Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's working!!! 

Milo had his second treatment this past weekend. You guys- he's doing AWESOME. The only side effect he has experienced is extreme thirst. He normally drinks a gallon of water a day. With the Prednisone he's drinking at least 3 and seriously, would like more.

One morning last week, I got up and worked out and got all ready for work before taking him out. It was selfish of me, but I live on the third floor and up and down those stairs 3 times in one morning is annoying. As I walked into my room to get dressed, I noticed a huge puddle on my floor, at the bottom of my bed. At first I thought my humidifier had leaked and then I realized Milo had peed. My poor bunny. I was selfish and he couldn't hold it anymore. I found him hiding under my kitchen table and he walked out with his head down and his tail between his legs. The guilt!

Later that night, I got into bed and noticed that one part of the bed was colder than others. All the pieces of the puzzle appeared before me. Milo had actually peed ON MY BED that morning and I had only seen the runoff on the floor. It soaked my quilt, my down comforter, my sheets, mattress pad and down to the mattress. So, at 11:30pm, I had to strip my bed, find clean sheets and alternative blanket options. And yet, I still felt guilty. During all of this, Milo laid on his bed facing away from me in the other room.

This weekend, we spent two glorious (but cold) afternoons climbing our favorite trails at the dog park. A friend joined us on the second day and she commented how she really can't believe he's sick. I still can't.

Today, as he snoozed at my feet, I reached down to pet him. I felt for the tumors that I usually avoid. You guys, those egg-sized tumors that brought me to my knees just two weeks ago are already vanishing. They are now about the size of large gumballs. The pea-sized one that was just developing in his armpit is undetectable to my clumsy fingers. You know what's not undetectable, though? His horrible, stinking "is my face in a toilet??" gas. I can live with that.
Posted by Kristen @ 2:21 PM | Link

Monday, March 10, 2008

To chemo or not to chemo? 

Last Thursday, as my friend Brooke and I wrangled Milo into a tiny room at the oncologists office, I looked over my list of topics to cover with the vet. I was trying to be organized and hold it together.

Sitting in the chair, I really did not think I was going to do the chemo for Milo, the main factor being money. Don't most things come down to money? When the doctor (who is my age, by the way) came in, I liked her instantly. Milo wasn't so sure, which is why he faced the wall away from her and barked.

Dr. Silver went over all of the different drugs involved in chemotherapy, their potential side effects and how those side effects are treated. We talked about Milo's health, temperment and overall prognosis. We talked about how he would be feeling during treatment because I didn't want him to feel sick or in pain. We talked about long-term life span stuff.

After our conversation, I was not ready to make a decision and she was kind about it and told me I could take a few days, but the sooner the better. She told me not to be surprised to notice marked changes in his nodes from one day to the next. This disease was aggressive and out to get him.

All along everyone had been telling me "You'll know the right choice," but really, I had no idea what that meant. I didn't understand what that meant. I'm practical by nature and what, was a voice going to thunder from above? As I sat in the waiting room, I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. I knew what I had to do. I was not ready to let go of my guy- he's too full of life. I knew the right choice.

I did not want to make an on-the-spot decision, so Brooke, Milo & I went home. I really did not have to think too long about it before I called back saying Milo and I were in for the long haul. I was told to come back in 20 minutes.

Milo's first treatment went well, I suppose. I heard some dramatic barking from the back and then he was lurching towards me with a cute little green bandage on his back leg. And that was it for treatment #1.

He's on a steroid now, which makes him super thirsty, but other than that he's the same guy he's always been. Picking fights with bigger dogs, cozying in his chair and continuing to always be chronically gorgeous.
Posted by Kristen @ 6:01 PM | Link

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The diagnosis 

After leaving the vet on Saturday, I had to wait two days to find out the test results. I tried to put it in the back of my mind and go about life. But, at 8:59am on Monday, I was dialing the number to the vet. At 9:30 the receptionist told me that they had not gotten a fax, but they would call me as soon as they did. I called again at 10:30a and she told me the same thing. At 11a, the vet called me. Not the one we had seen, but one in the practice. She came right out with it.

"Milo has an aggressive form of lymphoma."

