Dealing with doggy renal cancer

Two months later, here is where things stand with Chewie. He is, to use my wife’s phrase after his checkup last week, “healthy as a horse.”  He has boundless energy, and he’s all atwitter that the long winter has finally ended.  Taking him on a walk is like trying to hold on to a kid with A.D.D. who just downed 20 pixie sticks. He is constantly getting his leash wound around his leg and pulling full-strength.  This is the Chewie we used to know.  The little stinker even snuck out of the house and ran away a day ago.

If there’s a down side, it’s this: The dog who calmly almost-passed his Canine Good Citizenship test three weeks before his cancer adventure started? Gone. No way he’d even come close to passing. We’ll have to work on him some more.

A week after my last Chewie post, we took him up to the University of Minnesota to discuss chemotherapy options.

We’re giving Chewie an oral chemotherapy drug this month, but we don’t think we’ll continue it.  There is no way to tell if he has cancer short of finding cancer; it’s not like they can test blood and pronounce the patient cancer-free.

So…we don’t know if he has it or not (although it’s a safe bet that some microscopic cancer is still floating around somewhere).

If he does have it, we don’t know if the IV treatment ($600 every 3 weeks for six sessions) or this oral chemotherapy drug (about $300 a month) will do anything to prevent it.

We could spend no money at all and he’ll develop cancer and die, or we could spend tons of money and he’ll get cancer and die.  We could do nothing and get lucky.  It’s a very big crap shoot.

Dog Cancer Survival Guide

So we’re probably going to just give him homeopathic recipes from the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, watch out for foods that cause cancer, give him foods that inhibit cancer, and enjoy what time we had left.

A co-worker of mine who has two standard poodles of her own helped me gain some perspective.  If we hadn’t done anything, Chewie would have died a month ago of natural causes (i.e. cancer).  All the time we have left with him is a bonus over his original lifespan, which would have been a little less than four years.  It isn’t really “fair” that he probably won’t make it to 14, but we could spend a fortune and he won’t make it to 14.

Right now, Chewie is active and happy and loving the spring (that’s FINALLY arrived).

[simpleviewer gallery_id=”1″]

An Invidious Comparison

Last month, there arose a story that spread around the Internet like wildfire.

Wait…wildfires don’t actually traverse DSL wires.  Rats.  Nor do hotcakes.

Okay, I don’t have a good metaphor, but regardless…”The Bible” mini-series was a tremendous hit for the History channel.  However, viewers noticed that the Moroccan actor playing Satan looked not too dissimilar from Barack Obama.  Right-wing commentators had a field day with this.


Now The Bible is out on DVD and Blu-Ray, which means even more people are paying attention to it and writing about the Satan/Obama comparison.  I think this is absolutely ridiculous, and it makes our side of the aisle look loopy.

Cripes, I never thought I’d be defending this guy, but too many people in the chattering classes are taking this way too far!  They’re going overboard, and in the interest of cooling things down, I think we should set a few things straight in his defense:

  • Satan is actually effective at his job.
  • Satan works very hard to achieve his aims.
  • Satan doesn’t take lavish vacations.  Really, the guy’s a workaholic.
  • Satan supports his armed forces, having served in it at one time as the leader.  He believes in their mission and their goals.
  • Satan does not vote “Present” on anything.
  • Satan does not say “Uh” or “Um.”
  • Satan understands economics on at least a grade-school level, and may have cracked open a text about it at one point.  He understands supply and demand.  He understands taxes and incentives.  He recognizes Ponzi schemes for what they are.
  • Satan would never refer to a terrorist as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” Satan recognizes a terrorist as a terrorist.
  • Satan, being the master of damnation, knows that if something is truly torture, people don’t volunteer to undergo it as a demonstration of how bad it is.
  • If Satan heard that grade school children were singing songs about him, he would find it a little unsettling.
  • If celebrities were lauding Satan in videos where they each say a couple words over and over in a rapidly spliced repetitive montage, he would not only be creeped out by it but he would loudly ask his minions, “Who, who could possibly enjoy watching that?”

All right, that’s enough of that.  I think everyone would agree that none of these things describe President Barack Obama, so let’s hold off on this nonsensical and invidious comparison.


Update: Welcome IMAO readers!  You can sort through my tag cloud to see my other political and or/humorous musings.  Thanks for making me link of the day, Harvey!

