Aug 28, 2010

AdventureLand

Day 5 - August 28th

Jen's house, in Santa Ynez, is a crazy awesome place. There's lots of visitors, 3 other dogs, 1 miniature horse, many fish, tons of space, and a huge, grassy backyard here. The horse, Jiminy Cricket, just hangs out in the backyard, grazing and occasionally chasing the dogs around. There's also a snake (which they're looking to get rid of) and a rat who was promoted from snake food to pet after he survived more than two weeks in the snake's cage.

Castor and I have really missed being surrounded by animal people.

Tough love
It seems to be working. He's eating normally now, and I think it's because I stopped pampering him. I started feeding him standing up, like he's used to. He's also drinking.

No more breakfast in bed for him. No more superfluous treats either. It's time to get back to routines and adapt for his acclimation to a healthy tripawd life. That means no gaining weight, lots of massaging and stretching, lighter walks, and more strength training. Squats, here we come! (Sit. Stand. Sit. Stand. ...)

I saw a really helpful video on the tripawd website. It is a series of 3 interviews with doctors at C.A.R.E. in Santa Monica. If you're interested, the exercises and stretching part is here. I might take Cas there for a consult too.

I guess my hard-ass philosophy on training will come in handy now, as will his incredible obedience and strength of will. It turns out all those times I wouldn't let him jump in and out of cars were great for his adaptation now. Plus, no treats or overfeeding have kept him lean.

It's also good that I'm a yoga teacher; I have a sense for giving adjustments, and I can practice honing those skills on him.

He's in great shape for what's coming.

Get off my back already
Castor is done being slung around. I only help him now if there's a big step. Not only is he getting around well, but I'm no longer nervously shadowing him. He's got it!

He walks (hoppily), pees, and he even pooped this morning. I didn't know how he'd manage, but apparently, if you have to go, you just do it. I'll spare you the picture. (LOL. Perhaps my documentation has gone overboard.)

Cas and Jiminy sittin in a tree...
Seriously, how weird is it that in Jen's backyard is a miniature horse named Jiminy Cricket who belonged to Michael Jackson? Surrealy weird, that's how. (Again, I am absolutely serious.)

He's adorable though, if a bit mouthy. Minis negotiate space differently than other horses. He moves more quickly. Apparently, me made it into the house one day when the sliding door was left open. Not a good, since there's mostly hardwood floors. They got him out unscathed, thankfully, after a worrisome slip.

Jiminy has been in his stable since Cas arrived, just in case he decided to chase him around or try to bite him like he has Maya and Doodle, the Burnese Mountain Dog. He was out today though, so Jen and I decided to see how it went.

Cas hopped out, and immediately, Little Man (Jen's affectionate name for Jiminy) came trotting over. Cas was staring so hard, with both ears and eyes, his forehead wrinkled all up. Jiminy's never taken such notice or interest in a dog.

Perhaps the stallion was thinking, "finally, a mate!"

To prevent any attempt at mounting or nibbling, Jen and Steph were right there with us. Cas sat down (he can do so with so much grace already), Jiminy stood; and they sniffed eachother, muzzle to muzzle, for at least a minute. It was adorable.

Unfortunately, no pics or video, because I was too concerned with his safety at the time. We are going to try to get some before I leave though. Stay tuned.

Anyway, he had a blast outside. He hopped around with the dogs, B-lined for the horse stable fence after Jen escorted Little Man inside. I actually had to hold his collar to slow him down. It was fantastic, save an ultra sad moment where he sat/fell at the wrong angle on his incision. He whined several times. Heart wrenching.

But he got up again, no problem. No tearing; no seeping. Thank goodness.

A brief absence
I went to a party at Eric's house this evening. It was the first time I've left Castor alone since being here. He was fine; I'm such a worrier. Anyway, it was good to spend time with non-Castor friends.

Sarah, Eric's wife, is amazing. She has so many animals. A rabbit, several dogs, 3 birds, fish, I imagine, some horses, most of which she's rescued. She is a Veterinarian too. Her and Eric have 3 kids. Currently, Sarah is pet sitting 2 labs for friends...for 3 months!

