Friday, June 29, 2012

An Update and A Glimmer of Hope for Milly

I can’t even begin to express how much comments, words of encouragement, well wishes, and prayers I received for Milly meant to me. Keeping in mind, when I wrote that post, my beloved senior citizen was on death’s door, the prognosis I had been given from the vet was bleak at best. But since then, it seems as though our prayers were really answered.

After writing that post, we had a handful of vet appointments, including more ultrasounds and x-rays, as well as a briefing on the radiologist and oncologist’s findings when reading these tests. I’ve always said Milly is going to be the kind of dog that is totally healthy and racing around, and when her time comes, it will happen fast… I think I’ve even mentioned this belief in older blog posts. That’s just the kind of dog she is. So, being at death’s door, with a dog that only hours before had been the epitome of health, was traumatizing and heart wrenching.

The good news, is Milly is back in business! The findings revealed my suspicion that she ingested something she should not have, which led to pretty bad digestive issues, to be specific she came down with Acute Pancreatitis, the inflammation and pain in her pancreas then resulted in an inflammation of the liver. Once this diagnosis was made, our vet was very specific – the cancer is the least of our worries… we have to treat this digestive problem first. It was fascinating to see the x-rays and compare those to the ultrasound… for 3 days we monitored the movements occurring as her body attempted to pass whatever it was she ingested. On day 7, the blockage passed – what it is, I’m not sure. It kind of looked like grass, but wasn’t… I won’t delve into what her poop looked like, but needless to say, it was such a glorious occasion to see that bowl movement that we photographed it!

This was my first personal experience with Pancreatitis, and I pray none of you ever have to face this dreadful condition. It can easily be fatal, and is so terribly painful for the dogs. For Milly, while her case was not mild, it was also not severe (severe being fatal). The amount of suffering I saw her in was unbearable, and had she not rebounded in the way she did, I surely would’ve put her down. Pancreatitis can be caused by many things, but is commonly caused by ingesting something a dog is not supposed to – human food is a leading culprit. I’ll never know what triggered the pancreatitis, but I will continue to be diligent about what my dogs eat, as I always have been.

The vet prescribed a variety of medications, gave her fluids through an IV, anti-nausea meds, and a prescription diet. The radiologist confirmed the findings of Pancreatitis. Had it not been for this digestive problem, we never would have found her lung tumor. In a few days we will retake the x-rays and ultrasound to monitor her condition. But, physically, she seems like her old, happy go-lucky, energetic self!

Just a few days ago, I received thrilling news. There is a small, and I mean very small, chance the tumor is benign. Primary cancerous lung tumors are rare, lung tumors are normally the result of cancer elsewhere in the body. Milly’s tumor is below 5 centimeters, and appears solid. These are both very good signs for her. In 4-6 weeks, we will retake the x-rays and ultrasound to track the tumor growth. If there had been no measured growth, odds are, the tumor is benign. Again, the vets all emphasized the odds of it being benign are slim, but there is a chance.

So now we pray that the tumor is benign. If it isn’t, I’ve had a lot of time to process this information. Every day I have with Milly is a blessing, and I’m hoping for good news, but preparing for the worst. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, and many conversations with various vets. If the tumor is cancerous, which we suspect it is, I am not going to pursue surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. I will treat her symptoms as they crop up, and do everything possible to keep her happy and painfree… but the moment her quality of life looks like it is lessening, I will do the only truly humane thing, and put her out of her misery. It’s hard to write this. Having to decide my course of action on the matter had been tough, but the treatment plans at minimum would cost $5,000 and would be very hard on her body. She’s around 13, as a rescue, I don’t know her definitive age, but that’s a good guesstimate. She may even be older. At this age, while treatment could be possible, it won’t buy her many more years of life, and it would be so hard on her body.

