Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Embracing the mystery of life, especially in tough times.

Handsome Mister :)

The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind of emotions again. I took my pup Mister to Lake Harriet vet on Monday because it looked like he had been losing weight, and something just didn’t seem right. On Monday his weight loss was confirmed. He has lost 12 lbs since last August. They ran a bunch of tests and told me that they would call me the next day when the lab results came back in. Late yesterday morning I got a call from Dr. Jim. It was a déjà vu of when he called in April, 2012 to tell me that the pathology report that came back from Ahnung’s lump on her back indicated it was once again, Cancer. Yesterday, there was no confirmation that it was cancer. Not yet. What the lab results did show were abnormalities, in his urine concentration and his liver.  A lot of information was shared and in the course of the conversation I heard the possibility of liver inflammation, liver scarring/cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and liver failure. So we discussed options and next steps. There was a test we could do that might answer some questions, but the best next step was an ultrasound. So we are working with the vet to get Mister scheduled for an ultrasound.
With my Papa shortly before he died

When I heard the word ‘cirrhosis of the liver’ yesterday a rush of emotions came flooding into my heart. It's interesting how traumatic losses never leave us. The pain eases but it’s never really gone. I lost my Papa when I was 4 years old to cirrhosis of the liver. And no, he wasn’t a drinker. In fact, he didn’t drink at all. When I was having pancreatic problems a couple years ago, my GI doctor asked me lots of questions about my family history. I told him about my father. He said it was probably cancer of the liver. He said it eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver.

I’ve spent the past 20 or so hours trying to just absorb this latest news. I know everything in life happens for a reason. I know Ahnung and I are on our final walk together. I know that Mister and I are venturing down a new path together. Exactly what that path is, I don’t know. What I do know is my sweet boy Mister is a boy who is full of life and joy. He has made me laugh and smile. He has made me scream in frustration at times. I smile when I think of all we have been through since I was blessed to have him as a puppy in July, 2007. He arrived, as many puppies do, full of innocence and cuteness. Mister is the social boy in my household of 4 pups. He gets along with everyone. I smile when I remember the day I came home to find he had chewed to shreds my work blackberry; or the time he grabbed the razor from the shower and chewed it up (fortunately, he was smart enough to spit out the razor blade); or the time we went on a run, he spotted a squirrel, and dragged me to the concrete ground head first; or the times I’ll find him sleeping on coffee tables or on top of kennels; or smacking water in lakes in a desperate attempt to show off to the other dogs at the dog park that he can swim. Mister is pure joy. And even though it’s clear there is something going on with his liver, it hasn’t stopped him from living life fully. Like his sister Ahnung, you would not even know he was sick.
Mister on his coffee table perch!

So, today, I am doing all I can to infuse my heart, my thoughts and my being, with positive and healing thoughts. Next week I go in to see my doctor. Just as I knew there was something go on with Ahnung, and I know there is something going on with Mister, I also know there is something going on with my own health. My recent shingles episode probably wasn’t a coincidence. I know there is something going on at a cellular level with my own body … too many coincidences to have issues with my heart, kidneys, pancreas, and consistent atypical ductal hyperplasia cells in my breast. So next week will be a new week with lots more unfolding … I don’t know where my path with Ahnung, with Mister, and with my own health will lead. I hold all 4 of my precious furkids close to my heart.

Deep down in my heart, I do know that everything in life happens for a reason. I believe Ahnung, Mister, Missy and Legacy have come into my life for a reason. I believe that it’s not up to me to decide when it’s time for me, or any of my precious furkids to move on. And as hard as it is for me to not ask for a specific outcome, or to pray for what I want … I pray this morning, simply for the strength, the courage, and for peace to know in my heart what I need to do and to be okay with whatever life doles my way. I pray for Ahnung and Mister to be free from pain or discomfort, and for continued life and vibrancy. I pray for Missy and Legacy to be filled with life and vibrancy. And I pray for the safety and warmth of all beings, 2-legged and 4-legged.

