The role of radiation is not likely to be a cure. Spirit will have to heal his own body, just as we all must do. But the radiation treatments are buying him the time to do exactly that. My job is to support him as best I can in both practical and spiritual ways.

Spiritdog is now deep into the radiation treatment protocol of 18 days of radiation on both his jaw and rear leg. Today he will have completed treatment #10.

So far, I have noticed no ill effects at all – his appetite, bowel movements, energy level are all pretty normal.

However, certainly his experience has changed radically: no treats in the morning (to prevent possible vomiting when he is sedated prior to being irradiated), which he dearly misses, being doped up every morning with trazadone instead (requested by staff; he is a very energetic 90 pound dog who is hard to handle by the diminutive female technicians at the center – they love him but don’t want to be hurt by him either), then coming out of treatment pretty groggy for the rest of the afternoon.

So, all his days are different than they used to be.

Well, mine too. The heart of every weekday is spent going back and forth to Canton, Michigan, a trip I could now almost do in my sleep.

However, all this is about to take yet another turn as the side effects of the radiation itself begin to set in during the second half of the treatment process, and effects that will persist for weeks after the treatment has been completed.

What are these side effects?

I am about to find out.

My now deceased wife endured many courses of radiation (along with surgeries and chemo) during her 17 year battle with cancer so I have some observer background to help me out. But, of course, she never had to be sedated and, after all, she was not a dog (more like a fox! J ) either.

I feel in my heart we are traveling our best path to better health.

To pick up where we left off, the biopsy done by my local vet on spirit’s leg showed it to be a grade I sarcoma. Good news. If it has to be cancer, a sarcoma like this is not as aggressive as other types, so slower to metastasize – and grade I is much better than grade II or III, where the prognosis is not as good.

I take him up to MSU SAC, oncology section (Michigan State University Small Animal Clinic, a 75 minute drive north from where we live).

As to the tumor on his lower jaw, a needle biopsy done at MSU Small Animal Clinic indicates it, too, is a sarcoma but not clear about what kind. We would need to do a biopsy on that to find out.

More scans are done on his lungs and other organs and it appears the cancer has not yet metastasized so, at this moment in time, he seems to have two localized tumors.

I appear to have three choices: a) do nothing and watch him die in a few months or b) they can lop off a chunk of his jaw and remove the entirety of his hind leg (dogs get along just fine with three legs they say) or c) I can opt to do radiation on both tumors and see how it goes.

We are at a crossroad.

Options a) and b) are out of the question for me.

If I just did not have enough money to do anything else, I would have to let him die but, though I can ill afford it, I do have the money to do more.

As to option b), my heart says no.

I would not want to live without a part of my jaw or a missing leg.

Many others, both human and dogs, have lost even more of their body parts and not only survive but thrive, going on to live extraordinary lives. Bless them; I have nothing but admiration for those with that kind of determination, courage and love of life.

But I am not willing to do that to myself. I guess life does not mean that much to me? I can’t say. I just know it is not for me. When I stare into his eyes, in my heart I know it is not for him either.

Sometimes we get to choose which cross we want to carry. This is one of those times.

I choose option c, radiation.

It is going to be very expensive and time consuming, thousands of dollars requiring 18 daily trips on consecutive days to the radiation facility, which for us, is a 75 minute drive to Canton, a western suburb of Detroit (if the traffic is light; who knows how long in rush hour). And he will have to be sedated 18 times, day after day, which worries me.

Any wounds he has must heal before starting radiation or there will not be enough healthy tissue left to ever heal. I decide not to biopsy the jaw tumor, creating another wound that has to heal.

The tumor on his jaw is small but growing. The tumor on his leg is pretty big already. Since the biopsy on his leg left is already an open wound, we agree we might as well remove as much of the leg tumor as possible (no possibility for clear margins though – too many tendons, ligaments and nerves in the way) and leave the tumor on his jaw untouched – what’s to be gained by creating another, even harder wound to heal.

Time is of the essence. No point of in doing radiation once metastasis has occurred.

So, they do the tumor removal on his leg and now it becomes a waiting game.

Will his wound heal soon enough for us to accomplish the radiation protocol before metastasis occurs?

Will just have to bet it works out.

 

Below is a story excerpted from my book (still in editing, tentatively titled 11 Life Practices) to provide the background and context we need for what is happening now with Spirit’s cancer treatment process.

