Thursday, December 31, 2009

Health update ....

I am grateful to at least have some clarity around one of my health concerns. I met with my surgeon yesterday afternoon to discuss the results of the pathology report from the removal of the lump in my breast. Her nurse had called me last week to let me know that "no invasive carcinoma was identified." My diagnosis was the same as what I had back in May when they removed the first lump - "atypical ductal hyperplasia" ... essentially cells that are pre-cancer and are showing signs of going haywire! My surgeon was a little more concerned this time, however, and wanted to confirm with the pathologist if we had now crossed over the line to cancer with atypia/pre cancer cells showing up twice in the same site. Essentially I am again in that very gray area ...she said some pathologists may say it's cancer, however, she trusts these pathologists and according to them there wasn't sufficient evidence yet. Their report reads "the changes are quantitatively insufficient for but borderline on low grade ductal carcinoma in situ..." This go around, I also have two versus one site where atypical cells have been found. The options given were the same as what I was given back in May: 1) close surveillance, 2) hormone therapy/tamoxifen or 3) double mastectomy. The risks associated with option 2 (with not great odds of a positive benefit) are too great so option 2 is not even an option. My surgeon understands that and supports it. At this point, I have chosen to remain on option 1 - "close surveillance". In addition I will be seeing an oncologist for a second opinion and to discuss alternative options. I will also be seeing a holistic doctor (in addition to my acupuncturist).

My partner asked my surgeon if atypical cells always form lumps and if that's why I had another lump ... she said no. Unfortunately she said there is no way to know where these atypical cells are and they can be seen only at a microscopic level. I have truly been blessed to have had these lumps appear and to notice them because most often atypical cells go unnoticed until it's too late and they cross that frightening line over to cancer. I know the truth is that i'm in that very gray area ... an area where my surgeon says some may consider it low grade DCIS. I guess i'm not ready to choose option 3 (double mastetcomy) unless I know for sure that I have cancer. I have, and I will continue, to do everything I can to take care of myself and create an internal environment (through acupuncture, meditation, nutrition, etc.) where cancer cells will not have an opportunity to grow or thrive. I will continue to be proactive about my health in pursuing alternative treatments.

My second health concern -- my digestive issues -- is not so clear cut. Yesterday I woke up with stomach pains. My body continues to not be able to digest fats. Most of the time I don't have pain but maybe 1-2 times a week they hit me and literally suck the life and energy out of me. My blood work for the pancreatic enzymes came back. Lipase levels dropped from 79 to 58 (the "normal" range being 0 - 59). Amylase levels were in the normal range but on the high end of the spectrum. I have an appt to see my gastroenterologist on Jan. 14th. On the phone he had indicated a possible next step would be an endoscopic ultrasound of the pancreas. Part of me says, I can live with these symptoms .... the other part of me knows better. I hear a voice inside of me, and I think it's my Papa talking to me, "Marilou, listen to your body ... don't ignore the signs. Don't wait till it's too late." Maybe if Papa had listened to the early symptoms he would still be alive? I made a chart of my weight loss. I didn't realize that I was still losing weight. Since August, 2008 I have lost 35 pounds. In the past 7 months I have lost 8 pounds. My acupuncturist tells me that 8 pounds is a lot ... that's 7% of my body weight.

Over the holidays, my partner and I took a picture of ourselves .... it's a great photo of us but I remember looking at my face and saying to my partner, "I have bags under my eyes. I look gaunt." My partner said to me, "you've had bags under your eyes for about 8 months now," and as if she could read my mind she said, "but you still look great!" In my mind, I was thinking I look sick. In my mind I was thinking, I look so tired. Truth is, I am fatigued a lot. I have come to adapt my life to what my body is physically capable of ... i guess that's not so bad as I'm listening to my body.

As 2009 comes to a close, I reflect on all that this year has brought to me. Yes, I have had health challenges .... but more than anything, I am grateful ... truly grateful for my life. I am ready for 2010 and whatever that may entail ... I have always found comfort in the 23rd Psalm and will continue to believe in God and in some higher power/being to watch over me:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Last year on Christmas day my partner and I were in Marco island, enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore, hearing the seagulls singing, and watching pelicans dive for fish. My mornings began with a nice long run on the beach. This year we are staying home in St. Paul. This year I guess I won't catch the exuberant joy of little boys racing towards a flock of seagulls wearing a Santa hat. This year we will be homebound as we wait for the second round of snow to arrive ... 15 - 20 inches is what forecasters are saying. A white Christmas in St. Paul. Missy and Mister were out in the backyard loving the snow and tearing around playing chase. Ahnung stood on the sidelines, not so sure about all this snow. She had to live in it a little over a year ago and I think she's decided that she would much rather hang out in the warm house and on the couch -- well, can you blame her?? I have always said, she is the wise one :)

This year we stayed home for a couple reasons ... one being so I could take care of some health issues. I am recovering well from surgery. The nurse called on Wednesday to let me know the preliminary results of the pathology report. The great news is that there is no cancer. The not so good news is that, like the report back in May after my first surgery, there is evidence of atypical (pre-cancer) cells again. The nurse did not go into any details and told me that my surgeon would review the entire report in detail with me during my post-op visit (which will be this coming Wednesday). I am extremely grateful for that report. Like last time, I've been very fortunate that we have removed these lumps and pre-cancer cells at a very early stage. My acupuncturist always tells me that my squeaky clean, healthy living and listening to my body is enabling me to notice things so many others wouldn't notice. So next week I meet with my surgeon about my pathology report. I also hope to get results of the blood work done to check for pancreatic enzyme levels of lipase and amylase. Next week I will hopefully know if more procedures will need to be done to address my digestive issues.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful holiday season.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Faith ... returning home

After a long absence, and to be quite honest, a defiance for organized religion, I found myself with my partner at St. Joan of Arc's 5 pm mass on Saturday evening. The only time I have gone to mass in the past 5+ years was to accompany my mom when I was visiting her in the Philippines. Since early adulthood I have struggled with organized religion .... being sexually abused by a trusted family friend and a deacon of the Catholic church tainted my view of the Catholic church. It has been a life long struggle to make sense of what happened to me as a young girl. Yet something inside of me has been calling me to return to church, return to a faith I hold so deep in my heart. For decades my connection to some higher being (I've been afraid to call this higher being God) has been private. I have found comfort in the Buddhist practice of meditation and in the acceptance and celebration of all sentient beings. The truth is I do believe in God. The abuse that happened to me as a young girl has nothing to do with God but everything to do with human failings and shortcomings. For months something in my gut has been calling to me ... yes, I honor and value my quiet morning times and my meditation. Yet, something ... something inside of me has been calling me to find a community and a place where I can pray.

