Dogs are lucky….

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I’ve decided that dogs are the lucky ones.  When we got Rio’s cancer diagnosis (the first time), I felt sick, scared, chewed up inside as if the very disease were eating away at me.  She didn’t.  She didn’t hear the doctors words.  She just checked her for treats — thrilled when they materialized, and demanding when they didn’t.  Her only concern through all of her treatments was whether she was getting her fair share of love and cookies. Not to gloss over her battle, yes, she had days of pain with the surgeries, and there were days where she was under-the-weather with the radiation and chemo, but she never had the despair of knowing that inside her the cancer was gathering strength for a new assault.

As a person, to hear the words, “you have cancer,” is devastating.  Suddenly, you are thinking “oh, god, I’m gonna die.”  Then every twinge you feel, every ache or pain, you wonder, is that the cancer?  And if it is, how much longer do I have?

Before you start being concerned that I’m speaking from personal experience, I am, but it’s not me who has cancer.  My father-in-law (whom I wrote about in my I HATE CANCER rant a while back) has waged a long and challenging battle with prostate cancer which was first diagnosed back in 1995.  After surgery, he was in remission for a number of years, but had it resurface 7 or 8 years ago.  He was able to get into a drug trial for a novel therapy about 6 years ago, one that my husband had been instrumental in the early-stage development of (not a coincidence).  Obviously, the treatment was considered a success, since he was given that much extra time.  But the cancer has reared it’s ugly head again — in his pelvis, ribs, spine, and skull, as well as his bladder and colon.

We visited with my in-laws over the holidays, knowing that this will likely be our last with Dad.  And we made the 500 mile trek again a couple of weeks ago to celebrate his 83 birthday.  The difference in his condition in 6 weeks was alarming.  He was in a great deal of pain, and he was scared.  He’d been feeling fine, he said, up until a day or so after we arrived, and then his condition seemed to deteriorate overnight.  Both he and my mother-in-law were terrified by how quickly things had gone downhill.  Both spoke of how they weren’t prepared, and that it had happened so suddenly.  As a caretaker, I could empathize with her fear, but I was having a hard time getting my brain around how scary it must be for Dad.  Rio had taken everything in stride, had never once been concerned about her eminent death and the enormity of what that meant to those of us around her.  I kept thinking of the phrase, “be more dog,” and I wondered how we, being the cerebral creatures we are, can really do that.  How can we put aside the fear and really focus on living each moment?  Is this even possible?  And how can I convey this sentiment to someone faced with the finiteness of their own life without sounding cliche and even callous?

In order for me to “be more dog,” I think I would probably need a lobotomy…  I’m one who overthinks everything.  The phrases ad infinitum and ad nauseum were invented for folks like me (as demonstrated by the length of my blog post).  I would literally have to be unconscious not to think about life and death and grief and pain and how to cope with these.  Dogs are oblivious to this metaphysical conundrum.  I’m not saying that dogs are not conscious of death.  I truly believe that death does affect them on an emotional level.  Tosca and Zephyr have both been grieving the loss of Rio in their own peculiar ways.  (You can say that it’s simply a reflection of how I’ve been feeling, but I would point to evidence to the contrary.)  It’s just that dogs don’t hear the doctor when he says, “you have six months to a year,” and this is something which, when heard, can’t be forgotten.  Dogs don’t understand what the word “metastasis” means — they don’t process the fact that the cancer is devouring them, one cell at time, and that at some point it will be excruciatingly painful as it does.  They have no idea how scary it can be to face your own mortality, and the feeling of helplessness that goes hand-in-hand.  They will never be fully conscious of the fact that every day takes you closer to losing someone you love, which, to me, is even more terrifying.  And for that, they are so very lucky…

 

 

 


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Hoppy One Year Ampuversary!!!

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Today…  this day, one year in the past…  It was a scary, scary day and I cried so many tears.  But because I was brave enough to go forward with Rio’s surgery, instead of the 6 weeks to 2 months the oncologist said I’d be lucky to get, I got 11 months, 1 week and 5 days.  Those days were filled with ups and downs, good times and bad, but we made the most of them.  We shared smiles and tears, sometimes both at the same time.  We fell, but then picked ourselves up and kept going.

