My Unsung Hero

Throughout this whole ordeal with Maggie, there is one important part of the Possum Pack who has remained largely in the shadows. That, of course, is our Land Shark, Shmoo.

Now, during the past year I know I have written about his various adventures, most of which have not been what one would term “good” boy behavior. From the first day he was here, he was endearing; but in the kind of goofy-boy way that you love the class clown. He’s fun, you’re glad he’s around, but you don’t want to give him any responsibility.

I have to say, however, that in this past year, he has matured into something I have not, and could not have, suspected; our Shmoo has become a sensitive soul.

Oh, yes, you look at him and think he’s just a big goof, with those floppy, silly ears and his giant head. But he is an affectionate, sweet, loving and understanding softie underneath all the goofiness.

When Maggie first got really sick, it was clear that Shmoo understood something was wrong with his princess. He changed his routine, no longer trying to drag her around the house by the scruff of the neck or pulling at her tail to get a reaction. In the past, when I would try to take Maggie out for a walk on her own, he would not let us out the door, and it took someone to hold him inside so that I could leave.

Now that we’ve had to get up multiple times during the night for extra outings, and also had extra walks during the day, he is amazing. He gets out of bed, comes downstairs, goes on one of the blankets in the corner until Maggie and I go out, then he comes and lies down at the door to watch and make sure that we’re safe. As soon as we come back inside, he licks Maggie’s face and then lies back down until I’m ready to go back upstairs; then he follows me up, gets back into bed and curls up to go to sleep.

In the mornings, he comes for a scratch and tummy rub, but does not bother Maggie to make her play; he seems to understand she needs her sleep.

Then, this morning, the nasty little Fox Terrorist came running after us again. JM had Shmoo this time and ran interference between the beast and Maggie. Without being vicious or violent, Shmoo made sure the nasty creature could NOT get to Maggie! He scared it off without growling or baring his fangs.

What really surprises me, though, is that when we take our walks alone, without Maggie, Shmoo is now a gentleman on his leash over 90% of the time. Granted, not perfect, but for a dog who pulled me face first into a wall a few months ago, it’s a big improvement.

So, here’s to Shmoo; my goofy, silly boy who is now a grown-up. (I was going to say, “Today he has become a man,” but that would just be creepy!!)

Randy

The Veterinary Adventure Continues

We went to the vet school in Toulouse bright and early this morning.  Once again, we took Shmoo along for the ride.

I can’t get over how terrific they are there. The place was packed, as this is the first time we’ve been during actual clinic hours.  But they are very efficient at getting everyone’s information then getting your dossier over to the proper service. We waited for a very short time before we were seen.

We ran into “our” vet from the ER again, and he stopped to see how Maggie, and we, were doing. He is still following her case, even though I’m sure he has other things to do.  Then, four or five students each examined Maggie and her treating vet came over to talk to us.  They took Maggie for more xrays and another ultrasound to see if the cancer had metastasized or not, then we went in to talk to the oncologist.

Again, he’s very nice and quite impressive.  We talked about the various options.The cancer seems to be localized in the urethra/bladder/vaginal area, although it has spread to a nearby lymph node. It is, unfortunately a very aggressive type of cancer and the biopsy has not been completely clear about which of two types it is, and both types would have slightly different treatments.

Apparently, radiotherapy would be a possibility, however the only centers that do this on animals are in northern France, and the nearest one is in Paris. She would need 3 to 6 weeks of radiotherapy 3 times a week. The logistics make it impossible for us, as we can’t just go and stay in Paris for 3 to 6 weeks, leaving Shmoo and my mother here.  We can’t stop working for that time or leave our lives behind.  And, there is no way I’m going to leave Maggie alone in a vet hospital undergoing that kind of treatment.  Since the goal is to give her a better quality of life, I’m not going to “steal” 6 weeks of her life by abandoning her when she wouldn’t understand what is going on.

That left us with chemo as the best option.  Because of not being sure which cancer it is, that was still complicated. Further, because of the weight loss and lack of appetite, our choices were complicated even further.  One small, positive ray of hope is the fact, strangely, the cancer IS so aggressive. Aggressive cancer is apparently more likely to show reaction to the chemo, so it could actually help in her treatment!

