reMISSION Accomplished: 1 Year in Remission

First and foremost I hope that everyone is staying healthy during this uncertain time with the Covid-19 outbreak. All schools in the state of New Jersey have been shut down at this point and I am teaching remotely from home. Due to the statewide quarantine measures that are in place, I did not take Margarita to any special stores or restaurants to celebrate this day. Once it is deemed safe to do so, I definitely plan to make it up to her!

1 Year in Remission

Margarita reached a major milestone: Officially a SURVIVOR at 1 Year in Remission as of March 19, 2020!

When Margarita began chemotherapy one year ago today, the oncologist told us that without treatment, Lymphoma patients such as Rita usually have a survival time of less than 2 months. The doctor also told us that with chemotherapy treatment, the survival times for patients with Margarita’s type and stage of Lymphoma is 1 year to 18 months, with many patients not surviving the 16 weeks of chemo. I am overjoyed and overwhelmed with tears at the same time as I type this post. Margarita’s bravery, strength, resilience, and demeanor through her Journey has been extremely inspirational and astounding. She is a SURVIVOR!


What does “remission” really mean? In Rita’s case, it means that tests, physical exams, and scans show there is no evidence of cancer. However, this does not mean she’s cured. What it does mean is that the chemotherapy knocked down the cancer cells to a level undetectable by tests or microscopes. Margarita’s next milestone will be in October 2020 (the 18-Month Mark). I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about recurrence, and the unknowns that lie ahead. However, I am choosing to focus on Rita’s accomplishments and the positive choices and mindset that helped carry her through the last year with hope-filled days. Moving forward I will do my best to have optimistic thoughts only – there’s no time to waste worrying about the things I cannot control… so onward we go on this Journey together.

Lessons from Lymphoma

  1. Rita is a SURVIVOR – there are far too many who weren’t fortunate enough to celebrate this – so CELEBRATE!
    • In my opinion, one year ago today when Margarita was fully diagnosed, she became a cancer survivor. She conquered each day with such grace.
    • Each day with her is a gift, so I made sure to do fun, meaningful, and memorable things with her such as her Adventure List. I made sure we celebrated in some way each and every day so that I didn’t remain focussed on the past, or on the disease itself, as I knew my negativity would effect Margarita.
    • Don’t be afraid to share your pup’s Journey – and your feelings about their story! Cancer is a part their history, but don’t let it define their future, or your emotional state. Have faith that God has a plan, and will guide you and your pup through this. I truly believe His plan was for Margarita’s Journey to help others.
    • Keep a journal or start a blog about your pup’s journey. Each post that was written after Rita’s weekly chemo treatment included uplifting things that happened to Rita including nice gestures from others and special food treats she had that week. Doing happy activities and sharing those moments helped me celebrate all things big and small with Margarita.
  2. Embrace help from others and pay it forward when you can.
    • It takes a great deal of strength, positivity, and resilience to support your fur-kid through cancer and not have a daily major melt-down. Let others help you when they offer – accepting assistance or gifts is not a sign of weakness. People who care about you and your pup are upset about the diagnosis and may find it healing to offer their help, or to give meaningful gifts.
    • At the same time, don’t be angry with those who can’t be there for you. Not everyone is capable of sharing their emotions, and not everyone feels the way you do about your 4-legged child.
    • Use your knowledge and experiences to help others who are on a similar Journey by sharing your story. If you hear of others on the same Journey as you and your pup – reach out and let them know you are there for them.
  3. Be grateful!
    • By no means am I grateful that Margarita has Lymphoma. I am, however, beyond appreciative for the people and pups that were brought into my life as a result. Both my life and Margarita’s have been enhanced by these amazing people in our extended family.
    • Be thankful for EVERY day and for EVERY moment you have with your pup. Feelings are contagious and dogs are sensitive to your emotions. A positive attitude and a happy heart transfers to your fur-kid. Choose to be happy for every second your pup is alive!
  4. Let your faith win over your fear.
    • Some days were very difficult – both for Rita and for me. Having faith instead of worrying about what was out of my control helped me get through the toughest of days.
    • I needed something to keep me occupied and focussed and that made me feel like Rita and I were helping others who were on the same journey, so I started this blog! Each chemo treatment post referenced a powerful and meaningful quote or mantra. These words gave me the strength to help Rita through that week.
  5. You can’t take care of your pup if you don’t take care of yourself !
    • Mental and physical health is important on this journey for both you and your pup. A healthy canine body has a better chance of taking a bite out of cancer. A healthy human body has more strength to carry a canine cancer patient on their Journey. Good nutrition and healthy exercise (to whatever level is appropriate for you and your fur-kid) helps keep the mind and body alert and strong. Stay optimistic and keep moving!
  6. Never, EVER give up!
    • Research and explore all doable options
    • Educate yourself
    • Stay focussed
    • Stay positive

