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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Almost Wordless Wednesday

A thousand-year-old-tree.

Me and my girl, wishing for a thousand years together.

The brightness of springtime - we need shades!

Over there! No, over there!

Springtime, a time of renewal for all of us.

And a time of goofiness for our resident clown! Hmm, Mango, can you beat that?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Just us

It is time for a break for our family. We want to spend some time enjoying life, just the four of us. Believe it or not, we won't even be visiting the web. But, don't worry about us. K is stable, and we want to focus on having fun as a foursome.
We want to treasure every day while our K is still going strong. She is still a pillar of strength so it's time to enjoy it.
Our friend, Ann from Zoolatry, just sent me copies of some of the badges that she made for K's special day on Valentine's Day. Here's one that many of you have never seen. I think that it's a work of art.
I'll never forget that day. Thank you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Canines: domestic and wild

Yesterday afternoon, the Duo and I headed out for an earlier-than-usual hike. I took them to the big meadow because I figured that the coyotes wouldn't be active so far before sunset. I almost always start the Duo's off-leash romping time with a bit of training so that I have their focus on me. They did a sit-stay together.
As their focus on me became complete, I began to realize that there was activity behind them. They didn't know it yet.
I spotted a coyote, sitting in the middle of a marshy part of the meadow that is speckled with willow bushes. He's near the lower right corner of the photo below.
Upon seeing him watching us, I called the Duo to me. Because the coyote was downwind of us and behind the Duo, they had no idea that he was there.
As the Duo sprinted to me, I saw that a second coyote was sitting near the first. The pair of coyotes cantered toward the cover of a boulder-strewn hillside. One coyote disappeared while the other stayed out to watch us. He's in the lower left of the photo below, standing on a boulder for a better view, just like my dogs like to do.
By then, I had the Duo on-leash to avoid a coyote encounter. I'm glad that I know every stump and boulder in that meadow. Otherwise, I might have led the Duo straight toward the well-camouflaged coyotes. After years and years of practicing recalls near wildlife, I feel confident that I could have called the Duo off of the coyotes... but I'd rather avoid the situation altogether. It's less stressful for the coyotes and for us.

We've still had the injured coyote coming by our house with his mate - and I suspect that he was one of the pair that we saw yesterday. You might be able to see the dark area under his left eye in the next photo taken by our house. It has been there for a couple of weeks.
From another camera, I figured out that he's the male in the breeding pair. I wonder if he got in a fight over his mate during the recent breeding season. At the other camera, the female arrived first and "squatted" to mark the spot. Her mate watched her, and you might be able to see the dark area under his left eye. It's tougher to see with this "infrared" flash camera.
Then, the male marked the same spot before trotting off quickly after his partner. I hope this guy is okay. Male coyotes play huge roles in raising pups, doing most of the hunting while the mother is confined to the den with her nursing pups. Younger coyotes who are part of the same pack also help raise the pups. I've been seeing those "single" coyotes passing my cameras. There appears to be only one breeding pair in our territory, and this is it.

Returning to our hike yesterday afternoon, after we'd walked a good distance away from the coyotes, I gave the Duo their freedom again. I love watching R run. He is so graceful and strong, galloping among the boulders.
And, I love K's fur in the red rays of the sun near the end of the day.
Today, K had some tests to see how her body is accommodating the new form of chemotherapy. We are so fortunate that she loves going to the vet since it's a frequent occurrence these days. She loves any activity that involves interacting with people, and the vets and techs give her lots of love. She sings and rejoices as we arrive at the clinic. I bet that's a rarity!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Sunsets

Sweet K

The Labraduo

There must be treats here somewhere...

