Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mid-September update on Isabelle

We've been quiet on the blogging front lately. Mom is spending as much time with Isabelle as she can. We know her time is getting shorter, but mom is determined to make her last days as comfortable and as happy as possible. 

At her last vet visit, we discovered that Isabelle has both a compressed spinal disc and one of the worst cases of hip dysplasia that the vet has seen. That explains the pacing and hunched back she's had ever since the first surgery. At first, mom thought it was constipation because that happened too. But when that was resolved and the pacing didn't go away, mom wasn't sure what was going on. Isabelle is now on codeine and a different steroid to make her more comfortable. 

One bonus for her is that she doesn't have to swim anymore. The compressed disk means no strenuous activity until that heals. If all goes well, then she will do more water therapy for her hips once her spine is ok. 
Warming up after a swim
Even with five years worth of vet visits, no one had noticed that she had hip dysplasia. Isabelle hid it really well. The best explanation that mom and the vet could come up with is that she just couldn't fake it anymore with the cancer also making her feel crummy. 

Isabelle does have another tumor in the same area as the first one. It isn't on the surface like the other one. This one is deeper inside her body. Unfortunately, it is growing really fast. Last week it was smaller than a ping pong ball. Now, it's closer to the size of an egg. She is having the tumor removed on Friday, as long as her blood work comes back clear. 

Mom will talk to the vet about the surgery on Monday. If when they open her up, they see more tumors, especially if they are on organs, then Mom will make the decision to let her go. She can't keep having surgeries to remove the tumors every two months. We know that the cancer will move to other places if it hasn't already. 

If it's possible to keep her pain free, mom will ask that she come out of anesthesia. Mom will bring a burger or two to the vet's office and say goodbye. If she will be in pain after coming out of surgery, then mom will ask that she be put to sleep at that time. It wouldn't be fair to bring her out of anesthesia to hurt. 

Until then, Isabelle has been given the greatest gift any pug could ask for. The vet said to feed her as much as she could eat without upsetting her stomach. Mast cancer in particular feeds on carbohydrates. We are trying to starve that sucker. That means no grains which sadly means no cookies. But it does mean lots of straight up meat. Isabelle now gets a lunch meal of cooked beef. She is still eating like a champ. 

This where Isabelle prefers to nap now. 
Not one of her several orthopedic beds. 
Not the super cushy beds or the one with heating pad. 
A cat bed that's too small. 
But it's at mom's feet. 
Location, location, location.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Today is September 11. I can still see the images of the planes hitting the towers as clearly as if it was yesterday. Those images were played over and over that day and so many days after that. At first, I couldn't look away. But I was horrified. The first time I saw a plane hit, it felt like my breath was knocked out of me. I fell into a chair.

I was active duty in the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio at the time. I was an instructor. My class was half full of Air National Guardsmen from New York. No one could get through to their families for hours. It was agonizing to watch them not know what happened. It took a day, but everyone was able to get in touch with family.

Our base was already on high alert on September 11. The month before, an angry young man who had been discharged from the Air Force, left a bomb for my First Sergeant. She had received threats from him already, and because of that, she had been transferred to another squadron. The man came into my building and left the package bomb in a bathroom. One of my coworkers found the box and took it the base mail room. She opened it in her office. It was a small, shrapnel bomb. It was intended to do a lot of damage.

Her name is Janet McWilliams. She survived. She lost her left hand, most of the fingers on her right hand, most of her hearing and part of her sight. In 2010, she was the first woman in the US to receive a hand transplant. She survived and continued to be the awesome woman she was. She fought to stay active duty for as long as she could. She refused to let him win.

He was caught pretty quickly. He was in downtown San Antonio, just miles from the base. He was convicted too. He was mentally disturbed, but that's not an excuse. He blamed her for his discharge and went after her. He deserved the death penalty, but didn't get it.

He was first sentenced to life plus in prison. He keeps appealing and from what I can find, he doesn't seem to be reducing his sentence by much. I think he may be down to 90 years at this point. He will never make it out because every time he appeals, Janet goes to court too. She reminds the courts of the damage he did. I think as long as she does that, he will never get out of prison. Intentionally, the judge in San Antonio sentenced him the first time on September 11, 2002.

So I think of her when I remember September 11. I remember how resilient she was. I remember how resilient we all were. I think of how that changed our country for the better and worse. I wish we could back to before though. Every box left unattended makes me wary. I listen for planes to fall out of the sky. I'm not paralyzed by this fear, but it lurks in my unconscious. Beautiful clear days like today and that day aren't as beautiful as they were.

But I tell people I love them more. I make sure that people know I appreciate them. I guess that's all we can do.

Originally published on my other blog

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For Greta

Words are never enough in times of sadness. 
Still, we send our love to Greta's family
Sending you peace and comfort.
Love never dies. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

What a weekend so far! And we have one more day of fun left!

