Sunday, December 25, 2011

Gratitude ... and embracing uncertainty with curiosity

As 2011 comes to a close I find myself reflecting back on the year … healthwise, so much has happened.

January, 2011 – I bought and closed on my house here in Bloomington, MN. Together with my beloved pups (Ahnung, Missy and Mister) we began a new start.

March, 2011 – While going in for an MRI guided breast biopsy they discover electrical problems in my heart. The breast biopsy is postponed till I get clearance from a cardiologist. I soon learn my heart is beating from the ‘wrong’ place 25% of the time and am referred to the Heart Institute to meet with a cardiologist and electrophysiologist.

April, 2011 – I have clearance from my cardiologist and have my MRI guided breast biopsy done. Fortunately the lesions are benign. The electrical problems in my heart worsen and I am scheduled for a heart ablation. I also learn I have a rare heart condition called Left Ventricular Non-Compaction (LVNC) where I am at “high risk of developing cardiomyopathy and also at high risk of sudden cardiac death.”

May, 2011 – I undergo a heart ablation at the Heart Institute and my electrical problems in the right ventricle are resolved.

June, 2011 – Heart rhythm problems begin again and a heart holter indicates my heart is beating irregularly again 10% of the time. I am asked to return in 3 months for another holter monitor test.
Ahnung trying out a tank top
for her to wear post

July, 2011 – I discover a lump in my dog (and soul mate) Ahnung’s 4th left mammary gland. She undergoes a lumpectomy and is diagnosed with breast cancer. We see an oncologist who is hopeful that the cancer was removed and like myself, she is now on the close surveillance path as we monitor the return of tumors.

August, 2011 -  A new lump is discovered in my left breast. I undergo another lumpectomy (my third in two years). Pathology report indicates the cells in my breast are continuing to go awry … more atypical ductal hyperplasia, bordering on DCIS. I continue to opt for close surveillance.

October, 2011 – Heart holter test indicates the electrical problems in my heart are minimal (~ 1%). My cardiologist is cautiously optimistic that we have taken care of the electrical problems but says it’s unusual for them to return like they did in June and then go away with no explanation. He asks me to return in 6 months for another holter (to monitor the electrical problems in my heart) and an echocardiogram to monitor the structural functioning of my heart.

It’s December now and I’m not officially due to see my cardiologist till April, 2012. I’m due in February for another breast MRI.  I have continued to monitor Ahnung’s mammary glands and so far am beyond grateful there have been no more growths. I pray she remains cancer free. Meanwhile I am grateful to be feeling good a majority of the time. I have decided to live my life as fully as I can. I have decided to not focus on my health and to do what makes me feel alive, which is animal rescue work. The truth is, we all don’t know how much longer we have on this precious planet. I am confronted with words one dreads coming from a doctor’s mouth .. that yes, I have a  serious heart condition where there is a thickening of the walls in my heart muscles. It will cause my heart to get weaker and eventually fail. So when I asked him after my heart ablation how long I had, he said “it could be a year, two years, maybe even 10!”  Well, as far as I’m concerned that’s a pretty wide range and to dwell on it will do me absolutely no good. In fact, I consider it a gift .... It’s amazing how one’s perspective can shift when you are faced with a serious health condition. I would be lying if I said I never thought about it especially when my heart starts doing cart wheels and I can tell there’s something just not right.  But most of the time, it passes.

So this year, when my health took a nose dive I did what most people would say is insane, I plunged even deeper into my volunteer world of animal rescue, and began fostering homeless dogs/puppies and in September, 2011 adopted one of my foster puppies, Legacy. This sweet little bundle of joy has been such a gift and one of the best medicines for both Ahnung and me. Ironically, I walk a parallel path with Ahnung as we are monitored closely …. Many would say that with all this uncertainty in our lives, and not so pleasant health diagnoses, that we should be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know … instead, I’d like to think that we were given a gift of facing the fragileness of our own mortality, and through that gift, were given the gift of choosing to live, and I mean, really, truly LIVE. As Julian Boyd (a basketball player with the same heart condition I have) said in an interview with New York Times ("Star's Heart Condition keeps L.I.U on Edge")  ... "“Every game, I play like it’s my last because I’ve been shown that it really could be,” he said. “If anything were to happen ever again, I want to be able to say the last game I played was with everything." So my motto, is to live each day as if it were my last!

My wish for 2012 is that I will continue to fill my heart with gratitude and that I will embrace any and all uncertainty that comes my way with childlike curiosity and wonder.  And may I continue to fill my heart with the innocence and playfulness I am blessed to witness every day in a house full of puppies … both those who have permanent residence here (Ahnung, Missy, Mister, Legacy) and those who land temporarily (Yukon, Willy, Rez, Lenny, ZuZu and others) until they find their own forever homes.

And I close my 2011 blog with one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver .... because when it's over, I don't want to end up simply having visited this world ... I want to say that I have lived my life with passion, purpose, and playfulness.


When Death Comes
By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

And Legacy reminds both Ahnung and myself of the importance of play ... I just love how he has brought out the puppy in Ahnung!! :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prayers for Jovie and Buddy

Jovie in ICU being treated
for parvo. 
I'm at a loss for words. Tonight, one puppy, Jovie, fights for her life. The other puppy, Buddy, is getting better but not out of the woods.

On Monday, the rescue I volunteer and foster with, Act V Rescue & Rehabilitation, took in two very sick parvo puppies into their foster program. Not many rescues or shelters would do that. They did that with another gorgeous black puppy several months ago. For that sweet girl, she turned the corner pretty quickly and was adopted out within a month. I was hoping the same would be true for Jovie and Buddy. Unfortunately, Jovie and Buddy were taken to ICU after Dr. Vicki of Act V Rescue checked them out at intake. Jovie was extremely dehydrated and both had significant intestinal disease. They had a plasma transfusion this morning and later this afternoon a fellow rescue dog, Ricky, a parvo survivor, donated blood for Jovie and Buddy. Thank you Ricky! The hope is that the antibodies in his blood will help the pups. They were given the serum treatment tonight.

Buddy in ICU. He is doing
better today.
I went to see the pups tonight. They were in isolation and because of the risk of spreading parvo, or having them catch anything, I could only watch them through the glass, unable to hold or touch them, at least not physically.  I watched the tech in scrubs cleaning out their kennels; i watched her give them love, take their temperature, pet them .... so I could take some photos of Buddy, she let Buddy out of his kennel. He went up to her and rubbed his body against her. Jovie, on the other hand, is extremely sick and was completely listless and lethargic .. she no longer has any white blood cells; Buddy has minimal white blood cells. Losing white blood cells is apparently not a good sign. I looked at Jovie in her kennel and it broke my heart. There's this incredible sense of helplessness yet at the same time my heart is full of gratitude for what Dr. Vicki and Act V Rescue have and continue to do. Dr. Vicki is doing everything she possibly can to save Jovie and Buddy's lives. I also know that there's a good possibility that Jovie (and even Buddy) may not make it. We hold out a LOT of hope for Buddy as he appears to be getting stronger. For Jovie, there's a flicker of hope in my heart for that sweet girl. We aren't giving up yet ... I ask for your prayers for Jovie and Buddy. Please send them loving, healing thoughts.

Dear Jovie and Buddy, know that you are not alone ... know that you are loved and that you are surrounded by light, love and healing energy and prayers. We will continue to hold you in our hearts.

Please also consider making a donation to help Act V Rescue in covering the high costs of treating parvo puppies. Any amount you are able to donate would be greatly appreciated. You can make a donation online.

Ricky, a parvo survivor donates blood
for Jovie and Buddy.
Thank you Ricky!