Monday, July 25, 2011

Needing my dog's perspective!

So over lunch today I went to see my cardiologist/electrophysiologist. It was essentially a post-ablation appointment and a check up to see how i'm doing after my heart procedure on 5/31. At the end of the June they did a 48 hour holter monitor on me to see if I was having any irregular heart beats. I certainly wasn't feeling any heart palpitations and have been grateful for being able to sleep through the night ... if anything, I've been sleeping too much now as I find myself feeling fatigued by early evening. Well ... my cardiologist today tells me that the irregular heart beats are back! It's not as bad as it used to be and i'm also not having symptoms, which I guess is a good thing. Before my ablation I had 53,000 irregular heart beats in a 48 hour period. At the end of June the 48 hour holter shows that I have 16,000 irregular heart beats. Unfortunately they aren't able to tell at this point if it's coming from the same area (the right ventricle) or a new area (potentially the left ventricle). He wants me back in 3 months ... I'm scheduled to get another 48 hour holter done on October 10th. The not so good news is that if it gets worse (which is highly likely) it will lead to sleep problems again but hopefully it's the right ventricle again and not the left ventricle. If it's the left ventricle where the electrical problems are coming it could be an even more serious problem, and could be related to the heart disease I have of left ventricular non compaction. I guess for now, I'm just grateful that I can sleep and I don't feel the symptoms yet of my heart flip flopping.

My cardiologist gave me clearance for surgery next Monday. I go in for a lumpectomy. There's a fairly substantial sized lump in a new area of my left breast. My surgeon told me last Wednesday that it needs to be removed and sent to pathology.

Meanwhile the followup pathology report came back for my dog ahnung regarding her breast cancer. I spoke to Ahnung's oncologist and he says it would be reasonable to simply monitor her closely. The pathology report says the margins from the excision were anywhere from 3 mm to 8 mm (not ideal according to the oncologist but acceptable) and the cancer was graded based on two different scales ... one indicates it's a low grade (grade I) cancer, the other indicates it's a moderate grade cancer (grade II) ... "60% of dogs with grade I disease had local recurrence or metastasis within two years of initial excision." He recommends having her checked by a vet every 6 - 8 weeks for the next year to closely monitor another tumor/mass growing in one of her mammary glands. My sweet girl is amazing though ... she had this huge incision on her belly with staples in her for almost 2 weeks and it didn't even phase her. One would never even know that she has cancer ... she's a survivor and has the ability to defy all odds. I watch her live and cherish each moment.

As I sat in my cardiologist's office today and he tells me that i'm once again having irregular heart beats I feel this heaviness come over me. There's a part of me that's tired of all these health challenges. For the past two years it seems like it's been one thing after another with no reprieve. I go in on Monday for a lumpectomy and will then have a week of having to wait anxiously for the results of the pathology report. And now only 2 months after my heart procedure it appears the electrical problems in my heart are back again and there's a good chance I will have to go through another heart procedure. Part of me wishes I could trade my body in for a newer model :)

But then I remember how two weeks ago I was consumed with worry over my sweet Ahnung ... I received the greatest gift of a cancer diagnosis with her that at least gives me hope and gives me more time with her. She's not stressing ... if only I could be more like her :)

If only I could live and experience life through the eyes and spirit of my north star, Ahnung :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The greatest gift!

Yesterday I feel like I was given the greatest gift of all ... the gift of more time with my sweet girl Ahnung. For the past week I have struggled with uncertainty and the unknown ... not knowing how much time I had left with Ahnung, how aggressive the cancer was, and if the oncologist was going to tell me that I didn't have much time left with my girl. It's hard when fear consumes you and old memories and hurts resurface .... painful memories of losing my dog Shen in September 2006 to spleen cancer where she died one day after her diagnosis, and then in July, 2007 losing my other dog Shadow to an aggressive intestinal cancer. When I heard the words aggressive in conjunction with breast cancer I immediately went to that dark place in my memory bank ... and then came denial and tears .... and throughout this week I watched my girl Ahnung living in the moment. How I wish I could be more like my dogs in how they approach life and living. I found strength and hope again as I leaned on a community for support and prayers, and I spent time with Ahnung and also Missy and Mister.

