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Good Days and Bad Days

June 15, 2011 Fido 4 Comments

Like most cancer patients, Argus has good days and bad days. For a long time now, the good days have outnumbered the bad though we may be reaching the point of diminishing returns on that. Since he can’t talk, it’s hard to tell how he’s feeling. We hope to get a dog that talks next time…

External Changes
The lumps and bumps are hard to overlook. The one on his neck — the very one that came back as dead cells when the doctors tested it in Davis — is growing seemingly as we watch. Whether these cells are cancerous or not, they are alive and well!

He also has a large mass on his back. This one is different than the one on his neck. It’s harder than the one on his neck and much larger. The one on the neck seems to be a soft mass and this one is hard. Maybe it’s a bone tumor?

Finally, we can’t deny that there is another bone tumor on his remaining front paw. He licks this paw often (more than just grooming) and it’s very clear to us he is in more pain. Dogs carry 60-70% of their body weight in their front paws, and Argus now only has the one in front to carry his ~80-pound load. He is much more selective about which events are important enough to come down the deck stairs out back (neither Greg nor me coming home makes the list) and his walks are shorter. We’ve got him on 30 mg of prednisone at this point, given to him in one dose with his breakfast. Dr. Sutter has assured us we can’t OD him on the prednisone, so we feel like we can give him more if/when it appears he needs it. We started at 5 mg back in March and have ticked it up along the way.

Internal Changes
His breathing has been pretty steady up to this point. When we met with Dr. Martin in April, she recommended we take a baseline measurement of his breaths per minute when sleeping soundly. At that point, it was 9 breaths per minute. His sound sleeping is still consistent, but he is coughing more often and more things trigger coughing. This could be a result of the lump(s) they found on his lungs or perhaps the one on his neck is affecting his windpipe.

One example: he loves to bark at the mail person each morning until she gives him his well-earned three treats. The barking now results in a coughing fit every time. The same thing happens when he barks at the raccoons at night. Also, he will get into a play stance to instigate one of us to play with him, but as soon as he makes a sudden movement to be chased, he starts coughing. It sounds and looks like he’s trying to hack something up, but nothing (thankfully) ever comes.

His spirits still seem good and his appetite has certainly not waned (though we know this is also a side effect from the steroids). He is interested in going out each afternoon and enjoys being around us when we’re going about our day around the house. I took all the above photos Tuesday evening when we went over to the lagoon for a paddle and he was game to tag along.

Around The House
His favorite spot used to be on the couch, but he never gets up there anymore. Even when I lift him up there to snuggle with me, he quickly jumps back down. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of him from a couple of years ago:

The next best spot was the overstuffed chair and he rarely gets up there anymore. It seems that he can’t get comfortable when he’s folded up, which used to be his normal sleeping position. I haven’t see him curled into a ball in at least a month. This picture was taken immediately after surgery; I couldn’t believe he got up there unassisted:

He has found a comfortable spot on the guest bed and he gets himself fully spread out when he lays there. My desk is in the guest bedroom, which means we spend a lot of time together during the day. While we miss him at the foot of our bed each night, we’re grateful he has found a place where he can get the rest he needs. Luckily, our overnight guests have been happy to share the bed with him!

The heartbreaking thing, of course, is that we don’t know how long we have with him or what will end up being the last straw. Will it be his own breathing? Or will we have to make that awful decision that the pain is too much? Of course, our hope is that he goes to sleep one night and just doesn’t wake up…but we are not fooling ourselves to believe it will be that easy — for him or for us. We continue to live in the moment with him and be thankful for each good day we have with him.

43 Staples

November 20, 2010 Fido No Comments

At least I think I counted them all.

Argus has 43 staples holding that big gash together. Yesterday’s post didn’t really show the magnitude of the wound, so I thought I’d post a picture of what we’re dealing with. Sorry in advance if you don’t like this kind of stuff. The close-up shot below is somewhat graphic; consider yourself warned. I plan to post updates of the wound pretty regularly so we can watch it heal. The staples come out on November 30.

We have had much less eventful nights, which is a relief for all of us. Argus is getting around reasonably well on his own, though he doesn’t do much moving during the day. His usual MO before surgery was to spend the first part of the morning in his chair, then move out to the deck to lay in the sun for a little while before retiring to the bedroom to watch the goings-on at the front of the house. He’d start bugging me by 3 PM for an outing. Today, he only moved from the chair to the couch and back to the chair (and made his moves when I was gone).

When I got home from Book Club Thursday night, Argus was at the door to greet me. I think he forgot what he was doing for a minute because he made a running LEAP off the deck to chase the squirrels off. Thank goodness his instincts kicked in fast enough that he didn’t crash! Although I got quite a giggle from the stunt, it must have hurt and he’s been moving much more gingerly since. His walk this morning has been shaky and it’s clear he doesn’t feel good. It’s a rainy Saturday and I am content to sit with him on the couch all day.

Here’s the wound:

Day 4

The End of an Era

November 14, 2010 Fido 1 Comment

I find myself torn. Torn between relief and melancholy. Earlier it was relief. Now, I am overcome with sadness.

I am taking Argus to UC Davis tomorrow and I’ll leave him there so he can have his front left leg amputated on Tuesday. Greg and I will pick him up on Wednesday.

Today marks the end of an era. Our five years with Argus As We Know Him.