This past Saturday, my partner and I went to the 5 pm mass at St. Joan of Arc's in Minneapolis. I have gone to their Sunday services years ago and always enjoyed it. It was held in a gymnasium because of the large number of people and was a liberal, accepting church ... a church that always felt so alive and full of joy. This time, however, I wanted a more quiet and reflective mass. Saturday masses at St. Joan are in their chapel. As we walked in to the chapel the air was filled with the beautiful sounds of a woman's voice as she rehearsed a Christmas version of "Auld Lang Syne". As Fr. Jim began mass I felt chills run through my body. I wasn't coming to mass because I was "supposed to". I wasn't coming because my mom told me I had to. I wasn't coming because it was the "right thing to do." I was coming to church because I wanted to and because "my gut" (which I believe is God and the natural wisdom we all have inside of us if we take time to listen) was calling me to. Fr. Jim's homily was about "wonderment". For Advent, the theme has been Wonderment. He asked us to take time to reflect on a moment growing up when we felt pure wonderment. For him, it was his third birthday as he was standing next to his birthday cake attired in his new cowboy outfit and a smile that stretched from one end of the earth to the other. For me, I think back on the photo of Papa carrying me. He then went on to share how he recently spent time with a couple whom he has know for 12 years - a couple where he presided at their marriage 12 years ago. The woman now has some health issues and is most likely facing the last year of her life. As I deal with my own health issues I could feel the tears inside of me well up ... as tears start rolling down my cheeks i feel my partner's hand reach for my hand. No matter what lies ahead of me, no matter what my journey is, I am not alone. As Christmas carols are being sung and the chapel is filled with music, and as we hold hands to say The Lord's Prayer, I feel an incredible sense of community, of love and of healing.

As I prepare to head into surgery this afternoon to remove a lump in my breast, I place my trust in God for whatever journey I am meant to travel. Yesterday, December 20th was the 41st anniversary of when Papa died. Christmas has always been hard for me as it reminds me of a loss so deep. This year I will celebrate Christmas ... for me, I will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and Papa's life. For me, I will also honor all sentient beings and all religions and faiths ... for me, as St. Joan of Arc's motto is "We welcome you wherever you are in your journey."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's okay to be scared

I'm up bright and early this morning. I was exhausted last night and went to bed at 8 pm. Fatigue often gets the better of me, or so it seems .... it's been that way for many months now. Yesterday my gastroenterologist called with the results of blood work and labs taken. It's always nerve wracking when your doctor calls you and he (or she) isn't returning your call. You know it's not good news. He tells me my lipase levels are elevated (lipase is an enzyme that the pancreas produces). He says it's moderately elevated. He wants me to proceed with the small intestine x-ray (which is scheduled this morning) after which he will want blood work done and a test done specifically for lipase and amylase. He doesn't think i have pancreatitis as I don't have the severe abdominal pain. After he sees where my lipase and amylase levels are, and if nothing shows up on the small intestine x-ray, he indicated that the next step would most likely be an endoscopic ultrasound of the pancreas. He also is going to take a look at the PET/CT scan that was done back in July. It appears we are heading down the path of screening for pancreatic cancer. Yes, it's scary. I know something is wrong and my body is screaming "pay attention!" As I prepare for my second lumpectomy of the year, I am aware that I will know soon whether the cells in my breast have progressed from pre-cancer to cancer. Somehow, I'm more prepared for that emotionally ... maybe because i've convinced myself that we will catch it in the very early stages even if it is cancer and it will be okay. The possibility of pancreatic cancer ... that's a whole another story. Even though my weight loss has slowed down, it still continues. In a year I have lost almost 35 pounds. My body continues to not be able to digest fats. There is so much I want to do. I have immersed myself in the animal welfare community with dreams and hopes that give me the energy I need .... yet, there are moments when my body feels weak and tired, and I know I must slow down, take a deep breath, and be okay with simply resting and taking care of myself.

Yesterday, I broke down and cried in the arms of my partner. I've been trying so hard not to feel the emotions. Finally, I admitted I am scared. I am truly scared and I am tired of feeling fatigued. I am tired of not feeling 100%. I admitted I have been coasting along doing everything I can to not feel the pain and the fear ... instinctively, i've kicked into survival mode. Shortly after I broke down, I got the call from my doctor about the abnormal lipase levels. As difficult as it was, it was also a relief. After coasting along it was time to land and root myself on our beautiful earth and to accept my feelings ... all of them. There's a road ahead of us as I work with my doctors to find some answers ... but i'm not alone.

I am grateful for my partner who has been standing by my side through all of this. I am grateful that feelings and emotions don't scare her. I am grateful that no matter what, I know that I will have her walking with me on this journey ... and I know that right by her will be our dogs Ahnung, Missy and Mister and our kitty Henry :) I also know that from up above Papa is watching over me. I also turn my worries and my fear over to God as I pray this morning for the strength and the courage to handle whatever journey I must make.

And when I need to smile or need a big bear hug ... I also know I can always count on my girl Ahnung :) She's got lumps on her ear that we are also trying to figure out what's causing it ... we'll walk this journey together, all of us together, no matter what!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The heart breaking side of animal rescue

My friend Laura just returned from a trip up north from Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. She shares on her blog the harsh realities of the bitter winters and how a puppy in the middle of the night strayed away from his litter mates, and almost freezes to death - his still frozen body found at dawn.

It's been a year since my last trip to Red Lake Rosie's. Memories come flooding back of last winter when I first met Ahnung. My first trip was in October with Laura. I returned in November to bring Ahnung back to the cities. By then winter had already arrived with frigid temperatures. The Red Lake Rosie's shelter was overflowing and Ahnung had been moved from a kennel she had in October with her puppies to an igloo and hanging out with the big dog clan. Ahnung and I took a trip to Red Lake Rosie's last December to spend a week up north with Karen and to help her with chores. On my trip last December a blizzard hit, and we got over a foot of snow. Surrenders of dogs and cats continue, chores continue, fighting to keep the dogs and puppies warm continue ... Laura accurately describes what a trip up north in the middle of the harsh winters is like ...

