Monday, December 27, 2010

23 Stones: Murphy's Rain

There's a Japanese expression, 'Mono no aware' and while it's one of many that are untranslatable into English, it basically means the 'pathos of things'.

It's a phrase I learned long ago, that perhaps I used promiscuously in my youth to impress others, but never truly grasped its gravitas til last Monday.

Immediately after dropping Murphy off at Colorado State University for his second round of radiation I was overwrought. Making life and death decisions about a loved one isn't the way you want to kickstart the week, especially the week of Christmas.

Untreated, mortality is most assured within a matter of months for Murphy but there's also a pretty good chance radiation could take him sooner. I was so torn up inside I almost turned around, picked him back up, and drove into the mountains to live out his final days.

But I made a decision... but I damn well wasn't happy about it.

'Dour' doesn't even come close to describing the mood I was in that morning but I had to keep myself moving. So when I pulled into the parking lot of King Sooper, a local grocery chain whose name still makes no sense to me, it came as no surprise when the rain began pouring down.

Wait a sec, it's sunny outside.

And there it was. Mono no aware.

It's as if God took a blade and severed the sky - to my left was sunshine and my right darkness. And a rainbow bridged the two.

Mono no aware is a feeling of both happiness and sorrow, hope and hopelessness at the same time. The Japanese use the expression to describe witnessing the transient beauty of a Cherry Tree blossom. It embraces belief but resigns itself to reality. It's poetry from pain; discovery in darkness.

It's a human tendency to make life too figurative or too literal so that it suit our purposes and there's no one that hates cramming a metaphor into someone else's morning more than me.

But it was a beautiful thing, Murphy's rain.

Merry Christmas From the Family

Happy Holidays & Have a puppy up! Christmas

- Hudson, Murphy, Luke, Toomey, & the Pony

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Murphy's X-Mas Sammich

Throughout our walk I volunteered at dozens of shelters and those experiences deeply impacted me. Seems to me we're all displaced in life at one point or another; whether cast out or wandering about.

We look to our faith, family, and friends and even food for comfort when we're lost. Shelter dogs are in need of all of those especially this time of year.



As much as I'd love to rescue them all, I can't travel with more than two in my pack. But I can make sure they have a holiday meal.




A bit of history - Murphy celebrated his 8th birthday in Memphis where Mommy G threw him a party. Murphy's a passionate eater to say the least; if Maslow triangulated his heirarchy of needs it'd be food, poop, and snuggles. Food, of course, being at the top. We'd been on the road for over a year and I really wanted to do something special for him.

Make a Murphy Sammich came to mind, a tribute to his truly spectacular appetite. Thus history was made. People from all parts have their own version of a sandwich. Some start with the meat, some with the bread, spread, or stuffing. Being a Texas boy and in honor of Murphy's gluttony, my starting point was 'Big'.


The biggest commercially available bread for such a sammich (I'm no baker) is Boboli. Murphy's absolute favorite food in the universe is the Honest Kitchen and Lucy, the founder, has been feeding him since before we left Austin in March 2008.



The first layer of the sammich is of course THK, Murphy loves Embark best so re-hydrate a cup or two and spread it out on the bottom crust. This time I topped it with lean hamburger and turkey bacon (I was thinking of my brothers who go to a restaurant and order meat with a side of meat). Note - I use no oils to cook the meats - pancreatitis can kill.




I love the pic on the left - Murphy knows I'm making a sammich and he's gonna be damn certain it's all his. Uh, hello, what part of Murphy Sammich don't you understand? Trying to teach kids today the spirit of Christmas is never an easy thing.


Once the massively awesome meaty goodness layer goes down, it's time for cheese. Although the processed American cheese slices I used was an economic decision, I don't recommend you do the same. More and more I'm convinced processing food is fundamentally harmful but that's a thread for another time.

Boboli crust #2 on top, bake it at 350 for 15 minutes then decorate. Since this is the very first X-Mas Sammich I sprinkled the Cheez Whiz with red and green sugar granules and there you have it. We delivered it to the Larimer Humane Society yesterday and oh, boy were they excited. Coincidentally, Molly, their communications director lost a dog to cancer and her loss set her on a new path. I know all about that...