Ahnung on her way to
see the oncologist
Yesterday I took Ahnung to meet with a vet oncologist. What an incredibly kind, knowledgeable and compassionate doctor. He reviewed the x-rays and the pathology report and he checked Ahnung out. He provided words of comfort as he said there were a lot of positive things in her favor: a) the mass was discovered very early and was immediately removed ... the pathologist feels like the excision was complete; b) there are no visible signs of any cancer in her lungs from the x-rays taken; c) the cancer has not spread to the vascular system; d) her lymph nodes feel good. He has requested for additional analysis to be done by the pathologist as he wants to know what the margins are and also the grade of the cancer. If the margins are greater than 5 mm (ideally he would like it to be at least 7 or 8 mm) and the grade is low then he says we don't need to do anything. He would want us to see a vet every 3 months for the next year to get her checked so that the vet can closely monitor to see if she is developing any new tumors in any of her other mammary glands. If the margins are < 5 mm or the cancer grade is moderate or high he recommends surgery to remove more of the tissue and to actually go into the muscle. Depending on the results he may also recommend radiation. He seemed optimistic, however, that there is a good chance that the cancer was removed with the lumpectomy. She is of course at high risk of developing another tumor and I would need to watch her closely. Acting quickly is critical. I'm so grateful that I was able to notice the tumor and that my friend Vicki was able to see her the very next day (Friday) and get her in for surgery on Monday. As quickly as the mass was growing waiting a week could've made a huge difference on the outcome and the prognosis.

Yesterday I feel like I was given the most incredible gift .... it reminds me of the photo I took in my front yard in the dead of winter (the photo at the top).... there is life, there is hope ... even in the dead of winter. I also believe in the power of prayer. I am blessed to have so many friends ... and Ahnung is blessed to have so many friends and fans. I can't thank you all enough for your words of encouragement through this very trying time. [Ahnung would love it if you would like to follow her on facebook:].  So in a couple days we should hear from the pathologist and will know what the next steps are for Ahnung ... whatever we need to do I am okay with it because we have a fighting chance. Ahnung is a survivor and I am grateful beyond words that I (along with many others!) will continue to be blessed with her presence, her wisdom, and her loving, peaceful way.

This afternoon, it's my turn to get the lump in my breast checked out. I meet with my surgeon later this afternoon. I'm not so sure what's in store for me with regards to my own health, but in the scheme of things, as long as I have my nung-nung girl I feel like I can handle anything!!!

Saturday, July 16, 2011


This week has certainly been one filled with not so good news ... I always do my best to see the positive in things and do believe that yes, everything happens for a reason. I admit, when I learned that Ahnung has an aggressive form of breast cancer I felt somewhat lost. I felt like I simply couldn't take another blow ... for a couple years now, it has felt like I have been knocked down over and over again, but I remember my swimming coach telling me as a kid ... "it's not about winning ... it's not about the gold ... it's about getting back up, over and over again..." And so that's what I've done. I've had my own personal health issues to contend with over the past couple of years. Somehow, i'm able to take those in stride. The kicker and the real test is this latest blow ... aggressive cancer to my precious Ahnung. And along with this latest diagnosis, I find myself swarming again in a pool of uncertainty with a new palpable mass appearing in my left breast. But my health issues .... I can deal with those. Ahnung's health issues and the possibility that I may not have her around much longer ... now that's an entirely different story!

I am going to remain hopeful though about my sweet girl. Both Vicki (my friend and vet who did the surgery) and Ahnung's vet at Lake Harriet Veterinary have said that I caught this very early and acted very quickly. Most aren't this lucky. For many dogs (and cats) the cancer has metastasized before it is even caught. Vicki and Dr. Jim Sinning both have told me that I caught it extremely early. I check my girl every day. She loves to lay on her back and get her belly rubbed so not a day goes by where she doesn't get belly rubs from me. So last Thursday night at 9:30 pm when she chose to roll over on her back instead of joining her siblings Missy and Mister in going potty in the backyard I did the customary, get down on my knees next to her, whisper sweet things in her ears and rub her belly :) I noticed a couple large connected lumps. I immediately called my friend Vicki who texted me back and told me to bring her into her clinic the next day. By Monday she was in surgery and having the entire mass removed. The fact that her chest x-rays are clear indicates that there is no obvious spread of cancer to her lungs yet. The vets also can't feel her lymph nodes ... another positive sign that the cancer hasn't spread. The pathology report says that they see no indication of the cancer spreading into her blood system. So yes, there are a lot of unknowns yet .... we are walking on uncertain ground but we will make it through no matter what and we will hold onto hope .... we meet with the oncologist on Tuesday morning, and at that time we will be given more information ... with the support of friends we will walk through this together, and it will be okay. I have to believe that. When I look into the eyes of Ahnung who is so full of life, the only thing I can do is smile. She is pure love ... pure, unconditional love and she is a gift to me and to so many.

I want to thank all my friends for your continued support and words of encouragement and your prayers. It means so much to us.