It finally warmed up enough to swim again. We've had an unusually cool summer.  Tallulah's paw still hasn't healed enough for her to swim. Boo. 
However, that just meant more swim time for Isabelle! Double boo!
This is one unhappy pug. She was so mad, she was shaking. She's not a fan of swimming, but that's the only exercise she can safely get. 
It makes her feel perkier later on and makes her tired enough to sleep soundly. 
After swimming came the nail trims. This is how Isabelle gets her nails did. She doesn't have the oomph to roll over and can't reach up enough to try to bite mom's hands. Although it is very undignified.
All was forgiven when mom brought the bones out. That blur is a frozen rib bone.

In really stupid mom news, she did a number on Tallulah's hurt paw. We went to the vet Saturday morning to make sure it was healing. It is, just slowly. The vet said that mom didn't have to do the gauze and tape bandage routine anymore. Just a bootie to keep Tallulah from licking it. 

Well, apparently two weeks of perfect bandages did not carry over to taping a simple bootie. 
 This is what happens when you wrap the tape too tight. 
A giant swollen paw. Very bad mom. 
Do not wrap the tape too tight. 
Fortunately, with some massage, the swelling started to come down. Although she *looks* like she's giving serious stink eye, she was actually dozing off while mom rubbed her paw. She is walking on the paw normally, and the swelling should be gone in a day or two.

 We are promised steak tomorrow, even though mom got hers tonight. 

After a lot of thinking, crying and praying, mom decided not to choose chemo for Isabelle. It just isn't the right choice for her. If everything went perfectly- the chemo didn't make her sick and it got all the cancer, there's a high likelihood of recurrence. And she will still have breathing issues. If the cancer didn't take her, pneumonia likely would. 

We are focusing on her comfort. We are using the Dog Cancer Survival Guide by Dr. Demian Dressler to guide her care. She's taking Apocaps, a supplement designed by him to help fight the cancer. He recommends other things like moderate exercise, sunshine, massage and foods like sardines and krill oil. 

We are seeing our holistic vet for some additional treatment like Traditional Chinese Medicine and possible acupuncture. She's experiencing some back end weakness which mom isn't sure is cancer, arthritis or age related. We are also seeing the regular vet because there may be another tumor near where the first one was. It isn't like the first one, but there's something there. 

We are trying to enjoy every day with her and make her as comfortable as possible. She's eating with gusto still, but then she's a pug. When it's time, Isabelle will go with a belly full of burger and laying on her favorite bed. As much as mom hates that she has to, she's mostly at peace with the fact that Isabelle will not be with us for long. 

Cancer truly, truly sucks. 

We hope that everyone is having a fantastic weekend full of grilled goodness, sunshine and snuggles. Take this time to really be with the ones you love.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

No breaks!

This summer just keeps on getting better. :/

First, Isabelle is doing ok. She's been having some poop issues that appear to be resolving with Panacur, although the fecal test came back negative. The poop issue has been making her uncomfortable, causing lots and lots of pacing. After two days of Panacur, the pacing has been reduced quite a bit. And her poop has improved. So paws crossed that the medicine does the trick.

Second, our swimming pool air ring sprung a leak. Mom couldn't find the hole to patch it. It has been unusually cold for summer here, meaning no swimming for a few weeks. This weekend, the heat is back. So when it's finally swimming weather, no pool. This pool is very important to mom's mental health. So she got another one.

This one is taller that the previous one which meant mom needed to figure out a new way for us to get in and out safely.

It doesn't look like much but it works.                                                                             

Soon after this, we got into a big fight. Tallulah always seems to get the worst of it.  This time, Petunia gashed her toe pad. The one that had the weird problem about a year ago. It was bad enough to mean a trip to the ER vet. 
In doggy jail before the vet.

After 3 hours at the ER vet. No swimming for at least two weeks. 

How could such a cute face hide such a vicious fighter? 

Three days of crate rest, 3-5 days of bandage changes, no getting it wet (naturally, there's rain in the forecast), antibiotics and pain meds. Mom's rigged newspaper bags to keep the bandage cleaner. 

Paws crossed that the rest of the summer is swimming weather and that there are no other health problems for anyone!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A very serious post today

We lost a great actor and comedian yesterday to suicide. It's heartbreaking. Robin Williams was so full of life that his absence seems like a hole in the world. He left behind three children, a wife and a pug named Leonard.

While we don't know the particulars of his mental illnesses, he was truly sick. If you've never experienced a mental illness, it's hard to understand how someone can feel so hopeless and so deep in a hole that they feel there is no way out. I sincerely pray that if you haven't experienced it, you never do.

I have been clinically depressed for more than a year now. Clinical depression is different than situational depression. And both are different than sadness. We all get sad sometimes. Depression is not sadness. It may look like it, but it's not. Clinical depression is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. I have no "reason" to be depressed. I just am. Situational depression starts with a sad situation that leads to a change in the brain chemistry. People who have lost a loved one or their job can get situational depression. People with clinical depression usually don't start with a sad event.

I think my depression was triggered by getting whooping cough two Christmases ago. I was very sick for a long time. Just as a diagnosed disease like whooping cough or pneumonia can create changes in the body, it could create changes in the brain. Adding insult to injury, I have had problems with sleeping for years. I am a night owl in an early bird world with a very early bird job (for me). Sleep deprivation can do terrible things to the brain, too.