Finally, we decided to go with chemo treatment once every three weeks, supplemented with corticosteroids, antibiotics and tramadol for pain.  Even though piroxicam is the treatment of choice for one of the possible types of cancer, it is also more risky for her kidneys in association with the other chemo, and more likely to cause her digestive distress, whereas we know she tolerates the steroids and they stimulate her appetite. If there’s a positive reaction to the chemo, we can then switch her over to the piroxicam later if that seems like a good idea.

She had her first treatment this morning and we brought Shmoo in while we were waiting.  Suddenly, he went nuts and started barking like mad.  Maggie was coming down the hall!  He dragged me over to her and started rubbing against her and licking her face.  She was doing the same.  I have to tell you it was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen.  Even all those vets were impressed by the display.

I should say that, once again, Diva Maggie has worked her magic, and they have all fallen in love with her. She lets them do whatever they want with dignity and without protest.  They can’t seem to get over it.  Shmoo was a hit too, big goofy love bug that he is.

So, now we’re all home, exhausted. Next Wednesday I take Maggie back for a day long exam of her kidneys on Thursday, just to make sure that the chemo hasn’t caused a problem. They should be able to tell quite rapidly if it’s having the desired effect or not.  Meantime, I’m hoping the pain meds and steroids get her feeling better quickly.

And, one more thing, the cost.  Each chemo treatment, including drugs, is 122€.  I can’t get over that, because I have an idea what this would have cost in L.A., and I think we could have added quite a bit to that figure.

Ciao for now

Randy

News from the Vet School

The wonderful people at the vet school called last evening to tell us that they had gotten the results in on Maggie’s biopsy. I’m afraid that the news, while not surprising, isn’t good. Our dear girl does have cancer. Apparently, the biopsy wasn’t able to specifically verify what type, though.

We made an appointment with the oncologist for next Wednesday so that we can discuss treatment options. Apparently there is some indication that it has already spread to the lymph nodes, but they might want to further biopsy those. We need to see what benefit she can receive versus any pain she might suffer to make any of those decisions.

The chemo they propose is meant to improve the quality of life as much as anything else, and I think that is probably the most for which we can hope, especially if it has already metastasized. We’re trying to keep positive and enjoy the time we have remaining with our special Diva.

We have always known that one day cancer would again appear, as her previous two bouts showed us that she is clearly, genetically predisposed for it. We count each day as a blessing and are grateful for the time that we have shared, and will try to enjoy each day that we are granted with her until the end.

And, for now, she is still having decent days. She still enjoys her walks. She still eats certain things with enjoyment (although not as much as I would like) and she still would chase any cat in the neighborhood if given half the chance. Yes, she gets tired easily, but we are all older and get tired more easily, so I try not to focus on that.

If it ever stops raining, we will try to post some new pictures on Maggie’s page.

Thank you all for your love and support. All of us appreciate it more than we can say.

Randy, JM, Diva Maggie and the Shmoo

Our Miracle Maggie

Maggie Running FreeFirst, I need to thank everyone who has sent us words of support for our dear girl. It means a great deal and we will never forget your kindness.

Second, I am sorry if my poem left anyone with the impression that our girl has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. She is still very much alive and is now back home with her family. We don’t know how long we’ll have her, and we still don’t have a diagnosis and won’t until next week (Wednesday or Thursday). But, she’s a trooper and is home and that’s what counts.

The diagnosis will be between an inflammatory granuloma, which is an auto-immune problem, or transitional cell carcinoma, the most common type of urinary tract carcinomas in dogs. Both have medical, as opposed to surgical treatments, but there are no guarantees as to how well they will work in any given case. But, it does mean that we have some hope for a bit more time together, so when we do lose her, it will be less of a shock than we had earlier this week at the suddenness of this whole business.

I cannot say enough about the Ecole Nationale Veterinaire in Toulouse. They are simply wonderful, caring people. In fact, they are so nice, that I can almost forgive them for not looking as if any of them are a day over 12!

Not only has the compassion and care that Maggie has received been top notch, but I’m almost embarrassed by how low the prices are. For the ER visit, x-rays, ultrasound, hospitalization, exam under anesthesia, IVs, etc., we paid 218 euros. We paid a bit extra for the cytology and one other test that were sent to an outside lab, but the whole business has still cost less than 275 euros. Unbelievable in light of what we are used to paying in L.A.

