Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Floating Away

float trip
My husband's office has a float trip each summer, and we were back on the Huzzah River again this year. We shared an A-frame cabin with Jim's business partner (whose wife got sick at the last minute and wasn't able to go.) There were 23 of us altogether, and most of the others set up tents, with the exception of a couple who had just purchased a nice-sized camper. While I don't really mind tent camping, doing so in August is not my idea of a good time. I was happy to have the air conditioning as well as indoor plumbing. It worked out well because the A-frame had a kitchen, and the refrigerator and running water made it easier to prepare the Saturday evening meal.
A-frame cabins
The forecast for the weekend was not good, calling for temperatures in the 90's and rain, but we actually lucked out. It was overcast for much of the day on Saturday, and we had a slight breeze out on the water. The river was not too crowded - perhaps the forecast kept people away. It ended up being a lot of fun, and it was nice for me to be able to meet the new employees as well as this year's batch of interns. One of the interns is from the Cincinnati area, so we sure had a lot to talk about.

Huzzah horses
Saturday night was not restful as there was a huge party going on until all hours of the morning in the area where the cabins were located. But we awoke to some low lying clouds, and Jim captured this nice picture of the horses in the pasture.

We had a light breakfast and enjoyed coffee/tea on the deck of the cabin before packing up and heading out. Jim and I stopped in Cuba, Missouri on the way back to see the murals in town. There are 12 outdoor murals that tell the history of Cuba, which was founded in 1857. We did not have a map depicting the locations of the murals, but we were still able to find all of them. Below are pictures of a few of them. They are beautifully done, and it is well worth a stop if you are heading down Interstate 44.

Cuba, Missouri murals
While we were gone Kirby was in the capable hands of the friend who always stays with him, and he was just fine without us. We left his cone of shame on, and Caren commented that he wears the cone like a fashion accessory! She was amazed at how well he has adapted to life with the collar. We actually removed it last night as the vet said to wait 3-4 days post stitch removal to take it off. He did a little licking at the surgery site, but not too bad. He has behaved himself pretty well today, so I am hoping that we can leave the cone off. He sure does like to snuggle, and it is pretty hard with that large thing around his head.  With all the uncertainty, we want to get in as many snuggles as possible.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Stitches are Out!

Kirby August 25
Three weeks post-surgery, Kirby finally got his stitches out today. Unfortunately, while the stitches were ready to come out, there is some seepage from one of the surgical sites. It could be that there is an infection because somehow our contortionist has managed to lick the wounds this past week despite the cone of shame (which is actually called an econe, by the way). But Dr. M. is more concerned that it might be an indication that the cancer is still in there. Wow - that was not something we wanted to hear! Kirby's weight is also down two pounds from pre-surgery, and that is pretty significant on a dog his size. I imagine they will be monitoring that as well, though I do think some of the medications affected his appetite.

For now the vet prescribed more antibiotics and prednisone to hopefully help with the itching, though I would have thought the Benadryl would have done the trick. We also put a larger cone on him, so there is no way for him to reach the incisions now. On the plus side, this cone is clear and he seems more comfortable with being able to see better than he could with the opaque cone. With any luck, it will only take a few days to clear things up and we can remove the cone. They want to see Kirby again in two weeks, or sooner if we see any problems. We got the name of the oncologists, so we'll be scheduling an appointment with them after Labor Day as our schedule is pretty booked until then.

A new pickleball friend of mine had asked me last week if I minded if she added Kirby's name to a Facebook group called Fur Angel Blessing Blanketeers whose members pray for pets in need. Of course I said it was fine. She also asked for my address, and I thought it was because she wanted to mail us a card. Imagine my surprise when a package arrived in the mail yesterday, addressed to Kirby. Inside was a note and a blanket with a  matching toy, telling Kirby that they hoped the blanket would bring him comfort as he heals. It was postmarked from a woman I do not know in North Carolina. How amazing is that? Even more incredible was the fact that Kirby sniffed it all over, and then laid down on it. He usually shies away from something he hasn't seen before. It was as if he could feel the love coming from the blanket. Puppy love from 600 miles away! Maybe I'll curl up on it too - I could use some comfort right now as well.

