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