I’m thankful…

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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!!!


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Ruff days….

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The last few days have been pretty stressful here at Casa de Perro.  Rio’s cough has gotten more prolific over the past few weeks, and her Dr say that she’s hearing a lot more “noise” in the lungs.  To make matters worse, Rio’s been vomiting almost daily for the last week. I’ve struggled to maintain a positive outlook, but have mentally bounced back and forth between “she must have gotten into something in the yard (since Zeffy barfed on one of those days too)” to “we are winding down to the end………….”

Today things are a little better.  Rio hasn’t thrown up for more than 24 hours, and you have no idea how much relief this brings.  I spoke with her vet this evening.  Her chem panel actually was pretty good.  Her red counts are a teensy elevated, and the Dr thinks its because Rio’s a little dehydrated.  Makes sense cuz of the throwing up…..  So, we’re gonna “spike” her water with broth (she LOVES this) and we’re going to put her on a really bland diet for a few days until her tummy feels better.  Her Dr also recommeded upping her Pepcid to twice a day.

Right now, she’s asleep on the couch, and aside from the kicking and twitching, she’s sleeping peacfully.  Me, on the other hand, I f*$%ing hate this roller coaster…  I’m taking deep breaths, and trying to live in the moment.  I’m trying so hard to focus on her quality of life.  But all this worrying is gonna give me an ulcer (and let’s not even talk about how many new grey hairs)….  I wish I knew for certain if this was just a bump in the road or something worse.  I wish I could forget all this nonsense and just look at my Rio as if she were invincible and immortal — the way I look at the Monkeygirls.   I wish I wasn’t thinking in this vein, but this has been a really long journey for us….  And we’re both tired.

In the meantime, anybody got a good recipe for carpet cleaner????

Puppy Up!

Rio watching the Disc Dogs do their thing.

We just got home from today’s walk.  It wasn’t a huge turn out, but this foundation has only been in existence since the inaugural walk of 2008, when man and dog walked from Austin to Boston to raise awareness for canine cancer. I think in a few years, it will gain momentum and attendance, because there was serious dedication from the folks that were there.

We arrived and checked in, got our t-shirts and a special light blue cancer survivor bandana for Rio and dark blue bandanas  for the two Monkeybutts.  We didn’t wear them, instead we opted for the pink Puppy Up bandanas that I had purchased a while back.  Rio wore her Tripawds bandana, but then switched to her cape and tiara before the walk started.  (A star always needs a wardrobe change!)  And the humans wore our Tripawds Have a Ball! Team Tripawd shirts!

We got a chance to meet fellow Tripawd Kess and her Disc Dog posse, and they wowed us with their Frisbee tricks.  Those dogs seriously catch some air!!!!!  I expected to be impressed with her athleticism and speed, but I was bowled over.  I KNEW she was a Tripawd, and yet I could easily forget that fact as I watched her move and leap.  I have to say, I was so inspired by her that it brought tears to my eyes.

We played a little in the off-leash area with our friends Rayna and Yoshi, and then it was time to start the walk.  We found out when we registered that our C0-Canine Marshall, Jetson’s mom was hospitalized for a really bad case of strep the night before the walk, so they weren’t able to attend.  It was just Rio and her human cancer survivor counterpart, Shani.  When we were swapping stories, it was ironic how nearly identical their paths were, except for the type of cancer.   The walk coordinator introduced Shani and Rio, and then I shared Rio’s story.  I did pretty good, only getting a little caught up in it towards the end, and I must have struck a chord with the crowd because I could see quite a few people dabbing at tears as I wrapped up.  Then Shani told her story and cut the ribbon (yellow caution tape — I found that kinda funny), and we were off.

The trail ran through the park, following the curves of the White River.  The air was crisp and the leaves were falling….  All in all, I doubt Mother Nature could have dialed up a better day.  As we walked, several people caught up with us and we got to hear their dogs’ (past and present) cancer stories.  We talked up Tripawds — our sign and banner got lots of conversations started.