One of her birds is quite a love; he loves people. And by loves, I mean is known to scream if he's not getting attention. So cute, I was tempted (and encouraged by Sarah) to bring him home. The following isn't the best video (too dark), nor does it show him at his most cuddly (with Sarah), but it's a taste.


A highlight of my evening was coming home. Cas was so excited to see me, I was worried he was going to hurt himself, hopping around like a goofball! A ridiculously cute goofball. I missed him too.

He's feeling better

Day 4 - Friday, August 27th

Today, he is obviously feeling better. He's pawing, marking, and wagging. He wants to play with Matt and follow around the other dogs. In fact, he had to go right over to Matt when he heard him callously playing with Maya, the lab.




The bruising is also better. It may look bad, but it's so much better.

We're both adjusting so fast it's almost hard to comment on what's going on, since it's starting to feel like the new normal. My days are immersed in Castor. I take him out; I massage him; I sit with him and blog about him; I talk to people about him; I encourage him; I feed him; I give him pills (worst part!); I feel optimistic about him; and I experience swells of gratitude for those who are supporting him.


I didn't realize how much I was also being supported until Dabs and Matt both left Friday. I forced myself out of the house to go to a yoga class. I haven't been away from him since the surgery was over.

It was really good for me to get away, but by the 3rd hour, I was anxious to get home to him. It felt like 2 days. (Thanks for watching him, Matt.)

Feeling the imminent departure of Matt and Dabs' absence, when I got home, I started feeling something I haven't yet felt. I had brief moments of feeling bad for his current state. Matt just replied, "you saved him!," when I questioned what I'd done.

I know with absolute certainty that I am doing the best thing for him. Not me, but him. (They just happen to coincide right now.) Still, this is an emotional time, and my grief was probably catalyzed by hearing statistics of remission.

I do not wish to consider the survival averages at this point. I know that he has no sign of lesions in his lungs. I know that he is the same happy dog of 2 years ago. I know that he is in the best physical shape of his life. I know that everything is going the best it can be.

He demonstrates his strength and ability to adapt every moment. The best thing I can do is not only believe that he can win this battle, but envision him happy and healthy for years to come. That is what I am asking everyone to do. What can it hurt?

If I have to face something worse, I will face it then. Thankfully, I have yoga and the spirituality and tools it's given me to deal with the ground falling out beneath me.

I know the statistics. Fortunately, I also know what averages are, and he is not an average. He is an amazing creature who has always pulled up the average. Why should remission be any exception?

So, I expect the best of all outcomes. I am not going to grieve my boy. He is here with me and beautifully happy. And I will certainly not grieve his leg. It's just a leg. Humans may let that redefine them, but thankfully, dogs don't.


And Dabs was right, he's adorable hopping around. Adorable.


Right now, though he's not 100%, he's just crazy about having his favorite people around him. He gets to see his grandma and rob soon too! Then all his doggie friends soon enough.


For now, we're looking forward.

We now know he's up for life's adventures. And so am I.

Aug 27, 2010

He peed!

Day 3 - Thursday, August the 25th
Hooray!!!

I never thought I'd be so happy to see him pee. It reminds me of the time I celebrated his long-awaited dump on concrete in NYC. He waited 5 days that time. He was quickly rewarded with a carrot. People looked confused by my pride.

Yesterday, everyone was on board with the woo-hoo-ing, though. He's already figured it out. He peed the 2nd day after surgery, and every day since then. He even marked after the other dogs here.

Poop? Well, he needs to. These are the few activities that seem to be more difficult with the loss of a hind leg. Hopefully tomorrow he'll make it happen.

And he'll get another carrot. Definitely. =)

Aug 26, 2010

The day after

Day 2 - Wednesday, August 25th
A very not cool change
All was going so well, it was especially upsetting when he started doing poorly. After a few-step stroll in the house, he felt very hot. (It doesn't help that it's hot as F here right now!)

Yep. His temp was 105.5. Not good. (Normal dog temp is 100.5 - 102.5.)

Thankfully, Jen is here and invaluably helpful. We gave him cold fluids, soaked him in ice water dipped towels and iced his hip area. I was very worried when he started having really labored breathing, holding his head out as if he couldn't breathe well.

