time until the last two or three years and I worked part-time running the CyberKnife. I only worked three days a week. Then I went on Locum Tenens. Jefferson said they needed somebody for vacation schedule, so I joined Jefferson. I covered different Jefferson sites as they needed me. I’m still doing that until the end of this year.
Colleen Lawton: Sucha, I can’t believe you are still working. It’s crazy.
Sucha Asbell: Well, it’s pretty boring to stay home. Okay? It’s really boring.
Colleen Lawton: Okay. But tell me about your home life. So do you have children?
Sucha Asbell: I have two children. They are 50 and 53. One is in Florida and one lives in New York.
Colleen Lawton: In the course of all this, when did you have kids?
Sucha Asbell: Well, I was pregnant during my internship. So my first child was born just in my first year of residency, as we transferred into that. My second one was born in my last year of residency, which was really a fellowship. So they are my children. When I worked at Hahnemann, I already had the children. Luther would not permit me to be pregnant in his department. He made that clear. So I decided not to have a third child. That was it.
Joseph Barthold: How was Simon Kramer about those issues? How was Simon Kramer about you being pregnant?
Sucha Asbell: Simon Kramer was the chairman. He was very liberal. Julie Simmons took her residency. And there was another girl, Connie Detmer. Julie Simmons went on eventually to become kind of a big shot in Washington for a while. But she had four kids, so I think she finally backed down. And with Connie, I don’t know what happened to her. A lot of the people that I worked with, several of them died. Martha Southard died right after I left. She was one of my teachers. There was a resident, Joseph Stella, who was much, much, much older who left general practice and went into radiation therapy. He died shortly in a few years later also. So there was a lot of loss of people in the program that we were finishing. Simon Kramer died several years later. Of course, Carl Mansfield was very involved also in my education, and he died a few years ago.
Colleen Lawton: How did you manage the home? I’m assuming your husband worked as well.
Sucha Asbell: Yes. My husband’s a lawyer. He also worked in real estate. So he didn’t do any childcare at all. I had a live-in housekeeper and she would take care of them during the day when they weren't in school. I did the rest at night. And she just lived in. I did that for most of the years until they were old enough to not have somebody sleep in. That was convenient. It worked out well. As I said, my husband didn’t do any childcare. I think he gave two bottles in all his life and never changed the diaper. It would make him sick. He couldn’t handle that stuff. He wouldn’t be bothered with that. So I did most of the child-rearing. It was hard because you came home at night and you had to study for your boards when I was a resident. It took a lot of time. I was very lucky. Suntha, the chief physicist at the time at Jefferson, had a son, Mohan. So Mohan needed injections for asthma and allergies. I had missed a couple of weeks of all the programs for physics because of the pregnancy and deliveries, so we made a deal. I’d give his son his allergy shots if Suntha gave me a course catch up. So Suntha came to my house with his son for six or eight times and I gave all the shots. And I caught up with all the physics stuff. So that was pregnancy and delivery.
Colleen Lawton: That was good.
Sucha Asbell: Then the rest of it is kind of, you know, it was rough. I mean my husband wasn’t very helpful, so it was much more difficult. My kids say they don’t remember my husband doing much. He didn’t come to a lot of the football games, or the baseball games, or whatever. He more or less let me. It was really hard because, when I worked for Luther, he didn’t approve of you coming in late or going out for an hour or two or something. I really had a lot of trouble doing it, but I did it. It became easier when I was at Einstein. But I never could manipulate the hours how I wanted. I always wanted to share a job with someone. I thought that would make an ideal situation, but it just never worked out.
Colleen Lawton: Yeah. I’m sure that would be ideal.
Sucha Asbell: Yeah. Now it would be good, too, if I could find a job that only wants me three days a week. I don’t really want to work full time anymore. I have a sick husband. My husband carried a six-foot door down the back steps and either he had a stroke and fell down the steps or the door got stuck and he fell down the steps, but one of the two. He had nine intracerebral hemorrhages and was in a coma for several weeks. They didn’t think he was going to live, and then he survived. He had severe expressive aphasia. He’s still alive now. He still has an expressive aphasia, but he can get a sentence out or two being understood if it’s on a topic that you’re talking about. If he brings something up that’s original in his mind, then you don’t know what he’s talking about. So it’s really hard. It's a fulltime job. I can’t even take care of him because he requires a Hoyer lift to get in and out of bed to change his diaper. He can’t stand up. So I had to hire people. I don’t have him at home. I have him in an apartment house where there’s assisted living. I just go see him every day. But it’s pretty depressing. That’s why work is good, because it takes your mind off of your problems.
Colleen Lawton: Yeah. And you said your son, at least I heard, was in New York?
Sucha Asbell: One’s in New York and one’s in Florida.
Colleen Lawton: Okay. What do they do?
