I was starting to worry that we had not heard from the oncologist because it was terrible news. As it turns out, it was really good bad news.
Jake’s cancer has not ‘officially’ metastasized. There were some lymph nodes that could be questionable early metastasis but there were no obvious tumors in his lungs or abdomen (aside from what we already knew).
His treatment plan is a three day regimen of intense radiation (this plan is a little less radiation than the 15-20 day option but far more radiation that the palliative approach). Then Jake will be done with treatment and he will just live a life of joy until it’s time to go be with Melvin. We expect him to have about six months. There are no guarantees so while it could be shorter, it could always be longer too. I’m glad his treatment will be quick so that we can get going on the joyful part.
To make it slightly more challenging, the telling sign that his cancer is winning the war will be increased hind leg weakness. Funny, right? That is something that will already be on the decline due his spine issues. Way to keep me on my toes Jake!
I know that Jake will let me know when it’s time. For now, I’m grateful we have options, I’m so happy we can have a little more time together. His next six months will be packed with sweetness and love. This is so much more than others get; we will take it with gratitude and won’t waste a single minute of it.
Jake has his CT scan tomorrow. Almost a year ago (about three weeks shy of a year), Melvin had his CT scan.
Prior to Melvin, my experience with cancer and dogs has been with my friend Virginia’s four-legged kids. Her dogs Sosa and Beauty both had a sudden issue come up (years apart), cancer was discovered (with no prior symptoms) and both went to heaven the day of diagnosis. I don’t know how Virginia and her family made it through that once, let alone twice.
Then Melvin got Hemangiosarcoma. From the day of diagnosis it was repeated over and over to me that he could die at any minute. I lived on the edge of fear and anxiety and sadness. Not just that I would lose him, but that he could collapse suddenly. I barely ate or slept, I rarely left the house. I had showers down to three minutes and I’d come running out of the bathroom to make sure Melvin was still with me. Every night I’d say an I love you that was worthy of goodbye and every morning I wondered if that would be the day. It was infinitely scary.
So canine cancer to me = sudden heartache and loss, or having your best friend being a ticking time bomb.
Jake’s cancer is different. I mean it’s still cancer. But he has, for lack of a better way of putting it, normal cancer. The outcome will be the same, but the progression will hopefully be more of a timeline. I say normal goodnights to Jake. I don’t get up and check his gum color several times a night. I only get up the one time to clean up his meatballs, as per usual! He’s allowed to have normal activity. When I check in on him while I’m out (via the Dropcam), it’s to see if he’s pooped, not to see if he is still alive.
Jake’s cancer is not the same as Melvin’s cancer (or Sosa’s or Beauty’s). I have to remind myself of this, many, many times a day. I’m trying to be more relaxed, more in the moment, more easy going. Jake’s cancer is equally as heartbreaking and the thought of losing him…I can’t even go there. But oddly, it’s easier for me to focus. Easier for me to make sure he isn’t faced with a hot mess of a mother 24/7. It’s even easier for me to joke with him …’you didn’t have to go and get cancer just to get more peanut butter, bud, we could have worked something out’.
I’m jam packing his days with joy. And treats.
At Melvin’s CT, there was metastasis and they said the words, ‘terminal, nothing we can do’. But here I am, a year later, and I am filled with hope that on Jake’s CT, they will say…it has not spread, lets buy him some time with radiation. Jake’s cancer is not Melvin’s cancer, there is every reason to believe we will have some options.
We will let you know what we hear back. In the meantime, here is my handsome baby seal boy.
I don’t post videos of Jake too much. I have found that when I do it makes people feel bad, because he seems to struggle so much. But the reality is that he is his own form of OK. He is normal, for Jake. But going from not being able to use his hind legs to having use of them, seems like a good time for me to show how amazing my little man is. We went out back, on damp grass (no chafing or scraping on damp grass!) and he just…had the best time!
I give you, getting back to his normal self, Jake! The sideway shuffle is new but I like it, it makes him seem jazzy.
