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11
September
2010

My girls51

10
September
2010

The Spirit is never broken9

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We let Tshuvah free of her broken body yesterday.  We had planned on this weekend, but on Wednesday night she seemed to have more pain than before and there’s no reason for enduring that. Yesterday was Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, so I took her to services and then drove her down to the Veterinary Cancer Care clinic in Santa Fe.  I knew I could trust the staff there to do a wonderful job for us, and they did.  Blessings to Amy, the clinic manager and Angel, who loved Tshuvah and helped us both through her passing.  We helped Tshuvah to pass on the front lawn of the clinic and also in my car, in her co-pilot spot.  After she was gone I was able to wash away the blood spots near her skin lesions that I couldn’t while she was living because it hurt her.  So I lovingly cleaned her up and talked to her, and then carried her in her blanket into the clinic.  It was a blessing to cradle my girl one last time.

Its an hour and a half drive to Santa Fe from Taos, and I had Tshuvah in her co-pilot chair next to me as we drove.  I had the chance to say everything I could think to say to her.  Her last breakfast was vanilla ice cream, her favorite.

It feels silent as a tomb here at home today.  Tshuvah, as I mentioned before, was a particularly vocal dog, although not a barker.  She just had a lot to say in chirps and grunts and whines.  This is also the first day in 12 years that there hasn’t been at least one dog in the house.  I have been praying to Yesha and Tzav, Tshuvah’s big labrador brothers who were lost to cancer in the past 3 years, that they meet Tshuvah and escort her over the bridge.

I know it will be a better “shana tova” or good year, for Tshuvah because she is free of her very mortal body.  For us, it will no doubt be a challenging year without our so so so beloved girl.

Although her body was so sick, her spirit was truly never broken.  Two days ago as my daughter and I were cutting sunflowers in our front yard to decorate the holiday table, our neighbor came to say hello since we hadn’t seen her all summer; she’s a doctor who was volunteering in Haiti and we were in Chicago helping my sister.  Even though Tshuvah had very little mobility, she still made it to her feet, got the propeller tail spinning, and grunted/chirped/whined her marvelous greeting to our neighbor.  There was just no getting Tshuvah down.  A more joyous, delightful soul I have never met.  We have been so blessed by her presence.  Now it is ours to endure these first weeks and months of her absence.

Grateful thanks to this community for helping me through Tshuvah’s amputation, diagnosis, last wonderful summer, and passing.  I hate to think what it would have been like these past three months without y’all.

Beth


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5
September
2010

I think the end is nearing188

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It seems that Tshuvah is clearly failing now. We got back home exactly a week ago, and about 4 days ago she started really having trouble moving around. She tires easily. And she’s not eating well. Today all she ate was ice cream at 9pm, after refusing elk jerky and salmon, her two usual favorites. Granted my husband, daughter and I were out most of the day and Tshuvah never eats well if she hasn’t exercised; but that’s the catch-22; it seems she can’t really exercise anymore which affects her appetite. Yesterday she made it to our neighbor’s driveway on our walk but seemed not to even really want to do that. Tonight she went partly down our driveway but clearly didn’t want to be going even that far, so we came back.  She has so many skin tumors that being petted seems to make her anxious so I just hold her cheek in my hand.

I saw a bright first star tonight and wished that Tshuvah’s passage will be quick, painless, merciful and not scary for her. I’m about to have a heart attack myself from the stress and worry; crying a lot. I have been assuming that she will bleed out and die on her own but tonight I realize I might have to help her across before she bleeds out. She is still enjoying going to the park and she can still get up and out to pee or lie in the sun.   I guess when I can’t even say these few positive things, it will be time to help her if she hasn’t already passed.

I can’t believe I’m even writing these words. Heart broken.

Beth

19
August
2010

Cancer marches on5

I can’t add any new photos to my computer now since we’re traveling, so I’m finding lots of old great shots to post instead.  Here is Tshuvah in her prime, enjoying a winter mountain hike.  She doesn’t have much of an undercoat and would get so cold on the rides home after running like crazy all over the Taos mountains in the winter.  I would wrap her in a super soft fleece doggie coat in the car and then she would snuggle up to her extra-furry Squishy brother and sleep contentedly all the way home.