"Winter has come to Red Lake Rosie's. And it has arrived with a vengeance. Temperatures fell to 13 below zero. Chores are done mostly in the dark wearing so many layers it is hard to even move. Water freezes in the dog pails in no time. Short haired dogs shiver to keep their body temps up. They walk on three legs because the snow stings their paws. Calls come in daily telling of more dear ones left at the dump, thrown away like last night's pizza boxes. Kennels are full to overflowing with dogs and puppies fighting to stay alive through the frigid night.

One pup, Clarence, almost did not make it. He strayed away from his littermates during the night and old man winter grabbed him. His still cold body was found at dawn and was rushed to the warmth of the cat house where he was given warm water to get his blood circulating again. Somehow that little guy fought back with all he had left and is now on a slow recovery back to health. That was my first eye opening glimpse into what winter is like on the rez. And it broke my heart. My tears frozen to my cheek. But there is no time for sorrow or pity. Emotions are pushed aside because there is so much work to be done in order to save the rest
." [For her full blog posting visit Rescue Buddy Boarding].

Last December I experienced the brutal winter along with Ahnung. Last December, Ahnung was one of the lucky few who no longer had to sleep outside in the frigid cold, huddled up in an igloo next to a fellow homeless dog. We helped Karen with chores during the day ... we were lucky because when we got cold we had a place to warm up and find refuge. At night, we slept in the warmth of the cat house, curled up under blankets. Meanwhile, many others shivered through the night in their outdoor kennels despite all of Karen's efforts to protect them from the unforgiving cold and wind with tarps and blankets. One night while we were there we heard noise outside in the shelter ... Karen couldn't sleep because she was worried about the puppies. At 2 in the morning, windchills in minus 30s, she was transferring one puppy after another to a small kennel where they could huddle up and have more protection from the frigid cold.

Tugged by my heart to do something immediately, I am asking myself to slow down and think --- be strategic, be purposeful and figure out what's the most effective way we can help Karen at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. I have the utmost respect for Karen and the work she does. I will also be forever grateful for all the animals she has rescued and especially for Ahnung.

Laura in her blog posting is right .... while I sit here in front of my laptop, my pups (Ahnung, Missy and Mister) by my side on their dog beds ... we are warm. Ahnung can sleep soundly without her body jerking her awake from shivering uncontrollably. For a woman who has dedicated her life to eliminating the suffering of animals, it's now our turn, as a community to come together to help Karen continue the absolutely incredible work she is doing.

We will do just that. Somehow. Some way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Life Lessons from our four legged friends

Today, I find myself grateful for our three big black dogs: Ahnung, Missy and Mister.

All three dogs have their own special gifts, personalities and quirks that yes, can drive us crazy!

Ahnung is the wise one with the gift of healing.

Missy is the attention-giver and reminds me to slow down so I can give her belly rubs and she can give me kisses.

Mister .... oh, Mister reminds me to laugh and to not take life too seriously!! :)

Listen to your gut -- to your inner voice and the wisdom inside of you.

Slow down. Take time to notice and pay attention to the beauty that is around you every moment.

Laugh. Play. And when things don't work out the way you hope it would, just shrug it off, or, as Mister would say, "Mom, let's go for a run!"

Thank you Ahnung, Missy and Mister ..... for the daily reminders.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cancer reflections

Cancer is a word that brings lot of emotions with it .... it has been called the "silent killer" and touches the lives of millions of people in one way or another. The origin of the word cancer is credited to the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), considered the "Father of Medicine." Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to describe non-ulcer forming and ulcer-forming tumors. He noticed that blood vessels around a malignant tumor looked like the claws of crab. The Roman physician, Celsus (28-50 B.C.), later translated the Greek term into cancer, the Latin word for crab. When I think of crabs, I think of crabs being able move and flow with the natural cadence of the moon, water, and land. A crab is protected by a rigid carapace, but to grow she must risk molting her armor, becoming soft and vulnerable. In so many levels, the crab is speaking to me.

[Photo of crab from Flickr]

In May of this year I had surgery to remove a lump in my breast. About a year ago, out of nowhere, I had a dream that I had cancer in my left breast. I woke up the next morning wondering why I had that dream. I was feeling healthy and strong. In many ways, my dreams are my guides..... not one to do self-exams, my dream prompted me to begin. I noticed a small bead-like lump which led me to my primary doctor and eventually to my surgeon (the same surgeon who removed half my thyroid many years ago). Both doctors did not have any concerns about the bead-like lump -- "fatty tissue." My surgeon, however, discovered another area that was of concern to her, an "area of asymmetric thickening." One, to be honest, I would never have even noticed. It still amazes me how she was able to notice it, but i guess that's why she's the M.D. and the surgeon! She said to monitor it closely and to check back with her in 6 weeks. I got busy and it was six months later and the passing of my dear friend Elaine to breast cancer (Elaine, i still miss you dearly), that prompted me to check ... by then the lump was very noticeable. I returned to my surgeon who immediately scheduled me for surgery. A 3.5 x 2.9 x 1.2 cm lump was removed. Upon returning to see my surgeon to discuss the results of the pathology report I learn that I officially have "atypical ductal hyperplasia" -- essentially cells have started going haywire and beginning to act like cancer cells. Of concern to her was a note in the pathology report "the changes are insufficient quantitatively to diagnose ductal carcinoma in-situ" ... to be honest, i'm not exactly sure what all that means. What I got out of my meeting was that although my official diagnose was atypical ductal hyperplasia that the pathologists weren't willing to completely rule out cancer. I chose the path of "close surveillance" versus hormone therapy or a double mastectomy.

Now six months later I prepare for my second lumpectomy of the year. The date has been set for the 21st. A new lump has grown in the same area. This mass appears to have grown with even more of a vengeance. Based on the results of the pathology report and what they find I realize that new decisions may have to be made. Trying to catch the cancer early is critical to a positive prognosis. The fortuitous dream I had a year ago about having cancer in my left breast led me down a path to hopefully catch the cancer early. I have always believed my Papa is watching me and protecting me from up in heaven. I think he sent me a message a year ago through my dreams. Thank you Papa for watching over me.