Monthly Primary Veterinarian Visit

On March 3 Margarita had her liver values tested again – and we are thrilled to report that all values are continuing to decrease and get closer to normal levels! Margarita will have her liver enzyme levels tested again on May 4, 2020. Because her liver is doing well, Rita’s current doses of Prednisone and Denamarin will remain the same for now.

I am currently exploring changing Rita’s probiotics from Fortiflora to Visbiome, as our primary Veterinarian, Dr. Campbell suggested Visbiome may be a better choice for Margarita’s Irritable Bowl Disorder. In addition, I am actively researching a Holistic Doctor and Nutritionist in hopes when all calms down from the Covid-19 virus, we can explore those further options with intentions to support Margarita in the most well-rounded methods possible.

Things of Note This Month

  • March 4
    • Double Digit Birthday!
    • Click HERE to see the post of her birthday activities
  • March 13
    • One year since the detailed results came back that told us:
      1. the type of Lymphoma Rita had (Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma)
      2. Rita’s liver showed inflammation patterns that represented聽chronic hepatitis.聽
      3. Rita had a severe degree of inflammatory bowel disease, causing loss of proteins
  • March 17
    • St. Patrick’s Day
  • March 19
    • One year since we were told the details of Rita’s Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma
      1. Stage 4
      2. Substage A
    • First Chemo treatment 1 year ago
    • One YEAR IN REMISSION!!!!!!
  • New collar bling!

9 Years Old

Limoncello turns 9 years old today, March 14, 2020!

Birthday Breakfast: Eggs Benedict, blueberries, and raspberries

Birthday Dinner: New York strip steak topped with crab meat, mixed veggies, and roasted potatoes

Birthday Dessert: Lemon tart

Cello enjoyed a hike at Camp Ockanickon as one of her birthday activities.

Limoncello also visited the iconic Maple Shade Custard Stand for a yummy vanilla custard cone!

Happy 9th Birthday, Limoncello…We love you!

YMCA Camp Ockanickon, Medford, NJ

For Limoncello’s 9th birthday, she took a hike through Camp Ockanikon!

We are lucky enough to have a YMCA Camp Ockanickon in our “back yard.”聽 This 800 acres csmp is located in the heart of the South Jersey Pinelands.

This is alsp were I took Lager for first hike on March 31, 2016, where he was accompanied by his 2-legged cousin, James.

lager hike

Rita’s first hike was also at Camp Ockanickon on July 11, 2016. We took the same route as we did on Lager’s first hike!

File Jul 11, 8 30 17 AM

10 Years Old: Double Digits!!

March 4, 2020

We are so very excited for this birthday because Rita was lucky enough to hit double digits!

Margarita’s Pop helped this English Pointer celebrate by cooking her customary English meals for her birthday!

Traditional English Breakfast

Bacon, fried egg, buttered toast, bangers (sausage), and raspberries.

English Birthday Dinner: Traditional Sunday Roast

Roasted beef, roast potatoes, peas, carrots, and Yorkshire pudding.

English Birthday Dessert: Bread Pudding

Margarita went on a birthday hike with brother Porter and Cousin Clyde at Historic Smithville Park.

Birthday gifts were chosen by Rita as she shopped for the first time at Tractor Supply Company!

Margarita also helped pick out her birthday balloons at Binkley鈥檚 5 & 10 !

We have a lot to be thankful for and celebrate this month!

馃挅Happy 10th Birthday to our Sweet Reet!馃挅

Historic Smithville Park, Mount Holly, NJ

For Margarita’s 10th birthday, she hiked at Historic Smithville Park with brother Porter and Cousin Clyde!

