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New Symptoms

March 23, 2011 Fear, Fido 1 Comment

Argus has been his normal self, which has been a blessing to us. For all intents and purposes, he doesn’t know he’s sick. We have been doing our best to live in the moment with him and not think too much about the reality of it all. He still gets excited every time one of us puts shoes on or grabs car keys. He still barks incessantly at the mail person, begging for (and receiving) treats. He still eats his food and begs for ice cream every time the freezer opens.

A few things are different as of the past couple of days. His eyes always have dried “sleep” in them in the mornings, but now they are much more goopy — and they are leaking this goop all day long. It doesn’t appear to be discolored (like an infection), but it’s definitely out of the ordinary.

The other change just happened. I came into our bedroom and found him napping, which is not unusual. What did alarm me was that his upper body shivers/quivers with every breath. We know the cancer has spread to his lungs and our vet mentioned a symptom of end-of-life will be labored breathing.

I have a call into the vet to ask about this and see if it’s time to start the heavy duty pain meds. In the meantime, I took a video and am asking for anyone’s opinion on what this might be. Perhaps a fever, as one friend suggested?

The one thing I do know: I’m not ready.

UPDATE March 24: We talked with our vet last night and he was concerned that Argus’ systems are busy trying to fight more cancer and are unable to fight things like small infections (his goopy eyes). The shivering could be a fever he’s unable to fight, or his response to pain. We picked up a prescription for Prednisone (steroids) last night to help with pain and he has responded well. No more shivering, the eye goop is less today, and he still has a good appetite. Thanks to everyone for your kind thoughts and words!


The Phone Call

March 9, 2011 Fido 12 Comments

My eyes stung with tears.

I was quietly minding my own business in a local coffee shop when my phone rang. It was earlier than they normally call.

“Dr. Frasier would like to discuss the test results in person. Can you please return to the clinic?”

And just like that, I knew. Doctors don’t wait to give you good news in person. If it had been good news, they would have proceeded with today’s regularly scheduled treatment. But they wanted me there to discuss it.

As the tears burned and my face flushed with heat, I called Greg. I knew he was in a meeting; I called anyway. I felt so alone and — selfishly — wanted someone else to feel as scared as I did. He said to hope for the best. I smiled to no one and said I’d try. I packed up my things and drove to the clinic.

I might as well have had a scarlet letter on my chest when I walked in. The front desk people knew why I was there; I didn’t need to check in like everyone else. A doctor who often greets me stopped her conversation with another patient to let me know someone would be with me shortly. I didn’t even get the chance to sit down before a woman quickly ushered me to The Back.

“There are a lot of people in the waiting area. Let’s bring you to a room.” I took deep breaths and held back more tears. She didn’t make eye contact.

Dr. Frasier came into the sterile room and nodded, confirming what she saw all over my face.

Argus’ cancer has spread.

She very kindly explained the test results. In between medical jargon, she gave me many heartfelt apologies on behalf of the entire staff.

“Argus is everyone’s favorite.”

“He is such a dear boy.”

“We argue over who gets to treat him each time.”

“Argus is really something special.”

As special as he is, the chemotherapy was ineffective. She explained another study we could join, which might buy us an average of nine months. It would require at-home treatments that I would administer twice each week plus one injected all-day treatment every three weeks in Davis at a cost of $500 per treatment. There are many side effects to consider. And again, the purpose of this study is not to cure the cancer, only to slow it down.

If we do nothing, the cancer will continue to metastasize and they expect his quality of life will diminish to a critical point within two months.

The end is near. My heart is broken.


Argus Update: The New Normal

January 31, 2011 Fido 1 Comment

Argus received his third chemo treatment last Wednesday and bounced back quickly. They preempted his vomiting by giving him an injection of anti-nausea medicine when they administered the chemo. It was clear he was more tired than usual for a couple of days, but things were quickly back to normal. His hair is coming in nicely and the incision is fully covered. Isn’t he handsome?

