Tuesday, February 22, 2011

15 Stones: On Suffering

If the doctors are correct in their estimation of Murphy's prognosis, he will be dead in 15 weeks.

Why not kill him now? Isn't that the question we all ask at some point when we have a loved one with a terminal illness? Spare them the suffering? Spare ourselves the pain and save some money, too? That's certainly the subject of many emails I've been receiving lately.

Because I am a Christian, God's grace and will are something I think of just about every second of every day when it comes to Murphy's cancer. We pray for one yet know so little of the other. How can we presume then to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?

I think that question will haunt us all til the end of our days.

With Malcolm after he was given rest - for months I replayed his last moments in my mind like being caught in an endless unrelentling video loop. I couldn't turn it off.

So am I keeping Murphy alive to avoid a sequel? Or is it my own arrogant belief that I can somehow fix him, that I can out-think the experts, beat the odds and save him?

I remember reading something someone said sometime ago about when you know you're going down the manner in which you go down is all that matters. How stupid was what I thought at the time...

Maybe not

How do you want to die? Peacefully and painlessly? Yeah that's the way we all want to go but we don't have that option do we?

Whether you believe that suffering is an extension of God's love or proof of his non-existence, personally I would endure just about any suffering to be loved completely. We all go down, surely some harder than others, but Murphy will not die from apathy, societal values, or a resignation of will.

As long as he feels loved I will fight for him against all odds and in defiance of criticism

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Price Life?

I wonder how much Murphy is worth?

I mean not to me but in the marketplace.

Kim Kardashian gets $10,000 for every tweet she twitters. Two of those would get us to the breakeven point in Murphy's care. The cast of jersey shores make seven figures for acting like frat boys who honestly deserve a beat down.

Is this what we value in our society?

You have no idea how hard it's been for me trying to reconcile the generosity and goodness of the people we met on the road with the inanity, insanity & absolute dissolution of decency I've seen since.

That's why I haven't asked for any more money for Murphy's care. And won't. I want no part of this travesty.

I'll flay myself first and to the bone before I accept this is the best we can do.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

17 Stones: Dei Gratia

If I had to sum up this past month it'd be: heavy hopes, long odds, hard choices, and secondary consequences.

With no evidence of potential therapeutic benefit, I chose to follow up Murphy’s 2nd course of radiation with chemotherapy and then to compound my temerity I decided on a cocktail never tried in canine nasal adenocarcinoma before; carboplatin and gemcitabine a protocol used primarily for osteosarcoma and lung mets.

Wednesday, January 19th, the day Murphy was to receive the first round of chemo his breath was stinkier than normal. We'd tented out the night before on the banks of Lake Somerville and the three of us were all a mite ripe, so I didn't think much of it until I unclamped his maw and noticed an ulcer on the roof of his mouth.

Radiation erosion. Goddamnit.

I knew this was a risk when he went under the Gamma Knife in December at CSU and I knew what it was the second I saw it. It looked like the pink rubber eraser students are required to purchase in grade school only carved out canoe-like.

Not everyone at TAMU was convinced it was erosion – some speculated the tumor was punching through from above, a sort of 'Here's Johnny' from a maniacal, axe wielding Jack Nicholson. Scares the hell outta you either way you look at it.

But I wasn’t particularly thinking about the ulcer that Wednesday. My focus was on stopping the tumor’s growth.

“Start the chemo”, I said simply.

Week one was uneventful and it wasn’t until several days after the second dose of gemcitabine the floor fell out beneath us. Murphy spiked a temperature Monday the 31st and spent two nights in ICU at Texas A&M Vet School. The chemo had wiped out his bone marrow, stripped him of his defenses, and made him susceptible to spontaneously bleeding out from even the slightest laceration.

To make matters worse I had compromised my boy’s immune system at a time when he could ill afford it. The ulcer in his mouth deepened and darkened ominously foreboding a serious infection. Murphy’s body was being thrashed about in a perfect storm, a collision between the maximum effects of both chemotherapy and radiation and we had no way of knowing if the eye was ahead or behind us.

I had convinced myself my aggressiveness, my absolute unwillingness to compromise in saving his life would be his undoing. Try as you may to remove your own ego from making decisions, it’s inextricable.

I picked Murphy up last Wednesday afternoon, late, and drove all night to Memphis not knowing whether he would even survive the drive. He received two days of IV antibiotics and fluids. We brought his WBC and platelets back up to within normal ranges and he’s shown signs of significant improvement.

And while we’re still weathering the storm…. yesterday, when I inspected Murphy’s mouth, the ulcer had almost completely healed. It didn’t perforate nor penetrate and it definitely isn’t tumor.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Go Stillers

Yes'm that's how Yinzers pronounce their own team (not Steelers like the industry which built Pittsburgh but Stillers as in Ben, the actor). That they butcher just about every part of the English language is one of their many endearing and charming qualities.

First and foremost I must disclose, I'm a Patriots fan but they're "Grrr...." not playing today so I won't go into why. But why I'm pulling for the Stillers has less to do with the team itself and more to do with the people of Pittsburgh.