Chewie one week later

I  wanted to let you know that Chewie is finally getting some energy back.  He’s had a rough week of recovery, but we’ve had a lot of encouraging signs recently.  After so many days of hard sleeping, weakness and wooziness, he seems to have perked up.  Last night he actually pulled out some of his favorite squeak toys and went to town on them for hours.  His bruising is gone, his wound is healing, and last night the vet at the U of M called to say that his platelet count is high and his white blood cell count is low (both reversed from last week when his white cells were off the charts and his platelets so low that his surgery was risky).  He will have to have chemotherapy to make sure that all of the microscopic cancer cells left in him get wiped out… but it will be chemo aimed at giving him a full length life as opposed to just easing his passing, so even chemotherapy will be a good thing.

The U of M has actually asked if they could use him as a case study.  I gather that his cancer isn’t unique, but it’s rare enough and in his case he’s a very young dog to have acquired it.

I can’t say enough good things about the crew of doctors up at the U of M.  One thing I found remarkable is that at every stage of the game, the doctors were up front with the price list of what was being proposed and why it was recommended and whether we were willing to proceed.  If they didn’t do that, it would just have added to my stress level because it would make me the heartless monster to have to introduce the subject of what it cost.  I do wonder if things like that couldn’t help improve human healthcare, even though that’s a different situation.

One week

It was last Sunday that Chewie threw up his food after finally eating a little, and I told Melinda that I thought he was sick.  The next day she took him to the vet and began the little adventure I’ve been chronicling.  It’s not even a week, really, though we’d been worrying a little over his appetite.  If not for the eye infection and our thinking that that was the cause of his overall discomfort, we might have taken him in sooner.  (And who knows whether taking him in too early would have sent up the proper warnings?)

We were warned he would have some serious bruising due to his low platelets, and they weren’t kidding.  This little photo I’m sharing doesn’t even show the worst bits, which are down by his bits.  However, the bruises which flared up on Friday are already looking better by Saturday.


(And yes, we do realize Chewie has the body of an AT-AT walker.)

Today, I had a class in comic book writing with Bill “Fables” Willingham.  When I got home at 2:30, Chewie came running to the door woofing like old times (but the first time since his surgery).  Melinda told me he’d been mopey since I left, walking to the gate to watch for me. When she said, “Are you missing Michael?” he grumbled.  He finally has some energy for his old behaviors, for something else besides sleeping and slow movement, and as I kneeled down he snuggled up to me.

I thought for one last time about the decision to do the surgery, the impact on the finances, all the fear about whether such an expense would be worth it.  I won’t go into the details, but the total bill came to 1/2 of what the contractor just quoted to remodel our entire bathroom.  When the doctor mentions an average lifespan of 16 months after surgery, and the riskiness of the procedure due to his deathly-poor platelet count, it is such a gamble. We could spend all that money only to lose him post-op, or have the cancer spread, or pass on a few months later.  I couldn’t leave my dog in pain, but I can’t imagine putting him down for want of a few thousand dollars.  I know there are people in worse circumstances who don’t have the luxury of even taking the option we took.  Heck, if we hadn’t been aggressively paying off credit cards, there are times we wouldn’t have had this luxury!  I shudder to imagine that alternative, and how awful our lives could be right now.

Today, I grabbed my dog’s fluffy ears, snuggled his curly head with my nose, and realized the blessing we had this week.  “My puppy’s alive!  My puppy’s alive!” I kept repeating, as I hugged him.

Chewie in Recovery

Or…The Adventure of Chewie Hutchison and The CONE of SHAME!


On Thursday morning, I awoke to some terrible pain in my guts.  I called in to work and took the day off.  At first, I was worried that I was taking a sick day needlessly and it was just a little intestinal fit.  I needn’t have worried.  As it turns out, I spent the entire day either sleeping or on the toilet.  I will spare you further details, but it affects the rest of the story.

We hadn’t known whether Chewie would be ready at the end of Thursday or sometime Friday, which made Melinda nervous because of the serious dump of snow we were supposed to get.  (Driving back the other day from dropping Chewie off was bad enough.  The drifting snow obscured the highway many times.)  Melinda left for an 11:00 appointment, and I went back to sleep.

Soon, the U of M Emergency Vet called to say that Chewie was doing well and could go home that afternoon.  If we could be there by 3, that would be ideal, since Chewie’s doctor would be in rounds at 4.  (It’s about an hour and a half of driving to get there.)  I tell her that’s great, and go back to bed, confident that Melinda will wake me at noon and we can have lunch and then go.  Hopefully, the rest will have done the trick and I’ll be fit to travel.

