Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ahnung's Celebration of Life

Photo credit: lmj {originals}
Last Sunday, April 22, 2012 I was blessed to have so many people come to celebrate my sweet Ahnung. What a beautiful Celebration of Life party for Ahnung, an incredibly wise, soulful being (whom I believe is angel among us and a northstar for many).

What a gift to have so many come ... special thanks to Lisa Jaster of lmj {originals} for taking photos that captured the essence of the celebration and to Merry Sawdey, Spiritual Director at Sacred Ground of St. Paul, for leading a healing/prayer circle. I chose to make a video sharing photos of Ahnung rather than talk for fear of not being able to hold myself together -- I was right. I got up to welcome everyone for coming and I felt this shooting pain in my heart. The tears started to flow. Yes, we were gathered to celebrate Ahnung and her life, yet the reality of her cancer was overwhelming. I was also so moved to have close to 50 people come to celebrate her life. After the short video, we gathered in a circle. I told Merry that Ahnung would do whatever Ahnung chooses to do. I have come to trust and listen to her wisdom. She weaved in and out of the circle, as if to greet and thank her friends for coming (and probably also to see if they had any treats!), and as Merry began to talk, she walked into the middle of the circle and plopped down a few feet in front of me. Maybe she could feel the pain in my heart. It was as if she was saying, "i'm here. It's okay."
Ahnung and Merry

Merry begins .... " ... Connect to the love in your heart for Ahnung and for Marilou. If you'd like, you can place your hand on  your heart ... We offer our gratitude for Ahnung: her stories, her experience, her warm and healing presence. She is the center of our circle today, the center of our hope for her healing and wholeness. She is also our leader who leads us outward into the world and teaches us to partner with the animals to help other animals and people in need of healing and wholeness. Her name means "star" and she is our north star guiding us by her charm, her beauty and her love ..."

While Aaron (Merry's husband) passes 2 baskets around ... one contains river rocks and the other, stars ... meanwhile, the music "Bright Morning Stars" plays in the background. Merry asks us to choose one rock and hold onto it. As the basket of stars is passed around, she invites us to write the name of a beloved animal on it, living or having passed on, and then place it back in the basket .. "We honor their memory, remember them with love and deep affection, and also ask for their presence to help in this healing circle ..."

"Each person in this circle is wonderfully unique. Each of us brings gifts, strengths, and talents that bring something new and glorious into the world .... Hold your rock, name your gifts, and offer them as a blessing to Ahnung. At the end of the circle, we'll collect the rocks and leave them with Marilou and Ahnung to remind them of our love, gratitude, and wish for their healing and wholeness.

Hold your rock gently and imagine that the gifts we offer are a banquet of delicious food, toys, playtime, leisurely naps, walks and caresses that Ahnung can draw on as she needs to fuel and support her in her journey.

Imagine a long table with a beautiful cloth on it. Each gift is set on the table and offers itself appealingly and lovingly to Ahnung. The gifts remain available to her as long as she might need them, to use in any way that is helpful to her. We trust her to know exactly what she needs in her journey.

Bless the work of Ahnung's doctors and healers. We wish them wisdom, clarity, and grace as they do their work to bring physical healing to Ahnung ..."

I share with you the following video ... the first song contains photos celebrating the 3 beautiful years I have been blessed to share with Ahnung, and the second song contains photos from the Celebration of Life party (many, many thanks again to Lisa Jaster of lmj {original} for joining us, for loving Ahnung and for giving us the gift of your talent to capture Ahnung's big party!! :)

I continue to pray for many more moments with Ahnung.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Learning to find peace in uncertainty

Ahnung waiting patiently to meet
with her oncologist

It's been 10 days since Ahnung had surgery to remove the tumor in her neck. The pathology report came back indicating an aggressive and rare cancer, "invasive adenosquamous carcinoma." We've struggled to keep her stitches in and she had to go back a few times to get stitched back up. This last go around involved being under completely and having her stitches completely re-done, and she ended up with a major wrap around her neck to keep it still. She has done amazingly well. 

