Devastating Diagnosis

There is no easy way to put this, and no back-story to tell…as this all happened so suddenly. This week it has been discovered that Limoncello has an inoperable mass that encompasses the entire right side of her head…including her eye socket & nasal cavity.  It has deteriorated bone, including breaking through the cribriform plate and extending to her brain. Due to the vast size, locations of the mass, Cello’s age, and her Dilated Cardiomyopathy, surgery and treatments such as chemo, radiation, or CyberKnife are not options.

There were zero… ZERO signs. Limoncello had been playing in the yard, swimming, going on walks, eating normally, acting normally and had no abnormalities in her physical features … She had her annual cardiology exam just a couple of weeks ago and not only did her cardiologist give her a gleaming report, a comprehensive bloodwork panel returned with near perfect results. …ZERO signs… until…about a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that Cello’s right eyelid looked a bit “droopy.”  In the following days I noticed that the third eyelid was elevated.  She was seen by our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell, just days after the observation with our thought being that she somehow irritated her eye, or had an infection.  At this point, we noticed that her eyeball now seemed to be protruding. Dr. Campbell examined her and placed her on antibiotics in the event she may have an infection/abscess behind the eye.  We did discuss the possibility of a retrobulbar mass. Dr. Campbell suggested that we secure an appointment with an eye specialist as soon as possible.

August 29, 2023: Ophthalmologist Appointment

Luckily we were able to schedule an appointment on 8/29/23 with Dr. Shelby Reinstein, board-certified ophthalmologist at Vet Vision Center, located about an hour from our home. Upon exam, Dr. Reinstein ruled out two of the three common eye socket abnormalities: (1) an abscesses (infection), and (2) cellulitis (inflammation)….with all her observations leading toward a retrobulbar tumor (mass in the eye socket).  Dr. Reinstein also noted that now Cello’s right nostril had decreased airflow.  It was recommended that we get a CT scan to see exactly what we are dealing with.

Note: the growth on her left bottom eyelid has been deemed in the past to be benign and not bothersome

August 30, 2023: Appointment with Internal Medicine Doctor and CT Scan

Cello arriving to Blue Pearl for her CT scan

We were fortunate to get an appointment the very next day with the internal medicine doctor who has cared for both Margarita and Porter in the past.  On 8/30/23 Limoncello was examined by Dr. Peter Chapman at Blue Pearl Pet Hospital in Levittown, PA, who also agreed that all signs pointed to a mass that was most likely malignant. A CT scan was performed that afternoon that revealed the suspected mass behind Cello’s eye was only the tip of the iceberg.  Bones are deteriorated, her right nostril is mostly blocked, and not only does the mass encompass the entire right side of her head, it has broken through the cribriform plate and has reached her brain. Due to the initial findings during the CT scan, we opted not to obtain a biopsy. Using a scope to secure a biopsy would have been too invasive and we did not want to put Cello’s body through any more stress.  In addition, it was taken into consideration by both us and Cello’s medical team that no treatment options meant that unfortunately a biopsy would not provide us with any additional beneficial information. 

We are still waiting on the finalized results from the CT scan. We have been told that it could take a couple of days to a couple of weeks for us to receive it. We are reluctantly anxious to read the report… Although we want to learn every detail that we can, we also know that it may not provide any positive news.

(Left): One of the images from the CT scan. View is from the back of Cello’s head. (Right): Shows the approximate extent of the mass that is visible

We are grateful that doctors determined Cello is not yet in any pain or discomfort.  With all traditional treatments off the table, Cello will be closely monitored until she lets us know she is ready to make her journey over the rainbow bridge. Doctors have given us signs to look for which include but are not limited to: recurring nose bleeds, seizures, difficulty eating, and labored breathing.  Cello will also have regular check-ups with our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell.  The time she has left with us is unknown but it is only estimated to be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

No Options for Traditional Treatment Plans…So What Do We Do NOW?

To say we are completely shocked and devastated is an understatement.  Again – there have been ZERO signs. Cello is otherwise healthy – she displayed no symptoms – and we now have no way to try and stop this. We feel powerless with no options to help her.  Aside now from the look of her right eye, you would never know she had a mass that took over the entire right side of her head. She is eating and drinking normally, her breathing sounds typical, she is still bossing the pack around and is physically active.