I wake up at 1:30.  Melinda didn’t wake me up.  I panic and tell her we need to leave right away. She starts to pack some snacks and sodas since there’s no time for lunch.  I use the bathroom, get dressed, run to the bathroom again…and as Melinda gets her coat on, I realize I have to use the bathroom again.  She says, “Why don’t I just go?”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.  It’s okay.  You’re sick.”  I’m a jumble of emotions, because I wanted to be there to pick up Chewie and hated to miss that moment.  I also know that if the storm starts Melinda will detest driving in that weather.  I also know that I have 10 seconds to decide before the diarrhea starts, so I’d better run.  I wave and Melinda grabs the cooler and is out the door.

One bathroom break later, I’m back in my pajamas and hitting the hay at 2PM.  I wake up at 6:30 to find the lights on in the hallway and Melinda’s back.  Chewie is resting in the living room and doesn’t even acknowledge my being there.  He spends the next few hours wandering the house trying to find a better place to nap, not realizing that the discomfort is his and not the bed’s.


His entire belly is shaved, and all of his legs have shaved patches where needles were inserted for fluid IVs and pain meds.  We need to keep him from licking the wounds; we can monitor him during the day, but if we don’t put The Cone of Shame on him during the night, he could be licking his wounds for hours.

It’s actually called an e-collar (Elizabethan collar, which is itself a joke name).  Putting it on him really requires three hands and the dog’s total cooperation. Fortunately, Chewie doesn’t have any energy to resist.  We put it on him three times, because Melinda’s a pushover and keeps taking it off him.  Do you know how frustrating it is to pull the inside sliding plastic around, hoping to get it tight enough that the Velcro finally lines up and you can seal it…and fifteen minutes later he’s walking around without it because your wife said, “Awww”?  Well, neither does Melinda.

Ideally, we could put the collar on him and put him in his kennel for the night.  Unfortunately, he cannot easily move in the kennel with it on.  We put the e-collar on him one last time, confine him to our bedroom so that he can’t get in trouble and go to bed.

A few moments later I hear the plastic collar scraping against my side of the bed.  I reach out, feel my way down the inside of the cone and rub his woolly pompadour and his muzzle.  It’s the first affectionate thing Chewie’s done since he got home.  I take off my CPAP mask, pick up Chewie and lift him onto the bed, since he really can’t make the jump in his weakened state (and with the collar throwing him off).  He clambers up onto Melinda’s belly, lays the cone down on her chest and falls asleep with both of us petting him.

On Friday, we awake to find a massive dump of snow arrived in the middle of the night.  Chewie would ordinarily love to romp and play in it, but he slowly trudges out to do his business.  His legs are so wobbly and at times shivering.  We have to watch him when he comes in to make sure he’s licking his paws to dry off and not lick his wounds.

Melinda has a good idea.  We wrap him in his Thundershirt(tm), which is usually to comfort a dog during storms or other periods of anxiety, but this has the added bonus of covering his belly wound.  Chewie has spent the rest of Friday recovering (what you and I call sleeping).


I know all of these pictures look the same, but it’s really the extent of his home experience since his return.

UPDATE:  Re-reading this post 3 weeks later, I thought I should add a note.  I later realized Chewie wasn’t being affectionate.  He was walking over to me to get my attention because he thought I’d  forgotten to take that awful collar off.

Chewie is out of surgery

Chewie’s anesthetic started around 4PM, and Dr. Corbin called at 4:10 to give us a final preliminary report before she started.

At 7PM, she called us to let us know that his surgery went well.  While they had him open, they did a test of a tiny scrape of his liver.  The liver had appeared a different shade than it should be when they did the sonogram of the area, but it could be any number of reasons, and cancer would show as a dark mark or marks on the liver instead of a completely different shade.  The little pin test they did caused more fluid than they expected (again: low platelets, so he is not clotting normally), so they really didn’t want to have to do a biopsy unless they had to.  With the kidney removed, they closed him up.

It doesn’t sound like they had any excessive problems due to the low platelets, but he will probably have more bruising than a normal dog would.

We don’t know yet when he will be coming home.  His behavior in the morning will be the best indicator, and they will call us tomorrow morning.

Our schedules are all up in the air.  Melinda and I don’t often have weeks this full of appointments, but this week our calendar had something scheduled every night.  Contractors coming to give us estimates for bathroom remodeling on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Taxes on Thursday.  Now all of that had to be rescheduled.  (I canceled the contractor who was coming tonight, saying, “You don’t want to be here during all of this drama… and the dog’s surgery means we won’t be redoing the bathroom for a while anyway!”)  Melinda had been so lucky to get an appointment with our accountant at 5PM on a Thursday in February; now that we had to reschedule, the next opening is in April!

I’m taking Friday off from work, because either we’ll be picking up Chewie or he’ll be home and I’ll monitor him.

No pictures today, but I’ll have some when we pick him up.

