Pet Insurance and a Melvin and Jake’s Project Joy giveaway.

Neither Melvin or Jake were insurable. When I got them, pet insurance was different.  If a dog had a pre-existing condition, the dog was denied.  Now, the pre-existing condition isn’t covered but the dog still can be.  Let’s be honest, Melvin and Jake were walking pre-existing conditions.

During Jake’s last year of life. With the eye ulcers, the emergency eye surgery, the follow-up eye issues, the MSRP infection, the diaper rash, the cancer, the radiation and all of his medications, ointments and specialists (6) over that 12-month span, I paid out $25,000. This is not a complaint, it’s just a fact.

When I got Doug, I had already investigated pet insurance plans and had decided on Healthy Paws. I pay $30 a month. The annual deductible is $500.  Our plan reimburses 90% of accidental issues and illness.  Routine care and pre-existing conditions are not covered.

I just got our $5,000 check reimbursement for Doug’s surgery.  I cried. Whenever possible, I take a positive approach to life, even when things are dark and heavy, I try to see the light. It’s been a couple of dark years with Melvin and Jake both having cancer and dying.  That reimbursement check meant way more to me than money.

I deserved that break.

I have a great job.  I have a great family support system. I happily paid Melvin and Jake’s bills and I will happily pay Doug’s. But it felt really good to get something back from a health conundrum.

That said, we pay joy forward. So in honor of yesterday being ten months since Jakey died, we’d like to buy an Eddie’s Wheels Wheelchair for a dog in need.  Please share submissions of dogs who could use a cart (their name and story) in the comments below, on this Facebook post or email to ohmelvinyojake@gmail.com.  I’ll put together a little committee of folks who will help me pick the lucky dog.

Melvin and Jake love, lives on. Always.

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Oh Melvin, Yo Jake.

This Monday is the one year anniversary of finding out Jake had cancer. I remember sitting in my car after getting the call and my eyes and chest burning from sadness and fear. I couldn’t breathe. I remember feeling so overwhelmed because I was still mourning Melvin. Jake couldn’t have cancer, they must be wrong.  I raced home to be with Jake, since more than ever, every second counted.

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In two weeks, it’s the two-year anniversary of finding out Melvin was dying. Calendars suck.

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I don’t plan to remember these dates forever. But back to back loss makes me feel like I’ve been sad for a long time. I also know how far I’ve come despite losing them both so close together.

My love for Melvin continues to grow. He is me. He is my heart, my guiding light, the goodness I try to put out into the world.  As for losing Jake, he and I still have some first to go through on our way to the year anniversary of his death this July. I still feel that burning in my chest sometimes when I think of Jake. Sadness and joy still struggle for the win when I think of him.

But then there is this, in my world, Melvin and Jake are the sun, they are the joy, and the laughter and everything that is beautiful in this life. I have learned that great loss does not slow down the trajectory of great love.

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Melvin was, and in some ways, will always be the muse for this blog. He is the reason it exists.Funny though, I have a hard time even recalling the posts I did about Melvin as an only dog. When I look back, it’s as if it was always Melvin and Jake. I guess that’s all part of  a love that was meant to be. Now that they are both gone, they are eternally one. Melvin & Jake. Jake & Melvin. My favorite odd couple. The source of so much of my joy.

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After Melvin died, I mentioned that I might change the name of the blog. There were many comments asking me not to, that it felt wrong to do that, and in the end, I kept the name.

But now, its time.

Here is where my heart is…

  • Oh Melvin the blog started six years ago with just me and Melvin, hardly anyone even read back then! I chronicled his severe allergies, his tail amputation, his joyful exuberance.
  • When Jake came along, it was easy to add him and still feel like Oh Melvin worked. Everyday that passed, they became life partners. Now that Doug is here, and knowing other dogs will come, Oh Melvin feels…like a look back. Oh Melvin doesn’t feel like it captures this new world where I am without Melvin and Jake, where I am learning to chase joy with Doug.
  • Oh Melvin is from where I’ve come, and although it will always be a part of me, I don’t say those treasured words very often anymore. And the moments when I do say them, well now those moments are more personal, they belong only to me.
  • The URL will always be ohmelvin.com because Melvin is the soul of this blog. OhMelvin.com is the road that will always lead you to me and me to you, but it’s time for the blog name itself to support a past, present and future.

Moving forward is OK. Its good. Its how life goes.

I’m not going to do a big introduction, one day soon you will stop by and the change will have occurred (it’s actually all loaded up, I just have to publish it). The photo will change too, I thought I should warn of you that also. I hope when you see it, you smile. I can tell you with certainty that Melvin and Jake are fine with it.

Just as a sidenote, I changed our Instagram name this week too (it’s now: @dougholupka.for.president).  It only seemed fair that Doug get some real estate in some of our social media presence. I’m not sure why I never changed that account name after Melvin died (but had I, it would have either been Just Jake or Wonkalicious). I think Jake was ok living under the Oh Melvin umbrella though. I think he wouldn’t have had any other way.

Change is hard, but joy will guide us.

xoxo, Tracey

 

We are only human.

I cannot tell you how many times I step in to console someone who has lost a pet and who feels they didn’t do enough. Didn’t see the signs. Didn’t make the right choices. And every time they ask me, why are you not second guessing everything about Melvin and Jake? My answer is the same no matter who asks…

…because I’m only human. I did the best I could. So did you. 

I lost two dogs to cancer. They were diagnosed less than one year apart.

I cannot say with absolute certainty that I did every thing I could do for them both so that they didn’t get cancer.  They both had really great care. The best food, excellent veterinary care and options. Whatever they needed, they got. If love alone could have protected them from cancer, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

I didn’t expose them to known radiation. I didn’t treat the lawn with poisonous chemicals. I didn’t let them drink from an unknown water source. I also didn’t wake up on any single day of their life and say, today I am going to be sure they are not exposed to carcinogens.

They were both rescues. I got one at three and one at five. The three year old lived to be ten and the five year old lived to be eight. They were both purebreds, a lab and a French Bulldog. They had regular vaccinations. During summer months, I did flea and tick treatments on both. They were both on medications for other health issues. If you want to know if I think any of the things in this paragraph led to them having cancer, I will say with absolute certainty that, I don’t know.

Traveling down the road of did I do something to contribute to their cancer, did I not do something that led to it…those paths, lead to nowhere for me. I love Melvin and Jake more than I love myself. I woke up everyday with one goal, to love them better than I did the day before.

I could not control the cancer. I could only control the love.

It was out of my hands that two different cancers found two different boys in one household. I could not control that Melvin had no treatment options or that Jake’s option didn’t work. I could not control that Melvin had 40 days or that Jake had five months. I could not control that both situations, broke me.

I will always wish that they lived longer, but time was never a guarantee. I am learning to celebrate that they were here.