Suddenly, all of my calm and focused demeanor drained out through a hole the floor (one can only assume). It was a scary couple of hours for me. I kept treating his fever, and Jen kept monitoring him. After a dose of Metacam (an NSAID), he started getting better.

It seems that this is, most likely, his reaction to pain. Ugh.

Cas on his own 3 paws
Thankfully, he was up on his feet later that day.
In fact, he was up on his feet, all by himself!



So, he's already eating and walk-hopping. He's recovering and learning so fast. He doesn't want to drink much, but so far he's willing to eat kibble soup. (I'm so tricky.) The site is definitely swollen and has LOTS of bruising (see: picture at right). All normal, though painful looking.

Still no peeing or pooping. That's going to be a challenge the first time. He'll figure it out though; they all do!

His personality is starting to shine through the sutures and bruising now too. When the paw came up, inviting (or was it demanding?) some chest rub action, I knew he was doing alright. It melts my heart every time.

Gratitude as great attitude
I can't say enough about how the support of my best friends who were able to be here in person has helped me and Castor. Dabs has been constantly at my side helping since I heard the news. Matt, Cas's poppa, was able to come out from Madison to be here. Castor's roommates, Rob (a human) and Hoshi (his kitten sister), can't be here, but they send love to him every day.

Eric performed Castor's surgery with skill and love, and I am so grateful to him and everyone at CARE who helped out.

Jen has been invaluable in his surgery (literally. she scrubbed in for it.) and the ensuing days recovering, both from her love and her experience. Her and her roommates, Sarah and Stephanie (humans); Maya, Doodle, and Marius (doggies); and Jimini Cricket (the mini horse previously owned by the King of Pop...Seriously!) have generously welcomed us, and the entourage, into their home.

I can't imagine having other people care for Castor in the hospital or going through this recovery in San Francisco. Not only has being here, surrounded by loved ones and more nature than concrete, been vital for him; it's been essential for my serenity and sanity in all of this craziness.

And to those of our friends who are supporting from afar, in prayers, words, and/or money, I am so grateful. I can't possibly list you all here, because, fortunately, there are too many of you. However, you are all helping Castor through this ordeal, and I can't express how much that means to me.

The other people I'm grateful to are those who put theirs and their dogs experience with cancer and amputation out there for me to read. That is one reason I'm documenting everything here. I want Castor and I to be of service to anyone who has the shit luck of having to go through this.

I've heard gratitude defined as great attitude. Of course, I would not have chosen this path, and I cannot say I am grateful for what Castor is going through.

I can say that I am grateful for being able to support him through this. He has given me unconditional, devoted love his entire life. I am absolutely grateful to offer the same to him now.

Get that cancer off of him

Surgery Day - Tuesday, August 24th

Time to smell the grass

As per his usual, Cas did not want to get out of bed in the morning. Even this airbed we're sharing.

Before surgery, we stopped off at the park again. There were ducks, and turtles, and doggies, oh my!

So beautiful, yet so few people. It's incredibly peaceful. And, apparently, it smells interesting too!

Amputation

It was a short stop, and then a quick ride to CARE Hospital. He was less nervous with his Auntie Jen there. His teeth were not chattering, a common occurrence at the vet. A quick chat with the surgeon, the fantastic and thoughtful Dr. Eric Wright, recapping what I've spent my last week and a half learning (Summary: Osteosarcoma - very bad. To stop pain, remove leg.) and some procedure and recovery information.

Cas gets to keep his hip and a small portion of his femur since the tumor was in his distal tibia. This means he will heal faster, and his muscles won't eventually atrophy as is the case with complete amputation of limb. He'll have a little bum muscle. Yay!!

I was no longer anxious or grieving. I am ready. I am ready to have this cancer taken off his body. I am ready for his rehabilitation. I am ready to have a happier pup. I am ready to deal.

So, with a big hug from my dearest Jen and a kiss to Cas, I left him in the back while they prepped the meds for his transformative nap. I was so thankful to be leaving him in the hands of not only skilled professionals, but close friends.

I spent the next many hours busying myself with catching up on the rest of my life - emails, writing, knitting, yoga - and fundraising for Cas. And waiting.

