Aspel returns to the dais after surgery

Councilman Steve Aspel

Councilman Steve Aspel had only been out of the hospital 48 hours following a ten day stay that included major cancer surgery and a nasty little bout with E. Coli bacteria when he made the mistake of turning on Channel 8.

The City Council was going at it. Aspel had barely worn clothes in 12 days, but he quickly scrambled to get dressed and get down to City Hall. He explained to his wife Pam that he had to get to the meeting in case they needed a tie-breaking vote.

“I told my wife, ‘I am going down there,’” Aspel said. “She said, ‘No, you are not.’”

The couple celebrated their 20th anniversary the day before he went into the hospital for a reason. Pam talked; Aspel listened. He stayed home.

But a week later – last Tuesday – nothing was keeping Aspel from his place on the dais. The activist group Building a Better Redondo – with whom Aspel has quarreled mightily – had scored a victory in court over the city. Aspel wanted his opponents to have the satisfaction of looking him in the face after their legal triumph.

“I wanted to be there because BBR won that lawsuit,” Aspel said. “I knew they’d come there and gloat, and I figured I’ve got to be man enough to sit there and take it….Let them go, ‘Na na na!’ I wanted to give them the benefit of looking at me.”

But beyond any particular issue Aspel arrived at council chambers and sat through a four hour meeting because he was elected to do just that. His doctor saw him on television and later chided him for staying through the whole meeting. He was exhausted the next day, but Aspel was glad to be back.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I ran for the office, and I wanted to be there….It’s kind of my responsibility to be there.”

Councilman Pat Aust commended his colleague.

“You know, it’s really tough, and Steve is doing very well, I think, for being up and around and doing as much as he’s doing,” Aust said. “I think it’s courageous on his part, because I know he’s in pain. He doesn’t tell a lot of people, but it’s a very painful thing….It shows his commitment and it shows how much he cares. That’s the whole thing – it’s definitely because he loves this city. It’s not because of any glory; it’s just the fact that he signed up to do a job and he’s going to make sure he does it. He shows up when the chips are down.”

“I think he is doing it for a couple of reasons,” said Councilman Matt Kilroy. “I think he does it because he cares so much about the issues we are dealing with, and he’s got a lot of valuable input. And I think he’s just tough as nails. It’s a combination of both.”

Aspel’s surgery was deemed a success. He was diagnosed with rectal cancer in February. Aspel, known for his candor and blunt, bawdy sense of humor, didn’t let the opportunity pass – he publicly admitted that he’d been forced to get a check-up by his family doctor in order to procure a refill of his “little blue bills.”

“It’s kind of funny,” Aspel said at the time. “Here’s the truth: the doctor had to blackmail me into getting scoped. I went down for a refill for my recreational blue pills.”

“For the want of sex, I get my life saved,” he added. “Even if I don’t, I get to go out like a stud!”

Aspel underwent four months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment prior to his surgery, which has left him with a ten-inch gash on his abdomen and a temporary colonoscopy bag. Typically, Aspel is able to see the comedic value of his bag, even as he deals with real pain in his recently reordered intestines and the constant inconvenience of his new attachment.

Monday, for example, he went to work at Farmers Insurance – where he serves as a regional manager – and was talking to a co-worker when his bag spoke up. He’s gotten so used to the noise it makes, he said, that he didn’t think twice about it. His co-worker was taken off-guard.

“He started busting up,” Aspel said. “It’ll just start burping and there is nothing you can do about it. I could be up on the dais [and] it’ll be picked up on the mike. It surprises people – you don’t walk into a place and say, ‘By the way, I’m wearing a bag.’ This thing is just part of the gig.”

The good news is that doctors are so confident that they successfully removed the cancerous growth that Aspel won’t have to undergo intravenous chemotherapy but will instead face three months of oral chemotherapy.

“It’s a good sign, yeah,” Aspel said. “But basically, the whole trouble with this – anybody that’s had an ongoing medical problem knows it’s not like you have surgery and then you are good to go. The hard part is the toll it takes on my family. My poor wife is inundated…it takes time away from family things. And my wife has had to alter her life to babysit me.”

“To have and to hold, in sickness and in health – Pam has gone way above and beyond the call of duty.”

Aspel said he hasn’t had a big epiphany about the nature of life during his battle with cancer. But he’s had a thousand smaller epiphanies about how much he loves his family as they have helped him get through the whole experience.

“Someone asked me, ‘Has this changed your life?’’ he said. “Cancer is supposed to make you think about and really dig in deep into your life. It occurred to me I’m not that deep. When they told me I had it, it was just something else to battle, to conquer. But I really didn’t have that life-changing moment…Now, in hindsight, what it did do is make me appreciate my wife and kids even more. You don’t realize the aggravation, the total aggravation it is for your family.”

If all goes according to plan, Aspel with be done with chemotherapy and reattached to his innards by Thanksgiving. He’ll be more than thankful.

“It’s gonna be big, and I’m gonna have a real cocktail,” he said. “We’ll have a party somewhere, I’ll tell you that.” ER


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