This time last year my partner and I were also preparing for our trip down to Marco Island for a week of warm weather ... this year we will remain in Minnesota. I still remember what an incredible time we had last year .... on Christmas morning while walking on the beach we saw several people wearing Santa hats ... this young boy was ecstatic and every time i look at the photo I took last year I savor the joy that this young boy has for the moment.

I wish I could walk along the beach this winter. I wish I could listen to waves rushing up onto the shorelines. I wish I could hear the seagulls and watch the pelicans dive for food in the ocean. I wish I could toss shells back into the ocean.

This year we won't make it to Marco Island ... at least not physically. This year, my partner and I will journey there in our mind and in our heart. Next year, God-willing, I will be strong again physically with more clarity around health issues. My surgery will be in a few weeks ... every morning when I meditate I ask for the strength and the courage to handle whatever comes my way. I never ask for a certain outcome. So as my second surgery of the year approaches, and I wait for the results of the pathology report ... I pray for the strength and courage to handle whatever comes my way. I pray to be more like a crab ... flowing with nature's cadence and shedding my armor.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's not the end, it's simply a bend

I just returned from my trip to the Philippines to visit my mom/Mama. I was last there in July of this year. She's 83 years old now and her health, along with her memory, is deteriorating. My dad (to me he is, and will always be, Papa) died at the age of 39 years old. Mama tells me he was healthy and vibrant. My sister and I went through old papers, photos/slides and documents while we were there. I brought home his briefcase filled with old documents .... my birth certificate, marriage certificate of Mama and Papa, Papa's death certificate and his last passport .... his Thai passport issued shortly before he left Bangkok, his passport photo shows a young man whose drastic weight loss is reflected in his gaunt face. A visa was issued by the US Embassy in the Thailand on September 3, 1968. The immigration stamps on his passport are my way of tracking history ... the last months of his life. He left Bangkok on Sept. 12, 1968 and spent a few days in the Philippines. I wonder how sick Papa felt at that time. By then, he and Mama had received the "death sentence" from doctors in Thailand. A few days in the Philippines to say goodbye to his in-laws. On Sept 16, 1968 they began the long journey to the United States .... Papa's passport shows Honolulu, Hawaii as their port of entry - date of entry: Sept. 17, 1968. From there they traveled to St. Louis, Missouri where he was hospitalized at Barnes and on December 20, 1968 his spirit left his failing body; his essence, and his soul remains in my heart, Mama's heart, and the hearts of my brother and sister. While on the long plane ride to Manila I watched the movie "Time Traveler" about a young man who travels in the past and into the future. I wish I could travel back in time. I wish I could sit down for a cup of tea with Papa and have a conversation. I wish I could have a conversation with Mama when she was younger. As my siblings and I have gone through old photos I see photos of Mama, a young, vibrant woman. Mama is getting old physically, unable to walk far and unable to remember things. She takes 7 different medications every day. In a half hour, the same question will be asked of my sister and I more than five times. We respond to her question each time, like it's the first time she's asked the question. She says she's approaching the end of the road, she's on "borrowed time."

When I think of my mom I think of a strong-willed, somewhat defiant woman who will fight to the bitter end for what she believes in and what she loves. She did that for Papa. As she approaches the end of the road, it's clear she has lived her life for her kids. She has told me that over the years. She has told me, "after your Papa died I didn't want to go on. His last words were 'take care of the kids'". She has done just that, and she has loved us with the same defiance she has loved Papa. For that I will always be grateful. The road has not always been easy. In fact, for many, many years the terrain was extremely rugged and there were times I didn't think we'd get to the other side, but we have persevered and we will continue to persevere .... I don't believe it's the end of the road. I believe it's a bend in the road. I believe there is a God. I believe there is life after death. I believe our soul continues to live on forever.

My wish now, is to fight to the bitter end for Mama, like she did for Papa. As we turn the corner, I (along with my siblings) will do all we can to be there for her like she was there for Papa.

It's not the end ... it's simply a bend.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ahnung's anniversary of when I brought her home ...

Today, November 18th, is the one year anniversary of when I went up to Red Lake to pick up Ahnung. You can visit Ahnung's blog which I started in March of this year. In her first entry she shares a movie of her story.

I named her Ahnung (ah-NUNG) which means star in ojibway because I wanted her to have a name reflecting her roots and also because I knew my heart she would be not only be my north star, but the north star, for so many. I went back to my journals, and the day after we arrived back to the Twin Cities, i wrote the following:

"I believe Ahnung is going to be the star that will help guide me out of the darkness of my past. There is something about Ahnung. Her gentle spirit. Her motherly way. Her calm presence...."

Ahnung did just that and continues to be my star. I feel my father's spirit in her. A strong, calm, wise presence.

Today, I leave for the Philippines to see my mom. I am postponing some medical tests and procedures till after I return from my trip. It's important for me to go home and to see my mom. Yesterday I had hoped for good news with the ultrasound -- I had hoped that the lump that is growing in my breast would be fluid and a simple aspiration would take care of it. My gut told me it wasn't fluid. It's very much like the lump I had earlier this year that was removed surgically in May revealing pre-cancer cells. The ultrasound confirmed that it's not fluid. I will need to have surgery again. My body also continues to have problems digesting fat and nutrients. More tests when I return from the Philippines.

Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions for me. I struggled to balance a body that feels fatigued and weak with my desire to keep pushing hard with the work I do for Pet Haven .... I have to remember we have good days and we have bad days. Yesterday was a mix of both. As I prepare for my long journey to head home, I am grateful that it is on the one year anniversary of when I brought Ahnung home from Red Lake. She is my north star. I believe my father's spirit lives on through Ahnung ... that must be why when I look up in the skies and see the bright stars I know I am safe and I am not alone. The spirits of our loved ones remain with us forever ... they simply manifest and show themselves in many ways.