I waited patiently until about 2:30.

"Mom, I'm outta surgery," relays Jen via text message. "He did great. Hope ur ok he's fine." She even sent me a cute (though, perhaps strange for non-techs and vets) pic of my boy zonkered with his tongue all hanging out. (adorable!)

The surgery couldn't have gone better. His closure is beautiful. He spent several hours sleeping it off and was expected to stay overnight.

Then came the call. Apparently, he was not loving coming off the narcotics. He wouldn't stop whining unless he was being cuddled by Jen, who, oddly enough, had work to do at work. So, we all decided he should spend the evening at home with us. ♥

Dabs and I went to get him, and he had just been walking around (i.e., with two techs' help and a sling) outside looking everywhere for me. When I got there I just sat down with his head in my lap and comforted him. Another tech friend, Tina, sat with him for 2 hours before I arrived. Such sweet people we know!

I finally saw his incision as we left. OMG! It's so painful looking, as are most surgical sights, I imagine. I have to just believe Jen (which I do, of course) when she says it looks great. It's all about perspective.

Not sleeping sucks
I slept next to Cas the whole night. (I'm surprised by how comfortable sleeping on a bunch of pillows can be. No more will I feel sorry for Cas sleeping on his doggie bed, instead of my bed. That is not to say that he won't sleep on my bed at night. =)

I wanted to know if he needed me for anything through the night. Boy, did he!

I am sure it sucked more for Castor than for me. Neither of us slept. He whined a lot, not from pain; coming off of drugs makes them wig a bit. Understandably so. I think I dozed of for 5 minutes here and there. Finally, around 3:30am, I woke up Jen and he got a little more pain meds.


He, and therefore I, was asleep for about 2 hours. Sweet! Ah, the little things.

Very little sleep won't stop Cas, though.

The next morning, we were up and hopping around. The getting up part was a challenge, but only a little one with Jen on team Castor! I am so proud of him; he's such a rockstar! Check him out getting around with almost no help less than 24 hours post-op. He even ate a small amount of chicken.


(Jen's got the touch!)


(The video turns sideways toward the end. Dabs is learning to record as Cas learns to walk. haha!)

The recovery is going really well. Some dogs I've read about didn't get up for days and wouldn't eat a thing. We're lucky his spirits are so high.

With that, I am so optimistic. Go Castor!

Aug 24, 2010

Another day as a quadruped

Monday, August the 23rd

I couldn't help but sit in the back of the Element with Cas on the way to the hospital Monday morning. I have become quite clingy, at this point. We drove to the park for a pleasant hour, pre-anesthesia.

As always, he loved the smallest dog around. He and Princess were instant friends. Everyone's always amazed at how gentle he is...except for the standing on your feet thing. (Ouch!) It was gorgeous and way warmer than I'm used to now. At 9am, Cas was seeking shade.

This whole ordeal couldn't have gone better. We have this familiar, idyllic place to immerse him in during the most stressful part of his rehabilitation. He is surrounded by some of his best human friends, all ready to help and to cuddle.

Just as we're about to leave, I've worked up the best attitude for the drop-off. Then Jen calls. They have a few emergency surgeries to deal with first. We end up rescheduling for tomorrow.

It's better - Cas will have more attention and time from his Jen. There will hopefully be less going on in the hospital.

So, we wait until tomorrow.

Aug 23, 2010

On the road again

Sunday, August the 22nd

We left San Francisco Sunday at 11am.

I know that I'm doing what's best for my boy, and I haven't been feeling emotional like the first couple of days after I found out about his leg. This morning though, was hard. I found myself in a bicker-fest with Dabs. Then, walking to the dog park, I started to tear up watching him prance down the street. (It's so adorable!)

"He won't be able to prance around anymore!" But Dabs assures me, "he'll do something else that's adorable after the surgery." She's right. He can't help himself. =)

Again, I practice staying in the moment. We had a blast at the park and then piled into the car. Next stop: Santa Barbara.

I must mention that Cas is about the cutest little traveling companion ever. He's been all over with me. His first couple of years were lived in Santa Barbara until I moved for grad school at University of Wisconsin.