Sucha Asbell: One is a lawyer and one is in real estate.
Colleen Lawton: Oh, okay.
Sucha Asbell: The real estate’s in Florida and the lawyer’s in New York.
Colleen Lawton: So did the New York child get home? I’m just thinking about his health.
Sucha Asbell: Yeah. When the COVID situation broke out he was in New York City, in Manhattan. So he went to his mother-in-law’s for a month. Then he came here for a month because it was impossible to be in New York City. He doesn’t come here that often. I would say he comes here once in two months with his kids. He’s got two children. They both have two children.
Colleen Lawton: That’s cool.
Sucha Asbell: It’s hard for them because the kids used to get carsick. So they didn’t come down. Now they’re not getting so carsick, so they come a little more. The one in Florida I haven’t seen for a year and a couple of months because of travel. I didn’t want them to get exposed and I don’t want to get exposed. But I have a cute story. My daughter-in-law called me and said the secretary of the department that I used to be in at Einstein -- before it became a radiation therapy department by itself, it used to be in radiology. That secretary moved to Delray, Florida, which I didn’t know of course and I haven’t spoken with her in 30 years or so. But apparently, she saw the name Asbell in the search for a dentist and she called and asked if we were related. When she said we were related, she got my email and said your daughter-in-law is an excellent dentist, and we were happy that we met her, and how are you and all that stuff. So it was kind of cute after all these years. She’s 88 now. So it was interesting to get in touch.
Colleen Lawton: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. So if we go back about your career. If you have to say, what are the main areas that you are most proud of as far as the research or even just contributions to the field in general? Whether as a leader or as a woman, what would you say?
Sucha Asbell: As a woman, I don’t think very much. As a leader, as I said, I told you I was once the secretary of ASTRO many, many years ago. I thought that was a great honor. I thought I’d get more involved, but I didn’t. I don’t think being a woman was the reason. Although it might have been. There were some men who were really very open-armed about things and some who were very difficult to work with. I think it was a challenge being a woman in the early years. It certainly hadn’t been as much of a challenge in the last 15 or so. I think that being in a non-university hospital made it very difficult to do research. RTOG was the only venue that I could use and I enjoyed doing that. I try to help out with that as much as possible. Eli Glatstein said there are three groups of people. There’s the lower, the middle crust, and the high crust. I’m not a high crust. I’m a middle crust. I didn’t do anything world-shattering. I looked at some things and found some things that I think were helpful, like this anemia business, I think that was helpful. Other people learned from that. I think that I try to take into consideration Afro-Americans and their diseases preferentially because I thought they weren’t always covered. I kept complaining to RTOG that you only have 8 percent blacks in your research. I mean what kind of research is this, et cetera. So I think I was good in that regard. I think I was helpful to the RTOG.
Joseph Barthold: You're downplaying your significance. I think you’re much more than that. No, I’m serious. I was very involved and thought of you for a while. And I’ve been involved in RTOG since. I think the reason RTOG has been successful is because you and a few others who early on made it real good at RTOG. It wasn’t just going to be the academic centers. It was also going to be regular people working in regular hospitals. You and a few other people asserted yourselves enough to let that be successful. I think it's why RTOG has done so well over the last perhaps 30 plus years or 40 years. It was because it wasn't just all the places that had residencies. It was a whole bunch of other hospitals, community hospitals, and non-university hospitals putting lots and lots of people on trials. And you and a few other people insisted on that.
Sucha Asbell: I think that was good. I think that the RTOG was good. But that was Simon Kramer's idea. I mean he was the one who created it.
Joseph Barthold: Yeah, I know. I remember.
Sucha Asbell: Yeah. He started it.
Colleen Lawton: Sucha, I agree with Joe. I think you sell yourself short. I would say from a different perspective I can tell you countless times Debbie Kuban, my dear friend, and I would be just in awe of you. Because we understood even when we went through it that in some places women weren't really welcomed. Here we are in the middle of GU and we're like, well, if Sucha Asbell could do it, we could do it. I think that maybe we didn't say thank you enough. I think you really were an example that was inspiration for another generation of women coming into the field.