Thank you to everyone who has written us notes on Facebook or e-mailed us.  Thank you to my parents’ Bible Study class that prayed for Chewie this morning.  Thank you to all of our understanding co-workers.

Oh, drat.  Just as I was about to hit “Publish”, I got an e-mail.  Thursday is the TeeFury Grab Bag day!  I have been waiting for that.  What a time to have all my money tied up in dog repair.


Chewie: Good news and bad news

The bad news: Chewie has cancer.


The good news: It is on one of his two kidneys.  Tomorrow, surgeons at the University of Minnesota will operate and remove that kidney, and so long as the cancer is confined to that one kidney, that’s the end of it.

Short of “turns out Chewie just had a bad flu and now he’s recovering”, this is about as good as the news could get.  With his platelets so low and his white blood count off the charts, it had to be pretty serious.  Were this cancer on almost anything else in the body, it would be a death sentence…but just as with people, a dog can get by with one kidney.  If only bodies had more redundant organs!


Melinda and I left work at 2PM to talk with the doctors on the phone and hear the verdict.  Dr. Stiller at the U of M told us that they were willing to operate, despite his platelets being lower than they would like, because the platelet count is most likely being caused by the infection so it won’t be getting better.  Surgery is ballpark $2500, and if they have to give him a blood transfusion, that’s $500/bag.  (Where do they get the dog blood?  I’ve never seen a doggie blood drive.)

I thought the price was the bad news…but then Dr. Stiller told me that the average life expectancy after the surgery was 16 months.  I’d been gung ho to do the surgery because Chewie is still so young, but I hadn’t thought about the lifespan afterwards still being reduced.  Thinking about it, I realized that the “average” is negatively impacted by the number of dogs with cancer who were already elderly and going to die in around 16 months anyway, as well as the cases where the cancer is not caught in time and it spreads to more systems.  Still…it was a shock.  We cannot justify spending thousands to give a dog a year of life.

We told Dr. Stiller that we would think about it, and that we’d call her back in 10 minutes.  I then proposed to Melinda that we should get a second opinion from Dr. Karen Lee at the Quarry Hill Veterinary Hospital, so we hopped in the car to drive over.  Stuck at a red light, I started fighting back tears at the thought of having to say no to surgery and saying good-bye to Chewie someday very soon.

Dr. Lee greeted us and listened to all of the developments.  In light of all the factors in play here (Chewie’s youth and vigor; the tissue mass being on a kidney; kidney surgery being relatively easy, with only three connections to tie off), Dr. Lee didn’t have any reservations.  If it was her dog, she’d do it.  We are so grateful for her last-minute consultation and her support.

We went home, called Dr. Stiller to tell her to proceed, and then had supper in our very quiet and lonely house.

Chewie goes in for surgery on Wednesday the 20th, and then he will come home on Thursday.  Please, please, pray for him, for the surgeons, and for us.

We would like to thank all of our friends, family and co-workers who have been so supportive over the last few days.

Please pray for Chewie

Smiling Chewie
Our 3 1/2 year old standard poodle, Chewie, is in the hospital.  He had had an eye infection 10 days ago, and our vet noticed that he had lost about six pounds.  She asked us to keep an eye on his eating.  After a week of his appearing listless and having little appetite, Melinda took him in this morning.  He had lost another two pounds.

Chewie on bed

Our vet at Quarry Hill Veterinary Clinic said that his white blood cell count was so high that her equipment couldn’t measure it, and neither could any other vet in Rochester. He also had a fever. Clearly, Chewie has a serious infection. She gave Chewie a subcutaneous fluid injection to get him hydrated.

When our old Labradoodle LayLa had a fluid injection, it gave her a small widespread hump on her back which quickly dissipated as the saline was absorbed.  With Chewie, because he has almost no body fat left (which actually helps the fluid absorb quickly), it all flowed down into the loose folds of skin on his chest and hung there like a water balloon for the rest of the afternoon.

Melinda picked me up from work and we raced off to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Emergency Room.  As soon as we came in, they asked if it was Chewie, because Quarry Hill had already called ahead to make sure we could get in and they had sent all of the information on him.  We were ushered in quickly and a slew of kind medical professionals and students were checking him out.  Chewie actually started perking up because of the hydration, although Melinda thinks it was because every five minutes a different pretty lady would come out to smile at him, pet him and take him off for a quick test.

They had to re-run the tests that Quarry Hill had done, which is an added expense, but without doing that they would have no clue whether a change in his numbers was because he was actually doing better or just a difference in equipment/methodology.