This experience, and seeing my dog is such horrible condition, watching her make leaps and bounds, and still not knowing whether or not a growth on her lung is slowly killing her from the inside out, has changed many of my views. I’ve realized treating the cancer would be for me, and not for Milly. She had such a horrible life before me, and when I adopted her I made a promise to love and protect her, and to me that includes protecting her from my love, and not allowing that love to become selfish. I would rather put her to sleep a month too early, than a day to late, as allowing her to suffer at all would be breaking the promise I made to her when I first brought her home from the shelter. 

I know we all say that our dog is the best dog in the world... but Milly truly is an amazing, very special dog... perhaps even the best dog in the world! She had such a horrendous life before me - clearly abused, malnourished, and neglected. When I adopted her she was fearful, yet accepting, nervous about people, nervous about food, nervous about everything, but never was she a dog that ran away in fear. She may have had a bad life before me, but she has always loved people, even the ones that abused her.  She is perfect with humans - whether they be infants or geriatrics in a wheel chair... she loves them all! She has never snarled at a person, even toddlers pulling a bit too hard on her ears or tail. She is the dog that will let you do ANYTHING to her, and lays perfectly still while you do it. She adores going to the vet, both of my dogs do, but Milly REALLY DOES! For her, shots, her temperature, grooming, having injuries shaved, are all blissful experiences... if for no other reason than human contact comes with all of them. For any procedure she will let you do whatever you need to do, and lays perfectly still while you do it, however painful it maybe for her. Knowing this about her, and that she has always been this way, makes me physically ill to think that someone, years ago, hurt her. 

Milly is one of a kind, so much so that the vet even commented on how she has never seen a dog so well behaved during an ultrasound or x-ray. Milly remained perfectly still through these procedures, every time they did them, and when they needed to adjust her leg to get a different angle, the tech would lift her leg into position, and Milly would hold it there until they moved her into the next position. Never moving, never squirming, just laying perfectly still while her insides were examined. The vet said, especially with Pancreatitis and the pain she was in, most dogs would have squirmed, or snarled, or at least tried to evade being manipulated into these necessary painful positions, but not Milly. She just lay there, happily letting them examine her, despite her pain. I must admit, I was not surprised to hear this, but I was happy that one more person has experienced this amazing dog. I am so blessed to have her in my life, and I pray that God will give me more weeks, more months, and maybe even, just maybe more years with her. Each day that I have with her is truly a gift, and I am so grateful that her time on Earth has been extended.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The dreaded C-word

The dreaded C-word: CANCER. It's been a long time since I've blogged, and I've written so many posts that I haven't published. I've really missed blogging, and as I sit here typing this, I wish I was posting one of those other posts - posting about when Hush passed her Canine Good Citizen test, or posting about how cute it is that Milly licks Hush's ears after I clean them, how my two beloved Golden Retrievers have become inseparable best friends, how I've fallen in love with an amazing man, whom I now live with and we share our lives not just with each other, but also with our two goldens, and his toy poodle, Ally. Oh, how I wish I was posting one of those stories right now. But I'm not. Instead, I'm writing about how my beloved Milly has cancer.

Yesterday, was picturesque, to say the least. I woke up in the morning, early for me on a Sunday. Two of my dear friends, Eileen and Olivia came over, we packed a picnic and headed to Markham, VA for a day of sour cherry picking. We brought Milly, Hush, Ally, and Evan (Eileen's dog, and one of my dogs' best friends, especially for outdoor adventures). When we got to the Orchard we let all the dogs of their leashes, and they raced through the apple trees away from other cherry-picking-patrons, sniffing every leaf, joyfully rolling in the grass, catching a wiff of something in the air and darting off after a flying bird - in short, it was any dog's best day. We all commented on how great Milly looked, a picture of health and fitness - at 13 or so years, she can outrun Evan (a seasoned long-distance runner, and Eileen's companion as she trains for half and full marathons), Hush (just shy of two years old, her body is muscular and fit, as a retriever's should be - she's fast and has incredible endurance)... so it's truly amazing to see this geriatric dog joyfully racing at lightning speeds through the fields. It was a perfect day - warm, but not hot like DC June days tend to be. We picked cherries, we laughed, the dogs played. After, I headed home, grabbed a quick bite to eat and packed up my beach bag for a pool-party father's day cookout at the beau's father's house. My beach bag contained all the necessities: towel for me, two towels for the dogs, a ziplock baggy filled with freeze dried bison, and plenty of toys for both land and water. Milly again was filled with joyful energy as she darted across yard, begged for bites of everyone meals, and even took dip in the pool. You may remember, Milly fails as a water retriever - she doesn't like to play fetch, and she's not a fan of swimming... but, Hush who loves the water, has influenced Milly... slowly helping her gain confidence in the water - and for a few minutes Milly was happy to cool off in the pool.

