Jake has a nerve sheath tumor, basically taking up his entire hind left leg. On the MRI, his right (healthy) leg showed up as completely black and his chicken (cancer) leg showed up as completely white. He also has a tumor (that caused his leg cancer) at the bottom portion of his spine and add to that his normal spinal challenges and that leg has a lot working against it.
For a while now, even before diagnosis, I have noticed that the left leg never really makes it all the way to where Jake is going. I usually follow-up behind him and help that leg get to where it needs to go. What I don’t know is if Jake means to leave it behind, since I think both of us secretly wish it would just fall off (sorta like a Barbie’s leg pops off, not what it would really be like if his leg just fell off!).
We see the oncologist Thursday for our first appointment post radiation. We’ll keep you posted on wonkier leg!
Who in the world wants to type the title of this blog post with their dog’s name before ‘urn’? No one, that’s who. I personally do not want to pick a casket or an urn for any loved one. Also, I pretty much refuse to say urn or casket and almost always go with ‘container’ which also confuses people but it just feels gentler. But ‘Melvin’s container’ might have left some of you wondering if you should read this or not. I guess to be fair, you still may feel that way!
When it comes to pets and cremation, I have not found there to be (although to be honest I have never asked) a choice of container. Sure, there are tons of options online, but I think each crematory probably delivers everyones ashes back in their standard container and if you don’t like it, you might search for a different one.
Ok, now that I have gotten that out of the way (and it was sorta necessary for this post) maybe we can shake of the chills that the word ‘crematory’ brings.
Melvin’s ashes came to me in a wooden box. It was a fine wooden box. I mean, there is nothing wrong with it, but to be honest, there is nothing right about it either. I think that would probably go for whatever container they put his ashes in at first. Since my plan does not involve scattering his ashes, over the past year I have looked at (and yes talked to) that wooden box and always, every time, felt…I need to find a different container.
Then I recalled a container idea I had seen a while ago. When I had first seen the idea I thought it was brilliant but at that point I thought Melvin had such a long life ahead of him that I would surely forget it. Not the case, but still a win.
Melvin loved Kongs. LOVED. Kongs were a part of his every day. This is a snapshot of our collection from a few years back.
I had gotten both him and Jake a Kong wobbler (only to have them destroy drywall when they were flinging them around the house) so I quickly took them away and put them in a cabinet. It’s funny looking back. At that moment when I took them away, I knew with certainty that I was never letting them play with them again (seriously, I had to have drywall replaced!) but yet I saved them. Sigh.
And from this…
Became this…Melvin’s ashes are now inside it.
For the first time, his container feels as right as possible. What I love most about it, is that Kong Wobbler was dinged, and scratched and all Melvin’d up. Just the way I like it.
I did have to transfer his ashes out of the original box AND the velvet pouch they came in, into one of my socks (the pouch was way too bulky). This didn’t really cause me too much anxiety except I did reach in to make sure the ashes were in plastic inside the velvet pouch (they were, whew!). I stared at the ashes for a bit, reminding myself they were no longer the all of Melvin, just a tiny piece of him left behind. I transferred them to the sock and as I was fitting the pouch into the Kong (a feat way easier said than done) I kept saying ‘just squeeze in a little more bud, I almost have it closed’.
Jake’s three intense days of radiation are over. The biggest negative so far has been Jake’s smokers cough from have a breathing tube three days in a row. The coughing was pretty hard to watch and hear but he’s much better today. One more day or two and it should be all gone.
Jake is doing great so far. I did have to switch him from his raw diet to a cooked bland diet during radiation. I could tell he was nauseous and the liquid burps picked up. Jake is super dramatic with his liquid burps. The burp occurs and then he gargles and thrust his head backwards and arches his back and then he chomps on said liquid burp so he can really own how disgusting he is. I had consulted with a Vet Nutritionist prior to radiation so I was ready to go when the burping first signs of upset started. Jake will stay on the bland cooked diet until our two week oncology check-up, then he will likely move on to a cooked balanced diet.
I am pro whatever diet works best. If someone comes at me anti-raw, I just agree to disagree. I am also not going to push you into raw. I take care of my dogs, you take care of yours, it’s all good. The point of seeking out a nutritionist (who happens to be ok with raw diets) was to figure out what is best for Jake now that he has cancer and will be going through radiation side effects. So now, I cook for him. And to be honest, I love it. It fills up my need to nurture him in every way possible. At first it seemed like a lot of work with the cooking and measuring and weighing. But Sunday I made his meals for this week and it felt really great to have it done and to have prepared it just for him.
I can’t cure him, but there are so many other ways I can heal him.