Our first road trip was moving to Madison WI. It was...well, the term "packed like sardines" comes to mind. Picture me, Castor, Matt (6'2"-tall guy), two cats, and luggage enough for 3 months. Oh, and we did that trip in my Beetle! (As my first road trip, I decided that road trips sucked. I was wrong, but that trip was less than ideal.)

From Madison, about 3 years later we took another trip to San Francisco and back. Then to Buffalo. Then back.

Last summer we spent four months in NYC after another road trip from Madison. We loved our time in Chelsea, including several cab rides to Central Park,



where he enjoyed playing with doggies, smelling the flowers, and drinking from the fountains.



Our last trip from NY to Madison, and then all the way back to SF, ended last September.

So, he's used to traveling, anyway.

He found more room than ever in Dab's car this time. I even provided him with an ample pillow supply. Still, his lips seemed to need more space. (adorable!)



We headed straight for Summerland Beach when we arrived. He grew up digging on this beach, so I wanted to spend a couple of hours R&Ring here. It was a beautiful day, as per SB's usual, except of course for the ridiculous amount of oil in the water. (WTF? I used to swim around in this ocean.)

I continued to feel anxious periodically. I don't have an anchor right now. I feel uprooted and nervous. The last two yoga classes I taught this week were for grounding down, especially in times when you feel the earth slip away from underneath. I practiced for Castor and for myself, searching for harmony between my inner and outer worlds.

External worlds don't adjust for us, we have to find a beautiful balance aligning ourselves, from within, to what's around us. I'm working on that. Castor is my inspiration.
Cancer is my catalyst.

Tomorrow is a big day. Surgery is at noon.
One big, divine breath at a time. I'm ready...set...

Aug 20, 2010

We all need a little help sometimes

Today, Castor needs our help.

I am grateful to speak for him and ask for your support.



Please read the letter below!

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Castor Donation Flyer



He can't wait to get back to his playmates, especially his gf, Scarlet:

video

Castor and the other Seaward (Cancer, that is.)

Live in the moment, the powerful, eternal present. Nice thought, but how? Non-human animals are sometimes the best role models for us.

“I don't know that animals experience gratitude, in the sense we commonly conceive of it, but they certainly don't feel sorry for themselves or suffer the kind of greed that plagues so many of us humans,” I wrote a couple of months ago.

My dog, my guru.

The teachings begin.
On August 10th, after a normal, gamboling morning at the dog park and 2-mile urban hike, I noticed Castor (see: the beautiful creature above) holding his rear left leg off the ground.

“Oh, S! He hurt himself,” I thought. I tried to calm down though, because I’ve been practicing the-sky’s-not-falling mantra for the past … well, all of my boy’s life. After hearing the worst things that can happen to these beautiful, gentle giants, especially from my surgical tech friend, Jen, (who sees the worst of it, over and over again), I learned that usually, it’s just a stiff day or a sore muscle. I can empathize with that.

Still, I called the vet the next day for advice. They helped steer me in the direction of rest and wait a day or two, since my vet was gone until Saturday (4 days away). I managed to not give in to guilty feelings as we walked right past the park and back home for 2 days.

He seemed to walk fine, once outside, but if standing he didn’t put equal weight on his back feet. My search for the area of discomfort was fruitless. He enjoyed his hip flexion and not a peep with knee movement. I know how stoic he is, so I wasn’t convinced.

On Thursday, I decided to take him in the next day. That morning, I noticed that his ankle was swollen. (When I told Jen it was “noticeably swollen,” she assured me that “noticeable” for me is probably invisible to most. It’s really not that swollen yet, which is good. Can you see it?)








“Okay, I’ll take him in at 4:15pm, and hopefully, even with x-rays, I can make it to yoga at 6:30, ” I thought. I hoped it wasn’t broken. I figured it wasn’t since he was walking on it. “I’m sure dogs can sprain their ankles just like us. GAWD, it’s gonna suck to have to keep him off of it until it heals! He loves his doggie friends!”


The veterinarian wanted to x-ray it right away. She says, “I’m not worried about it being broken, since he’s walking on it.” …Just as I suspected… “I’m more worried about a boney cancer.”