I was nervous going into this treatment. January 15 marked three months from his diagnosis. Our vet told us that the average prognosis for metastasis if we were to do nothing is three months. We obviously opted to treat him fully (amputation + chemo), but there are no guarantees. Argus has his blood counts tested every week and he is consistently in the normal range, and this visit also included body scans to see if tumors have formed on his lungs and liver. No spreading! What a relief!

I’m also proud of my big dog that he will lay still for the technicians while they work on him. When we first started our treatment there, they told us it is a policy that they have to sedate any animal over 25 pounds, but they make an exception for Argus because he doesn’t give them any trouble. I am sure it’s because he’s lazy and he enjoys laying down while people fuss with him. I’m just glad they don’t have to pump him full of more drugs! Remember the last time he was fully sedated?

Look at his poor little tongue hanging out

He has adjusted very well to life on three legs; I wonder if he even remembers having four… We have really worked to increase his endurance and he can walk a couple of miles at a steady pace with minimal stopping. Around 3 PM every day, he finds me and engages in a “conversation” to remind me that he would like to go out for a walk. It’s kind of like a low growl, usually with an exasperated “ahem” at the end. He does this when it’s time to eat, too.

Greg and I took him over to the beach for happy hour on Friday and I got a good video of him running with Greg. Walking is still very “hop-along” and it seems labored, but he can run almost seamlessly. He even has good control in doing a tight turnaround.

Thanks to everyone who has called and emailed and texted to ask how we’re getting along. Your concern is much-appreciated!


Argus Update – Six Weeks

December 27, 2010 Fido No Comments

We are six weeks post-surgery and I haven’t given an update on Argus in awhile.

I thought he seemed “depressed” for the few weeks Greg was gone, but he seems to have bounced back from this (exhibiting none of the same symptoms when I was absent for a week!). He is content now that we are all home again and weasels his way onto the couch with us most nights. He takes up one half of the couch while Greg and I squeeze into the other half. We are suckers for this silly dog!

We went over to Windsurfer Beach yesterday for happy hour and I took some video. It’s a little long/boring (2 minutes), but it gives a good example of him getting around on the sand and over the rocks. Also, he pauses right in front of me for several seconds so you can see how his incision is healing.

After I took this, he went for his first swim post-surgery. I had the camera put away by then and I was too lazy to get it out. He never wanted to use his back legs to swim when he had four legs, but he’s finding that they are crucial now. We are headed over the hill to Half Moon Bay this afternoon and I hope to get him in the water again.

We are due for his second chemotherapy treatment this week and I am waiting to hear back from UC Davis to schedule it. We had a glitch when Greg took him to get it last week. Apparently something wasn’t right with his blood so they could not administer the treatment. We had sent in a CBC 10 days post-treatment and everything looked good then so I want to understand what was amiss to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Considering it’s a 2-hour drive one-way + a 2-3 hour treatment and the CBC we did locally cost $50, it was an expensive and time-consuming glitch.


Cirque du Soleil (pour chiens)

December 13, 2010 Fido, Food 4 Comments

I rallied late in the day and went for a run around 3:30 PM.  As usual, I came around to the back to enter the house. For the first time EVER, Argus was sitting up on the kitchen window seat. I was delighted by this! I figured he was up there to get a different vantage point (the pesky neighbor cat has been very brave lately) along with some comfort in the cushion. I came right in and grabbed the camera to take the photo from outside.

Once inside, I made quick work. Aunt Sue had called and I wanted to chat with her about my plans to visit Kansas City this coming weekend, and Argus was pining for a walk. I went into the kitchen to fix a roadie to bring with me over to the Bay Trail. I glanced in the sink to check the turkey necks I had been thawing for Argus…

I couldn’t help but notice they weren’t exactly “intact,” as I had left them!

Apparently ol’ Argus got hungry while I was gone. He knew these bad boys were in the sink all afternoon; I had been checking them to see if they were thawed enough to break apart into individual pieces. He clearly took matter into his own paws-n-jaws for an afternoon snack.