Here's what i say to my father: "Papa, you did good by picking Ahnung!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mama and Papa: Love that defies death

I just got off the phone with my mom. My sister and I are scheduled to leave for the Philippines next Wednesday to see her. I am planning on going but need to confirm with my gastroenterologist that it's still okay for me to make the trek out of the U.S. Endoscopy this past Monday was a breeze. Waiting on results of the biopsies taken ... i believe he took tissue from my stomach and small intestine. He indicated nothing looked unusual so i'm guessing the biopsies will come back negative. Still doesn't explain malabsorption symptoms I continue to experience which are now going on 2 months. I realized this morning that the first day I had the symptom was the night of 9/14, which happens to be my father's birthday. September 14th, 2006 was also the day we learned that our dog Shen had spleen cancer ... she died the next day, on a Friday afternoon, just like my father who died December 20, 1968 on a Friday afternoon. As I deal with health issues, I know my Papa is with me, protecting me. I feel his spirit. On Tuesday I have a ultrasound and diagnostic mammogram scheduled to deal with the lump in my breast that has come back. If it's determined to be solid, my surgeon recommends excisional surgery again to remove the lump. I'll know for sure on Tuesday.

With malabsorption issues getting worse, I need to confirm with my doctor that a trip to the Philippines will be okay. There's a followup test he wants me to go through ... it appears the organ that both my doctor and acupuncturist are thinking is the culprit is my pancreas. The holidays are always a little hard for me as I remember my father. I wrote a piece about him and the loss of Shen back in 2007, and have re-posted it on the Pet Haven website. Weight loss and no pain ... my mom tells me this morning when we are on the phone, "your Papa never complained. He kept losing weight and had some stomach cramps." I have to remind myself that even though "I feel fine" my body is clearly sending me a message that something is wrong. I think Papa is telling me to listen, to pay attention. I have an open, heartfelt conversation with my mom this morning. She wants so much to come back to the States. I tell her I want to come back to see her but need to make sure my doctor gives me the okay to travel out of the country. As much as she wants to see me she says, "take care of your health first and do whatever tests you need to have done." Her strength and health is deteriorating yet she says she will come here to see me. I tell her "no, I am young. I will come and see you." She goes on to tell me, "yes, you are young. Your Papa was young. He was only 39 when he died. I still get angry at him for leaving us. Didn't he know how much I needed him?"

For decades I don't think my mom and I ever told each other we loved each other. The deep loss of my father (and the love of her life) took something away from us.... we have healed a broken bridge, and for that I am eternally grateful. We end our conversation with, "Ma, I am planning on coming next week. I want to see you. I miss you and I love you very much." She says as her voice cracks, "I love you very much darling. Please take care of yourself."

I may not have had a father around me, physically, growing up ... but I believe he has always been with me. I also have a painful, yet beautiful image and memory, of my mother who loved someone with a depth that defies this earthly world. An image etched in my memory of a woman - my mother - who loved my Papa so much that she tells me "I am approaching the end of the road. I am ready to be with your Papa again."

Their marriage vows, "till death do us part" was not accurate ... even death could not break the incredible love that existed between my Mama and my Papa.

I love you both with all my heart.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spirituality of the eagle

The eagle is present across a range of beliefs and philosophies ... the eagle represents spiritual protection, carries prayers, and brings strength, courage, wisdom, illumination of spirit, healing, creation and a knowledge of magic. The eagle has an ability to see hidden spiritual truths, rising above the material to see the spiritual. The eagle has an ability to see the overall pattern, and the connection to spirit guides and teachers. The eagle represents great power and balance, dignity with grace, a connection with higher truths, intuition and a creative spirit grace achieve through knowledge and hard work (from Eagle Spirit Ministry).

On Sunday morning, while up north at our lake home in Nisswa, Minnesota we decided to head into town so that my partner could get a cup of coffee. I wasn't feeling so good -- stomach pains and fatigue. Something inside of me said, I should go. As we drove out the country, windy roads leading to highway 107, up ahead I saw something around the bend ... "is that an eagle??!" As we turned the country perched on a branch was the most magnificent eagle. I was upset I didn't have my camera with me. Fortunately my partner convinced me to turn around and go back to the house and grab my camera. We return 5 minutes later to the eagle still perched comfortably, confidently, majestically ... on the branch. The eagle took me outside my body .... I got out of my car and walked up to the eagle. Fatigue and stomach pain lifted by the spirit of the eagle.

There's a reason the eagle appeared to me Sunday morning .... a gentle reminder to me that I have the inner strength and wisdom to face whatever lies ahead of me. I am not my body. I am not any diagnosis that may be presented to me as I meet with doctors and undergo procedures and tests and possible surgeries in the coming weeks/months.

The eagle teaches us how to go through life without becoming attached to anything, how to accept what comes our way and see everything as a gift from the universe. With their acute hearing they hunt as much by ear as by sight.

The eagle is an incredibly patient being, often perching in a tree, holding the same position for hours on end. May i learn from the wisdom and patience of the eagle who blessed me with its presence on Sunday morning ...

Dear eagle: thank you for showing up Sunday morning. Thank you for reminding me that my strength and healing come from within. Thank you for reminding me to be patient. May your spirit remain with me as we meet with my surgeon later this morning to discuss the lump in my breast.

After the beautiful encounter with the majestic eagle ... we went on to the town of Nisswa where my partner was able to enjoy a scrumptuous cup of coffee. Even though part of me would've loved a cup 'o java, i opted for a soothing cup of ginger peach tea. I vicariously enjoyed the cup of coffee through my partner who savored every sip ... now THAT'S the way to drink a cup of coffee!! :)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The arrival of fall - transformation

I've struggled this past week not knowing what to share, what not to share, publicly, on my blog. In some ways, it seems like health struggles should be my own personal struggle - one I only share with my partner and my healthcare practitioners. In a week will be Pet Haven's largest fundraiser, our third annual Fall Benefit. Part of me says, I don't have time to get sick -- not now. For a month my body essentially stopped digesting food ... symptoms that led me to see a gastroenterologist this past week. For almost two weeks it seemed like my digestive system was getting back on track, till yesterday afternoon - much to my dismay the symptoms returned. I'm scheduled for an endoscopy on the 9th. The recurrence of previous symptoms may change the course I head down. One thing my acupuncturist and my gastroenterologist agree on is that there's malabsorption going on. The question now is ... is it my pancreas? My doctor didn't feel the need to head down that path as the digestive symptoms had subsided by the time I saw him this past Wednesday. I had a two week reprieve. The symptoms are back ... this time how long will they last? Weight loss, inability to digest fat, fatigue ... the combination of these symptoms are concerning to me; they're concerning to my acupuncturist; to my primary doctor who feels "we are missing something"; and to the gastroenterologist. Add to all of this, the lump in my breast is continuing to grow. My surgeon has squeezed me into her calendar for Wednesday. She recommends I go ahead and make an appt to see an oncologist so she can work collaboratively with the oncologist. I called the oncologist my dear friend Elaine saw as she battled cancer so bravely until the very end. All my records and files are being sent to Dr. Murphy so she can review them and on Monday I call to set up a time to meet with her. After meeting with my surgeon on Wednesday I know that my partner and I will be faced with more decisions.  I suspect there will be more tests and eventually surgery again. I am scheduled to leave for the Philippines with my sister on November 18th so I can go home to visit my mom. Her health is not the best and I want to visit her. My hope is that my own health won't deter me from making the long journey home.