I have never been one to ever accept hearing “there is nothing we can do.” When protecting our fur-kids, we NEVER go down without a fight – but how do you battle something that has already won? We are by no means surrendering, but it seems this silent killer has left us with no choice but to focus our efforts on helping Cello live her remaining days to the fullest.

Cello will begin some medications and supplements to help support her through her remaining time. Supportive measures will be introduced slowly and in stages. The start of her schedule will look something like this:

  • Immediately:
    • Gabapentin
      • anticonvulsant drug used to treat chronic pain caused by certain cancers. It is also used to prevent seizures
    • Carprofen
      • a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)that has been known to relieve the pain associated with certain cancers and reduces swelling and inflammation.
  • In 7 days:
    • Yunnan Baiyao
      • helps to stop bleeding, provides pain relief, and helps to reduce inflammation
  • In 14 days:
    • CAS Options or I’m-Yunity
      • supports immune health

In addition to the above, Cello will have coconut oil added to her diet. Coconut oil helps to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. It contains lauric acid, which has also been known to have anti-cancer properties.

We are doing our best to push the anger and sadness away and to shift our focus to ensuring that our actions and demeanor are positive and hopeful, as we know that Cello will feed off of our energy.  We know that we are blessed to have had Limoncello in our lives for 12 years when so many other dogs and PAWrents have been less fortunate. Although it is difficult to see it that way in the moment, above all for Cello’s sake, we will find the strength to remain positive and celebrate any and all additional time with her that we will be blessed with. She has led us on so many amazing journeys that we would never have embarked on had it not been for her – now it is our turn to walk beside her on this new and difficult path. We intend to make every second count and ensure that every day is viewed as a chance to make a new memory that will be cherished always. 

The Well-Being of Our Pack

There is no doubt Limoncello is our pack’s leader. There are two pack members in particular who are extremely bonded to her. They look to follow her every move, and when they aren’t in motion, they are laying intertwined with her. We have already begun putting methods and schedules into place in hopes to make their transition a bit less difficult when the dreaded shift in their pack and home occurs.

We originally had a dock diving trip planned for this weekend that we canceled. We wish all of our friends a successful weekend as they strive to obtain invitations to the DockDogs World Championships. We will be cheering you all on from NJ. As you know from the past – we have an “All for one, one for all” mantra for our pack. As of now, all future long-distance dock diving trips/competitions for our team are on hold so that we may focus on celebrating time with Limoncello, remain in close proximity to her medical team, and center our attention on the well-being of our pack during this difficult time.

August 31, 2023

Limoncello enjoyed sunbathing in the yard and a walk in our neighborhood.

Our Sincere Gratitude

Comfort food dropped off to our house by great friends

Friends and family have already offered support on so many levels…post comments, private messages, phone calls, texts, dropping off comfort food, offers to cancel plans and spend the weekend with us…all reminders of just how truly blessed we are to have you all in our lives – and for the majority of you – it’s Limoncello we have to thank for leading us to cross paths with you in the countless adventures she has taken us on. We are so appreciative for all of you, and would ask that you please continue to offer up those prayers and send along those good vibes for Limoncello.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

1 Week Post Diagnosis

It’s The Memories We Make with Others That Are Forever Written In Our Hearts

When I began this blog about 10 years ago, it was meant solely to be a collection of all memories that were created with Limoncello. What it has become is far more than I ever imagined. It’s by no means a “famous” website – what I mean is that this blog has not only held each and every memory that Cello created in our lives, it has also become a means to help others by sharing information and experiences. It has been a gateway into a whole new family of amazing people and pups that I am now connected with – all because of Limoncello. My mission is to continue to help as many people and pups as I can as I promote my compassion for animals, share activities that strengthen the bond between humans and their fur-kids, and document experiences with our pack.