There were a few brief moments during Jake’s cancer where the thought of his last year picked at me a little. His last year, was undeniably his worst year. I did all that I could to make it bearable. We’d lost Melvin and we were not the best versions of ourselves. He got health knockdown after knockdown and then just when we were turning a corner and getting back up, we got his cancer diagnosis. When thoughts of doubt about his last year try to creep into my mind, I stop what I am doing and say no. No! I stand convicted that we did the best we could. Both of us, he and I, even during the hardest of days, we did our best because every day, there was love.

For us, cancer is a chapter, cancer is not the story.

We have to be kinder to ourselves during loss. There are so many incredible parents who lose a pet and then turn on themselves and suggest they didn’t do enough. They missed a sign. They second guess it all. At the beginning and end of every day, we are human. We don’t have magic eyes that see cancer when it starts to form (if only!). There is not a manual called: “Do exactly this when your pet gets cancer”. Instead, we do the best we can with all the love in our hearts.

You did enough. You were guided by love. You did the parts that you could do, beautifully.

I would OBVIOUSLY much rather cancer not exist. I would much rather Melvin and Jake were both at my feet right now. I loved them unconditionally before cancer. I loved them beautifully during cancer. I loved them enough to let them go and my life’s purpose is to be sure that their love lives on, forever. Part of that is donating to cancer research in their memory, so that one day, maybe we can control cancer.

Jake’s name has been added to our project joy. #loveliveson

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Meatballs from Heaven.

Losing Jake is hard in obvious ways and different in unexpected ways. It’s always different for each loss,  but as hard as it was to lose Melvin, losing Jake comes with a swell of other losses and disruptions.

There is the expected part where I am incredibly sad, I miss him so much and I still need to be taking care of him. This part…it’s the given. The price we pay for true love. I say ‘I love you, Jakey’ out loud, all day, because it’s everything that I feel.

Then there is this house. When I lost Max and Melvin, while taking up their things was hard, I still had water bowls and beds to leave out. Each time, there was still a dog. Jake has SO MUCH more stuff than just beds and bowls and toys. This home is set up for him. There are yoga mats running the width and length of this house. The mudroom is a makeshift vet treatment room. There are washable pee pads, diapers and diaper inserts, everywhere. And for one dog, there are more beds than I can count on two hands and just as many waterproof mattress covers.  I have slowly started gathering things up but with each thing I pick up there are emotions to work through. First, picking up the things that made his life easier feels like saying, ‘these things are in the way’. Jake was never in my way and those solutions brought us both so much joy. No one wants to have to clean-up joy! Secondly, picking up his things is a reminder that there are no dogs here.

There is no ‘our’ or ‘we’. It’s just me.

The moment Melvin died, I immediately felt him in a new way. I felt him become a part of me. I missed him and the ache was palpable but he wrapped himself around me and I carried him forward with me. I never I thought I’d say these words about anyone but…he imprinted on me.

I don’t feel Jake all that much (yet). I worry that his googly eyes got confused at the end and maybe he imprinted on the couch instead of me.

I think I know why Jake feels so far away.

While Jake most definitely knew I loved him and we felt love with no words…so much of Jake’s and my love was also through touch and action. He felt my love, literally by feeling me taking care of him. I channeled so much of my love through nurturing. My hands were on him caring for him. Love felt when lifting him, carrying him, holding him up. He’d look up at me with a single glance (and a single eye), and I’d reach down, knowing exactly what he needed, to help him maneuver. Now, my hands feel idle much of the day. I know that part of not feeling him is that, I literally can no longer reach out to help him. I don’t lean over or kneel down 50 times a day. My apple watch is probably worried I’m dead based on the drop in activity.

I never thought I’d miss meatballs.

The other thing is, and this one might not be one that everyone will understand and I may not do a great job of explaining it but even if you don’t get it, it’s the perfect example of how odd grief can be. When Max died, I could picture his old-dog body healed and him running again. I’d known Max his whole life.  When Melvin died (he’d only had cancer for 40 days), he looked exactly the same on earth as I thought of him at the Rainbow Bridge. The only difference was, he was cancer and allergy free, easy to see. Jake is different.  I was not Jake’s mom during his healthier years. The majority of time I knew Jake, he had progressive mobility issues.  I was wonky-legged-paralyzed-Jake’s mom. I saw those issues as challenges and together, we made a life where Jake lived his own version of normal and I thought we’d have many, many more years together so I had let go of ‘upright Jake’. I always wanted more for Jake, but I never wanted more than Jake. When someone says ‘Jake’s not suffering anymore’ or ‘Jake is running in heaven’…it is everything I always wanted for him, but I also feel…disconnected. I still see, my Jake. When I have visions of Jake now, he’s usually laying with Melvin or sitting next to him. Although he’s happy, I can’t (yet) bridge my mind to zooming Jake. I can easily see him with no diaper rash (yay), I can even see him with no hamburger eye (oh those gorgeous googly eyes).   I think this is just another reason why I don’t feel him as much yet (in the way I felt and saw Melvin). Grief has a way of making random shit more difficult than it needs to be and this is just a strange grief barrier I need to break through.

Maybe, maybe I’m just looking for him in the wrong places. I have faith it will work out.

This past week I have felt Melvin more than usual. I know he is letting me know he’s got our boy. It’s funny how roles can flip.  Now I’m the one who is somewhat paralyzed at moments. I’m the one with separation anxiety. I’m the one with wide-eyes, looking to be lifted up. The boys moved forward every day, no matter what.

That legacy will live on in me.

As for no dogs being here, well that will feel lame until there are dogs here again. I had to come to terms with Jake not wanting other dogs. I committed to that for him so it’s not easy to turn that switch and say ‘ok Jake’s gone, there can be other dogs now’. I am still the impassioned leader of Team Jake. This week, I’ve slowly started looking at rescue sites again. As always, there are dogs that make my heart thump. I know that rescue is my calling. I hear it.

I just wish Jake was still here. It’s only been two weeks.

There have been so many beautiful people; my family, my friends, you…who have been there, here, wherever you are…sharing stories of how Jake inspired you, that you miss him also, reminders that we made a difference. To say I am blessed, is to say love lives on.

I have been re-reading my post that talks about how ‘the one love’ should move forward (click here to read).  Trying to remind myself of who I am. Up until this moment right now, I have never lost a dog and not had a dog and faced how to go about moving forward with a new dog. I have always gotten a dog before losing a dog. There has always been a dog! So that post about ‘the one love’ was written by the old me. It’s still me, but since writing it there has been a lot of loss and there has been a wonky-legged-googly-eyed-I-hate-any-dogs-that-are-not-Melvin dog. So when I read that post now, I tend to laugh because up until Jake, all the dogs I have had wanted me to love again. Melvin and Max loved love. They wanted me to always be paying our love forward. Jake…well Jake loved being loved. But sharing was not his thing. Some with Melvin but definitely after Melvin, he did not share his neighborhood, his yard, his toys, his food, me or his Melvin’s our home. Something tells me Jake is in heaven being reminded that the F-word is absolutely not permitted…

‘Uh, F no mom. Step away from the rescue sites. We did fine without dogs when I was there and you can totally do this no dog thing without me. If you see someone with a F-ing dog, look away, you do not want what they have. We talked about this, NO DOGS IN MY HOUSE!                                That one-love crap, that ended with me!

