Monday, March 8, 2010

The worst week EVER...

I know this is long, but I'm almost writing this more for myself than for anyone else. I want to be able to look back and remember what it was like going through this situation as it was happening. I hope that when I look back, everything will be OK, and I will be able to see and realize how far we have traveled from now until then. I started writing this the other day, but only finished it to post now. I'll get the 2nd update up when I can...the saga is still on going...

Today is Friday March 5. It is the end of the longest 7 days of my life...and although I'm posting this now, the ordeal is not quite over. I planned on posting last week about how my life was turning in a new direction; and with this hope, I was starting to feel better mentally, more optimistic. I was also going to talk about my little ones birthday-Shelby turned 7 last Saturday, February 27th. But instead of all of that good stuff, I'm here to talk about something that happened that completely eclipsed that; cast it all into shadow. I have had bad days in my life before-truly bad days. Days when I thought my very soul was being ripped apart and pried from my body in tiny pieces-shattered and broken from the immense grief and pain only losing a loved one could bring. I have felt that immeasurable sadness before, but this feeling was something totally different. It wasn't the crushing blow that you feel when you find out someone you loved has passed away suddenly, but the mind-numbing, full blown panic that hits every nerve of your body; freezing it with blinding fear that renders you unable to do anything: move, think or react. I can imagine being in the middle of the street seeing an oncoming car heading straight for you. That kind of feeling. What caused it? Here is the story of my worst week ever:

Day 1-Friday, 2/26/10

I worked my usual day shift of 7-4. I had a pretty rough time all day because I was still feeling sick. I had received a tetanus booster on Wednesday and it was hitting me hard: I had body aches and chills and was unable to move my arm. The weather was pretty bad (with a windy, freezing rain/snow mix) that just seemed to make me feel worse. I knew I had to go to the grocery store, so decided to take the girls with me to the doggie bakery for their goodies that same night. I figured that where I'd have to work tomorrow and still might not be feeling well, I should get everything out of the way now. Tomorrow we'd be able to relax and not have any running around to do. We could just celebrate Shelby's birthday, and I could watch them enjoy their snacks. So we ran the errands and went back home. I spent some time in the hot tub (to try and feel better) and had finally snuggled up on the couch with the girls. My mom was sitting next to me with Shelby on her lap, and Heidi was sitting facing me. I was rubbing her chest and the inside of her legs when I felt something odd: a lump.

I asked my mom to turn on the light as I flipped Heidi on her back. I searched her leg but couldn't immediately find what I had felt. Then I saw it: a small, pink, lump on the skin of her left front leg. It looked and felt fluid filled; it was squishy. It was bigger than a pea, but smaller than a dime. I didn't squeeze or pick at it. I knew I wanted one of our docs to take a look in the morning. I went to bed a little worried, but after looking up every version and picture associated with the googled phrase "dog lump", I felt it must be a cyst.

Day 2-Saturday, 2/27/10

I woke up felling a bit nervous, but pretty sure it was a cyst or big pimple. I packed up the girls and brought them with me to work. I was telling a friend of mine what I had found when one of the Dr.s walked up-I asked her if she could take a look. She said she could, and I found myself putting Heidi on the table a few minutes later. She looked at it and said something like "oh yeah, it looks like a skin-tag, but we always aspirate it to be sure." She stuck a needle in it, but not enough cells came with it. So she got a bigger one, and sucked some stuff out. Now the smooth pink nodule turned purple and very angry looking. One of the other Dr.s stepped over and agreed with the first that, as it now started to ooze a bit, it must be a cyst. I put Heidi back in her crate with Shelby, and tried to finish the work I had been doing. A few minutes later I was talking to a coworker when the Dr. came and asked if she could talk to me; she pulled me aside in to the Dr.s offices and told me the news that would change our lives: it was a mast-cell tumor. It was cancer.