Sucha Asbell: Well, if I was, I'm glad. Because I certainly didn't realize it. I mean all I tried to do was be a good doctor to my patients. If being part of this was going to bring better care for my patients, then that was what I was going to do. I really never tried to be the president of anything or the chairman of anything. I mean becoming a chairman at Einstein, where I was for 30 years, was in the last 13 years of the time I was there. It was interesting to take on that responsibility, but I'll tell you I didn't like it very much. I didn't like having to fire people because there is no more money for them or because they did that or the other thing. I didn't like that. It took me away from the patient care a lot. Even though I had a lot of patients, it made it much more difficult. I didn't realize how much stress it put me through. It was very, very stressful. I think if you could be the head of some subdivision of your department and carry on your normal life, it's a lot better than having that responsibility. I think it sounds great, but it really ruins your life. It takes away a great deal. I remember my son did a back dive off the diving board and hit his elbow on the cement and fractured his arm. I remember running out of Einstein to his school to pick him up. I said on the phone, "If he can't get up off the ground, leave him there and call an ambulance. If you can put something under his arm and he can stand up and walk and sit down, I'll be there in 15 minutes." And that's exactly what happened. You know, he was so emotionally upset that he didn't know if he was really that badly hurt. But once they said your mother will come and take you if you can stand up -- they put a support under his arm. I took him back to the hospital and had his arm set. I was happy that I could drive there and be the mother I had to be at the time of this situation rather than having him go to some other hospital with an ambulance by himself. So that was the only good part of being a chairman. I could sneak out if I had to. I didn't do it very often.
Joseph Barthold: I want to expand on what Colleen said. I've been part of the GU committee for the better part of the last 20 years. It's an all-male game with the exception of Debbie Kuban and Colleen. And you were the predecessor for that. If it weren't for RTOG --
Sucha Asbell: It was by accident.
Joseph Barthold: All the women at RTOG in the old days were doing breasts. They weren't doing prostates. They were breasts people. And you changed that.
Sucha Asbell: Well, I was glad I could do something. I mean it really wasn't that big of a deal. But you know I got involved in ACRO a little bit. That was also by chance because one of my colleagues, Dr. Paul DeMare, who was a resident with me, who was very kind to me during our residency. When I was pregnant, I couldn't do some of the simulations because of the exposure to radiation. So he would do all my exposures and I drove him home every day. That was the payoff. We're still friends. He has four children and I have my two and we still keep in touch with each other. He said you have to join ACRO because you have to take the new board exams. He pushed me into doing certain things. So I got involved in ACRO for a while. I did take the first repeat exams even though I didn't have to because I was grandfathered because of his suggestion. As I said, we're still friends. He's one of the few people I'm still friendly with from my residency. There are some people who disseminated too far or were not interested in maintaining relationships.
Colleen Lawton: Yes. So if we try to be reflective at this point about where we think the field is going or thoughts about just directions in particular, areas of the field, maybe GU or other areas, where do you think radiation oncology is headed?
Sucha Asbell: Well, I'm glad I don't think it's going to have its demise. That was one of the things that people told me when I started my training. You know, why are you going into a field that's not going to be in existence when you finish in a few years? I think my CyberKnife experience taught me very quickly that small fields were okay. It was certainly a big difference from going through treating all the lymph nodes, for example, as the mediastinum with a lung cancer, to just treating the area of involvement. That's a big, big, big change. With all the new “toys” that we now have, from MRI and all the new drugs that are antibodies to tumor markers or whatever you want to call them, the “ABS” and the “IBS,” I think the combination of them working together will give us a new spectrum of discoveries. I know that ASTRO just put out the high-tech publication giving you all the small field tolerance of normal structures that they've accrued in more recent years. It used to be Enami's work. Enami would say, if you treat for a certain amount of time and a certain amount of this, you got a certain reaction and this is your safety valve. Well, that's exploded now and become five treatments, three treatments, twenty treatments, four treatments, whatever. Different volumes, et cetera, cc's. So it's really bursted this new generation of working. I think a lot of the old-timers are not up to snuff with all that's going on. It's not in one place. So you get a little bit from here and a little bit from there. I think that the high-tech publications are going to be a big help. But I've worked in three different hospitals in the last six months and they all use different norms. I mean what I would use for the volume might be different in one place than it is from another. Whether it's the outside volume, the inside volume, the maximum, whether it's five days or it's three days, et cetera. So it's very interesting to see what normal values they use and who designated them for them. There are different places using different amounts. So it would be good if we could be more uniform. It will be harder to understand the outcomes of things with people varying so much. Then with the MRI and the ability to really do continuous observation during treatment, it may be just putting a point on the pin. But it might be something good. I don't know. But certainly the drugs that are coming out are going to make big differences in how we handle things. So I think we'll still be alive as a field. I think it's going to change tremendously as we get more and more into smaller fields and higher doses.
Colleen Lawton: So Sucha, if you get your wish and you're working three days a week as opposed to five days a week, do you have hobbies or things that you would like to do that you haven’t gotten to or would like to do more?
Sucha Asbell: Yeah. Well, I have a garden. I have a lot of plants inside.
Colleen Lawton: A flower or a vegetable garden?
Sucha Asbell: I have a vegetable garden that I'll be starting soon. It's too cold right now, but I will be planting them as soon as the frost is gone. Right now we're having 36 degrees, so I'm not able to feel comfortable putting seeds out.
Joseph Barthold: I need to interrupt. Since I have two people in the room and they're bothering me, I need to go play doctor.
Sucha Asbell: Okay.