Of course that is all said in his Barry White bark voice while he continues to flip and flail long after he’s done saying it and there are probably heavenly meatballs (made of glitter). Jake behaving exactly like he did every time I tried to bring a dog home to him. And in true form, Melvin is just laying next to him, calm as can be, rolling his eyes over the idea that Jake uses up so much energy on such silly things. And Max is thinking…there is no way we are related.

I sorta like the vision of spirited Heavenly Jake. It allows the hashtag #lifewithJake to live on, just like the love does.

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What happened.

I’m not sure how it’s been one week already.

Let me start by saying, this post is sad. And it’s happy. But it’s sad. No matter how hard I try to inject joy or humor (I gave it my all!), the answer to the question that so many of you have reached out to ask, ends with some obvious heartbreak.

I thought Jake and I would have a little more time together. I had also hoped that I’d be able to share with you when his time had come, but as I realized what was before us, my mind and heart and existence only had space for Jake. In our last few days, I gave myself fully to my boy.

You knew Jake’s health plight, oh so well. He had a crappy spine that took his hind legs down. The mobility part, was a lot. But we worked towards solutions and he learned to move forward, literally and heroically.  When strangers would see Jake they would always say, ‘poor thing, he really struggles’ and I’d say, “he’s fine, he’s Jake”. And that was truth. But the secret life of a special-needs pet-parent is that you are constantly evaluating the current state of struggle and being. I was always tracking the balance of joy. Jake always just kept finding a way to move forward in his spunky little way. It was my honor to join him on his journey and share in such an incredible love.

He taught me so, so much.

Jake’s challenges did not end at his legs. If only they ended there. The universe seemed to single him out sometimes, with issues that we tried so hard to overcome and we could almost fix, but not really. He had a strain of MRSP with no compatible treatment. He developed not one, but two eye ulcers at the same time, one that formed a hole in his pupil and while emergency surgery helped keep the eye, his eyesight, his beautiful wall-eyed eyesight, suffered. So he had a hamburger eye. Yet, still he kept going.  He lost control of his pee and meatballs (to be fair, this did not bother Jake!).  Even though diapers helped, they also weighed him down and he battled many diaper rashes.

The spine and leg issues were enough. Add in all the other things and as his mom, I sometimes cursed the universe for unloading on my boy. But for every issue, we worked out a solution. For every single situation that made his eyes look at me with worry, I came back with something that helped it. My goal with Jake was that his balance always went towards joy. He returned my every gesture, with laughter and love.

Teamwork at it’s finest.

We even found our way after we lost Melvin. In the past year, we were each other’s everything. Our little family, was perfection.

Then came spinal cancer and the soft tissue cancer in his hind leg. The universe bearing down on him, again. A cancer that we couldn’t treat and one that would be painful. A battle we were not going to win or solve. My evaluation structure changed. I no longer had to balance the struggles, I just had to monitor the pain.

Or so I thought.

When Jake was diagnosed with cancer, he still had some upright moments in his hind legs. Not many, but he could wobbly stand to eat sometimes, or he’d do a walk-drag (a move that earned him a ‘drunk uncle’ nickname). But the cancer took his left leg down pretty quickly and then his right leg tried hard, but it too lost that fight. The odd part about this chapter was, the hind legs part was always going to happen to him. That was a plight we’d accepted after figuring out his wonky spine. So sometimes, I’d forget he had cancer or that it was actually the cancer doing the current damage. In a way, having had accepted his mobility plight before the cancer, helped us stay strong and closer to joy after he was diagnosed.

Yoga mat runways throughout the house helped a lot too.  He strutted his stuff like a boss.

Over his last few weeks, Jake became less active. Some days much less, but some days were better. When we’d go out back, I’d put him down to go potty and he’d just sit at the end of the ramp and pee there. I’d pick him up and put him in the yard and try to get him to move around but he’d just sit again, looking towards the door to go inside. I’d carry him inside. If it was a mealtime potty break, I’d go in and make his breakfast or dinner. Prior to this time, if I said ‘dinner‘ he’d come ‘running’. But now, Jake would still be sitting in the mudroom. So I’d go and get him and carry him to meals. His pain management was constantly reevaluated and he was, for all we could measure, comfortable. He just wasn’t moving around on his own very much.

He was still so happy though. His face was pure love.

There was also a  change in how he dragged his legs, going from dragging his legs to the side (normal and easier for him as he could use his bum to help push himself forward) to having his legs drag directly behind him (so much harder for him to pull his weight that way). He tired easily. I just loved on him harder.

Normally, through these changes, we’d be at the vet or have the vet to us. But I knew what the decline was about. And like so many things in Jake’s life, I couldn’t fix it. I could only try to make it easier on him. So I carried him a lot more, knowing him so very well and knowing where he liked to be at each hour of every day. When Jake was in my arms, he’d kiss me constantly, as if kisses were the gas pedal that kept me going. And they were.

I’d carry Jake to the end of eternity and back again.

Jake had also been having some very minor seizures. We were not sure why. Part of me thought maybe it was his medication. During his last two weeks he’d also started having little spasms when he was laying down. At first it was two to three a minute. Towards the end, it was 20-30. They were like these zingers, it almost seemed like he had the hiccups. But he didn’t have the hiccups. They seemed to bother me more than they bothered him.

Yet though it all, my bug still knew so much joy.

Then there was the terrible infection that stemmed from his most recent diaper rash. And all our usual tricks that battled diaper rash before, failed. Cancer was being a real jerk. The thought that a diaper area infection would take my ninja warrior down seemed so unacceptable so I fought that rash harder than I think I have ever fought anything. We battled it hours and hours a day. I set a time limit on the infection, if it continued to win, I could not let him continue battle it. It would have infected the joy.

But you know what, as of that last Saturday night, the infection turned a corner, and it was on the mend! And I high-fived the shit out of Jake and we did a ‘we won dance’  and it had been a long time since we got to do a ‘we won dance’ and we went to bed Saturday night renewed in our fight! The time I had given us to beat the infection had not run out.

Time is funny. It doesn’t care who you are or what you want or how hard you fought or how many things you faced down or how much you danced. It doesn’t care that your little guy worked harder to travel through life than most will ever have to.

Time didn’t care that Jake was only eight.