In the last year of Rio’s life, I think we squeezed in more adventures and more living than we did in the first 11.  We took more photos.  We shared more ice cream and hamburgers.  We went to the beach.  We snuggled on the couch.  I learned not to take even a brief moment for granted.  You’ve got time for one more ear skritchy, one more nose smooch, one more belly rub and one more “I love you.”  Take advantage of that time, because life is capricious and there are no guarantees.

To celebrate her life, her spirit and her memory, I made a video scrapbook of my girl.  I hope it makes you smile as much as she did me!

Hoppy Ampuversary, Rio

The final chapter

So many words are bouncing around in my brain right now, but not many of them are making any sense at all. But I want to write this now, while it’s all still fresh in my mind, so that I can remember it later exactly how I remember it now.

Since my last post, Rio’s condition had steadily declined.  In the evenings, she’d always just lay next to me on the couch, snoozing comfortably, but in the last few days, she’d been unable to really get comfortable.  Her breathing had gotten a little more wheezy and shallow, and she’d cough after any level of exertion.  But what really told me it was time was the fact that she rarely lit up anymore.  I loved walking into a room and seeing her, because she’d always look like “HEY, IT’S YOU!!!!”  The face that greeted me was always so happy, and in the last week I had rarely seen it.  She perked up a bit when I mentioned going for a buh-bye or when I brought out the very favorite orange and blue rubber Chuck-it balls, but there was mostly no light.

I’d been thinking we were getting close…  and I had spoken with her doctors about “the plan.”  But part of me wanted so badly for her to keep fighting.  I couldn’t really admit to myself just how much more tired and uncomfortable she was.  I was still hoping she’d rally…

Wednesday, we had quite a bit of snow, and she was excited to go and catch snowballs, but after about 3 or 4, she was tired and didn’t want to play any more.  I had to run over to her doctor’s house to pick up a box of Trilostane, and so she had a chance to take a look at Rio and see her in action.  That day, she was almost crouching on her back leg as she hopped, because she was so tired.  But the crazy girl kept going, kept running up to people and checking them for treats (there were a group of neighbor kids sledding in Dr. Rachel’s yard because she had the only good hill in the neighborhood, and Rio had to sniff them all).  I finally put her back in the truck to rest while I finished talking with her doctor.

The next morning, Rio woke us before the crack of dawn coughing and vomiting, but then with a little coaxing, she ate breakfast, and by the afternoon, she seemed pretty normal again.  She ate her lunch without any encouragement, and also her dinner.  Even “second dinner” was eaten with some enthusiasm.  But she wasn’t comfortable.  She was restless, and having trouble finding a position that she could relax in.  She moved from the couch to the floor, and then a few minutes later would ask to get back on the couch.  This went on most of the evening.  I chalked it up to a little too much exercise the day before and the fact that I hadn’t given her any of her meloxicam.  (Her doctor and I had talked about moving to Rimadyl or other NSAID because it didn’t seem like the meloxicam was doing anything for her.  But to do that, Rio needed to be off the meloxicam for 2-3 days.)

When Rio woke us Friday morning, again before daylight, coughing, gagging and vomiting, and refused her breakfast (this time no amount of coaxing could get her to touch it), I knew…  If you could have seen her face…  she just looked beaten, worn out, exhausted.  I called her doctor and told her that Rio was finished fighting, and that it was time for her to rest.  She sounded almost as heartbroken as I felt, and she said she’d come when she got off work.

I had wanted to take Rio out for one last adventure in her “Ride,” but the weather Friday was dreadful.  It was literally pouring rain, and all the beautiful white snow was turning into sloppy, slushy, ankle-deep muck. But we could go for a ride in the Expedition, and so I loaded the girls in the back and drove around Kingston.  While I was driving, I was trying to think of things that Rio loved that we could squeeze in on such a foul and stormy day.  She loves ice cream, but the place that gave her the free ice cream this summer was closed for the winter season.  The other place that we used to go was also closed until the end of January for some remodeling or something.  I didn’t feel up to facing a bunch of people at the burger place either (no drive-through window), so I just made a quick stop at the grocery store, bought some hamburger and vanilla ice cream, and then we drove home.

