Sunday, May 1, 2016

OrthoPets Stifle Brace and the Side Effects of Chemo

This knee brace has been worth it's weight in gold...which is good, because it cost nearly as much. In mid March I took Holly to an orthopedic veterinarian to be measured, casted and ultimately fitted for an OrthoPets stifle brace. The process was interesting...we had to cast her leg in a weight bearing position and take all kinds of measurements so that OrthoPets could create a custom fitting brace for her knee.

Meanwhile...since January, we've been monitoring her blood values every 2-4 weeks because the metronomic chemotherapy drug was causing low WBC counts and pretty much stopped platelet production. Prior to that, from July - December, we were only monitoring every 2 months...but her lowered WBC prompted us to monitor things more closely to prevent harmful side effects of the drug.

When she toasted her knee, she went on rest to allow the knee to heal while we waited for the brace to arrive. With the advent of the brace, she became more active, but I noticed that as I increased her exercise each week, she was becoming tireder easier, a lot more than what she should be for just simply being out of shape. She's at the vet every 2 weeks and is quite possibly one of the most closely monitored dogs my vet has ever known. The tiredness could be a result of chronically low WBC combined with being out of shape and the sudden onset of summer-like heat we were experiencing. So we let it go for a bit and let her dictate her activity. But as she got fitter and the weather got cooler, her tiredness wasn't any better. Last week we decided to check her lungs to be sure that the cancer hadn't snuck past the chemotherapy and invaded her lungs...thankfully it hadn't, her lungs are still clear, but her symptoms fit lung cancer so she really had me worried for awhile.

So why the increased tiredness? We checked her urine and there is a small possibility she is fighting a UTI or bladder infection, but with her low WBC, fighting it is costing her a huge amount of energy. We started her on a broad spectrum antibiotic and made the decision to stop giving her the chemotherapy at the same time. She's been on the chemo for 10 months and it has successfully suppressed the cancer...which the chemo drug wasn't designed to do. Her immune system has taken a hit though and she isn't enjoying life right now, so we're pulling back and keeping our fingers crossed that the cancer won't return quickly.

All this time, we've been doing extra, non-traditional medicine to help support Holly's general health and her immune system...raw foods, bone marrow broth, mushrooms, joint support, anti-inflammatories, acupuncture, chiropractic work on her back, etc.. One thing I very much dislike is all the unsolicited "advice" I get from every random person out there on how to "cure" Holly's cancer with the latest and greatest homeopathic or holistic tincture, herb or oil. Holly already has a team of very well educated people...oncology, traditional, non-traditional, physical therapy and orthopedic, but thank you.

Adding the brace really helped her confidently begin to use her leg again. We were working on PT exercises and she's gained a lot of muscle back and was striding out evenly and pretty comfortably til about 10 days ago. She began to really drag the right rear foot (the good hind leg) and she very quickly wore down her toenails to nubs. My vet and I haven't figured out why, but it appears her iliospoas muscles hurt and she's compensating, causing her right leg to be sore along with her left. I would take her to the PT to have her help us figure it out, but honestly, I'm broke. All of her increased medical expenses in the last 4 months, as well as some of my own, has me with nothing to spare right now. I HATE that money is an obstacle, but I have spent gobs and gobs and gobs of money on her health the last 16 months and it's taken a toll on my bank account. I'll have to muddle through this part via emails, videos and phone calls with the PT instead.

Despite all the above, we have had some fun the last 2 months...Holly learned a new game she can play in the yard...searching for treat filled plastic Easter Eggs hidden in the yard. She loves it.


I allow her to be off leash on our short forest hikes, so she can be the independent dog she truly is. Knees and iliospoas be dammed...her mental health is just as important as her physical health, and being perpetually leashed is a drain on her soul.
Digging for the elusive ground squirrel

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What is this thing called "fun" that you speak of?

Yeah, I know. I haven't been posting...again. That's because I have very few fun Holly things to post about. I'm awfully tired of posting nothing but bad news about Holly. But, alas, that seems to be all that there is to say. Can you tell we're feeling very "glass half empty"?

In early January Holly injured her left knee more significantly...another tear and this time it wasn't healing. In early February, she finally tore it completely. She is now totally 3-legged and the leg is very unstable she's unwilling to bear much weight on it at all.

