Monday, February 27, 2012

oooh shiny

So I happen to collect dragons.  Anyone who's known me for more than about two days knows this, especially if they have visited my house and seen my office - it's hard to miss the two display cases and wall of dragon art!  While I've collected all types of dragons from all over the world for over fifteen years, some of my very favorite dragons are made by Windstone Editions using the art of Melody Pena.  The first one I ever got was a tiny little rainbow hatching dragon, and every so often over the past years I've picked up another.

Let's just say the past two months have doubled my collection of Windstone dragons and leave it at that.

However, in addition to the many beautiful dragon sculptures, the artists at Windstone also make and sell several other beautiful creatures ranging from the real (meerkats, cats, foxes) to the fantastic (unicorns, gryphons, muses, poads).  From time to time, Melody will hand-paint a set of one type of sculpture and sell them as a "Limited Edition Grab Bag" where you won't know what you got until you open the package when it arrives.  I chose to take part in two of these grab bag offerings over the past few months, even though they weren't dragons, and I'm just tickled with what I've gotten.

First up is the tiny baby unicorn that arrived the same day Curzon had his surgery, which I named Rain.

Rain is a white unicorn with a light brown stripe down her back and legs that fade from white to yellow to green to orange and then pink, with white socks and copper/pink hooves.  Her mane and tail do the same fade pattern, and she has yellow eyes and a light green jewel in her collar.  Her pattern is purple raindrops across her body, with a light dusting of the sparkly "interference" paint which shows up at just the right angle under bright sunlight or bright indoor light (and thus is the devil to photograph).

I haven't been "into" unicorns since I was a girl, but Rain is very lovely and it means a lot to me that she came on the day Curzon was in surgery.  I actually opened up the box while waiting to hear back from the surgeon that he'd come out of the anesthesia.  Currently she's living on my nightstand in my bedroom, where I can look at how pretty she is and smile before I go to bed.

It took an angled shot to be able to see the color of her eyes, which sound weird (being yellow) but look very nice when compared with all of the other colors.  The detail on this tiny little sculpture is fantastic - the shading on the colors, the raindrops splattered across her body, even the insides of the nostrils are painted!

The most recent grab bag editions was for a "Young Poad" sculpture, which is a creation of Melody Pena's imagination and (to me) is best described as a combination of a guinea pig and a bird.  They're very cute, and for this batch she painted over 120 of them, with most of them pictured in the class photo above.  The one I bought arrived today, and this time I was able to find it in the photo - as circled!

I was super excited to get one with lots of detail on her back, almost a butterfly sort of pattern with lots of color and details.  The Poad is airbrushed in green, teal, blue, and purple with a silver stripe down her back and a butterfly pattern in red orange, purple, gold, blue, and teal.  She has red eyes and a gold beak and toenails.

It's hard to see all the colors in a photograph - what looks like solid red is actually a combination of red, orange, and purple!  The silver strip sure showed up strong in the photo, however.

Inquisitive looking little creature, isn't she?  I don't think I'm going to collect any of these as a "thing" any more than I will the unicorns, but I do love having these little "grab bag" editions.  The Poad will live on my desk at home for now, although I'd really like to take her to live on my desk at work but I'm afraid something might happen to her.  I also need to pick out a name, but one hasn't struck me just yet - but she's only been here for a few hours!

Yay for pretty things!

Monday, February 20, 2012

days 10 to 20, hope returns

Wow, I didn't realize I hadn't updated for over a week!  Curzon's recovery from his surgery is going fantastic, as every day he gets a little stronger and more energetic.  His fur is growing back nicely, and once I removed the last bandage on Day 10 post-surgery he's been much less itchy and in fact we've left his t-shirt off for the past two days.  His main discomfort appears to be from where the adhesive on the bandage was stuck to his skin, as that part is very itchy and is flaky when I brush it, but he doesn't react or seem interested in any of the scar tissue around his incision.  He's been off the pain meds entirely since about Day 10, although I did give him one at bedtime this past weekend after his first swimming session since he was kind of stiff and sore from all of his exuberant exertion.

Day 12 post-surgery, two days after bandage removal.