Games in the sunset light

Peaceful sunset

Tumultuous sunset

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A good day

K and I had a good morning together. First, we hiked together, enjoying the winter cold but the spring-like light. It's glorious having the forest to ourselves, aside from the wildlife that is stirring.
We saw signs of a mountain lion passing through the area but we didn't visit any wildlife cameras so we don't know if we have photos of him. It's not surprising that the lions are returning because the elk herd has been in the area for almost a week now. I am excited to see the large mammals returning to our forest!
A few places are starting to look green (unlike the meadow where the elk have been grazing). We gravitated to them, enjoying the new color that's so different from the blue sky and white snow that we've been seeing all winter long.
We also took a short snow bike ride together again, feeling like a pair of rebels! It truly doesn't seem difficult for K to run right now. I think that the lung mets are not yet affecting her breathing even the slightest bit. I hope that it stays that way for a while!
We were grateful for another good day. There's nothing like a serious illness to make a person appreciate the small "stuff" that makes a happy day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

No more rules

It's time for an admission. Following the promises that I made to K in my last post, especially the first one about not being sad, is proving to be an almost overwhelming challenge. I fell into a dark abyss yesterday as I learned more about how bad the prognosis is for K. But, I think that I'm climbing out into the light again.

For one thing, I decided that I am completely and utterly finished with following the rules about limiting K's activity. What are we "saving" K for? At this point, the prognosis is horrendous. She will not have another springtime with me unless a miracle occurs. Yet, on this spring day, K is full of energy and puppy-like happiness. It's time to live.

So, I did something that would probably make our vets cringe. I took K mountain biking. For almost her entire life, K has run with me while I rode my mountain bike. That pattern came to an abrupt halt on December 23, when K was diagnosed with bone cancer. Indeed, she didn't seem even vaguely upset by the sudden halt to our rides back then. I believe that the bone tumors had been hurting her, and she didn't really want to run with me at that time.

Over the past week, she's started telling me that she wants to go with me when I ride. As I put on my cycling gear, she follows me rather than snoozing on her bed like she's been doing since her diagnosis in December. Now, she even "hides" and peeks around corners to watch me get my gear ready. It took several days but this dumb human finally figured out that K wanted to go mountain biking. It seemed like a fairly harmless thing to try. After all, riding a bike through slushy spring snow is not much faster than walking.

So, I invited her to go, a process that started with descending a set of steps that K has found scary for her entire life. Usually, she takes them one step at a time, stopping on each one to get up the nerve to step down onto the next one. Well, they're not scary now! I've never seen her go down them so fast as when I invited her to ride with me! That told me, without a shadow of a doubt, that K wanted to go with me.

So, we did a slow and easy 2 miles on trails that K and I have mountain biked so many times in our lives that we could navigate them with our eyes closed. She seemed carefree and happy, cantering easily by my side. I kept calling out "I love you, K" as we rode (thank goodness no one else was around to witness my happy lunacy)!
We stopped for some photos. You can see that K's leg that received radiation is growing silver fur everywhere except in the pink areas where she had radiation burns. I think that growing new fur is a sign of some strength left within my girl. One piece of good news from the tests last week was that the bones in K's "cancer leg" look very strong, and the tumors were obliterated by the radiation.
She danced on snow patches within our forest, looking as beautiful as ever.
I'm happier than you can imagine that we've been out biking together. We've had so many biking adventures over the years, and they helped cement our relationship. It's good to be able to have some short rides together now, as we know that our time together is winding down.

All that I know is that K will be an angel far too soon. The time for doing the things that we love is now.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Finding the way

My friends in Blogville have done it again. I was so humbled by the outpouring of your good wishes, prayers, thoughts, and love. It really does make a huge difference. Thank you.

Last night, with a heavy heart, K and I hiked up to our favorite sunset view point. We just sat, watching the wind blow clouds across the mountains as the sun set. I talked to her, remembering the day that I'd met her.
On that day, I was given the choice of two female chocolate lab pups. For some reason, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that K was the dog for me.

Yesterday evening, in my mind, I rewrote the script. I imagined that I'd been told that the little pup "K" lacked a key "tumor suppression gene" and was likely to die young. But, I'd also been told that our spirits would mesh in a way that would bring us both incredible joy. In this imagined conversation, I was also told that the other pup would live twice as long as K. Yet, just as happened in reality, I didn't have the same spark of love when I held that pup as when I held K.

