Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Dante Update!

What a difference a week makes--back to advanced lizard hunting activities! 

Last week was our first full week with no pokin and proddin from vets and no more funny haircuts.  His strength and perception has grown exponentially.  We still see some slippage on his right side on tile if he's sitting or standing for too long.  And....that's really it for the neuro issues we're seeing currently. 

He's strong enough to hop on and off furniture and to push himself onto his back while he's sleeping.  Fans of Dante know that this is one of his favorite positions. 

He is so over having to ride in the backseat strapped in with his harness and having to be lifted into the car.  His balance had been so dodgy that we were having to strap him in and physically hold him on car rides.   I'd been taking him to the Woodlands Waterway where he can hunt khoi fish at the pond, and egrets and ducks on the paths.  Sunday, my husband came with us, and Dante said "screw this sitting in the backseat strapped in with Mom, that is embarrassing".  By the time I had dumped out his portable waterbowl and gotten in the backseat myself, he had eluded my husband's help into the car, jumped into the backseat, then clambered expertly into the front seat. 

He has always loved the co-pilot position, as you can see here.

That pretty much sums up how my boy is doing--one week out.  We couldn't be happier with his resilience, spirit, and recovery.   Pure Dante.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of how lucky we are.  Many many pet owners aren't afforded luck like this, and we are celebrating it fully.  Even if his repeat MRI in a couple of months unveils something scary, he's doing phenomenally now, and that is all we can ask for.

One of the things that a friend told me that resonated deeply with me; it is so wise and gave me comfort--and still does.  "Dogs don't know how long they live.  But they know how well they live." 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Emotional Update for Dante's Fan Club

I wanted the last post to be "just the facts ma'am" uncluttered with my tendency for verbosity and tangents. 
We got a cool fauxhawk for the ab ultrasound and a reverse mohawk for the spinal tap!

But, as with all experiences like this, the facts are just part of the story--I wanted to share some of what "else" went on, as well as thank the support networks in our lives.  

Throughout these two weeks I have been scouring the experience for glimmers of gratitude that I can use as the sole points of light.  These things are what kept me surviving.  In no particular order--mostly--but I did save the best for last.  :) 

People who "Get It".  I think that some people see dogs as "just a dog" and may not understand fully how these animals enrich our souls.  I have been lucky enough to meet a community of people both through Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston and Rummy's Beach Club who are the type of people who "get it" about dogs.  Who know that Dante is not just a dog.  These people honor their own animals as soul teachers and sources of primal joy.  These are some of the people who I called upon for their love and support--and not only did they do that, they often gave me practical advice which is thin on the ground when your dog is sick and even the vets are confounded.  They sent healing love.  They "got it".  

Texas A&M University Veterinary Hospital.  Naturally, with my husband and I both having our BAs from The University of Texas, we're hard wired and hard pressed to say nice things about Aggies, just as a natural extension of the inter-state rivalry.  But I cannot say enough good things about this facility and its staff.  Not only do they take exceptional care of their patients (and remember, we had to take Shelley there for her ACL tear last year)--they take exceptional care of the owners.  Texas A&M naturally has world-class technology; and they have world-class staff with their bedside manner.  The fourth year vet student and the DVM in charge were quite obviously smitten with Dante.  When you're leaving your dog with anyone, to see that they actually care goes a long way.  Something else they did which meant a lot to me was simply this (which as anyone who deals with doctors in any clinic has dealt with)--they always called when they said they would with results.  On the dot.  And morning and night, they would call just for the general wellness updates, they wouldn't just leave it at "Oh he's nice, he ate and he's sleeping".  We got full details from our vet student assigned to him about all the tricks he was showing the other vet students, what he liked to do outside when he went out for potties, and how his neurological tests were faring daily.  They were so impressed with his improvement that they showed him off to the radiography technicians.  AND, when we brought him home...he smelled like "other woman"!!  You could smell the soap and lotion the staff uses...and I was so glad to know that he had hands all over him while he was there.  

Here's a funny side note--I was a little shocked when the vet student told me that Dante was rolling over for them.  Uhhh....Dante doesn't know the command "play dead" or "bang" or "roll over".  I taught him the command "Would you rather be an Aggie or be dead?", which I'm pretty sure wasn't what they were asking him.  In honor of our new Aggie friends, we're changing that command to "Sooners", which we really should have done awhile ago.  I don't think we'll be needing OU for anything.  Aggies and Longhorns alike would agree.  

Our friends and families.  My husband and I are so lucky that we grew up with dogs and were raised by people who helped teach us how to love dogs on a deeper level.  All of our real friends adore their dogs on the same level, and being able to have that level of support was invaluable.  Especially those that reached out and I was unable to respond--please know that your emails meant the world--which is part of why I couldn't bear to respond.  

My sister.  Who dropped everything on a moments notice to be here to quite literally "be there for me"--and Dante.  Who helped the crushing pain in my heart and throat.  We both always joke that we wish we were the type of women who can travel at a moments notice with just a carry on...and guess what?  We can be! 

My husband.  He "gets it" the most.  I adore him.  As horrible as this journey is--there is no better partner in it.  