What I cannot figure out is how he did it. Sure, he has counter-surfed before… However!! This bundle of deliciousness was IN THE SINK. I don’t think he could get to them. So, being one-legged up-front… and based on him being on the window seat (a.k.a. accomplice)… and the fact that the Ziploc bags that I had laid out were scattered… I think he managed a Cirque du Soleil kind of feat!

Three-legged dog

Onto window seat

Onto counter (not an easy jump from the window seat for a one-legged-up-front dog!)

Mama will be home soon!!


A Walk in the Park

December 10, 2010 Fido No Comments

I took Argus over to Central Park yesterday for a walk. It had been a long time since he had left any messages there, so we were there for quite awhile.

He got to say hi to an old friend.

And we had to stop for a rest.

He was visibly tired and sore from the exertion once we got home, but he was anxious to go back out this morning after a quick stop at the vet’s office for some blood work. We didn’t stay as long, but he got to check a few messages and stretch his legs. We may head to the snow on Sunday!


Pill Party

December 1, 2010 Fido 1 Comment

Argus was not himself when he was on the pain medication. We bipeds can liken it to being on a heavy dose of Vicodin or Percocet. He was groggy and lethargic, appearing to be “drunk” or “high” most of the time — but not in the party-party-party kind of way. When Greg got home from North Carolina last Friday, Argus barely lifted his head to greet him. Those of you who know how much Argus LOVES Greg, you can attest that this proved the point of just how bad he feels.

We started weaning him back from the tramadol on Saturday and hoped it wouldn’t induce more panting, shivering, and crying during the night. I saw an instant change in his behavior and even, seemingly, his attitude. He started “smiling” again and seemed eager to go outside with me. On Monday, I let him lead me on a walk and he took us 7 blocks before getting tired! We sat down for about 20 minutes to watch the world pass by and he was able to run home after that. We went out for a walk along the Bay that evening and snuggled in for more people watching, enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine.

The doctors at Davis on Tuesday suggested we stop the tramadol altogether and only give it on an as-needed basis. Fine by me! But now there are new drugs with the chemotherapy.

One of the unknown variables with chemo is how a particular dog will react to the potential side-effects. So many dogs I’ve heard about skate through with no side effects at all and the overall statistics are promising, so there is hope. Argus has an “iron stomach” that doesn’t get fussy with changing his food or when he eats something vile off the side of the trail. I realize none of this really matters when it comes to medication, especially strong drugs like those intended to fight cancer. But a mama can hope, right?

When Argus was doing so well upon coming home Tuesday evening, I was even more hopeful. He ate his dinner fervently, he took his role as Addy’s Protector very seriously, he settled easily on the couch… And then he lost it. Lost his lunch, as it were. The most unfortunate thing is that we were in an unfamiliar house with an even more unfamiliar back yard. He kept going in and out and I thought he just wanted to go home because he was loitering around the car. So I made him come inside and settle. About 10 seconds later, he puked on the floor right in front of the door. Thank goodness for tile flooring!

Let’s add even more drugs! This time, the anti-nausea variety.

After puking up the first one I gave him within a few minutes, I finally got another one in him and we had a reasonably restful night. I really hope he builds a tolerance for these drugs (is that possible?). I would hate for our chances at a few more months with him to be dashed because of his intolerance to the side effects.


Treatment Phase 2: Chemotherapy

December 1, 2010 Fido No Comments

After a long weekend with Greg home, Argus and I spent Tuesday in Davis. Our appointment was in the Oncology department and Argus also got his staples out. Our student surgeon from a couple of weeks ago, Ms. Bowles, came by to say hello when we checked in and Argus fully kissed-clean her face.

Reason with me: if a big guy like Argus doesn’t hold a grudge against the lady who cut his leg off, can’t we all strive for a little more understanding and peace?

