Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Appointment In Heaven...

"Noah, today is Chili's appointment for doggie heaven."  "But Momma, I'm going to miss him so much!" said Noah, as he began to cry.  "I know, Sunshine.  I'm going to miss him more than you can ever understand, but his body isn't doing good and you don't want him to hurt anymore, do you?"  "No, Momma.  How is he going to get to doggie heaven?  By the cross like us?"  "No, sweetie.  He's going by the rainbow bridge."  "Jesus will carry him, won't he?  Because Chili Dawg can't walk anymore."  "Yes, Noah.  He won't be alone when he crosses the rainbow bridge."

Tonight we said good-bye to my faithful companion.  His pain had become too much for him.  He put on the front that he didn't hurt; kept a smile on his face and continued to wag his tail, but he couldn't really stand anymore and he could barely walk two steps before he fell.  Ryan had to force feed him his pain medicine this morning, so we knew it was time.  I spent part of last night laying on the floor next to him as he tried to find a comfortable position.  I cried into his fur and thanked him for being a faithful companion and loving me unconditionally.  There is no question in my mind that this dog was sent to me from God, and he has been a blessing to our family from the moment he arrived.

Run free and out of pain, Chili Dawg.  I love you so much!

Our last weekend together

My heart is broken...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mission: Kill Barney...

I waited too long.  The mission was to have the Chili Dawg "kill Barney".  The first day, I let Chili and Finchy get a "taste" of Barney.  Then, I dressed Barney up in a PSHS Cougars t-shirt and took him to school for some "edg-u-k-shun".  See pics below (and a more detailed description here).

Then, I gave Chili the chance to "kill Barney".  Normally, the Chili Dawg would have totally chewed on him- he probably wouldn't have destroyed him, but he would have squeaked him many times and rolled on him, etc.  This was his response.

I already knew something was wrong.  He was limping badly, which for a three-legged dog already signals a bad sign.  He has been limping for about 2 weeks, but Ryan and I had hoped he had hurt himself running in the back yard or wrestling with Finchy.  He's also not eating much anymore.  I suspected that the cancer had returned.  A visit to the vet on Friday confirmed it.  The vet took x-rays of hips, and showed me a large mass in his left hip- it's basically consuming his femur and part of his pelvis.  The vet asked me if Chili has cried out or yelped in pain.  I said no, besides the limping and not eating (since his amputation he has gone from 83 pounds to 68 pounds) he has displayed no other signs of pain.  The vet was impressed with the Chili Dawg.  We were sent home with medicine to manage his pain until he lets us know that it's time to send him across the rainbow bridge.  It breaks my heart.  I knew it was inevitable, but I had hoped we would have longer than 3.5 months.  He's my best friend, my "soul dog."

Yesterday, I gave it another shot with Barney.  I wanted him to try it while he was on pain killers, before we sent Barney on to another tripawd.  He showed a little more interest, but I waited to long.  I should have let him do it the day Barney arrived, before he was consumed with pain.  "The cough" started yesterday.  "The cough" is the sign that the cancer has moved into his lungs as well.  His appointment with doggie heaven (what I am telling Noah) is getting closer, and soon I will have to say goodbye to the dog who stole my heart.

While he didn't get a chance to "kill Barney", I gave Finchy the opportunity, and he let Barney have it for him and for the Chili Dawg.  Good job, Finchy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


When the Chili Dawg was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (OSA) and given a short time to live, I never expected the blessing that the diagnosis has turned out to be.  Naturally, I was devastated.  We decided to amputate his leg to remove the pain, the cancer will return no matter what we do, but the amputation at least took away the pain.  The day after Chili came home a "tripod", we noticed he was bruising.  Not knowing if it was normal, I googled post-op amputation images for dogs, and a website popped up: tripawds.com.  This website has been a source of strength for me in this journey with the Chili Dawg.  I have formed friendships with people all over the country- our common bond being our amputee dogs.  Not every dog on the website has cancer, but they all have 3 legs.

At the beginning, the community answered all of my questions: how would Chili adapt, how do I not feel guilty for not doing chemo, etc.  Since then, I've been able to pass on what I have learned to new people who are experiencing the same shock that we felt when we heard the diagnosis.  We are able to celebrate our "ampuversaries" together, we are heckled by the 4-legged dogs (also known as monkey-butt dogs), and we also comfort each other when there is bad news- cancer found in the lungs, or our best friend has crossed the rainbow bridge and is no longer with us.

