Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Heart Swell: A Tribute to Cooper

This is my first blog post in almost three years. 

You will all know by now the loss we suffered in last year when our 7 year old border collie, Cooper, was killed by a car on the road by our house.  The loss was and still is devastating.  I had intended this post for the anniversary of his death on Jan 12 - but I just wasn't ready to do it then.

The dog people of the world will know exactly what I mean when I refer to Cooper as a 'heart dog'.  Others may not.  This is the special dog in your life that touched you emotionally or spiritually in a way that other dogs have not done.  That does not mean you love your other dogs any less.  But there can be a dog that has a little something special that stands out to you.

The cool thing is that Cooper was considered a heart dog by both Cam and me.

I know Cooper was my heart dog because he made my heart swell on a very regular basis.  You know that feeling - you watch and your heart fills with so much love it feels like it will burst.  I would feel this heart swell during 'upside down time'.   In my opinion, 'upside down time' is what actually makes Cooper the heart dog.  He would lay on our laps upside down and sleep for hours.  Cooper had complete and total trust in us so he could be exposed in that way and know that he had nothing to worry about except getting loved too much.

I would lay in bed and stare lovingly at him, heart swelling (of course) and ask Cam 'do you think he knows how much we love him?'  Cam always said yes.  I would try to laser direct the heart swell emotion directly at Cooper - just so he would know.

My heart would swell watching him play with a stick or a rope toy on his own.  Even when four extra dogs were living with us and everyone was romping outside, Cooper would often beat to his own drum and while everyone else was laserbeamed onto a ball or Frisbee, he would be cavorting on the lawn with his own toy - tossing it in the air or rolling on the ground with it.

My heart would swell watching his joy playing in the snow and tossing a rock in the air & digging it out of the snow again.  There was no end to the ways he could cause my heart to swell.

And the heart swell feeling is one that I deeply miss.  I love all my dogs.  Molly, Neo and Trinity are my babies and they bring me joy every day.  But they don't bring me heart swell - at least not yet.  I have pondered on this.  Often these dogs do the very same things that Cooper used to do to bring that feeling upon me.

When I asked Cam about this, he was very matter of fact about it.  He said 'of course your heart won't swell - it is broken'.  I think he must be right.

But as the first anniversary went by, I am feeling hopeful that I will feel a heart swell again.  There have been a couple of times of late where I could feel a tiny little spark of the beginnings of it before it faded away.

So while I'm not quite there yet, my broken heart is on its way to getting patched up with the help of my other babies.  I am grateful every day for them.

I feel like I have turned a corner on this grief process, and I have hope that the heart swell will return.  I truly hope it does - God knows the dogs in my life today deserve it.

Cooper, I love you.  I miss you every day.  I wish always that Neo and Trinity could have met you.  I think you would have been great pals.  But such is the complexity of life in that if you had not gone away, I may not even have met them.

Life can be so confusing.

If you experience heart swell, cherish the feeling.  It may not always be there.  Hug your babies.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fun with Fever

Last Thursday when I came home from work, Cam announced that he felt crappy and I saw he had an elevated temperature so immediately called the cancer clinic after hours line and was told by the on-call Oncologist...  (say that out loud - on-call oncologist...hehehe) that if his fever went over 38.3 we must go to the ER.

So a couple of hours went by, and after we got 2 readings of 38.9 and then 38.6, we went in.  That was around 7:30pm.  At 11:30ish, they admitted him overnight and began administering IV antiobiotics every 6 hours.  His neutro counts were at 0.4 which is VERY low.

Here's what a visit to the ER in Surrey Memorial looks like:

Arrive at reception & check in, then wait in the waiting room for a nurse to triage you.  Go to the nurse to get your blood pressure & temperature taken & some details, then wait in the waiting room.  When your name is called, pick up your paperwork and make your way into the hospital to the Rapid Assessment Zone (ha) and hand them your paperwork - then wait in THAT waiting room (or more likely in a chair in the hallway as the chairs in the RAZ are always full).  Then you get called by the nurse to begin whatever round of tests they plan to do.  Then you wait for the results.  If you are very very lucky, there will be a bed available in one of the rooms.  If you are not as lucky, you get punted to a recliner chair in the hallway.