We spent some time there on our way to Boston... we watched Fourth of July fireworks from the rooftop of the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society; had a police escort to Pup Nite at a Pirates game; and toured the Duquesne Incline. It's filled with hundreds of photographs that I stared at transfixed with tremendous appreciation for how hard life must've have been there only a few decades ago. The industrial parts of Pittsburgh were trapped in a permanent midnight from all of the smoke and soot from the mills. Daylight just wasn't let in and so many workers endured those conditions to make a decent living.

And when steel production got exported, they picked themselves up, dusted the soot off and a new city was reborn. Pittsburgh has lost 50% of their population in the past half century but you'd never sense it because their spirit remains unbroken. It's a city of grinders... it's a place where the average person can do the extraordinary. But most important for me, being born the year of the dog, is their loyalty.

I didn't know much about the Stillers back in summer '09 except that growing up in Cowboy country, many of the NFL's greatest rivalries were between the two teams. It was only when I was invited out to training camp in Latrobe to meet Big Ben (pictured nearby) that I began to understand that they don't have fans they have believers.

They care less about who's quarterbacking than the legacy of the team itself and they're so loyal that the mass exodus from the loss of the steel trade created Stiller bars all across the country like a secret cult. I must confess I've never been to one but being in Memphis today on this historic Super Bowl Sunday I should find my first one, hole up, and drink myself silly.

Go Steelers (Long 'e' guys, long 'e')

Love ya & puppy up! which you Pittsburghers (hah!) definitely know how to do...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

NOVA Dog Magazine Blogathon Benefiting 2 Million Dogs

The folks at NOVA Dog Magazine have begun an 18 hour Blogathon to bring awareness to canine cancer and benefitting 2 Million Dogs. Thanks to Janelle, the driving force behind this & to the contributing bloggers - Chicks Love Beer and our Beloved Blogging Bob who is finally BACK!!!

Join the fun and if you make a donation you'll have a chance to win an Amazon Kindle - how cool is that?

This is the Blog I submitted....

That cancer has become the greatest scourge ever known is without any doubt, our own damn doing. Not so long ago 4 out of every 5 men smoked and almost just as many women.

Over the past century we’ve engineered and manufactured thousands of industrial chemicals, products, and materials that were either directly sold to consumers or otherwise introduced into our society without their full impact on our health and environment ever studied. The byproducts and waste were then discarded into landfills and even dumped into our water supply wreaking havoc on our ecological systems and forever corrupting our gene pool perhaps making cancer the inheritable disease it is today.

It should be of no surprise then that for the first time in history the World Health Organization recently revealed that cancer is now the number one cause of death worldwide beating out all other diseases. In the United States alone one out of every 3 females and one out of every two males will develop cancer in their lifetime. That’s 33% and 50% respectively in case you have a hard time with math like me. Has there ever been a pandemic so far reaching, so catastrophic throughout our recorded history?

And increasingly it is affecting our companion animals. It’s guesstimated that anywhere from 2 to 6 million new cases of cancer naturally occur every year in cats and dogs. Some breeds are harder hit than others. At least half of all Golden Retrievers, it is believed, will die from cancer.

I didn’t know all of this almost three years ago when my two dogs, Hudson and Murphy, and I decided to walk from Austin TX to Boston MA for cancer. Our story started out simple enough; my mother is a breast cancer survivor and my family has been touched by the disease but it wasn’t until my Great Pyrenees, Malcolm, died from metastatic osteosarcoma that cancer became my mission.

I just wanted to walk across the country and share Malcolm’s story and let people know that dogs, too, get cancer. But as I talked to more and more oncologists and scientists I learned that there isn’t a lot, if any, difference. That’s not surprising since dogs drink the same water we do, breathe the same air, and are exposed to the same environmental toxins.

At the tail end of our 2,300 mile walk we formed a foundation devoted to raising awareness, educating, and funding research about the common link between cancer in people and pets and area of science known as comparative oncology.

That foundation, 2 Million Dogs, has an ambitious nationwide effort that was launched this year to have 2 million dogs walk simultaneously throughout the country for cancer. On November 7th 2010 our first such event was held in 12 cities and 2011 will at least double that.

Please join us in our efforts to eradicate cancer in companion pets and people, too. Thank you and… Puppy up!

Hudson, Murphy, & Luke

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Prayer for Murphy

When I was first blessed with the vision of our walk it blinded me and laden with doubt, I turned away from it. Then you showed me it was your will.

Still I balked. "But the road will be too hard and too long and the risks to Hudson and Murphy too many". Do you remember that conversation?

You answered that you would deliver my boys safely from Austin to Boston. That day I set the date of our departure. You kept your promise. You even kept Murphy's cancer at bay until a week after the completion of the walk when he first showed symptoms but by then the tumor was already advanced and inoperable.

We haven't talked much since then or more truthfully I haven't been in the mood to listen. I've been fighting for Murphy's survival these past six months and making every medical decision to the best of my ability to save your servant, my son. Though tonight he lies alone in an ICU stripped of all defenses, susceptible to the slightest infection that could kill him.

So what do you want from me now god? Have I not given everything that I am?

I don't ask you for forgiveness because I cannot both serve you on my knees and walk righteously for my cause. I won't ask you for mercy for myself or to be spared any emotion or pain.

All I ask is don't take Murphy.... not my other son. He's not done here