We had wanted to bury her in my veggie garden because she loved to hang out with me there when I worked, however the ground was so saturated that the hole kept filling up with water, and there was no way I could put my girl into that cold brown water.  I decided then to let the doctor take Rio’s body with her…

Shortly after we got home, a friend came over to say goodbye to Rio.  Tosca and Zephyr were also very excited to see her, and they kept crowding between her and Rio.  I finally gave them each a Chuck-it ball so that they would chill, and Allie could give Rio some loves.  But Rio wanted her ball, too.  She laid on the floor and tossed her ball to me and then to Allie, over and over, just as happy as could be.  When Allie left, I made a special homemade “flying dutchman” on the grill, and while they were cooking, I fed the girls some ice cream.

And then Dr. Rachel arrived…  Rio finished her burger and asked to get up on the couch, where she promptly went to sleep.  We talked for a while, remembering funny stories about the Woo, about how she got her name, about the day I brought her home, about her unwavering ability to poop where ever she went, regardless of how many times she’d already gone that day.  Dr. Rachel cried with us as she explained what she would be doing.  And then she administered the sedative.  Within just a few minutes, Rio visibly started relaxing.  And that was the point at which I knew unequivocally that I was doing the right thing for her.  Just seeing her so at peace, so restful after so much struggle and fight — that helped assuage my fears and doubts.

I kissed her sweet face and breathed in her Woo scent, trying to memorize the feel of her, the smell of her, telling her all the while how much I loved her,  how sweet she was, how there would never be another dog like her, how lucky I was to have had her in my life.  I told her now it was time to rest.  She was very tired from her long fight, and now she she didn’t need to fight any more.  She was so strong, such a warrior.  And then we kissed her goodbye.  And then we wrapped her up in a little brown blanket, and inside that bundle with her tired, battle-scarred body was my heart.

I slept badly last night, awakening frequently and spending hours staring out the window into the night.  I watched the sun come up this morning with Zephyr spooned tightly against me, softly running my fingers through her silky curls and wishing, wishing that it was Rio’s softness and warmth just one more time….

 

Rest in peace, my darling girl

 

Mystery solved, plus a Woo status check

Yesterday, we found out what was causing Zephyr’s (and to some degree, Tosca’s) incessant chewing and scratching…  Yeah, my favorite:  fleas.  So, I dropped everything and bathed three dogs, washed several loads of bedding (both doggie and people) and vacuumed the entire house.  The ironic part of the story is that I didn’t find a single flea on either Tosca or Zephyr, even though I looked and looked, both before, during and after their baths.  When they both started scratching and chewing on themselves after we got home from Oregon, that was the first thing I did — look for fleas.  Nothing.  Absolutely not a single flea, no flea dirt, no sign, no nothing.  Instead, I was sitting next to my sweet Rio on the couch and all of a sudden one crawled out of her fur at her amp incision scar and onto her naked belly, just as brazen as could be, followed by a complete mom freak-out. (About the only thing in the insect world that grosses me out more than fleas are ticks.  Ugghh!!!)  I don’t want to give Rio any unnecessary meds right now, so I will be rubbing her down daily with a few drops of eucalyptus oil in hopes that it will discourage any more nibbling by the stinking fleas.  I did, however, douse the Monkey-doofuses post-bath with flea-killing chemicals (of which I am not proud)….