On Monday, a package arrived on our porch.  It was addressed to the Chili Dawg, from Abby.  I kind of knew what was in it, but I didn't know about everything that was in it.  On the tripawds website, there is a tour known as the Killbarney TourJerry G. Dawg (who is no longer with us) is the dog who inspired the Killbarney Tour.  His pawrents are the founders of the tripawds website.  Anyway, Barney travels in a box, with an amazing journal.  Everyone who has hosted Barney writes in the journal about their dog, stamps their dog's pawprint and puts in a picture of their dog.  Also in the box, each person contributes something of their dog's or a momento from Barney's visit- you are supposed to remove an item and then contribute something of their own.  For example, Abby's mom put in some items from Barney's visit to the San Diego Zoo.

It is amazing what treasures this box holds.  It took me 2 days to go through everything, and I am still reading the journal.  Some of the dogs Barney visited are no longer with us, and reading their journal entries have made me cry.  It is amazing the healing that dogs bring, they are truly a blessing from God.  If Chili Dawg had not gotten OSA, I would not have found this community and gotten to experience the Killbarney Tour. 

The Chili Dawg has not gotten to kill Barney yet.  I have taken Barney on an "educational" journey for a couple days, but soon he will get his turn, and then I will write our story in the journal and choose another deserving tripawd to send Barney on to.
All of the treasures

All of the letters that accompany Barney

The journal

Sunday, August 14, 2011

12 Years Ago...

Twelve years ago, I married my soulmate.  There are many reasons why I love Ryan, but this year he did something very special for me that showed me how much he loved me.

Back in May we got the diagnosis that the Chili Dawg had osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  If we didn't amputate his leg, he had maybe 30 days to live.  He was in a lot of pain and could barely walk.  The veterinary oncologist gave us our options.  All of them were extremely costly.  My heart was broken.  Literally broken. 

You're probably thinking, "He's just an animal.  Why are you that attached?!?"  What most of you don't understand is that Chili Dawg basically brought me back to life, and I don't mean in a resurrection sort of way.  After my brain injury I fell into a horrible depression.  H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E.  There are 3 weeks of my life that I have no memory of whatsoever due to the brain injury.  Then there are about 5 months where my memories are extremely fuzzy, also due to the brain injury.  I would get confused going home, I couldn't remember my phone number.  All the easy things that I used to take for granted were now difficult for me, and I became angry and depressed.  Nothing worked to snap me out of the depression.  No medicine, no doctors, nothing. 

Then, I got an email from Ryan.  Someone at his work had a friend who didn't want their golden retriever anymore, and they wanted to know if we were interested.  As soon as I saw the picture, I was interested.  We drove the hour and a half to look at this dog, and as soon as he greeted me, I knew that this was my dog and we weren't leaving without him.  His old owners wanted nothing for him (they had paid a lot of money for him from a breeder- they gave us his papers), they just wanted him gone, so we took him home with us for free.  There was something about the Chili Dawg (we changed his name) that broke through my wall of depression and freed me from it.  After he came home with us, it's like my fog was lifted.  My depression went away, and my anger started to as well.  I still struggled with my memory, and probably will for the rest of my life, but this dog got through to me.

Fast-forward to the cancer diagnosis and my broken heart.  After everything this dog had done for me, it seemed there was nothing I could do to help him.  We couldn't afford the amputation, chemotherapy, radiation, or bisphophatase.  Ryan was out of town, so he couldn't see my face as I read through our options and how much they cost- he was doing the same thing on his laptop in Texas.  He called me to talk about what we should do.  I wanted to tell him that I wanted to do the amputation, but I knew I would sound selfish, because we didn't have the money to do it, so I told him that we could just make Chili Dawg comfortable for his last month with us until the cancer moved to his lungs and we had to put him to sleep.  Ryan got very quiet on the phone and then he told me he would call me back.  While I waited for him to call me back, I wrapped my arms around Chili Dawg and cried into his back, apologizing for not being able to take away his pain.

The phone rang, and it was Ryan.  "I scheduled Chili's amputation for next week.  We need to do the amputation to take away his pain.  I looked at the budget and if we cut out some spending, we should be able to afford it."  Words cannot explain how much this decision meant to me.  Ryan knew how much Chili Dawg meant to me, and he was willing to make sacrifices so that he could be with us for just a little longer.  While I know that the amputation may have only given us a couple extra months with Chili Dawg, because the cancer will come back (even if we did chemo it would come back), I appreciate that my husband put my needs ahead of his own in making this decision. 

