Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Before we left on our trip, one of our dogs, Holly, had been limping about. By the time we returned, Hubby told me she was getting worse and hardly using the bum leg at all. We needed to get her to a vet. Our regular vet wasn't in town, as is his routine this time of year, but I called him and asked for a recommendation in Anchorage. After a few more phone calls, we had an appointment and reservations on the ferry. While in the Big City, we'd do some back-to-school shopping, maybe even take in a movie or two. With Hubby staying home to work and care for the other critters, I packed the kids and dog last Monday and off we went.

We had no idea what was wrong with the dog, figuring she's tweaked something in the leg and it was healing poorly. There was a ridge along the upper part of her leg that felt, to me, like her shoulder blade was off kilter. But not being a vet, I let the professional make the diagnosis. And what a diagnosis it was. Within 30 seconds of hearing her symptoms and running his hands along both forelimbs, he stated he was 99% sure she had a bone tumor that was more than likely malignant. Blood work and x-rays would confirm that and tell us if the cancer had spread. If it had, Holly would have another 2 to 3 months with us. If it hadn't spread, amputation would be the way to go. With that and chemo she would probably have another year or so.

Holly is, perhaps, one of the best dogs I've ever had. She is one of the two dogs our girls have grown up with and truly bonded to, even though my husband and I had two other dogs when they were little. The idea of losing her to such an insidious disease made me sad and angry. It was no one's fault, of course, certain breeds are prone to this sort of thing, but I didn't want MY dog to have to go through it.

I cried as I explained the situation to my girls. Then we were all crying. We waited for the results in the reception area of the clinic, where a very kind tech offered us chocolate. They certainly understand their patients and the families. Never in my life had I prayed that I'd want to amputate an animal's leg, but that's what I did that afternoon. Because if the cancer had metastasized, even amputation would have been useless. We would have had to either put her down then and there or deal with her disease and make her as comfortable as possible for the next couple of months so she could die at home with all of her family around her.

Soon enough, the vet came out with x-rays. Heart in my throat, I had the girls wait in reception while I followed the doctor into an exam room to view the films. The tumor surrounded her upper humerus, making it twice as thick as a normal bone. You could almost see the malignancy pulsing from it. Who knew how long it had been growing there. I held my breath as the doctor slid the film of her chest into the viewer. No nodules or masses. Her lungs and chest appeared clean. That didn't mean the cancer wasn't in her system, but for the moment it wasn't present. Taking Holly's leg would be a good start to keeping her with us a bit longer and out of pain. And that's what we wanted most of all, to get rid of her pain.

Surgery was scheduled for the following day. We did a little shopping while we waited for the phone call to tell us she was done. I offered to take the kids to a movie, but no one's heart was in it. How could we enjoy ourselves when our best friend was in surgery? So we picked up a few things for school and home, wandered the mall, waited for the phone to ring. Soon enough, the vet called to say the surgery had gone well, that Holly was starting to come around. We could come pick her up and transport her to another clinic where there was a doctor and techs on site 24 hours a day. They would keep an eye on Holly over night.

When we returned to the clinic, Holly was brought out on a stretcher. She was still very out of it, though her eyes were half open, and her front left quarter was shaved and covered in gauzy bandage. The sight of my big, robust rottweiler-retriever laid out on a stretcher and missing a limb was tough to see, but not as tough as if we would have lost her. The techs brought her to our waiting minivan and we transported her to the other clinic. The folks there assured us that they'd call if anything happened, and that we were welcome to call any time, even late at night, if we wanted.

Even with that assurance, the girls and I were still in no mood to do anything but head back to the house (we were staying at my step-father-in-law's) and decompress. We did call that evening after dinner and told Holly was doing well. She had almost completely come out of the anesthesia and was sleeping normally. The next morning we called again. The tech and doctor were happy with how things went the night before and we were free to come pick up Holly whenever we wanted.

At the clinic, Holly wasn't too keen on the linoleum floor and was still a bit wobbly from the pain meds, but with help she made it out to the car. Once back at the house, she laid down outside for a bit before regaining the energy to hobble inside. For the next couple of days, we enticed Holly outside with treats and verbal encouragement. Each day she grows stronger and more sure of herself on three legs.

Back home now, after a ferry ride that ended with a scratched open incision and the donning of the shirt and sock of shame, Holly is getting on well. Though the pain she is going through with her recovery is pretty high, I think she realizes this is a different pain. A better pain, if that's possible, knowing it's short-lived. After she's through her current pain meds and antibiotic, we'll discuss options with the vet. Chemo may be in her future, depending on circumstances. But no matter what medical situation we may find ourselves in, this family is quite happy to still have its best friend around, no matter how many legs she has.

Holly wearing the tee shirt and sock of shame:

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back from a Fantastic Trip

Oh what a month it’s been! The journey to England and Switzerland with my oldest daughter and her Girl Scout troop was fabulous. Not perfect or all smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination, but when traveling for so long with so many people (particularly a gaggle of teen girls) you learn there is a grading curve for how well the trip goes. So overall, yes, it was fabulous.