And now we are home, with full bellies and I hear a lot of snoring…  The girls had a very busy day.  It’s not easy being so adored by so many…  Here are a few more photos from today:

 

Group photo - Rio's posse

That's PRINCESS Grand Marshall to you, Monkeybutts!

 

Waiting for the walk to start.

My pretty girl.

Mom and the girls. (Read the sign, Monkeydogs!)

Monkeybutt Zephyr

Monkeybutt Tosca

 

Cancer sucks!

You can think you’re totally prepared for bad news, know exactly what the doctor is going to tell you, psych yourself up to hear the absolute worst news, and still be stunned to hear it.  I think it’s because somewhere deep inside you’re still hoping that there will be a miracle.  Somehow, in an amazing turn of events you become the lucky winner of the lottery, the amazed and grateful recipient of the ultimate jackpot!!!!  And you smile and tearfully accept the prize, because you know there was never anyone so deserving of a miracle as your beautiful Rio.

But this was not my lucky day…. nor was it hers….  Today, the doctor told us that in the span of four weeks, while taking the Kinavet (our “last ditch effort” drug), the tumor in her lymph node has doubled in size.  Soon it will be creating pressure on her colon.  It could eventually become blocked, leading to a very rapid decline in her internal functions.  The other possibility is that the mast cell could degranulate, causing something very similar to anaphylactic shock.

I’m trying so, SO very hard to focus on things like the fact that we’ve had four and a half years together since she was first diagnosed.  My beautiful Rio and I have had some wonderful adventures together, and we still have time for a few more (if we hurry).  Like the fact that she’s a fighter, and she hasn’t quit yet.  Like the fact that she doesn’t know she’s sick, and she’s not in pain.  But my heart is breaking because I know that soon, way too soon, the thing I love the most in life will be gone.  And there’s not a damn thing I can do to change that.  So, I’m gonna have myself a good cry and several glasses of wine, and tomorrow, I’m gonna see if I can’t find in myself a little more of Rio’s strength and courage….

 

 

Another pawday!

Today is Rio’s 8-month ampuversary!  Treats for everypawdy!

I’m sitting here next to my girl, listening to her tummy gurgle it’s way through her breakfast, and I’m almost overwhelmed by how much I love this girl.  She truly is my heart and soul.

Love this girl, I do, I do....

We had a visit with our dog-ter yesterday for bloodwork to make sure the meds are being tolerated on the inside.  Other than a few extra medicinal naps (Gayle and Charon would be proud!!!), Rio is doing really well.  Outwardly, we really haven’t seen any noticeable side effects from the Kinavet, so I’m hopeful that her bloodwork will indicate that she’s not having any negative effects from it (elevated protein in the urine, elevated liver enzymes, etc.).  We have a follow-up ultrasound next week to see if it’s having any impact on the metastases.  Fingers and paws crossed!!!!

Meanwhile, our city-girl friends, Rayna and Yoshi, are visiting again while their pawrents are visiting family in the Caymans.  Good thing we have lots of room for doggies here at Camp Monroe!

Rayna

Yoshi

 

7 Months

I totally forgot that yesterday was Rio’s 7 month ampuversary.  I feel kinda bad that I keep forgetting to celebrate the milestones!

In my defense, though, Wednesday we had a Rio and Mom Day.  I took her to Petco and she was treated like visiting royalty.  No reasonable girl would say no to that!  Every time I take her someplace like that, though, the next time we go someplace and she has to stay in the car, she gets a little peeved.  It’s as if she thinks all stores harbor within them toys and cookies and food beyond any dog’s imagination and I’m the one denying her access to it!