I’m going to give you the CliffsNote version of the what the oncologist said because quite frankly there is still so much we don’t know. Keep in mind that Jake’s cancer(s) were seen via MRI when looking at his spine so we still need to take a look at them in other ways.
We have to get a CT scan of his entire body to look more closely at everything and most importantly, to look for metastasis. If there is metastasis, Jake’s time with me will be very short.
There are some things that we can confirm. Jake has at least one cancer, the one in his thigh. A nerve sheath tumor that arose from the end of his spine, where his spinal nerves are. That one seems pretty advanced. He may or may not have kidney cancer, that tumor needs a closer look. There is a mass, on his kidney, but the confusing part about that one is that if it is kidney cancer, he should probably be gone already.
This is the part I should mention the somewhat debilitating dejavu that I have faced over the past two weeks. I guess it’s not dejavu if you actually know for certain you have lived it before.
The week before I found out about Melvin’s cancer, I bought a necklace with his and Jake’s name on it. Two weeks ago I bought a ‘m&J’ necklace.
A few days after Melvin’s diagnosis, we had a snowstorm, ditto for Jake.
At Melvin’s oncologist appointment, we also scheduled a CT scan with them saying ‘if it is this type of cancer, and his tumor is 9 cm, we’d expect him to be gone by now’. Verbatim words spoken today about Jake (although a different cancer).
And now you see why I am full of hope and despair equally, 24/7. They are two peas, one pod. It’s crazy.
If Jake’s cancer has not spread we will opt for a 3 day intensive radiation approach over a 15 day radiation option, mostly because both require anesthesia and 15 days straight of anesthesia on a brachycephalicdog is not ideal. The 15 day is the suggested protocol and even though the three day is less tested, it has shown to be ‘equally as good’ on cancers similar to Jake’s.
If there is no metastasis, and we do radiation, we could be looking at anywhere from 3-6 months, maybe a little more depending on what the CT scan shows in terms of the cancer(s). So much depends on the CT scan which is scheduled for next Wednesday.
There were two surgical ‘ideas’ thrown out but I’m not sure they are actually options just yet. One, if the kidney tumor is indeed kidney cancer, we could opt to remove his kidney and the tumor to buy him some time. This is one of those ‘what is the recovery time like versus how much time does it buy’ decisions. The other idea is to possibly remove Jake’s hind leg. To truly remove that cancer, they’d likely have to take the end portion of his spine, and 1. that might not even be a real option and 2. that is a quality of life decision we’d all have to consider for a dog with Jake’s issues. That would completely take away his hind leg mobility, maybe more. I’d have to give soul searching thought to how much time that buys versus what that would do to the joy. And again, the surgeon might say no to that being an option altogether.
So, we wait. Wednesday is a week away, that’s a lot of love and snuggles and vodka. There will (hopefully) be decisions to make next week and all of them, will focus on what gives Jake the greatest opportunity for joy over the next few weeks and months.
And lastly, I am hanging in there. It does not appear he will be with me as long as I’d hoped, but today is no different than two weeks ago. We are living the best life we can, together. And I’m grateful for any time I’m given with him, because he (and his brother) are my joy.
PS. the oncologist and I discussed having two dogs diagnosed with cancer in less than a year and she helped me rule out environmental causes, so that gave me some peace.
PSS. Jake has NEVER been to the vet, any vet, new or old and not produced meatballs. He is nothing if not fully committed to the factory.
“Why do I not see you preparing my breakfast? What is up with skipping meals lately?”
“We better be heading to a drive-thru, woman!”
This is the look of a dog with a prey drive who has just seen a dog with the nerve to walk past our car in the parking lot. This is why Jake is strapped in.
In yesterday’s post I said that the update on Jake’s mobility didn’t matter since he had cancer. And that was obviously the rantings of a crazy person. Of course it matters.
Two years ago, when we had his first MRI done, there were a plethora of spinal issues they saw. No one issue independently could have been causing his troubles at the time but the collection of them all certainly could be making him wonky.