Now, we need to wait and watch. We have to hope that her symptoms don’t suddenly take a turn for the worst and send us rushing back to Toulouse in the middle of the night. But, if that’s what is required, that is what we will do. We owe her far more than that.

More pictures of Maggie and friends are visible on my website.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Ten Years

Ten years.

Is that possible? The blink of an eye,

A lifetime.

The world has changed, but stayed the same.

We have changed, but also remained ourselves.

And part of that was because our Diva,

Our special girl,

Was there to keep us sane through the dark times and

Share our joy through the good.

How can it be over already? How can we say good-bye?

A part of our hearts will go along with Maggie when she crosses that final bridge.

We must remain and carry on.

It is the pain of love and the payment due for its blessing.

Why does it have to hurt so much?

(c) Randy Lofficier 2008

Our Diva

I’m afraid that the news on our dear Diva Maggie is not good.

We went to the ER last night after she tried to pee in the house (been doing that frequently of late) and I saw some blood in her urine.

It’s not good. Their equipment is clearly more sophisticated than our local vet. She has a huge mass in the area of her bladder, but no way of knowing yet if it’s the bladder itself or outside the bladder pressing on it.  At any rate, the chances of it being cancer are rather elevated.  If it’s localized, we could still operate, depending on where it is, but if it has spread, we’ll just go to be with her as she makes her journey across the bridge.  We should hear something later today.

I have to say that the  intern and students at the veterinary school were just wonderful, kind, compassionate, extraordinary. As horrible as the experience was, they did their best to be reassuring, non-alarmist and helpful. It was clear that they were in their profession because they truly love animals.

I had been on the phone with the emergency room several times during the day, trying to determine whether we should go in or not. The resident or intern with whom I spoke encouraged me to come if I had the least concern. When we got there, the doctor on duty, who was NOT the same person I had spoken with, knew who we were as soon as we described the problem. I was seriously impressed.

When it became clear that Maggie would need to stay there for more treatment, the doctor did an estimate and was very concerned about the price. For the ER visit, x-rays, ultrasound, lab tests, hospitalization, etc.; basically everything except for actual surgery should it come to that, the charge was 360 euros.  The surgery would be another 600 euros.  He was worried we would be upset, so we had to tell them that Maggie’s last surgery in L.A. cost $11,000!!!

I feel confident that if it is operable, they will do a good job. We are all on tenterhooks though and finding it hard to concentrate on anything but our dear, dear girl.

Everyone is very, very sad and trying to hold it together.  Even Shmoo is not himself.  Last night, we took him to the hospital with us, but left him in the car when we went inside with Maggie. He went berserk, to be honest. He was screaming, jumping around and going nuts in the car. I’ve never seen anything like it. Luckily, after the initial consultation, we were able to bring him inside and the two of them licked each other’s faces in relief at being together. But every time they took Maggie off for a test, Shmoo cried.

Today, he’s very subdued. He’s waiting along with the rest of us.

Ciao for now.

Randy

2008 is here, now what?

We’ve had a great holiday season here in the Possum Kingdom.  Not only was it the first holiday season that I’d spent with Mom in many years (although it came about because of sad reasons), but we were lucky that so many of our friends were in town at the same time. We got to spend both Christmas and New Year’s Eve with David, Jane and Bernie (New Year’s only), and also had plenty of time for a change to relax together and eat, drink and otherwise make merry.

Now though, they all head for home; an event that we all find rather sad. I was glad that Mom got to meet them as well as so many others of our good friends, so that she doesn’t feel that she only has us for company.

The year is starting with good as well as worrying things though. Our dear Diva Maggie is having some health problems; perhaps not unusual given that she is 12, but very upsetting nevertheless.  I think I am going to have to take her to the clinic at the veterinary school in Toulouse to see if they can help her.  Our vet in Lavalenet is wonderful, but I think the poor Diva’s problem needs more specialized care.

As it is, I consider her our miracle dog. She has had three surgeries for cancer over the years, and the final one for a fibrosarcoma, was particularly grueling. It is rare for a dog to survive longer that 6 months or so with fibrosarcoma, and we’ve had 3 1/2 years so far.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I want her to be with us for as long as possible and I want her quality of life to be as good as we can possibly make it. So, Monday I’ll call the clinic and hope that they can help me in this goal.

Ciao for now.

Randy