Anyway, that was Thursday evening, overnight and all day Friday for Cam.  ECG first, then bloodwork, then urine sample then chest Xray.  With his counts so low, they admitted him and gave the antibiotics.  The next morning, they did more bloodwork with the promise from the oncologist that if the counts looked like they were moving up, he could go home.  We didn't find that out until 4pm-ish....  so that was a long hospital stay.  The good news is that at 4:30 in the morning, they found a bed for Cam so he could get out of the hallway chair....

We were told that there was a 30% chance he would end up back in the ER the next day.  That didn't happen. HOWEVER, he did end up back in the ER last night.  Cam was feeling crappy again - a familiar crappy feeling from the week before, so we checked his temperature and it was 39.2.  There really wasn't much hesitation in going at that temperature - so at 10:30 at night, we launched on yet another ER mission. 

Amazingly, the ER was way less busy than the last 2 visits.  Everything happened basically the same except we got put in a room with a bed right away this time!  And the tests happened in different order.  But the bloodwork showed Cam's counts to be good (which we actually already knew from a bloodtest earlier in the day).  So the difference between last night and Thursday night was simply neutrophil counts.  So because the bloodwork was OK, the ER doc decided Cam shouldn't have antibiotics.

At one point, he was measured at 39.1 in the ER, and they said take Tylenol and go home.  It was very confusing.  But, we were happy to go home.  We arrived home at 3:50am.  GOOD TIMES!

But the entire ER experience last night was 10:30 - 3:30 basically....  so that's pretty good turnaround!

THEN, Cam had to go to chemo today.  We weren't sure if they wanted him coming in with fever, but they said yes and wear a mask.  So they sussed it out and decided he could go ahead and get the chemo - and then the oncologist prescribed more antibiotics. 

So, today was Cam's FINAL chemo - but it's a bit undercelebrated what with the fever and now they want to give Cam a white count booster which means more self-injections.....  And apparently they are $300 per dose!  Luckily he will only need a handful of them.

Theoretically, that should be it now.  And Lord knows, we both will be happy never to see the inside of the chemo room again.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cam is Cancer Free!!!

Just returned home from the appointment with the oncologist who reported that Cam's PET scan came back 'negative' and it all looked good!!!

So, no cancer is showing which means he carries on with the original protocol and now has only 2 more treatments - one of them is tomorrow.


Spread the word!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lots to report...

Yesterday was Cam's 4th of 6 chemos.  Just before Cam's 3rd chemo, he caught a cold and along with struggling through the challenge of chemo, also struggled with feeling crappy with a cold as well.  Lots of coughing & generally feeling awful.  He turned a corner around Wednesday-ish last week - but then the dread was setting in for the next upcoming chemo.

We met with the oncologist on Friday (normal pre-chemo appointment).  Everything seemed good to go.  Cam is participating in a clinical trial where they will do another PET scan after 4 treatments & use that scan to determine if treatment can proceed as planned (2 more on the current protocol), or switch to a heavier duty protocol & go for 4 more.  We, of course, are hoping for the former.

Unbeknownst to me until Monday morning, Sunday evening Cam developed a pain in his left ribcage area.  He had no trouble breathing normally but if he took a deep breath or moved in just the wrong way, it hurt a lot.

So off we went to chemo yesterday and in the pre-chemo check of symptoms, he dutifully reported that ribcage pain.  Everyone was interested in the minute details of this, and then the oncologist was called in to examine Cam.  The onc explained that it is not uncommon for cancer patients to develop blood clots and that the pain he was presenting is a symptom of a pulmonary embolism (PE for short) which is a blood clot in the lung.  Although he felt it was extremely unlikely to actually be a PE, he said he wanted Cam to proceed with chemo and then proceed to the ER afterward to investigate the pain.