In my next post, we will begin reporting both the nitty gritty and spiritual aspects of the healing, treatment process Spirit and I will be using during this adventure in living.

One day I look down at Spirit’s rear leg and notice a lump, the diameter of maybe a quarter near his paw. Where did that come from?

I call the vet and set up an appointment to biopsy the lump.

It is cancer but appears to be a treatable one.

A few days later Spirit and I are driving to our walking place. He has his front feet firmly planted on the center console, his head right next to mine, mouth open, happy, interested, alert. He loves to see where we’re going and what‘s going on out there. He can also easily paw my arm, telling me to pet him. I begin gently stroking his muzzle. Suddenly, I notice another small lump on his lower jaw. My heart sinks.

This has now become more than my local vet can handle.

We visit Michigan State University Small Animal Clinic, the oncology section. After lots of waiting, multiple tests, I learn the lump in his jaw is cancer too. There is not much more they can do to achieve a possible cure, they tell me, unless I want to cut off his leg and remove a chunk of his jaw, then hope for the best. Otherwise, he has months left to live, they say.

Not doing that to him. Wouldn’t do it to me either.

On the long drive back home, I have plenty of time to think about how three of my last four Golden Retrievers died of cancer. About all that Dianna went through with it.

I stumble through the rest of the day and into the night, feeling like I have already lost him. I stare into the dark empty void of my future with terror, writing furiously in my journal, words pouring out of me as if he has already died, my love for him saturated with dread, grief and sorrow.

Suddenly I notice something important.

This story I am writing is the same story I have been telling myself for the entire time I have owned Spirit. All along, I have been thinking thoughts about the past (my other dogs lost to cancer) and about the future (fearing this dog is going to die of cancer too.)

Every day, in some form, I have been whispering in his ear, “I would be lost without you. My life would be empty, like ashes in my mouth, I could not live without you, my dear friend, blah, blah, blah.”

Once again, I am having my legs kicked out from under me, so I might learn what it is I have still have not learned.

“What we fear we bring to ourselves.”

We create our personal reality with our thoughts and feelings, with the stories we tell ourselves, for good or ill.

I already know this!

Dammit!

The light shines even brighter.

When I speak my fears into him, I am urging him to cooperate with the story I am creating. Does he understand my words? No. But he most certainly understands the feelings my words are communicating; feelings akin to desperation, neediness, dependence, of love gone astray. What else can he do but accept them, like a sponge sucks up water. It is what dogs do.

I feel a shift happening within me.

Of course. All our dogs die before we do, except maybe the last one.

Those of us who love our dogs like our own children take this on as a given when we hug a squirming little puppy in our arms for the first time. Our hearts tell us the pain of certain loss is worth it. Their death is just one of the many miraculous gifts they offer to us, helping us to be more present to the preciousness of life, to appreciate more, to be grateful more, to love unconditionally. They offer us a golden opportunity to practice doing what Love does.

They model all this for us with the way they are with us, and with all that life offers them.

In this moment, I see the shining opportunity being offered to me. I can forgive myself for my unconsciousness, then let go of stories that have been weighing me down. He, on the other hand, has no need for any of this. He has no stories resurrecting old fears or future anxieties. He lives almost entirely in the now-here.

So, now it is time for me to wake up.

The next day, after a long day and into the night of working through my thoughts and feelings, I finally wake up to what is. I smile in my heart as I study this beautiful animal, who is is sitting there in front of me, looking up at me.

How silly he looks, and how disconcerted he obviously feels, wearing this blown up plastic pillow around his neck that prevents him from, once again, chewing off the bandages wrapped around his leg.

“Tough, bozo, this is what you get when you won’t leave it alone,” I say, holding his head gently between my hands, staring into his liquid brown eyes.

He stares back into mine. He gets it and he doesn’t.

Just like me.

As with all stories in this (physical) reality, life goes on, with or without Spirit, with or without me.

Life is.

Spiritdog

Well, just found out my dog, Spirit, has cancer.

If anyone is wondering, I named the blog first.

So, when I picked up this tiny squirming puppy almost seven years ago, I knew before I ever saw him, I was going to name him Spirit.

Well, as often as not, I call him Spiritdog.

I told the breeder, I wanted the pick of the litter and a male. I also knew before I went I was going to let him pick me.

