Why did I pick NOW to become a blogger?

A few days ago I was given a diagnosis that rocked my world. I'm a 10-year old Corgi living in Portland, Oregon. I am reasonably healthy, except for that abdominal surgery I had last summer. Ok - I don't know WHY I ate that piece of wire but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

In the middle of March, I was told by the folks at the Veterinary Cancer Referral Service that I have K9 lymphoma. I was gobsmacked! My mom immediately tried to find out everything she could and, while there were many sad stories, there really wasn't much else to go on. There are "support groups" but my mom's not much of a joiner when it comes to those things.

What we decided to do was chronicle this journey so that others can follow along. Those who have their own dogs fighting cancer - lymphoma and other forms. Those lucky enough to have a Corgi. Those just SO abysmally bored they have no better way to waste their time.

So we'll see how this works. Be well - The Barney Dog

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Week 3: Remission! WINNING! REALLY winning. Not like that crazy guy winning.

Yesterday, we went to Dr. Freeman, whose office is at Dove Lewis, for my third chemo session.  When I left, Jim (the great guy who sits at the desk and gives me treats) gave my mom a piece of paper that said “…His lymph nodes are back to normal size and he appears to be in remission for lymphoma! Yah!...” There were BIG sighs of relief all around. My mom doesn't believe ANYTHING unless she sees it for herself.  She says "Glass Half Empty" is her Native American name.  So, here it is in writing...well, typing. I have to admit, I was starting to worry but I think I've gotten over those manic moments for now.
Of course, I thought that meant no more ground beef or scrambled eggs.  Au contraire.  My remission STARTED yesterday.  It lasts, on average, 6 to 18 months.  So, for the next 5 months, I WILL be going back to see Jim, the treat guy, and Dr. Freeman and the rest of the people at Dove Lewis.  The medicine is really not that bad and whatever ill-effects I may feel are completely overshadowed by the exceptional additions to my diet.  Spinach a few nights ago…yogurt…these delicious dog smoothies…  I heard my mom talking to someone about chicken necks and backs in a pressure cooker.  Not too appetizing by the sound of it but one never knows. Before long, I'll be back to my usual self.  Charming folks with my scintillating personality, witty repartee, and amazing balancing skills (see above). As a matter of fact, I was SO feisty yesterday, they've given me a prescription sedative for my next trip.  I'm sure you'd need one, too, if someone tried to dry shave YOUR leg and stick a needle in it. 

When I was getting my chemo (this week it's Vincristine IV again), my mom went to Kornblatts and had a bagel with her friend Kathy.  Kathy's dog, Sam, had lymphoma, too.  Sam was very young and lived for a little while longer but even with the chemo, he never went into remission. Poor guy. Kathy sounded like a great dog mom, though.  She cooked extra special meals and got mushroom pills for Sam from someone she called a hole-istic vet.  She gave the left over pills to my mom so now I'm getting them in my ground beef.  I'll make sure to take them every day and think of Sam when I do.

There are SO many dogs that come in to Dove Lewis for cancer treatments when I'm there.  I feel lucky that my parents can afford this stuff because I remember what Dr. Freeman said the first day..."a few months to live."  Maybe people think we don't understand what they say thanks to that Larson cartoon but we can tell just by the tone.  You could say "I'm going to feed you prime rib tonight" but if you say it like you're mad or you make one of those wrinkly faces when you say it, we think you're saying something bad.  Or that we did something bad. Or that you're mad.  But we also know when you're upset.  We can just tell that by the way you smell.  It's a dog/nose thing.

So, I got home yesterday and was ready to celebrate, BIG time.  We went out on the deck.  Ran around a bit.  Sniffed at a few things.  Nothing new. Drank about 18 gallons of water (that's what the Prednisone does) and I was looking forward to just hanging out and soaking up some rays.  There WAS sun on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, it lasted about 2 minutes, as it usually does this time of year. We were disappointed but, as my dad says, "Here in Oregon, it's a dry rain."  I'm not exactly sure what that means.  They also said that about the heat in Arizona when we lived there: "It's a dry heat."  Like THAT made it any better. A convection oven is dry heat. I want to cook with it; not stick my head in it or live in it.  At the end of the summer when we had to go outside, it was like a blast furnace.  Even the pool was too hot.  But I digress.