I admit, I pretty much lost it. I remember crying and hugging her, thanking her for telling me. I remember her saying she wanted the surgeon to look at it right away, and she would go get her then. I went upfront (still crying) and sobbed to my friend what the news was. I asked someone to cover for me, and I punched out. I just wanted to be with my girl. When I went out back, the surgeon was already looking at Heidi. I cried as I kissed and petted her head. I remember someone telling me that she didn't know why I was upset; she didn't know she was sick. The surgeon was saying that it was small and in a good spot; she could get some extra skin from her side and armpit to close the wound-they wanted to obviously get as much tissue as they could to make sure they got it all. I was trying to focus on what she was telling me, but my mind was reeling. Cancer? CANCER? My 7 1/2 year old baby, who is raw fed and hasn't had vaccines in years? I didn't understand. I asked the surgeon when she could do it. "I can hold her if you want to do it right now!" I said. Everyone laughed. "Yeah, we use anesthesia here, you know" said one of the Dr.s. But the surgeon said she could come in tomorrow. She would come in on a SUNDAY to take care of my girl. I was blown away. I really do work with amazing and generous people.

I called my mom who couldn't really believe it; then she asked how much it cost. I know she was only asking because she was thinking of my future. I had just signed up to go back to school for canine massage. But at the time when I was so emotional, I took it the wrong way. I told her she wouldn't have to worry about it. The hospital is great with working with employees and payment plans. All I could think about is how badly I wanted this to be it. One lump. One surgery. No more cancer. I went home that night and snuggled with my special girls. I explained to Heidi what was going to happen the next day, and to Shelby about how we were both going to need her. I gave them some birthday cupcake (and I cut it up this time, so we didn't have another choking episode like last year) and we went to bed. I knew it was going to be a rough few days. What an understatement.

Day 3-Sunday, 2/28/10:

Surgery day. I got up early to get there for the surgeon to be able to start right away. My friend Ginny, who I had sobbed to the day before, came in on her day off to be with me, and jump in as receptionist back up so I could be out back with Heidi when she needed me. We got there for 7, and I didn't have to start working until 8-which meant I could be with Heidi while she got knocked out. The Dr. did a quick physical and looked at her blood work we had run the day before. They decided both were OK and we could proceed with surgery. The Dr. gave her a shot of hydromorphone in her "butt cheek" and she went down-hard and fast. She was really conked out. And a good thing, because she is such a hard stick, the technician couldn't get a good vein on her. (I knew she was tough from the blood work we had tried to collect the day before) She decided the best way to go was to put her cath in her back leg once she was out.

Her surgery went very well. They had to use little anesthetic until the end because the hydro had worked so well. Only when they were stapling her closed did they need to turn it up. They came to get me so I could see her. The Dr. lifted the blanket, and I was pretty shocked at what I saw: she has an incision wrapping from the inside of her front left leg up through her armpit and onto her side. I haven't counted the staples, but there are a lot. She also had 2 surgical drains. I hadn't realized it would be so large and extensive. It was a lot to take in. The tumor would be sent out to be biopsied the next day. I was planning on taking her home that night (they had me get a fentanyl patch to keep her medicated at home) but it was clear it was better for her to stay the night. She was a mess. They came out midway through the morning and said they were putting the "BAIR-Hugger" on her because she was cold. That was a scary sight. Not because of what it is (its just a big blanket of hot air) but because of the connotations associated with it; I really only ever see it used on extreme cases-like when a bulldog almost drowned in its owners swimming pool. But I knew it would help her, so I swallowed my fear and told myself it was just temporary.

After my shift was done, I decided to take Shelby to our friends dog playgroup. I went more for myself then for Shelby (you know, because shes a snob and hates it). I could use the support of dog-friends, and knew someone who's dog had a MCT removed off of the top of his foot; if anyone would know how I was feeling, it would be her. I did have a nice time talking with everyone and left feeling a bit more placated. I drove back to the hospital to visit with Heidi and to tempt her with some food. (Just like when they had dentals, I decided to have her on "the honest kitchen" instead of her raw; I didn't want any extra bacteria around her with her drains in, and knew it was gentle on her tummy). She was still in the BAIR-hugger, but it was placed under her blankets rather than on top, heating her from beneath. She was more awake, but clearly not herself. She was still very sleepy and seemed to be uncomfortable. I offered her some food and she ate like a champ. I petted and snuggled with her for about an hour and then got Shelby so she could visit as well; she hadn't seen Heidi since that morning, and I thought it would be important for Shelby to see her so she could settle when we got home. Shelby was so good: she sniffed and smelled her, but was extremely gentle. She laid down next to her and laid her head so softly on the very edges of Heidi's feet. She stayed like that and fell asleep while I snuggled and petted them both. The techs I work with are great. They kept an eye on when she was due for her pain meds (and if she might need them earlier) and when she needed to be iced. One of them tried getting her up every so often because she was essentially stuck laying on one side. But when lifted, she screamed; and she couldn't stand on her own. It was hard to watch. They would have let me stay the whole night, but I knew I had to get home and get some sleep. And I had to feed Shelby. I left around 9:00 when they were starting to get busy again, and went home. I fed Shelby, did some random things around the house, and ate a small frozen dinner myself. I wouldn't have eaten at all, but I knew I would feel worse if I didn't. I took some Tylenol pm to help me sleep and went to bed.

