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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Savor the moment

This morning, we all lay in bed for a long time, listening to the howling wind, watching the horizontal snow, and hugging with our K.
As I ate breakfast, one thought kept going through my head - "Damn the rules". The "rules" include keeping K quiet so that she isn't at risk of breaking the bone with the biggest tumor. However, her bones aren't ever going to get stronger. The radiation will actually make the bones weaker because it will kill healthy bone cells along with the tumor cells.

So, K and I headed out into the hellacious winter weather for a hike on the trails. When we reached the well-packed trail, I unclipped the leash. I have decided that K will truly live for whatever time remains, no matter how short or long it may be.
In the photo above, you can see that K has quite a haircut right now. If she could describe her week, she'd probably say that she was deprived of breakfast every day, and then, during the day, she kept falling sound asleep and then waking up in a different hospital room with a new section of fur shaved off. Her belly and left front leg are bare. And, she has patches shaved where she received infusions or had blood drawn. Despite the ferocious wind and cold, the naked patches didn't seem to bother her. Her eyes still shined.
She seemed to appreciate being back on her familiar stomping grounds, gazing out at the shrouded mountains. She's a lucky dog - she's lived in the same place with the same family for all of her life.
We ran into her brother and the Runner on the trails. Seeing R made me realize that K is a bit sedate right now. But, I guess that almost any dog in the world is sedate compared to R.
R is at his physical prime, bursting with power and grace. I love watching him run.
I talked with my vet today, and she's okay with us breaking the rules, as long as we make sure not to go anyplace too remote. She wants me to be able to get help if K fractures her leg. We can handle that constraint.

Today, I was simply happy to have my girl back by my side on the trails that we love so much. I tried not to think about the future and just savor the moment.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A fork in the cancer road...

K was at the hospital early, ready for her surgery. After K was asleep, the surgeon did one last xray to decide exactly where to make her cuts so she could be sure of "clean margins".

Unfortunately, the evil C was a step ahead of us. The new x-ray shows that it was now attacking both bones above the wrist in K's forelimb (the ulna and radius). That simple fact cancelled the scheduled surgery which was going to remove the ulna (because we thought that the radius was clean). K was carted to a CT Scanner to get a better look at her forelimb. It confirmed the progression of the cancer.

We had a conference with the surgeon while K was still asleep. Our options now were: a total limb amputation (which the surgeon could have done right then and there with K already under anaesthesia), stereotactic radiation, or nothing. For the moment, our decision is to do stereotactic radiation, a new procedure for killing bone tumors that has been pioneered at a few vet hospitals in recent years. It won't cure K but it will kill the tumor cells in her forelimb. She'll have her first session on Wednesday.

Just so no one gets their hopes up, the radiation will kill only the targeted tumors in the forelimb. The vets have told us that they are certain that K already has cancer cells throughout her body, and there is no chemotherapy drug that effectively kills all of those cancer cells. So, the radiation and chemotherapy will simply buy us time until she gets tumors in other places.

I'd be lying if I said that I felt optimistic right now. I'm beginning to accept that we aren't first in line for a miracle. K's cancer is aggressive and is a few steps ahead of us. I feel broken.

K comes home tonight, and we're going to make the most of the weekend. Every single day is precious.

Can you believe that I thought that K was healthy when I took the photo below exactly one week ago? Life can change so quickly.
I'm sorry that this update is so late. Today was a very hard day.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Surgery tomorrow

K is having surgery tomorrow to remove the bone containing the osteosarcoma tumor. She had two tests today to find out if she had any big tumors anyplace else in her body, and they were clean.

That information puts her in the category of osteosarcoma dogs who can have their lives extended by surgically removing the primary bone tumor and receiving chemotherapy. About 50% of dogs with osteosarcoma and no visible cancer besides the primary tumor survive for a year.

Tomorrow, the surgeon will remove about 2/3 of one bone (the ulna) in K's front leg. The rest of that leg will remain intact so K will still be a 4-pawed dog. We've chosen this particular surgery because it will allow K to be more active in the time that she has remaining on Earth than if she had the entire limb removed.

She'll come home on Saturday, and she'll recover for 2 weeks before starting chemo. Apparently, most dogs tolerate chemotherapy reasonably well, which was a big part of our decision to treat her disease aggressively. K's relatively young age, strong body, and amazing zest for life also helped with our decision. She has too much joy for life for us to give up on her now. Besides that, I'm greedy - I want more time with her.

