Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sad Day

Yesterday I posted that Sam had a bad night the night before. He didn't improve through out the morning. I had left to go on a field trip with my daughters' class. When I returned Sam met me at the door, which I at first took as a good sign. He went outside to go to the bathroom but it was obvious he was having a very hard time. I slowly coaxed him back inside. It took so much effort on his part but he made it in but was panting so hard. He laid down on the rug in front of the door and that's where he stayed. I had finally gotten in touch with our wonderful vet. Neither she or her husband were on duty yesterday but she said they would meet us at 12:30pm. My husband came home to help me get Sam into the car. Once we got to the vet x-rays were taken. The Dr. said the cancer had spread to his right shoulder. That was why he was having such a hard time with that side. I couldn't believe it. Just the day before Sam and I went for such a nice walk and he never wavered. He kept on going like he knew that might have been our last walk. Only he knew how much pain he was in because he never showed it until yesterday. I can't even imagine what he had been going through up to that point.

Needless to say, the decision was quickly made that we could not let him suffer any longer. So he was brought into the room with us on his bed from home. The doctor gave us some time with him. We asked to have his splint removed so he could be "himself". You would have thought it was Christmas for that dog. He couldn't wait to get his tongue going on that leg. He licked, and licked and licked. He was so happy, he was wagging his tail the whole time. On very few occasions did I ask him for kisses. Of course, now I wish I had asked more. He gave me some nice licks on the chin and we gave the go ahead for the injections. I couldn't believe how quick it all happened. Literally he was licking his leg and then next second he was sleeping. I have never witnessed such a peaceful death as his. I am so thankful to the doctors who were with us and took care of Sam. Without them it would have been a much different experience. I knew he was well liked by all who met him but I never knew the impact was so deep until I saw the people who took care of him crying for our loss, like it was their own too.

I will never think back and wish we had changed our minds about this or that. In the end, the cancer just took over and it wouldn't have mattered what we had done. I am just thankful that his last two months were spent doing what he liked to do. The only regret I have is we couldn't take him to the beach because of the splint. However, like one person told me, our definition of what makes Sam happy was different from his. He was just happy being close to us. Everything else was just a bonus. In my eyes, he had a good life and we did what we could for him. We are having him cremated and his ashes returned to us. My husband said if we ever decided to spread his ashes it would be in ND. I couldn't agree more, but for now, he will stay with us. That's what I promised him, where we go he's right there with us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not a good night

About 4am this morning Sam came in to our bedroom whining off and on. I could tell that he was walking around from one side of our bed to the other. However, he was still whining. It's not abnormal for him to have to go outside early in the morning but that is a different whine. So about 5am I got up to see what was up. I kept asking him if he had to go out and get busy. He wouldn't get up but kept whining. I went to go get him some pain medication, tramadol with some ham. He took that no problem. Finally my husband convinced him to get up and go out to the bathroom. We quickly realized he wasn't putting any weight on his right front leg. His cast is on his back right leg. Which it didn't seem he was putting much weight on either. Sam walked very gingerly down the hallway. I went out with him to make sure he could get back in. He walked in just as cautiously as he had walked out. Finally I offerred him some breakfast and I was encouraged when he got up to come to the closet where I keep his food. However, when I put his food in his bowl he wouldn't eat. So that of course, has worried me. I have to say that this whole time when he sees me or my husband he wags his tail.

I have a field trip with my daughters this morning and my husband has meetings all morning. I am not sure what I am going to do. I know I should call the vet but I know they are going to just tell me to bring him in. Right now my husband is making his lunch and that always sparks Sam's interest. He just tried to get up and go over but quickly realized he couldn't make it. So he is now back by my side. I am hoping the pain meds kick in soon. Honestly, I am not optimistic about this at all. I know I can't bring him into the vet alone. Physically I can't lift him and also emotionally I won't be able to handle it and I am positive my husband would want to be there. I will keep you updated.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Get to know Sam Part 2

So January of 2001 we headed out of ND to MI. I was driving my car with the cat in the passenger seat. My husband was driving his truck with Sam by his side. My husband absolutely got the better end of that deal. It seemed to take forever to get to our new home but we made it. We had moved from a farm house out in the country to a 2 bedroom apartment in the city. Luckily the only saving grace as far as Sam was concerned was the soccer field next to us. Many days and evenings were spent out there playing ball and meeting new friends. Sam had a female chocolate lab named Mallie that he played with. There was also a basset hound name Sampson that loved to run in and around Sam's legs! They were so fun to watch together.

