Thursday, February 21, 2013

And then there were three

Legs, that is.

It's Thursday evening, and our little fuzzy angel is home where she belongs. I picked her up last night at the surgical center not long after work. I had a very nice discussion with the surgeon before they brought her out. He mentioned what a difficult surgery this was to do (ie: he had a hard time with it, even knowing that he was removing a cancerous leg). But he understands what's at stake here, and he said his assistant (who'm I also met) was also having a difficult time during the surgery. But he reminded her that this is someone's "daughter" and they were giving her the gift of life, and it was necessary. That's how he got thru with it...I could tell he was moved and very empathic to his 'patients'.

I then told him the story of when we first brought Sydney (our third baby) into our home...(PG was our first, then Sweet Pea), and within a month there was a dominance scuffle. And how our seemingly small and somewhat scrawny (as compared to her sisters) PG held her own against a pit bull mix, maintaining her Alpha status. And that when we got home a few days later we found that PG was missing part of an ear, but Sydney had a hunk out of the top of her head AND a hunk out of the back of a front leg. And it was settled, and still is, and PG is in charge. I told him that we jokingly (but true) believe that for any other dog to take over as Alpha they'd have to kill her...that she would NEVER give up. I told him that she is a fighter, very feisty, and even though we agonized over doing this, that she deserved a chance at life. The cancer was coming back, and it was either this or have her put-down, and we chose life. That made him feel really good I believe...he was really smiling. I also told him (almost tearing up at this point) that within a month she will be "Hell on wheels". He smiled and said "you should see her now". He was amazed at how well she was doing not even 24 hours after her surgery. Then he gave me his card with his personal cell phone number, in case we need to contact him "any time" during her recovery.

Then his assistant (who was helping during the surgery) came in to go over all the instructions and medications with me, and Dr. Sikes asked me to tell her the story about PG and Sydney. I think she was pleased to hear that also, and when she finally brought PG out she was really smiling! PG came hopping out of the back rooms right into my arms, pulling her along like a little hoppy-sled-dog! They had a funky stretchy-material bandage over the entire thigh area so you couldn't see anything, other than the leg was no longer there. Then it was time to load up all our stuff into the car and go home. She was in SUCH a hurry to leave this evil place that she nearly pulled me out the door! I lifted her into the bed I had fashioned in the passenger seat, and boy was she happy!

Of course, I had to keep my hand on her nearly all the way home (about 15 miles)...though she wasn't whining or crying whatsoever (which she has done after all her prior surgeries...this was her FIFTH major surgery in her 11 years btw....three were on her knees, then the cancer removal back on Halloween day, and finally this). At home I got her out of the car and her sisters were all over her, checking her out (making sure she hadn't been away on 'holiday' at my brothers house, schmoozing around with OTHER dogs!) There was a lot of sniffing around the bandage, and then it was over and they were more interested in seeing which dogs had piddled on our front lawn as usual. PG hopped around the lawn herself, and probably the biggest adjustment she will be making over the coming days is how to piddle and poo with only 1 back leg. Certainly her balance is all thrown off, but already today Jeannie said she has it pretty much figured out.

She did ask the Paparazzi (that would be ME) to respect her privacy during her recovery because she is rather self-conscious right now. But she did allow me to take this ONE picture. This is her typical 'lounging' around spot...she pretty much owns this couch. I had her out in the yard, and when she came in she jumped right back up like normal (she's NOT supposed to be jumping up on anything just yet...I've been trying to lift her if I'm going to be sitting with her on the couch). Also we had a little accident last night that she asked me not to get TOO detailed on, suffice to say that the first full round of her med's knocked her for a loop, to the point that I was afraid she was dead briefly! (seriously...I picked her up and she was like a cat...rubber bones, not moving...eyes was scary!) Turns out that she had a fair amount of 'piddle' to get rid of, and she was so loopy that it came out unrestricted....on me mostly. We think it was the sedative that did it...and it was listed "as needed" on her med's we will probably stop that. She has a Fentanyl pain patch on her foot, then gets Rimadyl AND Tramadol (both pain pills). Also a liquid stuff that is good for the nerve pain (he called it "Phantom" case she has any issues with the cut nerves).