The 'better safe than sorry' route in this case - so we resigned ourselves to a lengthy ER stay with the thought it would likely show nothing in the end, but in the interest of caution, away we went.

So, after an ECG, blood tests, chest x-ray and then a CT scan, at 11:20pm (yup, that's right) we were informed that Cam indeed does have a pulmonary embolism - thankfully a small one.  It is unusual for it to present with no other symptoms than the pain, but there it is.

Cam was admitted to hospital (at 12:30am) and given a bloodthinner shot, and informed that he will now need to be on bloodthinners ongoingly.  That news sucks unto itself, however, we also learned that these bloodthinners are administered via needle (as opposed to pills) and he has to give himself a shot every day from now on.  And these suckers aren't cheap either.  A 30-day supply is $1260!  Thankfully we have coverage for this.

Cam sent me home at 12:15, then I was able to pick him up this morning.  He basically had no sleep all night but seems to be doing ok now - just resting & grateful to be able to lay down without pain.

So now that the 4th chemo is done (despite the PE drama), he is now booked to have new scans to see how well the chemo has worked on the lymphoma.  So we will know around the 19th of Feb whether he continues on current protocol or switches to the harsher one.  I suspect that will be a stressful day or so....

So likely I won't make another post until we know what the frack is going on after the tests.

There's the latest!

Friday, December 21, 2012

How about an update?

 These pics to the left are Cam getting ready for surgery to remove the irritating lump in his throat.  That was Oct 24. 

Then the pathology came back to our shock and surprise indicating lymphoma.  We have since learned that lymphoma isn't really 'solved' by surgery.  So if we had some way of knowing this was lymphoma prior, there wouldn't have been any surgery - just the chemo to get rid of it.

But since we DIDN'T know, the surgery is what actually provided the opportunity to find out the irritating lump was cancer.

Of course, the surgery was very much like a tonsellectomy with all the soreness of swallowing that comes with that so Cam lost about 15 pounds right after the surgery - which he is quite pleased about.  He is now hovering around a weight he had wanted to be for awhile.  But he's not allowed to lose any more weight.

So then chemo started on Nov 26, and the 2nd chemo was Dec 17 (my birthday) and I was happy to celebrate it by going to chemo.  Anything that will get rid of the cancer is a good birthday present.

So here we are in the chemo room, rigged out to kill 4 hours.  It is far less boring than you might think.  There is always something going on - machines beeping, meds being changed, nurses in & out asking you stuff.  New chemo patients arriving to your chemo pod & getting quizzed by the nurses - and there is no privacy for that so we hear everything.  Basically, nothing has changed in the chemo room.
I spoke with another patient getting chemo for breast cancer.  Only 34!!!  With 2 young kids!!  This world is going to hell in a handbasket.... 
Cam has said today that he will be happy when these few months are finished.  I don't blame him, either!!  But this IS chemo week when you feel your crappiest, so I imagine he is suffering through constant 'blah' feeling and maybe hangover.  I can't tell you for SURE b/c he doesn't complain much.  So I am asking him regularly how he's doing and usually the response is 'Meh - about as good as can be expected - I didn't expect to feel like a million bucks throught his process'.
I am very proud of Cam and the way he is handling all of this.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Well, here we go again....

You may have noticed a change to the title of this blog....  YUP, add Cam to the mix who has taken the concept of sharing with his wife a little to the extreme.

Cam was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma on Oct 31 and started chemo on Nov 26.  Today he went through Round 2 of 6 chemotherapies.

This has been a very scary journey for me.  WAY more scary for me than going through my own cancer.  I always comforted myself with the thought that my cancer was removed when my breast was removed and all the chemo & radiation after that was 'just for good measure'.

