Losing is NOT an Option

Week 8 Recap and Oncology Visit # 9

You beat cancer by the way you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”  ~ Stuart Scott

 

Week 8 Recap

Overall, Margarita has been a complete trooper though her chemo treatments.  In fact, I was beginning to think that we were on Easy Street.  No complications…halfway through the 16 week protocol …we got this, right?! But then Sunday night rolled around, and I began to think otherwise.

Last week, Rita had her “off-week” which means she only had to visit the oncology office to get blood work. We assumed this would be one of her best weeks, as it had been when she had her last “off-week.”  However, this was not the case.  On Mother’s Day evening (May 12), we noticed a drastic change in Margarita’s overall spirits, appetite, and energy level.  She had no interest in coming out of her crate, in eating – or anything for that matter.  She would not leave her crate, and if she did, she would only go as far as the dog bed next to her crate.  Sunday night she didn’t eat her dinner, would not get up to go outside, and would not sleep in bed with us.

I must admit, all my positive-thinking strategies went out the window, I slipped into immediate panic-mode, and thought the worst:  The chemo is not working, the cancer is spreading, she’s not going to make it….

Monday morning she was still exhibiting the same symptoms.  She had her weekly oncology appointment scheduled for the next day, Tuesday, but we were afraid to wait that long.  We took Rita to her primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell, Monday evening.  Blood work was drawn and resulted in some less-than-desirable levels.  Her CBC revealed a very low neutrophil count (~600-700) and more concerning, showed that Rita’s body was producing premature red blood cells. We learned that this could mean several things:

  • her anemia could have worsened
  • she has infection
  • her body could be rejecting the chemo, or
  • there could be a bone marrow issue.

As long as her symptoms did not worsen, Dr. Campbell said it would be safe to wait for our oncology appointment the next day.

Margarita remained lethargic and uninterested in food Monday night into Tuesday morning.  Needless to say I was very anxious to get to the oncology appointment Tuesday afternoon. Although I felt like I prepared myself at the onset of Rita’s diagnosis by planning for the worst while hoping for the best, I was anything BUT prepared to see our Sweet Reet feeling so awful.

Oncology Visit # 9:  May 14, 2019

I had texted my mom a picture of Rita before leaving for the oncology visit, and let her know about Rita’s decline.  My 6 year old nephew, James, (who is also one of Rita’s biggest fans!) was at my mom’s house at the time, and had asked how Rita was doing. My mom told him that she wasn’t feeling very well at the moment, and James took it upon himself to stop what he was doing and pray for our Sweet Reet.

Brian left work early to meet us at VSECDr. Risbon reviewed Rita’s CBC from yesterday, and suspected that Rita had a late neutrophil nadir.  (A late what?!) We learned that instead of Rita’s white blood cell count dropping at the usual 7-day mark after her Adriamycin treatment, it dropped later (around the 10-day mark) leading to her side effects of lethargy and decreased appetite. Dr. Risbon also explained that the premature blood cell production was most likely Rita’s body responding to her increased anemia (common in dogs without spleens going through chemo). PHEW!  As soon as I saw that Dr. Risbon was not bothered by this setback, my state of panic lessened.

Dr. Risbon did some additional blood work upon our arrival to VSEC. Rita’s neutrophils were already at 4400 which was a good sign.  Margarita was also gobbling down every treat the oncology nurse was offering – also a great sign!  Dr. Risbon explained that the drop (and the rise) in Rita’s CBC results could happen pretty quickly, and Rita had already rebounded from the drop.  Since Rita has not had a fever and her counts were improving, Dr. Risbon held off on administering antibiotics.  Dr. Risbon decided it was best to postpone this week’s chemo treatment for another couple of days, so we rescheduled treatment for later in the week.  Dr. Risbon also dispensed Cerenia for Rita to take over the next 4 days to help Rita maintain a healthy appetite.

Medication:

  • Cerenia (24 mg (each)
    • Give 2 tablets by mouth once a day (every 24 hours) for nausea

What we experienced this week taught me that setbacks are not only OK,  but something to be celebrated. Why the heck would we celebrate a setback?? Setbacks are unpleasant, but are a blessing in disguise . They are wake up calls to remind us not to get too comfortable or too confident. Setbacks force us to stop, regroup, question, and most importantly learn. Analyzing and digesting setbacks is only going to make us more knowledgeable – and knowledge is power…the power needed to help our girl take an even BIGGER bite out of Lymphoma, and to turn her setbacks in to COMEbacks!