On Sunday morning, the day after our we beat the infection parade, Jake woke up, toppled over and had a seizure. This was not a minor seizure like the others, it was major and it was terrible. His body went so rigid that at first I thought he was having a heart attack. I held him in my arms and I told him that he was going to be ok and that if he saw Melvin he should run towards him with all that he had. I told him over and over and over that I loved him. During the seizure, he pooped (this is normal for a seizure but I think Jake was sending me a ‘I love you, too’). As his body started to relax, he stared up at me…with love and then kisses. And in that moment, in that tiny, giant moment with my little warrior, we were the only two living creatures on earth. In that moment, we won at love.

I called the vets. We briefly discussed the reasons it could have happened.  A conversation that didn’t really require words.

Jake was not himself on Sunday. I know some of that was the seizure. But as he and I traveled through the day, and as I started to paint the picture of our last few weeks and months…I knew.

I know Jake. I know his body better than anyone. I know the exact moment during that day that he let me know he was tired. Tired of challenges. Tired of having to overcome. Aware that his ability to travel though our life together, was becoming too much.

If Jake had a wonky spine and seizures, well I’d clear the calendar and we’d be a regular at the neurologist. If he had the worst diaper rash and wonky legs, we’d tackle it. If he had MRSP and a wonky spine and eye ulcer surgery with months of a cone, well we call that 2015.

Sometimes you can’t outrun reality. Even when you can’t really run at all and your mom is carrying you and she is running as fast as she can. Jake had cancer and all the other crap that the universe dumped on him and now seizures were invading our precious space and I knew, in a way that only I could know, that his joy would only be reigning supreme for a few more days.

I couldn’t let him go through anything more, except love.

The day I let Melvin go, he was not having a bleed. It was an ordinary day with my extraordinary boys, he woke up with joy in his heart. He ate, he walked out back on his own and he snuggled with me and Jake. His tumors hadn’t ruptured yet. There was no collapse. There was only joy.

I wanted the same for Jake.  His life had known such struggle, 100% more struggle than I ever wanted him to have known, and yet my little superman choose love and perseverance every single time. Jake’s end was coming and I would rather die myself than have him feel one more ounce of struggle or confusion as to what was happening now. So Jake had a beautiful Monday. His village came over and loved on him and he gave them the sweetest, gentlest kisses. He had the best meal he could have ever imagined. He and I went on a stroller walk, right down memory lane. To all the places he and Melvin used to walk, on all eight of their legs. We went out back and reminisced about all the things he ate in our yard. We did his last neighborhood watch at the front door.

Then he and I tuned out the entire world and we snuggled. We snuggled so hard and so perfectly. I breathed him in. He kissed away my tears. I told him all the things I wanted to tell him and he looked into my eyes and told me all the things he needed me to know.

We could not have loved each other more. We got each other through the roughest year of our two lives. We chased joy, and we caught it.

I let Jake go at home. In his favorite spot.

I know that as his vision of me faded, Melvin appeared. I know that Jake leapt into Melvin’s face with an unimaginable joy and I know Melvin shared gleefully in that glorious moment. Jake moved forward, cancer free and struggle free, eyes wide and his second leap was likely straight towards Melvin’s butt. There is a part of me that finds such peace in that even as the whole of me grieves. The heartache and sadness I feel, is worth every ounce to know that Jake and Melvin knew my love and that they are reunited in sweet, joyful, odd-couple joy. To know that they have each other, for forever this time.

#loveliveson #findyourjoy

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The infection.

Jake still has an infection.  He has had it for a few weeks. Other times battling his diaper area infections have turned out fine. Those other times however, we were not also battling cancer.

This infection has consumed me. It owns my mind and all my time and energy goes into battling it or worrying about it. This is one of those times when you start to understand what they mean when the cause of death is something other than the disease at hand.  Like…he died of complications from cancer. This infection, is most certainly a complication.

There have been a lot of vet visits, countless efforts to fix it, so many creams that I had to make room in the garage. There have also been some tough conversations in the case we can’t get it under control. Luckily, his pain meds seem to be protecting him from feeling much of it at all.  And his wonky spine takes care of diminishing the rest of the sensation, so for that I’m thankful. He is for the most part, still Jake.

Since returning from my trip, I have not really left Jake’s side. I lay with him so he can have the infected area uncovered and untouched. I put different medications on him. I have to use surgical gloves which makes sense but feels strange.  I do homeopathic treatments (made for us by our amazing holistic vet), making a paste out of herbs and honey and I put that on the area for 15 minutes.  Then I meticulously clean it off and start back on the medications. I have everything on a timer and the timer is almost always going off.

I’m desperate for more time with him.

But more so, he still feels joy.

I had the worst migraine of my life this past weekend and every time that alarm went off, I somehow got up. He is my purpose right now. He is my goal.

There is a part of me that knows that this infection might be the sign that it’s time. To let him go before the cancer takes him. I know that his time is coming. But there is also still this light in him that ignites a light in me and it makes me wants to solve just one of his problems before I say goodbye. I’m not sure that light ever goes out. But I have started adjusting the glow. Instead of always saying ‘you’ll be fine bud’, I have started saying ‘if it’s time to go to Melvin, I understand.  I’ll carry all the sadness bud, you need only travel with joy’.

I had a conversation with someone recently. I was working through a let down, trying to focus on forgiveness so I could move on. Forgiveness is way better than bad mojo. I learned that from Melvin.  During the conversation, came some great advice.  He said… ‘never set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm’.

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And I thought a long time about that and it hit home in ways that were probably way outside of the scope of his meaning for it (although it made sense that way too).  I decided I was going to cut back on everyone else’s needs for a bit and only focus on Jake and me. I had been spreading myself too thin. I recall feeling this way last year with Melvin. When my capacity was focused on him.  And now it’s the same with Jake.

Right now, my plan is Jakey. His time is short and my time is his.

It’s funny, during this past week with Jake, I realized that the fire advice has some parameters — if setting myself on fire would help Jake, I’d be ablaze right now.

Love is so infinitely wonderful and so incredibly hard sometimes. What love looks like can change in an instant. We work so hard to make the end lovely but the reality is that it’s also impossible and messy and it always feels like yours is the very first end ever and no matter how many people surround you or call you or show up, you are still…alone. The end is lonely. So my advice is…don’t feel bad for needing ‘me/us’ time. Remember that being human has its limitations. For cripes sake, do not set yourself on fire! Most importantly, try to forgive the end (even more importantly, always try to forgive yourself).

But don’t forgive infections, they suck.

 

Side note:we had the infection cultured and it’s not an easy one to treat but there are medications we can try so we are going try that route, for now.

I promise you that suffering is not in Jake’s future. I’m still hopeful this infection won’t be the end.

Don’t forget to feed me woman. IMG_9625

 

Leaving.

I had to leave Jake for a few days.  Leaving anyone towards the end of their life feels impossible and complicated and emotionally painful but sometimes other loved ones in your life need you also and you make compromises.