On the way home, I decided to take her to the beach that’s just down the road from our house.  It was super busy there — lots of kids playing in the sand and moms taking in the sun.  She gets lots of compliments on how she gets around, and nearly everywhere I take her someone tells us the story of another three-legged dog.  I love how the kids especially respond to Rio.  The grown ups, I think are worried about asking to many questions or maybe they just don’t want to know the answer to the questions.  But the kids think she’s a rock star!  Before her amputation, most of them didn’t really pay too much attention to her.  Occasionally one would ask if they could pet her, and she’d search them for the treats they should be giving to her.  Now, they pepper me with questions about her.  One little boy asked if she’d grown up that way (meaning tripawd), and I explained that it had been fairly recent.  Then he wanted the full story.  A little girl asked about her skin — try explaining Cushing’s and calcinosis cutis to a child in a really brief conversation.   Anyhow, Rio loved all the attention, but did wonder when were these small people going to feed her.  After all, they gave her cookies at the last place she visited!!!

I found a little stick and asked Rio if she wanted to go get it.  She swam after the stick a few times and then we walked up to the grass to sit and dry before jumping back in the truck.  Just sitting there, with my girl, with the world going on around us…  Those moments —  those are the ones to be cherished and banked for later.

We’re doing another Rio and Mom thing today, although it won’t be nearly as fun.  Rio has a dr. appointment later this morning.  Nothing big, we are just getting baseline CBC, protein/creatinine ratio before we start her on the masitinib.  (Paws crossed that the medicine works and that it doesn’t have any of the potential adverse reactions.)  We’ll keep ya posted!

A quick update…

Hi all,

First off, I wanted to let you all know how much the outpouring of support has meant to us.  It’s been a rough couple of days (for me), and I really have been buoyed up by the “Tripawds Cheer Squad.”  It’s one thing to have support from friends, but its another to have the support from people who’ve “been there” or are currently experiencing a lot of the same things we’re going through.

Secondly, I wanted to give a quick update…  Rio’s cytology came back yesterday, and there were no big surprises.  It was simply a confirmation of what we already suspected.  After two nights of Google-mania, I have decided that we will give the Kinivet (masitinib) a try.  We’ll monitor CBC and some protein-urine thing and recheck her ultrasound in 3-4 weeks.  If at that time there doesn’t seem to be a significant reason to continue the meds, then we will stop.  Fortunately, Rio has a wonderful dog-ter friend who has offered to get me the meds at cost, since they are newly approved and quite expensive.

Rio will also need to take benedryl and pepcid everyday from now on.  There is a significant risk of degranulation, in which the Mast Cells basically explode and send histamines rampaging through the body.  The risk at this stage is pretty high for stomach ulcers, bleeding, and anaphylactic shock, so the meds are precautionary. The benedryl makes her pretty sleepy, but I think the extra naps are good for her.  (Gayle said so!)

When Rio started this journey at the beginning of this year, I told my husband I wanted to do a road trip with Rio.  I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and I want her to be there with me when I do.  This summer has been pretty busy, and it’s been easy to make excuses for why it wasn’t possible to do this trip — who would take care of my clients, water my garden, where’s the gas money coming from, etc.  I want you all to know, we are going!  We are making the final plans and arrangements, but we are going.  We’ll probably leave in a couple of weeks, stop and see some family and friends along the way, but Grand Canyon or Bust!!!!  Those squirrels better look out!!!

The Wooooo!

 

Not my favorite day….

I took Rio in this morning for her 4 month ultrasound recheck.  If you’ve been following my occasionally very rambling posts, I will  apologize in advance for their lengthy nature.  This one may very likely take on a life of it’s own….  Enter at your own risk.

The outcome of a 4 hour wait at the vet’s is that her cancer has come back.  Given my less than sunny nature, I can’t say that I wasn’t sort of anticipating the worse, especially given how AWFUL (no drama here, seriously) this entire year has been for our whole family — in fact, I  spent several hours googling like crazy yesterday in order to prepare myself should the worst occur.  But it still was a punch in the stomach when the vet tech took me into a room to hear the outcome of the results…

At Summit, most of the interaction between the client and the dog-ters and techs takes place in the waiting room.  Symptoms are discussed, courses of treatment, surgical outcomes, etc. — quite fascinating to me, an unabashed people watcher — but if it’s really bad news, they take you into an exam room.  They don’t tell you going in that its gonna be bad news, but trust me, I’ve spent enough hours here to know, watched enough comings and goings, seen the devastation on people’s faces.  I know that if you go into the room, nothing good is going to come from it.

