Another chemo-free Sunday with the family!
L & D
Another chemo-free Sunday with the family!
L & D
Twice, I have nearly rolled across the marble-top kitchen island, diving for the girls’ water dish in order to keep Lillian from lapping up tainted refreshment. On several occasions I’ve slid like Lou Gehrig into home, catching Delilah’s drool with a paper towel before it turns the wood floor into a hazardous waste site. At night I could be mistaken for a worm charmer, decked out in a headlamp, white plastic gloves, carrying plastic bags and a water bottle.
Canine chemotherapy isn’t nearly as glamorous as everyone says it is.
I decided to re-take control of my blog (I’ll return it as a DLOG as soon as I’m done here) to explain how some of this canine cancer stuff works. As Delilah’s bespectacled, dogged research showed, (see DLOG #1) canine lymphoma is pretty common. So, hopefully this will help someone.
Delilah flunked the cancer test about six weeks ago now. After talking with her veterinarian, who is not a drag-it-out sort of doctor, my husband Jon and I decided we’d give this pill form of chemo- Laverdia- a try. We started on a Monday, administering a pill every three days. Chemo days would be Mondays and Thursdays.
For three days following each pill, her saliva, urine and stools present a hazard to children, other dogs and the pooh-picker-upper. That’s the reason for the crime-scene gloves. As an extra precaution I squirt water anywhere she leaves a trace. At night, the headlamp is so I can see all of the, well, circumstances of her pooh. And so I don’t step in my work. Lillian gets the run of the back yard. We walk Delilah out front. Sometimes, when we’re sure D is empty we supervise her in the back yard so she can frolic a bit and lay on “her” outdoor sofa. Sundays, family day, are chemo free. Trickiest is the water bowl situation. Two bowls is just two bowls. I thought of labeling them with their names, but while they are pretty good typists, (see the DLOGS) it turns out they can’t read. So I do a lot of bowl rinsing.
Delilah enjoying a little couch time
The manufacturers of Laverdia say most dogs don’t become ill on the pill. D is apparently not “most dogs” as her whole dinner wound up on our bedroom floor around 1:30 in the morning that first Tuesday. Thursday’s dose came back up around 10pm. The following Monday, Labor Day, I came home from a neighborhood party to check on her. She stood up and vomited bright, red blood. Her eyes were weary. Her body, thinning. I tearily went back to the party to get Jon and we came home to spend what we thought was our last night with our girl.
I called the vet Tuesday morning expecting to schedule her final rest but was met with undaunted certainty. “This is not the end,” Tammy told me. Dr. Pelura said I was to stop the chemo and do what I could to rest her stomach. “We’ll just call this a minor setback,” Tammy said.
So for two weeks I coaxed and tempted and tried various doggie delicious dishes that she might eat. At first she refused everything. Gradually a combination of chicken, pumpkin, a bit of regular dry dog food and most importantly, I think, chicken gravy seemed to do the trick. I also administer an occasional mini-pint of Ben and Jerry’s doggie ice cream. D gets most of the treats but I slip a little to her forlorn sister, making sure that healing one pup doesn’t cause obesity in the other.
The “other,” Lillian, has been, surprisingly, an exemplary sister. She doesn’t (often) steal her sister’s special food. She is respectful of D’s space, while at the same time quietly hanging out with her in whatever cool, dark space D finds, most often our exercise room. (D always liked to do Doga.) Lillian has sometimes embarrassingly, become more protective, barking at other dogs with slight aggression. She never did this before. And when we went to the park last Sunday D tired out so Jon walked her back to the car while I continued on with Lilly, who needed more exercise. Except it was nearly impossible to get her to run the other way. She just didn’t want to leave her ailing sister. I thought all of this was my imagination. But Dr. P confirmed. “She know’s she’s sick,” he told me. This. Tears me up.
Lilly keeping her sister company, whether she wants it or not
This past Monday after a sleepless night, I called the vet and got the thumbs up to re-start the chemo. “If she vomits, we’re out,” I told Meghan at Dr. P’s office. “I understand,” she said quietly. Again, I slept with one eye open. But Delilah’s remained, peacefully closed. She had refused dinner, but snoozed well and gobbled her chicken-pumpkin-gravy breakfast in the morning. She’s spunkier this past week and the light is back in her eyes.
She gets another dose tomorrow.
Today, I am hopeful. The knot that’s been in my stomach for the past six weeks is loosening. Perhaps our little family will stay intact for a while longer.
The girls will keep in touch.
Delilah: I’m still on a break from the chemo bombs.
Lillian: So I can sniff her pooh as much as I want.
D: Mom’s been feeding me a whole bunch of chicken and gravy.
L: This preferential treatment is tyrannical. Someone please send help. Or steak.
D: Today I was feeling so good we went to the park and we got to see our friends Lizzie and Dottie. I actually broke into a TROT once or twice.