I know I said "Ok," and beyond that I barely remember the conversation. I started sobbing and a co-worker came and closed my door. I remember a few words "6 months" "advanced" and again, "aggressive." She also told me that another dog being treated had spent $600 since January treating their dog. Yeah, this was going to be expensive.

She said my vet would call the next day to go over the details.

I sat at my desk and cried for about 20 min. Cried and sobbed and cried for my beautiful black bunny who seemed so healthy. People came in and out of my office trying to console me, but I was near inconsolable. I made it through the day, but it was the last conversation I had on my way home that put me over the edge. My friend Elizabeth was the first to speak of him as though he was truly going to die. She spoke of making his last few weeks happy ones and talking to him and making him comfortable and it was too much. I rushed in my backdoor, ran to my bedroom and literally fell on my floor sobbing.

I am not a crier. It's just not my nature. I ended an engagement with no more tears than one would have for the death of a distant and far-removed cousin that you've only met twice. But that day I cried. I cried for all the happiness Milo and I have brought each other. The laughs, the snuggles, the pure joy. I cried for the life Milo had before me and how I had not yet made up for it. I cried for the years he was still supposed to be next to me. I cried for every sacrifice I had made for him. I cried for his beautiful face. I cried because the thought of losing the very best friend I'd ever had was more than I could bear.

I spent that night gazing at him and tearing up. He was especially loving and snuggly because my behavior was so out of the norm.

The next day, Dr. O'Donnell called to discuss the diagnosis. She told me that she thought I should treat him and that he had a good prognosis. She said that if I did not treat him, he would likely only live another 4-6 weeks. That's 28 to 42 days. That's all I would have with him. That's nothing.

Her office contacted the oncologist whose office called me later that day. It was Tuesday and I asked for an appointment the following Monday. The receptionist said his file was marked "URGENT" and that I should not wait that long. I took a Thursday appointment and hoped he would not die before then.

I had a hard choice in front of me and really, truly did not know what I was going to do.
Posted by Kristen @ 7:52 PM | Link

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is Milo sick? 

Last Sat. was like any other weekend day. Up early, long snuggle and then off for a walk. There was a pitstop to this walk- the vet. Milo isn't a fan of the vet, but hey, everyone needs an annual physical.

Walking into any building that is not home has always been an, um, challenge with Milo. We barrel in, one of use pulling the other at top speed, the other riding the jerks like she's in some sort of urban rodeo. You can guess who is who. I always get sympathetic looks and try to explain "He's not like this at home!" I don't think anyone buys that story, though.

In the exam room, Milo barked and whined and generally made a nuisance of himself. When the vet came in, I headed out to the waiting room, as we have discovered my presence makes him more anxious. I was flipping through the current issue of Bark when Dr. O'Donnell came out to chat. She had noticed that Milo had enlarged lymph nodes in his legs and chest. She wondered if he had been displaying signs of allergies. Nope. "Well," she said, "generally this means allergies or lymphoma. I'd like to take a sample and send it to be tested."

As Milo and I walked home, my mind was racing. Could my bouncy, wild guy have cancer??? Dogs with cancer don't have such spring in their steps, they don't look so avidly for squirrels and cats. And they definitely do not run at top speed through the yard. Or do they??? I'd never met a dog with cancer.

I called my sister when I got home and suddenly burst into tears. My Milo, the love of my life, could have cancer. I sobbed and could barely speak at the thought of it. Somehow, deep down, I knew. I saw it in the vet's eyes.
Posted by Kristen @ 5:15 PM | Link

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What's this about? 

My dog, Milo, was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. For those of you who know him and have seen him, it's truly hard to believe. He is an energetic wild man who bounds through the apartment, yard and dog park any chance he gets. I've had Milo for 2 1/2 years and he has brought immeasurable joy to my life. I find myself rambling on about him to strangers, quick to pull out a picture or share a cute story, whether people want to hear or not. He makes me smile and laugh out loud, which is quite a feat considering he can't talk and surely does not consider himself funny.

We are connected in way that sounds ridiculous in words, but most dog lovers and owners understand. At the dog park, he's free to romp and run, but fearful of losing me, is constantly checking in, making eye contact before dashing off to hunt squirrels. At home, he's independent- loves to sit in his chair and gaze out the window, but again, comes often for just a quick pet before running off to the important business of bone chomping.