Ahnung is having the time of her life right now ... she's getting lots of rest, lots of love, lots of treats and lots of snuggle time with mom, mom's friends and her siblings. Please continue to keep my sweet girl in your thoughts and prayers.

"Hope: Better to light the candle than to curse the darkness"

Ahnung hanging out at the entrance
of the Richfield Petco during the
Pet Haven dog adoption event!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beyond Connected

I got the call this morning ... the pathology report came in from Ahnung's lumpectomy. She has an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her left fourth mammary glad had a 2.0 cm nodule ... "atypia is moderate to marked. The mitotic rate is high, ranging up to seven per high power field. Infiltrative growth is noted. Extensive zones of tumor necrosis are present ..." I am referred to an oncologist. An appointment is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

Early this morning before I got the call from my vet I noticed a new lump in my left breast. I've been periodically checking since last Thursday when I noticed Ahnung's lumps ... we are so connected that I thought maybe she was trying to tell me something. I haven't noticed anything. This morning was different. I have a sizeable palpable mass in my left breast ... this time a different area than my previous 3 lumps and what was excised. This lump is closer to my lymph nodes. This growth came out of the blue like Ahnung's growth came out of the blue. I called my breast doctor/surgeon up and she wants me to see her next week. I have an appt Wednesday afternoon. I am bonded with my girl Ahnung in an incredibly deep and powerful way. I have always known that. I knew that from the moment I laid eyes on her in October, 2008 up at Red Lake reservation. Physically beaten and battered, she looked worn down. Yet her eyes spoke to me in a way I can't put words to. Abandoned with a litter of 8 puppies, heartworm disease, lymes, no front teeth (grinding her teeth down to the gums in search of food), and a gun shot wound (her recent chest x-rays confirm the bullet remains in one of her nipples) .... this girl is no stranger to a tough life. She's a survivor. And while she was under for her lumpectomy on Monday the vet took x-rays of her teeth. On top of all she's been through, she has 8 lower incisors and a lower canine that have been ground down below her gum line with roots exposed that should be extracted ... more evidence of the rough life she had surviving up north as a rez dog. Yet one would never know what she's been through. There's an incredibly deep connection that binds us ... she is my north star; she is the bright spot in my heart when I have had to go through very difficult times.

My heart aches and hurts from this latest news. I can deal with whatever health issues get tossed my way. When it comes to Ahnung though ... I am just not ready. I am not prepared. Please dear Lord ... not Ahnung, please don't take her away from me just yet.  Her work isn't done yet. Not only has she touched my heart and soul so deeply ... she has touched the hearts and souls of so many.

I ask you to hold Ahnung in your thoughts and prayers. I ask you to give your furry friend an extra hug and a kiss. I ask you to cherish every moment you have with your loved ones because, the truth is, we don't know how long we have ....

In the midst of pain, I look at Ahnung, and Missy and Mister and I know that no matter what happens, no matter how many pieces my heart will shatter into when I have to say goodbye, no matter what the doctors tell me in the coming days/weeks ... what can never be taken away from me is the undying and unwaivering love I have for Ahnung ... and I will never regret loving with all my heart and giving ... and no matter what I will hold onto hope because that's all I have ...

Sweet girl, you are loved. You are cherished, and you are surrounded by love, not only from me but from an entire community of friends who love you.

and sweet girl ... this weekend I promise to take you back for more doggie burgers .... maybe even this time we'll let you have some ice cream for dessert!!! We are going to be attached at the hip again this weekend ... and your siblings Missy and Mister love you too :)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ahnung's pre-surgery outing!

Ahnung tries on a thundershirt
at Lulu & Luigi
So this weekend my sweet girl and I had a LOT of time together. We were attached at the hip and spent the entire weekend together.

On Saturday, she 'crashed' a Pet Haven new volunteer orientation and was quite the popular girl getting lots of belly rubs and capturing even more hearts ... then we went off to meet my friend Vicki to help her as her rescue (Act V Rescue & Rehabilitation) brought in Athena, a sweet black lab mix with an eye injury from Red Lake Rosie's Rescue [Ahnung got to meet Athena over the fourth of July weekend when she had the chance to visit Red Lake rez .... i'll post a video from photos I took from that weekend at the bottom of this post].

On Sunday, we went to the Richfield Petco to get her a comfy cone ... she said she did NOT want one of those hard plastic cones after surgery. Actually, she wasn't too thrilled with the comfy cone either!! We then went off to Lulu & Luigi to see about getting her a shirt that she could wear after surgery so that she can't lick her incision from her lumpectomy.  She tried a thundershirt on and a blue tank top. She LOVED her shirts!! She also got a white tank top from her Uncle Dave ... she's going to be a styling girl after her surgery!!
Ahnung in our white tank top~!