Limoncello hiked here on January 2013:

3.8 mile hike in Historic Smithville Park

photo 3 (5)

photo 1 (4)

photo 2 (5)

Tractor Supply Company: Southampton Township, NJ

For Margarita’s 10th birthday she visited Tractor Supply Company for the first time!

Margarita checking out the Chick specials 馃槀

Picking out her birthday gifts:

Waiting patiently for her treat from the nice cashier:

馃懐鈥嶁檧锔忦煇金煇絋winning with one of her birthday toys bought at Tractor Supply Company!

11 Months in Remission

11 Months in Remission

Margarita had a fantastic month!

Rita received another box of amazing goodies from from a friend of ours!

Margarita’s Aunt Jen brought her a treat from McDonalds when she came to visit

Broom Challenge accepted! Rita joined in on the magic of February 10th… and voil脿!

Armageddon Brewery opened its doors, and Margarita was their first 4-legged visitor!

We had the most special Valentine’s Day ever when the Medford Lakes Police Department came to the house to help Sweet Reet check off another Adventure List item (take a ride in a police car)!

February 21st was one year since Rita’s splenectomy. While it may seem silly to celebrate having an organ removed, had her spleen remained, Rita wouldn’t be here with us today.

How about your own National Day to help celebrate 11 months in remission?! National Margarita Day was celebrated February 22nd.

At Rita’s last oncology visit, Dr. Baez (Margarita’s new oncologist) cleared her to do whatever activities she pleases. We have been incorporating longer walks into our schedule, and this month Margarita took her first hike since her diagnosis last year.

Margarita, Porter, and their cousin Clyde enjoyed a nice hike together!

Margarita has accompanied me at school many times this month. At least once a week I come home for lunch, and after all the pups go potty, Rita will head back to school with me for an hour visit with the students. The students are thoroughly enjoying her company, and Margarita is soaking up all the love, pets, and belly scratches!

February 27th was one year since we found out Margarita had Lymphoma. We are truly blessed to be able to “celebrate” this one-year mark, as we know many dogs are not as lucky as our Sweet Reet to have made it this far. She is truly a Lymphoma Warrior!

Monthly Primary Veterinarian Check-Up

On February 4th, 2020 Margarita saw Dr. Campbell and had her blood work drawn again to retest her liver enzyme levels.

The results were as follows:

ALT Normal Range: 18-121

  • Rita鈥檚 ALT Values:
    1. 1,155 (12/9/19)
    2. 1,195 (12/26/19)
    3. 924 (1/15/20)
    4. 500 (2/4/20)

AST Normal Range: 16-55

  • Rita鈥檚 AST Values:
    1. 146 (12/9)
    2. 146 (12/26)
    3. 56 (2/4/20)

As you can imagine, we were thrilled! Dr. Campbell instructed us to increase Margarita’s Denamarin and have her blood work retested in 4 weeks. Rita will visit with Dr. Campbell again March 3rd to have this test done.

Current Liver medication and supplement dosage:

  • Prednisone:
    • 5 mg in AM
  • Denamarin:
    • 1 tablet twice daily (increased from the prior 1 tablet daily)

Dr. Campbell also suggested that we contact Margarita’s cardiologist, Dr. Bossbaly, in hopes to have her chemo-induced-DCM recheck appointment moved up, and also to inquire about the possibility of taking her off of the cardiac medication, Pimobendan. The less medication Rita is on, the better…this way her liver is not overworked with processing medications.

I was not able to get a sooner appointment with Rita’s cardiologist, Dr. Bossbaly, but I was able to speak with her. Dr. Bossbaly wants Margarita to stay on the Pimobendan at least until the appointment in June because she is doing so well on it. Dr. Bossbaly does not feel this medication will have any effect on Rita’s liver values. She also said that she was concerned that if Rita’s heart disease got worse, it would have even more of effect on her liver.

Monthly Oncology Check-UP

I was surprised to find out upon her exam that she gained over 2 pounds. Last oncology visit she was 52 pounds, and this visit she weighed in at 54.8 pounds. This could be a side effect of the Prednisone, and I plan to discuss this at our next monthly veterinary appointment with Dr. Campbell. On exam, Margarita’s heart rate and rhythm were normal and Dr. Baez could detect a low-grade heart murmur. Rita’s peripheral lymph nodes were normal and she was in good body condition.