The only saving grace was that if Jake were able to make his own bucket list, the first nine out of ten items would be to have his dog sitter, Tayler (and her mom), come stay with him.  He may love her more than me.  And I’m fine with that. For the record, Jake’s tenth item on the bucket list would be for us to go live wherever Melvin went and for me to pack really good snacks for the journey.

Tayler has watched him many times before,the last time this past winter.  That did not stop me from channeling my inner insanity detailing every step of Jake’s day in notes. Here is a look at the note, the highlighted areas are items that are new/different since the last time she watched him.

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Crazy, party of one.

The original plan was to take Jake on the trip. But sometimes life puts cancer in your day and you cannot add to your baby’s struggle anymore than it already does.

Jake’s bucket list: own a harem. Check.IMG_9599IMG_9600

 

Most of you don’t know this but I had to leave Melvin for a few days, just after we found out he was dying.  There was a very special and important family trip and although I could have canceled, there was the potential for regret no matter what choice I made. As it turned out, Melvin was just fine without me and he too got to spend a special last visit with his love, Vasha.

Even in dying and death, we have to live. It’s not always easy (I cried so much when I left Melvin for that trip but I also had some wonderful people around me, giving me strength to go back and face the hardest phase of my life).

So I left Jake for a few days, and there were tears (mine, not his!). I worried way too much, but I did relax some. I overthought everything and yet still found some clarity. I checked-in like a crazy person and even had the vet come by to check on him and of course, he did fine.

I would care for Jake until the end of time. I would change his diapers, care for his infections, carry him…forever. But it’s always nice to get a little break.  I came back rejuvenated and when Jake pooped on me as I was giving him my snuggly hello, I laughed so hard. That is what our love looks like and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

Opposite.

Melvin and Jake’s cancers are completely different and my handling of them are also, almost opposite.

Melvin was, except for the cancer, very healthy at his end.  We’d beat and cured all his issues.  The one thing we struggled with was weight loss.  He lost 10 pounds his last month despite him eating a ton. His cancer type must have been hungry.  Jake on the other hand has a ton of problems to go along with his cancer. A cancer leg that refuses to move (and is changing color) and a TERRIBLE diaper rash, to name a few. He however, is one of the very few cancer dogs that gains weight — he gained one pound last week.  Woohooo!

Then there is me.

With Melvin’s cancer, writing about it kept me grounded. It gave me strength. With Jake’s cancer, I don’t always feel compelled to put the words to web. That might just be a round two issue.

When Melvin got diagnosed I was devastated (that is no different for Jake), but after seeing two radiologists, the oncologist, our regular vet and our holistic vet (all within one week), I knew he was terminal and I knew our time was going to be very short. I went from living mode to survival mode and everyday I focused on getting Melvin to his end with all his joy intact. I have zero doubt or guilt that letting him go when we did, was absolutely the right thing to do.  It was the worst day of my life, but it was one of the most right things I ever did for him.

With Jake, sometimes in my head I operate like his decline is just the normal progression of his spine. It is a plight we’d already begrudgingly accepted so my brain thinks it’s normal. And sure, you can argue that some denial is good, but I need to start being truer to Jake’s end. His decline, is due to cancer. My inability to cure this round of diaper rash, is due to his cancer.  When strangers see him and say ‘poor little guy’ my response can’t be ‘oh, he’s fine’ all the time. He is not fine. I can say he’s happy, he’s loved, and he has the best care imaginable but truth is, Jake is struggling. I need to become less ‘ok’ with what is happening to him in the sense that this is not our original diagnosis of spinal issues and become more ‘ok’ about the fact that he has spinal cancer.  I’m still so desperate to fix him. I still think that this is our normal progression and I still google solutions for everything. Which is the opposite of how I was with Melvin.  And that is not to say I give up or I gave up. It’s just a matter of learning where to put your energy. I wanted to save Melvin every minute that he was on this earth but when he got cancer, I understood (not accepted) the end was near.  He and I cured his life and although getting a terminal cancer with no options went against everything we were and had been through, it was what it was. With Jake, he has struggled so much these past few years that we now are used to it. We have really, solved nothing with him. We ‘saved’ his eye. We have products that help. But everything he has faced, we just sorta had to seek solutions to make it ok to live with. So when he got cancer, I probably thought the opposites would continue, that with him, we’d have options and maybe for once a cure for him. I have to accept some hard truths. It’s complicated to have a special needs dog and then have them get cancer and have that cancer affect the areas they were already special in. For Jake, It’s almost like I don’t comprehend.

So our vet(s) have suggested switching to a ‘hospice’ mentality.  It’s not Jake’s time yet, but the term hospice can sometimes help the human move into the necessary mindset. It helps me process things like ‘the radiation didn’t work as well as we hoped’.  My normal response to that is ‘what do we try next’ and I am fairly unable to process the words ‘nothing’.

Thankfully there are still some things we can try to ease the diaper rash. We may not cure it (but watch me try!).

I’ve been laughing about the differences between the boys situations (ahhhh, the ability to find humor in strange places),  and I know that most of the reasons there are differences is that they are not the same and neither are/were their cancers.  I’m grateful for the most remarkable ‘Team Jake’ vets and I’m grateful for all of you who read these posts and who understand why there might be fewer posts right now.

To conclude, there is always joy to be found.  The recipient of Jake’s wheelchair (Oliver) is going on tons of adventures in his new ride and he has gone from uncertain of how to get around to owning that cart like a boss!  Heart happy.  Heart full. Love lives on, even in wheelchairs!

Whatcha doing woman? When you gonna unroll that new carpet? IMG_9353

Oncology check-up.

Jake got diagnosed with spinal cancer and a nerve sheath tumor four months ago. I cannot decide if it feels like four-months, if it feels longer or if time is flying by.  I guess mostly, it feels like four months.

We had an oncology appointment this week. For the most part, Jake is doing great! He has maintained his weight (thank you home cooked diet and peanut butter!).  His mobility has declined (terminal spinal cancer will do that) but his decline has been slow and steady so he has been able to acclimate. He’s comfortable, our pain management approach is working. That last one, is everything.

Jake was always going to be paralyzed in the back, so that part was already (for lack of any control on our part) accepted. Of course it got accelerated by the cancer, but we had already made peace with his mobility plight. And he’s still perplexing the medical community, which I love doing, as his cancer leg is changing color and no one knows why!

I asked the Oncologist point-blank (as I do each month)…”You said he’d have three to six months, do you still feel that is the case?”. She said…”I think so”.

It’s odd, but I left that appointment happy.  Sure, Jake has a cancer we can’t treat (the reality) but his slow, steady decline has given him a chance to keep his chin up (the blessing). We are controlling the parts that we can. We are doing it all as right as possible.

