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Chemo consultation tomorrow (March 18th) – what do I ask?

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Tomorrow (Thursday, March 18th) Sophie and I are entering uncharted territory – for us – a consultation for chemotherapy treatment. Many of you have walked through this valley ahead of us and, therefore, I am writing to ask for your advice.

What questions should I be asking the vet tomorrow?

What does chemotherapy entail?

How many treatments? How far apart? What form does it take?

How much does it cost?

How do we know how far the cancer has spread away from the amputated limb?

Are there any tests that I should be asking for at this point?

I will be on my own for this appointment – so I will have to take a list of questions, and take good notes – or I will forget everything I’m supposed to ask – and everything the vet tells me.

Thanks everyone (in anticipation of questions/suggestions/etc)….

Tana and Sophie

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Running with the big dogs

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Contented and snoring blissfully at the doorway, Sophie is in a deep, deep sleep. She is unaware of her housemates (the cats) jumping over her to get in and out of the room – or maybe she knows and just doesn’t care. Let them jump – she had a great day.

Today Sophie went to the dog park with her “pack” – and her dog walker. I’m told that she raced to the front of the pack, and thoroughly enjoyed the canine company, the beautiful sunshine and little bit of snow she could find in which to throw herself to the ground as Goldens do – and practice her rolls. Of course, the only thing happier than a wet Golden retriever is a dirty and wet retriever, so she found her share of mud, too. You know you’ve had a good day when …. you feel the mud squish between your toes !

She ate, she ran, she rolled, she demanded treats, and she was a Dog today.

She smells like a Dog today. 🙂

I can’t ask for anything better than that.

(here are some pictures of Sophie’s housemates – and angel Keaton)

Milly (we lost her July 27th, 2009 at 19 years old)

Wolfie - 12 yrs old

Chester - 17 yrs old

Chester - 17 yrs old

Keaton our angel dog

Pathology report

When I saw the name of the surgery clinic on the phone this morning, my heart skipped a beat – I was grateful they were calling so I could ask again if I should be worried about Sophie’s appetite and off-and-on lethargy – but also thinking that we had not yet received the pathology report from the surgery. It seems that the particular antibiotic that Sophie is taking – Cephalexin – has side effects including loss of appetite and upset stomach – so the surgeon is not overly concerned – just said to keep an eye on her and not let it go for too many days. Since she ate quite well today – and raced me in the little field behind the house ! I assume she is feeing better today than she did yesterday. Yay !

The pathology report showed that the cancer has spread into her lymph nodes. I’ll have to go and see the Dr. at the clinic who does chemotherapy treatments – she is only in on Thursdays and Mondays. It looks like I’ll be on my own for this appointment ,and for getting whatever treatment is necessary underway. There are certainly enough of you who have gone through this – or are going through this – that I have some idea what to expect. I thank you for sharing your experience, and your stories.

A hiccup in the healing ?

This morning Sophie was making one-armed snow-angels in the bit of snow she found while we wandered around outside. She hopped so quickly, pulling me behind her with some force, to a diesel truck that pulled into the parking lot – I’m assuming she thought it was her dad, Bill – that I had to run to keep up with her. It was a great morning. She’s been a little off her food – and this morning she actually ate about 1/4 cup of some real dog food – Wahoo ! Her vet took off the bandaging from the surgery yesterday and said her incision looked wonderful – was healing perfectly.

This afternoon – it was such a beautiful day – I thought it would be nice to take Sophie outside for a little fresh air – so we drove down to the dog park and were just going to walk from the parking lot to the little lake – less than 50 feet. It was a struggle for her to go that far – she was very reluctant. I haven’t seen her this lame since we brought her home from the hospital a week ago. Thinking she was just tired – I got her back to the car – brought her home – took off her harness and t-shirt – and found that her incision was quite swollen. She is lethargic.

I have called the emergency clinic – they say they think she is suffering some side-effects from the antibiotics and pain pills – but to watch her carefully for the next day or so. They think she has an upset stomach. I definitely have an upset stomach.

And now I have to pack her back in the car to drive my son to his last hockey game of the season – a 45 minute drive.

Stairs … the indoor mountain

We live in a 2-story house. All of the bedrooms are on the 2nd floor – most importantly, my bedroom – the bed beside which Sophie has slept for the last 10 years of her life – is on the 2nd floor. Since her amputation, she has – each night – stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked up with an expression on her beautiful golden face that seems to say “Why didn’t we build a bungalow?! Didn’t grandma tell you that you’d wish you’d built a bungalow!” Yes, it’s true – she did tell me that I would be sorry we hadn’t built a bungalow, and yes, for the past 2 years I have been sorry. I’m sure that I’ll be sorry more times before I sell this house and move. But for now – we live in a 2-story house and those stairs are Sophie’s Mountain.

It has been getting more and more difficult for Sophie to get up the stairs for the past few months as her tumor grew and interfered more with her mobility and agility. Before her brother, Keaton, passed away, getting everyone upstairs to bed was a major undertaking as his hips were degenerating and he required a lot of assistance to get up the stairs. Sophie could do them independently, just slowly. My back has been bad enough to require hospitalization and many months of rehab so my assistance was limited. I learned that if I didn’t get them all upstairs for the night, they would try to come up during the night – and Keaton often would not be able to make it on his own. I would hear him sliding down the stairs backwards, or hear the frantic scratching as he tried to get a foothold. So, I would get everybody into my bedroom for the night and close my bedroom door.

Our cats protest loudly about closed doors. And they are nocturnal. I have to have a very good excuse – and earplugs – to keep my bedroom door tightly closed.