Dr. Baez said Margarita looked fantastic! I shared with Dr. Baez that I was interested in exploring nutritional options for Rita and possibly adding in some holistic care to maximize all the treatment options for her. Doctor Baez provided me with some referrals for both a holistic vet as well as a nutritionist. I plan to discuss this information with our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell, at our next monthly appointment.

Although I rehearsed in my head many times, the next part of my conversation with Dr. Baez was very difficult for me to say out-loud. After careful consideration of Margarita’s current level of liver disease, intestinal disease, and heart disease, Brian and I feel as though if her Lymphoma resurfaces, another round of chemotherapy would not be a fair option for our Sweet Reet. However, if those diseases improve, and she is deemed healthy enough, we would absolutely explore chemotherapy again as an option. In the meantime, we are inquiring about any and all ways we can support Rita in hopes to keep her in remission for as long as possible.

If Margarita’s liver values decrease with her next blood test, we are going to hold off on her abdominal ultrasound until June (which would be 6 months since her last ultrasound). If her liver values increase with the next test, we will order the abdominal ultrasound to be completed ASAP.

With the “1 Year in Remission Anniversary” approaching, Margarita’s oncology visits will also now change from every month to every two months until she reaches her “18-months in Remission Anniversary.” At that point we will then increase the time between oncology visits to quarterly, (every 3 to 4 months). Dr. Baez asked us to continue to monitor Rita as we have been doing, and to reach out if we have any concerns. Margarita will have her next oncology visit with Dr. Baez in April.

This Month’s Treat

This month Margarita enjoyed a small taste of Bacon, Egg and Cheese Tacos with a side of Mac-n-Cheese from TGI Fridays !

We are looking forward to March – we have some pretty amazing milestones to celebrate!

Blueberry Hill Conservation Area; Gibbsboro, NJ

Margarita and Porter went on this hike with their fur-cousin, Clyde.

Blueberry Hill Conservation Area consists of 134 acres of wooded area in Gibbsboro, NJ. It features both paved and unpaved trails that are suitable for hiking or biking.

At 192 feet, Blueberry Hill is one of the highest elevations in Southern New Jersey.

From the top of the hill on a clear day you can see the Philadelphia skyline off in the distance.

The Philadelphia Skyline is just beyond the treetops

There is also a great view of a quarry at the top of another hill.

Margarita checkin out the views from the top of the hill as we approached the quarry:

A section of the quarry:

Porter and Clyde stop for a play-break:

Cousin Clyde is so handsome:

We enjoyed this adventure at yet another hidden gem we never knew existed in our area!

Armageddon Brewing: Somerdale, NJ

We visited this hard cider brewery during its third open weekend.

Margarita was their first 4-legged visitor!

Armageddon uses as much organic locally sourced produce and honey as possible.聽

Their tasting room is dog-friendly, and Rita-approved!

“Desolation” was my favorite in the flight!

Valentine’s Day 2020

Love is in the air… or is that bacon? 馃挐馃し馃徏鈥嶁檧锔忦煡揝ame Difference!聽馃槣

Sending you all a 6-pack full of love! Happy Valentine鈥檚 Day!

I鈥檓 looking for a leash-free relationship聽~Limoncello馃挍


You must be my back-yard …Cuz I really dig you. ~Hooch馃挌


Hey, Ladies! Are your paws tired? …鈥楥ause you鈥檝e been running through my mind all day. ~Lager聽馃惥鉂わ笍


Well here I am. What are your other 2 wishes?聽馃鈥嶁檪锔忊湪~Margarita馃挅


Will you o-FISH-ally be my Valentine?聽~Whiskey馃挏(AKA Wish the Fish馃悷)


Is your name Google?….Because you have everything I鈥檓 searching for.聽~Porter馃挋

鉁旓笍 #2 Take a Ride in a Police Car 馃殧

With the help of Medford Lakes Police Department’s Chief of Police, Margarita checked off Adventure List item #2 on Valentine’s Day 2020!

A HUGE thank you to Medford Lakes Police Department 鈥檚 Chief Dugan for helping Margarita check off #2 on her Adventure List! (Take a ride in a Police car 馃殧). Chief Dugan was nice enough to come to our house to pick up Sweet Reet and take her for a nice long ride around town!