L&D: NOT TODAY, CANCER!!!
ALRIGHT. I GET THAT SHE’S SICK BUT WHY DOES DELILAH GET CHICKEN AND PASTA AND I JUST GET REGULAR ‘OL DOG FOOD?????
Lillian: What a beautiful bow that is, sister!
Delilah: Likewise! It’s a lime green lymphoma ribbon.
Delilah: I’ve been feeling pretty chipper but I had another chemo-bomb this morning. Hopefully the yummy beef and gravy mom cooked for my breakfast will come out the end the good Lord intended.
Lillian: Fingers, such as they are, crossed. But I got you a lime green barf bag just in case.
It’s a chemo free day! So we went to our favorite park. Hooray! TTYL!
Lillian: We have an update.
Delilah: A lumpdate.
Lilly: As promised, my sister started her chemo pills Monday with dinner.
Lilah: Around 12:30 Tuesday morning I erped it all up in a corner of Mom and Papa Jon’s bedroom.
Lilah: It was a doozy.
Lilah: It was RUFF! But I ate all my meals and kept them in my tummy after that. I feel much better now.
Lilly: You even helped me yell at the yard guy yesterday.
Lilah: Today’s pill day though. I take them on Mondays and Thursdays. We’re all hoping it, along with my breakfast, stays IN.
Lilly: I’ll exchange my lovely scarf for a spatter-guard.
Lilah: We chose today’s outfits because lime green is the lymphoma cancer color.
Lilly: These were the only things we could find in mom’s closet.
Lilah: We’re sending her shopping today.
Lilly & Lilah: Yeah, new outfits for our next DLOG! TTYL!
Lillian: Hello DLOG lovers!
Delilah: We’re here to let you in on a bit of an upheaval, which MAY lead to some actual up-heaving, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Lillian: Ahem. Well, I’ll just get straight to it. My sister has lymphoma.
Delilah: I have crab-apple sized lumps under my jaw-bone.
Lillian: You look a little like a frog.
Delilah: I think I look like Maria Shriver.
Lillian: I see the resemblance.
Delilah: On the additional up-side, I’ve been getting lots of treats and everyone is SUPER nice to me. Lillian even stopped stealing my dinner.
Lillian: She’s a little skinny. And I didn’t want my super-modeling career upstaged.
Delilah: One thing I’ve learned is, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, one in every 15 dogs will get lymphoma.
Lillian: Good research, sister!
Delilah: That’s why I’m wearing my glasses.
Lillian: They make you look smart.
Delilah: Why, thank you! The other thing we learned today is there is now a chemo drug that’s a pill. It’s called LAVERDIA- CA1. So, I expect I’ll be getting it in a chunk of cheese, rather than intravenously.
Lilly: Wait. There are PILLS in the cheese?
D: Yep. Mom thinks I don’t know. But she’s been feeding me Prednisone for a couple of weeks. That’s why I’ve developed such a drinking (and peeing) problem and I pant so much and it’s been really hard to sit still. Especially at night.
L: Oh. I thought you’d gotten into Mom’s bourbon.
D: Ha! Well, the steroid part’s over now. I start the chemo tonight with dinner.
Lilly: Well, thank goodness for the pills. You don’t like needles much.
D: I don’t like ANYTHING at the vet much. Which reminds me– I’d like to apologize to Dr. Pelura, Megan and Tammy at Davidsonville Veterinary Clinic for being a somewhat less-than-gracious guest over the past, ummm, decade or so.
Lilly: You might apologize in advance for the next time.
D: Yes, I’m sorry in advance for being a bit of a PIA.
Lilly: So will the chemo bomb cause you lose your ridge?
D: Supposedly we canines don’t USUALLY barf or lose our hair with the chemo, proving that we are the superior species.
Lilly: Most excellent! There’s already enough hair lying around here.
D: Anyway, we’re sorry to share this not-great news, but we thought if we, as a family, DLOGGED, it might help other dog-families in similar situations.
Lilly: So, Mom, Pappa, D and I will keep you in our loop! Feel free to share.
D & L: Hugs and Lix!!
By Terese Schlachter
I am lying face-up, feeling my shoulder blades against the concrete, my left hip somehow suffering disproportionately to the rest of my body, arms askew, held down by a young, helmeted, blue-eyed man, his face hovering above my own.
“Don’t get up, ma’am. Just hold still,” he says, glancing up, then back at me, trying to stare me to stillness.
“I think I’m okay,” I offer, lifting my head.
“Just stay down, you’re all tangled up with the other bike.” I lift my head again long enough to see a woman trapped beneath her hand cycle. She is yelling in some combination of pain and panic.