I was thinking of my brother Fred when I was at Dove Lewis.  Fred and I got into a fight last year. Nothing tragic.  Just your normal sibling bite and growl, pick and roll thing.  I somehow managed to grab Fred's ear, though, and do some damage.  As you can see by the photos, Fred's got SOME ears.  He's never going to grow into those ears.  And when my tooth got caught and ripped it - just a little - I found out how much ears can bleed.  The living room looked like a scene from CSI - Miami, not Vegas.  It wouldn't stop and that resulted in Fred's second visit to Dove Lewis. (The first was the Imodium episode.) It was late on a Saturday night and they had a LOT of patients.  A LOT of them were "urgent," as opposed to Fred who was "stable." He's not really stable but I suppose it means something medically as opposed to socially. They folded his ear back over the rop of his head and taped until it stopped bleeding. They drew a little ear on his bandage along with a smiley face.  He was pretty funny looking.  All of the other parents at Dove Lewis - the ones who had brought their dogs and cats in and were really worried about what was going to happen to them - could only look at Fred and laugh. He's definitely good for comic relief from time to time.  They also gave my mom some epinephrine to take home which surprised her.  She said she knew epinephrine was used when people had allergic reactions to things.  Some people carry what they call "epi pens" for bee stings or peanut allergies.  What she DIDN'T know was that a few drops on a cut, or in Fred's case a ripped ear, make the blood vessels close up and stop bleeding.  Pretty cool. You can learn something from your dogs every day.  You just have to listen up and be open to it.  More often than not, let's hope these life lessons don't all require a trip to Dove Lewis for ears OR cancer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I want a new drug. One that won't make me sick.

Yesterday I started my second session of chemotherapy with Dr. Freeman and the Veterinary Cancer Referral Center.  The Veterinary Cancer Referral Center has office hours Tuesday through Friday at Dove Lewis here in NW Portland.  I have to tell you a little about Dove Lewis.  I've been there twice.  My brother Fred's been there a couple of times, too. He actually ate a whole bottle of Imodium once.  Don't know why.  It doesn't even taste good. But if you have to go to an emergency animal clinic, Dove Lewis is it.  The people there are really good.  They treat you like you're important.

It's a very sad and a very happy place to be at the same time.  Some animals come in who have never had any health care at all - no shots, no exams, no nothing.  They come in because they get hit by a car or are attacked by another animal or are just getting old.  It's funny because you listen to them call out names from the reception desk: "Rumpelstiltskin? Are Rumpelstiltskin's owners here?... Golaith?  Are Golaith's owners here?..."  (I wish they would call them "parents."  Owner is SO demeaning.)  Golaith was the oldest Pug I've ever seen.  So old his normally black face was white!  And Golaith had gotten into some chocolate the night before.  When Golaith's dad was taking him home, another Pug named Samson came in.  His dad was frantic!  Samson was attacked by an Akita.  One of his eyes looked really bad but I don't know who was more traumatized: the dad or Samson.  I think Samson was okay.

When I came in yesterday, there was this cute little girl named Sky at Dove Lewis.  (She's cute but she's not my type.)  She lives in Lake Oswego and is only a year old.  She got her leg caught in some sort of bear trap! I was stunned.  I mean I guess if you were looking at mountain lions or bears or ...no.  There's no reason to use traps like these.  They are really cruel and just plain mean.  And what if a small kid had found it?  It was in Lake Oswego!  Sky had gotten out and was being adventurous and came back a day later with a mangled front right leg.  Her leg's going to be okay.  She lost a toe or two but we have to be careful because this is what some people do - put out dangerous, mean traps and see what they catch.  I'm glad she's going to be okay.

There were also two really big, really old Basset Hounds there.  I feel a certain affinity with Bassets and Dachshunds.  We all have a genetic condition called chondrodysplasia which gives us our short yet undeniably attractive legs.  I suppose chondrodysplasia can be bad in other dogs but for us, it's what makes us US.  While Corgi's have large round front paws and small oval back paws, Bassets just have big everything.  Big chests.  Big feet.  Big ears.  Big skin.  WAY too much skin.  It just flaps around too much and their ears are constantly getting in the way because they have such a low center of gravity.  If you want to see some pretty funny pictures of Bassets running, you can go here.