I continue to be impressed with the care we are getting there. The oncology student, Ms. O’Hara, took us into a small room and explained that she would do a physical examination of Argus and then bring in her instructor (a professional veterinary oncologist) to discuss the treatment options. Ms. O’Hara was gentle with Argus and he was cooperative with her. He seems to endear himself to all of these people, which I somehow believe is a personal reflection on me and I am proud to take credit for his behavior. Of course, if he were a rotten dog and everyone groaned when we walked in, I would take none of the blame. Thank goodness I’m not having children, as I am pretty sure this behavior is frowned upon at parent-teacher conferences!

The situation is this:

  • Argus is a candidate for chemotherapy, as the cancer has not yet metastasized into his organs — yet. When it does, the lungs and liver will likely be the first to be hit.
  • I agreed to make Argus part of a study that might net us slightly more positive odds than the standard treatment option. The average prognosis for amputation + chemotherapy is 12 months. I will be as clear as the doctor was with me: 50% of dogs do not live for 12 months from the time of diagnosis and 50% live longer than 12 months. Not pursuing chemotherapy puts the hourglass at 4-6 months. We knew we would move forward with chemo if the price was reasonable.
  • The treatment we are pursuing as part of this study is alternating 3 doses of carboplatin and 3 doses of doxorubicin, 3 weeks apart, for a total of 6 doses. The cost per dose of each is $250. To treat Argus’ cancer with carboplatin from the specialist in San Mateo, it would cost $800 per dose. We are happy to be part of the study to get the same medication at such a reduced rate!

Caryn drove in from El Dorado Hills and met me at the clinic just as the consultation began. When the doctors took Argus for his tests and treatment, Caryn and I went on a brisk bike ride in the outskirts of Davis. We had a couple of hours to kill and I was thankful for the diversion to keep my mind off of all the decisions and worry. We were both bundled up in 3 layers of gear and the biting wind still chilled us to the core. Bright side: we can keep our training rides up through the winter since I’ll be in Davis every three weeks for the next four months!

When I retrieved Argus at 3 PM, he was a little groggy from the mild sedation. I am grateful it was nothing like it was when he was sedated for the cytology last month! He ran out to the car and hopped up by himself, alert most of the way home. Once we got home, he settled in the kitchen for his dinner and then retired to our bed — a first since the surgery! I had to leave right away to babysit for friends and he jumped at the chance to come with me. He spent several hours “protecting” a dear 18-month old girl by laying under her crib; I couldn’t get him to leave her. It was so sweet.

I am confident that the worst of the treatment is over (knowing, of course, that the worst is as little as 4-6 months and hopefully as long as 12+ months away). I feel so fortunate that UC Davis took our case and that the care we have gotten has been so professional and caring at the same time. Please, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, I highly recommend checking out a veterinary teaching hospital. This was our “hail mary” attempt at being able to afford treatment for Argus and I’d make the same choice again hands-down (and would likely make the choice even if money were no object).

I also want to give a shout-out for our local vet, Dr. Sutter at Aragon Vet Clinic in San Mateo. He has called several times since we made the decision to take Argus to Davis for treatment to inquire about his progress. He continues to provide counseling and reassurance that what we are experiencing is “normal.” I appreciate how hands-on he has been through this process of diagnosis, referrals, and treatment.

Here is Argus’ incision with the 43 staples out:

Day 15 - Staples Removed


Uncharted Territory

November 21, 2010 Fido 1 Comment

We are settling into a routine and I don’t feel so utterly helpless (or hopeless). While things certainly feel more like our new “normal” now, I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable just yet. Things will feel even less comfortable when Greg leaves to spend Thanksgiving with his family in North Carolina. Starting Tuesday, I’ll be a single parent to a handicapped child and I’m not looking forward to it. Greg comes home on Black Friday and then leaves again on Monday to spend 2-3 weeks in Malaysia for work. The timing for these two trips could not have been worse. We’re both taking one for the team to keep our family up and running and doing what we can to support each other.