“She’s upside-down!” I say to the Face of America ride marshal, who is still sticking me to the road. “Is she—”
“She’s going to be okay. We’re getting her out.” He lets go and I pull myself from the wreckage, roll over and stand. My hip is strangely numb and my brain feels like a million marbles, but I figure I’ll shake it off. Some of my teammates gather, adjusting disheveled parts on my bike and my person. A quick attempt to re-saddle myself settles any question about continuing the ride. So, I stand watching as ride volunteers literally pull the spikey edges of electric chain rings from inside the hand cyclist’s body. She spends the next two days in the hospital. I spend them in the SAG wagon.
As a frequent participant in organized semi-athletic events I’d often peered into the windows of SAG (Support and Gear) vehicles and found myself squelching uncharitable thoughts, like the self-righteous, “Maybe those folks should have trained a little harder;” The haughty, “It’s gotta be so embarrassing to be in there;” and the shaming, “Why is that lady snacking? She sure didn’t earn those calories!”
And here I was stepping gingerly into a white cushiony van, glancing back as my sleek neon yellow and black Pinarello, only two miles added to her odometer, went wheels up like a Kentucky Derby scratch, into the trailer.
“Want some snacks?” The SAG drivers, Rachel and MC, were sympathetic and cheerful, having an innate understanding of the medicinal properties of peanut butter crackers.
In the seat behind me was a pretty brunette who didn’t seem too worse for wear. I introduced myself.
“I’m Laura,” she said. “I’m having trouble with my bike—it’s not mine, I borrowed it.” We spent the next ten miles chatting about riding, her work with Warrior Sailing, how I’d look for her at the upcoming Annapolis boat show and how we’d both could really go for a latte. She was immediately my BFF and we exchanged “see ya laters” at the rest stop where she went to the bike mechanic and I headed for the medical tent. Toby, a local physical therapist, secured a bag of ice to my hip with what looked like saran wrap. Less Cameron Diaz and more Carol Burnett’s Mrs. Wiggins, I twerked my hip back into the van, then slid over to allow room for incoming.
I watched helplessly as a man on a hand cycle pulled parallel to the door, slid his behind from his bike to the gravelly ground then hoisted himself backwards onto the floor of the vehicle. I wanted to help but I didn’t know which part to grab. Despite limited use of his legs, he landed in the seat next to me.
“I’m Olaf,” he announced. “Bike trouble. I hope they can fix it at the next stop.” Olaf, he told me, is planning to ride with other adaptive cyclists across southern Africa.
“Will you see animals? I mean, like game, like lions?” I asked, mesmerized by the thrill.
“Oh, yeah, we’ll see some. It’ll be exciting… the only problem is, my documentary film crew bailed.”
“Well, Olaf, guess what I do for a living!”
His eyes widened and we were off, me touting my reel full of stories I’d produced about adaptive sports, he explaining that he’d lived in more than 50 countries and he’d dreamed for years of riding from Namibia to Mozambique.
Olaf and me
Over the radio came the voice of the SAG coordinator, the person who at once manages load and logistics.
“SAG 3, can you pick up at the top of the hill?”
The van slowed and soon Lachelle, part of Team Atlanta, who was nursing an ankle injury, was in the row behind us. I unraveled my saran wrap and handed her my ice.
Next in was Michelle. Her breathing was raspy and uneven as she flopped into the seat.
“I wanted to keep going,” she sobbed. “He—that marshal—made me quit.”
It was a line that marshals had to ride, literally, torn between keeping the peloton from stretching length-wise beyond what was safely manageable and allowing riders to meet their own physical challenges.
“You can try again on the next leg,” Rachel and MC offered. Michelle gazed wishfully out the window, watching the terrain grow hillier.
Beth Regoli and Jon Coile provide support to our Patriot Team Captain, COL (ret.) Greg Gadson.
Traffic was building behind us and a few impatient drivers inched up, working their way into the oncoming lane, creating an unsafe situation for the riders ahead. Rachel let out a soft, low growl, then swerved the trailer out a bit to prevent the pass. Suddenly on defense, I mentally dressed down the anxious intruder, but cast only an ugly stare.
“Watch out for this grey Honda,” MC warned the other SAGs as we stopped for our next passenger, who turned out to be Lachelle’s twin sister Rochelle. (How did their mother keep that straight?) Soon there were a few others in and out between the rows, comparing injuries, ex-spouses and cookie recipes. I spotted a bald eagle in a field.
“An eagle!” Michelle crowed. “You know what that means?”
I shook my head.
“An eagle symbolizes power and strength. Its spirit is here with us. I can feel it.” She closed her eyes, absorbing the moment, drawing on the bird’s magnificent power. “I’m okay now,” she said quietly. “I’m gonna finish.”
The SAG rolled slowly into the final stop of the day. It was time for an unearned beer and dinner. Swelling on my lower back and hip kept me out of the saddle the next day too. But I was able to help out a little at the rest stops where adaptive riders wanted to move from their bikes to wheelchairs and back again. Every transfer was different but I soon realized each rider would kindly provide instruction: move a foot, slide a leg, Velcro a hand or in one case, join arms and “dance” his way into the seat.