None of us thought we'd be here this Christmas. I was already planning our next great adventure when we walked the final mile into Boston. But you make the best of it and share the blessings you've been given.


Please, make a Murphy Sammich for your local shelter this holiday...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two Weeks

From our 1pm meeting today...

The team at Colorado State University is confident that Murphy will show signs of tumor regression by the two week mark before they consider pursuing some of my whacky ideas like implanting a stent or shunt to alleviate his breathing difficulties.

I said something like, "Okay, but he sleeps for 30 seconds then awakens with an unforgiving version of apnea. It's even effecting his eating."

"He's just going to have to learn how to adjust", was the counterpoint and a good one at that. I had just posted the question last nite about how I could teach Murphy to breath through his mouth not his snout. But big dogs are inherently stubborn SOBs (sumbitches as we say in TX) so we'll see how that works out.

I agreed to wait to implant a device contingent upon Murphy's comfortability and that his clinical symptoms don't worsen. But honestly it feels like a crapshot like those commercials you see, 'Give me a week and we'll take off the weight.' Bet it didn't work for those guys.

Don't get me wrong I have complete respect for and trust in our oncology team but I'm a contrarian and questioning everything is the responsibility you have when making decisions on behalf of a loved one who can't speak for themselves.

So once again, we wait but we do so with benchmarks. I'll meet with the radiologist Dr. Custis again next week for a clinical evaluation and then the following week to discuss chemotherapy.

There has been a plot twist though - we got back the results from the biopsy for the two new tumors and from way outta left field, they're sarcomas not adenocarcinoma. Why? No one seems to know but they're malignant cells and anything beyond that seems to have no therapeutic value. Rougly translated, it doesn't matter what color they are - red, green, or purple they must die.

"You got two weeks"

Far Away From Here

T.S. Eliot wrote,"And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time".

I wish I knew what he was talking about. Five years ago almost to the week Malcolm was stuggling with his last breaths and I find myself back to this same place with Murphy. And I don't know a goddamn thing.

Where ever I thought we'd end up after the walk it wasn't supposed to be here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Notes on Murphy

Dictating my thoughts for the oncologists at CSU, others who have dogs with nasal adenocarcinoma, and in the interest of science.

Over the weekend Murphy's ability to breath through his snout has diminished significantly. It seems this new tumor is spreading quickly. We hope the radiation will stop this growth almost immediately. In laymans terms here's how it works:

Cancer cells are referred to as 'immortal' because they divide unabatedly. The first one, not sure what scientists call it; perhaps the parental or originator, has a gene that for some reason is turned on telling it to start dividing. That one cell becomes two which becomes four, etc. into you have a tumor mass consisting of millions of cells. Radiation therapy attempts to interfere with the tumor cells' ability to continue mitotic division thereby stopping growth. The cells that can't divide eventually die off.

Back to Murphy. Even if this massive three day dose of radiation halts tumor growth, it'll still be restricting airflow in the interim. We've already discussed a surgical option in Dr. Withrow's words taking a roto-router and cleaning the tumor out but that presents some serious problems.

That got me thinking this morning. How can we improve breathing through his snout without surgery and how do we do something like this in humans? Well we know that when people have clogged arteries we place a stent in them permitting improved blood flow. Plus, stents are now drug delivery systems so this might be a way to administer chemo directly into the tumor site.

Must discuss this with Dr. Withrow...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Become a Sugar Mommy or Daddy to Murphy

Murphy's total vet bills are expected to weigh in around $8,000. Ginger & I have already maxed out our care credit so we'd appreciate any help. I've always had a tough time with charity and those who know me intimately know this. That may seem strange but there will be a chapter on that in the book about it...

I'm a firm believer in trading value for value so this time I'm doing limited edition canvases each autographed by me and bearing Hudson & Murphy's actual pawprint. We have three photos to choose from all depicted nearby.

The photos will be transferred to canvas then stretched over a wooden frame. Two sizes are available 8x10 and 11x14. We're asking$75 for the former; $100 for the later.

I'm limiting this run to 50 per photo which should completely cover his medical costs. That way some of you may consider buying one as an investment that'll one day sell for $1 million when Murphy beats his cancer then runs for President.