I’m just going to throw this out there… Is anyone interested in buying the rights to our story and making an Animal Planet Movie of the Week? Anyone?

Every day brings a new learning curve for us to navigate. Wednesday night was the crying. Thanks to everyone who either commented here or otherwise contacted me letting me know that crying can be a side effect of the strong pain medication! The last two nights, it has been excessive panting. It seems like he is under a lot of stress and we again have no idea what to do. Yesterday, we took his Fentanyl pain patch off as instructed and we wondered if the panting was an effect of withdrawal. He seemed to settle in the night and we were thankful that the panting didn’t turn into crying. Today, Argus was shivering a lot. I am mothering him and keeping a blanket wrapped around him whenever he is not moving. The shaved area and his remaining front paw have felt cold to my touch a few times, so I am doing my best to keep him covered. Now, he’s panting excessively again. Does anyone have insight on these changing symptoms/side effects?

As much of an adjustment as it has been and will be for us bipeds, Argus has certainly had his own learning curve in figuring out how to get along more independently. I can’t believe his progress! This video was taken this morning, 5 days post-surgery:

Argus was the one leading us farther away from home. He gets about three houses down before we turn him around, knowing he’ll get too tired to make the return trip. Our neighbors came by with Thanksgiving goodies this afternoon and Argus greeted them on the porch, soaking up some sunshine.

Around dusk, we took the Sprinter Van out for its inaugural run as a family. We did our usual Sunday afternoon thing and headed over to the Bay Trail to sniff around a bit. It was Argus’ idea, actually! He stood outside the van until I finally opened it up and helped him in. Who could turn down this face?

Also, you’ll notice Argus is sporting a new T-shirt. Ryan and Mandy sent this totally thoughtful and totally useful “keepsake” and it works like a charm to keep him warm(er) and stop him from licking his wounds. A big thanks to the Resslers for being the first to recognize that Argus is, in fact, a Tri-dog Extraordinaire!


Argus is a Tri-Pawed!

November 18, 2010 Fido 8 Comments

Our sweet boy has had a traumatic week. The good news is that the worst is over. I think even Argus can see the light at the end of the tunnel at this point.

Melody and I drove Argus to Davis on Monday morning to meet with our student doctor and the teaching professional for a consultation. Argus has the waiting room thing down and was not frantic to leave, as he often is at our normal vet’s office. In fact, he made himself right at home!

Our appointment started on time and I was immediately put at ease. Our student surgeon, Kristy Bowles, and her teacher, Dr. Lauren Larue, were very professional. While I had done my research and already knew most of the information they shared, they did answer my few questions honestly and compassionately.

One question I am thrilled I thought to ask: How big will the incision be? My expectation was literally 3-5 inches — you know, about the width of his arm. Dr. Larue held up her fingers to show the distance and it was LONG. Like, a foot long. I did not realize they were taking his entire scapula as well as the arm! Thank goodness for expectations being set!

They also managed my expectations regarding his homecoming. Both doctors seemed quite concerned about the size of “this big guy” and his ability to find balance and coordination immediately. In some cases, they keep the amputee for a couple of days so their team of aides can work with him and send him home set up for success. They would not know until Wednesday morning if we’d be able to take him home that night or if we would need to wait.

I waited impatiently all day Tuesday for the call from Ms. Bowles to let me know how the surgery went. The call finally came at 5 PM and was positive. The surgery was a success! She assured me that she would call me as soon as she got him up on Wednesday morning to see how well he was ambulating.

Wednesday’s call came at 8:20 AM. She was surprised and delighted to inform me that when she walked in to get Argus, he popped up on three legs as if to say, “Good morning!” What a good sign! She was able to walk him out to go to the bathroom, assisting him with a sling under his chest and he was adapting very well. We could take him home! Greg and I left at 3 PM to go get him (it’s a ~2 hour drive to Davis from San Mateo).