Next stop on Sunday ... Galaxie Drive-in to get Ahnung a doggie burger!!! I promised Ahnung that I would bring her back from another doggie burger at least 10 more times so she needs to get healthy .... I pray the pathology report that will come in on Friday will tell me that it is either benign or if it is cancer as my vet suspects, that it is at least treatable.

Ahnung is truly a special being ... a wise spirit and an amazing soul. There is a powerful bond between us. I worry that she is taking on my health issues and I want her to know that she doesn't need to do that ... I am the one that's supposed to protect her and take care of her. I am waiting at home now for the call to tell me that everything went well and to let me know when I can pick up my sweet girl.

Please continue to keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

Sporting her blue tank top
at Lulu & Luigi

Give me that burger!!!

Enjoying the Galaxie Drive-In

Beautiful flowers for Ahnung
from my friend Carol ...
she specifically picked orange and green
which are Ahnung's colors :)

Riding out in the car with me
over the weekend ...
and both of us loving it!
and here's the video with photos taken up at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue where Ahnung was first rescued. Ahnung had a chance to go up to Red Lake reservation where she was first rescued in October, 2008 to visit her rescuer Karen Good. She stepped right back into rez dog mode and had the greatest time. I am so grateful she had a chance to go back and visit Karen and her roots ....

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Prayers for my sweet girl Ahnung

On Thursday night at around 9:30 pm as I was rubbing Ahnung's belly (as I often do) I noticed a couple lumps next to one of her nipples. One was the size of a thumbnail ... the other was attached to it and was about the size of my pinky nail. I panicked. I left a message for my friend Vicki (the vet) who texted me back shortly and said to bring her in to the clinic on Friday. I tried to tell myself it was some fatty lump ... it was nothing to worry about. I wanted Vicki to tell me on the phone it's nothing to worry about but I knew she couldn't tell me anything without seeing the lump.

Ahnung and I went to the clinic yesterday afternoon. It's not a fatty lump. Vicki suspects it's breast cancer. Ahnung had 3 chest x-rays done. If there were nodules and cancer had already spread to her lungs Vicki told me she would just send me to see the oncologist. There was no point in aspirating the lump ... she said it needed to be removed - a lumpectomy needed to be done. A lumpectomy is scheduled for early Monday morning. I was scheduled to go out of town for business on Sunday. I ask Vicki if this is something I should get done immediately. She says that if it were her dog she would. The lump is apparently growing fast. I cancel my business trip. This morning I checked her lumps ... they have grown since yesterday. I am terrified of how quickly these lumps are growing.

I can't imagine my life without my sweet girl. She has been my north star and she has helped me through some of my darkest moments. We are so connected. When looking at Ahnung's x-rays Vicki asks me if Ahnung has had heart worm. I say yes. From the shape of Ahnung's heart she is able to tell that. Ahnung and I share heart issues. Her x-rays also show the bullet from the gun shot wound she had when she was first rescued. I have been battling pre-cancer of my left breast. And now Ahnung has two lumps, also in her left breast. I have been telling her to stop trying to take away my health issues. I can deal with whatever health issues life tosses my way ... but dear God, please don't take my sweet girl away from me just yet. Please give me a little more time with her. Please let her continue to shine brightly in the lives of so many others.

I ask for your prayers and your positive and healing thoughts. For those of you that haven't seen the video of her story that I made shortly after I adopted her in in early 2009, check out her very first blog entry at

Participating in the 2009 5K9
run/walk with my girl!

Monday, July 4, 2011

In memory of Cass

My sweet angel boy Cass peacefully crossed over rainbow bridge at around noon on Friday, July 1st.  It breaks my heart to think of all this boy endured during his 6-7 years of life. Despite the neglect he was subjected to, his undying loyalty resulted in Cass  escaping from the impound and walking 7 miles from the animal impound to his so-called home ... only to be returned back to the impound ... unwanted, unloved and discarded like some disposable item.

Sweet boy ... you had a home with me and you will forever have a place in my heart.  I'm sorry it could only be for 24 hours. I'm sorry I couldn't save you. I'm sorry I couldn't give you more. I'm sorry for the cancer.

What I'm not sorry for is the love and joy you brought to me in the last 24 hours; for touching a very deep part of my heart; for reminding me to keep fighting for and being a voice for abandoned, abused and neglected animals; for giving me the gift of sharing your final hours and cracking my heart so wide open; for letting me love you and hold you and whisper in your ears how much I love you.