As usual, I digress (or maybe its just stalling tactics.  If I don’t type it, then it isn’t true…. but, sadly, it is…..).  Rio’s cancer has reemerged in the form of an enlarged lymph node and “suspicious” activity in her spleen.  For Mast Cell cancer, this is “normal.”  This is what it does.  It moves to the spleen, the liver and then into the bone marrow as a form of basophilic leukemia.  Some of the niggling little things I’ve been noticing lately — the persisant cough, her being out-of-breath following any sort of activity, the weird, lumpy bruise along her scar that a quarter-sized piece of skin peeled off of — these were starting send up red flags in my little pea-brain.  Enough to send me running for my computer and re-reading a lot of my original research.  Turns out, most of these “nothings” were actually symptoms that could be contributed to mild granulation — when the mast cells start breaking free of the tumors and moving about the body.  And while they “could be,” I held on to the hope that they could also be symptoms of other less life-altering things.  The cough, it could be allergies.  It’s been a weird summer weather-wise.  We planted a new garden.  There could be more/new dusts, molds, plants, etc.  The bruising could be a spider bite or other insect.  I was hoping, hoping, hoping that I would be able to post this evening:  Rio’s Ultrasound Results Were Clear!!!!  But this has SOOOO not been our year….

I was still thinking positive and was actually quite cheerful when the vet tech came and said the doctor had my results and would go over them in the exam room, and then I faltered.  I looked down at my little girl, and she looked up at me and said, “Come on, mom!  They have cookies in that room!”  And the whole time the dog-ter was giving me the run-down on options and treatments and time lines and quality of life, Rio kept shifting in the room to catch her eye.  “Did you not see me sitting here?!  Why are you NOT giving me cookies?  Hellll-llo!!!”  Even while the tears were falling, I kept laughing at her and her less-than-subtle begging!  That’s my Woo…  She never forgets a place that someone may have given her a cookie!  It might have been years ago!!!  And even if, in my opinion, it was less than optimal circumstances that put her in said place.

As a wrap-up, I could apologize for the lengthy nature of this blog post, however, let it not be said that I led you into it without a warning.  I had a boss once who always got impatient with my project updates (not sure why…), and would always ask for the “net-net.”  Well, here it is:  The enlarged lymph node was aspirated, and we’ll get cytology back shortly (hopefully before the end of the week), but our oncologist is pretty certain that it is metastatic MCT.  The “grainy” texture of her spleen has gotten worse, and her adrenal gland has a “mass.”  Because the lymph node has changed since her last US (April), the change has either occurred while she was still on chemo, or has appeared post-chemo (in the last month).  Neither of these situations is optimal.

My take on these findings:  She’s always had a somewhat grainy appearance to her spleen, and has had cytology done every single time she’s undergone an ultrasound.  I’m hoping that this is just more of the same.  Her adrenal glands were different sized last time around as well, and although they usually see both of them enlarged with pituitary Cushings (and this is what we’re assuming Rio has), they weren’t overly concerned with their appearance last time ’round.  I’m hoping that when they measure and compare, it won’t be too much more concerning this time.  As for the lymph node, you can be certain that I have used my share of expletives (no children were present).  Rest assured that we are still fighting!!!  The options keep getting slimmer, but I’m not giving up on my girl!  Mainly because that would constitute acknowledging that I am coward and life has beaten me, and I’m not quite there yet.  However, I can use any and all support that you might feel inclined to shoot our way.  I am certain that Rio will fight her way through all of this, as she has managed to do for the past 4+ years, however I am only human, and I am struggling to be as strong as my little rock(head).

Give your pups an extra large hug for us tonight!

Rio’s momma

 

PS:  If any of have any firsthand knowledge about Kinivet (masitinib) and/or chlorambucil, please send me a PM.