Because of her cancer and immune status, surgery to stabilize the knee is out of the question. I visited with her main vet, an orthopedic surgeons and our wonderful canine physical therapist...we all agreed that surgery for the knee is not in Holly's best interest. Fortunately, the right knee was repaired and stabilized with TTA surgery 3 years ago, so at least she "has a leg to stand on".

Unfortunately, the front leg that had the cancer has some problems and over-using the leg, like she's doing now, is causing painful muscle spasms. It's really hard to limp on a front leg and a back leg at the same time.

I can honestly say that none of us believed that Holly was going to live this long. She has officially passed the 1 year mark since she was diagnosed with myxosarcoma, which is about all the time she was anticipated to have according the oncology vets at WSU. Awesome, right?!

So what to do about that damn knee. I won't go into the details, but believe me that surgery is not an option. That leaves "do nothing" or get her an external brace. I have a very, very, very hard time with the "do nothing" approach...not that any one would blame me for taking that route given all that she's been through in the last 6 years and the gobs and gobs and gobs of money I've spent on it all.

Since I can't "do nothing", last week we measured and casted her leg to get a custom stifle brace through OrthoPets. It may not help her much, or at all, but I'm going to give it a shot and cross my fingers. They are quite expensive, but it's only money, right? (chuckle)

Meanwhile, her life is pretty boring. Short leash walks to encourage her to use the bum leg is about all the exercise she can handle. I am allowing her to be free in the yard as long as there is no running around like a complete idiot (her favorite past time). Holly very much likes to have an audience so as long as she's not trying to show off for me, she does stay pretty chill just hanging out in the yard.

Danee and I are still trying to have fun without Holly. We are shockingly snow free...spring is VERY early out went some of the agility equipment and Danee is learning how to weave and drive forward to obstacles.

I am also fixing up my dog is currently in a thousand pieces between my front porch and basement. All the hardware was getting rusty so every nut and bolt is getting replaced and every inch of rust is getting sanded and painted. Hopefully I will have it all back together again by next weekend.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fun Times in 2015. No really, there were some!

While sometimes it feels like it, especially when paying her continuous vet bills, 2015 wasn't always about Holly's cancer. Tonight I took a look back at all the photos of us enjoying life, and it looks like we had some really fun times. Sure, sure...much of the early part of the year was surgery, recovery from surgery, radiation treatment, and then recovery from radiation. And I took a ride on many many emotional roller coasters. But throughout I also met some pretty wonderful people. I met Mary and her horse while Holly and I were living dual lives at WSU. I met Lara who's lovely dog Rudy ended up with the same cancer as Holly. I met Joyce who was looking for help in navigating the WSU waters after her own dogs cancer diagnosis. I met Kari who runs a foundation that raises money for canine cancer research.

And in between, we hiked, we rambled through the woods, I worked, my family visited, work kicked my butt, I went on 2 vacations...and now that we are at the end of 2015, I'm realizing that this year wasn't that bad of a year after all. I decided to pick just one photo from each month that represented the fun we had this year. Here's hoping 2016 will be even better.

We love snow!

Holly and I spent A LOT of time driving this month

Life pretty much revolved around Holly in March

"Snacking" on something gross on a hike

We spent tons of time running around the woods this spring

Pinkie and The Brain about to get into trouble on a hike

Trip to the Beartooth Mountains

Such a wonderful pair of hiking buddies

Autumn was busy, smokey and hot...but still oh so beautiful

Our other hiking buddies...Jubilee and Raj

Back to hiking in the fabulous snow

At home...see, we aren't always out hiking ;)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Holidays

Happiest of Holidays from our clan to yours :)

Holly (10), Danee (7), Ursa (9) and Inca (15)

What do you mean stay?

Sherpa Holly

Sherpa Danee

Sherpa Ursa
Sherpa Inca

Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy Winter Solstice

Celebrate this beautiful season and the longer, and hopefully sunnier, days ahead. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

December Snow Smackdown

Holly enjoyed a fierce smackdown with her bestest snow wrestling buddy Ruby. Strangely, they only play together in winter, and only when there is snow on the ground. Ruby is my "other" dog...she belongs to my neighbor and landlord, but I might as well be her second family for as often as she is over here visiting. It's awesome to see Holly enjoy'd never know she had 2 bum legs, is 10 yrs old and is on chemotherapy :)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hairless Dogs Need Winter Coats

Okay, so technically Danee isn't a hairless dog. But she may as well be considering how much she loathes the cold weather. As a result, Danee has many winter coats...6 of them. I've a hard time finding coats that actually fit her AND allowed her to move freely while running through the woods. She is deep but narrow chested, with a long back and a wasp waist. Plus she has very thin hair on her chest and belly which makes her cold even when wearing a traditional horse-style coat. The result was that I ended up with several coats of varying styles that kinda fit, but not really, or in one case, it fits but it's simply not warm enough.