He also gave Margarita a MLPD patch and pin!!

We are forever grateful to Chief Dugan for creating this happy memory in Rita鈥檚 Journey through Lymphoma.

We would like to thank chief Dugan and the Medford Lakes Police Department not only for this kind and generous act, but for everything they do to keep our community safe.

10 Months in Remission; 6 Month Post-Chemo

Month 9 Remission Recap

I have to admit, at first I thought this past month was a bit of a let-down – that the elevated liver enzyme result discovered last month was a set-back for Margarita. I found myself losing a bit of hope – until I spoke to a friend who asked how Margarita was doing. When I explained to my friend what you will soon read in this month’s post, I quickly realized just how grateful I should be. Speaking with my friend reminded me just how lucky we are, as my friend had recently lost multiple 2-legged and 4-legged family members to cancer – all within a short time frame of each other. All of those family members lost their battle with cancer in much less time than Rita has been in remission. In addition, Margarita’s new oncologist instilled even more appreciation in my heart. This past month wasn’t a setback for Margarita at all … it was just a setup for an even greater comeback, as well as a reminder for me to put some gratitude in my attitude and celebrate each and every day!

This past month Margarita visited Chimney Rustic Ales , had fun playing in the yard, and enjoyed destroying stuffies in the house on rainy days.

Margarita also visited my school twice this month, bringing joy to both children and adults.

Internal Medicine Evaluation

Now just a little over a year from her first Internal Medicine evaluation, Margarita was seen by Dr. Peter Chapman in VSEC’s Internal Medicine Department on January 15, 2020.

After careful review of Margarita’s case, Dr. Chapman explained that he believes Rita’s elevated liver values are most likely caused by one of the following:

Dr. Chapmans shared that other less-likely causes of the elevated liver enzymes are as follows:

Dr. Chapman explained there are a couple of ways we could try to determine which of the above was causing Margarita’s elevated liver values:

  • empirical treatment
    1. Prednisone
      • This medication can help with liver disease
      • This medication also battles Lymphoma so it could help with Lymphoma – but would also mask that the disease is the culprit leading to other issues
    2. Cyclosporine
      • This medication has potential to prompt the Lymphoma to come out of remission
  • laparoscopic surgery for liver biopsy to gain definitive diagnosis
    • There is concern that even though this procedure would be less invasive than her splenectomy, this would still be a difficult procedure for Rita to endure so soon after everything she has been through in the past year, and given her liver and intestinal diseases
    • There is concern for anesthetic risk with Rita having chemotherapy-induced Dilated Cardiomyopathy
    • If this route is chosen, Dr. Chapman also noted that he would opt not to remove Margarita’s two mammary masses during this procedure due to the prolonged anesthesia creating a greater risk

Dr. Chapman also did a blood test while we were at this appointment and submitted a mini liver panel to see if Rita’s liver ALT value was still elevated. The test revealed the following:

ALT Normal Range: 18-121

  • Rita鈥檚 ALT Values:
    1. 1,155 (12/9/19)
    2. 1,195 (12/26/19)
    3. 924 (1/15/20)
      • Even though her ALT number dropped, 924 is still very elevated considering the normal ALT range is 18-21

ALP Normal Range: 6-160

  • Rita鈥檚 ALP Values:
    1. 447 (12/9/19)
    2. 569 (12/26/19)
    3. 444 (1/15/20)
      • Even though her ALP number dropped, 444 is still very elevated considering the normal ALP range is 6-160

Now to do our best to make the most appropriate decision for Rita….

Patiently waiting in the sitting area of VSEC for her appointment

A Difficult Decision

Although nothing about Margarita’s Lymphoma Journey has been easy, we were not expecting such a difficult decision in choosing which option is in Margarita’s best interest. After much thought and long discussions with Margarita’s medical team, we have decided to treat Margarita with Prednisone and Denamarin. Denamarin is a nutritional supplement containing the antioxidant Silybin used to improve liver function by increasing liver glutathione levels.

Dosages are as follows:

  • Prednisone:
    • 5 mg twice daily
  • Denamarin:
    • 1 tablet daily

It was easy to decide Cyclosporine is completely off the table since it has the tendency to bring Lymphoma out of remission. That part of the decision was a no-brainer.