Kirby's new blanket

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kirby Update

Kirby August 16
It's been over two weeks since Kirby had surgery to remove his tumors. Until the diagnosis of cancer, it was intended that his stitches would be removed on the 18th. Because of the type of cancer he has, the vet wanted to leave the stitches in for an additional week, so they will be removed on the 25th. Dr. M. said we could try taking the cone off to see how Kirby would do, and we removed it after dinner on the 18th. He was such a happy boy! He could finally rub his ears, and get around without running into things.

Unfortunately, it also meant he could get to the two incisions. He went and hid behind a chair and licked them until they were all red and swollen. Man, he is so much like a toddler sometimes. So the cone went back on, and it will remain in place until the vet removes it on Thursday.

Other than that, he is doing quite well. We are taking two walks a day, and could probably add back in his third now that the weather has cooled a bit. He is done with his antibiotics and his pain pills, so that just leaves giving him Benadryl. I think he will have to take those the rest of his life, but I will ask the vet about it on Thursday. His appetite is pretty much back to normal. I'm thinking that his post-surgical medications probably acted as an appetite suppressant. All in all, things are okay for now.

We celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary Friday night at Annie Gunn's with Jim's business partner and his wife. They were also celebrating special birthdays, so it was a big night. We we seated in one of their special booths that has a sliding door for privacy, and they brought us each a complimentary shot glass of sparkling moscato. It was very good. Then after dinner they gave us two pieces of warm apple pie ala mode to share, complete with a candle in them. How nice was that? The best part is that both couples had gift cards, so the entire deal only cost us $10 out of pocket. Nice!

Sunday was so gorgeous that Jim went for a motorcycle ride, and I headed off to the Missouri Botanical Garden with a friend. It was such a treat to have a day in August that began in the low sixties with even lower humidity. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the day.

Missouri Botanical Garden August 21

Monday, August 15, 2016

Stupid Cancer

Kirby June 2016
When the new vet called me late last week, I did not immediately think the worst. He was asking how Kirby was doing, and truly the dog is doing well. He bounds up and down the stairs, jumps off the couch and bed, and does not seem to be in any pain. He has adjusted to his new normal of wearing the cone of shame. The only thing that has given me a little concern is the fact that his appetite seems to be off. Fortunately he still will take a bite of ham from me, which is great as that is how I disguise the pills he has to take. And he will normally eat the hard boiled egg that he and Jim share each morning, but he has not eaten much of his dry food. I suspect that he may be playing me a little, hoping he can hold out for more ham.

But then Dr. M. mentioned that the pathology report came back, and that is when my heart dropped. I figured it was probably bad news if he was calling me himself. The report stated that Kirby has mast cell cancer. Mast cells are present in all dogs, and they help other cells get to where they need to be to fight an infection. The mast cells release histamine, which causes tissue swelling so the white cells can travel through the tissue to reach the infection. But when a dog has mast cell cancer, the amount of histamines being released can be dangerous. A tumor is formed when the mast cells reproduce out of control. Mast cell tumors are the most common form of skin cancer in dogs. Certain breeds are at increased risk to get this type of cancer, including the Boston terrier, Boxer, English Bulldog, Bullmastiff, Labrador retriever, and other bull breeds. As a cockapoo, Kirby does not fall into any of those, so it is certainly odd that he got this.

Because Dr. M. found a second tumor when operating on Kirby, and that tumor involved a lymph node, Kirby's cancer is considered a Grade II out of III, and he has been given a "guarded" prognosis. I was advised to start him on 25mg of Benadryl twice a day to help combat all the histamines that the cancer is pouring into his system. And removal of the stitches was pushed back one week as this type of tumor has a tendency to come "unzipped". When asked if this means Kirby has to wear the cone for an additional week, the vet said that was up to us. He said we can remove it and see if Kirby leaves the stitches alone. My plan is to keep it on for the full two weeks, and then remove it to see how he does. I don't want to take if off and then have to put it back on.

Dr. M. said at this point he can recommend some veterinarian cancer specialists in St. Louis if we want to go that route. I have been reading up on mast cell cancer, and it sounds as if the first six months following surgery will be crucial. If Kirby doesn't have a recurrence of the cancer in that time period, studies show that 44% of dogs survived over four years following surgery. Since he is already over ten years old, that would be a good run.