I used to be called Pollyanna because of my positive attitude. Not any more. I had no patience, even for my beloved pugs. I snapped at people. I got ragingly angry over things I shouldn't. And this is actually an improvement. For eight months, I slept. A lot. Came home from work and took a two hour nap. Woke up, ate dinner, then went to bed. Slept all weekend. And I was still exhausted. It took all my energy to get up and go to work.

I have been on a couple of medications over the last year. I also have migraines, and the medication I take for the headaches interacts with most of the anti-depressants on the market. So I've tried a few different ones. The one that finally seemed to work actually helped me sleep a lot better. But after a few months, I started to get irrationally angry and snappish. That can be a side effect. I've been off the medication for about two weeks now, and I'm doing okay. I've started a different medication just for sleeping that is not really fantastic but better than nothing.

I'm calling it remission. I think depression is a cancer of the soul. I may never get rid of it, only treat it into remission. I'm aware of it, and I know the signs that I need to see a doctor. I'm not ashamed of asking for help or taking medications. I think my trick will be identifying it sooner before it gets so bad. When you are so depressed that it's hard to function, it's very hard to be an advocate for yourself.  You don't have to energy to question doctors or push for treatment. Just recently, I've had more energy and pushed to get more answers. It turns out, my thyroid level has also been low. Low thyroid is also linked to depression.

Mental illnesses are just as real and valid as other diseases. Just because you can't see depression under a microscope doesn't mean it's not real. There's not a blood test for bipolar yet. But it is still real.

People who are depressed can't just cheer up. It's not a matter of getting more exercise, doing yoga, drinking chamomile tea. It's not something you can cure with willpower any more than you can cure cancer with positive thinking. Are there things you can do to take better care of yourself? Sure. And if a depressed person can, maybe they do. When I was in my sleeping phase, going up the stairs made me so tired that I had to sit down at the top of the stairs. I dozed off at work all the time. Exercising was out of the question.                          

If the tragic death of Robin Williams leaves us with anything, let it be that we must stop treating mental illness as imaginary and shameful. We don't want to be depressed. We don't want to have anxiety. We want to be happy and play with our dogs, laugh with our friends. We don't want to let the laundry pile up. We don't want to hurt our family and friends by dying. If we had a choice, we wouldn't choose to be depressed. Nobody chooses to have cancer or Alzheimer's or a stroke. Nobody chooses mental illness either.

We must stop shaming people with mental illness. I think most of the time people don't even realize they are doing it. The media shows us the terrible side of mental illness with stories of school shootings. I know one person who won't see a doctor because they are afraid that their coworkers will make fun of them or see them as dangerous. If you would see a doctor for a broken arm or stomach problem, then see a doctor for mental illness.

If you know someone with depression, be kind to them. Don't try to fix them or offer advice. Just be there. Listen with compassion. Let them know you care. Ask if they need help then help them find a good doctor. Don't tell them to smile more. My grandmother has never been depressed (although she certainly has had opportunities for it) and doesn't understand. I have at least convinced her to stop telling me to cheer up. Telling a depressed person to cheer up makes them feel like their feelings aren't important. She doesn't understand, any more than I understand what it's like to have breast cancer (which she has, again). But she does get that I am not well and tries to be more compassionate. If an 81 year old can do it, so can we all.

Be kind to others. You never know if that smile is forced because someone is too scared to admit they are sick. Being kind doesn't take much effort and you never know how you may impact someone's day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Still not good news

Mom talked to the regular vet today, and the news still isn't that great. Given Isabelle's age and health, chemo is possible but is not as likely to help. If it worked great (and Isabelle handled it ok), it might give her another year. Without chemo, she likely has a few months. 

You'd think this would be a really easy decision to make, but it is not. There's a very real chance that chemo (at $350 a session!) wouldn't even work. The vet told mom that another patient who was doing really well on chemo had a tumor come up during a session. They switched to a different kind which the poor dog did not tolerate, leading to days in the hospital. Then there are other dogs who do tolerate the chemo and go into remission. 

There is no clear answer here. Thus, there has been no decision. 
Even taking the cost out of it, mom still doesn't have a good answer yet. 

In the meantime, Isabelle is doing ok. 
Now that's she off the Tramadol, her digestive system is happier. Tramadol can make a pug constipated, even with pumpkin. That definitely made her uncomfortable. 

Her diet has changed though. No more processed grains which means no more Cheerios. Mast cell cancer feeds off of simple carbohydrates. That also means no more hamburger buns. 
On the other hand, she does get to eat a stinky sardine every day. 
Sardines are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids which helps keep the immune system strong. 
She'll be getting some extra antioxidants, a stronger vitamin and a nutraceutical called Apocaps. 
 She'll stay on Benadryl and prednisone, no matter what mom decides. The prednisone will help with any inflammation. Benadryl is because mast cell tumors release histamine. Anyone who has ever been hit with allergies knows how bad they can make you feel. 

Please continue to keep us in your prayers and thoughts. Trying to figure out the right thing to do for Isabelle is tearing mom up.