Speaking of the Woo, her fan club has been clamoring for an update on how she’s doing.  Let’s just say, she’s battle-scarred and tired, but still fighting.  I would love it if she makes it to her 1-year milestone (and then some), but I am fully aware that it might not happen.  The swelling in her belly has gotten worse, and has moved down into the knee and ankle of her remaining back leg.  Her mobility hasn’t been that great lately, either.  She’s unsteady and frequently loses her balance and has to catch herself.  I’m not sure if it’s due to the swelling in the leg, or if her floppy belly-skin is making her lose her balance.  Regardless, she still has flashes of a younger, healthier Woo — especially with the snow of the last couple of days.  She’s always loved snow, and my heart is happy to see her boing-boinging around in it.  She got all silly after her bath yesterday, too, racing down the hall, tossing her head and snorting, grabbing her toys and flipping them into the air.  And when I was giving Tosca a much-needed brushing, Rio was being “the Sheriff.”  (She always polices certain activities such as brushing and toenail clipping, in case I need some protection.)

So, here’s hoping for a hoppy 1-year, but if we don’t make it that far, we’re gonna go out fighting…..

Tripawd Warrior Pink Sky

Snow Babies

 

I HATE CANCER!

I have the need for a momentary lapse of control.  And I’ll apologize in advance if I offend anyone, but I have to say this.  I FUCKING HATE CANCER!!!!  I HATE IT!  I BEYOND-WORDS HATE IT!!!  If cancer was a person, I would stab it in the eye, beat it to a bloody pulp, and then I’d do a little dance on its dead carcass.

We just got the news that my father-in-law’s prostate cancer has progressed to his skull, his spine, his shoulder blade, his ribs and both of his femurs.  My mother-in-law isn’t handling the news very well — she lost her first husband to cancer (melanoma) too — she’s been having some heart issues, and the added stress isn’t helping.

I know we usually reserve our collective Tripawd mojo for our canine friends, but we could really use some for Rio’s gramma and grampa, too.

Hoppy Woo Year!

I, for one, am not sorry to see 2011 fade into the blurry past.  As a year, it got the dubious distinction of being The Absolute Worst Year Ever.  (Although, now that I think about it, our run of crappy luck started clear back in the summer of 2010.)  Digressions aside, though, I think I would rather focus on what remains now that the year is over.

First off, I honestly didn’t think I would still have Rio with me this far (4 years and 7 months) into the cancer drama.  When we were facing the amputation this past January, our oncologist told us that Rio would have probably just a few weeks to a couple of months without the surgery.  When the doctor discovered the metastasis in August, we were given a similar time frame for her survival.   We are now looking at our 11 month ampuversary — despite the mets in her spleen and her lymph nodes.  With the added “bonus” of Cushings Disease, there is an average of a two-year survival rate post-diagnosis.  With all of this, Rio continues to buck the odds, and although I can see that her health is definitely on the wane, she continues to be the happy, beautiful girl she’s always been (although a lot less energetic).

Despite the difficulties of this past year, I still feel like it has also been a gift.  I have had the time I needed to come to terms with the inevitability of life and the swiftness of it’s passing.  I have also been given the opportunity (and the urgency) to make some treasured memories with my precious girl.  Living with the clock ticking has given me the impetus to do things now rather than pretending I have all the time in the world.  I have battled my own inner demons through this experience, and although the war is not yet won, I feel as if I have made some definite inroads.  So far, I have survived this blasted rollercoaster, and despite all the times I’ve begged to be let off this ride, I’m still not quite ready for it to end.

For now, we still have today, and dammit, it’s gonna be a great day!  And if we get tomorrow, then we’ve won the lottery!  (And if we do win the lottery, color me delirious!)

HOPPY WOO YEAR!!!

Hoppy howlidaze, my Tripawds pals!

 

 

A candle in the darkness

This year, of all my years, has been the most challenging and the most painful, but also the most revelatory. I’ve discovered a strength I didn’t realize I possessed, an ability to look for the ray of light in a dark place that I’ve never known before. I’ve developed a caring bond with complete strangers and found solace in trying to comfort others who are confronted with life altering diagnoses.

None of this would have been possible with this community. The diagnosis alone would have crippled me, I fear. You’ve given me a shoulder to lean on, to cry on, and an audience when I need to unload. You’ve been answers when I have questions, you’ve made me smile when my heart was breaking. You’ve been friendship when I was lonely, and kind words when I’ve been hurting.