I was nervous. I brought a roadie in the car, just to dull my nerves a bit. Specifically, I kept picturing the estimated length of the incision. I don’t do well with stitches or staples and I knew they’d be right out there for the world to see. I also knew I needed to suck it up. So I sucked up some wine first and that helped!

It was dusk when Ms. Bowles walked him out to us. It was clear he was pretty drugged-up, but his tail did wag when he saw and heard us. It was pretty amazing to see him “walking” with a slight assist. From my vantage point for the below picture, I can’t see the damage and I think he looks great!

He was walking reasonably well, I’d say. Inertia kind of sets in on both ends. It takes him quite a bit of cajoling to get going, but then he gets on a roll once he starts. It was ungraceful getting him in the car, but we were finally on the road. I opted to sit in back with him. It was all I could do to comfort him (and be comforted myself).

The car ride home was uneventful. He settled well and rested his head on my lap. Once we got home, we fumbled around to get him out of the car. We ended up just having Greg carry him into the house, knowing he had to be in pain from all the movement and still very tired and woozy from the drugs. He seemed happy to be home, especially when he heard us preparing his dinner. Some things never change…  He waited patiently on his bed, rather than at my feet.

Obviously, you can see the large area they shaved for the surgery, and you can see part of the incision. There is no “stump” left. The whole area looks very swollen and bruised. After dinner, I sat on the floor with him and he fell asleep with his head in my lap. I was confident he would sleep well through the night based on all the drugs and the exhausting day overall.

I could not have been more wrong. Misery loves company, as they say, and we were all miserable.

Argus cried all night long. He wasn’t comfortable on his bed on the floor in our room, even with me laying next to him. We lifted him into our bed so he’d be cocooned between us. He still cried. Even with pain meds administered at 7 PM and 10 PM, we gave him more at 2 AM. And still there was more crying. He tried to get off the bed on his own, and luckily Greg woke up and caught him before he fell off. I walked him out to the living room and laid next to him where we had been earlier in the evening. He still cried. Around 4:30 AM, he got up, wanting to walk. He walked to his favorite spot on the couch, so I helped him up. I laid next to him and he still cried. He wanted up again, and he led me into our bedroom and crawled up into bed with Greg. More crying. None of us got any sleep. Greg and I were at our wit’s end, wondering what was wrong and how to make it better. Is this what parents of newborns go through??

Finally, when the sun came up and everyone was up and moving, he quit crying. We have no idea why he was crying to begin with or why it stopped at that particular time. Maybe he’s afraid of the dark all of a sudden?? I was concerned about spending the day with him by myself based on how laborious the night was. Greg went in to work late and busied himself building a ramp for easier access to the yard.

We got him to go down the ramp to try and potty, but he was having none of it. He did seem to be more stable standing on his own and we lingered a few minutes.

Looks pretty precarious, doesn’t he? I fashioned that bandana around his neck as a quick way to grab him if he starts to go down. It isn’t as abrasive as his collar and gives him a bit of flair! From there, the day got much better. Argus settled down and started to snooze. I cleaned up the “slumber party” that happened in the living room overnight and made breakfast. At least he wasn’t crying!

Needing a little fresh air myself, I barricaded him in his corner and went for a run. While I was nervous the entire time (especially since I forgot to put his anti-chew collar on), I knew I had left him in a safe spot and we both needed the solitude.

Here’s what I found when I got back:

Argus made his way through my barricade (a chair turned on its side, covered with pillows), walked the ~10 doggy steps across the living room, and made it up onto his overstuffed chair BY HIMSELF! And, he didn’t tear all his staples out.

I am in awe.

He has been in the chair for at least five hours now, and has even gotten himself up and turned around 180 degrees to find a different comfortable spot. He greeted the UPS man with a growl and then graciously accepted the treat he was offered. Things seem as normal as ever.

We’ll see how tonight goes when the lights are out, but I am hopeful that we have his pain under control and he feels more in control, in general. With two competitive triathletes in the house, I guess Argus is making his statement as a successful tri-pawed!