On the day before K was diagnosed with a bone tumor, I featured this photo that I had taken of her. It seems like an ironic choice in retrospect. It shows her three healthy limbs. I didn't find out about the tumor until 24 hours later.
I feel like we are launching into a new chapter of life, a less active life, but a life where we'll make sure that we treasure each day because we know that our days together are limited. I hope that I can avoid worrying about the nasty C-word every day and instead revel in each day with K.

I think that, after her treatment, K and I will be able to enjoy sunrises and sunsets together again for a while, like we have for all 8 years of her life. While I'm heartbroken that K has to face an incurable form of cancer that will almost definitely shorten her life, I feel grateful that we will have at least some time together in the future.
I did nothing to "touch up" the photo of the sunrise. That is truly what the world looked like. One of my favorite things in life is watching a sunrise like this one with my Chocolate K.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This will be a very short update because I am exhausted and shattered after this day. Today, the oncologist did a biopsy that showed that the tumor in K's ulna (a forelimb bone) is osteosarcoma. Tomorrow, she'll have more tests to see if it has spread beyond her ulna. If it has not spread, we will get cutting-edge treatment for her with the hope of extending her life. That treatment will probably *not* involve a total limb amputation but rather the removal of the ulna or high dose targeted radiation to kill the tumor. Chemotherapy will follow.

We will only pursue aggressive treatment if the scans tomorrow show that the cancer is confined to the primary tumor in her limb bone. Otherwise, we'll just keep her comfortable for as long as we can.

We love our K and will do whatever we can to gain more time with her. Many many thanks to all of you for your support and compassion. Now, I need to collapse into a heap on K's dog bed with her.
Life is much too short.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The day before...

Tomorrow is the big day. Today, I needed some time with my K, off by ourselves in the beautiful mountains. So, we cheated and walked a bit further than our vet told us was okay (but I kept K on leash, as instructed). I decided to cheat because I knew that it might be K's last hike as a four-legged dog. We went up to our sunrise/sunset viewpoint and sat on our favorite lichen-covered boulder with views to the east and west.

I admired her beautiful and strong legs.
On our hike home, we stopped and hugged under a sliver of a moon. I promised her that the Runner and I would do our very best tomorrow to choose the treatment that would give her the best quality of life. I think that she understood.
We'll keep you posted on what happens tomorrow. I'm sorry that I haven't been visiting blogs very much. I've been too preoccupied, doing my homework before K's appointments and probable surgery tomorrow.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thank you

I thank every single one of you who sent me your good wishes after my last post. I've been spending my time with my family over the holiday and now educating myself about bone cancer and amputations so that I'm informed at our appointment on Wednesday.

K can't walk far but I captured one nice photo of her on a tiny walk in our driveway. She doesn't seem to know that anything's wrong - except that she's limping a little and I'm crying a lot. She definitely notices that she's not going on any adventures... but the best that I can do is to snuggle even more than usual with her.
After events like last Friday, it sometimes feels like the sun won't rise again. But, on Christmas Morning, I witnessed sunrise through eyes filled with tears. I wished that I was sharing it with K but she isn't allowed to walk far enough to see it.
To the west, the alpenglow was awe-inspiring.
Based on the suggestions of several of you with experience with canine limb amputations, I've been learning a lot over at It sounds as if K, as a relatively young and athletic dog, may be more mobile with only one front limb than I initially thought. That's a silver-lining. We don't know for certain that she'll have an amputation on Wednesday but my vet thought that it was highly likely.

I cannot thank every one of you enough. You've helped my spirits immensely, and some of you, based on first-hand hard-earned experience, have pointed me to more information about bone cancer and amputations. I am following up every suggestion, and I hope to be able to thank each of you individually.

Perhaps I'll be able to pass along the wisdom someday in the future. The dog-blogging community is amazing with such a wealth of support and compassion shared among us.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Falling off a cliff

Yesterday started out with a beautiful dawn snowshoe hike with my K. We saw the sun kiss the tops of the towering pine trees together.
 It was going to be a normal day, including a quick visit to the vet for a routine test.
At the visit, I mentioned that K had been limping on her 3-toed paw. The vet started running her hands over K's legs, feeling for any problems. I expected nothing to show up - I believed that was just a sore paw. After all, K had romped enthusiastically just that morning.
The vet's fingers focused on one spot and her brow furrowed. I still didn't feel panicked. K was fine, I told myself.
After some more probing and pointing out a lump on K's leg, the vet said that she wanted an x-ray of K's forelimb, due to a lump on her leg about 8" above where her toe was amputated a year ago. The vet and K trotted off into the back of the vet's offices.