I stepped outside this week to take photos of the beautiful fall leaves. And to capture a squirrel scurrying to the top of a tree. As I took a deep breath I could feel the transformation, the changing of the seasons. Transformation happens every day, every moment -- around us and within us. At a cellular level, I can feel my cells changing. My body is trying desperately to tell me something.

At a cellular level I am connected to my father and my mother. My mother had breast and colon cancer. She's a survivor. My father ... at the young age of 39 started to lose weight. My mom tried to convince him to go to the doctor. He kept saying "honey, i'm fine." My mom says "your Papa was losing weight but he kept telling me he was fine. One day i noticed he was turning yellow and told him he was going to the doctor whether he wanted to or not." It was 1968. She took him to the doctor in Thailand. Liver disease. It was too late. We traveled to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri in hopes the doctors here could save him. After two months, we lost him.

I know that my father would've gone to the doctor sooner if he knew how sick he was. I believe he would've done things differently. I hear his voice when I find myself saying to my partner, "I feel fine." Unintentional weight loss (over 30 pounds) is not "normal" ... and with my body not knowing how to digest fat .... and a lump in my breast growing with a vengeance -- i know there's something going on. It's tough though, because for the most part, I really do feel fine.

I can't imagine how my mom felt when she heard the words come out of the doctor's  mouth, "your husband is dying." She told me this past June when I was in the Philippines, "if only I made your Papa go to the doctor sooner...."

Dear body: I am listening. Please know that I am listening.
Dear Mama and Papa: I feel you in my spirit and I will take steps to take care of myself.
Dear Mary: I promise to be proactive in taking care of my health so we can have a lifetime more of summers at the lake house and beach time frolicking on Marco Island in the winters.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ebbs and flows

Back in May as I met with my surgeon after the excisional surgery to remove the lump in my left breast I was confronted with the realization that cells in my body had started going awry. Normal cells are consistent - uniform. Cancer cells are random -- they are the rule breakers; they would be running red lights and driving on the wrong side of the streets. At the end of May, I was told my cells had started some random patterns ... "atypical" cells is what they call it. The official diagnosis in my files: "atypical ductal hyperplasia ... atypia and her family history put her at an elevated risk." Options given at that time were "surveillance", hormone therapy or double mastectomy. I chose surveillance.

In mid-May they removed a 3.5 cm lump. In January, 2009 it was barely noticeable ... my surgeon was the one who noticed it. I pretended i knew what the heck she was talking about but I couldn't feel it. Then months later after the death of our dear friend Elaine to breast cancer I was prompted to check ... wow! i could now feel it and it had grown! A week later I was in surgery ... despite all the tests (mammograms and MRIs) saying there was nothing, my surgeon insisted we remove the lump and have it biopsied. For that I am grateful.

Now, 5 months later, here I sit again with a new lump that has grown in the same spot. Over the past few weeks there is noticeable growth. Having to deal with digestive challenges i've had lately, I try to ignore that the lump is back. And it seems to be back with a vengeance. Yesterday, at the strong nudging by my partner, I call my surgeon and talk to her nurse. I know i'm not scheduled to go back till January for another MRI. There's a lump, i tell her nurse, and it feels like the one I had back in May. "yes, it's growing.... best guess, it's about 3.5 cm."

I find an article on the Breast Cancer Research site. A diagnosis of ADH (atypical ductal hyperplasia) indicates an increased risk of invasive breast carcinoma ... 4 to 5 times that of the general population ... the risk is great for premenopausal women (approaching sixfold). The risk is further increased if the patient has a first-degree relative with breast cancer (10-fold risk). My surgeon told me in May I am at high risk. I have all the factors that put me at high risk. Back in May my surgeon assures me she removed the entire lump. I had hope I would be one of the lucky few and the growth would not come back.

There's no denying it now though ... the growth is back. I had a few worry free months from my health. I am grateful for a few months of calm water. Next Wednesday I see the gastroenterologist to deal with digestive issues and the unexplained weight loss. I also wait for a call back from my doctor/surgeon to see what my next steps are regarding the growth/lump.

Life is full of ebbs and flows. Like an ocean, life comes with high tides, low tides, raging waters, calm waters .... what's on the surface can scare us. Yet below the ocean's surface, in what is known as the twilight zone (more than 600 feet below the ocean's surface), while storms may be raging above, there is a stillness, a darkness .... having once been an avid scuba diver, I imagine myself resting in this stillness. It's a zone too deep to receive sunlight. It's a zone where animals have learned to adapt - some even make their own light with special organs in their bodies called photophores. I imagine myself absorbing the wisdom of the animals, and like these animals who have learned to create their own light, I create my light with hope. For now, I choose to rest in the twilight zone. Hope is my regulator. Hope is my oxygen. Hope is my buoyancy compensator - my life jacket. Hope is what will enable me to surface up into the sunlight zone and to weather the storm.

We all find our calm, our peace in different places. For me, the ocean and animals, are what pull me through the raging storms of life. They will see me through this next phase .... they always have and they always will.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops - at all -
- Emily Dickinson

Friday, October 16, 2009


This past summer was filled with a high level of anxiety as I searched to find answers to health challenges ... unexplained weight loss (30+ pounds in less than a year), a lump in my breast (which was then removed and I was diagnosed with atypical ductal hyperplasia, the precursor to breast cancer ... or at least, a strong likelihood of it progressing to cancer) .... fatigue (which after seeing my acupuncturist -- a combination of acupuncture and nutritional changes helped with my fatigue). By the end of July, my weight loss stopped for which I was grateful. Next step is to wait till January for a followup MRI as I have chosen the "surveillance" route to deal with my high risk of breast cancer. The western approach of medicine, "catch the cancer early enough." Meanwhile I have continued to care of my body through rest, exercise, healthy nutrition.