In Cam's case, Lymphoma doesn't get dealt with by surgery.  Since the Lymph system is throughout your body, there isn't much point in cutting one area out as the cancer could be anywhere in the lymph system.  Cam's lymphoma is in his throat and colon.  While having lymphoma above and below the diaphragm is not an ideal situation (of course, I think no one dealing with cancer is really in an ideal situation), we are told that lymphoma is extremely treatable and responds well to chemotherapy.  And we also know that Cam's bone marrow is clear thanks to a very scary test he had done where they drilled a large needle into his hip & removed marrow for testing.

We are also told that studies are showing that lymphoma is NOT as responsive to radiation so they are somewhat phasing that out.  We believe the chemo is working for Cam as he already felt better with less problems swallowing after the first round.

Cam has a somewhat similar regimen of chemo to mine.  He goes every three weeks and has a couple of the same drugs I took.  He is undergoing what they call 'CHOP-R'. 

His next treatment will be Jan 7.  After 3 or 4 treatments, they will do more scans to see how well the cancer has responded to the drugs.  Then they will determine further treatment based on those scans.

Cam has been breezing through all of this with seemingly little stress and has been extremely brave.  I can somewhat relate as I recall not being all that stressed out when I was going through things.  You tend to adopt a 'gitter done' attitude.  And he suffered 'hangover' symptoms like I did the week immediately following his first chemo but then increasingly felt better.  He even ran some flyball the weekend after, but it turned out that was too much as he was pretty much wiped out for Sunday.  So these are the things we learn as we go along.

I was extremely stressed the first month.  Since my own cancer, I have been making specific efforts to reduce stress in my life as I strongly believe stress is a big contributor.  So I recognized that our situation will NOT be helped if I worry myself sick again so I have been taking steps to mitigate the stress.  Massages, counselling, relaxation CDs and deep breathing.  It is working - I am far more under control now than the first few weeks.

Of course, the week we found out that Cam's cancer was also in his colon is the same week that our pet bird got sick.  He got so sick that we had to make the decision to have him euthanized.  THIS was not something we bargained for at the same time of coming to terms with the second circumstance of cancer in our household.  So that certainly added to the stress factor.

But it's slowly getting under control with the help of friends & family.  Thanks to all who have provided pre-cooked & frozen meals!  It really does help take some of life's daily stress away not to have to worry about preparing something.

I have discussed with Cam the benefits of doing a blog.  I found my blog very cathartic and asked if he would consider one.  He is on the fence.  Of course, he is a far different personality to me, but, I really hope he will share his gift with the world - he is an excellent writer and his sense of humour should be shared with the world. 

So depending on what he decides to do about a blog of his own, I will later decide if I will continue blogging about him here.  I think I probably will, since I already mentioned my stress levels and also how helpful my blog was before.  So now that I'm feeling more stress, I think the blog would just be one more way to have an outlet....  Can't hurt, anyway, right?

So, Cam is napping right now as they drug him up with Benadryl on chemo day and I am heating the oven for a turnip carrot casserole....  mmmmm. 

That's the update!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

2012 Run for the Cure

It's coming up on that time of year again.  To be honest, I have been very lax in this cause for someone who has been so personally affected by breast cancer.  I had my own Run for the Cure team in 2009 and flogged you all for donations back then - but since then have not done another run.

Now my friend Lily, a fellow breast cancer survivor, has formed a team (The Pink Ladies & the T-Birds) and coerced me and Cam to join it. 

Of course, any of you who might actually be reading this blog knows WAY too much of my cancer history for me to have to repeat the story....  and so I will spare you all the details.

Suffice it to say, I know have a lot more blog readers out there than followers show, and so if any of you would be so kind as to donate to my run, I would be ever-so-grateful.

Here is the link to donate directly to my page:

As far as my physical health goes - so far so good. 

Cam and I have been having a great summer, and I went to my 25-year high school reunion in July and had a blast. 

That's all, and thanks for your consideration!