The wait seemed to go on and on. But, I still assured myself that my precious K was fine. I kept reminding myself of how she'd run around that morning.
When the vet finally came out, she said that I needed to go into the back with her. Then, my stomach fell to the ground. "My" vet has taken care of our dogs for more than a decade. I know her well, and I knew what I saw in her eyes.

In fact, the vet had discovered a golf-ball sized tumor in a bone in K's front limb. She'd then x-rayed K's lungs to check whether any malicious cancer cells had spread into them. Fortunately, she didn't see anything bad on the chest x-ray.

When the vet told me about the tumor, her eyes brimmed with tears, I literally collapsed onto the floor. I know what this probably means. If it's osteosarcoma, we don't have much time. Unfortunately, it was Friday afternoon at 4 PM before Christmas weekend. The vet made a valiant attempt to pull together a group of experts at Colorado State to work on K last night but they'd already scattered into the wind, getting ready for the holiday weekend with their families.

The CSU vet oncology department reopens on Wednesday, and we'll be there in the morning. K will probably lose her leg that day, and we'll get a better idea of her overall prognosis. In the meantime, she cannot do anything more than very very short walks. Her bone is on the verge of breaking because the tumor is wider than the bone itself. We need avoid letting her break it because that could be catastrophic.
I've cried buckets of tears and felt physically ill since receiving this news. I don't yet know how much time we have left with K... but I feel pretty sure that, unbeknownst to me, K and I did several things together last week that we'll never be able to do again. Losing a front limb is so tough on a dog - they can't hike very far or romp with abandon.

I took this photo just as we finished our snowshoe hike yesterday, still blissfully unaware of what was growing in K's bone. I had no idea that we were just about to fall off a cliff.
In the midst of my grief, I keep coming back to one thing - I've had 8 precious years with a dog who has loved me unconditionally. Even if the end is soon, I've had the greatest gift imaginable - K as my dog and best friend.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nature's glory

Yesterday, I decided to heed the weather forecast, and I pulled another wildlife camera off a steep north-facing slope where the black bears live during the summer months. I took one last photo of "Bear Art" on a huge old Aspen tree. I won't see it again until next April when the snowpack melts enough to make it possible to walk the trail.
When I woke up this morning and peeked out onto our deck, I was very happy that I'd retrieved my camera yesterday. You can barely see the deck railing peeking over the snow. The big hump of snow is our metal round table.
I have to admit that my first reaction to seeing that huge pile of snow was to burrow further under the covers and sleep later than usual. Now that I can't telemark ski due to my spine, I don't love playing in snow as much as I used to. However, if I can overcome my inertia, I am always so happy to get out in it!

After a leisurely breakfast, I buckled on my snowshoes and started plodding through the seemingly bottomless snow. K frolicked like a puppy.
And, she turned into Frosty the Snowdog after one of her romps.
It was heavy and hard work breaking trail through snow that was nearly up to my hips. We didn't make it too far before we turned around and followed our tracks back home.
On the packed trail, K managed to keep her face a little cleaner so we can tell that she's a chocolate lab.
When we made it home, my spine needed the relaxing action of pedaling a bike after the wrenching work of breaking trail. I glanced at my stationary bike and said "Nah". Instead, I pulled out my snowbike and rode on quiet roads that were lightly plowed. I stopped on one road to look at the huge wall of snow that has grown weekly after each plowing this winter.
As I pedaled, the storm began to break, and I saw blue sky.
The mountains almost emerged from the clouds, but not quite.
I was very cold at the end of my ride but so happy that I'd gone out to see the glory of nature. To me, it is truly glorious, and I treasure each day, even the freezing cold ones.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Power of the Paw

Alpenglow this morning

Power of the Paw

A storm sweeping in from the invisible mountains behind K

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A purple dawn

Today's dawn was spectacular, one to savor and remember. I was happy to be alive for it. It painted the whole world purple, and even the hoar frost on the pine trees was tinted purple when I gazed to the west.
To the east, the sunrise was gorgeous, hidden behind a "Christmas Tree" lit up in a natural light show.
It was about 12°F when K and I rolled out the door.... but it's amazing how that temperature has started feeling warm to me if the wind is quiet. We relaxed near our favorite sunrise viewpoint, and K stood next to a frost-covered small pine tree.
After we departed, I managed to pedal all the way up to Hug Hill, for only the second time in the weeks since we were bombarded with snow. K reclaimed her place as the Queen of Hug Hill.
I was so happy to be alive and out in nature with my K this morning. I hope that you all are finding peaceful moments in this busy season.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The speedy and graceful coyote