I am disappointed in myself for falling behind on this blog, (about 2-plus years behind to be exact!) …but writing about Limoncello’s recent diagnosis as prompted me to remember the whole reason I began this journal of posts in the first place:  to share all the memories that have been gifted to me by Limoncello – and now ALL of my fur-kids.  It’s important to me to be able to look back on just how blessed I am to be spending a part of my life with each and every special 4-legged angel included in this blog, and it has become even more important to me to have a diary of adventures and experiences that can easily be accessed to help others when needed….whether it be as simple as sharing a dog friendly establishment, or offering support with documented information on diseases and injuries that PAWrents find difficult to navigate through.

So I apologize in advance for any of you who subscribe directly to the blog for the abundance of email alerts that (hopefully!) are to come as I try and buckle-down, back-date posts, and publish “missed memories” in an attempt to catch the blog up to date.

Bucket List A Medley of Memories in the Making

There’s nothing wrong with making “Bucket List”… In fact, I think it’s actually a great idea…but when I decided to create a list for Margarita, I chose to call it an Adventure List because “Bucket List” had me more focused on the fact she was dying, instead of concentrating on celebrating her LIVING days . Although I was blessed to have completed 8 out of the 10 adventures before she had passed, it wound up adding to my heartbreak that the list remained with “adventures that would never be”…

…So when Brian and I spoke about doing some extra special things for Limoncello, we decided that a spontaneous Memories in the Making would be a nice choice. Instead of making a list and stressing out about trying to complete everything on it, each day (or each week), we will choose to do something special with Limoncello. That “something” could be as simple as individual time of sitting with her on the couch or the porch, or as elaborate as a planned overnight trip. Whatever hits us as a good idea in-the-moment will be the memory that makes the list. The list will be ongoing…in the making…until Limoncello decides it is her time to cross the rainbow bridge.

1 Week Post-Diagnosis (August 30, 2023)

It took us a quite a few days to get our heads on (somewhat) straight….but even still, we managed to squeeze quite a bit into the last week! Due to schedules and life getting in the way at times, we know we won’t always be able to create such an abundance of memories each week, but we are grateful for the memory-packed week that we had with our special girl!

August 31, 2023

Sun bathing and neighborhood walk

September 1, 2023

Watching the Phillies game with brother Hooch

September 2, 2023

1/2 mile hike at a local park

Picnic in a local park

September 3, 2023

Making a memory box.

I save special items throughout each dog’s life. I have the items in basic cardboard boxes until I make a “fancy” box for each dog. Although this was not the situation that I wanted to prompt me to do Limoncello’s memory chest, I am glad it is finished and that all her special things are inside for us to cherish always. I bought the box at Joanne Fabric store, did a pencil transfer of Limoncello’s name, used a wood burner to burn her name into the wood, then stained it with “Lemon” (yes, that was the actual name of the color!) tinted stain by Minwax (so excited that I found stain that can be colored!!)… and lastly, I put a couple coats of clear polyurethane over the stain to protect it.

September 4, 2023

Pool PAWty

From the time Cello was a puppy, she loved to just lay and chill in a baby pool and would often try to lay in any puddles she could find along our walks!

When life gives you lemons…make limoncello (literally).

It has been quite a while since a batch of Tommy D’s Limoncello has been made. A batch has now been started and we plan to try and always have some on-hand from this day forward.

September 5, 2023

Duck, Duck, Jeep with cousin James

Cello got ducked with her very own stuffie-duck, and off we went to duck some Jeeps!

September 6, 2023

Ice Cream

“I’ll stop the world and melt with you.” This week’s heat wave was a great opportunity to have a cold treat. Our local ice cream shop, Sand Stand, offers dog-friendly pup cups! It was dark by the time we got there today, so the pictures aren’t the best but it sure was fun to watch her enjoy her ice cream!

We May Not Have A Lot of Ammunition, But We Surely Are Not Going Down Without at Least Trying to Defend Cello

I’m going to be honest…I had a lot of anger with this diagnosis…A LOT. I couldn’t fathom how this cancer took over so much of Limoncello and went undetected in bloodwork and in our daily observations….how she is otherwise healthy aside from this vast tumor taking over half her head. I don’t ever like to accept the notion that there is nothing we can do….but I had to also come to grips with the devastating diagnosis at hand. Through tears of sadness and anger I realized it is my reality that I cannot save the sweet soul who single-handedly rescued us…that’s a hard pill to swallow.