In mid-September while in New York for a business trip a new "issue" came up ... a digestive problem I had never experienced before. I said to myself, "it will pass". One month later the problems continued and i kept telling myself "it will pass". As I search the internet to see if others are experiencing similar symptoms I learn that i'm not the only one. I learn that my body has stopped digesting food in some sense ... moving through my system too fast and not knowing or having the proper enzymes to digest food or fat. A few days ago I decide that maybe the saying "this too shall pass" may not work in this case. I contact my primary care physician who tells me I need to see a gastroenterologist. I have an appointment to see Dr. Mackie of Minnesota Gastroenterology on the 28th. The symptoms I am having in combination with the significant unexplained weight that transpired over the past year is of concern to my doctor. It's also of concern to my acupuncturist. I also have realized there is a lump in my breast that is growing again. Maybe it's nothing to worry about. Maybe it is. I am hopeful that my acupuncturist will be able to help me move through this rough terrain as she did over the summer.

This is also a very busy time for me in my volunteer work with Pet Haven -- we are approaching our largest fundraiser of the year, our Fall Benefit. Part of me says, I can't get sick. I don't have time right now to get sick or to have any surgery. This morning I realized ... there is a certain amount under my control; there's a larger part of my life and where i'm going that is not within my control. The truth is I don't what tomorrow holds for me. I don't know where my path will lead me. As I balance the need to be planful and purposeful in the work i'm doing on behalf of homeless animals, I realize I need to allow my body and my spirit the space and time to heal. My body, again, is trying to tell me something.

I have been learning about reading calming signals of dogs. They are always trying to communicate with us. Often we don't listen or understand the signals or squelch our dog's efforts to communicate. Our bodies are constantly communicating with us. For me, my barometer is my digestive system. I feel things in my gut; i hold things in my gut. My barometer is screaming at me now to listen. Interesting isn't it, how we tend to squelch our own signals, our own body's cries for help. If I were a dog, i'd be curling my lip.

If I were a dog, it's as if a trainer has said to me "watch me".

'I hear you. I see you. You have my attention.'

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ahnung - helping kids find their way

This past weekend I attended a workshop offered by MN LINC (Minnesota Linking Individuals Nature and Critters) titled "Kids and Dogs: Canine Facilitated Mental Health Protocols for At-Risk Youth". I believe my path led me to this workshop. Coincidences. I guess i'm not a believer in coincidences. I believe everything in our lives happen for a reason -- we just may not know it at the time.

My partner runs a program of St. Paul Public Schools called The Lab which is an arts and wellness-based program serving at-risk youth grades 7 through 12. Last year I began volunteering at The Lab along with our dog Ahnung (Ah-NUNG)..... I believe Ahnung found me. I met her for the first time in October, 2008 on a trip up north to Red Lake Rosie's Rescue: an animal rescue on the Red Lake Reservation in northwestern Minnesota where the founder's vision is "to change the way we relate to and treat companion animals throughout the Red Lake Nation."On that trip I met Ahnung for the first time ... recently abandoned/dumped along with her litter of eight. Ahnung, who now has a blog of her own, shared the video below on her first blog entry. Her story is one that has been shared with the youth at The Lab; her story is what touches their hearts, and mine; her story is what "R" (a kid Ahnung developed a relationship with over the year as they both learned to open and trust more) said to me is what's most important when we visit classrooms.

Through Ahnung I found healing in a profound way -- for myself and the kids. I witnessed healing in kids whose lives carried parallels of the dogs we rescued. There is something incredibly powerful and healing in the bond and connection between animals and humans.... multiply that ten fold in working with at-risk youth.

This past weekend, at the nudging and encouragement of my partner, I signed up for the Kids and Dogs workshop through MN LINC: Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday! The class was taught by Tanya Welsch and Molly DePrekel, co-founders of MN LINC who did a phenomenal job in facilitating the workshop and balancing content and theory with experiential learning. The Kids and Dogs program was designed to link youth who are experiencing behavioral or emotional difficulties with animal shelter dogs. I left the workshop with so many new tools (12 week lesson plans, the opportunity to learn about TTouch (Tellington Touch), calming signals, positive reinforcement training/clicker training, and group facilitation skills) ... I also left with new connections and my head spinning with ideas and possibilities on how to bring this important work out to the general public.

Ahnung and I are committed to continuing this work. We are volunteering again this year at The Lab. She recently passed her Canine Good Citizen test (I can't take much credit for it, as she's a natural ;-) We are continuing our work in obedience and will also be taking the therapy dog class and working towards getting registered as a therapy dog through Delta Society. One of the things I absolutely loved about the training this past weekend is how Tanya and Molly both emphasized the importance of tuning into your dog.

Many of us go through life as if it's a 100 meter dash .... we race to the finish line, and when we get there, take off again -- and before we know it, we don't know even know anymore why we are running. Dogs are trying to communicate with us. We need to learn how to communicate with them. In turn, we will learn more about ourselves and listening to our own bodies, our own cues......

Ahnung means "star" in ojibway. She is my north star. She is the bright light I hold onto in darkness.

With Ahnung as my partner ... we hope to help kids who have lost their way, find their star and find their way back, to a place they can call home and a place that feels safe.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Devastation of Manila floods

Last night my partner tells me there's a flood in the Philippines. I often don't keep up with the news and can count on my partner to keep me abreast. She asks me "where does your mom live?" as she's reading news online and looking at photos.... I see "Manila" then "Quezon City". That's where my mom lives. My heart pauses for a moment. Yet I return to my frenzy of getting ready for a business trip. My partner tells me to call my mom. I look at my watch -- it's too early to call her on a Sunday morning (they are 14 hours ahead). I'll call in an hour. Part of me wanting to not believe that the flood could be affecting my mom and my relatives.

In an hour I call. The phone rings and rings and rings. I hang up and try again. I must've dialed the wrong number. Still no answer. I try one
more time. Still no answer.