All in all, she is doing REMARKABLE...and I am betting that before we go back to have her sutures removed she will be pretty much back to normal. It will be quite some time for the hair to grow back though....she was JUST starting to get good coverage over the large shaved area from her surgery back on Halloween day. And Dr. Sikes said he had to take more of the thigh muscle than normal due to the cancer...he wanted to make sure he got enough that it doesn't come back.

So...I leave you with tonight's picture that she graciously allowed me to take....but only the one. After this we are on a photo-blackout until she's feeling much better.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A difficult decision (but not THAT one!)

As you all know, our little fur-baby PG has been fighting cancer these last three and a half months (since before Halloween). We've been doing pretty well, she's been getting special food (baked chicken and broccoli/cauliflower/carrots and cheese) morning and night, and she LOVES her new food. She's also been wearing a splint on her foot as she still has no feeling and will break her toes or foot without it.

I've been fighting the sores on her foot in 2 areas that make contact with the splint, but I FINALLY think I have them under control. Of course, PG doesn't have a care in the world as she can't feel them. I had been taking the splint off every day, cleaning and slathering the open sores with Neosporin ointment and re-wrapping her foot up before clamping it in the splint/brace. But I was getting NOWHERE with all that effort...the sores just would not go away. Recently I shifted my strategy and started using the non-stick large pads (and still slathering with Neosporin), then wrapping the pad with the medical wrap tape (looks like cheesecloth), THEN velcro'ing her foot in the brace, wrapping it over with an Ace wrap (the stretchy stuff) and finally covering the whole thing with athletic tape leaving only the tips of her toes exposed (so I can verify it's not too tight).

This method has been working great, and the sores have FINALLY healed...they are now just large pink spots with no hair. I still pull the splint every week and clean her foot good (being as she can't get to it to lick it clean) and re-do the entire affair. We have been hoping against hope that the feeling would continue creeping down her leg and eventually get to the foot/toes, where we could take the brace off FOREVER. That just doesn't appear to be likely. A few weeks ago we had her down to Ventura at the medical center where her surgery was done (back on Halloween Day), and the surgeon told us the feeling hadn't moved any further down in the last month. That wasn't the news we were hoping to hear, but it could always be worse. So she wears a brace for the rest of her life...I could deal with that. But looking at it logically, that wouldn't be fair to her. She can't totally use the leg normally...mostly because of the brace. I have it as small as possible while still protecting her 'ankle' and foot/toes. But it's still a solid clunky piece of gear strapped to her leg. She can't run with it, so she runs with 3 legs carrying the splint as she goes, only tapping it to the ground now and then. But she does use it quite well when walking/standing, and it does indeed protect her from hurting herself.

However, last weekend when I was giving her a bath I noticed that her leg had started to swell again. THAT is a game changer. We spent a LOT of money on the initial surgery and after-care. Looking back with the hindsight goggles, I wish they had just taken the leg on that day and been done with it. But we asked the surgeon to save the leg if possible, and only take it if needed to save her life. And that's exactly what she did. She had found the bleeding tumor and was able to remove it without having to remove the leg. It was only days later when the biopsy came back that we learned it was a malignant tumor, and what kind. But you can't turn back the clock and get a re-do, and at that time we were very happy she was able to save the leg. But right now we're heading right down the path we took months ago. We've had many people including the surgeon and oncologist) tell us that the prudent thing to do is take the leg. Due to this type of cancer, it almost ALWAYS comes back....and right where it was before. This is due to the little fingers that go from the tumor into the surrounding area from this explicit type of tumor. There is no way to get enough "Margin" shy of amputation. But we didn't know that on Halloween day.