And I want to thank so many others who played a large role in making it possible for me to give Cass the gift of the last 24 hours in my home and experiencing life as he deserves to be loved ...

  • Diane D for watching my dog Missy
  • Laura L for watching my dog Mister
  • For the kindness of the staff at the Animal Humane Society (members of the coalition, Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare) and for giving him a place to go and a possible second chance. Thank you for your compassion ... for releasing Cass to me so that he could spend his final hours being loved.
  • To my vet Lake Harriet Veterinary for allowing me to bring Cass in on Friday to be euthanized in the most loving environment possible. He loved all the treats and the hugs and kisses. Thank you also for your support and for shedding tears alongside of me.
  • To Bubbly Paws for the complimentary bath for Cass (and to my friend Paula V for joining me to help me bathe Cass)
  • To my tree trimmer John Stamos, who came to give me an estimate for tree trimming on the one day that Cass was with me. My estimate came to $350 and after John heard Cass' story, he said to me, please just write a check for $350 to help the dogs up at Leech Lake reservation. Thank you John for your kindness and your donation.
  • To all my friends who have sent me kind words of support and encouragement through this difficult time. 
  • To Ahnung, for welcoming Cass into our home.
  • To Lisa M, John V., Nancy O, Tom O, Rory, Melissa, and Carolyn for all you do for the dogs up at Leech Lake reservation
  • To my friend Vicki for not only your friendship but your veterinary advice and input that is invaluable to me.
  • And to Jenny F for allowing me to walk by your side as we work to make it a better world for the dogs up at Leech Lake reservation.
  • Last by not least, to all my animal rescue/welfare friends who continue to do this work despite the heart break we must endure. May we continue to have the strength, the courage and resilience to be their advocate and their voice.
I made a video as a tribute to my sweet angel Cass. Your presence in my home for your last 24 hours will forever be etched in my heart. Your spirit fills my home and my heart. You are loved. You matter. And your legacy will continue.

To learn more about Leech Lake Reservation and how these efforts all began, check out the Leech Lake Legacy blog.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cass ... final morning

I'm sitting at my kitchen table this morning with Cass sleeping by my feet. This gentle boy has captured my heart. In many ways, he reminds me of Ahnung ... a male version of a calm, gentle, wise spirit. In the less than 24 hours he has been with me I have witnessed his spirit coming to life. When we first left AHS yesterday I couldn't get a tail wag out of the boy. Now his tail wags exuberantly and he's even broken into a trot when I call for him. When we were hanging outside Panera Bread in St. Louis Park after giving him a bath at Bubbly Paws (thanks Bubbly Paws for the complimentary bath!) his eyes would follow me around. When I went inside Panera Bread and had him wait for me outside with my friend Paula he wouldn't take his eyes off of me. He looked at me with his soulful eyes .... eyes that penetrate the very core of me. Is it even possible that he got attached to me so quickly? I guess so ... because I know he wiggled his way into my heart almost instantaneously.

There are many stories I have to share about this sweet boy in the short time he has been with me. But words right now are lost somewhere ... maybe in the overhanging cloud of tears. We were up quite a few times last night. In the middle of the night he woke me up ... we went outside and together (with Ahnung) we looked up into the night skies at the bright stars. My heart ached for Pepper ... another bright star in the night skies. My heart is breaking right now knowing that in less than 3 hours sweet Cass will be joining Pepper. He has been following me around everywhere I go. He loves to lay in the grass .... while we are hanging out together in the back yard or even in my writing studio he won't lay down and sleep. His eyes follow me around like a hawk. I can go inside the house for 15 minutes and he will sit patiently outside with his eyes on the backdoor waiting for me to come back out. Only when he knows that I am not going to leave him will he finally lay his head down and close his eyes ... or if he feels some part of my body touching his body.

I will forever be grateful for the gift of love that Cass has given to me. His spirit will continue to live on in me. Later today Jenny and I are heading up to Red Lake reservation (where my sweet girl Ahnung was originally rescued from). The night skies are gorgeous up there ... I will look up into the skies tonight and know that Pepper's bright star will be joined by a new bright star ... the star of Cass.

Cass ... know that you are loved ... know that you are cherished ... know that your spirit will continue to live on forever in my heart and in my unwaivering commitment to continue the work to help your friends up at Leech Lake reservation.

For more photos click here.

Hanging out at Panera Bread
in St. Louis Park

He finds a cool spot
in the backyard

Cooling off in the air-conditioned
writing studio with Ahnung

Restful sleep ...
only when he knows I'm by his side
Soulful eyes