We stayed at the apartment for about a year and then finally found a house with a yard!! It was our beginner house. It was small but perfect for us. The lot was big enough so we could really throw the golf ball for Sam and he'd get some good exercise.

In February of 2003, our world was turned upside down by the arrival of our twin daughters. I have to share that during my short pregnancy I had gained quite a bit of weight so in turn Sam did too. At that time he was a whoppng 100 lbs!! As the girls stayed longer in the hospital we decided to start bringing some of their blankets and clothes home from the hospital for Sam to smell. We had heard that was one way of preparing your dog for the arrival of a new baby(ies) to the house. I truly believe that helped him adjust to the girls disrupting his world. All of sudden we didn't have time to throw the ball for him like we used to. He wasn't getting his walks like he was used to getting. With everything going on though, he was such a good dog. Our living room was very small. With the girls lying on the floor in the middle, it didn't leave much room for him. Sam was very good about "tip-toeing" around them though. Not once did that dog even come close to stepping on any part of the babies. Of course with a blanket on the floor he interpreted that as his bed. Needless to say, he knew his boundaries whenever the girls were on the floor. That still didn't stop him from getting a corner of the blanket they were on!

We were only in MI another year and a half when we decided to move to CA. Again I am not sure why or how is happened, but once again we moved in the winter time. So in January of 2005 we loaded up the van with one dog, one cat, two babies, and us with luggage on top. We drove through snow, ice, sleet, rain, and then finally clear skies. We stopped as often as we could for everyone to stretch their legs. Sam had his space in the back of the van. I think he had the best spot out of all of us!

To Be Continued....

Monday, February 15, 2010

A good day...

So today, like the past few days, my husband has taken Sam for his walk. We have cut down from 2 walks a day to one. I know Sam would love to go for that second walk but I almost feel like we are adding days to his life by keeping him steady at home at night. Yesterday Sam was pretty tired after only going around a couple of blocks. Today he did a lot better.

Earlier when I got home from shopping Sam was scratching at the front door and wagging his tail. I kept telling him, no, you go out back and get busy (code for going to the bathroom). He was relentless so I gave in and let him out. Of course, the second he steps out there is a big german shephard walking by. Sam took off after him and the guy with the shepard just stood there. I am sure he figured a dog in a cast is harmless. So the dogs did their thing, Sam was happy to have another dog to sniff. The shepard left, Sam peed and all was right in the world again. He went back inside and laid down for a nap.

My husband, the girls and I were playing cards after dinner and Sam got a few toys out of his basket. I love it when he does this because it tells me that no matter what is going on with him physically, mentally he is still a puppy. He gets his, what we call, the bear carcass, a stuffed bear that no longer has the stuffing. He also has a monkey carcass. Sam kept putting this wet, dirty toy on my lap so I played tug with him. Finally he laid down and pulled more stuffing out that I hadn't realized was there. I swear that dog was smiling.

Sam has no idea that we have company coming tomorrow. My mother in law will be here for a week. I know Sam will just love having someone new to sniff and follow around.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Get to know Sam Part 1

Sam was born in Pembina, ND in May of 1999. He was one of 11 puppies. My husband had wanted a female lab but they were all spoken for. So here we are in this garage with 11 wild puppies running around our feet. I think we were both wondering how would we know which one to pick. Eventually the puppies got restless and the owners opened up the back door so they could go outside and play. All but one puppy went outside. The one that stayed behind had a purple string around his neck. The puppies were color coded to tell them apart. This puppy layed down at my husband's feet, curled up, and went to sleep. We looked at the owners and said, "We'll take this one". That night we went home and started thinking of names. So a few days later we brought Sam home. Officially, on his AKC papers, he is Louisville Sam. Louisville comes from the baseball bat, Louisville Slugger, which is what it feels like when his tail is wagging and hits you in the leg!