Although I try to start each day with a sunrise ride with K, our rides have recently been pretty short because her 3-toed paw gets sore on the uneven hard snow. But, we always stop for photos at sunrise.
After I ride with K, I usually head out for a ride that takes me further afield from our house, following packed trails or 4WD roads.
It's odd - I have certain rides that I do only in the wintertime. One of them gives me beautiful views of a reservoir. Usually, when the sky is clear, the mountains are visible where the clouds are in the photo below.
I also visit a creek that drains from the reservoir, enjoying gazing at the ice formations around the rocks.
I did this ride the other day, and, as I returned home, I passed an expansive meadow with one of my favorite views in the area.
I always scan the meadow for animals because they're easy to see against the white slate of snow. The other day, I spotted a coyote just after I took this photo. He started running away from me, over toward the mountains. You can see, in the foreground, a fenceline that parallels a dirt road. I pedaled up to the road, thinking that the coyote had taken refuge in a boulder pile or clump of trees.

But, no, there he was, bounding through the deep snow and moving fast. As I pedaled along the dirt road, he ran parallel to the road, going faster than I was. I thought that I was freaking him out, so I stopped. He continued his sprint. The snow was deep with a tough crust that he broke through with every bound. Given the tough conditions, he finally decided to sail over the 3-4' fence onto the dirt road. He continued his fluid gallop in the middle of the road.

As I watched, a car appeared heading toward him. With amazing ease, he sailed back over the fence into the meadow. He then continued to sprint parallel to the road. The people in the car didn't even see him. After the car passed, he leaped the fence on one side of the road, sprinted across the road, and then leaped the fence on the other side of the road. In the blink of an eye, he disappeared into the forest. I stood there in awe. What an absolutely amazing athlete he is!

To give you a sense of scale, here is a view of about half of the meadow, with a snowshoer in the left center of the photo. The snowshoer took about 20 minutes to traverse the meadow while it took the coyote less than 2 minutes.
The wild canine was moving so fast that I didn't get any photos. However, I recently had a coyote visit one of my wildlife cameras. He started by sniffing a place at the base of a Ponderosa Pine tree where many animals have marked.
Then, he noticed the soft red light on my infrared camera.
As he got closer to it, he freaked out and sprinted away.
He stayed away for only a few seconds before peeking at the camera again.
He then proceeded to reexamine the scentpost, acting as if the camera wasn't there. I was relieved to see how quickly he relaxed because I like to capture natural behavior rather than animals who are terrified by my camera.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Our identities

A pair of happy dogs explored together in the sunshine. The combination of white snow flying through the air and the golden grass made a gorgeous scene.
Dogs don't worry too much about the future or get frazzled about finding the right Christmas present. They just live with gusto - a fine example for all of us.
I've been researching my health situation on the internet, and I am struck, yet again, by the way some patients seem to let their identity become defined by their health problem. I found a forum about "lung nodules", one of the symptoms that I have. Each person who posts ends their post with a listing of how many lung nodules they have, the size and exact location of the nodules, and when the nodules were discovered. The people who post to this forum don't use names, just their list of nodules as their identifiers.

I hope that, regardless of what each of us faces in life (and I'm sure that many of you have faced tougher things than I have), we can keep perspective that we have many other qualities aside from our diseases. I found the a similar phenomenon, years ago, when I was battling endometriosis. I had a series of 7 surgeries to excise all of it, and I read forums on the internet that gave me the same impression - that some endometriosis patients forgot everything else about themselves aside from their disease. I'm sure that's not as prevalent as it appeared - but "basing your identity on your disease" seems like something to be avoided at all costs.

Thanks to all of you for your kind words after my last post. Your kindness means the world to me.

Along those lines, I keep doing the things that I love, and I'll keep doing them as long as I can. I've been tracking animals in our ever present snow, and I was astounded when I found bear tracks the other day! I was shocked that a bear was still awake and walking around, given the snow storms we've had and the sub-zero temperatures that we've endured. The photo below is of the tracks in relatively shallow snow. He also walked through areas where the snow was so deep that his body left a deep furrow in it, and his footprints were hidden by the furrow. I kept thinking that this bear needs to go to sleep!
These tracks were in the general vicinity of the den that I have a camera pointed at. Seeing the tracks made me hopeful that I might find bears sleeping in that den this winter. Here's a photo that brings back wonderful memories of the sow and her cubs playing outside the den in the spring of 2010.
Let's cross our fingers that there's a bear or three in the den! I won't be going near it yet - the bears need time to fall deeply asleep so that a KB peeking in their den won't upset them.