It’s normal to be upset when you see a loved one feeling so badly, and I am the first to admit that I am THE Queen of Panic.  It’s easy to lose focus and freak-out, thinking about the worst case scenario.  I realize now how important it is to stay grounded – that even though there will be road blocks we encounter along the way, it is imperative that we focus MORE on the faith we have in the superior medical team of Dr. Campbell and Dr. Risbon and the amazing strength and resilience of our Sweet Reet…  and less on the fears that cancer so easily implants in our minds.

Setbacks are nothing but a teaching tool to make you stronger…This was a very slight delay – a temporary detour…and no where near the defeat I had thought we were facing…. no matter how big the setbacks may be, we will figure it out, because losing is NOT an option.

Nice try, Cancer.  Our game isn’t over yet – and Margarita is still kicking your BUTT!!

 

Oncology Visit #9, Take 2:  May 16, 2019

Back to VSEC we go! …This time with Rita feeling much better.  Rita was completely back to herself:  eating normally, playing in the yard, and the sparkle was back in those sweet eyes!

Rita was in much better spirits, and was very excited to see her favorite oncology nurse, Sherri, who always carries treats for Sweet Reet!

Margarita’s physical examination was normal, and she even gained a little bit of weight!  A new CBC taken at this visit was acceptable for continued chemotherapy.

This Week’s Treatment

  • This week Margarita received Vincristine intravenously.
    • We will have to watch the site for any inflammation, oozing, or discharge.

This Week’s TreatS

It’s only fair that when you have two oncology visits in one week, you get TWO cheat-days!

After Rita’s initial weekly oncology visit on May 14th, we stopped at Sonic Drive-In !

Rita had been eating the treats from her oncology nurse at VSEC, so we ordered her a plain hot dog in hopes that her appetite was continuing to  increase.

Hot dog for the win! We were thrilled that she was eating again!

Keeping with our Drive-In treat theme, following oncology visit #2 on May 16, Rita and I stopped at Weber’s Root Beer , a “true” drive-in where you pull up, put your lights on for service, and a server brings out your order on a 1950’s metal tray that hooks to your window!

Weber’s has been around since 1951!

Rita’s order was a pork roll and cheese sandwich (or Taylor Ham for you North Jersey folk!) and fries…and  I ordered a root beer for my self!

YUM! Lip-smackin’ good!

Taking a bite out of her first pork roll sandwich:

Margarita decided she was not in the mood for the fries, and was most interested in the pork roll itself, so I pulled pieces of the meat out of the sandwich for her to enjoy.

 

 

Thank you for joining Margarita in her journey to take a bite out Lymphoma.

 

 

There’s No Fear in Fierce

Week 5 recap and Oncology visit # 6

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”  ~Shakespeare

Week 5 Recap

They say God gives the toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.  Our little Margarita is the sweetest soul, but she truly has proven to be a fierce little warrior! I am certain her strength and resilience is fueled by the daily encouragement and prayers received from family and friends, as well as the amazing medical care and advice from her oncologist, Dr. Risbon, and her primary veterinarian, Dr. Campbell. Margarita’s amazing support team is also what lessens our fear as her PAWrents, and provides us with the positive energy, strength, and courage needed to assist her through this challenging journey.  Our dogs are very sensitive to our mindset and moods.  Knowledge is power, and a positive attitude leads to positive outcomes…the more knowledgeable and positive we are, the better we can assist Margarita to continue to be a fierce warrior in her battle.

I must admit – this is easier said than done.  I don’t think my mind and heart will ever be completely cleared of the emotional upset of Rita’s cancer diagnosis, but I have vowed to make a conscious effort to shift my worry of what could go wrong – to focusing on what a what could go right. Attempting to clear my mind of upset and worry is no easy feat – but it does allow my brain to make more room for learning how I can help Margarita, rather than obsessing on the “what-if’s.”  A good friend of ours, whose dog also has been through a cancer journey, suggested I read The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.  This book has inspired me to write Rita’s Journey into the blog, and to plan the fun weekly “chemo day” experiences for Margarita.  Watching her enjoy those pleasant activities and treats helps maintain my positive outlook as well.  We would quickly lose direction on our path without our amazing team of friends, family, and doctors walking beside us through this journey.

This past week Margarita has been eating well, active, and in great spirits.  She had an amazing week!