I also got to clap my team in at the finish in Gettysburg and pose for photos—the only one in street clothes and a “volunteer” t-shirt I’d commandeered from Rachel. I’d become tangentially a part of two teams, not quite fitting into either.
Team Patriot, the Shady Side: Beth Regoli, Jennifer Barnabee, Craig Barnabee, Ross Colquhoun, Judy Zdobysz, me, Kristin Acquavella and my husband, Jon Coile.
Perspective changes quickly. One blow takes you from vertical, looking ahead to flat out, looking skyward; from self-satisfied with your seemingly steely link in the team chain, to wobbly curb-side supporter; from rider to observer and nascent helper.
The SAG vehicle traditionally rides in the rear, carrying out its intrepid duties of sweeping up the fallen. From the front of the pack, it appears to lumber, its supine cargo weighing heavily on progress. But from the back, the riders can see the whole peloton spread before them, protect from the rear, gain an ear on the inside stories and be inspired. “Support and Gear” is a misnomer. “Sustenance and Gratitude” seems more appropriate.
It is Wednesday at 5am and my husband Jon is already talking. In whole, long sentences. I wait for him to take a breath, then I slink out of bed, as usual, to make coffee. It appears to be a wifely, domestic chore but really, it’s my escape to six minutes of solitude. But on this morning neither the quiet, the sun rising on the water, the rooster’s crow from the farm across the creek, or the gentle putt of a crabbing boat’s departure fail to clear the swirl of smoke over my head. My mid-week slump settles over me like skunk mist. These are the stay-at-home days when I am irritable and inconsolable.
Exercise often eases my angst, so I put on my Asics and trot out for a run. I chat with neighbors. I ogle dogs. I arrive home feeling a bit lighter. Still there is an inexplicable foggy residue. Perhaps some downward dog breathing and stretching will loosen this grip of grayness. I grab my yoga mat, my mediation book and my glasses, then head to our rickety dock, confident that this next act will sun salutate me through the wet blanket of my isolated mascara-less existence. Striding down the three deck steps toward the pavers which lead to the rear gate, I am closer to recovery. My glance falls to the ground, off to the left, and there alongside a large decorative rock is a thick, slimy snake.
I reverse scream, (which is when you suck in air loudly, rather than expel it) run back into the house, drag Jon from the shower to the window and yell “LOOKIT!” I Google “Maryland snakes.”
What is it doing here?
But I already know.
It is here for brunch.
On the Sunday before, we’d returned from a three-day weekend of hiking and relaxing in western Maryland. We’d let Lillian and Delilah out of the car so I could lead them into the yard. I’d swung the gate open, and there feasting in our bird feeder, were two fat rats. My reverse scream almost sucked my husband’s hair off.
Now, there is a reptile, one which must be permitted to sunbathe, thrive and dine in our beautiful rose bushed and mulched yard—our sanctuary, our COVID safe place, our stay-at-home get-away. I want to throw up.
My refuge is ruined. I can no longer read, lounge, sip coffee, watch my dogs frolic or do anything which requires me to close my eyes, in my own back yard. I am vigilant. I am anxious. I am jittery. I am scared to death of bird feed.
I am uncomfortable.
And then I think: is this what they are talking about? Are there people in this country, black people, who always feel this way, this wary, this edgy, just walking around?
I happen to be reading a book of Rebecca Solnit’s essays right now. She says, “Comfort is often a code word for the right to be unaware, the right to have no twinges of one’s conscience, no reminders of suffering, the right to be a ‘we’ whose benefits are not limited by the needs and rights of any ‘them.’”
We’ve called an exterminator to rid ourselves of our temporary discomfort. The snake will politely dab at his lips with his napkin and leave on his own. Good snake. But what can I do to help exterminate the discomfort I may cause others?
My long-time friend, Greg, who is black, referred me to Emmanuel Acho’s new video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” (@thEMANacho)
Acho says we white people are the ones who have to solve the problem.
Greg suggested I start by engaging in uncomfortable conversations with my fellow white folks. I began with a family member. Yep. It was uncomfortable. It gave me the willies. Was it as bad as rats and snakes in the yard? Nope. And I think it was the right thing to do.
I understand that my duty as a very white chick is to listen. But I’ve also decided to borrow the TSA motto, See Something, Say Something, (they’re not using it much right now anyway) and when I see something that is clearly hurtful to others, especially to black people, I’m going to say something—without being righteous or indignant. I’d like to simply make a point. Do I think my comments will change anything? No. Not singularly. But it’s possible that others might join in. Then it’s a chorus, and then it’s a song. And maybe not everyone’s singing but deep below the skin, there’s a vibe and everyone just might nod along.