Time goes wonky.
After an hour wait (butterflies, included in the set!), she used the C-word on me. I was floored. After all this time, after convincing myself to inhale, it kicks the wind right out of me. “It does look like cancer. Do you want to see the x-rays?”

Did I want to see them? I’ll tell you what I wanted. I wanted to change Cas’ cancer into normal bone and cut him a frakking break. After January’s diagnosis of retinal atrophy and his puppyhood HOD flare-ups, I figured it easy going for him for the rest of our time together.


Of course, I looked.

Enlarged bone, spongy parts, and foggy regions.
(Foggy is generally not something you want to see in x-rays, fyi.)


I held it together, just collecting more data. (Data is for dealing.) Assuming he couldn’t have an amputation (WhoTF told me that, I can’t remember), I asked what I should do about his routines now.

“Just short leash walks to go to the bathroom.” That’s when the tears came. The catalyst was probably, “for the rest of his life?” Once you start to pinpoint the numerical meaning of that phrase, shit gets hard.

I knew that couldn’t be the plan. He loves his doggie friends. His favorite thing to do is play at the park, and my favorite thing to do is have his company to pick up the bread every day. Thankfully, I have great friends in the surgery business. I sobbed out two explanatory messages to Jen and Eric (Dr. Eric Wright, the fantastic surgeon Jen works for).

I spend the next 9 real-time (seemingly 24) hours waiting for a response. I finally spoke to Jen the next day, and she assured me that amputation was not only an option for him, but it was a blessing that it was a rear leg. It’s easier to adjust as a "tripawd" in that situation.

Hopes Readjust.
After much researching (mostly by Dabs, my BFF, who replaced restlessness with digesting canine cancer information) and consulting with various veterinary professionals, it seems there are 3 basic options for my boy.

1. Do nothing (including exercise), but treat the horrific pain. Put him out of his misery once said misery was peaking. (This often happens when they break their weakening bone.)

2. Amputate. This is done, oddly enough, to simply relieve their pain. It improves their quality of life. (Note: This can be harder for the human to deal with than their pup.)

3. Amputate and do chemotherapy. The so-called “gold standard.” (Because it takes a lot of gold to pay for it?) Relieve the pain; slow the cancer.

Best for my boy is option number 3, so 3 it is! Now, to overcome at least 2 more obstacles - metastasis and money. It turns out the first place osteosarcoma likes to open a second home is in the lungs. If there are lesions there already, amputation is usually not done.

I never thought I'd be hoping that Cas could have an amputation, but here I am. Tuesday, we saw an oncologist, Dr. Cadile in San Mateo. (She was great - informative, thorough, and warm.) We talked plans (see: 1, 2, 3 above). I told her I was going to have Eric remove his leg as soon as possible, if he was cleared for it.

After I coaxed him to the back for chest rads, I spent 4 hours waiting for the results. (Okay, really it was about 30 minutes, but time is funny that way.) Dr. Cadile came in garnering residual laughter, which I took to either be a good sign or a gross oversight.

Though I felt the urge to jump up and run to the nearest toilet, I sat in a calm suit while carnivorous nerves tore at my insides. I waited for it... "I can't see anything in his lungs."


YAYAYAYAY!!! Woooooo hoooo!!! After the much needed, 5-second dance party in my heart, we made plans. On to obstacle, the second.


Work it out!

I don't know, in the end, how we will pay for everything.
I trust that we will. He is my child. I have been given the opportunity to hold Castor through this, returning the unconditional love he's always given me. So, I shall.



"I'd sell my kidney for my dog!" A fellow dane lover who had been through cancer with her dane explained her position on the money issue in a recent conversation. She gave me the support she could - her story and understanding. To us, and many others, there's no obstacle tough enough to get in the way of supporting our pups.

We move forward together now. My best friends will all be here with us fortunately. Dabs and I drive Castor down to Santa Barbara Sunday. His surgery will be Monday.

So, the first 5 days felt like 3 weeks, and the next 5 like 3 days. The speed at which we must proceed mirrors the aggressiveness of this unconscionable disease. Now, time moves at breakneck speed.


Money may trickle in more slowly, but I trust that it will come. What else can I do?

Trust, love, and be present for my boy.