I got something called Cytoxan yesterday.  I also get another Cytoxan pill for the next four days that my mom can give me.  They gave her gloves to handle the Cytoxan pills and told her NOT to touch them without the gloves on.  That is a tad disconcerting.  If she can't even touch them, why should I be swallowing them?  I get them along with the Prednisone pills.  I also got something called Onco Support.  It's a powder that she sprinkles on my food.  I'm not sure I like it yet.  As long as she sprinkles it on ground beef, I guess I can stomach it.  It is supposed to have vitamins and supplements that make up for my compromised immune system.

Again - so far so good. My blood test was normal and I found out that I have B cell lymphoma which is supposedly better than T cell lymphoma.  I'd rather not have ANY cell lymphoma but I don't think that's a viable option at this late date.

When I come back from Dove Lewis, Fred and Tomo always give me the once over. I must smell funny to them.  I smell like other animals and other people.  The Dove Lewis techs swab my leg with alcohol to take blood and it must make my siblings wonder.  I think they know something's wrong because they're not as rambunctious as they normally are - running around and challenging me. They don't try to eat my food even though it has extra goodies in it like the ground beef or eggs.  As soon as I get better I'm sure that preferential treatment will stop.

So just for fun I sent my mom some flowers.  You'd be amazed at how easy it is to get ANYTHING online.  Even for a dog.  All I needed was a credit card number and the ability to type.  I'm thinking more toys from Petsmart?  Maybe Omaha Steaks?

My dad was home last weekend. That's always fun. He feeds us on cue as opposed to my mom who feeds us on her schedule. At 5 pm, if we start barking, my dad stops whatever he's doing and gives us dinner. When we try that stunt with my mom, she just says "Quiet" and feeds us when she comes downstairs. Don't get me wrong - it's not as if she's starving us or anything (like that poor puppy in Newark). She just makes us wait. She says it's taking advantage of every opportunity to train. But we've got my dad trained pretty good if you ask me. He also naps which is GREAT for us.  Tomo and I get to nap on the bed.

I also found out how to make a slide show and put it up on something called youtube.  If I can do it, anybody can.  So, help sing me out here.  You can do it.  No one's watching.  C'mon..."I just want to be okay, be okay, be okay .  I just want to be okay today..."
Boo yah!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 6: An Early Morning Outing

I woke up at 5 am and felt something...rumbling.  I bolted off the bed and fortunately my mom followed me. She kept Fred and Tomo in the house despite their rather loud protests.

I made it out the door and off the deck in time.  Of course, my mom had to find slippers and grab the pooper scooper before she followed suit.  It's still dark at 5 am in Oregon so no one could see her in her PJ's or what passes for her PJ's and that's a good thing.  I was wondering if anything that came out would glow in the dark but then I realized that's radium/radiation not chemo.  Though glowing poop would make her job much easier, especially on these early morning episodes if they continue, let's hope they don't continue. 

Suffice it to say, I am having some...gastrointestinal distress.  I don't really want to go into details and this IS a family/G rated blog but suffice it to say: Houston, we have a problem.  My mom took my temperature (boy was THAT fun) and it was 100.4 which is normal for me.  I haven't lost or gained any weight so that's a good sign.

I think I'm more embarrassed than anything.  I'm just not feeling my usual self and for a pack animal, that can be deadly.  We may have been domesticated at least 15,000 years ago but that pack thing is hard wired.  It is in our mitochondrial DNA.  When we were out in the backyard last night, the coyotes started howling and I just couldn't help myself. I threw my head back and howled with the best of 'em.  Fred did, too.  Tomo just looked at us.  This howling stuff is just beneath her.  My parents laugh when we feel the call of the wild, saying that we wouldn't know what to do if we ever DID catch up with the wild ones.  We howl and bark to let them know we're listening.  I don't know if the wild ones envy us or pity us.  We have food and shelter but they have unlimited freedom.  Personally, I prefer the food/shelter route with the occasional midnight howl, thank you very much.