The coat is too tight in the chest and not warm enough

This one is plenty warm but doesn't cover her belly

This one was too large and she swam in it.

(Pinkie and The Brain) This coat fits well, but the belly band pops open when she runs through the woods.

This coat is too large on her for hiking in the woods

This one is very warm, but doesn't fit her chest impedes her forward leg movement while running.

A friend recently mentioned that Hurtta was discontinuing one of the winter coats and there were sales all over the place for them. I was going to forgo buying standard styles and just order her a custom dog coat, but I was curious so I looked up all the measurements and found that their size 12 might actually fit her.

Lo and behold, it FITS! I'm happy to have finally found her a coat that will keep her warm and stay on properly while she runs hell's bells though the woods on our winter hikes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Snow Day!

Today winter finally decided to arrive and give us some beautiful snow :) Holly and I enjoyed a wonderful hike along the creek together during the heaviest snowfall. Even though she spent the whole hike ripping around the woods off leash, she still enjoyed a good after-hike zoom around the yard. Today's snow was the perfect way to start my Thanksgiving week vacation :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Muckin' Around the Woods

The last few weeks have finally slowed down and, despite the rain and lack of daylight, I have found my way out of my work truck and back to the woods. With her bum knee, Holly can't hike for too long but we are enjoying every little moment we can find out there. She's also starting to show a lowered white blood cell count due to the oral chemo, so I have to be careful where I let her off leash. She's infamous for finding rotten deer legs in the woods and then refusing to give them up. She really can't afford to be making herself sick over rotten festering wild meat these days...or any day for that matter. When it comes to things she finds in the woods, her 'Leave It' has always been broken. Sigh.

Winter is finally starting to show itself...Danee's readily lets me know that it's "too cold for a walk" by refusing to leave the yard, especially if I haven't put a coat on her. Wussy dog ;)

All 4 critters went to the vet last week for their annual exam and blood work. Kitties liked the trip not at all. Poor kitties. It's hard to realistically prepare them for an hour plus drive to the vet. Kya is perfect, as is Danee. Kettle has low potassium and her blood work showed how traumatic the whole event was for her. Poor Kettle took a few days to recover from it all.

Holly still looks great. Her knee isn't really healing, but despite that it's quite stable and she only limps on it at night. So we're just going to continue with what we've been doing...shortened walks/hikes and on leash as often as is practical for her brain and happiness, NSAID's at night when she shows me she's sore, and acupuncture every 2-4 weeks. Her WBC is getting progressively lower, but it's not low enough to change her oral chemo drug regime yet. She is still doing wonderfully on the oral chemo...aside from the decreased WBC, which affects her outwardly not at all. And still no visible sign of the sarcoma tissue returning in that leg. However...she has been licking that leg recently, so something may be happening there that we just can't detect yet.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday!

Celebrating a milestone today...Holly's 10th Birthday! The girl is still rocking it...4 months on metronomic chemotherapy and no sign of the cancer returning :) I am so very blessed she is still healthy, and still with me.

It stopped raining just long enough to get a picture of her and her cupcakes outside, and before she devoured half of them.

Happy Birthday my Girlie :)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Holly's Very Last Agility Trial

This weekend the dogs and I visited our agility family at a local trial. This was my first 2 days in a row off of work in almost 2.5 months...and my god did I need the break. We didn't stay at the trial for long...just a few hours in the afternoon on the first day. I went to socialize, I went to cheer everyone on, I went to lend a hand, I went to see some long lost friends, and I went to run Holly in her last course ever at an agility trial.

The run itself was nothing special...I only let her run an Intro Tunnelers course...but it was a bittersweet moment for me. She is currently healthy with no sign of her cancer since we started metronomic chemotherapy 3 months ago. But know that won't last. There aren't any agility trials until spring of next year, I don't have a lot of faith that Holly will still be with me then. So, I called it. She ran her retirement run among friends where I could shed a few tears over it.

We enjoyed the rest of the fall weekend at home cleaning up the yard before winter and getting in a short hike and some nice walks. The fall colors are gorgeous and the crisp weather is superb.