We go back to the oncologist in two weeks. With Jake’s radiation, the digestive side effects can show up right away but the other side effects usually take about 2-3 weeks to show up. Those can include internal and external burning. I almost passed out when they said ‘internal burning’. Not that external burning sounds like a party bus but I pretty much assumed external issues. The oncologist thought Jake’s external side effects should be minimal due to his thick muscle mass and due to the radiation targeting deeper, past the skin. He may lose some hair and we will watch for burns on his skin but for the most part, most of his burning will probably be on the inside. It’s just as it sounds, he will feel a burning sensation in the area above his left hip. And that should last a week or two and can be managed with an increase in pain meds.
Jake won’t have any more scans. Radiation buys us time. We are on a course of joy. When the balance of joy to struggle begins to shift in the wrong direction, I will know. Jake’s cancer can be painful. He already carries spinal cancer, a bum eye, hind leg weakness and a MRSP infection. Decisions from here on out will be made the same way they have been in the past. With love.
For now, he is fine. He loves his new food regime, radiation seems to have given him super-hero-energy because he has been very playful and spunky the past few days. He’s in great hands with our regular vet, our oncologist, his holistic vet and his nutritionist.
It just occurred to me, Jake is a Kardashian.
Here is Spunky Brewster getting his laser done yesterday. Usually he’s calm and relaxed but Radiation Jake was squirming all around and rolling back and forth, almost giggling like a little girl!
Kids gravitate to Jake. I think they see him as a live bobble head and know that hilarity will ensue. Maybe they relate to his diaper. Whenever I am with the kids in my life, they either ask to see photos of Jake or to check-in on the live Jake cam. There have been times when the visual of Jake has taken a child from tantrum to laughter. Nine times out of ten, when I see Hadley, Blake, Lane, Maddy or Emmie, the very first thing they will ask is ‘How is Jakie’?
Jake has not always reciprocated that love back. There was the time that Princess TuTu came over, in a tutu (thus the name) and Jake latched onto the tutu as she tried to run away from him. He refused to let go. It was not adorable. We finally got him off of it. Jake also used to be an ankle biter (his way of getting kids and other dogs to play but no living creature has ever enjoyed it or seen it as an awesome way to be invited to have fun). Most of them just screamed ‘HE’S BITING ME’! I obviously trained him not do it.
For a while now, he has been kid-tested, mom-approved. As long as no one wears a tutu.
This past week, a little peanut named Peyton stopped off with her awesomely, thoughtful mom (and our other sweet peanut Laney Bug) and dropped a gift basket off for Jakie. The day they stopped by was one of our less than great radiation days – the visit and the basket turned our day around.
Jake started radiation. As quickly as he starts it, it will be over. He only has to do three days. To be honest, I’m much more concerned (at this point) about him being under anesthesia three days in a row. I can worry about the side effects of radiation after that. The Oncology Service knows what they are doing. I dropped him off and his dedicated tech came out to get him. When I picked him up, he was carried out to the car with his belongings. It’s an awesome practice and I have complete faith in them. Since Jake has MRSP, he’s in a more secluded area which all know works out just fine. No wonky lunging at other cancer patients!
Jake is having a relatively new form of radiation available to pets called, Stereotactic radiation (SRT). This radiation benefits Jake (personally) in two ways. 1. The protocoled radiation treatment for Jake’s cancer is 20 days of consecutive radiation (and anesthesia). That much anesthesia felt worrisome to me (and his medical team) since he is smooshy faced and has breathing issues. He is getting almost the same amount of radiation benefit in just 3 days. 2. Fewer side effects (hopefully). If you are at all interested, here is a blurb about it (copy credit to The Veterinary Cancer Center). If you are not interested (we forgive you!) you can skip down.
Stereotactic radiation (SRT) and Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) are becoming more readily available for animals. In the past, traditional radiation therapy to treat cancer in pets would usually result in significant side effects and many owners would decide not to pursue treatment because of this. IMRT and SRT are changing the way that we are able to treat cancer in pets, and they have great potential to improve both your pet’s quality and quantity of life.
What is Stereotactic Radiation or Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Stereotactic radiation, also known as stereotactic radiosurgery, involves delivering a small number of large radiation doses to the tumor, in the hope of causing maximal tumor damage while limiting the dose to the normal tissues. Usually this is done in 1 to 3 treatments over a short period of time. With stereotactic radiation, a large number of beams are directed at your pet from all different angles and the shape of the radiation beam is changed, during treatment, to deliver radiation where it is needed most.
What tumors can be treated with SRT?