Argus has been himself, for the most part, since we got him on the narcotic pain medication one month ago. He still loves chasing squirrels and is at the ready upon hearing the words, “Let’s go.” We had a wonderful romp at the beach two weeks ago and I took him for a hike at a favorite trail on Thursday, knowing it would be the last time on all four legs.

The family unit headed to Monterey this weekend for Greg’s and my last race of the season. Argus wasn’t himself. For one, he settled in our hotel room without being bribed or reprimanded or cajoled. We visited friends in their hotel down the street and he promptly settled at our feet with minimal investigation of his surroundings. Most noticeably, he didn’t want to play on the beach with Greg after lunch today. I am relieved and ready to take him tomorrow to remove the pain — his leg — that is limiting him.

And yet, I am so sad when I think of the reality of it all. That this isn’t a cure, only a pain management technique. As I snuggled with him on the couch tonight, I couldn’t help but think ahead. I am certain they will tell me, as is the case with any/every surgery, that there is a chance he will not make it through.

I am confident he will and we will take Argus’ lead as he adjusts to life on three legs. But I am sad for myself. And sad for Greg. Mostly I am sad that the end is nearer than seems fair.

Five Years Old

October 15, 2010 Fido 4 Comments

Today is Argus’ 5th birthday! I love celebrating birthdays, even if the person having the birthday doesn’t know and/or does not want to celebrate. People in my life who fall into these categories include Argus and Greg, respectively.

Argus has been limping for about three weeks now. We were pretty sure he’d sprained his “wrist” leaping off the deck into the new lawn to chase off the squirrels. We have restricted his exercise since then, avoiding the $50 office visit to the vet who would inevitably tell us, “Keep him off of it.” But last night he had a bit of a freak-out in the middle of the night and ended up snuggled in between me and Greg on the bed. I think the Latin term for this is dogus comebetweenus.

When I got up this morning, he was holding that paw up and not wanting any weight on it. This is quite difficult for a 97-pound dog who carries 60% of his weight on his front legs… So, I made the call to the vet. He could see us at 11:30.

Hurry! I could get in a 30-mile bike ride and be done with all of these obligations by noon if I got in gear. I fed Argus a raw egg in lieu of the three treats he would receive like clockwork from the mail person and wrapped up his bum leg with an ice pack. He doesn’t like moving around with this get-up on and I knew it would keep him immobile while I was gone.

Home from my bike ride, I scrambled around to change out of my spandex and into street clothes, then cajoled Argus into the car. It is heart-breaking to watch a lame dog walk, especially when he’s your side-kick. We got to the vet and he bucked up a little, trying to lead me on a walk away from the doors leading into the clinic. Gotta love him!

I really like our vet. Dr. Sutter has been our go-to guy since we brought Argus home in January 2006. He owns several Labs himself and has a great bedside manner. He did the usual visual/manual examination, then brought Argus back for x-rays. If Argus would hold still, he wouldn’t need to sedate him. I’m thrilled this was the case! In about 10 minutes, Dr. Sutter came to get me to come back and look at the films.

I’m no stranger to x-rays after my run-in with a pickup while on a bicycle. Dr. Sutter relieved me by saying that the pain reflex that was triggering in Argus’ elbow was not, in fact, arthritis. Whew! But we knew the real issue was the swollen part on his wrist. He explained to me about bone tissue and soft tissue and how there was hard tissue outside of the bone itself. I listened to what he said and responded, “Okay. I see what you’re talking about. So, is that a bone spur or something? What do we do?”

With watery eyes, Dr. Sutter looked at me and said, “Oh. No. It’s cancer.”

I obviously wasn’t picking up what he was putting down. Why would I even care about arthritis in the elbow when there’s cancer to talk about?

Right there I started to melt, just like sugar does when it gets wet. I was dissolving. My breath had been taken away. I thought he was going to tell me we’d have to have surgery to remove the dog’s version of a bunion or something. I REALLY THOUGHT THAT. I quickly tried to catch my breath along with all the swear words that were coming out of my mouth. I apologized and he looked squarely at me and said, “It’s okay. I am giving you bad news.” He was matter-of-fact, but at the same time so apologetic and caring.

He took me back into the examination room to have the rest of a Very Hard Discussion.

At some point during this discussion, it was revealed that the only treatment was amputation. BLOW #1. He continued talking, I continued crying. It was then revealed that if we did not amputate, the prognosis was approximately three months. BLOW #2. If we did amputate, we could hope for 6-12 months. BLOW #3. He then gave me the decision tree for everything that Greg and I would need to talk about over the weekend.

$264 later, I left with two bottles of pain meds and a heavy heart. I tried calling Greg from the car, but he didn’t answer. It was his lunch break; he was probably out running. Argus and I got home and I fried up some turkey bacon that I could hide his meds in as a tasty “birthday treat.”  With this, he quickly forgave me for that awful trip to the evil vet. He then fell into a blissful drug-induced state and I continued to dissolve.

I don’t know what we’ll do. Greg is diligently researching our options. Friends are calling, emailing, and texting with their concern. Jane dropped by with a care package — a bottle of good wine for me, a craft beer for Greg, and a marrow bone for Argus. WE ARE LOVED. Especially the four-legged one.

Argus turned 5 today. By the “standard” measure, that’s 35 in human years — my age, at least for a couple more months. Life and good health are fragile things. There’s no such thing as “too young” or “not my time.” You never know when it will all be taken from you. My advice: seize the day!

Or, as the Latin say, carpe diem.