Focus on the joy.

A lot of loveliness can occur in a few months. Sure it will feel short when the end comes, but that is the case with all ends, there is just never enough time.

A few human months is about one to two dog years — Jake is going to have an AWESOME dog year or two!!

More peanut butter, please! IMG_9184

UPS.

When the decision was made that Jake could no longer use his wheelchair, I had the normal reaction, put it in the corner and suppress the disappointment.

But that wheelchair kept calling out ‘someone needs me, do the right thing’.  So I reached out to Jake’s rescue and I asked if there were any alumni they knew of that REALLY needed a cart.  They had someone in mind and I reached to that little-big cow dog’s mom.  When she asked me how much I wanted for the cart, I explained that we really wanted to her guy to have it. The only thing we asked in return is that they pay it forward one day.

So last week I loaded it up with instruction (when that cart came I had zero idea how to get Jake in it so that instruction step was crucial) and I carried it out the door and put it in my car.  I stopped at UPS, grabbed the cart and walked in.

That is the exact moment that all the oxygen left the world. I was standing in UPS, there was no oxygen and I started hyperventilating, bawling and then out of nowhere came a honking sound from my body. I panicked (or perhaps terrified myself), turned to run out, ran into the man standing behind me (the wheelchair rammed into him) and somehow made it out the door with a bunch of voices yelling behind me ‘ma’am, are you ok?’

Oh sure, I always honk like a donkey, things are great.  Instead I yelled back, ‘I have nothing to mail’.  (HAHAHAHAH, I have nothing to mail, classic response. That totally makes the situation more normal.)

I got into my car, drove to a side street and parked. What the hell had just happened? I made a few calls to people who could talk me back into some realm of sanity.

I looked over at the wheelchair.

Sending the cart made Jake’s cancer too real for a moment. 

It’s OK to be human. Just breathe.

I did a few other errands. At one point I realized that UPS probably had security cameras so I just prayed that I was not currently trending on You Tube. I eventually went back and mailed the wheelchair. The people at UPS could not have been nicer, they took one look at the notes and said ‘seems like this cart is being sent with a lot of love’. It most certainly is. Love will live on in that cart.

The wheelchair is on its way to Oliver and he is going to rock the hell out of that cart and his mom will hopefully breathe some relief when she sees him take off in it. There is something really special that happens when your mobility challenged dog gets his wheels and is suddenly no longer hindered at all.  Jake and Oliver have similar spinal issues and they just happen to be the two biggest Frenchies in the world so the size should be perfect.

We had a great weekend, Jake is snoring in the next room and luckily for him he has a great replacement wheelchair, her name is Tracey. All is good here.

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Why did you honk like a donkey at UPS? I’m embarrassed. IMG_9050

Everything.

When it comes to Jake, most days  I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’ve pretty much felt this way for three and half years.

It started off because he does not react to anything I do. He has no tail to wag, he has wiggled his body maybe ten times since I’ve met him and all of those times were for Melvin. When I dance or sing for him, he sits like a statue, almost pretending like it’s not happening.  When I come home, Jake does not even get up, he looks to see what the noise is about then puts his head back down. I have no gauge of if he likes something or not. Except food, he will 100% eat anything and everything.

I know what to do for Jake, if something happens I take care of it, and there is nothing I won’t do to make his life be the best that it can be. But when it comes to most things about him, and his spine and his paralysis and now the cancer, there are a lot of grey areas and most days I just wing it.  I guess it was the same with Melvin’s allergies but I think it’s different when you are solving problems versus dealing with issues there are no solutions for. (I guess even then, love is a pretty good solution).

I have to carry Jake a lot now. I am never sure I am picking him up correctly.  I’ve read articles, watched videos and asked the vet(s) but there is no set way for every single thing that Jake goes through in a day that would suggest one way is the best way. Wing it.

I cook for him now, a cancer diet.  There are so many theories about what they should eat when they have cancer. Then there is balancing that food brings Jake joy. The nutritionist said ‘no dog treats’, only give him fruit or veggies.  I heard, give him peanut butter.  But to compromise I have his peanut butter freshly ground so that he doesn’t get added sugar.  Winging it.

I am a confident person. When someone compliments me, I almost always agree. If you ask me if I’m confident in my ability to care for Jake I would tell you without pause or thought, I am the best person for this job.  I can know this is my purpose, and still not know what the hell I am doing.

It’s called, hoping for the best.

Although I have complete faith I can and will make Jake’s life decisions, I have no clue what spinal cancer looks like at the end. Every day is different and while I do worry and I am sad, most days we just coast. Sometimes you have to provide the light for the dark corners, even when you have no idea where the flashlight is and you are pretty sure the batteries are dead.

Even when I am hoping for the best, it is impossible to avoid thoughts about all the loss that losing Jake will bring. I’ll lose him and that heartache alone is too much to consider. I’ll lose a connection to Melvin. There will be no dogs in the house, in fact I don’t recall the last time I didn’t have a dog.  I will go from taking care of a special needs dog, which takes up quite a bit of the day, to the dreaded void.  I worry about how I will get through. Not that I don’t have support and love and family and friends. But more about where I will derive strength if I don’t have Melvin or Jake to care for. But those moments are short lived, becasue the moneky is still here wtih me, and our life is beautiful.

“You can’t choose the length of your life, but you can do something about the width and the depth.” (saw this on FB this week).

Melvin reminds me to seek out the joy. Find the joy in the little moments. Be a joy seeker.

In being open to joy, one day, I’m at a party and I spot my dad (who I knew would be at the party) and I go up to say hi and he says ‘wait here, I have something for you’. He returns with an article cut out of the Washington Post about a woman who makes dog diapers for her paralyzed dog.  He is a not a dog person but he is a dog person for me and my boys and this non-dog person regularly cuts articles out about dogs and saves them for me. Upon delivering it to me, he tells the people around us that I am ‘a great dog mom’. He says it so proudly, so truly. And I of course think I am, I know I am, but in that moment with him and hearing him say it, it feels like everything.  Everything. Like someone just served up the whole world to me. I didn’t know that I needed to hear HIM say that at that exact point-in-time but in that joy moment, Jake and I won at this life. I realized that Jake I and have already won at what’s to come.  Little moments, are sometimes, the everything.

In life, it doesn’t matter if you know what you are doing.  It only matters that you keep showing up to try.

#findyourjoy #loveliveson

 

 

Rules are boring.

After Melvin died and Jake’s gang violence escalated territorial monitoring and prey drive increased, we called our dear friend and trainer Nancy to work with him (and me). I explained to her that his favorite thing to do was sit at the door but with every passerby, especially that of the dog variety, Jake would flip and flail and foam at the mouth.