The dog days of summer — a rambling missive

So June and July were a whirlwind of activities — sadly, most of them not doggie related.  We volunteer with the Kitsap Arts & Crafts Association, and our big festival/fundraiser was the final weekend in July.  This was our second festival as volunteers, but the 52nd annual for the organization.  We are struggling to keep it afloat with a tiny group of workers, and so it was complete madness for about 3 weeks!

I’ve been neglecting the Tripawds team somewhat lately, and I feel guilty about it — you’ve been so supportive to us, that I feel I owe the same support to others on the site.  But as I log on with trepidation only to find the thing that I dread the most — that another of our dear friends has left us — it gets me thinking about the fragility of my own little friend a lot more than I’d really like.  She’s no spring chicken to begin with, but this past 8 months has been really tough on her, and she’s visibly not the same dog she was as we ended 2010.

And while part of me tries desperately to enjoy every moment with my little friend, I can’t help but watch her like a hawk for any sign or symptom, with my heart catching in my throat if I think I might, maybe, perhaps see something.  I’d rather not think about it at all, but I find myself running my hands over her, not just giving her lovies, but searching for the one thing that I really don’t want to find.  So far, no signs of what I fear, but that doesn’t stop me from looking again in a little while.  And unfortunately, the losses of our compatriots just serves to remind me a little too much that one day it will be my Rio.  So although she’s enjoying life and she’s happy, this old dog (me) is having some trouble learning how to live in the now!

After several months of worrying (but not really wanting to know, if it was gonna be something bad), I finally broke down and had her cough checked out.  We did a couple of chest films last week, and while they show some bronchial inflammation, there are no shadows, no evil lurking mets, no cancer.  (I can’t remember who on Tripawds called them Boris and Natasha, but I LOVE that!)  So phew!  As we were at the vet for everypawdy’s annual check ups, we realized that Rio hasn’t had a “normal” vet appointment in so long, that she was 6 months late on her rabies vaccine!  (If we lived in a less rural environment, and if Rio didn’t feel the need to kill all of the little critters that live in our yard, I probably would just forego any future vaccinations, because she really isn’t exposed to most of the “bugs” that they vaccinate against.  But we do, and she does, so she got the shot.)

The monkeybutts got check-ups, too, and Tosca didn’t bite anyone!  Yay!  She also needed a rabies vaccine, although her’s was right on schedule.  Zeffy got super tiny when the vet was examining her.  She’s such a big baby at the doctor’s!  It could be because when I first got her, she used to eat a lot of stuff she wasn’t s’posed to and we had to go to the vet a few times — for stomach pumping, for x-rays to check the intestines — experiences like that when you’re a tiny pup, and I guess you could be scarred (or just scared) for life.  Plus, she’s not the bravest girl to start with….

We got to talking about how different all three girls are as patients, and how fortunate (if you can call it that) that it was Rio who had to have all the doctor visits.  She is a model patient — she doesn’t bite, doesn’t squirm, lets them do everything they need to do without even so much as a “Hey, now!” when they take her temperature — the only trouble they ever have with her is that she doesn’t want to leave me, so they have to lure her into the back room with food.

Tosca, on the other hand, has a red flag in her chart because she tried to eat a vet tech’s hand, and has snapped at the doctor a few times.  I have to really watch her closely, because if she’s not in the mood for it, somebody is going to lose a finger.  And Zephyr, little Nervous Nell, goes completely limp or tries to hide under the furniture.

But, overall, everyone had a good check up — Tosca got lots of props for weighing in at a svelte 83 pounds.  A few years ago, when I was in Ireland for a month, dad let T get as heavy as 103 lbs.  Let’s just say, he got a bit of a WTF when I got home, even though, by then she was down to 98 lbs.  She has been in the high 80’s to low 90’s for a while, and looks good at that weight, but she’s had a lot more energy and zip at this lower weight, so we think that we’ll keep her there.  Zeffy was a healthy 74 lbs, down from her low 80’s weight, and Rio was her tiny self at 59 (pre-amp, she weighed in between 72-76 lbs).  I think a lot of the weight loss that we’ve seen on all three of them can be directly related to their dietary changes over the last 8 months.  So yay, me, for a healthier diet for the dogs — now it’s time to work on my own extra lbs!!!