Day 14 post-surgery, the day after I took him to meet with the oncologist at the Veterinary Oncology Center, down in Renton.  Right after my last blog post, we did hear back from Dr. Kirkby that the final pathology on the removed tumor came back as an osteosarcoma with a higher mitotic rate than expected, and she recommended we see Dr. Sarbu at the VOC.  I took him in on Monday 02/13, just 13 days post surgery, and we had a consultation on our options and what that could mean for him.  The standard protocol would be to do a total of 8 chemotherapy treatments, spaced 3 weeks apart, and alternating two different chemo drugs.  He would have a genetic test done to determine if he could tolerate the second drug, as herding breeds carry a genetic mutation that makes the second drug much more dangerous, and there would be an option to add an antiangiogenesis drug after the first four treatments were complete.  The doctor would have us stop using the Hoxsey's herbal treatment during the course of chemotherapy, and there would be chest x-rays done every 8 weeks and bloodwork done with every chemo appointment.  The side effects are typically very low with canine chemotherapy, and the cost would be around $500 or so per treatment (so a total of over $4000).

Chris and I talked about the chemotherapy option for two days, and we finally decided against going ahead with the treatment.  Our reasoning is as follows, and perhaps it will be helpful to someone who stumbles upon our journey posted here in the future.
1) The tumor was fully removed with 3cm clear margins around the entire perimeter.
2) Curzon's CT scan on 01/27 was completely clear of any visible metastases throughout his entire body.
3) Curzon's ultrasound on 01/30 cleared his liver, kidneys, and adrenals.
4) A chest x-ray he had last August was completely tumor-free, and our best guess is that it started growing around Christmastime as he had no lumps when he had a bath around Thanksgiving.
5) His ALP levels were low for a normal dog, let alone low for a dog with an osteosarcoma.
6) His healing rate was AMAZING - if he was already riddled with cancer metastases, there's no way he would have healed up the way that he has.

Based on all of this information, the cost of the treatment with a low predictor of success, and our own gut feelings, we chose to not perform chemotherapy.  Our treatment regimen moving forward is to continue the Hoxsey's tincture, add in the artemisinin/butyrex protocol under supervision of our regular veterinarian, and monitor and adjust as needed.  I'm giving him full body checks every few days, and our flyball club vet techs have offered to check his lymph nodes each week when he returns to practice, and we will do a chest x-ray in six months.  We feel this is the right decision for us, and for him, and we are hopeful that Curzon will continue to do well and be with us for a long time to come.

This picture was taken on Day 15 after surgery, in the exam room where he had his two-week post-surgery checkup with both Dr. Kirkby and the rehab technician at SVS.  Curzon amazed both of these wonderful ladies with his enthusiasm and impressive healing abilities, as they both were surprised at the extent of his condition and how much motion he had.  Dr. Kirkby called him a "rock star" and is considering featuring him as a patient case of the month, which is pretty awesome!  She cleared him to resume normal daily activity, including going up/down the stairs, going out to potty off-leash, and light supervised play with Ezri.  He's not ready for flat-out running or serious jumping just yet, but she said that unless something drastically changed she expects to clear him for all activity (including flyball!) at his six-week checkup and sees no reason why he can't compete in the May tournament.

The rehab tech was really awesome and showed me how to do some exercises with Curzon to ensure he regains his stability, flexibility, and strength in the arm and chest where his ribs were removed.  She started by putting him into a gentle "play bow" sort of position, and when I realized what she wanted I gave him his "bow" command and he dropped into a perfect, full-extention play bow - much to her surprise!  Apparently he shouldn't be able to do that just yet!  We also went over some exercises to do using the exercise ball and the little "fit disc" saucers, although he was much more interested in throwing those around than in standing on them.  Our program for the next four weeks is to do his PT exercises twice per day and start off with 10 minute walks on level or gently sloped ground, and gradually increase the time and intensity of both.

Curzon is not a fan of gradually increasing anything.  The first evening I brought the exercise ball out, he immediately jumped on top of it with all four feet!

 Day 17 post-surgery - velvet fur!

 All curled up and ready for bedtime - he just barely poked his head up when I flicked on the light to check on him!