But if I showed weakness as a pack animal, I'd be ostracized at the very least.  The weak ones are separated from the herd.  They cull them out and eventually they die off.  When the pack smells weakness, they pounce.  A weak animal endangers the whole pack.  Maybe not so much in northwest Portland or in this little office over the garage but definitely in the backyard at night.  My mom thinks they do the same thing in politics but there they call it "throwing someone under the bus." So for appearances sake, I HAVE to be my normal, chipper, cheerful self.  It's exhausting.  I mean - LOOK at my pack.  How can I keep up with these guys? If Douggie were here, she'd understand.  Pecking order in birds is even harsher than with dogs. They actually attack each other.  My mom saw it with Frigate birds in the Galapagos Islands. Male Frigates actually attacked and punctured the other males big red pouch which is what makes them attractive to females.  Peacocks will pluck a competitor's feathers until he's naked.  (Can't think of an analogy with men in the club or bar scene on a Friday night but I'm sure there is one.) I'm supposed to put on a good face so I will.

It might not be the chemo, though, that is creating this...situation.  I don't usually get steak and eggs and fish oil and vitamin C.  Maybe THAT'S what's wreaking havoc on my system.  BUT the paperwork DOES say chemo kills off fast-growing cells and that includes cancer cells as well as the ones lining the intestinal tract.  So who knows?  Maybe I should lay off the strange foods as long as I'm not losing weight?

My dad comes home tonight from California.  That's always good.  He takes naps.  He says "Let's take a nap," and we all run for the bedroom.  Tomo and I take our positions on the bed and Fred crawls under the bed.  Like I told you, we humor him.  Maybe a good twenty minute nap a day will do the trick.

In the mean time, Friday night is usually steak night and we get to BBQ.  That's also one of my favorite things to do.  Rain, sleet, snow, or hail.  We'll be out on the deck, cooking up some red meat.  It marks the end of an unusually challenging week but at least we ain't got locusts!  Yet.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 5: Cancer Schmancer

So, I thought I'd give you a reference point.  A photo so that you could see how this bump looked and how much better it will look in a day or two.  As you can see, it COMPLETELY ruined my neckline.  I look like I have a one-sided jowl.  Worse than Nixon or McConnell or McCain ever thought about having.  How was I to ever contemplate a turtleneck or a choker again?  It didn't block my breathing or eating and it didn't even hurt...though it would have severely wounded my ego if Fred and Tomo started making fun of me. I think it was the lack of symmetry that bothered me the most.  The lymph nodes on the back of my knees were also rather annoying but they didn't show up in photos.  The doctor found these bumps immediately, though.  She knew where to look.  I didn't even know where my lymph nodes were.  Come to think of it, I didn't even know I HAD lymph nodes.  Don't laugh.  Most human beings probably couldn't identify a lymph node either even if they DID stay in a Holiday Inn last night.

The dosages of the Prednisone that I get at home every day change every week. Two tablets daily the first week. One and a half daily the next week.  Then back to two.  Then there's the fish oil and vitamin C, zinc, selenium, vitamin E...What's really funny is that my mom stuffs them into little pieces of cheese or into a section of a tangerine and then I wolf them down.  She thinks I don't know they're in there.  C'mon.  I'm not THAT stupid.  I'm not like an English Sheepdog or something.  She did, however, go and buy one of those pill boxes that some people use.  The ones with the days of the week on it.  I KNOW it embarrassed her to buy it.  She probably explained to the cashier that it wasn't for her.  She probably blamed it on me, as if the cashier cares who the pill box is for.

Once again, this is where prehensile digits come in handy. You guys have NO idea how useful they are.   My mom didn't let me play with "my" pill box for very long.  She's seen what I can do to a perfectly good Cole Haan so she took it away from me.  Each section has all the pills I need to take every day.  According to my mom, she never worried about whether or not she was taking prescribed medications as indicated but if she screwed up, it wouldn't kill her.  It might have kept her sicker longer but these pills seem to be important to her and me.  She could have picked a color other than purple but beggars can't be choosers.  I've never really been a beggar, though, so that should throw that theory out the window.  And about those prehensile digits, my feathered sibling, Douglas Macaw-thur, could have easily opened this little bugger.  You should see what she can do with Tupperware.  But more on her tomorrow.