When we got home we were all exhausted. We went to bed - the dogs conked out on the bedroom floor. In the middle of the night I woke up to Milly breathing heavily, making that tell tale noise all dog owners know as "my dog is about to puke!" Sure enough, up came some sort of food, and I groggily pulled myself out of bed to clean it up, make sure Milly had water, and went back to sleep thinking she must've gotten into some human food at the cookout. A few hours later, the above happened again, and I began to get a little worried. An hour later, the process was repeated for the third time - by this time Milly was breathing heavily, and I realized she had urinated all over the floor, and all over herself. Something was seriously wrong. I tried to get her to stand up, and she wouldn't. She just lay there, heavily panting. I couldn't get her to move, not even for treats. I checked her gums, they were somewhat pale and dry. Her heart seemed to be pounding faster than normal, her breathing was heavy, and her lower end was covered in urine. We picked her up and carried her to the car and raced to the vet. 

When I got to the vet a tech help me carry her inside, and took her vitals. My normal vet is on her honeymoon, so I saw someone else. The vet listened to her heart, it was beating fast. Listened to her lungs, they sounded wheezy. Her stomach was tender to the touch, and hard. Her lymph nodes were okay. Her gums were pale and dry. She was listless, depressed looking, panting heavily. The vet wanted to give her IV fluids, some strong anti-nausea medicine, run a complete blood work panel, and take x-rays of her chest. I was told it could just be a virus, it could be something more sinister like cancer or organ failure, it may be a blockage in her intestines... we wouldn't know until after the diagnostics. I left and went home, nervous, but hoping for something mild like a stomach virus. A few hours later, the vet called. Milly was feeling better - they'd gotten results of the blood work, and nothing was concrete. The blood work had abnormalities in it - liver count was off, white cells were a little off, etc. but nothing pointed to any one thing. Disconcerting, to say the least. The x-rays, however, proved more useful. From multiple angles a fairly large tumor was present on her lung. I was shocked. In all of Milly's years with me, she has been the epitome of health... and I don't mean healthy for an older dog, I mean healthy for any dog - young or old. 

Based on where the tumor is, it is unlikely the cancer started there - it more than likely has spread to her lungs from another part of her body. The vet reassured me there are options - there is a great oncologist nearby, we don't have to make any decisions right now. Or, based on her age we could simply treat the symptoms as they crop up - let her live out her days and keep her happy and comfortable, and enjoy the time I have left with her. The vet wanted to do an ultrasound, and I agreed to that - based on where the tumor is, we may even be able to biopsy it during the ultrasound. Milly could stay over night, and have the ultra sound in the morning, or I could come pick her up and bring her back. I chose latter. She's with me now, groggy, sleeping at my feet. Her breathing is loud, but she is happy and peaceful. I can't help but listen to every breath and wonder how many more I'll hear. 

So tomorrow I'll learn just how bad it is. How many days, weeks, or months she has left. I haven't completely decided, but I think based on her age, I'm not going to pursue chemotherapy and/or radiation I know she's a fighter - but I don't want to put her through that. Again, I haven't completely decided. Hopefully the ultrasound can help by giving us more answers that we can use to treat symptoms as they arise, and keep her comfortable and happy. I can't stop crying. I'm not ready to say goodbye, and despite her age, I never thought this day would come.