Jim & Kirby
Jim was out of town for work when I got the call, so I waited until he got back home to tell him about
Kirby. He wasn't going to be able to do anything from where he was at, and I certainly didn't want him driving home alone with this weighing on him. We both love Kirby, but Jim is number one in Kirby's eyes. They are best buds. Jim and I are on the same page as far as thinking that we'd like to meet with a specialist if only to learn what to expect with this disease. We certainly would not be in favor of doing anything that would cause Kirby unnecessary pain, or make him extremely ill for whatever time he has left with us. But if there is something that can give us more time together without hurting him, we'd like to explore the options.

Skin cancer on both me and my dog - what are the odds?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Doggone It!

Kirby August 3
In the spring we noticed a small mass on Kirby's stomach. I pointed it out to the vet when I took him in to the office in early June for his annual physical. Kirby had a similar lump in 2015 that was removed in June of that year. The vet looked at the mass he had removed and didn't feel it was anything to worry about, so he did not send it off for a pathology report. This year, Dr. D. said he felt the lump was different and told me to keep an eye on it.

The mass grew a little between June and August, and when I took him to the groomer on the 1st of this month, I pointed it out to her so that she would be careful when trimming that area. He was fine when I brought him home that day. By Tuesday he was beginning to bother the lump through constant licking. I called Dr. D.'s office to schedule an appointment, and they told me they could get him in the next Tuesday. When I pushed the issue, they said I could bring him in Thursday, and they would stick him in a kennel until they could look at him. Complicating things was the fact that we were due to leave for Iowa (Kirby included) on Thursday. The pooch and I were going to stay with my mother-in-law while Jim took his dad and sister up to Minnesota for the Wolterman family reunion. All of my father-in-law's remaining five sisters were going to attend, and we really wanted him to be able to be there as well.
Kirby August 3

During the night on Tuesday, Kirby was not leaving the lump alone and it had grown noticeably. First thing Wednesday morning, Jim took him to the emergency vet hospital. They looked at the growth, said we needed to schedule surgery with our vet, and sent him home with antibiotics and the cone of shame. When I called our vet's office once they opened, they said they could do surgery on August 18th! Are you even kidding me? That's when I began to cry on the phone, and told the gal I couldn't make this poor dog wait two more weeks in his condition. I said, "You know when we need you guys, we NEED you!" This kind of wait for a practice that proclaims themselves to be an animal hospital is just unacceptable. She said she would talk to the vet when he got in and call me back. They ended up scheduling Kirby's surgery for Tuesday, August 9th.

Kirby August 4
The site of the tumor began to bleed a little during the night Wednesday, and he honestly looked like he had an udder hanging down. We decided that Jim would go on up to Iowa, and I would stay at home with Kirby. I didn't feel he could handle a 7 hour car ride, and they warned us that there was an outside chance this thing could burst. It that happened, it would be very messy. In the meantime, Kirby was dripping blood everywhere, so after consulting with a few people in the vet field, I ran to the store and got gauze pads and a gauze roll, and Jim helped me bandage him up before he left. The lump felt about the size of a golf ball!

It wasn't long before the bandage was saturated. I covered our new oriental rug with plastic and threw an old blanket over it for Kirby to sit on. In the meantime, I called both the vet's office, who said they would still see me on Tuesday, and the emergency hospital to advise them on the changes. I pleaded with the emergency tech for them to remove this tumor, and she said, "We don't do that kind of surgery" followed by "He won't bleed to death before Tuesday."

As luck would have it, my friend Caren came to the house at 2:00 to look at one of my websites that had been hacked. I had at the last minute sent her a text and told her I wasn't going out of town after all in case she had time to work on it. Caren is also the one who stays with our baby when we travel. She took one look at him (and the dripping blood), and said that something needed to be done. Her relative is a vet in town, so she called his practice. They said they would see us at 4:00, and at the very least would try to stop the bleeding. Caren drove me so that I could hold Kirby to keep him calm.

Once Dr. M. looked Kirby over and felt the tumor, he knew it was a pretty dire situation. He checked to see if one of his technicians could stay late, and then said they would do his surgery at 6:00 that night. I couldn't believe it, and I had to rush over and give him a hug. It was such a relief to know that Kirby would be taken care of, and to have someone finally take me and the situation seriously! He warned me that it was going to be a tricky surgery because of where the tumor was located. Let alone being so close to his pen*s, there are other organs and lots of blood vessels in that area. He anticipated that the surgery would take about an hour and a half, and said they would keep Kirby overnight. Caren and I left to go grab some dinner, and then went back to my house.