There were five males waiting for me when I arrived, all playing together in an outdoor pen. They were all at one end of the pen so I sat on the grass at the other end and waited. All of them came and went but finally, one came over, laid down between my legs, rolled over on his back with his little legs up in the air and looked up at me. (He still does this). In that moment, I had found, in this entire universe, my new Golden Retriever.

So, now I am going to do whatever I can to give him the opportunity to heal himself.

Our medical system does what it can to treat symptoms. With cancer (whether people or dogs) the process is cut, poison and radiate (new research is slowly changing some of this). My deceased wife went through all of it many times over during 17 of the 20 years we were married before she died of cancer in 2008. Not a bad run. She did it with remarkable grace, so much so I wrote a book about her and our journey together titled Dianna’s Way.

So, I have had some experience with cancer.

Treating symptoms never cured anyone but it does buy us time for the body to heal itself. Sometimes we win, sometimes not. But, we all die one day anyway. The real challenge is to hug life tight, live with joy in our hearts and, when the time is right, let go.

So, here we go.

I am going to use this blog to track the entire treatment process for Spirit as well as what I need to do to support him on a practical day to day level . At the same time, I will also report what we go through on a more spiritual level. using the very practices I wrote about in my book, 11 Life Practices.

No doubt, I will do some things well and likely make mistakes too. I’m prone to doing both.

Will, unflinchingly, report all of it.

Until next time, be well my friends.

 

Well, on June 13, my new seven week old Golden Retriever puppy picked me and I brought him home. I have had dogs all my life and raised all of them from this tender age but had not done it for ten years. I felt like a rookie all over again. Like any new mother with her first baby, I felt overwhelmed with a litany of new responsibilities and adjustments I had not thought about – or forgotten about

I had formulated all these grand ideas about separate vaccinations for each disease, natural products to protect against fleas and ticks – no massive combo vaccines or Frontline for me.

Then reality set in.

It is almost impossible to obtain separate vaccines for the principle diseases a puppy can get – they are sold in 4,5, 6 vaccine combinations and all the vets around here use at least a combo of four – so I caved and accepted the four shot combo (parvo, distemper, canine hepititis and adenovirus-2 vaccine)  – no leptospirosis though. At least not for this year. And, of course, since no one knows when a puppy loses its mother’s immunity so when the vaccines kick in effectively, Spirit is being given these vaccines four times, three weeks apart until he hits 16 weeks, when it is generally assumed the vaccines will be certainly effective.

A month later, he will get his rabies vaccine – I wanted it done separately mainly to avoid the possibility of a reaction with too many vaccines at one time – and to assure, if he does happen to have a reaction to the rabies vaccine, it would not be confounded by all the other vaccines.

At the same time he gets the rabies vaccine, I will have blood titers run for the antibodies associated with the other four vaccines to assure they were indeed successful. I want to know he is, indeed, protected. Next year, instead of any re- vaccinations, I will run the blood titers again. If the numbers look good, there will be no more vaccinations until the titers indicate he needs them. After the first year or two of good titers (just to build up a data base for his blood antibodies), I will probably recheck the titers every 2-3 years and hopefully, he will never need another vaccination (other than the required-by-law rabies shot).

As to my resistence to Frontline, well, when Spirit began scratching himself every 5 minutes and getting scabs on his body from fleas and I tried spraying him with my newly purchased assortment of essential oils – mainly cedar oil based – and the scratching did not abate at all (although he smelled like a brand new cedar chest) – and the vet confirmed a flea infestation. Being the chemical engineer by training who I am, I caved and gave him a Frontline Plus treatment and started vacuuming my house and washing my bedding periodically.

Within a few days, the scratching stopped, the scabs healed up and here we are.

The vet helped convince me – Frontline has an excellent safety record according to her (everything I find on the internet, pro and con, is all anecdotal anyway); she argued it does not go into the blood stream but follows the fat containing cells at the base of hair folicules along the skin – and it does not merely repel fleas but kills them (and the FL Plus kills fleas at different stages of  development as well) and my own research indicated that, if you choose to use an insecticide on your dog, Frontline is the safest choice out there. And, it lasts for a month.

Not only does FL deal effectively with fleas, just as importantly, it will deal with ticks – and we have plenty of them around here too.