And that is just one reason why I love this man.  Happy 12 year Anniversary, Ryan!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Good-bye, Ms. Laura...

A few weeks ago (July 18th to be exact), our amazing speech therapist, Laura (I've posted about her here and here), told me that she was leaving the company that she currently worked for to go to a different job, and was no longer going to do Early Intervention.  Let's just say that I didn't take the news so well.  I fought off the urge to punch the wall (only because my children were present) and I fought off the tears until I was alone with the Chili Dawg.  Those of you who have never had a child that required services probably don't understand why I had such strong emotions.  These therapists are MORE than therapists.  They become like family members.  So when they leave, it puts a hole in your heart.  When I was done crying into the Chili Dawg (and on the phone to my mom- thanks mom, by the way), I pulled out my journal to get the "crazy" out.  Oh yeah, I don't post all the crazy on here, you should see my journal. 

Today, is our last session with Laura, so I thought I would post a little bit of what I wrote in my journal so that everyone could see just how special this person is to our family.

Dear Laura,
The day that Peggy told us that she was leaving the company and could no longer be Juliana's speech therapist, I was devastated.  I called my mom crying.  You see, she was our second speech therapist- the first one lated only 2 sessions and then said we stopped services.  As you know, Peggy had helped Juliana a lot and she meant a lot to our family.  Her leaving was hard for us, and so I was bound and determined NOT to let myself get attached to you.  But darn you!  You are just so likeable!  There's something about you that is just so special.  I knew it right awaay, and I knew we were in trouble, because I knew if you ever left the company while Juliana was still in EI, we were going to be devastated again.  And I was right.

Today when you told me you had resigned, a part of me already knew it was coming.  I had a "feeling" for a while.  But I still wanted to punch the wall & I came very close to doing it- so it's good that Noah and Juli were in the room.  Again I found myself on the phone crying to my mom while I had the Chili Dawg draped across me (I told you he's good therapy).

The thing about you darn therapists is that you become like family to us.  Sometimes I text you more than some family members!  you guys are special and whether you know it or not, you make an impact on our lives.  So thank you.  Thank you for everything you have done for my daughter, for my family, for me.  Thank you for standing up to Dr. Fishbein and writing letters for all of our doctor visits.  Thank you for checking up on Juliana when she was in the hospital in October and when she had that "seizure" in March. We won't forget you.

We love you, Laura.  Thank you for blessing our lives!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Momma-Noah Date...

All summer Noah has asked to go on a special "Momma-Noah" date; somewhere without Juliana.  I think with a lot of our days spent around Juliana's therapies he feels like he doesn't get enough attention from me.  So, I've been waiting for the timing to be right for a special date with him.

On Sunday, Ryan mentioned to me that "Kung Fu Panda 2" was at the cheap theater.  Noah has wanted to see this movie since he first saw the previews before school was out.  So, I put in a "call" to one of the kids' favorite babysitters to see if she or her twin sister (also a favorite of the kids) were available to watch Juliana so Noah and I could go on our date.  I got lucky, and one of them was available so we set it up for Tuesday (yesterday).  I didn't tell Noah where we were going, I just told him that we were going on a date.

Tuesday morning, Noah got up and made sure it was the right day for our date.  Then he went and picked out his clothes for our date- he wanted to look nice, so he chose a pair of dress shorts (unheard of- the kid is all about comfy clothing like his mom) and a nice t-shirt.  Then, the bugging began, "Mom, is it time for our date yet?"  "Mom, when's the babysitter going to be here?"  This was all by 7 in the morning.

Finally, it was time for our date.  We got to the movie theater, and Noah still didn't have it figured out (we don't go to a lot of movies).  Then, I bought our tickets and he got super excited.  I had a gift card, so I took him up to the counter and asked him if he wanted to pick out candy or popcorn to bring into the movie, and he looked up at me and said, "Momma, I don't want any candy or popcorn (what kid turns down candy or popcorn when their Mom is offering it?!?)  Could we just share a Diet Coke?"  Since he never gets to drink pop, I got us a drink and we went in and sat down. 

Noah LOVED the movie.  He did get a little scared by the wolves in the movie and needed to hold my hand, but half way into the movie, he yelled out, "Mom, this is the best movie, can we come and see it again?!"  And, he drank most of the Diet Coke himself.  When the movie was over, he said, "This was the best Momma-Noah date ever.  Maybe next year Juli will be old enough to come with us?  Maybe Auntie Jaime, Rori, Liam and Baby Brendan can come too?"  Ahhh, my sweet little man is growing up!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Special Kid...