So cancer marches on.  As I’ve said before, we aren’t following the progression of Tshuvah’s hemangiosarcoma with ultrasounds or other films or tests…at least not while she’s symptom free.  But as of today I can count 5 skin lesions, like blood blisters.  Last month there was only one.  They grow pretty quickly from small, skin-colored bumps to blood-filled blisters.  Most are on the back of her neck near her ears but there is one on her hip and maybe one on the inside of her thigh.  They don’t appear to bother her, and thankfully none of them has opened and bled.  Bless her beautiful heart and soul.

My mother gave me a gift certificate to visit a woman who reads energy and tells what she feels it means in terms of what might happen in the future (I suppose what one might call a psychic).  I went to her yesterday and of course had Tshuvah in the car with me; this woman was kind enough to encourage me to bring Tshuvah into her office.  Her impression was that Tshuvah will live into early September, FWIW.  That would be a great blessing to me as it would enable me to drive home with Tshuvah next week, to have our own vets for help and our own home for comfort, and to bury Tshuvah next to our squishy Yesha in our yard.  But I am still more concerned about Tshuvah’s well-being than any of these things, and if she needs to go before we get home, I have told her many times that she should leave when she needs to and I will help her however I can.  No unnecessary suffering for my baby girl.

I haven’t mentioned that I am in a training program in Jewish Spiritual Direction (I’m a psychologist now).  In the training we talk a lot about the different levels of the soul as taught in traditional Jewish theology and in the Mussar tradition.  I feel much more clear on the fact that it is Tshuvah’s body that has cancer, not Tshuvah herself.  That it is Tshuvah’s body that will die, not the soul essence of Tshuvah.  This is enormously helpful to me;  I can more easily understand how to talk to her about letting her body go when it is time and can try to focus on the part of Tshuvah that will live on.

Even so, losing the body-Tshuvah will be awfully hard.  Dogs are so so in their bodies, aren’t they?  And how we experience them is so physical.  I remember that right before Yesha died, when I was given the opportunity to say my goodbyes, I told him through my wracking tears how much I was going to miss his squishy face, his curly eyelids, his velvet ears, the funny cowlick he had on the back of his neck all his life, his incredibly soft fur.  I took pictures on my phone of his feet, his face, every part of him.

I imagine it will be the same with Tshuvah.  I know I will miss her bat ears, her lovely kohl-black eyeliner, her extra long tail that wags in a circle like a propeller when she’s especially happy to see someone (“Proppy” was her first nickname because of the propeller-tail), her perfect compact athlete’s body, her white socks, and most of all her chirps, grunts, monkey sounds, nose pokes…everything about the physical girl that is so incredibly endearing and gives me so much joy and happiness every day.

I’ve never experienced my dogs after their death.  Neither Tzav nor Yesha have ever come to me in a dream, in a sensation of their soul being present, or in any of the other ways that I know other people have felt their loved ones after death.  I wish one of them would; maybe Tshuvah will.

I recommend Rita Reynolds book Blessing the Bridge, if you haven’t read it.  She is amazing; she has an animal sanctuary in Virginia and has helped countless animals of all kinds over the bridge.  I’m re-reading it now so I can be as present to Tshuvah and as helpful to her as possible.  I also recommend the book _Lifetimes_ for children, it is a beautiful treatment of the reality of life and death, extremely gentle.

Thank you all for your caring,  Beth

18
August
2010

Who’s that big guy?5

You may have noticed that Tshuvah’s not alone in the banner photo above. She is sitting with her big brother Yesha. They were inseparable until Yesha died on July 5th 2009, just over a year ago, quite suddenly of soft tissue sarcoma in his jaw. In this photo you see why Yesha’s nickname was “Squishy”. It just seems right to have Yesha be a part of Tshuvah’s blog given how much they loved each other, and are loved by us.

This is a great example of the kind of guy Yesha was.  He could be trusted with anything.  Just a big hunk of love.  He is dearly and sorely missed.

And here’s when we were blessed to have the whole gang together, this was obviously shortly after our daughter was born, about 5 years ago.  That’s me holding Lila, with Tzav leaning against me, my husband holding the clearly delighted Tshuvah, and Yesha in the foreground.  You can see what I mean about Tshuvah being the little sister of the group.  I’m glad she has her two big brothers to meet her at the Bridge when its her time to pass over.  It gives me some comfort…until I think about how much I miss the two Big Guys too…

12
August
2010

Bon Appetit!2

Good morning all.  Here’s a picture I just love of Tshuvah kissing my 3 year old daughter (about 2 years ago).  Ordinarily Tshuvah’s not a particularly kissy dog and I think she caught my dd by surprise.  We were on our way to the mountains for a hike, so maybe Tshuvah was just saying yippee and thank you!