Some of you wanted my current profile pic on Facebook (which is one of my absolute favorites of Murphy) but that was taken with an i-phone and is only 600kb far too small for photo quality. I might have it converted to a painting in the future.

A couple of considerations. These prices cover the cost of shipping which will take anywhere from 2 weeks to a month. The mom & pop shop we're using does each individually. Ginger has also included our final Memorial shirt and our cause bracelets on the Click and Pledge page for some reason or other.

To purchase a limited edition canvas, click here https://co.clickandpledge.com/advanced/default.aspx?wid=39290

If you have any questions, shoot me an email at 2dogs2000miles@gmail.com

Sunday, December 19, 2010

24 Stones

Murphy's life expectancy got downgraded last week. That pisses me off but like I recently posted on facebook, I don't know whether I have more fight or faith in me but his metastatic cancer is not going to keep us down...

Here's what's in store for us this week:

Monday December 20th

- Drop Murphy off at CSU for first radiation treatment
- Afterwards pick up our good friend John Stalls (http://kivawalk.com ) and his dog Kanoa and head to Eldorado Springs State Park for a nite of camping and knuckleheadedness

Tuesday December 21st

- Sober up by 6am - say see ya to John. He's a good kid...
- Murphy's second treatment
- Gotta grab some gifts for my nieces b/f I go back to TX. Didn't make it to Archie McPhee's when we were in Seattle so I'm sort of at a loss. Educational or irreverance are the only gifts I buy people. There's a family pack of wrestling masks at McPhee's that's out of stock I wish I could get my hands on for me & the boys - Los Perros Loco Lucha Libre...

Wednesday December 22nd

- Third and final dose of radiation
- Denver. My friends here in Fort Collins got tickets to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Don't know if it's YMCA meets Slovenia yet but Murphy's coming with us and we all know how good he looks in a tool belt.
- Afterwards we'll take him to the Buckhorn Exhchange for a beefy treat he's never had before

Thursday December 23rd

- Make Murphy Xmas Sammiches for CSU patients. While Murphy's the greatest lover of (http://thehonestkitchen.com ) even he likes to share during the holiday season. We'll be making a coupla pies for cancer patients today.

Friday December 24th

- Take Murphy on a tour of Xmas lights.
- Leave cookies, coke & cigarettes out hoping Tony Bourdain (http://anthonybourdain.net), my new hero, shows up and doesn't confuse Hudson & Murphy for albino possums and tries to make them into a stew.

Saturday December 25th

- Open House at Claire's. It's a sushi Christmas and our last real day in Colorado. Grab a pair of chopsticks, stop by for the Ginger Grinch, the Murphy Maki, & whatever the hell else I come up with

Sunda... never mind not going to happen. Snuggle Snuggle with Murphy...

Monday December 27th

- Leave 3am for TX. God I need my family now...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Murphy's Treatment Plan

If you're offended easily, please read no further. Don't know what sort of graphic language will be expressed in this post and I have no intention of editing it.

A lot of you know me from our walk from Austin to Boston ( http://2dogs2000miles.org/ ) some of our new friends don't. Then I was walking in memory of Malcolm whom I lost to cancer. Now I'm just a father who's desperately trying to save his other boy's life from this dreadful disease. I've made the decision to make a documentary of this latest chapter of our lives and I'll post more about this as it develops.

It's already a hard time of year from me since it was this time in 2005 when Malcolm was struggling and the metastatic tumor in his lungs was overtaking him. But this isn't about me so let me bring you up to speed about Murphy.

I posted about his prognosis. We don't understand why the first round of radiation failed... I have a theory but for now it's academic and we can't afford time for talk. The tumor has reached critical mass and if allowed to grow any further, it'll shut off his ability to breath through his snout. If that happens he'll have no quality of life.

The recommendation of the oncology team at CSU is that we have to act immediately and hit it hard with everything they've got. Their radiation plan is 30 grays administered over three days, the maximum tolerable dose.

After that we'll look into chemo as an adjunct therapy. Thanks to everyone who posted to our wall about human cancer drug trials - Erich is compiling a list from your links so I can send emails out to the principal investigators.

The potentially catastrophic downside to this plan is there's a 5% chance Murphy will succumb to massive radiation alone in a few weeks or months.

"What's your decision?" Dr. Withrow asked me Friday.