Day 4-Monday, 3/1/10

Looking back now, I don't really remember much of Monday. I got up early to be at the hospital for 7 to feed Heidi breakfast. I didn't have to actually work until 12:30. I got there and was pleasantly surprised at how good she looked. She was laying more upright (versus on her side) and had an elizabethan collar on. She could now stand (when helped up) but couldn't really walk. Her front leg hurt, and her opposite back leg was bandaged right to the toes for her IV. When I picked her up, she didn't scream, but she was covered in pee. Not like she had been laying in it for a while, but she was still laying on pee soaked blankies. I decided to take her out any way to see if she needed to do anything else and carried her carefully outside. When I put her on the grass, she stood there but really couldn't move. When I moved to try to get her to follow, she just ended up spinning in scared circles-she was worried about the traffic (because she was doped up on the pain meds), and her bandaged leg was the opposite from her "boo boo leg" so she spun. It was heartbreaking. I picked her back up and took her inside. I cleaned out her cage and put her back in. She seemed gratetful to be able to lie back down in warm comfort. I spent a little more time snuggling and then went back home. I fed Shelby, let her out and then we both got back into bed. I was exhausted. I slept for an hour or two and then had to start getting ready for work. I went back an hour before my shift started to spend some more time with Heidi and offer her the 2nd half of breakfast (which she again ate hungrily). I noticed that she was laying in pee again. I changed her cage, and took her out (she still hadn't pooped) to no change from that morning. I spent some more time with her and she had peed herself again when I had left for a few minutes. I let the Dr. know. This was unusual for her. She said we'd turn down the fluids. I worked my shift, checking on her sporadically, and the technician came in a little before I was leaving and let me know they took her completely off the fluids and pulled out her IV as she was now on her oral pain meds (tramadol and previcox which I had brought from home-it seems to be the only thing she responds to for her arthritis). I could take her home if I wanted to, but where I was just going to be back first thing in the morning, I decided it would be better for her if I kept her there rather than dragging her home just to truck her back in the morning. I fed her dinner, and left for the night. I missed having her warm body sleeping next to my head on my pillow...

Day 5- Tuesday, 3/2/10

Up early again. I was supposed to start at 7, but went in at 6 to get an update, some snuggle time in and feed her breakfast. She looked SO much better. She was more alert and able to walk. I took her out and she pooped! Yay! I felt much better now that she was empty. I never thought Id get so excited to have to scoop poop! I put her back in her house, fed her breakfast and went to work. The day (just like all the others) passed by as a blur-full of nervousness and worry about her: how would she do at home? How was her incision? WHAT was the biopsy going to say? I had put a large note on her account so when the report came in, whoever got it off the fax machine would call me with the results. The Dr. who had diagnosed the tumor noticed how anxious I was and gave me the ability to check the results from home. You bet I was going to! I left at the end of the day leaving Heidi at work. She couldn't ride in my car because she couldn't fit in the crate with her cone on. My mom and I would be back to pick her up when she got out of work. I told her we would be back soon, and left her for the last time. I went home to get Shelby to the doggy store to buy some salmon oil, but found myself on the computer looking to see if the results were in. THEY WERE. I clicked the results with my hands shaking. I scanned the page quickly: GRADE II-clean margins noted at .6 to .8. I felt happy and let down at the same time; that numb feeling had returned. Grade II. We were hoping for a Grade I. I couldn't believe it...what did this mean?

I did end up taking Shelby to the store, and then met my mom at home. She kept pestering me about Heidi's bill. I didn't want to tell her because I didn't want her to pay; she has done SO much for me, especially over the past year, I didn't want her to have to do something else. It was not that high (as the surgeon gave me a break) so I could pay it in full myself. I tried leaving it at that...