So. We've had months to watch and wait, hoping against hope that the cancer won't return. We've changed her diet and she loves it. We visited an oncologist 2 weeks ago and had planned on starting her on low-dosage chemo pills in two more weeks time (we needed to do one more blood panel for the oncologist, then he would prescribe the chemo). But that was looking to be a 'rest of her life' treatment. We don't even know what the cost was going to be, he (the oncologist) said there is a place in Arizona that will make her pills exactly in the right amount for her size, and be cheaper than even Costco (which also sells this chemo drug). Then we would have had to worry about her 'poo' it would be toxic to the other two fur-babies.

And so...all week Jeannie has been hammering the phone lines, talking to everybody who could possibly do the amputation surgery in a reasonable amount of time (ie: we can't wait a month). She had found that the University of Davis has a veterinary school program, and they do things like this for basically cost. However they are booked up for the next 3 weeks, with only the slight possibility of a cancellation for us to slip into. ALSO, for whatever reason, they would not do the surgery if the leg was too swollen (which I can't figure out...they are removing the leg BECAUSE it's swelling up...but I"m sure they have their reasons). last night I took a series of pictures of her in various positions and angles, and emailed them 13 shots showing her leg in every angle (and also some shots of the other leg for comparison). Jeannie had also been talking to the original surgical place down in Ventura, but they are quite pricey (but the service is FIRST RATE!). We really didn't want to spend another 3 to 5 GRAND having this done, but having her put down also isn't really an option for us. There is a surgical place up in San Luis Obisbo that would charge in the 3 grand range...but the medical school said it would be under a grand (and if she's less than 40 lbs it would be around $650...her weight is right around the 40lb mark).

This morning Jeannie got PG up to a surgeon in Arroyo Grande (about 15 miles away). This is the man who has done all 3 leg surgeries on PG over the years, and one stomach surgery on Sydney. He is an EXCELLENT surgeon, of that we have no doubt. We do have some thoughts about having a medical student do the surgery, even if it is cheaper. I mean, what would you do for YOUR child?

ANYWAY. The decision is moot point it turns out (I mean the decision as to who/where to have the surgery done). Dr. Sikes (our local surgeon in Arroyo Grande) came thru after examining PG this morning with a very reasonable price, that is more of course than the medical school (which also is FIVE hours away) and thousands less than the big medical center down in Ventura. Jeannie called me today and we discussed it, and both of agree that Dr. Sikes is our guy. We know his work, he's local, and he's VERY good. AND THEN! Tonight when I got home I have an email from the Davis medical school. They received all my pictures, and told us that they don't feel comfortable having their students do this surgery due to the swelling up in the thigh area (which is where the tumor was). She was very apologetic and offering other possibilities for us, but we are fine with that. In fact, it just shows that it was meant to be for Dr. Sikes to do the job.

We (well, PG I mean) is scheduled to go in for her amputation surgery NEXT TUESDAY (the 19th), and she will come home the next day (Jeannie will drop her off, and I'll pick her up). That's less than week away, giving us a very short amount of time to make our peace with the fact that our little angel will be losing a leg. I actually think we've both mostly crossed that barrier mentally though, as we've both come to the conclusion that it's the right thing to do, AND it offers her the best chance for a normal life. We won't have to live in fear of the cancer returning. We won't have to be giving her chemo pills (making her ill to some that's what chemo does) for the rest of her life, nor will we be splinting her foot so she doesn't hurt it for the rest of her life.

Of course, we still feel bad knowing we are making this huge decision for her, like all parents do for their children who are too young to understand. PG is by no means young (she's 11) but I believe she has MANY years left...and it will be great to see her run again. She is part whippet after all, and she runs like the wind...and I bet that even with only one rear leg she will run like a champion in our little park just a few months from now.  So...we prepare for yet ANOTHER surgery in our family. We sure do help put a lot of veterinarian's kids thru college!