Her advice, shut the blinds and work with him under controlled open-blind circumstances until we could give him the skills to handle the activity of outside.  It was brilliant and we set off on our positive reinforcement clicker training with fake and real dogs (Yes, our trainer would walk down our sidewalk in front of our house with a fake dog on a leash and I would click from inside with Jake the moment he saw them).  It was awesome! I believe in positive reinforcement training – not just for the dog, but for the human too. It’s not ‘all my rules all the time’, it’s ‘how can we both be the best that we can be together’.

Jake didn’t exactly ‘graduate’. We worked real hard but since he was diagnosed with cancer, the clicker got put in the drawer and the peanut butter came out.

There are so few activities that give Jake joy. Partly because there are so few activities that don’t require struggle. But staring out the front door, has always been at the top of his joy list. After his legs started failing even more and we found out about the cancer, he would drag himself to the front door several times a day to see if the blinds had miraculously opened again.  Sort of like in Willy Wonka where the candy factory has been closed but then one day, boom it’s wonkafied and back open!

So I ompa-lumpa’d and opened that blind and let him be the jerk he has always wanted to be! Even on the rainiest day when there is no activity, he watches the world. He naps and gets up to make sure the outside is still out there, then he goes back to napping. When he kids walk by from the bus, he makes sure they pass by our house safely.  If one of them stops to tie their shoe, he barks at them to keep moving. When the brown truck man drops off a package and gently door taps to say ‘hi’ to Jake,  Jake Barry-White-voice barks at him and tells him to scram. When a dog walks by, he flips the F out.

There are moments I think ‘you should be training him’. Then I think ‘just let him have the one activity he can do no matter how many legs work’. I don’t give in or up a lot so there is definitely an internal struggle.

Sometimes, cancer comes a-knocking and you have to lessen your grip. That said, Jake was an ankle biter and now is not an ankle biter and to his last breath, he is not permitted to be an ankle biter again.  I mean it’s not a totally rule-less society over here! And if Jake didn’t have cancer, we’d be clicker training every day.  I’m not giving up on Jake, I’m just giving up on some rules that don’t fully embrace ‘joy now’.

 

Happy weekend!  Go find your joy!

Ordinary.

Our life right now is fairly, ordinary. I love ordinary. We made some changes to Jake’s pain management and so far, he’s doing really great. We are in that phase where living in denial is not really possible anymore but we are also not in the phase of ‘this is the end’.

We’ve made it three months since diagnosis. Instead of thinking he has a certain amount of time left, we instead like to rest on our achievements. We made it three months!

Stop! Snuggle time.IMG_8475

Jake is still eating. Peanut butter is a part of his every day. The pain meds help him sleep super soundly (so soundly that I have to set my alarm to check for meatballs because homeboy now does not wake up if he has gone in the middle of the night) but they don’t keep him sedated all day.  He is more limited than six months ago, heck he’s more limited than one month ago, but he in fact is, just Jake. He does the ramp to out back as if he has done it his whole life. He is clearly still CEO of the meatball factory. He still takes his Neighborhood Watch shift very seriously.

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Not every day is all lollipops and rainbows. Life is just not like that. I will admit, I do get a tad upset at Jake’s circumstance. Not that he has cancer, I mean geeze, I think it’s a given that I don’t want him to have cancer.  But cancer is out of my control. My angst is more centered around the added struggle for Jake. Why does his cancer have to limit his mobility even further? I mean this one is just hurtful. Why does he have an ear AND eye infection AND a diaper rash flair-up on top of it all? No seriously on that last one, WHYYYYYYY?  But all in all, I find my moments of frustration are brief and short-lived and we instead focus on the gratitude and joy. And peanut butter, Jake said not to forget to give another shout out to the glorious peanut butter.

AT the start and end of every day, I’m thankful. If cancer was going to be, I’m grateful that this time we get a slow decline, that he gets a chance to acclimate. I’m glad we got three months and I’ll be grateful for each and every day we have together.

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Wishing you joy and gratitude on this lovely Tuesday!

 

 

Vets, ramps and rugs.

In the last week, we have seen the oncologist, our holistic vet (for therapy and a check-in) and our regular vet (to get on the same page and decide what the heck that page is).

Here is what I know.

  • Jake’s cancer leg no longer works. I am a very positive person but I think that leg is probably done. I don’t blame it, I’d quit too.
  • Jake has lost 5 lbs. since February.  I know that cancer requires a lot of calories and I think that for Jake, eventually his body won’t be able to keep up on the eating.  As for now, he eats fine, so that is great. We are increasing his food intake and that makes him very happy!
  • Jake is fairly stoic when it comes to pain. He showed no response to having a cracked tooth or various split nails. We do believe we are starting to see signs of him experiencing pain (and nausea) so we are treating both and will continue to monitor him closely. I want him comfortable.
  • It was time for a few of his vaccinations and to refill his heart guard. We had a realistic conversation about his prognosis, that his cancer is not treatable and that his body is weaker with every passing day. I told our regular vet that I only wanted to do the vaccinations he truly needed. We ended up opting against some. I don’t think that his cancer is from vaccinations or from any preventative (I don’t know that for sure but I do believe some of them are important) but I do feel like there is no need to throw any unnecessary treatments at cancer or his body right now. I am Jake’s voice. I have no veterinary training but I am trained in the art of loving Jake and love makes decisions sometimes and right now, love decided that we won’t be putting some of those treatments into his body. These decisions we face are big, insurmountable, giants. But I believe with all that I am that at the end of our pet’s lives, relying on love is the best guide.
  • He still has joy, and for that, we have everything that we need!

Put more food in my belly.IMG_8359

This weekend I continued my quest to find a ramp that Jake can use to go outside. I can carry him, but lifting him up and setting him down so many times a day is not good for his spine (or mine!) and sometimes it seems to bother cancer leg so the ramp is still the most ideal option. The steps to the outside are brick and Jake gets too scraped up going down them on his own.  I have tried carpet pads, nothing has worked. We are now on ramp four. I found a ramp with a Melvin look-alike on the box and I took that as a sign that it was the one!  Then I went to a sporting goods store to buy some yoga mats (one for the ramp since it’s lined with a sandpaper type gripping and that would just result in Jake dragging his then BLOODY stumps).  I told the salesperson I wanted the cheapest ones they had since at some point, it would be pee’d on. I felt bad for him but welcome to my world sales guy!

The good news is, Jake is using the ramp!  I still hold-guide him but it seems to be the one!  Thank you Melvin-look-alike! And of course the cheapest yoga mats are the light ones. The ones that show black mulch paw prints and pee very clearly.

Since getting Jake, he has ‘gone through’ roughly 15 rugs. I clean them, you have no idea how well I clean them(!), but there comes a point when the rug has taken its last beating and we have to let it go. When we got Jake’s diagnosis I decided that I would keep our current rugs and replace them all at once after he went to ‘see Melvin’. Well, Jake’s body had other plans for one of our rugs so its departure came early. Unfortunately it was a rug that covered a lot of ground. So now, instead of matching rugs, I have matching yoga mats, all throughout my house.  They are MUCH easier on Jake and MUCH easier to clean. It’s odd to have random yoga-mat-walkways, but it’s working so I have let go of the decorating fight and embraced the ‘just make it easier for everyone’ approach.