My mouth tends to get me in trouble.  Not having my filter anymore makes it even more likely that my mouth will get me in trouble.  This past school year, I had a remarkable student that I want to tell you about.  He said I could write this blog about him, and I promised to keep his name anonymous.  Some of you may know him or have heard me talk about him.  He truly is an amazing young man who has risen above his circumstances.

We had just returned back to school after having two days off after the blizzard in February.  My students weren't in the mood to learn, and I was crabby with having to work extra hard with keeping them on task.  Towards the end of the period, I handed out grade sheets.  When I handed this young man his grade report, his face dropped a little and he made an innocent comment about how his percentage had dropped (it was still above a 100%, though).  Well, it was 7th period, and like I said, I was crabby.  Immediately, I said something dripping with sarcasm (I'm really good at that), and walked away.  A few minutes later I looked back over and the young man was crying.  Oh crap, I said in my head, this is not what I had intended.  Usually after I've been sarcastic with a student, they go back to what they were doing and we are fine.  I walked over and apologized for upsetting him with my words, but I still felt bad- I rarely make kids cry, and to me this did not seem like one of those instances where I would make a kid cry.  I kept going over my words (of course, I don't remember them now) and they didn't seem like they were that sarcastic or hurtful.

My guilty conscience continued to plague me.  I again apologized to him after class before I left for the day.  I could see that something was clearly bothering him, but he wouldn't tell me.  So, I tried one last ditch effort- facebook.  I sent him this email:
"I just wanted to apologize again. I was just giving you a hard time, and I didn't realize that you were feeling so much stress. I won't joke around with you like that anymore in class. I realized that you don't quite get my sarcastic sense of humor and I feel badly. Anyway, I wanted to apologize again. You are one of the brightest and hardest working kids that I have ever met and you have a bright
future ahead of you. I hope you realize how smart you are. You are going to do big things with your life. I believe in you
I received his response very quickly, and when I read it, I have to say it was quite unexpected.  He told me that it wasn't me he was upset with, and it wasn't me who made him cry, that he would have cried anyway.  He shared with me that right after he graduated junior high, his father murdered his mother (whoa).  He now lives with his aunt who tells him every day what a horrible and selfish kid he is.  She doesn't let him talk about his mother or visit the gravesite when he wants to.

Wow.  That is a lot for a 15 year old kid to have to deal with.  Did I mention that this kid has a 4.5 gpa on a 5.0 scale?  Did I mention that this kid is one of the nicest young men that I have ever met?  Did I mention that this kid has impecable manners?  The day I missed school because Juliana had her seizure, I immediately got an email from him asking how she was doing.

Wait, there's more.  Towards the end of the school year, his aunt's husband (his uncle) was killed in a terrible motorcycle accident.  I know.  How much more does he have to go through?  He and I had many discussions about God after class.  He knows what I believe and where I stand, but he is searching still.  His aunt takes him to a church, but he feels as if he is judged there, because his aunt tells stories about him that aren't true.  I explained to him that all churches are not like that.

The final blow.  The last day of school, he stayed behind after everyone left.  I used to let my students sign their names on my classroom wall.  I didn't this year, because I was informed it was going to be painted over during the summer.  He asked me if he could please write his name on the wall, so it would be like he existed somewhere.  I let him do it, and then he told me that his aunt was sending him to live with his Grandma and his Grandfather (who has terminal cancer) in Florida for the summer or possibly until he turned 18.  I asked him when he would find out if he was coming back.  He told me his aunt told him to pack as if he was never coming back.  I asked him when he was leaving.  He said 2 days.  He was upset because he had wanted to visit his mother's gravesite as her birthday was coming up (as was his- they are 2 days apart), and he wasn't going to have the opportunity to do so.  We said goodbye, and I told him I hoped to see him on the first day of school.

Well, I just got an email from him.  He won't be coming back.  He told me he will be living with a cousin, and he is no longer under stress.  No one is telling him that he is a bad kid anymore and no one is telling him that he is a horrible human being anymore.  I hope that he continues to shine where he is now.  This kid is special.  He works so hard and it doesn't come easy for him.  He doesn't have the best life, but he doesn't let it get to him and bring him down.  He's rising above it.  I'll keep praying for him, and I hope you pray for him too.  I'm going to miss seeing him when school starts up again.  This is one of the reasons I became a teacher, to experience something like this.  Keep your chin up, anonymous, I believe in you!