When I took Milo to the vet on Saturday, March 1st, the idea that there could be anything wrong truly never crossed my mind. He's full of boundless energy, eats well and is generally happy. As soon as Dr. O'Donnell said his lymph nodes were enlarged and that it could be lymphoma, I knew it was. There was no doubt or question. It was confirmed on Monday, March 3rd-- Milo has an "aggressive" lymphoma. Without treatment, my otherwise healthy and happy 6 year old dog will live only 4 to 6 more weeks. It's so shocking to imagine because he really is still full of life and shows no sign of sickness.

Milo's treatment option is chemotherapy, which unlike chemo in humans, generally is well tolerated with few side effects. With treatment, Milo's prognosis is good, per Dr. O'Donnell and Dr. Silver, his oncologist. This treatment can extend his life for a year or more. This life will be lived the same way it is now, with lots of energy and life- not full of sickness, as one may imagine. Of course, everything comes at a cost and the cost for this one is fairly steep. The estimated cost of care is around $3,000.

Milo is the love of my life, my sunshine, my bunny and my beautiful stinky boy. It's not his time. I know it's not.
Posted by Kristen @ 3:54 PM | Link

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I have a dog! 

In July 2005, after many months of skillful negotiation, I finally was able to get my then-fiance to agree to getting a dog. Until that point, I had been completely obsessed with the idea. I would cross the street just to pet other people's dogs. I would call home just to find out how the family dog was doing (fine, I still do this) and would even sometimes imagine I had one snuggling at my feet in bed.

On Monday, July 11, we went to Baypath Humane Society to meet a yellow lab I had seen online. I had no particular preference for the type of dog I wanted beyond "not-small." We walked Barnabe, the yellow lab and I can't explain it, but there was no connection. It was strange- I had thought I just wanted any dog, but no, I wanted a dog who was special. Special, though, was undefined as of yet.

We then walked Cody (worst name ever), the 7 month old pit bull. I loved Cody, but was nervous about a puppy. And my landlords would probably not be too keen on a pit bull. I was ready to leave and come back another day when woman who worked there pointed to this dirty dirty dirty black dog sitting up straight and proper behind me. Just hanging out. She said he was a nice dog and we should walk him. I wasn't feeling him, so off went the boy with Oreo. I hung back and talked with Beth and the boy returned saying he really liked Oreo and I should walk him, too. He pulled hard on the leash. He stopped to smell everything. He didn't listen to his name or any commands. But, his ears bounced and his paws were speckled. He would do.

We went back in and said we'd take him. I imagined we could leave him there until the weekend. Um, no. "Do you have a leash?" Next thing I knew, I was driving to the pet store with Oreo riding shot gun. He smelled terribly. He had stitches under both eyes. But he was relaxed and happy to be in the car. This did not carry over to the pet store, however. He pulled us around the store as we picked out a bed and a gate and treats and dog food.

When we got home, we went directly out back to show him off to our landlords/friends. I still remember Elizabeth saying "Look at those paws! He has such character!" That night, we struggled to assemble the gate, but it was missing pieces. We decided we had no choice but to wing it and allow this dog free reign over our apartment. He was pretty relaxed. At some point, we agreed that Oreo was not a good name, but the pre-chosen "Winston" did not work either. Somehow, I came up with Milo and it just stuck. That night, we hand-fed him dinner (and all meals for a while), put his bed in our room and then lay in bed stressing over what we had done.

The next day at work, I worried all day that he had eaten my couch. I was so pleasantly surprised to find that he had not eaten the couch, not had any accidents or chewed anything that wasn't his. He was amazing. And smelly. But mostly amazing.

After his bath I was able to kiss and cuddle him and after a few weeks, it was love. He would carry our shoes around the house. He would snuggle in bed at night and again in the morning. He would relax with a toy on the deck, watching the action on the street.

And that's Milo in a nutshell to this day. He spends a lot of time relaxing, watching the action on our street. While he wasn't the dog I went to the pound to get, he is the dog I was meant to get. People say that dogs often resemble their owners and in this case it is true inside and out. We're both black and white on the outside, but on the inside, well, we're kind of complex. And extremely loveable.
Posted by Kristen @ 7:31 PM | Link