We immediately wanted to know if Rita’s lymphoma has returned, as we are well aware that chemotherapy knocks the disease down, but does not completely rid her body of the cancerous cells. We knew that since the lymphoma originated in her spleen, the return of this disease could be difficult – and maybe even impossible – to catch in time. Although we feel the need to know if the Lymphoma is resurfacing, we don’t want our strong desire for clarification to override what is best for Margarita. Her needle biopsy with Dr. MacLeod was negative. Although the needle biopsies are sometimes not as precise as the full biopsy that laparoscopic surgery can provide, we are praying it was accurate. Putting Rita through another surgery will be a last-resort option.

If in fact we put Rita through the laparoscopic surgery and it was determined that the Lymphoma was back, Margarita would immediately be put on Prednisone anyway – so that is what we decided to try first. Margarita began Prednisone (5 mg twice daily) on January 21, 2020. We need to be vigilant in watching for any changes or additional symptoms since the Lymphoma has a higher chance of going undetected with the use of Prednisone. A recheck of her bloodwork to see if the Prednisone lowered her liver enzyme values is scheduled for February 4, 2020 with our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell.

Margarita’s medical team is quite confident that Rita’s elevated liver values are caused by liver disease, and not Lymphoma. We put our faith and trust in this team and are certain we made the right decision for Margarita.

The unknown is the most difficult part of this. In addition, just because it more likely to be liver disease is not a reason to be completely relieved. Liver disease could also be a life-threatening issue for Margarita. One thing we are certain of is that Margarita is a fighter. We are praying that whatever may be causing Rita’s liver values to be elevated is something that we can help her overcome.

The Start of Prednisone

Januaty 25, 2020

On the 5th day of being on Prednisone, Margarita began to exhibit some of the common side effects:

  • increased hunger, thirst and urination
  • panting

However, she also was extremely unsettled – very upset and pacing. We put a call in to our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell. She instructed us to reduce the Prednisone to 5mg in the morning and to stop Rita’s nighttime dose to see if it would settle her down. Luckily Margarita did not mind wearing doggie diapers, as her bladder was releasing beyond her control.

January 26, 2020

Margarita’s bladder emptied throughout the night without her realizing. She woke up Sunday not interested in food and acting lethargic. We monitored her extremely closely throughout the day. However, by that evening, Margarita was stabilized on the reduced Prednisone dosage, gained interest back in food, and did not need to wear the doggie diapers any longer.

6 Month Post-Chemo Check-up with New Oncologist / 10 Months in Remission

Margarita and I met her new oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Baez , at the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES) on January 28th. Dr. Baez entered the room, and immediately following introductions, smiled and said, “She’s a survivor! She’s one of the lucky ones – not everyone can celebrate that.” I immediately burst into tears. It was like Dr. Baez somehow knew I needed a little gratitude-refresher! I was overwhelmed with appreciation and happiness that we are approaching what will be one more year of being lucky enough to have Margarita in our lives.

Dr. Baez was extremely compassionate and thorough. After reviewing Margarita’s case, Dr. Baez suggested to continue monthly physical check-ups with her, and for Margarita to have an abdominal ultrasound when she reaches her “1 year in remission” date.

10 Months in Remission Check-Up with Primary Veterinarian

Margarita skipped this visit for the month of January for a couple of reasons. First, she had seen our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell, earlier in the month. Secondly, she will see Dr. Campbell in just a few days for the two-week blood work re-check on her liver values, where Dr. Campbell will also do a physical exam on Margarita. With Dr. Campbell’s blessing, we decided that it was best not to stress Margarita with another doctor’s appointment this month.

This Month’s Treat

Margarita enjoyed a few bites of Roadside Sliders and Sweet Potato Fries from The Cheesecake Factory !

Amico Island Park: Riverside, NJ

Amico Island Park is a 55-acre peninsula in Riverside, NJ. This park features upland forests, freshwater ponds , wetlands, river shoreline and meadows at the confluence of the Rancocas Creek and Delaware River.

There were several entrances to the beach and Delaware River:

Confluence of the Delaware River and Rancocas Creek:

Great view of the Philadelphia Skyline too:

Beautiful views of the Riverside Marina: