Sunday, September 01, 2013

Happy Birthday, Baby Boy!

Today we're celebrating the 7th birthday of our sweet little man Fresco, although I'll admit I didn't actually look at the calendar and realize today was September 1 until this evening. Regardless, our munchkin still had a pretty good day. Our walk this morning got cut way short because of rain, but Fresco got some extra exercise this evening when we took him to the dog park--just his second visit ever. He had fun playing with a bunch of puppies and held his own during the game of chase. It was clear that he wasn't a puppy anymore though! Hopefully we'll become dog park regulars and Fresco will get better and better at coming back when he's called. His ears have turned off almost entirely during his first couple of visits!

Our little lanky guy is doing pretty well adjusting to being an only dog for the first time in his life, but he does seem a little bit depressed. Honestly, we thought he would be a little more excited about getting all the attention in the house. Maybe what seems to us like sulking is really just exhaustion, since we've been enjoying 4-5 mile walks most mornings. Hopefully some regular trips to the dog park will help his mood as well. Ultimately though, I think we'll start fostering again later in the fall, and hopefully that perfect addition to our family will eventually come along.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Celebration of Hope

Today we would have celebrated our sweet Hope's 13th birthday--which is actually the 8th anniversary of the day we brought her home to live with us. As most of our friends and family know by now, she unfortunately passed away almost two weeks ago on August 10.

Obviously, Hope didn't live but a couple of days after my last post. We thought we would have a little more time with her, but that Friday night (which happened to be my birthday) it became clear that we had to let her go. Even though it had been just two days since we'd started to taper off the steroid she was taking, her tumor had started growing more rapidly. In the 2+ hours we were gone having my birthday dinner, the tumor growth in her nose was so significant it was alarming. With many tears and lots of heartache, we made the decision to have her put down the next morning, in the hope that we were sparing her a lot of pain and misery.

Hope was such a terrific dog whose love for life and sheer determination were unparalleled. She displayed that determination until her last breath. We miss her terribly, but we are so thankful that we were blessed enough to be her parents for almost 8 amazing years.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


As I'm writing this post, this is the face that's staring up at me. She's still here and she's still hungry. :)

We honestly thought that last night I'd be writing her "obituary" on my blog. As of last weekend, Hope's energy level and mobility had continued to decline and her nasal congestion had continued to be an issue. She spent every waking hour standing next to us panting, so we began to worry that she was really in pain. Her appetite was as strong as ever, but since eating seemed to be the only thing that made her happy anymore, we were starting to question whether she was enjoying the rest of her life at all. After a particularly bad day on Sunday, Chad and I reluctantly and tearfully made the decision to have her put down. We scheduled the appointment for Wednesday, since that would give us a couple of days to come to grips with the decision and Chad would be able to take the whole day off. You'd think we'd be more prepared for this, but it was just such a hard decision because we weren't 100% sure we were doing the right thing. People just keep telling us we'll know when it's the right time to put her down, but we just didn't know. We found it impossible to look into these beautiful, pleading eyes and tell her that we were removing her from our family in a couple of days.

Now this might sound weird to some people, but for the next two days we prayed about the decision--just that God would give us wisdom and peace about the right thing. I contend that He answered those prayers, because we never had peace about putting her down. Instead we kept worrying that we would be taking her from this earth before she was ready, and in the next couple of days she confirmed that our feelings were valid. Hope had two of the best days she'd had all week, seeming more relaxed, comfortable and more interested in people and dogs outside--all with nearly zero mucus, which hadn't happened in weeks. She even did all of her normal tricks on command for Chad Tuesday evening! We knew she wasn't ready, so Wednesday morning we cancelled her euthanasia appointment just an hour before we were scheduled to go.

When Hope woke up later in the morning yesterday, she was struggling. She was tripping more often, refusing to even walk out the front door for a short walk down the driveway, sleeping very fitfully, eating and drinking frantically, and following me panting whenever I wasn't laying down in bed. She seemed so unsettled and uncomfortable that I worried that we'd now made the wrong decision in cancelling her appointment. I called Chad and he came home, agreeing that she'd really taken a nosedive from the day before. He called the vet and got us an appointment for the end of the day, but he didn't stop researching what other issues besides pain might be causing Hope's excessive panting and what seemed like anxiety. Chad's research gave us a tiny glimmer of hope that some of our dear girl's issues were related to medication side effects, but we were still preparing ourselves for the worst. 

So we went to see Dr. Coles yesterday afternoon with every intention of having Hope put down. We brought a bed for her to lay on and stopped for a Burger King hamburger and cone on the way there. Thankfully though, Dr. Coles didn't think Hope was ready to go either. He agreed with the opinion Chad formed from all of his research--Hope's obsessive panting and eating/drinking/peeing/pooping are more likely due to the Prednisone than the cancer. He sent us home with instructions on how to taper off the steroid and increase her iron consumption to help with her anemia (which likely IS from the cancer). Dr. Coles was hopeful that getting rid of the side effects of this drug will improve Hope's quality of life, and we are too!

Since we know that taking her off of this drug may also cause her cancer to start growing even more quickly, we are trying to prepare ourselves for that as well. If Hope doesn't pass away on her own in the next couple of weeks, we will very likely be faced with the same agonizing decision that we were faced with this week. Hopefully though, when that time comes we'll have more peace about letting her go.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ups and Downs

I honestly meant to provide an update on Hope a lot sooner, but the last couple of weeks have been so full of ups and downs I didn't know where to start. Just when I thought I had something of interest to report, the next day would be the complete opposite. Hope's symptoms have just been ebbing and flowing like nobody's business.

Let me first just say that I am SO thankful that she's still with us. Three weeks ago today when she got her chemo treatment, I really didn't think there was any way she'd last this long. I don't know why I'm ever surprised by her though--it's like she gets tougher with age and adversity. With that said, this last chemo we tried really took a toll on her. She's dropped tons of weight despite her ridiculously good appetite, and the first week after her treatment her red and white blood counts dropped significantly. She was lethargic and clearly didn't feel well, and her mucus-y nose only mildly improved. Even worse, her cancerous lymph node didn't respond positively at all. Unfortunately it continues to grow, which is why we decided to forgo another chemo treatment today.

Stopping the current regimen wasn't a difficult decision since it doesn't seem to be working and was clearly making Hope less comfortable. However, since there's a third chemo that the oncologists at K-State want to try that they think has some significant potential, the decision to quit treatment is a little more difficult. In fact, I'm still not 100% sure that stopping treatment altogether is the right thing. On days like today, when Hope only wanted to walk about half a block and slept most of the morning, continuing chemo seems like a cruel thing to do to her. However, on days when she has more energy and spends the whole day scouring the kitchen floor for crumbs, it seems like she would do just fine trying another chemo drug that might alleviate her symptoms. It's just so hard to read a dog who eats like there's no tomorrow, even when she's dying of cancer. This video was actually taken on July 17--exactly one week after her last chemo treatment when she was still feeling kind of crappy.

Not only do I think her problem solving skills are quite impressive, I'm also super impressed that she still has the ability to sniff out bits of food while dealing with tumors up her nose! Hope is nothing if not determined! :)  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hanging In There

A couple of days ago, we made our fourth trip to K-State with our sweet Hope. She's had lots of ups and downs in the last few weeks, but today's been a pretty good day and she's definitely hanging in there. When she was first diagnosed just over three weeks ago, we really weren't sure that she'd make it this far, so we are incredibly thankful.

Three weeks ago Hope started the normal chemo/steroid combination for mast cell tumors, and just like with her first cancer in 2007, her cancer seemed to respond initially. Although we can't see her tumor(s), her snottiness and sneeziness definitely subsided a little, and her lymph node seemed to shrink slightly as well. Unfortunately, as soon as we started weaning her off of the steroid (which the doctors do because of the side effects), Hope's symptoms returned--just like they did in 2007. While I was in California last week visiting my brother with my mom, Hope's nose started bleeding again off and on. By Wednesday, her bloody, mucousy nose had gotten so bad that Chad and I had a serious conversation about having her put down that afternoon. However, when we got to K-State, Dr. Burr was confident that Hope still had some fight left, just based on her appetite, activity level and general attitude. She suggested we start a new chemo drug, and thankfully this one only has to be given once every three weeks instead of every week. It will be such a relief not to have to drive to Manhattan next Wednesday!

The good news is that Hope's icky nose secretions have subsided a little once again, so we are hopeful that this chemo will keep her discomfort at bay a little while longer. It's just so hard to know if we're doing the right thing for our little girl. People keep telling us that we'll know when it's the right time to let her go, but when you own the toughest dog in the world, it's nearly impossible for us to know if she's really in pain! We just keep praying that she will clearly display some signs that she is done fighting when that time comes. Until then, we'll continue with weekly bloodwork, lots of drugs, and potty breaks every couple of hours! Our little Hope is worth it. :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Losing Hope

Chad and I are so sad that the time has come to write this blog post, but we knew these events would be upon us sooner or later and we've been trying to prepare ourselves for many months. It's heartbreaking to think about, but the reality is that we are losing our tough, weird and absolutely precious girl Hope.