Does any of this prove FL has no adverse effects on my dog? No. But, I watched him driving himself crazy with scratching, thought about how I would like living like that and said to myself, I am not going to watch this happen and not do something THAT WORKS to relieve his misery.

If it were me, would I rather live a long life constantly itching or a shorter life free of it? Simple answer for me. And this assumes FL shortens life. We really don’t know that either.

So, while I am at peace with my choices, I am disappointed I had to resort to these measures. I was hoping to avoid them.

Life

.

Golden Retrievers average life expectancy is 10 years. I have known some that have lived 15 years while treated with FL while my four have lived 11, 10, 8 and 8 years – so, maybe it is just the genetics of the breed and the breeding lines more than anything else. No one knows.

So much for my elaborate plans to follow the natural path to pest control for my dog.

 

 

 
 
 And so Chili, my last Golden Retriever, did.
 
As each one who has chosen to be in my life has.
 
Hurts my heart each time they leave. 
 
Why do dogs live such short lives>
 
So we can learn the minutes of life can be counted though we don’t know how many we will have together … and maybe … learn something about making them count.
 
So, we might learn something about Appreciation and Gratitude and Love.
 
So, we might learn something about the meaning of life.
 
They do all this without saying a word.
 
Amazing.

No Form Communication

 

First, a brief excerpt from my soon to be published book, “Dianna’s Way”:

 The spectrum of knowledge a dog has is not congruent with our own, so we deem them less intelligent. Fundamentally, I absolutely know this is not true. Truth is, we have barely a clue about what they know.

I do know, while Dianna lived in the Present almost all of the time, and I am an occasional visitor, it was Chili’s default way of being in every moment. This creates a wisdom we simply do not understand, do not even realize we do not understand, and certainly have no way to language. It is wisdom living in the language of the unspeakable.

All of us who love dogs and live with them learn to communicate with them in our own ways.

What I have learned is that, of course, they figure out what a few of our words mean – certainly the commands words we use in training, and words that alert them to activities they particularly love to do (“want to go outside?”, “go for a ride”, “want to go for a walk?”) and probably a few more. For them, just sounds (all words really are anyway) they learn to associate the corresponding activity, which is all I think it is.

But, in order of most impact, I think a dog responds most strongly to touch, followed by hand movements, followed by the sounds we make (our words) in that order.

These are all what I will call form oriented communication – they rely on the usual senses all animals, including humans, depend on for input data.

However, I have come to believe the most important communication between humans and dogs – at least I will say, between me and my own dog – is what I can only call no form communication.

I have learned over the years – and became particularly sensitive to it during the intense grieving period I went through after my wife, Dianna, died – my dog knows exactly how I feel and responds to those feelings accordingly (some practical examples show up in the book) – and communicates back to me with feelings of his own.

While he is very finely tuned to my feelings, I admit, I am not as adept at sensing his – so, he is keenly conscious at levels I am only weakly conscious.

Of course, it is no news flash human to human interaction contains tons of no form communication happening all the time but most of us generally do not bring this level of communication to consciousness – though we certainly react to it anyway (we may not notice it at all – or call it a “gut feeling” if we do)

This suggests if I am willing to become more conscious, there is an opportunity to communicate with Spirit (my new dog) at a level he understands only too well. Herein lays the possibility of an extraordinary relationship between us – with him the teacher and me the student. Maybe if I can turn down my brain chatter a little and open my heart and body, I might learn something.

And, is there even more beyond this? Is there the possibility of a soul level communication too? I don’t know.

We will see what Spirit has to say about it.  🙂

As I am heading down the home stretch toward picking up my new Golden Retriever puppy, ran into a snag with the very reputable breeder I am buying him from.

We had originally agreed on my having first choice of males from the litter. Then, through a series of unexpected events not worth going into, I was suddenly “demoted” to seventh pick out of eight males.

At first, I was dumbstruck. This felt so unfair and unexpected although, to be honest, I had been feeling apprehension about it all for weeks without knowing why.  So, my gut was working just fine. As usual, it was my brain that was not listening.

After hearing this news, for two nights in a row I had some really nasty dreams involving dogs (dogs being hit by cars, dog fights, dogs trying to kill each other). In dreams, “dogs” in general usually have to do with male behavior, masculinity and, in this case, anger, aggression. Usually my dreams are pretty nice – Buddha dreams I like to call them-  and I have learned a ton from analyzing them over the years.