Joseph Barthold: It was great to be part of this phone call. Colleen, thank you so much. And, Sucha, thanks for all you've done. I really appreciate it.
Sucha Asbell: You're sweet. Thank you very much for participating. I appreciate it.
Joseph Barthold: All right. Take care. Bye-bye.
Sucha Asbell: Bye.
Colleen Lawton: Okay. So back to gardening.
Sucha Asbell: Gardening, yeah. I do gardening. I do Zumba. It's an exercise. Kind of a Latin dance exercise.
Colleen Lawton: Yes. Yes.
Sucha Asbell: I do that. I walk of course. But I don't have a lot of time for too many hobbies. I like to read, but I don't have too much time with my husband because I have to keep a supply of all the things he needs - diapers, wipes, ointments, medicines, et cetera. I have to keep up with that. Every three days there's something else he needs - toilet paper, paper towels, and fresh fruit or things which he doesn't get. So I have a lot of -- it's like taking care of a Mongoloid that's like 12 or 10 in a hospital type situation. He's not in the hospital. He's in an apartment. But I have aides around the clock because he can't yell for help. He can't say I want a drink. If you don't ask him if he wants a drink, he won't request it. So he'll get dehydrated. So I have all kinds of rules, you know. He has to have 60 ounces a day. They have to keep tabs of what they're giving him. It's a lot of monitoring, so it takes away a lot of my personal time. So a lot of the things that I'd like to do -- I mean I'd like to go back to sculpting, but I'm not doing it at this time. If I just take care of the garden and do the Zumba, that kind of takes away most of my open time with two days a week off if I work three days a week. I mean he's demanding. You feel guilty if you don't take care of him because none of his friends come to visit him, nobody, because he can't talk back. It's a soliloquy so even my children have a hard time. It's like talking to a wall. I mean he understands, but he hardly ever answers. So it's not a pleasant situation to be in. I certainly didn't expect this in the last few years of my life. I thought I'd be traveling, which is what I'd like to be doing. With COVID around, it really curbed that. And I can't go away for a few days unless I know he's okay. He already had COVID last year and I thought he was going to die. I called the undertaker, et cetera. He made it through, I don't know how. But he was at Jefferson and made it through. They were nice enough at where he was living to open a COVID floor, so he was accepted on the COVID floor when they kicked him out of the hospital. He was on oxygen like three to four liters for a couple of weeks. So it was pretty bad. He's off of oxygen now except for occasional. But there's no doctor there really to take care of him, so you have to be on top of everything. And you're not allowed to give him any medicine. Lord forbid, you should give him medicine. They say you might want to kill him so you can get rid of him so he's not a burden. So they don't let you write prescriptions or anything. You have to do it through a doctor. So it's really not comfortable. Like a week-and-a-half ago I had to put him on penicillin. I called the doctor. He's very nice. He just took care of it right away. I picked up the medication and got him started. But it's scary when you know that nobody's really paying attention. He can’t express himself when -- he doesn't tell you what's wrong so you don't know. You have to guess.
Colleen Lawton: Yeah. That sounds like a lot.
Sucha Asbell: Yeah. My kids don't like talking to him because they don't get any satisfaction.
Colleen Lawton: Yeah.That's rough, Sucha.
Sucha Asbell: Yeah.
Colleen Lawton: Just in the last few moments, is there anything else, any parting words that you have for us? It's either things you would like to tell us that I didn't ask or other thoughts that you have.
Sucha Asbell: No. I wish I could do more. I would love to have taught at the medical school. I could have, but they didn't want me because I was too old. I would like to do a lot of things that would help other people, but I have no venue. So if ASTRO has any needs for someone to do things, I'd be certainly happy to do them on my days off.
Colleen Lawton: Yeah. Sucha, I should tell you they're starting something within ASTRO called a mentoring program.
Sucha Asbell: Right.
Colleen Lawton: I would just --
Sucha Asbell: You can't mentor if you're not working. You can't mentor if you're not there.
Colleen Lawton: No, no, no. This is like mentoring from afar. You're not going to mentor somebody side by side. This is like peer mentoring. I'm bringing it up because it seems like some of the pioneers in our society are part of it. So if you're interested, great.
Sucha Asbell: Yeah. I'm interested, certainly. I'd be happy to participate. And I'd be happy to participate in any other activities that I could be helpful. You know whether it's following people or whether it's -- as long as it's not asking for money, I'm more than glad to do it.
Colleen Lawton: Thank you.
Sucha Asbell: Nice to meet you all again.
By Colleen Lawton, MD, FASTRO, and H. Joseph Barthold, MD, FASTRO
The following interview of Sucha Asbell, MD, FASTRO, was conducted on April 23, 2021, by Colleen Lawton, MD, FASTRO, and H. Joseph Barthold, MD, FASTRO.