Fred and Tomo seem to be taking this in stride, although they KNOW that I am getting scrambled eggs for breakfast and organic ground beef mixed in with my regular dinner.  They sort of look at mom with longing in their eyes and she throws them an extra orange segment.  Does she really think they don't know the difference between ground beef and oranges?  I AM feeling a little sluggish but, hey, I'm almost 10 years old.  That's 70 in your years so cut me some slack. I took a short romp around the paddock tonight and it wore me out.

Fred tried to make me feel better tonight. He tried to demonstrate the proper way to wear a bandanna should my hair start to fall out.  I TOLD him it doesn't happen to dogs but sometimes Fred just doesn't listen.  Or maybe he just likes to be a clown.  I know he's my brother and humans have this "sibling rivalry" thing sometimes but Fred's just such a goofball.  And we all humor him.

Tomodachi has been rather morose lately.  Her name means "friend" in Japanese and I believe she's part Shiba Inu and we think the whole mess in Japan is starting to bother her.  As with most Japanese, though, she refuses to let it show.  I know that people think dogs can't see TV because of some stupid line from a Tom Hanks movie but Hootch was a slobbery Dogue de Bordeaux and maybe because he was French he couldn't watch TV.  But I can and do watch TV.  There was a story from a Japanese TV station about two dogs who survived the tsunami and one of the dogs refused to leave his injured friend's side. That's just how we K9's roll. My mom watches the TV coverage and she just cries.  She feels sad about all the oba-chans who simply disappeared, with no trace left that they even existed. 

So Day 5 was just peachy.  I'm thinking I can milk this for steak and eggs for the whole 6 months.  I can look sad.  I can act tired.  That Colin Firth ain't got nuthin' on me and besides, he's British.  We Welshmen have Anthony Hopkins, Ray Milland, Richard Burton, and John Rhys-Davies.  Forget Catherine Zeta-Jones.  Welsh people just don't look like her. She's a genetic anomaly for a Welshman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And so it starts

So, there I am doing what Corgi's do best here in Portland, Oregon. Hanging out with my siblings (Tomodachi, me & Fred pictured here). Doing laps along the back fence line. Having fun. Watching American Idol and Survivor in the evenings after a long, hard day of play. One day my parents notice a golf ball-sized lump on my throat and WHAM! Before ya know it, they tell me I have the Big C. Cancer. K9 lymphoma. I just had a full exam a few weeks ago. It can develop THAT quickly. Who knew?

One would think that I would feel bad if I was really that sick. Cancer? Really? Moi? I mean - I'm eating, I'm sleeping, I'm pooping. The three things I love to do next to going for a walk or a ride in the car. I FEEL fine. SO? Maybe they're wrong. After all, they are only human. And I am the Queen Mum's favorite kinda mutt? Really?

My parents are vaguely catatonic that first day. The emergency doctor at Dove Lewis says that if my parents decide to do nothing, I might have a few months left. Eeeek! Woof! Hello! I look at them anxiously thinking, "Did you hear that? Did she really just SAY that? Weeks?" They discover that there is such a thing as a veterinary oncologist and, emerging from their catatonic fog, they start stalking her, Dr. Kimberly Freeman with the Veterinary Cancer Referral Center. Calling. Emailing. Faxing. Calling again and that was all just on Sunday. The doc doesn't immediately respond so my mom emails her a picture of me. NOT my best shot but it makes her feel better. Like at least she's DONE something. She's got the patience of a 2-year old. Definitely type A.

Two days after the initial diagnosis on Sunday, 3/13/11, we go in for my first appointment. (As you can see by the picture, I wasn't too thrilled.) My dad insisted that the samples taken on Sunday be "expedited" (I think that's the word they used) so that they can see what we're really talking abut sooner rather than later. At the Tuesday appointment, Dr. Freeman says, "Yup. Stage 3." Yikes! That sounds bad. How can it be that advanced when there wasn't even a bump there a few days ago?