I got a call from Dr. M. saying they were beginning the surgery at 6:45, so I expected to hear around 8:30 that they were done. In fact, it was nearly 10:00 before we got a call. Of course we were all frantic by that point, imagining the worse. I guess they wanted to wait until he was awake from the anesthesia before they gave us a report. Dr. M. said when he got in there, Kirby was bleeding internally. As he removed the tumor, he made sure to take some tissue from around it so that hopefully there would be clean margins in the event that it is cancerous. He was shocked to find a second growth hiding behind the other tumor. He thought it was an enlarged lymph node, so he removed it as well. Other than that, everything went well, and Kirby had actually had a little to eat and drink after he was awake a bit. Dr. M. said to call him in the morning so he could tell me how Kirby was doing.

home from surgery
The next morning I got a positive report - the surgical site was looking fine, and Kirby had a good night. We set it up for me to come and get him at 9:30. Caren once again drove me to the clinic, and I stopped and picked up donuts and a fruit tray to express my gratitude to the entire office. Kirby was almost as happy to see me as the staff was to see the donuts - ha!  I asked about the size of the tumors, and Dr. M. said the first was larger than a golf ball, and the second one was just about as big. Kirby needs to wear the cone of shame until the stitches come out, which will be on the 18th. He was also sent home with antibiotics and pain pills. He is on limited activity, and no walks until the stitches are removed. That will be the hardest part for all of us as he normally gets three walks per day.

So far he is doing well. He is tolerating the medicines and the two incision sites look very good. Now we wait for the pathology report, and pray that nothing bad showed up.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Stay on the Sunny Side

It's no secret that I like to take photographs, particularly nature shots. I had seen on Facebook a week or so ago that a friend of mine found a field of sunflowers in a neighboring county. When I asked her for directions to the field, I never dreamed she would go along with me as she had already been two weekends in a row. But she did want to go, and said it was magic to be there at dawn. My alarm went off at 4:30 last weekend (sorry Jim!), and I was on her street a little after 5:00. The only problem was that it was totally dark outside and I could not read the house numbers. I pulled over to the side of the road and turned on my overhead light to send her a text message. I was hoping that no one would call the police as I'm sure I looked quite suspicious. I saw a man leaving his house, so I rolled down the window to call out to him. Luckily he was not carrying, so I didn't get shot. I explained that I was picking up a friend, and asked if he knew where XXXX address was located. He had no idea (keep in mind this is a relatively short street, perhaps three blocks in all.) I then asked what his house number was, and after he told me I continued on down the street. By now my friend had texted back her location, and she was waiting for me on the curb when I arrived.

fog at dawn
We continued on to our destination in St. Charles County without any further excitement. There was one other photographer already set up when we arrived, and another friend met us at the site. Some low-lying fog added to the mysteriousness of being in a remote location at the butt-crack of dawn.  As the sun began to rise, it was totally worth getting up so early. The fog hung around for quite awhile, and really added to the atmosphere of the location.

country sunrise
The sunflowers had probably peaked a week or more earlier, but there were a few that still turned their happy little faces towards the sun. We were fortunate in that the morning was not too hot. That was especially lucky for me as I had on jeans and hiking shoes. I would rather sweat a bit than get eaten alive by mosquitos and/or chiggers.

sunflower field
Weldon Spring Site
Interpretive Center
After we left the field of sunflowers, we drove a short way down the highway to the Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center. Located under an enormous pile of rocks is 1.5 million cubic yards of hazardous waste. An interpretive center explains the military history of the site, and native gardens offer an opportunity to see insects and birds up close.

While the center itself was closed (it was only 8:00 by this time!), we still enjoyed the gardens which were teaming with hummingbirds and, to a lesser extent, bees and butterflies. We also trekked up the stairs to stand on the top of the landfill, which happens to be the highest point in St. Charles County.
While getting up at 4:30 is not something I normally would want to do, I have to admit that the sites were well worth missing out on some sleep. This past weekend I also had some interrupted sleep, but for a very different reason. But that's for the next blog post.