This week is an interesting week for both of us as we continue to walk parallel paths in our health journey. Yesterday I met with my heart doctor for my routine 6 month check up. Last May I was told I had a very rare heart disease - Left Ventricular Non Compaction/LVNC ... it was an 'incidental' finding as a result of dealing with electrical rhythm problems in my heart. The electrical problems they were able to take care of with a heart ablation procedure. The LVNC unfortunately is something I have to live with and to keep monitoring closely. Because it is such a rare disease (only .01% of the population has it) there isn't much information on it and conversations regarding treatment and prognosis contain lots of uncertainty ... i'm told, it could be a year, two years, maybe 10 years before noticeable symptoms start showing up. I'm told the best thing I can do right now is aspirin therapy and being monitored closely. It's been an interesting journey for me physically, spiritually and emotionally to come to terms with a serious heart condition (one that in the past has only often been discovered after heart failure and during autopsies) and my own mortality and how fragile and short life is.

Ahnung leaving Lake Harriet Vet
last Friday, 4/20
And last July my sweet  Ahnung got diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a lumpectomy and because they had good margins we were advised to simply monitor her closely. We were hopeful the cancer had all been removed. Well, a new cancer developed. The oncologist does not believe this cancer is related to the breast cancer. We met with the oncologist this morning. Ahnung has a very rare cancer. My oncologist hasn't even seen this type of cancer before ... according to medical journals there have been 15 cases seen (and they were in Canada). Of these cases, if the cancer has spread to the lymphatic system then prognosis was a couple months; if the cancer had not spread to the lymphatic system prognosis was 30 months. In Ahnung's case, the pathology report indicates it has not spread to the lymphatic system, however, the cancer cells are very aggressive and multiplying rapidly (mitoses is 10 per high power field). The oncologist was honest in that he doesn't really know. It's unusual for another cancer to show up in less than a year; she's also got a very rare cancer. He indicated that if it were his dog he would simply continue to monitor closely. I asked about recurrence ... "hard to say" ... at this point, we can just hope and pray that all the cancer was removed. Even with all this uncertainty I am grateful that Ahnung does not need to go through chemo or radiation. Our biggest hurdle right now is to get her incision to heal so we can remove her wrap and she can romp around freely and play like a puppy with her brother Legacy who desperately misses his play buddy. 

On Thursday I go in for a breast MRI. I'm a little overdue. I've had 3 lumpectomies over the past 2 years. Pathology reports confirm atypical ductal hyperplasia and some say DCIS. It's not in any particular location so radiation isn't an option. I haven't been told anything definitive and have been told that close surveillance continues to be a viable option so I've continued down that path for a couple years. It's a gamble I know. I've been hearing a lot of 'you're high risk' over the past couple years and 'we haven't seen this before' or 'you have a rare disease' or 'we can't explain what caused your stomach erosions or why your kidneys are leaking' ... and 'we can't explain why your pancreas stopped producing lipase and why you weren't able to digest fats' ... just seems like the past two years have been this journey of doctor after doctor, procedure after procedure and a whole lot of unknowns and uncertainty. And now, my sweet, sweet Ahnung is joining me in this crazy health journey.

I have wondered if she is trying to take some of my health issues ... I have asked her not to. I have asked her to let me deal with my own health issues. But i know that we are so bonded and so connected. My spirit and soul are so connected with her ... often I feel like we are one.

I know there is a lesson and a reason for why we are having to walk this journey together. We were blessed to be able to have a party for Ahnung this past Sunday, a Celebration of Life party. It was an incredibly touching and moving party and she was surrounded by friends who love her dearly. A special thanks to Merry Sawdey for leading the healing/prayer circle for Ahnung ... Ahnung will be posting about her party on her blog in the not too distant future :)

So for today, I am simply grateful to have my sweet girl with me. I am grateful she feels good and continues to wag her tail like crazy. And I am grateful for all the love and support we continue to get from so many in the community.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Prayers for my sweet Ahnung

Ahnung the day before her surgery
On Tuesday, 4/10 I learned that the lump on Ahnung's neck was a malignant, aggressive cancer. Last July my sweet girl was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and the surgeon and oncologist were optimistic based on pathology reports that her margins were good and that all the cancer was removed. I've been vigilant about checking Ahnung for lumps. I've tried my best to not worry that cancer would return. Ahnung had surgery on Friday, 4/13. She had surgery to aggressively remove the tumor along with deep margins. We are waiting for the results of her pathology report which will hopefully come in tomorrow (Wednesday). Waiting, and not knowing, is the hardest part for me. I know she has cancer .. what I don't know is what kind of cancer, the grade of the cancer, has it spread and what's her prognosis. It's been a roller coast of emotions for me since Tuesday. We are going to have a party on Sunday, 4/22 .. a Celebration of Life party for  Ahnung. To learn more about her party check out her blog.  She's been a gift not only to me but to so many others. 