They found that Chewie has a heart murmur; it could be that this is new, or just an overlooked murmur because it isn’t in the ordinary spot.  As the likeliest cause of the infection, it meant getting a cardiologist consultation and then an echocardiogram, which was the most expensive item on the bill so far.  (The echocardiogram cost as much as all of Quarry Hills’ bill today.)  Turns out: he doesn’t have a problem with his heart. The murmur is most likely a minor issue, and not the cause or even an effect of the infection.

Next thing:  Chewie has lower back pain; perhaps the infection is in his spine? Two X-rays later: no, that’s not the problem.

So far, the bill is creeping towards $900 (plus several hundred at Quarry Hill earlier) and we’ve only found out what it isn’t.  The docs offer that we could take him home to bring him back the next day, or we can leave him where he’ll be given antibiotics, painkillers, fluid IVs, and they will tend him and monitor his reactions.  Cost will be $500-$1000 depending on how it goes.  We’re hoping that, given Chewie’s by-then chipper attitude, that perhaps he will begin fighting off the infection and after a little more testing he will be sent home for a course of antibiotics, and we can start working on paying off the few thousand dollars that this will have cost by tomorrow.

Or, the vets may decide that they need to nail down the cause of the infection, which may mean bone marrow tests and a few other tests.  And if it gets into that realm, where some of the worse causes are leukemia, cancer, and all of the other scary too-much-money-to-spend-on-a-dog diseases, then we have to face some tough decisions.

Chewie on floor

We left Chewie and had supper with my parents at The Machine Shed, as just by happenstance they were passing through the Cities at the same time.  It’s a little embarrassing talking with them, for whom $2000 is already too much to spend fixing a dog.

Since I first became a dog owner, I’ve faced the question of the twisted stomach.  If, like Santa’s Little Helper and Marley (movie spoilers in that link), Chewie or LayLa had a twisted stomach or some other ailment that involves a lot of expensive surgery, at what point do you say, “It’s just a dog and I can’t put an entire kitchen remodeling into giving him three more years of life, not when there are tons of dogs in shelters also looking for homes.”

I’m torn.  I’m not a farmer, looking at animals as largely disposable and easily replaceable, though in general I agree.  Still, Melinda and I are childless, and there’s just no escaping that Chewie is our boy and we dote on him the way we would had we been blessed with youngfolk.  He is, still, an animal, and not a “furbaby”, that appalling phrase that is used too often by people who have lost perspective.  He’s our child substitute.  Not a child.

But it’s not like he’s a cat.  I love cats, as you all know.  But a cat you bring home and teach where the litterbox is and scold if it claws stuff.  End of investment.  The rest is all gravy.  If it has five years of sitting in a sunbeam or twenty, it is living the sweet life.  It’s not like the cat has to mix with the public.

A dog, properly loved, must be trained, and it forms a relationship with its owner.

Chewie is young, and he should have a long life ahead of him.  He just aced a retake of his advanced training class, and should be getting his Canine Good Citizenship soon.  After all the trouble of housebreaking and teething, of raising him and training him, he’s finally a very well-behaved dog with a good daily routine.  These should be his best years.

Chewie head shot

I go to bed tonight not knowing whether tomorrow means a call to come pick up our guy who is out of bed and full of beans, or whether we’ll be facing serious news.

Please pray for Chewie, and pray for us, too, if you can.  Thank you.

Obama Wins Reelection

An interesting thing about Democrat reaction tonight.  NOBODY loves Obama.  They just hate Romney.

You know…I could understand the seething loathing from Democrats if we were running someone like Reagan-on-steroids, but in the last two elections our candidates were two of the most middling, almost-a-Democrat, reach-across-the-aisle non-partisans you could hope to find. One was a war hero who had survived capture by the Vietnamese and who Democrats lauded as their favorite Republican until he ran against Obama. The other is this shucky-darn squeaky-clean guy whose biggest “scandal” is that he once had no room in the car for his dog.

To hear Democrats tell it, they narrowly escaped being ruled by Master Blaster.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  They took a cute midwestern-ish middle-class woman who had put herself through college, become mayor of her town, then governor, taking on her own party for the betterment of her state, and turned her into a nightmarish horror who sends bills to rape victims while denying dinosaurs exist.

We had a candidate who probably swears less than Sarah Palin and who stays away from the hard drinks such as Mr. Pibb, and yet the Democrats successfully made people fearful of him.  Their raving egotist candidate hung out with Marxists in college (that’s his own words), studies with radicals, has no concept of how business works, and demonizes constantly…and we keep saying that he’s a nice guy and we just disagree with his policies.

Oh well.  Onward into the abyss of debt.