And at long last, the quilt I'm making for my niece is finally in the last stage of hand-sewing the binding.  I finished making the binding and putting it on the quilt last week, and I'm about 3/4 done with one of the long sides so far.  Looks like more TV in my future to get the sewing done in time for her birthday which is just four short weeks away!  I doubt Curzon will complain, however, as he's been snugly curled up against my hip every time I've sat down to sew...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

no news is good news, at least where the media is concerned

A few weeks ago, I decided to stop watching the television news in the morning.  We've always had it on in the background while feeding the dogs and preparing to go to work, largely for the weather and traffic reports, but I realized that it was stressing me out.  Why do I need to hear about the kid that's been missing (and likely murdered by his mother) for two months?  Why do I need "breaking news coverage" of a house on fire three counties away?  Why do I need to hear yet another word about the damn "barefoot bandit" or that ridiculous young woman who killed her roommate in Italy?  Why do I need to listen to hatred and bile spewed about an election that is still nine months away?

The answer is, I don't.  I don't need to listen to the hate, the negativity, the focus on blood and pain and drama that is the standard fare of the newscasters.  They rarely show anything positive, and when they do show something positive, it's nearly always wrapped around a negative drama subject, like a charity drive for war orphans or something like that.  So I've stopped watching it entirely, although since my husband wants to keep an eye on it we've compromised on having it on the tv but on low volume so I can't hear it and get distracted and irritated by it.  And some mornings, even he has changed the channel over to the Weather Channel in disgust from all of the negativity.

I wish there was a channel of happy news, of the positive things in life along with the traffic and the weather.  Or even a balanced newscast that covered national and world news of actual merit, both the good and the bad.  Sadly, that is not the case - the media appears to prefer selling fear and hatred to sharing confidence and love, and that means there is not even balanced reporting on actual important issues.  This saddens me.

On the recovery front, Curzon is doing well enough to be a whiny little pain in the butt now.  He is unhappy to be penned up and not allowed to play with his sister, or leave with us in the morning to go out in the kennel, or run outside and play fetch in the afternoons.  So there is a lot of whining, which is annoying for everyone involved, but then again it does mean he's feeling much better, so that's good.  Here is a photo taken on Tuesday, seven days post surgery, showing that he's healing up well.  The bandage on the main incision is still attached very nicely, apart from one edge which is poking up just a bit, and when I checked the incision edge I could see it looks great.

He's now getting a slow short walk each day, about four houses down the street now and then a turn-around to walk back home.  Of course, Curzon feels I am walking him much too slowly and not nearly far enough, but he doesn't get to make that decision yet!  I'm increasing the distance by about "half of a house" every three days or so, which is giving him at least some time outside and looking at different things.

Curzon is spending most of his time doing this - napping in his big comfy bed that Chris got for him as part of the surgery recovery plan.  It's an awesome bed, I kind of wish I had one like it!   Normally this bed is in the e-pen in the dining room, where he spends his days while we're at work, but last night Chris was out so I had Curzon and his bed in my office while I raided in WoW.  Such a sleepy good boy - he is still healing and needs his rest, despite what he thinks!  I've adjusted his pain meds to be with his two meals, meaning that the evening hours are probably pain-med-free (they last about 12 hours or so), which I think is a good compromise of ensuring he has comfortable sleep and drowsy daytime when we're gone.

And of course, the princess Ezri is starting to get jealous of all the attention Curzon's getting, so to help please her here is a picture my friend took at the pool two weeks ago.  I can get her to jump in and then hold the ball up above her, and she does a very cool swirly twirly in-place sort of swim until I drop or toss it for her.  Makes for a cool photo too!

Monday, February 6, 2012

creating and recovering

Curzon came home from his surgery on Thursday afternoon, and he's been recovering steadily with improvement every day.  On last Monday afternoon, before he went in for surgery, I took him over to Artis to have a photo shoot done by my friend Amy, and the photos are just wonderful.  We did a selection of indoor and outdoor photos, and this one was the one we chose to enter in their Senior Dog Contest, where the photo with the most "likes" on Facebook by the end of February will win a prize.  So if you're on Facebook and want to vote for Curzon, click here!

Chris ordered a new thick comfy bed with heat-keeping material in it for Curzon to use during recovery, and he's a fan.  One of our flyball friends brought us an antler chew for him, and he thinks that's pretty cool too.  And of course all the extra food and attention he's getting is fantastic, although he's really not a fan of being carried up and down the stairs and not being allowed to play with his little sister...

On Saturday I took off the t-shirt he's been wearing to check over his incisions, and the bandage over the incision for the chest tube was falling off so I cut that one off entirely - and now I can't find where that incision was, he's healed so quickly!  Hopefully this is a good sign for his health and happiness - just look at how his fur is already growing back, he's much less "white skin" than he was just on Wednesday.

And of course we've had the most wonderful and supportive friends, both near and far, those who have met Curzon and those who only know him from internet photos.  One of my favorite things is this photoshopped picture of the evening I brought Curzon home from the vet, where the group commented that the combo of the shirt and coat made him look like Superman...

Over the past few weeks I've also made two new recipes, although sadly for Chris they were both full of gluten so he could not enjoy them.  The first is the biscuit recipe from the Homesick Texan blog which my friend Christy found and shared with me.  The biscuits come out really nice and tasty, plus you get to whack the dough viciously with a rolling pin while you make them, so what's not to like?

I've also made two batchs of pain de mie using a recipe from as the basis, and then substituting with what I have on hand.  I used the King Arthur Ancient Grains flour mix in place of the potato flour, 1/3 cup of fresh triticale flour and the rest AP flour in place of the white whole wheat, and a regular loaf pan with a casserole dish on top in place of the recommended pullman pan.  This bread is *wonderful* and is tender, slices well once cool, and is a little bit sweet.  It baked up well both in the pan with a casserole dish on top (just grease the dish!) as well as the leftover dough left to bake as a round in the pan.  The sliced bread also freezes very well, which works out great for me since I'm the only one eating it around my house.  Yum!

Finally, as a surprise to nobody who knows me, I ended up making a blanket for Curzon before he had his surgery last week.  My friend got me a charm pack of the new Kate Spain fabric line "Good Fortune," thinking that I did indeed need some good fortune in my life, and I used the entire pack to create a simple 6x7 layout of the 5" finished blocks, which was then backed with some flannel that I had in my stash.  I used no batting, so as to be lighter and less likely to be chewed up by a bored border collie, and finished it by sewing right sides together and flipping the blanket out through an opening.  I did a few lines of stitch-in-the-ditch quilting to help keep the blanket together, and topstitched the edges, and I'm very pleased with how it came out.  This is the blanket in the contest photo at the top of this post, and Curzon's spent a lot of time sleeping with it since he came home.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

one of the roughest weeks of my life

My last post was one week ago, just hours after hearing that the lump I found on Curzon's ribcage was likely to be cancer.  The past week has been a rush of tests, crying, research, results, photos, play, decisions, and surgery, and it's been a ride that I hope I never have to repeat with anyone (human or canine).

After the initial pathology report indicated cancer, my vet referred me to Seattle Veterinary Services (SVS) in Kirkland, and I spent Wednesday morning working to arrange a consult with their specialists there.  We took Curzon in on Wednesday afternoon, and discussed our options for surgery (later discussions about chemotherapy, herbal treatments, etc. will be with their oncologist).  Based on the location of the lumps, a rib resection was recommended that would remove the tumorous rib with a clear margin above and below, plus the ribs to either side.  The prognosis for this surgery is good, as dogs easily adapt to the loss of up to five ribs, and the surgeon expects Curzon to be able to run, swim, and probably even play flyball again after he's completely healed.

On Thursday I took him in to get the blood panel worked up, and the results were in just a few hours later.  Thankfully all of his labs were excellent, with every single value right in the middle of the "normal" range, and the all-important alkaline phosphinate (ALKP) level located in the low end of normal.  This is important because osteosarcoma patients with elevated ALKP levels have a much poorer prognosis with faster metastases and shorter median survival times.  While that doesn't mean it's not still osteosarcoma, it is an encouraging sign that we might be dealing with a less-virulent chondrosarcoma.

On Friday, we took Curzon to a different office (Veterinary Radiology in Mountlake Terrace) to have a CT scan done to assess the exact location and extent of the tumor, as well as to determine if there were any visible metastases.  This involved a sedation for the scan and also a biopsy of the tumor, so we were there for a few hours during the procedure and recovery phases.  The scan showed that the tumor was a bilobed tumor across the lower portion of rib 3 on his right side, confined to the single rib and comprising both the cartilage and bone parts of the rib.  Thankfully, absolutely no metastases were present in his lungs or other organs, with all of them looking in excellent shape.  In the picture below, cropped from one of the CT scan images, you can see the tumor on the rib in the lower right-hand section.

It was really super cool to see the CT scan results, and get to look all through the inside of my dog, although I wish it wasn't for such a serious reason.  They gave us a CD of the basic images (though not as cool as the modeling/rotating software the doctor was using) and it's absolutely fascinating to me.

Monday was our final surgical consult and decision point with the surgeon at SVS.  When we arrived (straight from work, as we didn't need to bring Curzon), we were told of a very frightening prospect - the final detailed report from the CT scan showed a possible mass around the vena cava veins in Curzon's liver.  There wasn't enough detail to determine if this was the case, so they asked us to bring him in for an ultrasound right away to check it out.  We rushed home, grabbed him, and rushed straight back to the vet for the procedure.  A short time later, the results showed that there are no tumors in his organs - liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands are all clean and he has an excellent bill of health.  With all of that information, we decided to move forward with surgery on Tuesday.

On both Friday and Monday, I was very lucky to have friends willing and available to help take lots of pictures of Curzon's favorite activities.  The pool and outdoor pictures (except the one above) were taking by a friend, and I have a whole album of them with some really great shots on my Facebook page.  The photo above was taken by my friends at Artis Photography on Monday afternoon, which is usually their day off but they came in to do the photoshoot before Curzon went in for surgery.  No matter what the final outcome, I will forever be grateful for my friends for helping document his favorite activities before such a scary step as surgery.


I took Curzon to SVS yesterday morning and left him there for his surgery. He was an utter charmer to the staff that morning, trying to use his leash to play tug with the male tech who came to take him back for checkin, and doing several tricks to the delight of everyone there.  Leaving him was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, knowing what surgery was going to do to him in the short-term even though it is for his own long-term benefit.

The surgery took place between about 3pm-6pm yesterday, and was successful in achieving the goals of a clear margin around the tumorous rib.  The surgeon was able to manipulate his muscles to form a nice covering over the "hole" left by the removed ribs, and it's all tucked up under his front leg which will provide additional coverage and protection during and after the healing process.  He's got a bandage and a compression-style coat on right now to help minimize movement and assist the tissues in knitting securely.

We visited SVS in the evening yesterday to bring him some premade raw meals and check on how he was doing.  He was only a few hours out of surgery at that point and was sedated and resting comfortably, so we did not go back to see him in order to avoid riling or disturbing him.  The wonderful nurse on duty took my phone back and grabbed some pictures of him, including this one...somehow, the opiate-induced nap doesn't look so bad when he has a warm blanket and a pillow!

Curzon has a chest tube in to help the wound drain, and we are hopeful it will be removed today so that he can come home tomorrow since they prefer to keep him for 24 hours after the tube removal.  We are putting together a "recovery area" for him at home with an e-pen, a new comfy bed, towels, and so on that we can adjust as his abilities improve.  Of course, he'll be sleeping for the next several our biggest challenge this weekend will be convincing Ezri that no, Curzon can't come out and play with her yet!

On a completely unrelated topic, last week I ordered a "Grab Bag" baby unicorn from Windstone Editions, which is a random sculpture hand-painted in a fantasy color/pattern scheme by Melody Pena herself.  The designs ran the gamut from zebra stripes to butterfly patterns, with colors ranging from pastel to brilliant neons, and all are amazing.  Mine arrived yesterday, and was a welcome bit of bright happiness in my day - I think she's quite lovely, and I'm thrilled to have my first signed Windstone sculpture, even if she's not a dragon.  Right now I'm keeping her on my desk at home, where I can see her bright colors and pretty purple raindrops for most of the time that I'm home.