I found this native American prayer on the internet .... I have been reading this prayer every morning as I continue to prayer for Ahnung and for the strength and courage to be able to face and handle whatever is meant to be ...

Live Your Life

"So live your life so the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their views, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a stranger if in a lonely place. Show respect to all people, but grovel to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs them of their visions.

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home."  ~ Tecumseh

The truth is, I'm struggling and can't find peace in the thought that I may lose my Ahnung. I'm struggling to be at peace with the unknown. I'm angry at the injustice of this all. My heart hurts and my mind takes me places where I need for it to not go. I'm scared and I am worried, and I am not able to handle this hurdle life has thrown at me with even a fraction of grace and dignity that Ahnung has. I'm waiting for that phone call so I will know what the pathology reports says .. but will it really make me feel better to know? What if it's the worse news possible? Can life really throw me any more curve balls? And if it so happens that a part of my soul is ripped from me, will I be able to rise from the ashes? There are days when the hurt in my heart is excruciating and almost unbearable. I know it will pass. Till then, and while I am blessed to have my Ahnung in my life, I will just hold her tightly.

Please keep Ahnung in your thoughts and prayers.

Ahnung is prepped
for surgery by the staff
at South Hyland vet clinic who just love her!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Learn how your vacation at a beach front property in December can help animals?

About 8 years ago while vacationing in Hawaii, I got 'talked into' attending a meeting where ... "Come listen to a 45 minute presentation and you earn 20,000 Hilton Honor points. No obligations." I said to myself, I can do that ... I'll just listen and I won't be persuaded to buy anything!! Hmmm ... I learned otherwise :) Three hours later I had signed up to buy into the Hilton Grand Resorts Vacation, and every year since then have had the opportunity to take incredible vacations, with many of them being at Marco Island in Florida.

This year, I've decided to do something different. Yes, I'll be taking a vacation of my own in September, but I thought to myself, why not give someone else the opportunity to enjoy time at Marco Island, and come up with a way to raise money for the homeless, abandoned, abused animals of Leech Lake Reservation (to learn more about our efforts to help the animals at Leech Lake check out the Leech Lake Legacy blog). So this year, I am donating a large chunk of my Hilton Grand Resort Vacation points to a cause near and dear to my heart: the animals of Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota. I just booked a 2 BR villa at Eagle's Nest Resort on Marco Island (it's right on the ocean) for December 8 - December 14, 2012.

I debated on going down the raffle ticket route and working with a non-profit to get the raffle going as a fundraiser. The reality is I need to try to raise money quickly. At the end of March, we had our first collaborative spay/neuter clinic up at Leech Lake Reservation. In two days we:

- Spay/Neutered 91 dogs/cats (vaccinations, microchip and pet ID are also given for the 91)
- Provided vaccinations only to 75
- Took in 49 surrenders at the clinic
- Performed one eye enucleation

The need is HUGE up at Leech Lake Reservation and if at all possible I would love to raise enough money so we can send Kindest Cut spay/neuter mobile unit back up to Leech Lake Reservation in June or July.

The value of the December vacation is over $1,600. I am asking $1,500 and ask that you make the check out to Leech Lake Legacy. Not only will you be getting an incredible vacation, at a beach front property in December, but you will know that you will be helping the animals of Leech Lake Reservation.

So ... if you, or someone you know, has been thinking about planning a vacation for the end of the year, consider a week at Marco Island, right ON the beach ... imagine going for long walks along the beach and waving to the dolphins who are often seen swimming and playing along the shoreline.

I am essentially selling my 6 night/7 day vacation at a beachfront property (yes, a 2 BR villa) in Marco Island for slightly less than the value ... so not only are you getting a deal but you have my word that the entire amount will go to help fund a spay/neuter clinic up at Leech Lake Reservation.

And here are just a few photos taken at Marco Island from one of my visits there :)