Having sat through 30 minutes of if, ands, & buts - all I could think about was Star Trek. Strange since I'm not a Trekkie but when he said the first round of radiation merely stunned the tumor, I thought of the phaser and it's two settings: Stun and Vaporize. At least that's how I remembered it since the last time I saw an episode was probably in the 80s. Perhaps we didn't hit it hard enough the first time and the Variant Trilogy machine was on the wrong setting.

I don't know how much time passed after he asked the question - all the options and the probabilities of their outcomes cycled through my head like a centrifuge.

"What are we going to do?" he asked again.

"Let's kill this mother f***er"

Prognosis

Just met with the team at CSU and based on the PET-CT scan and the scoping this morning they say Murphy has 3 months to live without re-radiation, 6 maybe 8 months with...

@#$!*%($(#

Murphy's a tough ole boy and it's just like him to have a tumor with serious resolve. In Dr. Withrow's words despite 18 doses of radiation we've only stunned it. He thinks the original mass is 'stable' but I'm not convinced. From the PET scan you can see how it is lysing the bone tissue of the left orbit.

But that's not the bad news. There are two new growths and while we're having them biopsied today there's really no doubt they're malignant. The one that's causing grave concern is growing in his pharynx the slender space that takes oxygen from the snout to the lungs. If you look at the picture nearby the pharynx is the narrow corridor cut between the eyes. That's problematic. Like bottlenecked traffic at some point it'll stop the flow of air through his nasal passages entirely.

We're not at the point yet of discussing euthanasia so don't go there. Dogs don't have quit in them and I'm not about to quit on Murphy. People are the only species on this planet who give up on life.

Aside from bloody discharges and 'pharyngeal gagging' which is like a reverse sneeze, Murphy's doing quite well. It's his strength I'm convinced that'll be our greatest asset in this fight. However, hard decisions are on the horizon.

There's no good model I can look at this in humans as nasal cancer is surprisingly rare. They say re-radiating is the only alternative left but I'll spend the weekend researching every options. I'll exhaust all possibilities and mortgage my soul if I have to.

For those of you who want to help, here's what we need: a comprehensive list of human adenocarcinoma drug trials. They'll probably be gastric or colorectal studies but if there's any therapy that this cancer is responding to in people, we need to know. Rather than email me the results please post everything to my wall on facebook. I want everyone to have access to this research.

Next, I need a near film quality camera. I don't know how much time Murphy has left but I want to document every minute of it. My camera doesn't have the quality so we need a loaner.
Thank you...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PET Scan

These videos are from my consult with the radiation oncology team at CSU this morning. The news was devastating even though I felt something was wrong a few weeks back. I haven't watched them and don't know if the dialogue is audible. I'll try to post later tonite to let everyone know where we're at but I just don't have the strength for explanation and elaboration right now. All I want is to be with my boy

video


video






video






video




video

Preliminary Analysis of PET scan

It's almost certain Murphy has new tumor growth in two areas one of which is causing breathing problems. Dr. Withrow is still consulting with the radiation team and we're meeting back at CSU at 9am. As of yesterday afternoon we discussed putting a scope up there and biopsying the new tissue just to be sure but the PET scan really wiped Murphy out and I'm unsure about performing the procedure today.

If there is new growth this is where it becomes problematic. From my understanding when we finished up the first round of radiation in September the game plan was let's take a look at it in four months and if the tumor's still there let's hit it again until we shrink it completely or it can be removed surgically.

But re-radiating the tumor can have some potentialy deleterious side effects. Hopefully we'll know more in a few hours...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Murphy Update

Murphy hasn't had a CT scan yet. Dr Withrow wanted to do a thorough physical first and during the exam he palpated a nodule in his lymph node which they aspirated. It's unlikely this type of cancer spreads to the lymph system but we want to be sure.

He also wanted to biopsy the tissue that Murphy sneezed up Sunday morning which can only be described as fleshy gray matter, pictured nearby (vy sorry for the graphic nature of the photo but welcome to my world). Is this the byproduct from radiation, debris from the destruction the cancer has caused in his nasal passage, or evidence of new tumor growth? We don't know yet.

On the upside, Murphy's blood work came back normal although he's slightly anemic, probably due to his nose bleeds, and his chest films were clear.