For all this (and much, much more) I am eternally grateful.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

Hoppy Holidaze

I wanted to wait to post this until I knew for certain, but now I dont feel so much like I’m tempting fate to say it: my Christmas wish is coming true! My girl is still with me, and she’s still going strong. She continues to amaze me with her resiliency and fortitude, her continued grace in battle.

Although I understand that at this stage of the game her situation could change pretty rapidly, I just am beyond-words grateful for her still being here today! That was the only thing I wanted this Christmas. (World peace would be nice too, but I’ll settle for a snuggle next to the fireplace with Woo.)

Me and my girl

Beach girl


Photos by Images by Isabel. Used by permission.

Hoppy Holidays??

So, I was originally going to post this under a topic on the forums, but then I thought it was maybe a little too off topic, but I still wanted to share:

I’ve never really been a big fan of the holidays — growing up dirt poor, we often didn’t have any money for Christmas, and relied heavily on charity to even have a holiday.  When I first started spending the holidays with my husband’s family, it was a little overwhelming for me — so much holiday cheer.  Really?  People actually enjoying the holidays????  However, these last few years have really put a damper on even their Christmas cheer.

Rio’s cancer treatments have fallen around the holidays — radiation for Christmas 2007 and surgery and chemo around the holidays in 2009.  Three years ago this week our beloved cousin lost her battle with breast cancer.   Last Christmas, we weren’t sure if my husband’s grandmother would make it to Christmas following a spill (and subsequent head injury) on Thanksgiving day.  And my husband had just lost his job.  And, this year, I am still worried that Rio might not make it to the holidays, plus my husband is still unemployed.  Merry Christmas to us.

Now to my point in all of this:  In this life, there are things you can control, and others that you can’t.  Although I’ve been feeling very bah-humbug-ish, I had a bit of an ah-ha moment this afternoon after one of my Tripawds friends asked me about holiday traditions that got me into the spirit.  I got to thinking about my favorite Christmas tradition — putting up our tree.  We don’t do theme trees at our house — all of our ornaments are specific to an event, a time, a place, something special for each year.  The year we went to France, I bought a blown glass Eiffel Tower.  Australia, I bought a kangaroo carved out of some strange palm tree.  The year we got Rio, I have a little brown and black puppy ornament.  You get the picture — our tree is like a journal, and every year, it’s like getting to read and remember only the happy moments.

In thinking about this tradition, I had a small epiphany — this will likely be my last Christmas with Rio, and, damn it, I want it to be the best one she’s/I’ve ever had.  Not in terms of gifts, because dog knows we can’t afford that, but in terms of the holiday spirit.  I want lots of warm and fuzzy memories to carry me through the dark days ahead.    I’m going to listen to my Tripawd Warrior Code and live in the moment.  I may not get to “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of bliss, but I will make it through the next few weeks without gagging and bah-humbugging on “holiday spirit.”  (Although if I hear one more TV or radio commercial butcher some poor innocent and unsuspecting Christmas song, I may rethink this whole thing.)

I’m thankful…

A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering if Rio would make it to Thanksgiving.  She was doing poorly, and I was freaking out.

She threw up nearly every day for almost a week and a half.  Some days more than once.  We made some adjustments to her care — it’s obvious that the tumor in her lymph node has grown larger and is putting pressure on her colon.  So, we went to a four-times-per-day feeding schedule to slow down her intake.  A little less food to digest at any given time…  I also have taken her completely off dry food — she is only getting my special “soup,” fresh, cooked meat, pumpkin, and “wet” food (Wysong makes one that only has meat, liver and water) and Honest Kitchen.  We also are giving her Pepcid morning and night instead of just once a day.  And I took her off the Meloxicam, because that can cause stomach upset.

With all of these changes, we’re not exactly sure which did the trick, only that it worked.  Because now, she’s back to her normal self.  Her appetite is insane (you’d think I never feed this dog…  EVER!).  She opened a can of whuppass on Tosca yesterday, because T thought she’d help Rio with her lunch.  Today, she played chase with her friend Rayna around the house for a bit after dinner.

And for this, I’m thankful.  Whatever comes tomorrow, at least I had today, and it was good.

Happy Turkey Day!!!