By the way, dreams are very important and remembering them (best to write them down before getting out of bed) is even more helpful – but even if we don’t remember them, we are still being educated every night in our dreams. For those of you who think dreams are not part of a valid reality and/or unimportant, the “reality” you are living in while reading this in is no less a dream – our waking state being just another dream. [Read my soon to be published book, “Dianna’s Way” where the practical use of dreams are illustrated in daily life.]

Anyway, I woke up from these nasty dreams wondering what the heck is going on with me. Since I know most dreams are simply various projections of myself, I suddenly realized I was really angry about this puppy situation.

Fortunately, simply the act of acknowledging my anger rather than suppressing it cleared the way for me not writing the nasty email to the breeder I wanted to write. I cooled off.

The next thing that came up for me was surrender (again, this is also an integral part to the book afore mentioned).

So, I did.

Surrender, I have learned is not an act of will nor can it be a mental decision. It is an act of faith and hinges on having trust in the universe. It is either easy to do or impossible, depending on the state of grace one is in (i.e., connected to Spirit or not).

What I realized was Spirit, my new dog, was coming to me, whether it was my first choice in the litter or the last. So, I put the matter into the hands of the All That Is (my second favorite word for God) If God was not dog spelled backwards, it would be my first. All That Is is really the most accurate description of God because it is bereft of all the social and religious bullshit the word God carries with it, thanks to centuries of religious distortion.

As a fall out from this shift in point of view, I also realized all this breeder wants is the best possible home she can find for her dogs and her sense of responsibility and devotion for them is unquestionable – why I admire her so much and keep going back to her – this will be my third GR she has bred.

So, I emailed the breeder, asking her to do whatever seemed fair to her after reviewing our process together to date. If that was picking first or last, it was going to work for me in some way my ego does not understand.

She replied I could choose from five males and would that work for me?

Certainly.

Everything is still a go.

 I got up this morning with a new thought about Spirit coming.

I will be picking him up when he is seven weeks old near the end of June.

The thought was that he will be my last dog.

A very simple thought uncluttered by emotion. Sort of like, oh, the sun has come up already ……  and more like something I know, not just something I think. Something obvious.

This feels like a shift within me.

When my last Golden Retriever,Chile, showed up, I wondered which one of us would leave this reality first. That was a first time thought for me too. Well, Chili suddenly left on June 23, 2011.  

Now, with this dog, it is different again. If my intuition is correct, there will be no other dog for me after Spirit. He will be my last partner along the trails, fields and woods we will explore together.

So what? one might say.

Nothing monumental and yet monumental at the same time. We all die. Nothing interesting about this. But, what might we do about the quality of our living? A much more interesting question.

The quality of our living is deeply affected by how conscious we are of the preciousness of life, by our capacity to be in a space of Appreciation.

If Spirit is to be my last dog, then he is offering me an opportunity to embrace the limited number of minutes we will have together more consciously and at a feeling level too. We may not know how many minutes there will be but we do know they can be counted – they are not infinite.

This insight changes everything.

 

God, this dog is talking to me already and he has not quite been born yet.

But, soon. 

 

 

Eric (youngest son) and Chili, grouse hunting in upper Michigan

Well, decided to cave on my original intention of trying to create my own limited vaccination protocol for my puppy, Spirit.

I wanted only parvo, distemper  and canine hepatitis done but am going to allow the standard 5 way vaccine to be used for Spirit, which also includes para influenza (would exclude this if I could but not a big deal because reactions to it are uncommon and not severe) and canine coronavirus (often referred to as a vaccine searching for a disease).

Why?

All the vets in my area use only the 5 way (or even more) and they would have to special order my preferred 3 way in a 25 dose package costing ~ $400+. Since I would need but a small portion of the order, basically the rest would be wasted.

 Of course, I will also have to do the rabies vaccine (will do this at 20 weeks of age to keep it 4 weeks away from all the other vaccinations completed at 16 weeks).

I  will also do the lepto vaccines annually unless Spirit reacts adversely to it, in which case I will forgo it permanently – but, as mentioned in a previous post, will not do the first lepto until next spring.

 What I am not giving in on is my plan to not vaccinate my dog again in his lifetime unless the periodic blood tests I will have done show antibody levels indicate he needs to be re- vaccinated.

End of story