I leave you with one of the pictures of our little darling that I took last night. The hair has almost totally re-grown in the last three and a half months, only the hairless scar (and the foot splint) gives it away that something happened. By next Tuesday afternoon this leg will be gone, and with it the cancer. And we can FINALLY stop worrying about it! But it is still QUITE heartbreaking for us to go thru with, no matter how well we feel justified doing it.

Hugs to you and all your babies, whether they have 2, 3, or 4 legs!

Friday, February 1, 2013

That's not bad for a quadraped.

Happy Ground Hogs Day!

Yes, tomorrow the worlds favorite and most famous weather forecaster Punxsutawny Phil will take a quick peek outside his hole, and decide if we're to have 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring. I'm voting he will NOT see his shadow, promising nice weather in the VERY near future. Of course, I choose this decision just like I choose the outcome of sporting events (such as football, volleyball, and yes, even cycling). I choose by what I WANT, not by what I necessarily BELIEVE will happen. And thus, my fortune-telling has VERY low percentage of being right.

But I REALLY DO want an early spring, and I'm betting you do too. I mean, who doesn't? (ok, maybe that little girl who doesn't want 50% more cash back, but THAT'S IT!)

Over the last week or so here in California we've had a rather strange weather pattern: a low pressure system had sucked the jet-stream to the west, and it was driving the cold arctic air right down over our entire area. Of course, we weren't cold like SOME of you were (are)...and I grew up in Wyoming and Montana, so have some idea of what COLD weather is like. And after I got out of the Navy I did 2 years in North Chicago (which I thought was even colder than Montana...however I had just moved from Hawaii, so my idea of  REALLY COLD might have been skewed just a tiny bit).

ANYWAY, as I was saying...we had quite cold weather lately. Nights were in the 20's and low 30's, days barely into the 40's...THAT is quite cold for us California folk (especially those who who've lived in Hawaii for 10 years).

I rode 4 times during this last week up in Sunnyvale (all road rides) and I FROZE on 3 of them. It was only by Weds that it had climbed into the 50's (which is pretty still chilly but not FREEZING COLD). Now I see we have a high pressure blob off the coast and it has pushed the jet stream back east where it belongs...and the REST of the country is now freezing as is normal. And I'm ok with that (in case you haven't figured it out yet, it's ALL about ME!)

I'm back home now from my work-trip up north, and today we had a high probably in the mid 60's which isn't too bad, and not too shabby at all for the beginning of February. Tomorrow is supposed to be a few degrees cooler, but I'm hoping to get out for a long road ride. It will be my first real barometer of fitness this usual weekend 61 miler. I've done this ride MANY MANY times, and based on my overall time I can tell where I'm at....which is determined by how much I whimper/whine and make lame excuses during the ride due to my poor condition...I call it my Suck Factor (SF). It's very much like sunscreen numbers, only SF25 is TWICE as good as a SF50. I strive for a very low number, but haven't been below an SF15 in about 2 years now.  I'm not really expecting great things this early in the year, overall I'm just hoping my SF has dropped a few points from the last two times I did this ride (on both of those I set new records for slow). Seriously. My SF number was off the charts. I'm hoping to knock off at least 10 minutes or more..but maybe that's just wishful thinking (much like my choosing for Phil to NOT see his shadow tomorrow).

And the time you read this we'll know if winter is about to release it's icy grip on the country. Logic and statistics say that Phil will indeed see his shadow and we are doomed for more winter. I just can't choose that...ever. I'm rooting for a blind groundhog.

The good news (no matter what Phil decides) is that it's getting a bit lighter every day as we move way from the evil Winter Solstice. We're now over a month past, and we've regained around another half hour of light in the afternoon...and before we know it March will be here and we'll be moving the clocks forward, which is the REAL indication that spring is here.

I'll leave you with a quote from the movie (one of my favorites):

Television really fails to capture the true excitement...of a large squirrel 
predicting the weather.
I, for one, am very grateful to have been here.
From Punxsutawney, this is Phil Connors. So long.