We may not have a lot of ammunition, but we surely are not going down without some kind of a fight…even if that “fight” is geared more towards defending Cello with the only options we have. We will battle daily for Limoncello to be sure she is happy, content, and comfortable for all of her remaining days. We will fight to prolong her quality of life.

Our goal at this point is to support Limoncello’s immune system with anti-tumor, anti-cancer, and antioxidant benefits. In conjunction with the traditional medications Cello is on (Gabapentin and Carprofen), the finalized list of holistic options we chose to incorporate for Limoncello (with he help of her medical team of course) are as follows:

  • Organic turkey tail mushrooms
    • Antioxidant properties, boosts gut health, and known to have cancer-fighting properties
  • Yunnan Baiyao
    • helps to control bleeding
  • Pet Wellbeing’s Life Gold
    • Immune system support and antioxidant protection for dogs with cancer
  • Organic mushroom blend (Reishi, Cordyceps, Maitake, Phellinus, Shiitake, Chaga, turkey tail)
    •  enhance immune, liver and kidney function
  • Organic coconut oil
    • helps to boost the immune system and aids in reducing inflammation. The lauric acid in coconut oil is also known to have anti-cancer properties.

Support from Others is Not Just an Important Thing, It’s EVERYthing

The outpour of support has been absolutely amazing. Brian and I appreciate every post comment, phone call, gift, text, and private message. This just makes us that much more grateful for Limoncello, who is responsible for the fact that we have this huge community of support and love.

Our Primary Veterinarian

I’m sure everyone thinks their vet is the best… but honestly…OUR VET IS THE BEST! Dr. Campbell is the most brilliant, caring, compassionate (and most patient!) person I know. With each issue that arises, we learn so much from Dr. Campbell. We always have (a ton of!) questions and we are so grateful for the time, efforts, and love this saint-of-a-woman provides to our family!

Care package

Great friends of ours, who we met at Limoncello’s first-ever dock diving competition, recently lost their amazing dog to cancer. Limoncello received a box filed with some items that helped our friends’ pup when he was on his cancer journey.

Visitors and Cello-Yellow Flowers

Family members stopped by to spend some time with Cello and each brought a bunch of Cello-yellow flowers.

Connected to Author Penny Miller for Holistic Approach Advice

A great friend, who I met through Instagram in sharing Cello’s DCM diagnosis, connected me with this author, who contacted me directly to share her advice on hospice care and holistic options.

Card Expressing Support

Close friends – you guessed it – we met because of Limoncello – – sent a card of support even though they check in with us regularly. We are truly blessed!

Shots of Limoncello at the Competition We Had to Skip

We received a video from great friends at the competition in Ohio doing a shot of limoncello for Limoncello. As we watched the video, we smiled….and we cried… what an amazing group of people! We were so upset not to be there. Friends sent us pictures and videos all weekend long to make us feel like we were right there with them as we cheered them on from New Jersey. This group of people right here is the true meaning of community. Limoncello prompted us to get involved in dock diving…and having our DockDogs family in our lives has been life-changing for us. We are forever grateful!

Session with an animal communicator

What an amazing gift! We have never done something like this before. An absolutely awesome couple we were fortunate enough to meet through Limoncello thoughtfully and generously gifted us a session with an animal communicator whose expertise is having insight into the physical body (medical intuition). Our session was extremely cathartic during this very difficult time.

A Lemon Themed Mani-Pedi for Cello

An amazing friend had her manicure and pedicure done …Limoncello style in an effort to spark up both conversation and more prayers for our girl!

With sincere gratitude: Thank you ALL for the love and support you continue to extend to Limoncello, and to our family

Limoncello 9/6/2023

2 Weeks Post-Diagnosis (8/30/23)

Weekly PUPdate

Another week to be thankful for – – Limoncello continues to reveal no symptoms other than her right eye looking slightly irregular. Her eye does not look any worse, her activity level is normal, and she is eating and drinking as usual. Tuesday she will have a check-up with her primary veterinarian.