Shelley Belley.  Having a robust, wild young golden retriever in the house when Dante was out for his CT scan, MRI and all the rest was quite a comfort.  

Learning how to redefine joy.  When Dante was climbing out of the most acute of the symptoms, at first it was breaking my heart to watch him trip, lean, and weave his way into his favorite backyard hunting grounds.  Then it occurred to me that there was a lot of joy to be experienced in the fact that he even had a hunting drive and no bleeding on the brain could stop it.  (And now, having seen his MRIs, I want to say it's almost miraculous).  

Dante.  One of my favorite daily experiences with Dante is the fact that when I come home he is always sitting at the back door.  I can often see Shelley girl still sacked out and asleep on the couch from the door, but Dante, he is always in the back door window.  It doesn't matter how many times I come and leave the home in the day, Dante is the sentinel always at the back door. 

That first horrible week, as we were awaiting the MRI date, the first time I came home and he wasn't waiting in the backdoor window, I thought my heart would break.  

I opened the door.  And guess what?  He was there.  He was pressed so firmly up against the right side of the wall by the door due to his neurological and balance issues that he wasn't visible.  

I couldn't see him--at first.  But he was there.  

And he'll always be there, even when I can't see him.
Guess what?  I have my recliner back.  And I can hop in it myself!

Cancer Scare and Dante Update

Update for Dante's Fan Club!

I can honestly say that these past two weeks have been the longest, the worst, and ultimately the most grateful in my life.  

Let's recap--I was so torn up the past two weeks that I wasn't in contact with our loved ones, so I wanted to update you on the facts of his medical condition.   

It began at our swim time at Rummy's two weeks ago when Dante fell into the pool--three times.  Dante is a reluctant swimmer, and can always manage to fish out the toys from the sides rather than diving in after them.  He can even swim to retrieve a toy without getting his face and tip of his tail wet.  So we knew something was concerning.  

Monday I took him to the vet as he was unstable on his feet and was having trouble standing up.  The vet took Xrays and found some arthritis on the spine.  She explained that the fast onset wasn't uncommon.  Monday night and into Tuesday it became clear it wasn't arthritis--he was running into walls on the right hand side, pressing up against Shelley and walls for balance, unable to get up easily, unable to jump onto furniture.   It was terrifying.  We take him back to the vet who put him on a battery of physical and neuro tests that were painful to watch, as he was spectacularly failing all of the tests on his right side.  He couldn't see on the right side and could barely balance.  When the vet indicated a "real" and "serious" brain issue, I had to run out of the room to be sick.  

Wednesday he gets to his internist/oncologist for CT scans.  Thursday they find a "mass" on his thalamus.  Next step--more advanced imaging to be performed at Texas A&M with their MRI team.  At first, they pushed us out to the 18th.  With the severity of his neurological symptoms, I refused to wait and on that Friday, the internist was working to get him bumped up.   

Enter the weekend, with no firm MRI date and that sickening feeling of powerlessness as one of the loves of your life is clearly very ill. The whole week, it felt like someone had grabbed me around my throat and pinned me to the wall.  I literally could not catch my breath or eat. My sister, who has always been one of Dante's biggest fans, saved my life by coming down to Houston from Dallas to spend the weekend with us.  Having a wonderful golden herself--she "gets it".  She came bearing gifts of toys--and he immediately ran off with one of them, and began playing happily in a way I hadn't seen in a week.  He basked in the glory of his aunt's love, and she helped me breathe easy.  And...we started to see improvement.  He would turn to the right occasionally, run in a straighter line, and be able to get his feet under him.  But we held our breaths.  

Monday the receptionist and the internist at the specialty vet pulled strings at A&M for his MRI on the next day--Tuesday.  I was not prepared to wait two weeks with the level of symptoms he was having and I think I made that clear. Dante was still eating, drinking, pottying normally and his symptoms were getting slightly better, but we were still beside ourselves with worry.  

His MRI on Tuesday exposed not just the one "mass" from the CT--which was actually a blood hemorrhage--but several further lesions.  Furthering the evidence for the terrifying diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma--which would give him 2-3 months left to live.  

Goldens being notoriously ill-bred by humans leads them to be amongst the breed with the highest incidence of this cancer, which is all I kept hearing--"cancer is most likely due to breed and age".  

But A&M continued to run tests since the MRI was inconclusive.  They found nothing in his cerebrospinal fluid from his spinal tap.  They found nothing in his blood work or blood coagulation panels.  They found nothing in his thoracic X-rays and nothing in his abdominal ultrasound.

So while there should still be a cancer source, it could also be "just" a hemorrhagic/vascular incident. For unknown reasons.  Or it could be other things, but his tests are normal.  Our next steps are an MRI in 4-6 weeks to see if the blood reabsorption reveals anything else.  

So we were able to bring him home last night, where just the improvement he had at A&M was astounding to us.  He's still gaining sensation and sight back on the right hand side, turning right more, has better balance, and his play/hunt/stalk drive is coming back.  

We don't know anything definitively.  It could still be the worst diagnosis.  But it may not be.  And this morning, I woke up with Dante snuggled up in bed with me, his head on my pillow.  Where he belongs. Today he is alive.  Today he is well.

And that is enough.