The crazy thing is, despite the fact that Hope has surpassed the average age of a Coonhound and  is also deaf and arthritic, she's still usually very happy and active. Her appetite is incredibly good--she's obsessed with food every waking moment of the day. Her favorite pastimes are searching the yard for mushrooms and perusing the floor for spills. This adorably sweet face stares up at me hoping for treats anytime I'm sitting in the kitchen--even when I'm not eating. She loves to go for walks, loves to meet new people and generally seems to love life. That's why it's so difficult to accept that she's once again battling cancer.

Hope's symptoms started just over a month ago, when we started noticing she was abnormally sneezy and snotty. She would occasionally wake us up in the middle of the night with some massive snoring, so we asked our vet about it at her annual checkup a few weeks later. He suggested that it might be allergies and prescribed more Benedryl, but he also tried to prepare us for the possibility that Hope might have a nasal tumor. Just a couple of weeks later, Hope starting having a massive amount of mucus come out of one nostril. I called the vet, who prescribed an antibiotic without even seeing her, but within a few days the mucus had become increasingly bloody. This was obviously quite messy and quite alarming, so last Monday we took her in for an x-ray and culture. When our vet saw Hope's sinus cavity on the x-ray, he was shocked at the amount of destruction of the soft tissue and cartilage on her leaky side. He thought the only options were a massive infection or cancer, and when the cytology came back with no bacterial or fungal infection, we knew cancer was the only option left.

Although we'd obviously had a great experience with Hope's surgeon in Overland Park, we weren't huge fans of the oncologist there, so today we took Hope to the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State. We saw one of the oncology residents, Dr. Burr, who was absolutely wonderful. She was so amazingly patient with our plethora of questions and was so thorough in explaining everything. After leaving Hope there for a couple of hours for bloodwork and a biopsy of her lymph node, we found out from Dr. Burr that her tumor was not as expected. Instead of finding cells that confirmed a carcinoma in her sinuses, she actually found mast cells in the lymph node--meaning that she has a mast cell tumor (the same kind of tumors she's had in the past) somewhere that has metastasized.

I say a tumor "somewhere" and not in her sinuses because Dr. Burr indicated that a mast cell tumor in the nose is extremely rare--she's only seen one once in the 5 years she's been in oncology. So either Hope has a very rare sinonasal mast cell tumor, or she has a mast cell tumor somewhere else in her head and another cancerous tumor in her nose, which seems even more unlikely--at least to us. Dr. Burr wanted to do a CT scan and then biopsy the tumor(s) once they figured out exactly where they are, but we think it was more out of curiosity from a clinical standpoint, since Hope is such an unusual case. We declined that option--to us it didn't make a whole lot of sense. Ultimately, Hope has an inoperable tumor up her nose, and even though different drugs might work better on carcinoma, we know there's a mast cell tumor somewhere--and that should respond to a chemo/steroid combo.

So today our sweet little girl started chemo. We'll take her to Manhattan for chemo once a week for the next three weeks, and then every other week for four treatments after that. Thankfully, dogs don't have a lot of side effects from this chemo, and hopefully it will improve her quality of life as well as extend it. We just want our little weirdo to feel good as long as possible!

As I was looking back at some of the posts from 2007 when Hope had her first mast cell tumor, I realize even more how incredibly blessed we've been that this sweet and miraculous girl has been a part of our family. She's been enjoying life for six years since that first diagnosis--which seemed liked a death sentence at the time. She has provided us with thousands of hours of love and laughter, and we couldn't be more thankful for the time we've had with her and any additional time the chemo can provide.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Year in Pictures 2012

So clearly my plan to start blogging semi-regularly again didn't really pan out. Oops. The intentions were there--I promise! In fact, I actually started working on our fourth annual year in pictures slide show immediately after writing my last post--I just kind of forgot about finishing it! It finally hit me a couple of weeks ago that I'd never gotten it posted, and then it took me at least another week to figure out how to embed it into my post--both Blogger and YouTube have changed so much in the year I haven't been using them! So anyway, this post is sort of untimely now, but I'm going to share regardless.

Just like the last few years, my rule was that any time I picked up either my point and shoot or DSLR camera, I had to choose ONE picture from that set to include in the slideshow. This means that you'll see random pictures here and there that are completely uninteresting and make no sense, so I tried to briefly explain in captions. I didn't include a pic from each day I took one with my phone, which would have made this slideshow about 20 minutes long. There were a couple of events for which I chose a picture from my phone instead of a picture from my camera, just because I thought it was a better representation of the moment, but I only allowed myself to "cheat" with the phone if my camera was also present. :) So there's my explanation, and here's my video! Enjoy!!