On this MRI, it was very clear what has been causing his issues (over the past two years and his sudden paralysis that started last week). I won’t give you the neurologist speak, I’ll just give you the Tracey version. On the first MRI, there was an area of concern in his spinal cord. It appeared to be some scar tissue (we ruled out infection and cancer back then). On this MRI, that same area was much more defined and it was clear as to what was going on with Jake. There are two areas, on each side of his spine that are compressed. This compression creates a situation where spinal fluid does not flow freely or smoothly. At the time of this most recent MRI, there was a pretty defined area where you could see his spinal cord being ‘pinched’, which would explain his sudden decline last week. But the good news is that the compression could/should wax and wane. So he will have good days and new types of bad days (days with no use of his hind legs) and eventually, as we already knew, he will go paralyzed. The condition is not painful (yay!) and it’s not something we could have avoided, he was born to be wonky.
The great news, yes there is GREAT news, is that the little dude is moving his hind legs again! He is slowly getting back to upright and you can just see the joy in his face!
Jake is the living version of the little engine that could! Today, if you are struggling with something, pull a a Jake and kick that issue in the ass (unless it is your boss, or your child, or let’s go with any living creature – do not kick them in the ass)!
Here are some photos from our appointment…
We do not travel light. Stroller in the back, co-pilot in the middle.
Jake in an elevator!
The welcome sign, that I smudged with Jake’s diaper bag.
Jake in the waiting room, wondering why I ‘forgot’ to feed him.
And finally, Jake learning to eat sitting down! Wooohooooo!!!
You know when you read about those couples who when one of the spouses dies, the other’s health starts fading and relatively soon after, the other dies. And often we say they died of heartache, even though there are medical issues to point to. Maybe the heartache weakened their immune system?
I think Melvin and Jake may be trying to be one of those couples. In less than a year, Jake lost Melvin, lost sight in one eye, has had to fight off a MRSA infection and went suddenly paralyzed in his back side. I wish this story ended there but sadly, it does not.
I’m heartbroken to share with you…Jake has cancer.
Just typing that, I can’t breathe. I also can’t stop crying.
The cancer isn’t even the cause of his paralysis, they happened to find it accidentally when looking at his mobility issues (which we figured out, but who cares because he has cancer on top of it all).
While looking at the MRI they happened to see a mass on his kidney and cancer throughout the muscle/soft tissue of one of his hind legs. Since those two areas are not really in the scope of neurology, we had a specialist take a look. They called me on Saturday. It was the worst Valentine’s Day gift ever.
It hasn’t even been a year since Melvin’s diagnosis. It’s so easy to ask, WHY is this happening to him. To us. But instead, I’m trying to focus on a different why. Why Jake ended up here. And I know the answer to that one. Jake needed to find his joy, and he was never going to find it in his first home. He waited patiently with them for five years and then it was time, to hunt down his real family. He found his forever here with us. He came for love, he came so that life could show him that he has someone. He came for patience. He came for unconditional support and even-if-you-poop-every-night-at-4am love. When anything strikes him down, he looks to me, with one eye, and I take care of him. And he came because Melvin is his soul mate, his other half. Melvin made him feel safe and gave him calm and gave him a partner in life and love. Together, we completed Jake.
But there is a flip side. Jake completed us too. He made us a little family. He is my laughter, he is the cause of 88% of my smiles. Jake and I have gotten each other through these past months without Melvin. I lean on him, as much as he leans on me. Both Jake and Melvin are my purpose.
Jake came here so I could see him through all his health issues, including cancer. As part of that, my plan is for Jake to live well into his teens.
We have to see an oncologist for prognosis, right now we have an appointment for Thursday morning (I’m calling around trying to find a sooner appt.) In my conversation with the neurologist, he shared concerns of metastasis in areas we didn’t see on the spinal MRI.
Yet another moment all the air went away, but we don’t know what we don’t know.
We will keep you posted. I promise you he will have everything he needs. Love will prevail.
The good thing about Jake’s gradual decline over the past two years has been that as new issues pop up, I have time to assess them and come up with a solution. Like the diapers, and the cloth diaper inserts we moved to (so as not to fill up all the landfills). Or how to keep him safe(r) in the car or solutions for nighttime meatball production. While he has gradually declined, I have been able to gradually solve our problems.