Given that scenario, I'd still choose K every single time. She has brought such happiness to my life, and I hope that I've done the same for her. I don't care about the heartbreak of an early death. It's the living and loving that matters.

This morning, still with a heavy heart, I hiked out the door with K. I was focused climbing to our favorite place, Hug Hill. Despite her chemo treatment yesterday, K romped and frolicked. Yet again, she was teaching me a life lesson. She wants to live fully - now.
As I hauled my heavy heart up the snow-laden slope, K played and smiled. She found a spot of green and rolled on the warm ground, before trotting toward me, with resplendent chocolate fur.
I realized, as I watched her, that this day was one precious day of K's life. Who cares that there might not be as many days left as I hoped? K certainly doesn't care. We can't waste these precious days being sad about something that will happen in the future.

We arrived at the top, and K zipped around joyfully. This is our special spot, and it has been since K was a couple of months old.
Then, I asked her to be still, and I had a talk with her. I made a lot of promises. I promised not to let sadness dominate the remainder of her life. I promised that I would always be there for her, and that I'd try to put her wishes ahead of mine. I promised not to let her suffer. I'm sure that she didn't understand the details but she certainly felt the love that I was sending to her. She snuzzled me, and I cried tears of sadness and joy - joy that this loving and sweet dog is in my life.
(Excuse my "mountain" attire - I wasn't dressed for a photoshoot this morning.).

As we descended from the peak, I knew that we'd find a way to navigate this journey together. Love will lead the way, and we'll seize each day that we have left.
K is part of the fabric of my heart and always will be.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bad news

Our innocent K...
Today we learned that the cancer has spread to K's lungs. She received a different kind of chemotherapy today, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, it will slow this virulent beast. But, we are devastated.
We are so lucky to have K in our lives and to share such love with her, even if only for a short time. We will keep showering her in love for as long as we can.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Six years ago today

Six years ago tonight, I was lying in a hospital bed, oblivious to the world around me. I'd just had a three-level fusion in my lower back, and I was in more pain than I'd thought imaginable. My brother visited me that night, and I have no recollection of it. I was so pumped full of pain medication that I might as well have been knocked out.
I knew that the NCAA basketball tournament would start the day after my surgery, and I thought that I'd watch every game from my hospital bed. Ha! I didn't see a single one. I slept continuously, and, for the brief moments that I was awake, I couldn't keep track of which team was wearing which color.

As the years have gone by, I've realized that the surgery was the best choice that I could've possibly made. It stabilized my spine sufficiently for me to be able to manage the remaining pain if I carefully plan my activities.

With the memory of what happened six years ago, K and I hurried up high to see the sunrise this morning. If I'm capable of using my legs and K is still energetic, we're going to take full advantage of it! The photos above were from before sunrise, and the one below was just as the sun crested the eastern hills.
Due to the clouds, the sunrise was gorgeous orange and purple.

But, due to that cloud cover, we had only a few minutes of the amazing sunrise light before the sun was blocked by the clouds. K glowed during those few quiet minutes.
K was by my side for the whole seemingly endless recovery from the surgery back in 2006. At first, I couldn't limp further than a hundred yards without bursting into tears from the pain. And, after the Runner had no choice but to go back to work, K refused to leave my side for anything. She was an amazing friend during that phase.

It was 3 months before I was allowed to ride in a car and even longer before I was allowed to drive the car. At the 6 month mark, I was finally allowed to try riding a bike... Everyone who knew me laughed at the thought that the doctor had no idea what a force he'd unleashed when he said that I could "try riding a bike". I think that I rode a bit more than he had in mind! But, it's been the best spine therapy imaginable...

So, today, I remember how the Runner, our yellow lab S, and my chocolate K all rallied to get me through that very tough time (R wasn't born yet). I'm a very lucky person.
I must end by apologizing for not visiting many blogs. I've had an eye infection for more than a week, and now I'm awaiting the results of the culture that they did to find the right antibiotic for it (the "standard" antibiotic didn't work). Until I can start new antibiotics targeted for my infection, I'm just going to have to suffer with it. It definitely limits how long I can use my computer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012