We Don’t Remember Days, We Remember Moments

~Cesare Pavese

I never really thought about it…but you never know when you are making memories, do you? Limoncello’s diagnosis made me realize that without even being aware of it – everything we do in our daily schedule is a live recording of memories-in-the-making. It’s easy to get wrapped up into social media and focusing on “post-worthy” events/photos/videos that often overpower other important moments in life. Sometimes life is just to busy to realize that everyday activities that appear to mean nothing at the time, actually turn out to mean EVERYTHING when a devastating diagnosis is delivered. If there is even a positive that can come out of a situation like this, it’s that it sure does make you slow down and focus on being grateful for the routine things that tend to go unnoticed because they become ordinary, unremarkable activities…it makes you appreciate each and every moment in your day – because all those little things…all those non-post-worthy moments…are about to become the most important and significant memories you’ll have with those you love…

Memorable Moments Made This Week

Lake Time

We were given the “go-ahead” to let Limoncello swim in the lake if she enters at her own will. Although we will miss tossing a toy for her, we are grateful that she can still enjoy one of her most-loved activities.

Family Visits

Limoncello is enjoying being the center of attention when visitors come to see her.

Breakfast at Evergreen Dairy Bar

Any M. Night Shyamalan fans out there? One of his latest movies, “Knock at the Cabin” was filmed extremely close to us here in the Pine Barrens. One of the scenes towards the end of the movie was shot at one of our favorite breakfast and ice cream spots: Evergreen Dairy Bar. For the movie, Evergreen’s name was changed to “Angie’s Roadside Diner.”

Limoncello enjoyed a scrambled egg with bacon.

Pointer Piles on the Couch

Shopping at Tractor Supply

Walks Around the Neighborhood

Dollar Tree Find

I stopped into a dollar store for something totally unrelated, and my eye caught something yellow! Brian and I always enjoy a glass of wine at the end of each night. These lemon themed wine glasses will help us remember to toast to Cello each night

Cheering on the Philadelphia Phillies

Porch Sittin’

Car Ride Around Town

Thank You For Accompanying Cello On Her Journey

Good company on a difficult journey … it lessens our fear and fills our minds and hearts with the hope, faith, and courage needed to uphold the strength needed to support Limoncello with a positive tone and light spirit . We deeply appreciate the kindness, support, and love that our friends, family, and community continues to offer during this difficult and uncertain time. Your post comments, private messages, and phone calls help to ease our stress and brighten’s Limoncello’s days. Your support is a majority of the fuel that keeps us going strong on this difficult path. Thank you all…for everything.

Limoncello Profile Pictures

Friends changed their Facebook profile pictures in support of Cello.

Surprise Chewy Box!

Another Surprise Chewy Box!

Dock Diving Friends Jumping for Cello at Their Dock Diving Competitions

Collection for Chase Away Canine Cancer

Chase Away Canine Cancer is an organization that is near and dear to our hearts. This organization was created in memory of a canine dock diving competitor named Chase. Chase Away Canine Cancer’s passion and commitment is to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this terrible disease.

Care Package from Amazon

NEVER GIVE UP: 3 Weeks Post-Diagnosis

A part of never giving up means making the most of every single moment – – and in typical Limoncello fashion, she is schooling us on how to do exactly that….

Weekly PUPdate

We as humans have so much to learn from dogs…Dogs live each and every day with a sense of excitement…with a 🍋 zest for life. They are resilient and move forward despite the challenges they face. Today marks three weeks-post diagnosis (8/30/23), and yet Limoncello continues to show pretty much zero symptoms outside of her right eye looking slightly larger than the left. Although that makes me happy, if I’m going to be honest… I need to share that the past three weeks have been stressful to say the least. Upon diagnosis, Limoncello was given only a-few-weeks to a-few-months to live. I feel like this cancer has left us feeling much like we did when Porter and Jägermeister’s seizures were not under control – it’s like living with a ticking time bomb … never knowing when it’s going to “explode” … never knowing when that seizure or nosebleed is going to dreadfully emerge…Waking up each morning wondering if that day will be her last. Despite efforts to remain positive and have faith, the worries still find a way to slither their way into my mind, especially leading up to her 3-week check-up. However, I am (cautiously) relieved to share this week’s report!

September 19, 2023: Three Week Check Up With Primary Veterinarian

Limoncello saw our primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell, on September 19th.