Him going fully paralyzed overnight has not been easy. Mostly to watch. Gradual decline is not something you measure or really see, you coast along with it. But with him losing his leg use overnight, I have had avoid ‘poor Jake’ and instead step up my game to make his life as easy as possible.
I have to carry him a lot more. Which means I need to come up with solutions for how he can do some things (like go down steps, especially to the outside) on his own. I’m looking into having some ramps made for him so he can remain independent.
Wonky-but-still-upright Jake needs rugs and lily pads and yoga mats. Dragging Jake needs hardwood floors. While I can pull up all the rugs, Jake is used to targeting them so he is not getting that he needs to drag on non-carpeted areas. Why can’t he understand the words I’m speaking?! I’m flailing my arms around like air traffic control and he just stares at me, laughing in his soul.
Dragging Jake’s diapers come off. Really easily. Like within a minute. I ordered a drag bag to hopefully help with this.
He has been reluctant to eat while sitting down. I have a raised feeder for him so that is not the issue. So far, I have to hold him up while he eats. I am trying to, once he is heavily invested in eating dinner, lower him down so he realizes he can eat while sitting. I may also look for something to support his underside (a pillow of some sort) while he eats.
When meatball production starts, I need to be there to hold him upright. Seriously, I need to be there or clean-up will rob me of my sanity. I ordered a couple harnesses so I can remain standing while assisting him to stand. This morning the factory opened at 2am and it took him 25 min to go. We bonded.
But to be honest, if I was going to go into sudden-hind-leg-paralysis with someone, I’m glad it’s Jake. He is so brave and he tries and works on his new mobility with such intensity. I just love his perseverance. I’m proud to be his mom!
We go to the neurologist tomorrow. We will keep you posted!
“I think if you feed me bacon, my legs will come off strike”.
Jake has been normal wonky legs for some time now. We got the news about his complicated spine two years ago, and ever since we have been on a steady decline. A slow, steady decline. Sure, there are good days and not-so-great days but all in all, he has remained mostly upright (in his drunk uncle sort of way). Two years ago we were at 25% bad, 75% good and lately we’ve been at about 70% very wonky and 30% less wonky. I’m very scientific.
There have been no blips, no ‘flare-ups’, just steady decline. Until yesterday morning.
Jake went to bed (as normal as he could be) on Monday. I did find it odd to wake up at 7am and Jake had not pooped during the night, but that happens every now and then. I did my normal get-up stuff and went to get Jake out of his condo. He had not gotten out of bed yet, usually he greets me at the gate. When he came to me, it was only on two legs. I thought it was odd but like I said, Jake is usually at the gate when I get over there so maybe this normal? He had a look in his eye that said otherwise. After opening the gate it was clear, Jake was only able to drag his hind legs. He had no control over them at all.
He and I remained pretty F’ing calm. He rocked the dragging and I carried him downstairs and outside, got his diaper on, got him fed (I had to hold him up so he could eat) and then I invaded his butthole got him to poop.
Then I made four calls and three texts to Jake’s village.
The medical contacts agreed, he would not become fully paralyzed overnight. That part should remain gradual, so something else must be happening. We set up a Friday appointment to see the neuro (they wanted him to come to their far away office yesterday but I just couldn’t put Jake through such a long trip and they agreed that Friday was OK since our second plan was to have our Holistic/therapy vet come see him that afternoon).
Dr. Krisi does electro-acupuncture and laser therapy on Jake every three weeks. He was due a visit from her on Wed so we just moved it up a day. By the time she arrived at 3:30, Jake had shown some improvement. He was still dragging but I could tell he had some control over his legs. She did the therapy, did an exam and decided we should see our regular vet to rule out other things before we rule in new spinal issues.
Jake went to bed last night and woke up with little leg strength today. Not a ton but it was good to know that it was at least coming and going. We had x-rays done that were inconclusive and by the time our vet visit was over, he had no hind leg control again. Also, they could not rule out stroke.