She had made a HUGE box of cookie cake (for lack of a better word) for everyone at work. She put two rows of about 8 flavors of cookies in a large box and labeled them. I was touched. Truly touched. I had barely eaten for the past few days myself and couldn't fathom baking something...but my mom, she is truly wonderful. I knew she was just as thankful for the wonderful people who cared for our girl as I was. We took the box of delicious with us as we headed to the hospital. I let my mom visit with her as I grabbed her chart and waited to talk to someone. They had just started to get really busy; it was almost 6 pm. Finally the Dr. who was on that day could talk to us. I mentioned Heidi's incision and how it looked black-something the surgeon told me to watch out for. She assured me it was probably just dried blood. She said when I left earlier she would try to clean it, but it had gotten busy so she wasn't able to. Looking back, I should have pushed her to look a it while I was there...

She read the results and said they were good. She told me Id be hard pressed to find a pathologist that would grade anything a I. Most (like 70-80%) were graded II. And of course the serious ones were graded III. That lessened the numb feeling slightly. I started to be grateful for the truly good news: THEY GOT CLEAN MARGINS. That meant they got it ALL. I felt better thinking that this could be it. I talked to 2 other Dr.s on my way out; they were equally as thrilled. Clean margins, they reminded me. I felt better. One said that she would still recommend a consult with NEVOG (New England Veterinary Oncology Group) to give us more answers, but she felt confident that with clean margins they wouldn't want to pursue any other course of treatment. I felt even better! And now I got to enjoy the experience of taking my girl home. My mom threw a bit of a tantrum when she found out no one would tell her what Heidi's final bill was (as I had put a note on her account about that too) and wouldn't really speak to me the rest of the night. That definitely deflated that happy feeling I had felt so fleetingly only a few minutes before. I spent most of the rest of the night in my room with the girls; wishing I had my mom to celebrate with, but enjoying Heidi's company none the less...

Day 6-Wednesday 3/3/10

My day off. The first in a week. I felt exhausted, but also was so full of nervous energy that I really couldn't rest. I waited and waffled before finally making the call to NEVOG. Making that appt. made it seem so final; so real. More real then anything else that happened so far-even watching Heidi have surgery. Calling NEVOG meant it wasn't just a bump we had removed. It was CANCER. I finally called and they told me they couldn't make an appt. without a Dr.s referral. They took my info, but I hung up feeling upset. Like I was having to go through unnecessary obstacles to have my baby taken care of. I didn't take it personally because I knew it was their policy, but its different I guess because I work in the same field. I knew how easy it was to make an appt. with one of our Dr.s, so had a hard time swallowing how difficult it seemed to have an appt. with one of theirs. I got off the phone and called work. I asked for the Dr. to send the referral down as soon as she could, and asked to book an appt. with the surgeon for the next day to have her drains taken out. I also was concerned about the black skin on her leg; it was the skin flap that they had used to cover where the tumor was taken from. It just didn't look good to me...not at all.

We spent the rest of the day snuggling, and having icing and massage sessions. She was doing so well at home. And Shelby and I were sure glad to have her back! I called my mom to tell her about the procedure at NEVOG and she seemed better too; not so mad anymore. Heidi was still eating really well and taking her meds. I felt slightly more relaxed. I ate my first meal for dinner in days...

Day 7-Thursday, 3/4/10

I got up early due to the ever present nervous energy. My mom was having surgery on some vericos veins in her leg; she has many of them and they are causing a lot of pain and problems. I was going to bring Heidi in to work an hour before my shift started to have the surgeon look at her leg and remove the drains. Shelby would stay at home to help my mom heal after her surgery. (A friend was picking her up and driving her home-she wasn't being knocked out, but was given relaxors. I was a minor surgery, so I felt OK keeping my shift at work). I got to work and waited for the surgeon to take us back. I had gone off food again, and couldnt eat breakfast. I was really worried about her leg. I waited in the lobby like a regular patient. I was nervous as hell.