Follow the yoga-mat road! IMG_8377

Goodbye, fifteen. I remember the very first day I had you and Melvin threw-up pumpkin on you.  It took me three hours to get the stain out. I have a feeling you will be happier at the dump. IMG_8376

Denial – it’s lovely here, come visit.

Sorry for the lack of updates. I was opting to live in some denial, which is difficult to do on the blog.

For example, when anyone asks me how long Jake has, I say six months. I still say six months, even though it’s been a few months since we got that prognosis. February 13th to be exact. Since Melvin’s cancer prognosis was in days, being able to say and hold onto months feels like such a long, short time. And since it is really anyone’s guess, six months is not a lie.

Then, we saw the oncologist again. Jake’s cancer leg is now not working, at all.  In fact, that leg is making his hind right leg look like it could go to the Olympics.  His cancer leg is in the back on the left, yet it drags sideways to the right, so his stronger-weak right leg has to ‘jump’ over it with every step.

Why universe? Why?

When discussing this with the oncologist, that clearly his cancer leg is his weak link, she shared concerns that perhaps the radiation did not benefit Jake as much as they hoped.

Wait. Stop. Pretend like you didn’t hear her.

Is that even a thing? That radiation wouldn’t work. I mean I guess it could be, she’s saying it but I just sort of thought it was a given.

She said if the radiation helped him, his cancer leg should not be weaker, it should in fact be a bit stronger. (I had thought radiation would just do its magic internally and slow the cancer down, his leg being better was not something I expected so this was a surprise to me). If nothing else, she said it should have stayed the same.

Pretend like you never came today.  Go home and continue saying six months. 

I asked what that did to our timeline, if perhaps the stupid radiation did not do its freakin job. She said, let’s wait and see.  That in some humans who have his form of radiation, there is residual swelling of the tumor for as long as 8 weeks (which in theory could make his leg weaker and then it could bounce back).  I sensed she leapt into denial-land when she said that but I was happy to have company and we decided to wait and see.  We are currently at just over six weeks since radiation.

The important thing is that his pain is under control.  He is comfortable, he is still moving around (with the new back leg drag/hop), he is still eating, he still has joy in his eye (hamburger eye does not really show that much emotion!). Those are my metrics.

We could do another scan to see what’s going on but I don’t plan to do that. I don’t need to see his cancer.  Knowing it’s there is enough. We are still resting our fate on love and joy and he is doing just fine in that area, so our infinite six months still stands.

Here is my little monkey, and his wonky, crazy legs.

Taking a break on his way out back. IMG_8291

Sitting pretty in pink. IMG_8283

Notice my expert wrapping job of cancer legs foot.  That paw stays scraped up and bloody.  We have tried every sock and baby booty known to man.  I kid you not, we have hundreds of socks, shoes and booties.  Nothing stays on him. Gauze, vet tape and Animax are our best friends. IMG_8280

Keeping watch from the shade. IMG_8331

 

Update on Jake.

At Jake’s Oncology appointment, the oncologist was deciding how our future visits should go. She suggested that we be seen every three weeks, but alternate between oncology and neurology. Every three weeks took me by surprise, to see either of them. I was extra confused about why we would go to see neurology (at all). They had pretty much said ‘good luck’ (in the best possible way), as there are no treatment options for Jake’s spinal condition. We do laser therapy and electroacupuncture to help his good parts, but from a neuro standpoint, their work is done. So I asked: ‘I was told there was nothing they can do, why would we see them’. Her reason for suggesting we switch off between oncology and neurology is that they (the medical team) might not know for sure what is the cancer spreading and what is his spine when in comes to decline. So I challenged: “his spinal condition is not painful, in fact it helps some with pain since he has limited feeling in some parts. But his cancer is known to be painful, often very painful. So won’t pain be an indication”. She said, it should be.

I then did what I often do when it comes to making hard decisions for the boys, I took the lead: ‘I’m not going to be looking to you or neurology for guidance on when it is the right time to let Jake go. I will know.’ I said it so matter-of-factly, it caused her pause. And then I think it caused (her) relief.

Our regular vet and I have a system. She tells me when we have done all we can medically, and I take that knowledge and add it to what I know. For me, once we have done all that we can, the question is no longer medical. The decision is based on the science of love and joy. From the day I took all three dogs in I made them a promise to do right with the power to make decisions for them. We do this daily for our dogs, but when it comes to this last decision, well nothing feels so insurmountable.

So pain will be an indicator.  Also, Jake’s cancer is at the bottom of his spine and extends down his left hind leg.  So deterioration in that leg only will be a sign.  Also, since it’s a soft tissue cancer, it may invade his bladder or colon so if he stops being able to go potty, that will be a sign.

No one wants to think about these things but for us, in order to not dwell on it 24/7, we have to outline the medical parameters so we can get on with the joyful task of living. It’s definitely a challenge to not mourn them while they are still alive, but with Jake, I’m trying to save all that for later (or at least until the middle of the night once he’s asleep).

The only thing we dwell on right now is how much peanut butter we have left.

Woman, put peanut butter in my belly right now! IMG_8221

Melvin’s Project Joy: April 2016

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Time for more giving! As we come up on the year anniversary of losing Melvin, and as Jake and I move together on his journey, this month we celebrate our cancer dogs.

As a reminder, each month, we do a giveaway that celebrates the unique nature of our furry friends. There are monthly categories (so far we have done: seeing impaired, hearing impaired, less than four legs, anxiety stricken and senior dogs).

Here is how it works…

This goes beyond just a giveaway (but yes, there is of course some loot!). Our goal is to remind each other that we are all in this crazy life together. That through these giveaways, we can all bring empathy into play. As you share stories of your cancer dogs, read the stories of others. You may nod, and realize just how much we all have in common. You can message others and share your experiences and advice. Friendships will form. Support can be shared. Joy will be spread!

Share your cancer dog (or dogs) (their name, a photo. and the story about their awesomeness) on either our Facebook page containing this post, on Sirius Republic’s Facebook page when they share this post. If you are not of the Facebook world, you can email your info to ohmelvinyojake@gmail.com. No matter how you submit your info, you will be entered to win. You can nominate your dog if they are still with you or if you have lost them.

READ ALONG AS OTHERS POST. DON’T FORGET TO REACH OUT.

In celebration of the blog turning five, we will pick five winners at the end of this month! Five dogs will win a Sirius Republic gift cert!

 

The little leg that couldn’t.

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!

Radiation is over!

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!

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Super Jake.

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!

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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.
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