Anyway … back to my point…. today – just 5 days after losing her leg – Sophie climbed the stairs totally independently ! I had left her on the main floor while I went upstairs to get dressed. When I saw her lying beside my bed several minutes later, for a second I forgot that she is a new tripawd. Then the impact of what she had done hit me. This dog was not going to be left alone downstairs while I was upstairs – so she just came upstairs like she used to do. And she came down the stairs by herself, too. I am totally humbled by her determination, acceptance, and skill in adapting to her new world. I would never have believed it a week ago.

I am learning from my dog that life is short, too short to waste mourning things you cannot change. Learning that the faster you adapt to a change in your world, the easier it is to move on. And that losing a leg (figuratively or literally – in her case) is not the end of the world.  Hanging onto a limb that is wasting away, or causing you pain, because you are afraid of having to walk without it is not a reason to hang on to that limb. There is a freedom you achieve only by letting go.

My dog is wise. I am humbled.

You know you are redundant when …

… our dogwalker (and friend) comes to take Sophie for a few hours so I can get some things done …

and Sophie starts hopping – yes hopping on her remaining front leg trying to jump up on Angie’s chest. The front door opened, Sophie bolted out – and hopped down the front stairs like she has been a tripawd her whole life. She never even looked back ! I was both ecstatic that she was so mobile and destroyed that she was so enthusiastic to be with someone else – all at the same time. It had taken me all morning to coax her out of my bedroom. My girl has found her wings and she is ready to take off. Thank goodness. I see the light at the end of this dramatic change in our lives. But my confidence is shaken – is my dog depressed with me? Am I somehow hindering her progress? There is no doubt she was feeling MUCH better when she saw Angie. She wouldn’t even look at the breakfast I made her – yes, MADE HER – until Angie sat by her and held the bowl for her. She’d eat for Angie – but not for me ….  she must be feeling a lot better.

The 3rd day of our new life

Sophie at about 11 years old - a year ago

Sophie is a 12 year old Golden retriever. She and her lifelong companion, Keaton (12/26/1996 – 02/09/2010) in the picture below, are /were both very red goldens.

He will live forever in our hearts

Thanks for the nice words of welcome. Sophie doesn’t know it yet – but she has entered a whole new world – and there are a lot of new friends out there for her to meet. And for me too. Thank you. My son (he’s 12) gave me a good talking to the night we brought Sophie home from her surgery. He told me I was looking at her like she was a freak, and being all “freaked out”. He was right – I couldn’t help it – this is totally beyond my experience and I simply didn’t know how to respond. Plus I have been having a rough time personally the past few months, and this is another change that I am, apparently, not emotionally prepared to deal with very well. I am adjusting as is Sophie. We will walk this road on 2 and 3 legs together. I know I can cry into her fur – and she will lick my head, or my arm, or my face, pretty much anything within tongue’s reach – because that is who she is … she is a nurturer … and she will bring us all through this.

Today is the start of Day 3 standing tall on 3 legs, and me on 2.


Introducing Sophie

Sophie came to live with us permanently 10 years ago – the same day she destroyed the sofa during the 10 minutes she was left alone at her first home. I had fallen in love with her and couldn’t bear to see her go to live with strangers. So when the phone rang that day – and the voice on the other end of the phone said, “That’s it – she has to go” I said “I’ll be right there to get her” without a second thought. I couldn’t have imagined what am impact she would have on my life in the years that followed. We already had the worlds greatest dog – Keaton – at that time – a 2 year old Golden who was a wise old soul from the time he was born. He was as calm as Sophie was anxious. They seemed to complete each other somehow. Over the years that followed, Keaton and Sophie became inseparable. We always worried what would happen to Sophie if Keaton, being older, were to pass away first. Last April, (2009) Sophie was going to the vet to have some cysts removed from her back when I found the lump under her front left leg. It was removed along with the cysts and we waited anxiously for the results. It came back positive for soft tissue sarcoma. The specialists gave her a few weeks to live if we didn’t amputate her leg and follow up with radiation treatment 3 hours from home. We would have had to leave her there for 3 months, they said. Knowing her anxious nature, and her dependence on Keaton, we decided that this fate was worse than death, and began preparing emotionally for losing her. But Sophie has never done what was expected of her. She is a rebel dog. Where Keaton always lived his life quietly and gently – Sophie wanted to speed through life 100 mph with her hair on fire ! So we had the tumor reduced three times over the year. The last time it came back bigger and harder than ever – before her hair even grew back.

Keaton also aged over the last year, he was, after all in his 14th year of life – a golden age for a golden dog. One day earlier this month, he was no longer able to walk, and became panic stricken. Our vet had a special affinity for him, as did everyone who met him, and she came to our house right away when I called. He went to the rainbow bridge with all of us holding him and his beloved Sophie at his side.

We worried about Sophie, wondering if our couch might be the victim of her anxiety induced grief over losing her closest friend. But, again, she surprised all of us. Her joyful nature, and love of life began to burn more brightly every day. Our vet suggested that we might rethink the decision to amputate her arm – she was certain that Sophie could have quality time left – cancer free – without the pain and uncomfortable bulk of the tumor – the size of a grapefruit – hindering her. So, we consulted with the specialist, and she went for the surgery on Thursday, February 25th.

I was shocked to get the phone call on Friday morning – just 24 hours after her surgery – saying “You have a very happy 3-legged dog waiting anxiously for someone to come and take her home!”

While it wasn’t Sophie’s choice to take this path, I am cautiously hopeful that it was the right one for her.

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