We lived in a 100 year old farmhouse sandwiched between sugar beet fields and wheat fields. We had only been renting it for a few months when we got Sam. If there is a heaven on earth for dogs, this was it. Sam never had to be on a leash, the house was surrounded by acres of open land. He had his very own pond to swim in and he loved foraging in the woods just see what treasures he could come home with. One time our neighbors brought him over a couple of rib bones from a cow. I remember watching Sam sit outside, chewing on these things while the snow continued to fall. By the time he was satisfied with the work he had done he was covered in about an inch of snow, maybe more. During the winter our friends would cross country ski over to our place to pick up Sam. Every day at the same time he would go to the window and wait for them to come over the hill. As soon as they came into sight he'd go to the door. Off he'd go with them for hours following them along the Red River and through the woods. By the time they got home Sam was exhausted. The next day, he'd be ready to go again. In the spring time he'd love to go out in the sugar beet field and bring home a beet that had been left over from the fall harvest. He'd lay right down in the grass and chew on that thing until it was gone. How he never got sick was beyond me. In the summertime Sam really took to chasing whatever critters would happen along. My favorite story is when we heard him barking one evening just after dinner. He was only a year old at this time. We found him out in the middle of the pond chasing/swimming after a fawn that had tried to get away from him. Sam was not giving up and we were afraid he'd keep going until he couldn't go anymore. My husband and I got to an aluminum boat that was surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes. We paddled out to the middle of the pond and just as we'd get close to the dog he'd get away from us and go after the fawn. This went on for about a 1/2 hour. Finally we had had enough and were able to get close enough to yank him in the boat. I believe that is the first and only that dog has ever growled at either of us. I felt so sorry for the fawn but more for us with the countless mosquito bites. I never cursed that dog as much as I did that day. By far though, Sam's favorite game was golf. My husband and I would stand up on top of the dike/berm, that surrounded the house, and hit the golf balls as far as we could. Sam would be waiting out in the yard below. He would chase after them, gather them up in a pile and wait for the next one. We'd collect the balls and do it all over again. To this day, Sam won't chase any other kind of ball.

We spent 2 1/2 years on that farm and then we had to move to MI for my husbands job. I think we were both happy and sad. We were happy to be moving on and beginning a new chapter of our lives. We were sad because we knew we wouldn't be able to offer Sam what he had in ND. The saddest day for me was when we had to put a leash on him.

To be continued....

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How this story begins...

October 6, 2008-
Our dog Sam goes in for a TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy. He had completely ruptured his Cruciate Ligament. At this time he is a 9 year old, going on 10 the following May, Chocolate Labrador Retriever. We knew he needed the surgery and it was going to cost a lot of money but he's Sam so of course we'll do it. So, after spending the night at the vet, he came home the next day. We were ready for him. We had an area cordoned off so he couldn't hurt himself. After a month he went back for follow up x-ray and everything was healing the way it should. In case you are wondering that surgery cost $3398.93. Ouch.

January 19, 2009-
Sam is back at the vet having to have his plate removed from his knee. Although it is not common to have them removed, Sam's body was having a hard time accepting a foreign body.

January 24, 2009-
Sam back at the vet, AGAIN, because he is not using his leg the way he should. It was determined that due to the lack of use during rehabilitation from his TPLO surgery he had developed generalized atrophy in that foot. We continued to try things at home to get him to use his leg. We'd have him jump up to catch a frisbee, lift up his good leg to make his weaker one support him, even have him put his front feet up on us so as his back legs would have to be used.

Finally after months of not wanting to use that "bad" leg as we called it, we put a boot on him. BAM! It worked. For some reason that extra cushion made it easier for Sam to walk on that foot. So from that point on through the summer into fall we would fashion him with a yellow Muttluck for every walk or outing.

November 25, 2009-
Our family's yearly outing to take our Christmas card photo. So this year we decided to have Sam join in on the fun. He is now 10 years old and going to be 11 in May, so we thought it was a good idea....just in case. What a trooper that dog was. All day we spent in the car, driving from one location to the next just trying to find that perfect spot. His patience paid off because after all was said and done (everyone was tired), we took Sam to the park to run off his pent up energy. He loves chasing golf balls so that was what we brought with us. The entire world could be coming down around him and he wouldn't care as long as someone is still there to throw that ball!

December 2, 2009-
Sam stops using his "bad" leg. He doesn't want to put any pressure on it at all. I am thinking uh-oh this can't be good. So we just kind of take it easy for a few weeks.