I email my brother and sister to see if they have gotten a hold of her. No luck. I wake up this morning to images posted on facebook by my cousin in California and a status update that she was able to get a hold of our one cousin on her cell phone: For now my mom is okay. My cousin went to check on her -- I can't even imagine what it took for Edith to get to St. Ignatius Village where my mom lives. My aunt (who is in her 80s) had been missing since Friday. The latest is she has found at the school where she teaches -- she and others have been stranded there for 3 days. Water is up to their shoulders. I pray they have been rescued and are okay.

CNN reports that at least 51 have been killed with at least 21 missing. I have no doubt that number is extremely low and the number will continue to rise.

The photos I have posted here were taken by Savann Oeurm on facebook (thanks to my cousin Didet for sharing). There are images of rescues by the Philippine Red Cross, of children on their parents shoulders walking through waist high brown water, of a man carrying three small white dogs, of dead bodies on a wood plank with only their feet exposed - their body covered by a tarp, of the lifeless body of a grey Benji-like dog - eyes still open.

Please send your prayers and good thoughts to the people and animals of the Philippines ...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Growing problem of stray dogs in Thailand

In June, 2009 National Geographic reported the following on my home country of Thailand: "Thailand's capital city of Bangkok is struggling to cope with a growing population of stray dogs. It's estimated as many as 300,000 strays wander the streets." [To watch the National Geographic video click here.] A local organization, founded in 2002, Soi Cats and Dogs (SCAD), believes the numbers are higher as many cats are hidden from view. "Soi" is a Thai word that means "alley." I grew up in the heart of the city of Bangkok ... on Rajdamri Road ... i've perused current images of Rajdamri Road on the internet and see wide roads and tall buildings -- luxury hotels and the Bangkok World Trade Center have emerged. I left home when I was 15 and the last time I visited I was 18 or 19. How strange to feel like a foreigner in a country I was born and raised, and a country and culture that have shaped who I am today. I lived a privileged life as a child -- there's no denying that. Yet, I lived in a third-world country where poverty, homelessness (humans and animals), leprosy prevailed. I have memories of lepers begging on dirty streets filled with street vendors - small tin cans in front of them hoping for some kind passerby to drop some coins. I also remember stray dogs and cats ... lots of them. Looking back, it was as if I witnessed life and the horrendous poverty and suffering through a window pane. The poverty and pollution were simply a way of life. Decades later it haunts me now ....

One thing remains a problem ... and has even gotten worse -- the Soi (street/alley) dogs and cats of Thailand. Interesting that my work in animal rescue thousands of miles away, is tapping me on my shoulder to revisit the suffering of these beautiful furry creatures in my home country. The Huffington Post printed an article on the growing problem of stray dogs -- the article is titled "Buddhists Perpetuate Bangkok's Stray Dog Problem." It's a complex problem. "Soft-hearted Buddhists are perpetuating Bangkok's stray dog problem ... Buddhists, 95 percent of all Thais, are taught to revere living creatures and perform selfless acts called 'making merit' that reduce suffering in the next life. Few merit-making acts are as public or entrenched as feeding strays. Each night around dusk, merit-makers across Bangkok dump leftovers in the street - often on a banana leaf or scrap of cardboard to dignify the meal."

"... Exempting the city's sanitized downtown, stray dogs fill Bangkok's streets. They roam the night in packs, eyes glowing green in the headlights' glare, sinking through traffic, toppling trash bins for food ... But in Thailand, most strays are regarded as 'community dogs' which the Humane Society International distinguishes from 'ferals.' Both are homeless, but community dogs stick to one area, receive food from locals and produce bountiful litters. Ferals are wanderers, diseased and desperate, and typically produce weak and puny litters."

"... Giving food is among the simplest and truest
forms of merit making, says Phra Mahajatuphom Thummopalo, a monk and radio disk jockey at Bangkok's Thammongkol temple. Thais, aware of monks' devotion to sustaining all life, often drop their unwanted dogs at temple gates after dark. When food is scarce, he said, monks will actually forego dinner to feed the strays. 'Us monks, we don't know that overfeeding dogs makes more puppies. Maybe the laymen need to educate us," Thummopalo says. 'We have a lot, we give. We have a little, we also give.'"

I encourage you to read the full article.

Soi Cats and Dogs is working actively to reduce the number of stray animals in Bangkok. They work in target neighborhoods and encourage whole communities to become involved in their Animal Birth Control projects. Community cats and dogs are taken to SCAD's health centers and sterilized, vaccinated against rabies and treated for injury or disease. They are they returned to their home territory. Here in the U.S. there are TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) programs for cats around the country.

As I've immersed myself in the world of animal rescue I have learned that we, the community of animal rescue lovers and activists are in many ways, a unique breed of our own. I challenge myself every day to keep my mind and heart open. There is no simple answer and simple sol-
ution to the growing problem of poverty, suffering and homelessness of both animals and humans. It's a global problem. I am thousands of miles away, and in many ways, a "foreigner" to a country I once called home .... I've never really given much thought to "community dogs or cats" since I've been in the United States. Recently, I've been touched by homeless people and their pets. I ran across a video created by reporter who went into a Tent City in Tennessee and interviewed homeless people to ask them about their relationships with their pets. It was clear how much they loved their pets and cared for them. Many choose homelessness over giving up their pets because homeless shelters won't allow them to keep their pets.

In March, 2008 Ontario was "tagging" residents who lived in Tent City to attempt to reduce the numbers down from 400 to 170. "The no-pet order caused widespread anger and tears as some homeless people said they could not imagine life without their dogs. Many have three or four and vowed to leave Tent City before giving the dogs up. 'I will go to jail before they take my dog .... that's a part of me as much as anything. The dogs are as homeless as we are."

There's an incredible bond between animals and humans. The more I learn and the more I immerse myself in the work of animal rescue .... I find so much truth in a line from the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi: " .... O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love .... for it is in giving that we receive, pardoning that we are pardoned, dying that we are born to eternal life."

Ironically, as president of Pet Haven and assisting in co-leading an animal welfare coalition here in Minnesota ( I find myself filled with questions. Some think that I should have all the answers to be leading these organizations .... the reality is, I don't.

What I do know is that my heart aches for the suffering of both animals and humans. What I do know is that I have so much more to learn. What I do know is that our spirits are strong .... and I believe goodness prevails. I may not have the answers, but I what I do have, is hope.

[Photo credit of homeless man and dog: Stephen DesRoches]