So currently he has no leg strength but after resting up, I’m hoping we see the same improvement that we saw overnight. Something new is definitely going on and clearly it’s not great. There is probably a MRI and spinal tap in Jake’s immediate future. This will be his 2nd MRI and spinal tap, and my third to pay for (Melvin had one too!). I don’t think I would do the MRI if it was just to gauge progression. I mean Jake’s story on progression is written, he will be paralyzed in the hind legs ONE day. End of story. But if he has something new, like an infection or cancer, well that I would want to know.
So I will keep you posted! He’s in GREAT hands! Thanks for all the well wishes, we love you!
There are a few milestones coming up on the grief calendar, Melvin’s birthday, the day we found out about the cancer and the one year anniversary of losing him. Those dates are pretty close to each other in proximity. They are just sitting out there, waiting for me. I’m not sure if I should run towards them with a white flag, or like I’m crossing a finishing line, arms flailing in the air. Or maybe, karate kicking my way over them. Where is the guide on all of this?
I think the one year anniversary is a ‘you made it’. I mean, we usually make it, right? I think it’s a date where you can say, I have officially made it through most of the firsts without my loved one and that the hardest of the grief is behind us. It’s not really a yay or a wow, just a fact. It’s a different trepidation/anticipation than the other firsts (first day without, first week without, first Christmas without). Those are more ‘how will I get through’. The one year anniversary is more a day to reflect on ‘how I got through’. That day is still a little ways off, and I’m not really sure how I feel about it, or if I feel anything at all about it.
Facebook has been reminding me where we were last year. Melvin always went to the vet regularly but last year we were going for new things. Constipation, weight loss, hind leg weakness, him sleeping in a different position (true story, this is what I told the vet the reason for our visit was: “He has been sleeping in a different position”. When you know your dog, and I knew Melvin, a change like this means something). Oddly enough a year ago, his liver test values were holding, despite the fact that the cancer had started and large tumors were growing in his liver. His values didn’t tank until late February. That is how sneaky Hemangiosarcoma is. We didn’t know yet (a year ago) about the cancer, but in looking back at the posts there were some signs something was coming. I have no regrets about not knowing sooner, I am only human, I found out when I was supposed to find out.
But Facebook has been reminding me of something else. Last year at this time, I posted about Jake ‘stalking’ Melvin (more than usual). The reality was, Jake knew it was coming. He was so obsessed with Melvin’s smell that when his scent changed with the cancer, Jake became more tied to Melvin than ever. I wonder what that was like for Jake. To smell something new. To sense it wasn’t good. I bet he tried to burn a whole into my brain with his goggly eyes to tell me! As I re-read those posts, I’m thankful for Jake knowing. I imagine the months leading up to my finding out, there was a special bond between them. Each knowing that they had the other.
It’s easy to look back with 20/20 hindsight and say ‘I should have done this, I should have done that, I should have known’. But that is not going to get anyone anywhere good. Instead, I look back and say ‘THANK YOU FOR WHAT WE HAD’. I had two dog-kids that were there for each other, what more could a mother ask for?!
Here are two post from last year at this time when I joked (lovingly!) about Jake being Melvin’s stalker!
The snow finally melted and Jake has been back in the yard for several days now. There are a couple challenges to that much snow and Jake.
The snow was too high for Jake to get into. It was more like a wall.
Jake hates snow so even if it was low enough, he is not romping through it.
Our street was not on the ‘get plowed regularly’ schedule so we had one lane and super narrow sidewalk space. It was either not safe or not possible to get his stroller out.
But now we have more grass than snow and Jake is loving his outdoor freedom again. Apparently, during the storm, Jake got super powers. The snow has given way to new scents, which Jake breathes in with his whole body. So much so that a few times he has been sniffing a spot, he is smelling so hard that his hind legs leave the ground and he is in a modified hand stand. TRUE STORY! The first few times I was shocked and didn’t have my phone. Ever since I started taking my phone out to record it, he refuses to do it.
I’m not sure what his super hero name should be. Handstand man? Is that a powerful name?
I am starting to think he gathers his powers from the fireplace. That would explain why he stares intently at it whether its on or off.