During last week’s oncology visit, Margarita was cleared to go on our Easter camping trip.  We originally had a vacation planned that would have led us about 4 hours away from home.  Considering this was the first camping trip since Margarita began chemo, we were a little nervous.  Instead of canceling the trip completely, we booked a last-minute reservation at a campground about 45 minutes from us.  This way, we could still enjoy camping, but also remain in driving range of both Margarita’s primary vet at Old York Veterinary Hospital, as well as her oncologist at VSEC.

Margarita enjoyed hanging out around the campsite at Crystal Springs Wilderness Lodges and RV Resort :

Walking around the campground and taking in the views:

…And of course – napping in the RV!

Oncology Visit #6

Arriving at VSEC

This visit is Week #2 of the “3-weeks-on, 1-week-off” 16 week CHOP protocol.

Margarita is always such a good girl in the waiting room!

Waiting for the oncology nurse

The oncology nurse took Margarita back to first be examined by her oncologist, Dr. Risbon.

Waiting for Dr. Risbon

When Dr. Risbon returned to our room, she told me that she did a physical exam and blood test.  Dr. Risbon reported that there were no abnormalities with Margarita’s physical examination, and noted that Margarita even gained some weight back!  Her CBC revealed a normal white cell count, and in addition, her anemia has also improved!

Week 6’s Treatment:
  • Cyclophosphamide 40 mg
    • 2 tabs by mouth 4/24 and 4/25, then 1 tab by mouth on 4/26
      • Administered at home
      • Wear gloves when administering.  Do not split/crush tablets

Today Margarita was sent home with Cyclophosphamide  – an oral medication that we will administer ourselves over the next couple of days.   This drug is known to cause irritation to the bladder (called sterile hemorrhagic cystitis) in 10% of the patients receiving it.  We will have to monitor for Rita straining during urination, urinating small amounts frequently, incontinence, or blood in her urine.  If any of those side effects occur or any additional concerns arise, we are to call VSEC for further instruction from Dr. Risbon.  If you remember from her Week 2 Recap, Margarita has a good week following her Cyclophosphamide, so we are hopeful the upcoming days will also be uneventful for her in regard to side-effects.

 

This Week’s Treat:

Since I am on Spring Break this week, I made a very-early appointment so that we could enjoy the rest of the day doing something fun.  Considering that it was still so early when we finished Margarita’s appointment, I decided that a breakfast treat would be the best choice for us!

We stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts !

Margarita enjoyed part of a bacon/egg/cheese Wake-Up Wrap.

And who doesn’t like a little something sweet at breakfast?! Margarita also enjoyed a piece of an Old Fashioned donut!

I was inspired to incorporate a “Special Treat Day” on days Margarita has oncology visits after reading The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. The author suggests a “Cheat Day” because it is new and unexpected, which helps your dog’s mind stay optimistic and stimulated.  I like to include these fun trips on Margarita’s treatment days so she continues to associate car rides with positive and enjoyable experiences.

Life is not always a walk-in-the-park …so always take one when you have the opportunity!  

The weather was absolutely amazing, and we had the rest of the day to enjoy it, so we visited Tomlinson Park – a nearby recreation area that I must drive past about 4 or more times a week – but never had bothered to explore.  I’m sure glad we stopped – You can’t see the whole park from the road, and I had no idea the park was this beautiful!

It’s a shame that someone installed an electrical outlet over top of the “N!”

The walking path followed along a beautiful stream.

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ~John Muir

The best surprise of all was the lake at the far end of the park!

After we explored Tomlinson Park, we took a short walk down Main Street in Historic Medford.

We stopped at one of Margarita’s favorite places:  Pride Paws!

Pride Paws is a retail pet store located in the heart of historic Downtown Medford.  Pride Paws provides job training and transitional employment experience to individuals with developmental disabilities who could not independently succeed in a traditional work environment.  The participants in this program greet customers, track inventory, create a bi-weekly schedule, prepare payroll, make dog and cat related items such as blankets, toys and note cards…and (Margarita’s favorite reason for stopping in!!) ….bake their famous dog treats right in the store!

Margarita not only loves the treats here, but she adores the participants of the program, and all of the attention and love they give her during our visits.  One of the Pride Paws employees noticed that Margarita’s underbelly had been recently shaved, and asked what happened.  I explained that she had surgery, and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments.  I also told them that after each oncology appointment, I choose somewhere special to go, and today’s pick was Pride Paws to purchase a bag of their famous homemade treats!  They were so happy we decided to stop in, that they gave Margarita an additional bag of treats for free!

We hope that upcoming days bring Margarita another amazing week!

Thank you for joining Margarita in her journey to take a bite out Lymphoma.

Print credit: Ginger Oliphant. Purchasable on her Etsy account.