SRT can be used to treat a variety of tumors, including brain tumors, pituitary tumors, nasal tumors and other tumors involving the head and neck. It also can be used to treat tumors of the spine and some parts of the abdomen or chest. It can be used for pets when daily visits and anesthesia may be too dangerous.
Prior to radiation, I had our consult with the nutritionist (who I LOVE). The plan is that I will keep Jake on his raw diet as long as he does not exhibit any digestive issues. If he has a hard time during radiation, I will give him a bland diet (cooked lean turkey or beef and white potatoes), then go back to raw. If he develops any ongoing digestive upset, we will change his diet to a cooked/balanced diet that the nutritionist will outline for us. You know I love a good plan!
For now, Jake is doing great. One day down, day two in progress!
Here is Super Jake after day one, keeping watch over his kingdom.
I went on an annual family vacation this past week. We spent 4 days in the Bahamas, soaking in sun, adult beverages and family time. Last years trip was impacted by Melvin’s cancer (and that’s ok) but this year I was able to go, and breathe and relax a little.
Leaving Melvin was not always easy, not so much the me leaving him part but the him being left part. From the moment my suitcases would come out for packing, Melvin would get antsy and sad. He’d cling to me in a ‘no, don’t go, how could you leave me?’ way. He’d whimper when I’d say good-bye and he’d try to come out the door with me as I left. When I’d return, he’d greet me with whole-body-wiggles and kisses and then give me the cold shoulder for a week. Punishment at its finest.
Jake is different. When I get the suitcases out, Jake sees them a new bed. When I give him an extra long good-bye hug, he get’s annoyed and tries to break free. When I give him one last glance, he gives me the ‘are you still here’ look. And when I come back, it’s as if he didn’t even notice I was gone. He comes waltzing out as if he just saw me ten minutes ago.
Here are some photos of Jake’s time with his sitter and my view in the Bahamas!
‘Are you my new mom now, cause I’m cool with whatever?’
If this isn’t a bobble head, I’m not sure what is.
For a week or two she kept taking me places where I’d fall asleep and wake up wonkier than usual. I started worrying that aliens had abducted me but she assured me that it was just for some tests (wait, isn’t that what aliens would do?) To be honest, I love a good nap so no complaints here!
A few times when I woke up from the wonky state, her eyes were leaking but then she fixed her eyes and now it’s pretty much just ‘love on Jakie 24/7’. As it should be.
Seriously, here is what I have put together…leaky eyes leads to:
Her laying on the floor with me all the time! I love it!
Peanut butter. A lot of peanut butter! She says ‘life is short, eat the peanut butter’ and I say ‘yes ma’am can I have another’
Love. I mean I already felt a lot of love from her but now she’s singing and dancing and she picks me up and we dance together and I’m not gonna lie, we could be on dancing with the stars! She usually sings that song that is on the radio…”I’ll be here to save the day, Superman’s got nothin on me, I’m only one call awayyyyyyyyyyyyy”.
Stories about Melvin. Lately she has been telling me how alike me and the big guy are, how we stole her heart and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Any mention of Melvin, makes me swoon so hard. I love him, more than peanut butter.
So all is great here! My legs drag sometimes but it don’t bother me. I just pull them around like the sultry beast that I am. I make wonky look sexy. True story.
Her rolly bag came out and she put stuff in it so that means that Tayler is coming to stay with me and that is seven different shades of awesome! Unlike my brother who got upset when she’d leave, I do not care as much. She will leave, Tayler will come, it will be awesome, she will come back, that’s awesome too. It’s all good up in my hood!
PS. here are some photos of me that prove my sexiness.
Sexy evidence #1. How is this for ‘the thinker’, Rodin? (Although I say ‘thinker’ she says ‘stinker’. She is not funny.)
Sexy evidence #2. Some are not confident for a close up but when you’re as incredibly attractive as I am…it don’t matter.
Sexy evidence #3. I dare anyone who claims that neck waddles are not sexy to look at this and not see hotness. Boom, told you. My band name should be ‘neck waddles by the fire’.
Jake’s treatment plan has been outlined and scheduled. Sometimes when things like cancer come up, you have plans with the oncologist and you have plans with the vet(s) and you have concerns that need addressing and you have to act as the liaison between everyone and be sure that it’s not just about each doctor’s responsibility, it’s also got to be what’s best for Jake overall.
For instance, this week I am having a consult with a vet nutritionist in CT. My goals are to be sure that Jake’s nutrition is right during radiation, right after treatment and right for all his other issues. Right?!