Observations I Shared:

  • Cello’s activity level, eating/drinking habits and behavior have not changed at all
    • Dr. Campbell was happy to hear this.
  • Cello has begun to sneeze periodically, which is new for her – but we were told to expect this, and luckily there has been no bleeding that has accompanied the sneezing
  • I thought I was crazy to think her right eye looked better than it did three weeks ago…
    • Dr. Campbell agreed that she thought Cello’s eye looked better as well!

Evaluations During Exam:

The following have had no decline/changes:

  • signs of discomfort
  • left nostril airflow (right nostril is blocked by tumor)
  • heart murmur
  • facial bones and skull
  • mouth, throat, and swallowing
  • right eye

My Questions:

  • When should see Cello be seen next?
    • suggested time frame was 2-3 weeks
  • Can we review what we are we watching out for?
    • seizures
    • discharge from nostrils
    • nosebleeds
    • swallowing with effort
    • snuffling
    • squinting
    • teeth chattering
  • Can we get a letter to submit to DockDogs so that we could request a reimbursement for Cello’s World Championship entry fees due to her medical condition?
    • When I heard the words come out of Dr. Campbell’s mouth, it took my breath away and immediately the tears began to flow: “I think you should go. She deserves one last jump.” (Insert ugly crying here)! Dr. Cambell said that because Cello surprisingly did not show the decline that was expected in the last 3 weeks, it is highly likely there will not be a drastic decline in the upcoming next few weeks – although we have to understand that anything is possible of course. BUT, if she’s doing well and feeling good, why not let her do what she loves … revel in what she created for our family… and jump at the World Championship one more time?! Since Cello has had no decline and her exam went well, her previous restriction of not jumping off the dock has been lifted at the moment and for as long as it is deemed safe for her to do so.

If we go to the World Championships in Iowa, we take the chance of an emergency happening on the road, and although because of past experience, it has become one of our biggest fears, that emergency could (or could NOT!) happen anytime, anywhere. The last thing we want to do is just “sit around and wait” when we could be making the most of Limoncello’s enjoyable moments.

I will have to plan and pack as if we are going to the World Championship with the mindset of knowing we could have to cancel at any given moment – including less than 24 hours before we’d have to leave. Limoncello will have to remain asymptomatic and she will also have an exam again with Dr. Campbell on October 6th. If all goes well again at that exam, we will leave early on the morning of October 7th to what very well may be the most memorable and meaningful trip our team as a whole has taken.

I have done zero planning for the World Championships, considering we had already resigned to the fact that we couldn’t go…So we won’t have new fancy team shirts, or cool trading cards for our pack, but what we will have is 2 of the greatest gifts of all: Limoncello making most likely her last jump while battling cancer, and Lager competing as a survivor. We have had some pretty amazing moments, awards, and accomplishments at the World Championships over the years, but THIS, my friends, will truly rival them all. No award…no nomination…no victory can or will ever fill our hearts with a greater sense of pride and gratitude than seeing Cello flipping cancer the paw and doing what she loves most…rockin’ the dock one last time! Fingers and paws crossed that we are able to make the trip.

The Best Thing About Memories is Making Them

A devastating diagnosis is a jolting wake-up call that reminds us that time is precious and not meant to be wasted. Live every day making every moment count. Even though cancer can eventually take loved ones away from us, the one thing it can never steal from us is our memories…so make LOTS of them. Here are some I made with Limoncello this week:

Bike Ride Around Town

Betty White’s First Off Road Adventure

Chillin’ on the Couch with Brother Hooch

National Cheeseburger Day

Visiting with Friends and Family


National String Cheese Day

With Gratitude

I am a true believer in the power of positivity – and it is extremely apparent that Limoncello is feeling the prayers and good vibes you all have been sending. Brian and I appreciate each and every one of you.

Here are a few gifts from this week:

Box of Sunshine

Care Box for the Whole Pack

Cello-Yellow Flowers and Cookies

No News is Good News

If Limoncello continues to do well, my plan is to post an update after her October 6th exam instead of a weekly update next week. Until then, please continue to send those positive thoughts Cello’s way, and don’t forget to keep making those memories with your loved ones!