Tshuvah’s menu for today:  pan-fried parmesan crusted tilapia for breakfast, roasted turkey breast with gravy for dinner, vanilla ice cream for dessert.  She had flank steak for dinner last night that I bought for my husband but he didn’t want; of course Tshuvi scarfed it.  She’s definitely in canine food heaven.  Her menu selections are all about my “no regrets” policy.  She’s always been a picky eater and has always loved home-prepared food best.  Finally I can stop thinking about balancing her nutrient levels, and just give her what she loves.  And I love to do it!

11
August
2010

My Dirty Little Secret2

I don’t have much time or energy tonight.  So I just want to say that I hate that Tshuvah’s leg was amputated.  Yes, I’m relieved that her pain is gone and that we have this quality time together…but sometimes I look at her and I hate that this has happened.  I hate that my marvelously athletic sweetheart has been slowed, which she has.  Sometimes I feel sick in the pit of my stomach just thinking about the loss of her leg.  Maybe in part its because I know that the cause of the amputation is also going to amputate her life soon.

I don’t let her know it, when I feel this way.  At least I think I don’t let her know it.  And it feels like a dirty little secret to hate the amputation because being a tripawd isn’t a bad thing at all; her mobility is good (though not great, as it used to be) and in spite of her diagnosis, she is very strong, happy and healthy.  Sometimes it feels like I’m almost supposed to be happy that she’s a tripawd now.  I am, but only in the sense that I didn’t have to put her down in order to stop the pain and extend her life.

Tonight I just think that cancer sucks.  That my Tshuvah has been disfigured and mauled by cancer, and it makes me sick.

10
August
2010

My beloved Tshuvah, Aug 10 201011

Hi everyone.  This is my first blog.  I’m writing to honor my beloved Tshuvah, to share her story, and to help myself cope with this very trying situation.  Let’s start with the story of Tshuvah.

Tshuvah is a mixed breed “Taos dog”.  We call her that because, well, we live in Taos, NM and found her here on the road (not uncommon, New Mexico is an awful place for companion animals).  She looks like many many other mixed breed dogs that live here; lots of red heeler (Australian Cattle Dog), a dash of pit, and several ounces of anyone’s guess.  She is beautiful, about 40 lb, very strong, compact, fleet of foot, and has these dramatic Egyptian eyes, kohl black eyeliner and all.  She also has these amazing bat-ears and communicates in an intricate array of grunts, squeaks, monkey sounds and nose-pokes.  She is personality plus and EVERYONE loves her.  She’s irresistable.

I found Tshuvah about 9 years ago, we guess she’s about 10 years old now.  I was driving the back country roads to work one morning and found her trotting along the side of the road.  She was literally skin and bones, and was unable to use her right back leg.  It was quite atrophied and the joint was out, so we guess it was an older injury.  I always have food and water for dogs in my car so I stopped to feed her, and assumed that like most other homeless dogs in Taos, she would run away from me.  Well, she’s the only one in 9 years of feeding homeless dogs who came willingly up to me, tail wagging.  So of course I took her in the car and to the vet.  Her hip joint was out and couldn’t be popped back in, so a femoral head ostectomy was performed to create a false joint.  She’s done great and had no problems with her back leg since.

At that time we already had two 100 lb yellow labrador boys, Tzav and Yesha.  My husband was very grouchy about having a third dog so I found a new home for Tshuvah in Colorado Springs.  However, I was so broken hearted about having done so that I contacted the new guardian a week later and asked if I could have Tshuvah back!  She said yes (I think she was grateful and got a cat shortly thereafter!) and so Tshuvah came back to us on Yom Kippur, which is how she got her name.  “Tshuvah” is the theme of Yom Kippur, meaning a spiritual return to one’s truest, best self.

Tshuvah loved her big brother labs.  She has always been a bit flirty with big boy dogs (and human men, too, for that matter).  She also had a true love, a romance with a chow mix named Puppy Chow…it was love at first sight for them both and we used to joke with Puppy Chow’s guardian that they were husband and wife.  I’ve never seen two dogs act out an honest to goodness romantic love like that.

Tshuvah has always been an amazing athlete.  She left her labrador brothers in the dust.  We live adjacent to several hundred acres of undeveloped mesa and also near the southern tip of the rockies (the Sangre De Cristo mountains) and Tshuvah has rarely been on a leash; free to run with us and her brothers, chasing mice and jackrabbits and good smells.  She is a fierce digger and often returns to us with a big smile and a dusty brown nose from poking into the dry dusty mesa earth.  She’s not much for swimming but has taken the plunge into the Rio Grande just to show her water boy brothers that she’s capable of anything.  When I saw her catch a full grown jackrabbit on the fly, I knew she truly was capable of anything.

Two years ago we lost our older lab, Tzav, who had a myriad of health issues.  This was hard for Tshuvah because she and Tzav were real partners in crime.  We called them Mutt and Jeff :)).  Last year was harder, though, for all of us when we very suddenly lost Yesha, at age 9, to soft tissue sarcoma.  Yesha was a heart and soul dog, and all of us in the family relied on his calm, steady love.  Tshuvah has been a bit lost since Yesha died, as have we all.  She was always the funny little sister of the family, and now she’s the only child (unless you count our human daughter, who came along 5 years ago, LOL!)

Tshuvah started limping in late April of this year, 2010.  This isn’t particularly unusual for a dog who runs at top speed all over the rough terrain of Northern New Mexico and who also was 9 years old.  But after not finding any cactus in her paw, no foxtails, and time for a sprain to heal did nothing, we got x-rays (clean), had chiropractic and neuro-muscular therapy, and various anti-inflammatory and NSAID meds.  Of course nothing worked, her limp got worse, and we took her to the emergency specialist in Santa Fe.  Another x-ray, one month later, showed clear evidence of a bone tumor in her left front leg and a provisional diagnosis of osteosarcoma was made.  We were encouraged to amputate and start chemo, and were given the usual prognosis of 6 months without chemo, 1 year with.

We were devastated, needless to say.  But here’s a typical Tshuvah story.  That day at the veterinary specialist, Tshuvah was in terrible pain from the bone tumor and wasn’t eating or moving around much.  But in the waiting room, she insisted on limping up to every single person to say an individual hello…tail wagging, making her funny grunts and nose-pokes.  We all watched this little sick dog dragging herself around to seven strangers to get and give some love and knew she wasn’t ready to die.  So we ok’d the amputation.

She did pretty well, came home 3 days later.  She did need some kidney flushes and hand-feeding post-op but we handled that.  Harder to handle was the terrible news two weeks later that she has hemangiosarcoma, not osteosarcoma…as if osteo isn’t bad enough!  Hemangio is a cancer of the blood vessels, has a life expectancy of 1-2 months post-diagnosis, is horrendously aggressive and highly metastatic.  It only rarely presents with a primary bone tumor and does not respond well to chemo.  That was a bitter day, a very bitter day.

We decided not to pursue chemo since the odds of it working were so small and Tshuvah is very frightened of vets and sensitive to meds and interventions.  We didn’t want her last weeks or months to be stressful for her, filled with vet visits, blood draws, forcing medications on her since she won’t take anything in food like her labrador brothers always did.

We are now exactly 2 months post-amputation.  Tshuvah has developed some kind of subcutaneous lump behind her right shoulder blade that the vet was unable to aspirate, and also several blood blister-type bumps around her neck and ears.  We assume these are all related to the cancer.  She does not appear to be in any pain (she takes gabapentin at night for what we think was some phantom limb pain) and she does seem to be enjoying life.  We are spending the summer in Chicago visiting my family and Tshuvah has had a blast meeting tons of kids at the big beautiful parks here, learning all about squirrels and chipmunks, and going into town for vanilla ice cream.  As always, she is an amazing ambassador for canine-kind, and especially now for tripawds.

Tshuvah has made it to the end of what is considered typical life expectancy for her diagnosis.  We have no idea if she will live another hour, day, week, month, or more.  I am driving back to Taos in two weeks and don’t know if Tshuvah will be in the front seat with me as she was on the drive here, winning friends at every rest stop in Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.  The daily not-knowing is a devastating spiritual trial for me.  I love Tshuvah with my heart and soul.  I try to live everyday with her in such a way as to have no regrets.  And I know she will be going to her big labrador brothers when she passes.  I pray to Yesha and Tzav to watch over Tshuvah now, to help her in her passage, and to be there to greet her at the Bridge when its time.  I pray for them to help me, too.  Losing three dearly dearly beloved dogs in three years is a great burden on my heart.  I’ll write more in a later post about how Tzav, Yesha and Tshuvah carried me through 10 devastating years and how great my debt is to them.  I am indebted to you for your care and love in reading about my Tshuvi-Pie.

Beth


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