The surgeon called us out back and put Heidi on the table. She was shaking. I felt sick. It was awful. She looked at the leg and said she wanted to give it another few days. There was a chance the flap was not dead, but was "congested" from the trauma of the surgery. It was gross looking, so I felt a little uneasy about that, but trusted her. She said it was fine to take out the drains though, and pulled them. Yeah...that was unpleasant. It was icky enough seeing them taken out of one of our emergency department dogs, but to see it done to your own was...just wrong. I felt pretty lightheaded and nauseas for most of the rest of the day. Heidi stayed with me at work until it was time to go home. I took her home and fed both girls. I told my mom about the leg and she said she didnt want to see it (shes pretty squeamous). Her own surgery went well, but she was in pain-she wished they had used some kind of sedation because she had been able to feel quite a lot during the procedure. I felt bad, but glad she was OK too. I went to bed that night still worried about Heidi's leg. I thought it was dead, and worried what would have to be done to fix it. She said we would recheck on Tuesday...almost a week later. I didnt know if I could hold out that long.

Day 8-Friday, 3/5/10

One week. One full week had passed. The worst and most difficult week I had been through. The worry was driving me mad- and not being able to eat or sleep was taking its toll. But, I felt that in a few days, we would have answers for Heidi's leg, her staples could come out, we would have our consult with NEVOG and life could go back to normal. I should have known.

I made some oatmeal for myself and then fed the dogs. Heidi wouldnt eat. She got in her crate, stuck her nose in the bowl, and then walked out. I just stared. I've had Heidi since she was 16 weeks old and she had NEVER turned down a meal. Maybe it was because I hid her meds in the bowl. I took out the food, and took out the meds. She still wouldnt eat. She did however, walk over to the water bowl and took a big drink. Uh oh. It hit me. She drank 3-4 times the day before, and this was her 2nd visit to the bowl this morning. I know she was off her raw, but her food is dehydrated-she was still getting quite a bit of water in that. Why was she drinking so much? I tried having my mom feed her while I finished getting ready for work. She ate a little, but then stopped. Needles to say my own breakfast went in the trash. I got to work late after trying to get her to eat more myself. What was going on? I didn't give her her meds because she now had an empty stomach. I left her at home because my mom had taken the day off to recover from her surgery and Heidi was barking and chasing me as I left. She seemed to be feeling fine, even if she wouldn't eat.

I forgot the surgeon was there, but was glad to run it by her when I saw her at work. I told her she was drinking alot and wouldn't eat. She said to let her know about the drinking on Tuesday, and try something else for dinner. I figured d put her back on raw. If she wouldn't eat that, I would know something was really wrong. I spent all day at work worring (and again it passed as a blur) and called my mom every few hours to check on Heidi. She was doing well, and would eat cookies but not her food. I got home and thawed her some raw. She ate! Yay! I still didnt feel comfortable giving her her meds, so I didnt. I prayed she would eat for me the next day...
I'll post the next update when I can...when we have some more answers...


  1. I'm so, so sorry. You must be sick with worry. Please try and think positively.

    My first sheltie had cancer, and was given 2-4 months to live. He lived 2 more years. You just never know the power of love, positive thinking, good nutrition, and good care.

    I hope Heidi continues to improve, and eat. I know how important that is for the psyche.

  2. We are so sorry to hear about Heidi too! We will keep her and you in our thoughts!

  3. I hardly know what to say. It's difficult to type because my eyes are filled with tears as I share your pain and terror. I lost my first Sheltie to a brain tumor, so I know exactly what you're feeling.

    But know this: Most people, and most dogs, who get prompt, thorough medical care, as Heidi has gotten, survive for years after a diagnosis like this. You can help tremendously by maintaining a positive, even happy demeanor when you're around her. She needs to know that you're OK so she can focus on her own healing instead of worrying about what's wrong with mom. Share your feelings and pain with us -- we're all here for you -- but spare them from Heidi for now.

    Please, please keep us updated on how things develop, what happens with NEVOG. And do whatever you need to do to keep Heidi eating, 'cause she needs the nutrition to heal.

  4. Im so sorry about Heidi. Im sendng positive healing thoughts your way. How luckey that you would with great people who can help you. Diana

  5. I'm so very sorry to hear about beautiful Heidi! How is she doing this week? Is she eating? I think you were lucky to catch it and have wonderful people at work to help. Let us know what's happening when you can. Meanwhile, we all send positive healing thoughts to all of you!