What makes living so beautiful and so precious, is that life is a mystery. I am grateful for my life today.  I am grateful for the mystery of life. I am grateful for every moment I have on this precious planet and for every moment I have with Ahnung, with Mister, with Missy and with Legacy. In tough times, I am learning that it is even more important for me to embrace the mystery of life, and to find peace in the uncertainty of so many unanswered questions. 

Ahnung with her friend Jaycee at a recent Leech Lake Legacy Celebration event!
Mister as a puppy :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Awakening to a wild cry

I woke up at 4 am. I’ve been waking up periodically through the night for a few weeks. I suspect it’s my heart acting up again. For the past 10 days I’ve been waking sometime between midnight and 12:30 am. Last Sunday, 1/13, Ahnung woke me up at 12:30 by scratching on my bedroom door. She didn’t need to go out. It was clear, however, she was trying to communicate something to me. I wrote about it on my last blog post, “Listening … really,truly listening.” Later that morning I made reservations to head up to Grand Marais at the end of the month for the two of us to spend time alone. I could sense a shift in her energy, in our energy, in the bond that tightly connects us. And early yesterday morning (Sunday, 1/20) she did the same thing. She woke me up at 12:30 am by scratching on my bedroom door. She didn’t need to go outside. She didn’t want to sleep in the bedroom with us. I did what I did last Sunday. I walked down the hallway and she followed me. I started up the steps, and just like last Sunday, she plopped down at the bottom of the steps and just looked at me. She wouldn’t move. She didn’t appear to be in any pain or discomfort. It was more, “I’m trying to tell you something.” And like last Sunday I came down the stairs and I just held her and hugged her. For 10 minutes we remained at the bottom of the stairs. She normally rolls over on her back and wants belly rubs, but just like last Sunday she sat upright taking in and soaking in my embrace and my hold on her. Once again, I knew she was trying to tell me something. We both went back to sleep. When I woke up later Sunday morning she was sleeping on the couch downstairs … another unusual behavior for her. As I always do, I made note of it in my head and in my heart. My sweet girl does everything with intention and purpose.

I went to bed at 9:30 last night. Missy and Mister were on the dog bed next to my bed, Legacy in his kennel and Ahnung chose to sleep upstairs in my meditation room.  As always, I gave her a kiss and said goodnight before heading downstairs. I didn’t wake up at 12:30 last night. In fact, for the first time I slept through the night from 9:30 till 4 am. I awoke at 4 am and was laying bed for a couple minutes when I hear this bloodcurdling cry. It startles me and also Missy and Mister who rush to the bedroom door. I jump out of bed and as I race to the bedroom door I hear the piercing cry again. It’s a high pitched cry and one I have never heard before. It’s a sound of a wild animal. The thought, ‘is there some wild strange animal in my house!’ flashes through my mind. I open the bedroom door to find Ahnung. She is facing me, laying down, her eyes are fixated on me and her tail wagging frantically,. It wasn’t an exuberant happy tail wag; it was a tail wag that was clearly trying to communicate to me something was wrong. She wasn’t panting or having any trouble breathing. Something was clearly off but what exactly I wasn’t sure. I am constantly watching and listening for any signs of breathing problems with Ahnung. Even Missy and Mister knew something going on. Normally I am unable to be near Ahnung or Legacy, petting them, without Missy or Mister coming up to me and wanting me to pet them and not their siblings. I let Legacy out of his kennel and he too knew something was going on. Missy, Mister and Legacy all gave me and Ahnung the space we needed. I sat on the floor next to Ahnung who continued to just look at me. Her eyes piercing through my soul. Her breathing is normal and her tail begins to wag in a more ‘normal’ fashion. I hold her face and start petting her. She rolls over on her side. Ahhh, that’s my girl. She wants belly rubs. I go upstairs to let Missy, Mister and Legacy outside. Ahnung doesn’t follow us. I return downstairs and she’s in the exact spot she was, laying upright with her eyes fixated on me as I turn the corner to walk down the hallway. I sit next to her for a while and listen to her breathing. There’s a calmness that comes over her. I tell her I am with her. I am always with her and I will not leave her side.
Ahnung (and Hazel) at Red Lake Reservation in Nov., 2008

I get up to walk down the hallway to see if she will follow me. Her eyes follow me but her body doesn’t move. Is it her luxating patella? Is she in pain if she moves? Is that why she was crying? Moments later she gets up and walks towards me. In some ways I am relieved it’s not her luxating patella, in other ways I’m not. I know in my heart she is continuing to communicate with me. I get a treat and her tail wags exuberantly. Yes, it’s the happy tail wag. I smile. She follows me upstairs and after I let her siblings in from the backyard they continue to leave Ahnung alone and to allow me to sit on the floor next to her, petting her. Her eyes continue to follow me. She’s now sleeping soundly in the small dog bed. She is snoring and twitching. She is resting comfortably.

I am doing my best to listen .. to really, truly listen to Ahnung. I write and I notice patterns. Nothing with Ahnung, or even me, is a coincidence. Why have I been waking up at 12:30 am for the past 10 days? For 2 Sundays Ahnung has woken me up by scratching on my door at 12:30 am. Thinking she might need to go potty, I head upstairs to let her out. Both times she has stopped at the bottom of the stairs wanting only for me to come to her and hold her. And later in the morning (and this happened last Sunday and also yesterday) I have seen  Ahnung more playful than ever. Yesterday morning she was acting more like a puppy than I had ever seen her and initiating wild, crazy, exuberant play with Legacy.  And why is it that for the first time in 10 days I didn’t wake up at 12:30 this morning. Instead, I woke up at 4 am and minutes later I hear Ahnung’s bloodcurdling cry?

In my volunteer work in hospice I have walked the final walk with many patients. I have seen them come to life right before the very end. There’s a part of me that wants to celebrate when I see Ahnung tearing around the backyard like a puppy. There’s another part of me that wants to cry because I fear the end may be nearing. There’s a reason why she cried like a wild animal at 4 am this morning. She doesn’t appear to be in any pain or discomfort. Yet, what is she trying to tell me? I also know it’s possible she’s trying to communicate with me that there’s something going on with my own health.
Ahnung and her friend Jaycee -visiting 2nd graders

Sweet precious girl, I will keep listening with all of my heart. With every fiber of my being I will do whatever I need to do to keep you comfortable and free from suffering. I will let you go when it is time to let you go and you are suffering and your spirit is crying to be set free from your body. I know you are trying to help me prepare. I know that. I also know you are going to live and die in the majestic, wise Ahnung way. You will live life to the fullest and something in my gut tells me that one day … one day, you will just go. Something tells me you will not have a slow decline. Something tells me you are giving me the time I need to prepare. When you feel your work is done I know you will go. I so desperately want to tell you your work is not done. I want to tell you your work has just begun. A week ago today you visited your friend Jaycee’s class … a class full of wonderful 2nd graders and you made a young girl extremely happy. You touched the heart of Jaycee who came to your April Celebration of Life party; you touched her heart so much that she shared your story with her classmates; you touched her heart so much that she wanted to share you with her classmates (to read more about Ahnung’s visit to Jaycee’s class last Monday check out Ahnung’s blog:

Dear sweet Ahnung, I hear your high-pitched cry from this morning. The cry vibrates through my veins. And now I watch you sleeping soundly … snoring, twitching and at rest. Yes, we are on this Final Walk, and we are on this walk together. I suspect later this morning you will be hard at play with Legacy, acting as if nothing happened at 4 am this morning. Yet I know, we are venturing down a new path on this Final Walk … waking me up at 12:30 am two Sundays in a row and now this morning at 4 am with a bloodcurdling cry is not something to disregard. If there is one thing I know … everything, absolutely everything my sweet nung-nung does is with intention and purpose.

I live with more questions now … I strive to find peace in the uncertainty, in the blur, in the mystery of life ... and death.

For now, I continue to celebrate you and to live in the moment with you, as I pray for many, many more moments with you.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.” 

 ~ Rilke.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Listening ... really, truly listening.

Sunrise at Grand Marais - January, 2013
I know Ahnung is trying to tell me something. I can sense a shift in her, or maybe it's the energy that so tightly bonds us. I had trouble sleeping the other night. I woke up at 12:30 and tossed and turned till around 3:30. My heart was doing crazy things .. the cartwheels and beat skippings I had grown so accustomed to for months before my heart procedure in 2011.

Last night she woke me up at 12:30. Ahnung has always had this independent streak about her. At night, she sleeps wherever she chooses to sleep in the house. Missy and Mister share a large dog bed in my bedroom (and yes, Missy does jump on the bed in the mornings!) and Legacy continues to sleep in his large crate in his bedroom. When it's bed time he runs down the steps and waits for me in front of his kennel. There have even been times when I'm not quite ready for bed, and I realize I can't find my little boy anywhere upstairs or in the den (he also loves the couch in the den) and I finally look in the bedroom and he's standing still in front of his kennel waiting for me to come and let him go to bed :) Ahnung will often sleep on one of the many dog beds upstairs but she also loves the dog bed in the hallway that leads to the master bedroom downstairs. The pups know when it's bed time .. the lights go out and Mister, Missy and Legacy tear down the steps like it's a race to the bedroom. Ahnung doesn't move. She remains sleeping in her bed. Sometimes she'll lift her head to look at me. I get down on my knees to give her a kiss and to say goodnight. Most often, it's an uneventful night and first thing in the morning when I get out of bed I open my bedroom door to let Mister and Missy out, then entice my sleepy Legacy out of his kennel. He stretches. He has mastered the yoga downward dog pose. The first thing Legacy always does is to look for Ahnung. When he finds Ahnung he walks up to her, lowers his head in downward dog pose, and rubs his face against her. Only after he's done that does he run up the stairs after his other siblings and heads on outside to the backyard.
Ahnung after her spa treatment!

Last night was different. Ahnung scratched on the bedroom door at 12:30 am. If she needed to go potty I would be able to tell because she wiggles her butt and immediately leads me in the direction she needs me to go. When I opened the door she came into the bedroom and plopped down on the floor. Her tail was wagging but there was an intentness about her. I cupped her face in my hands and gave her a kiss then went back to bed. She didn't join Missy and Mister in the extra large LL Bean dog bed (which could easily fit all 4 of my dogs!) so I knew something was 'off.' She laid on the hardwood floor facing the bedroom door. I waited 20 minutes to see if she would join her siblings in bed but she didn't. I got up to let her out thinking she might need to go potty. She plopped down right outside the bedroom door. I walked down the hallway encouraging her to follow me thinking that she would follow me upstairs so I could let her out. She followed me to the bottom of the stairs and stopped. She sat down and just looked at me intently. I asked her, "What is sweet girl?" Her tail was wagging but not in the crazy exuberant way it does when she thinks she's getting a treat. It was wagging in a way that was a different. I could feel her trying to tell me something. I sat down next to her and held her. Are you trying to tell me the end is nearing? Are you trying to tell me this final walk we are taking together may not be the longest, most scenic walk I am wishing for? I could feel her telling me yes, but not in a sad way. I could feel her love wrapped around my heart. I could feel her preparing me.

I know she's not in pain. She's vibrant and full of life right now. Yesterday she got a special spa treatment at Lucky Dog Pet Lodge ... she's getting ready for a visit at a school she will be doing on Monday to meet with some young kids. My co-worker and her daughter attended Ahnung's Celebration of Life party in April, 2012 and her daughter was so touched by Ahnung, her story and the Celebration of Life party that she wrote a report about Ahnung. Her mom got special permission from the Principal of her daughter's school so that Ahnung could make a personal appearance. Ahnung loves kids and we are both very much looking forward to our visit.

I have come to learn that everything about Ahnung has a reason and a purpose. She is wise beyond words and her actions and her non-actions are very purposeful. I have watched how she hunts. I have watched how she patiently waits at the bottom of a tree for hours when a squirrels run up the tree knowing that the squirrel will eventually have to come down. I have watched how she teaches the many foster dogs and puppies who have come through my house with her patience and calm way. I have watched how she has picked out a kid in a classroom with the greatest 'need' .. a kid who was shut down for weeks refusing to talk to anyone; i have watched her quietly sit next to him while I presented at the front of the classroom and simply allowed her safe presence to open up the heart of a young boy. I have watched Ahnung just intuitively know what to do .. while at an outreach event a few years ago, a mother with a toddler asked if her daughter could come say hi. Her little girl wasn't able to walk yet so her mom was helping her daughter walk. Ahnung who had been standing up looked at the little girl and as the toddler approached her she plopped down so they would be on the same level. And the little girl hugged Ahnung.

My heart knows Ahnung is trying to tell me something. This morning I feel a pain so deep and so intense in my heart. I know she is trying to tell me the end is nearing. She is also telling me she is alive and happy and full of joy and for me to cherish every moment we have. How do I carry in my breaking heart both the intensity of emotions of grief and also the pure joy she fills me with? How do I walk this Final Walk and not come out at the other end shattered and in a million pieces?

Sweet precious girl, I am listening .. I am really, truly listening to you. I know you are trying to prepare me. But how do I prepare myself for something like this? How do I prepare for something so painful? How do I muster up the courage and strength to know that only by walking into and through the darkness and the pain will I be able to come through on the other end, and to see the light again? How do I come to find peace in knowing that even when you are not here with me that you are always with me? How do I find peace in something I right now want to scream at? How do I accept the truth and reality of this Final Walk with your grace?

I know what you want me to do is to simply Celebrate your Life. So today, we are going to visit our friend in hospice. And tomorrow we will visit some awesome kids at school. I celebrate you every day .... I know there are many, many others who also celebrate you.

"To hear something asks very little of us. To listen, places our entire being on notice."
~ Terry Tempest Williams

Sweet precious Ahnung ... I am on notice. I am listening.

I feel the need to head back up to Grand Marais with my sweet Ahnung. This time, I feel this trip must just be the two of us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Taking the long, scenic joyous path ...

Ahnung and Legacy - Grand Marais, January, 2013
Last weekend we headed back up to East Bay Suites in Grand Marais with my friend Jenny, and my pups Ahnung and Legacy. We went last December (2011) when Legacy was still a youngster. Not knowing how much longer I will be blessed to have Ahnung with me, I decided we needed to head back up to the North Shores. There is something magical about waking up to the sound of waves crashing against the shore; there is something magical about walking Ahnung and Legacy on the beach; there is something magical about the water, the rocks, and the powerful silence of being in Grand Marais in winter. Ahnung and Legacy wrestled hard and then they slept hard. It made my heart sing to see so much life in my sweet girl. It's hard for me to wrap my heart around the reality of Ahnung's cancer .. of cancer that has spread to her lungs and that grew 30% in 4 weeks. I look at her, and I see life, joy, wisdom, resilience, purpose, peace, and love ... pure, simple, unadulterated love.
Heading to Woody's!

Since we've been back my sweet girl continues to do great! She is absolutely loving her raw whole food diet from Woody's Pet Food deli. She has now been on this incredible diet for a few weeks. For two weeks now she has been on a raw diet (previously she was eating cooked meat because she was on a low dose oral chemo drug).

Today my sweet girl came along for the ride to pick up the case of raw meat we had ordered from Woody's: 25 lbs of free range chicken with supplements. We stopped at Lake Harriet Veterinary on our way to picking up the food so we could weigh her. It's been a couple weeks since we weighed her. I was ecstatic when the scale read '61.8'! Wow ... she gained 4 lbs! At the end of November, she was down to 57 lbs. Not only does she love the food she is eating but it has helped her gain her weight back! After getting lots of hugs from the staff at Lake Harriet Veterinary we headed off to Woody's Pet Food Deli. Upon our arrival we were greeted by Liz. From the first time I went to Woody's they have been incredibly friendly and helpful. Liz hands me a small envelope .... ' a little something for you and Ahnung from a couple of her facebook friends' she tells me with a smile. I open up the envelope and in the envelope is a $50 gift certificate from two of her facebook fans (yes, believe it or not, Ahnung has 450 facebook fans! ;-) Liz goes on to tell me how the owners of Woody's were contacted and shared with them Ahnung's story, blog and facebook page; she shared how they were touched by her story and the work she does. I was so moved by this incredibly kind gift by two individuals whom neither one of us have actually met ... by two beautiful human beings who gave me the greatest gift ever ... sharing Ahnung's story. So Christian and Sharon, thank you ... thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the surprise, for your generosity, for taking the time to reach out to the owners of Woody's Pet Food Deli to pass along her story. And Ahnung thanks you for the yummy food she got today that she snarfed down for dinner! She will have many, many more delicious meals this week thanks to some amazing friends :)

When I look at Ahnung now I see a spirit so full of life. She doesn't know, nor does she care, that there is cancer in her body. With the weight gain and just how incredible she looks and feels, I am hopeful. I admit that I am also nervous about being hopeful. I am prepared to take this final walk with my precious girl. I am prepared to walk this path no matter where it takes us, but if I could have one wish it would be that this final walk be the longest, most scenic, most joyous, most playful walk where we can continue to celebrate again, and again, and again.

Ahnung at Woody's Pet Food Deli

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

If I could save time in a bottle ....

Ahnung - July, 2011; dx of mammary cancer
For some reason Jim Croce's song, "If I could save time in a bottle" has been playing over and over in my head ... so this morning I decided to take the time to create a video for my sweet Ahnung. I am blessed to be able to welcome the New Year with my precious girl.

My mind continues to fast forward and my heart begins to ache when I imagine the day when I will no longer have my star physically by my side. I have to constantly remind myself to stay in the moment, to stay here and now, and to simply Be with Ahnung.

Sweet girl, you have been through so much in your short 7 years, yet in that time you have touched the hearts and souls of so many. You are not alone on this Final Walk.

I love you with all my heart .. if only I could save time in a bottle ... if only, sweet girl. For now you continue to sprinkle your magic, your wisdom, your mystery, your magnificence, your serenity, your spirit in my heart and the hearts of so many ..... and you continue to spread your essence and your being in all the places we share ...

Ahnung (which means 'star' in ojibway) was rescued by Karen Good of Red Lake Reservation in October, 2008 with her litter of 8 puppies. She survived a couple gun shot wounds, heartworm disease, lymes and has no front teeth, grinding her teeth down in search of food. She became a therapy dog in December, 2009 and volunteered working with at-risk youth. She currently volunteers in hospice. In July, 2011 she was diagnosed with mammary cancer and had a lumpectomy. In April, 2012 she was diagnosed with adenosquamous carcinoma (a rare, aggressive and invasive cancer). She had surgery to remove the tumor in the her neck/back. At the end of November, 2012 we learned her cancer had metastasized to her lungs. She went through chemo for a month. After one month, we learned the tumor had grown 30% despite the chemo. At the end of December, 2012 we decided to stop chemo and enjoy our Final Walk together.

We Celebrate her Life and on January 1, 2013 when I create this video I am grateful to have Ahnung by my side and will cherish every moment we have.