During that time, spending precious minutes writing blog updates simply wasn’t an option I was willing to entertain. But now that my girl has gone, telling the rest of her story seems important –if not just for my own soul, maybe also to share her brave, fighting spirit and to leave a record for anyone else who may face the agonizing choices you are forced to make when cancer enters your lives. I know it helped us to be able to learn what others had tried, done, and faced in their journey. Though most everyone’s story ended like ours, knowing what to expect and just knowing others had walked (and were walking) in our shoes made many a long night just a little shorter. If our story can help someone else make an important decision or avoid a mistake we made, then this is Girly Girl’s last gift.
I had done such a good job convincing myself that it was anatomical, when in June, her first set of x-rays post-chemo, showed a now larger lung tumor in the place where the questionable spot had been in April, I felt as if Dr. Romansik had physically punched me in the gut. Near the now larger tumor were three other smaller lung mets. I was so in shock by the news, it took me a couple days to snap out of it and decide what to do next. Whenever I looked at my heart dog, I couldn’t imagine losing her and so the decision was made to fight on. I wasn’t sure if I should put her through more chemo but she continued on living each day seemingly healthy and full of life. We made an appointment for further chemo and I worked with Ohio State University Greyhound Health Program to get Carboplatin sent for Girly Girl. OSU provides free chemo drugs for retired racers. