the friends

Learning Curve

It was just about a year ago that an ultrasound revealed a recurrence of cancer.  Little Dixers had two enlarged lymph nodes.

Her oncologist recommended radiation but radiation, I discovered, is a brutal proposition.

So I opted to have the nodes surgically removed instead.

And then I met with the oncologist who treated Bebe for a second opinion.

The new oncologist proposed managing the cancer as a chronic disease using Traditional Chinese Medicine, gentle chemo and diet.

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That was the road we decided to take.

So instead of spending my time online writing my blog and reading yours, I spent most of the first few months learning all about ketogenic diets while trying and failing to monitor her ketone and glucose levels.  She’s been on a ketogenic diet ever since, but I still have no idea what her levels are.

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At the same time that Dixie’s cancer recurred, my mom was having symptoms.

Her surgeon was sure that it was cancer, but the results of the biopsy were inconclusive.

So she was sent to the top infectious disease doc in our area.

She bounced from test to test, specialist to specialist, likely cancer to not likely cancer and back again.

So I did what we do in my family, I took to the internet in pursuit of a diagnosis.

We’re a family of puzzle solvers.

But no one ever did solve it – not any of us, not the docs.

A year later, my mom seems fine – finer than most 88-year-olds.

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And Dixie is doing well, too.

So in honor of the first day of Autumn, my daughter and I took her to Marshbank Park for some fresh air, exercise and mental stimulation.

Because all those things are good for dogs.

The hub wasn’t with us because he was making the long drive home from Canada – where he spent all last week catching 19 inch smallies.

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(Just wanted to show you the picture he sent.)

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We did two loops along the water and through the woods.

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Who knows, this might have been the first time Dixie has seen a lake in her 12 years.

If that last pic looks vaguely familiar, you might be remembering the photo I took of Bebe at the same park two Septembers ago.

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Sweet little Bebe, God rest her soul.

So that’s why I haven’t been around much these past 11 months.

I’ve been learning, learning learning by reading, reading, reading.  And these old eyes can only take so much screen time.

If Dixie’s ultrasound this week confirms that she is stable I might be around a bit more.

This morning the hub and I skipped church to go to a couple of Farmers Markets and fully enjoy another crisp, sunny, glorious day.

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Going to the Market always involves Ned’s Travel Burger.

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It’s fun to bebop with the hub. Good to have him home.

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Home now watching the PGA Tour Championship while Dixers takes a nap.

Happy Sunday.

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the friends

All That Cremains

We placed Maxy gently into the back of my Escape. The hub gave me a long hug, kissed me goodbye and headed to work.

I took Maxy for one last ride.

I chose the scenic route, winding through the quiet, tree-lined streets.

I drove remembering all the mornings he went with me to drive my daughter to school and all the afternoons he rode along to pick her up. It was our Monday through Friday routine – drop her at school by 8:30 a.m., go for our morning walk, pick her up again at 3.

I thought about how excited he used to get when we drove him to the dog park – he knew a mile away where we were going and he would spin and cry – louder and louder as we approached the park – unable to contain his excitement.

But this morning he was silent.

My eyes held wells of tears as I pulled up to Faithful Companions.

A gentle man named Jon offered me a seat at a conference table. He needed to take some information.  Name, address, phone number, how long have you had Max?…

“Fifteen years,” stuck in my throat. I reached across the table for a kleenex.

Paperwork completed, I backed my car into a bay.

Together we lifted Maxy into a white cardboard casket that sat upon a metal cart. Jon wheeled the cart into the family witness room while I re-parked my car.

The large room had a comfortable seating area in one corner.

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There was a coffee and water station along one wall and an oven on another.

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I said a final goodbye to my good friend and then watched as Jon closed the lid, wheeled the casket to the open oven door and slid it in.

He adjusted some nobs on the control panel and then asked if I wanted to push the button.

I shook my head, “no.”

The temperature was at 1625 degrees.

“It must remain between 1600 and 1700 degrees at all times,” he later said, “we turn it down to closer to 1600 when a family chooses to witness, otherwise the casket will ignite as soon as it is slid in.”

“How long does the process take?,” I had asked back when we were still in the conference room.

“A little over an hour.  You can wait in the room the whole time, or you can leave after you see me slide him in and then come back.”

The least I could do was wait.

Abide with him one last time.

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So there I sat in the warm room, staring at the oven door.

After about twenty minutes Jon came in to stir the contents. “Do you want to leave the room?,” he asked.

“No, but I’m not going to look.”

Oven door closed again he came and sat on the adjacent sofa and answered my many questions.

“We’re about 85% there,” he said, as he stepped back out of the room.

When he came back to stir a second time he asked me if I wanted to look. I did, since there were only bone fragments and “sparkles” left to see.

“The sparkles,” Jon explained, “are tiny pieces of non-bone.”

He closed the oven door again and left again.  When he returned a few minutes later the sparkles had ceased.

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Nothing but bone and the red glow of hot concrete.

He swept the bones into the bin below and then offered me a look – varying sizes of small fragments.

“Some people want to take them like this,” he said, “but I don’t know why.”

He took them into another room to spread them out, let them cool a little and then grind them into powder.

I waited in the reception area so the oven could be used for someone else’s friend.

Faithful Companions cremated 71 pets yesterday. 73 in one day is their record.  So they need to keep all their ovens operating all day. Every day.  8 am until midnight.

Especially since they promise to return the “ashes” within 24 hours.

Which is exactly what they did when they brought Bebe’s ashes to my door a year ago. Remember? They had picked her up directly from the emergency animal hospital.

But since Maxy died at home, I wanted to drive him there myself.

And stay with him.

It wasn’t long before Jon called me into another conference room. He was carrying a gift bag which contained several thoughtful items.  From the bag he removed a small wooden box engraved with “Maxy” on the lid.

He opened it and pulled out a burlap bag.  Inside the burlap bag was the plastic bag containing Maxy’s ground bones.  He removed it and placed it in my hands.

“They’re still warm,” I said.

“A little bit,” he replied.

They felt good.

Karley, the kind office manager with whom I had corresponded via e-mail in anticipation of this day, gave me a hug goodbye.

Her dog, Sam, who seems like a really good boy, greeted me when I arrived and then rolled over to offer me his belly.

I put the gift bag containing the box of cremains on the passenger seat, took the pleasant, scenic route home and cried.

I have parent packets to assemble for an upcoming presentation, but I think I’ll just sit here awhile with Dixie and Lambchop, listen to the birds chirp

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and rest my sad soul.

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Maximus Aurelius Rodriguez
March 7, 2003 – May 8, 2018
Good, good boy.

 

 

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the friends

I’m here for you.

Do you actually only love someone when you love them more than yourself?

I look up from Ann Voskamp’s question on page 140 of The Broken Way and I see Maxy sleeping peacefully on the family room floor.

I’ve been so tired.

Tired of living like a shut-in, as most caregivers do. Tired of changing diapers and wiping piddle trails off the floors. Tired of hoisting a 46 pound bag of bones to feet he can’t find, feet attached to legs that collapse under him, or that never unfold at all.

“Help me out, buddy” I say.

He collapses to the floor again.

“Come on, Maxy,” I say impatiently, “you can manage to find your feet when dinner is ready.  Help me out here!”

“Sorry Bud, I know you’re old and I’m trying to help you, but I’m old, too, so you try and help me.”

Maxy is my 15 year old hound dog, who likely has degenerative myelopathy – the canine version of ALS. His hind legs have grown increasingly weaker over the last year or so and we can expect that as the disease progresses his upper body and breathing muscles will be affected, too.

“When he gets to the point where he can’t stand at all,” the hub said a few months ago, “we’ll have to put him down. Otherwise he’ll have to pee and poop laying on his side and he wouldn’t want that.”

Not a minute before, I thought in reply. Not a minute before.

But now I think about the people who take control of their lives, who would have put him down long before they stopped inviting people over because their blanket-covered family room floor smells like pee; people who would be out chasing their dreams, doing their thing.

I think about me who spends an hour each morning and again each evening preparing ketogenic meals, doling out medications, supplements and chemo to my beagle as I check them off a legal-sized spreadsheet. Me, who spends the hours in between doing laundry and wiping Maxy pee off the kitchen floor.

Sometimes I wish he would hurry up and go.  Sometimes I ask God to hurry up and take him. Peacefully. While he’s sleeping comfortably, with the sleepy background sounds of his family gently cradling him.

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He’s awake now, head up, looking around, looking out the doorwall.  He looks bright, alert, like he’s enjoying the peace and quiet of the afternoon.  There is no way I can schedule his death.  Not while he still looks content. Not while he’s still so enthusiastic about his meals.

Do you actually only love someone when you love them more than yourself?

“I’ll take care of you for as long as it takes,” I whisper.

He looks at me as though he knows my thoughts.

Do I love Maxy more than I love myself?

Or is it that I love being the me who will take care of him more than I would love being a me who wouldn’t?

“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that he lay down his life for his friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

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faith, the friends

Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

If you know anything about Dixie, you know that she was diagnosed with colon cancer in February.

If you don’t know anything about her, it’s time to catch up:

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

We’re Not Just Whistling Dixie

One minute you’re getting your face bit off and the next minute you’re living in Hintzville.

Is this my new calling? ‘Cuz I’m gonna’ need superhuman strength.

Big Love & Fruit that Lasts

Stuck in the Kitchen Again…

McDonald’s has its pink slime, I have purple.

When I last wrote about my friend, I was cooking like her life depended on it.

And wondering whether she would be incontinent forever.

But then the blessings began to flow on two creatures here below.

On a little beagle and me.

Dixie is now pooping like a champ – well, almost like a champ. And that is a huge blessing right there.

But there’s more.

Wednesday morning I took her for the 4th of 6 chemo treatments – each 3 weeks apart.  As per the protocol, her oncologist did an ultrasound and some chest x-rays prior to the treatment to make sure the treatments have been working.  If not, he’d switch to something else.

The ultrasound results?

There is no sign of recurrence in her bowels or lymph nodes – lymph nodes are all of normal size.

The doc said a radiologist would look at her chest x-rays to confirm but he saw nothing obvious on them.

So he proceeded with injection number four.

And then yesterday his assistant called with the radiologist’s findings:

Her lungs are completely clear!

Good food, exercise and chemo are keeping the cancer at bay.

And Love. Lots of Love.

Love is healing her.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow…

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Stopping to smell the roses after this morning’s happy walk.

She’ll get the final two injections and then she’ll be monitored from there.

Hopefully for many happy, healthy years to come…

#grateful #hopeful

 

 

 

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life

Family Threads

I interviewed my grandma in 1991 during one of her last visits up from Florida. She was 91.

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Here she is at 101. This time I was visiting her.

I wanted to record as much family history as she could remember so one evening, after my 1 year old was tucked in bed, I made us each a cup of tea and got out my notepad.

For the next hour I coaxed as much info out of her as her stamina and memory would allow.  So much tender, loving effort on her part, and mine, and I no longer have the notes. I’ve forgotten the names and the dates and the places, but a few of her stories made a permanent impression.

One such story came to mind this morning as I was folding freshly laundered sheets and blankets – wet in the night by my elderly – and, I fear, newly incontinent dog, Max.

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My sweet white-faced boy.

Standing in my kitchen – now doubling as a dog hospital – folding bedding, I thought of Christian Attridge and his wife, wish I could remember her name. I’ll call her Anna.

When Christian was courting Anna he led her to believe he was a veterinarian.  He wasn’t, he was a vet tech.

After they were married and she learned the truth, she exclaimed, “Oh no you don’t! You told me you were a veterinarian and you are GOING to be a veterinarian!”

So he went back to school.

Apparently strong women run in my family.

And so does taking care of sick animals. Though I think horses were my great grandpa’s specialty.

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#justfortherecord

 

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the friends

One minute you’re getting your face bit off and the next minute you’re living in Hintzville.

One minute you’re sitting in a cafe with your mom basking in a glorious sunny, 61 degree day in February in Michigan and the next minute you’ve got mascara all down your tear-streaked face.

Because that gloriously warm February day reminds you of a similar unseasonably warm February day when you were basking in the excitement of a new relationship.

Which you loved.

And lost.

And still grieve.

And there’s really nothing you can say to grief while it’s barreling through like a freight train.

But what if you could stop it in its tracks?  What if, instead of looking back at last year’s happiness and grieving what you’ve lost, you could look forward to next year’s happiness in anticipation of what you’ll gain?

Because where you are is not where you’ll stay.

Dixie would tell you that if she could talk.  She would tell you that life can turn on a dime.  She would tell you that one day you’re living in a garage in Ohio, flea rash all over your hind end, getting your face bit off by a mean dog and then, a couple of months later, you’re going for a walk on a glorious day in Michigan.

And you’re eating organic, grass-fed, home-cooked meals and getting belly rubs and snuggling on the sofa. And life is good.

Dixie and her sister were found on the side of the road in southern Ohio when they were 3 months old.  Life must have looked bleak for those two babies. But then they were taken into foster care and Dixie was immediately adopted by the foster mom’s mom – Betty.

Apparently Betty treated Dixie like a queen.  She even cooked for her.  They lived happily together for about 10 years.  And then Betty developed dementia and was moved into a nursing home. And died.

And Dixie, near as I can figure, was bounced around from relative to relative and then eventually ended up back home at Betty’s house – where Betty’s grandson and his wife are now living.

But one of their dogs kept attacking Dixie – she has the scars under her right eye to prove it.  So she had to live outside and in the garage until she was finally surrendered back into foster care for her own safety.

For six weeks she lived in a foster home here in Michigan where, according to the foster mom, Dixie was heartbroken.

I wonder if, while being shuffled around this past year, she grieved the memory of her life with Betty. I wonder if she despaired ever curling up on a sofa or getting a belly rub or enjoying a home-cooked meal again.

But beagles are optimistic so I prefer to think that instead of grieving what was behind her she dreamed of the love that lay ahead.

And now here she is in Hintzville, curled up next to me on the sofa, her days filled with fresh air and exercise, love and really good food. She even has a gentle new brother, Max, who is so gentle that he just stepped aside and made room for her when she started eating from his dish after polishing off her own. (Of course I intervened on his behalf and reminded her of her P’s and Q’s.)

No one is going to bite her face off here.

Today I stopped to say thank you to God for providing for Dixie.  For Betty’s sake. For Dixie’s sake. For my sake. For Love’s sake.

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#AllthatglittersisGod.

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