Next week, Jake will have three intensive days of radiation. He’ll have to be anesthetized each day. Three days of treatment, and then, we’re done. Side effects, if he were to have any, would occur 7-10 days after treatment. The side effects, which should be minor, are the only non-joy things I’m wiling to proactively take on. If a few days of discomfort give us six months, I’ll take it. If it was going to be months of pain or discomfort, that is not road I’d take us down.
I cancelled our upcoming behaviorist appointment. He can be as horrible as he wants! The behaviorist agreed.
I’m handling Jake’s cancer very…tactically. It’s not at all how I handled Melvin’s cancer. There is no guide (is there?). My goal is to remain upright. I don’t think about him having cancer 24/7. In fact, wile I think about it more right now due to all the appointments we have scheduled, I’m hoping/thinking that we will have some time where cancer is just a thing, not THE thing. Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m guided by love so it will be ok.
These days are emotionally complicated for so many reasons. Jake has cancer. The cure for his cancer is removing it which is not an option for us. I’m being reminded by Facebook about where we were with Melvin last year. The year anniversary of losing him is coming up. I’m trying to live in he moment — which is hard when during this month I do want to look back and honor Melvin and I want to look forward past the radiation to how I can give Jake joy. There is one thing that is exactly the same between last year and this year — nights are hard. I cry. I worry. I try to have the next day planned out so I can wake up and go.
Our new reality and the timing of it, makes me miss Melvin even more.
This weekend, Jake did something and it made me laugh and for no reason my eyes filled up with tears and I was still laughing but I was also crying and well, who hasn’t been there. But then my phone lit up, a post popped up in my memory update…the one about Jake knowing Melvin had cancer before me (click here). And just like that, it made me remember that we were meant to be. No matter what comes our way, we stand by each other. Laughing or crying, just show up.
Many have suggested that we do a bucket list. I love to read about humans who do bucket lists for their dogs! The problem is, Jake does not enjoy adventure. Like not at all. Jake hates change. If I switch up the door we walk out of, he hyperventilates. He does not enjoy going to new places (although he does enjoy being in the car). The only thing Jake would put on his bucket list is if I could take him to a field where he could hunt (and catch!) squirrels and bunnies and frogs. (I’m working on this one). And we are planning on going back to the beach this summer too!
One year ago today, the day after Melvin’s birthday, I took Melvin for a ultrasound at a specialist and heard the words ‘I have terrible news, I’m so sorry’ followed by, ‘…probably only days’, when I asked how long he had.
The days that followed were the some of the most impossible moments I have known. Those weeks when the prognosis was ‘any moment’, I was grasping at time, and love and air… I never knew how dark the night could be. I spun, out of control. I was afraid to leave him. I tried so hard to hold onto him and love him.
The knowledge of pending death is confusing and overwhelming and terrible and sad and you are forced into mourning, before the death even occurs. One year ago, we weren’t given good news, much time, or any treatment options. But we were given love. So much joyful love. And that love is everything and trumps anything and everything we weren’t given. Seriously people, there are no guarantees. We suggest love. Love is a solid plan. Seek love, give love, love love. Create reasons for others to love, high five love, shower in love. Let love own you and guide you and let it light up all the darkness.
Love can get help you through. Love can heal you. Love lives on.
Melvin was diagnosed a year ago – Jake was diagnosed 19 days ago. 8,328 hours separate the words ‘he has cancer’ between them. Brothers in life. Brothers in death. Brothers in cancer. These two have an odd sense of timing and really take their bond to the extreme!
Thankfully, last March does not define all the others. It does not represent this March. Even though we are embarking on a cancer journey at the same time this year, we have opportunities we did not have last year. Last March is over. This March has just begun.
“Hey, psssst, lets get cancer one year apart.” “Ok, sounds fun!”
Today would have been Melvin’s 11th birthday. I am infinitely happy that he was born, that he proved to be too much for his first family and that he ended up on small lab rescue site that I happened to stumble upon.
Aside from the one-year anniversary of losing him (coming up in April), this birthday, is our last ‘first’ without him. In fact, we found out about his cancer the day after his birthday last year. I sorta like that his birthday is our last hurdle of all the firsts, because there are very few things in life I am more profoundly joyful about than the fact that he was born. Today, we celebrate that he was here, that he was ours!
Melvin, Jake and I miss you every minute of everyday, but we also feel your love and guidance. You are with us, we know it. A beautiful part of our soul and happiness and joy. Happy Birthday my sweet, angel! You and I (and Jake) were written in the stars. We love you, forever!
Today, in honor of Melvin, please go hug a senior (dog or human). But of course, ask first!
And here are my past birthday letters to Melvin (since starting the blog)