December 14, 2009-
I decide it's time to call in the big guns and contact the wonderful surgeon who did Sam's TPLO surgery a little over a year ago. She says, bring him in as soon as you can. X-rays are taken and the leg looks a little suspicious. So she says, lets redo an x-ray in two weeks to see if there is any change.

December 28, 2009-

Sam is dropped off at the vet to have his follow up x-ray and a few hours later I get a call. Not good news. The vet is having a hard time, I could tell giving me the news. She said after consulting with a radiologist they think Sam could have Osteosarcoma, bone cancer. However, a fungal infection looks similar radiographiclly as the cancer. The only way to know for sure is to do a bone biopsy. Immediately, I am thinking, how much is this going to cost? Well, in the end, the biopsy has to be done to know for sure and $800 later, Sam is back home resting. The vet says, we should hear something in a week.

A week later....the results were inconclusive. The piece was not big enough to get a conclusive answer. We needed to do another biopsy. This time, it was free of charge...thank god.

January 12, 2010-
Results of second bone biopsy come back indicating no signs of cancer. Phew! Wow, dodged that one. Ok, so now we test for fungal, $406.37 later, Sam is back home from having blood drawn. So these results could take a week or longer.

Few days later we get some results back, saying negative on the fungal front. Still waiting for a few more to come it. When all is said in done, all tests are negative for fungal infection. In the meantime, however, some one else is giving the second bone biopsy another look. BINGO, found the cancer cells, Osteosarcoma. UGH!

So now you are probably asking, where does that leave you? Well, here are the options: 1) amputate the limb and follow up with chemotherapy, 2) amputate the limp and do nothing else, or 3) do nothing. I am assuming you are all thinking, well of course, you will amputate, anyone else faced with this decision would. Well, let me break it down for you. Based on my findings from what the vet is telling me, in medical articles and personal accounts (other blogs) this is how the survival rate looks for a dog with this cancer. First all, it is known to be one of the most aggressive kinds of cancers a dog could get. Once it is diagnosed in the limb it has most likely micro-metastisized to the lungs. So you amputate the affected limb and follow up with chemo you could give the dog up a year, maybe a little longer. If you amputate the limb but do nothing else, you could give the dog, up to 6 months to live. Doing nothing, the dog probably has a only a few months.

We were down to the wire because obviously the sooner you take the limb off the better the chances. My husband and I decided long before this was even an issue that if any of our animals got cancer we would not do chemotherapy. We love our animals almost as much as we love our children but we have to be realistic. We have two kids to take care of. They come first. So after a long and painstaking week of going back and forth we made the decision to do nothing. It was by far the hardest decision we have had to make as far as our animals go.

So here we are 6 weeks since that second x-ray showing considerable change in his leg. Since that first x-ray, two weeks prior, Sam has been in a splint. The vet decided that is was best so as reduce the chance of him fracturing the bone. What this cancer does is it weakens the bone. Eventually his leg bone will get weak and break. If the cancer doesn't take him first, a fractured leg will. We won't be able to repair it because his bones will be too weak. We have come to terms with that but it still isn't any easier.

I never thought I had much to talk about, why would I want to blog? What do I have to say that would be so interesting to make other people want to read about me? My answer to these questions became very clear when I couldn't find anyone else's account of their dog having Osteosarcoma and deciding to NOT amputate the limb. It's not about the money, it's about reality. The reality of it is, by taking the limb off we are not taking the cancer away. Even by doing the chemo, our dog is not guaranteed 100% survival. He is going to be 11 in just over 3 months. We didn't want to put him through another major surgery. He is a happy dog from the time he wakes up until we go to bed. So if by me telling our story of what life is like with a dog that has bone cancer and just living out his days as that, can help someone in their search it will have been worth it. There are plenty of blogs and opinions out there for someone who wants to take that step and amputate. There are even videos you can watch to see three-legged dogs so you're prepared for what your dog may look like. I think dogs with three legs are just incredible. They seem to adapt very well.

I will continue to post updates even if it's just to say, Sam had a really good walk today. Really, this is good therapy for me as well.

By the way, Sam did go in today to have his splint changed after having his last one on for two weeks. They say everything looks great. He can still maneuver his leg without discomfort. Wouldn't you know it, since having a splint on for a month and a half he uses is "bad" leg, no problem! I was told this next splint could stay on for 3-4 weeks unless it gets wet or something else happens. I will cross my fingers.