A CT scan is scheduled for Wednesday morning while we're awaiting the results of the lymph aspirate and the biopsy.

That's all I got right now...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Homeless Chef

Oy everyone. Order is more alluring than chaos to some but it's often illusory. Still I'm trying to better structure the telling of our story. Rather than use this blog as a dump site for all things 'Luke' I've started a separate one specifically for the culinary aspects of our adventures http://thehomelesschef.wordpress.com/

I'm undecided if I'll continue with my 61 Stones blog since I want everyone here updated about Murphy's condition, too, and I'd just copy my posts over anyway. Besides I don't want to end up too subdivided since the sum of me is better than the parts or the parts add up to more than the whole. Err... moving on...

One of my favorite quotes is from Dylan Thomas taken from a forward to a book of his poems, "These (blogs), with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of (dog). And I'd be a damn fool if they weren't."

Okay, I changed it up a bit but you get the point.

Maybe I should just start a new blog and call it: Eat, Pray, Play, Pet Doggie, and Kick the Crap Outta Cancer. I think that just about covers it...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One Time

"One time" is a phrase often used by poker players looking to luck out after a series of bad beats.

Meet Buddy and while his aliases read like a veritable list of Vegas wise guys - The Bud Man; Biscuit Head; Frankenbuddy; Buddy Fifteen Toes (Nah, I just made that one up), he's no poker player at all. He's a dog and perhaps the unluckiest dog of all.

There's not a lot known about Buddy before he arrived at the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County other than he was a Katrina rescue from New Orleans with buckshot in his butt and a gnarled and withered hind leg. Speculation was it must've gotten caught in barbed wire and he chewed his paw off.

And even though he endeared himself to the staff at the shelter with his big, big heart and the Bud Man dance he does when he gets excited, they couldn't find an adoptive family for him. Nope, life wasn't much kinder in his new town. Time and time again he was adopted out only to be inexplicably and incredulously returned.

Ultimately Ginger, then the head of the Humane Society, took him home. But poor ole Buddy has never caught a break. In December 2008 he was diagnosed with multilobular osteochondrosarcoma when they discovered a tumor in his head. Vets at the University of Missouri excised the mass with clean margins but in the process removed his right eye and a portion of his jaw.

Buddy recovered fine but this Monday 6:30am Seattle time I got a call from Ginger. His lungs are riddled with tumors. After contacting several oncologists there's a ghost of a chance he's a candidate for an experimental drug but we won't know until next week.

And while we hold out hope, Buddy hasn't always been unlucky. He met Mommy G.

So here's for one more time... God, one more time

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

43 Stones

Murphy finished his course of antibiotics but he continues to bleed from his left nostril periodically. I've consulted with DVMs & MDs but at the end of the day my instinct tells me something is wrong.

While fish oil is an anticoagulant I began administering 2 grams daily in Louisville back in September but it wasn't until San Francisco two months later that his nosebleeds began. It may be a contributing factor but it isn't the cause.

So what does the nosebleed mean? It could be a positive indication that the tumor cells are lysing or a symptom of tumor growth or even the side effects of radiation.

I talked at length with an ICU doc last night and after running through a scenario analysis, we agreed that it was, in her words, structural. She also pointed out that my insticts have always been spot on with Murphy. True enough as it was nineteen stones ago I awoke Saturday morning and knew something was wrong with Murphy. The following Monday my fears were confirmed that he had nasal cancer.

According to Dr. LaRue his radiation oncolgist that after four months it's more likely than not that some tumor tissue will remain so we're already anticipating surgery or hopefully not more radiation.

We're a week and a half away from his CT scan and while I have many meetings and appearances between now and then I can cancel those and move up our appointment at CSU. The question is, if the tumor is growing again, does a week and a half make a difference?

Back before Malcolm was diagnosed with bone cancer I swore I detected a slight limp and I observed him every day on our walks on the Charles River. But I let his vet convince me I was seeing things. A few weeks later after I finally took him in for an X-ray and got the diagnosis I was racked with guilt for not going with my gut but his oncologist assured me it wouldn't have mattered.

I feel like I have six-shooter pointed at my head with three bullets in it. I'm just so busted up inside.