Oh, and I have to say, it’s really nice to have a vet bill for once that didn’t give me a heart attack when I got it!  3 annual exams, 2 rabies vaccines, 2 chest x-rays (a little peace of mind), stool sample, urinalysis = $300!!!!!  Granted, it’s still a lot of $$, but the x-rays alone probably would have been that much if I’d gone to Rio’s specialists for them.  Which leads me to my next little quandary:  to continue to see the specialists now that we’re past the chemo and have gotten the Cushings under control, or should I just get the abdominal ultrasounds, ACTH stimulation tests, etc. done by my regular vet?  Cost-wise, it will be a lot less money, and since I doubt that I will put Rio through anymore chemo/radiation/etc. treatments — although I do reserve the right to change my mind should the need arise — do we really need the specialist’s expertise going forward?  Rio is due for her abdominal ultrasound next week, and the last time I went, it was a 6 hour visit.  That’s the other part of the equation — if I get the US done at a local clinic or with my regular vet’s traveling US tech (which may very well be the same one as what the specialty clinic uses), I get an actual appointment, whereas at Summit, they don’t schedule you — you’re supposed to drop the dog and pick up later.  Since we drive 60+ miles to get there, it doesn’t make sense for me to drop Rio off and come back later to get her.  What would I do?  Where would I go?  So I just bring the computer and hang out…  Not exactly the best use of my time.

But the upside of having the oncology specialist, she’s treated Rio through all of this, and there’s a continuity and knowledge base  to both her records and her care that is comforting.  And her internal medicine specialist is in the same clinic as her oncologist, and they regularly consult with each other on her care (although that should have preempted what I like to call the Prednisone Debacle, but didn’t).  So, is this worth the extra cost, the extra gas, drive time, TIME time, etc.?  I don’t know…

Anyhow, to wrap up this brain dump, life is moving forward — often at a breakneck pace — and Rio is still kicking butt!  Rio’s mom is a little worse for wear, though!

Done with chemo!!!

June was insane, and July was beyond insane.  But I promised more details about how Rio’s been doing.

She finished up her last chemo on Wednesday.  I expected fireworks or champagne or something for our trouble, but it was very anti-climactic.  Rio didn’t even get a “Cancer Survivor” bandanna like she did the last time.  I was joking with the vet tech about it, and she said they’d been talking about ordering some, but just hadn’t yet.  I told her, navy blue on a black dog didn’t really work all that well, and that bright pink was really more Rio’s color…

She’s really doing well with the chemo this last few doses.  No nausea, no lethargy to speak of.  We haven’t even needed the Cerenia or metronidazole the last couple of times.  Her appetite is still really good, too.

On the other hand, she had another urinary tract infection and had to go back on the antibiotics for three weeks.  We’ll do another check next week to see if it’s cleared up.  She’s also been having a heck of a time getting around.  I’m not sure if she tweaked her knee or if Zeff knocked her down and hurt it, but I had the doctor look at it and she said there doesn’t appear to be any “structural” damage.  She’s on an NSAID to see if it will help.  Five days now and she’s a little better, but still having troubles.

Her hair has grown back on her hiney, finally!  She’s a little patchy still where the worst of the calcinosis is, but it’s so nice to see her shiny black furry butt again!  Her numbers looked really good on the last ACTH stimulation test that they did a few weeks back.  Exactly where the doctor wanted them to be!  Her muscles are starting to beef back up, and the bloated belly has gone away!  So we don’t have to retest that for another three to four months!

Rio will have an ultrasound in a month as follow-up, but for now, she’s got a clean bill of health!

One more thing, and maybe this is something worth asking in the forums:  Rio’s lipomas have mostly all disappeared.  I wonder if it’s the change in diet or if the chemotherapy took care of them.