Dr. Freeman explains that lymphoma can go from stage 1 to stage 3 almost overnight. That seems to make my mom feel better. She was worried that she had done something wrong to let it get that bad. The doctor says that it's stage 3 because the lymph nodes behind my back knees are also "involved." (They use such funny words sometimes.) She explained that she could do x-rays, blood tests, and some kind of stain test (not the kind some dogs leave on carpets) to see if it's T cell or B cell lymphoma. Still not sure what that means but I'm sure they'll talk about it more when the stains come back from wherever they went. My mom tells her in no uncertain terms that she should do any test possible to make sure she has all the information needed to make the right diagnosis and determine the best, most aggressive course of treatment. My mom says, "Money is no object," which isn't really true because if it WERE true, we'd have a house in Aspen and I'd have cows or horses to herd around. Yesterday, I heard my mom on the phone telling someone that she will sell everything she owns before she lets this go untreated. I hope that doesn't mean my bed. I really like my bed.

Dr. Freeman says they follow a protocol from something called Wisconsin. It's 6 months instead of 12 months. She said it doesn't make much sense to make me miserable for a year if I'm not going to live much longer than that. (There they go again with this death knell stuff!) She also explains that lymphoma is an auto-immune disease and it's systemic. Meaning that, unlike cancer of the spleen or a tumor somewhere that they can just operate on and remove it, the lymph nodes are everywhere and they can develop from head to toe. The other tests they do will determine if that's the case. I hope not.

My mom and Dr. Freeman decide to start me on a chemo session of Vincristine and Prednisone. I get the Vincristine in a needle in my leg (ouch!) and the other stuff, I get as a pill when I'm home. My mom leaves me with Dr. Freeman's staff at Dove Lewis as she trots off to Kornblatts Deli. They seem concerned about my losing my appetite and not eating and losing weight. Well, let me tell ya - if my mom heads over to Kornblatts during every treatment and gets the cheesecake, she'll be the one with the weight problem and it wont be LOSING weight.

We got home after the session and Fred and Tomo are SO jealous. I got to go somewhere they didn't. If they only knew! My mom takes some pictures because she wants to document this journey so that other people and dogs going through the same thing don't feel alone. The green cuffs are covering the needle punctures and they'll come off after the portrait. I really don't feel much different but I'm waiting for the chemo to start working.

I know in people it can be really tough and some people lose their hair. This doesn't happen to dogs but just in case, I try on a wig. I always wanted to be a brunette like Fred but I'm thinking this look is not working for me.

For dinner, I get STEAK! OK. My mom is probably overcompensating and this is probably not going to be the case every night but it's GREAT tonight. In the papers they sent home with us there is a lot of information about diet. I should eat a higher protein and fat diet so the Nutra stuff I've always had might not be the best. There's that prescription stuff but - ugh - it tastes like...well, it tastes like dog food. I think we'll be working on it over the next few days to see what works. So far, so good. Steak works anytime!

There's also information about something called Onco Support and Chinese herbs and Japanese mushrooms. Does "learning curve" means anything here? It's all new and scary but we'll be fine. Oh - and there's a whole sheet on "Safe Handling of Chemotherapy Waste." Poop, pee, and throw-up. All to be handled with rubber or latex gloves. Any towels or rags need to be washed separately. Sounds complicated but to keep Tomo and Fred safe, I know my parents will handle it.

When I woke up this morning, the lump on my throat is about 1/3 the size it was yesterday. Boy, does THAT feel good and it took less than 24 hours. It probably makes my mom feel even better. It's going away almost as fast as it came. And I do have an elevated white call count but that's to be expected. There is no indication that any other organs or my bones are "involved" (there's that word again). I don't think I have a temperature but I could be wrong. My mom is going to go get a thermometer today so she can keep an eye on it. Won't THAT be fun. NOT!

I'll keep ya posted. I have to sneak in to work on the computer when my mom's not looking or when she's working out so it might not be everyday. But remember that I'm thinking about you and that if you're going through this, too, you're not alone. You got me. It might not be much but it might help. We'll get through it together. Thanks - The Barney Dog