We started by staying in little villages outside Colchester in eastern England. Our leader, Anita, had met with some Guide and Scout leaders (Scouts are predominantly boys and Guides only girls for most of the world) several years ago who invited her/the troop over for the Centenary celebration the UK was throwing this summer. One hundred years of Girl Guides is a big deal, of course, and the history of how the girls back then essentially crashed a Boy Scout gathering and demanded something for themselves is a testament to the inner strength I admire in Girl Scouts and Guides.

The people of Feering and Kelvadon were incredibly warm and generous. They put us up in their homes, fed us, and transported us to various places when we couldn’t take local buses or trains. They even picked the 14 of us up at a bus stop when we missed the last bus back from the Colchester Zoo one evening. (We missed *that* bus because the earlier bus we should have been on totally blew past us while we were at the stop. Yeah. Not cool, Mr. Driver. Not cool at all.) We also attended their local Centenary celebration, a day-long fair of sorts with activities, entertainment, games, and a concert by a local band as well as the winner of their “Britain’s Got Talent” contest. A great day of fun surrounded by 3,000 local girls and many new friends.

Our next stop was London, where we stayed at Pax Lodge, one of the World Centers for Guides/Scouts. From Pax we set out on daily excursions to do the tourist thing. The Tower of London, Camden Market, the London Eye, Westminster and the Parliament, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace are some of the places we visited. Yes, *some*. We were a busy group. Some of us visited London Dungeon, an attraction that highlights London’s more horrific history like Jack the Ripper, the Plague, the Great Fire of 1660, and Newgate Prison’s “interrogation” techniques. Scary but fun. We also saw “Lion King” and “Sister Act” on stage. Amazing productions! By the time we returned to Pax each evening we were exhausted but thrilled with all we’d seen and done.

From there we headed to Switzerland to attend sessions at another World Center, Our Chalet in Adelboden. The journey there deserves its own post, so I won’t go into it now. Suffice it to say, it was fraught with anxiety and cost some of us time as well as money. But we all made it to Switzerland eventually and had a blast. What a beautiful country! There is not a bad view anywhere. The girls partook in activities ranging from abseiling (repelling) to visiting a castle, learning about Swiss chocolate from an elite chocolatier to swimming in a mountain lake, and then some as they learned about the global themes the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) would be focusing on this year. On our last day in Switzerland, we headed to Zermatt, the small town near the Matterhorn. We rode gondolas up to the Ice Palace and were rewarded with stunning views and clear shots of the unique mountain. At 2600+ meters, the altitude was a bit much, but we loved it.

The train ride from Zermatt to Geneva Airport was relaxing and, once again, filled with breath-taking scenery. I wondered if the people of Switzerland see the beauty of their country or if it’s just *there* for them. Here in AK, I think we sometimes take it for granted that we live in such an incredible place, and I’ve promised myself to be more aware of just how special it is.

A late night flight brought us into Liverpool, where we got to our hotel as quickly as we could and went to sleep. The next morning, a group of Guides from the area picked us up in the coach (big bus, not the kind with horses) they consigned and brought us to the UK’s giant Centenary celebration situated on the grounds of Harewood House , one of England’s stately manors in the Leeds/York area. The bus ride with the Liverpool girls was loads of fun as we compared sayings, TV shows and music. They were all so fun and friendly.

At the camp, we were among over 5,000 girls from around the world (mostly the UK). We were given tents that we brought back with us, and the girls attended a variety of activities from crafts to the heritage of Guides to rock climbing and SCUBA diving. Anita and I even chaperoned an afternoon at Diggerland, a heavy machinery theme park. No kidding. Our first stop was at a ride called Spindizzy, where we rode in the huge scoop of a real digger. As the name suggests, we were spun around and got very, very dizzy. Though it may appeal to mostly little boys, our teen-aged girls had a blast.

In the middle of the week, the organizers had put together a huge event called Fusion where there were more than a dozen venues of entertainment, food and activities for the girls and leaders from camp as well as another 13,000 Guides, leaders and their families. Over 18,000 people attended this incredible day of fun, but the camp and Fusion were more than the activities. It was a fantastic celebration of the 100 years of Girl Guides and Scouts.

Throughout the week, I heard few complaints, virtually no harsh words, and was inspired by the wonder and joy of most everyone I met, girls and leaders alike. The closing ceremony was a beautiful wrap-up of how we all had come together from around the world and shared so much not only in our involvement in Guiding or Scouts, but as women and girls (mostly) who are open to adventure and new experiences, who can achieve so much in this world as long as we are willing to try. During the mass renewal of the Girl Guide Promise, 5,000 voices strong, it was difficult not to be overcome by the feeling of belonging to a very special group.

The end of camp and the return to the States was bittersweet. We’d been away from home for weeks and missed our families, but we’d also had the time of our lives. We made many new friends that I’m sure we’ll keep in touch with for years to come.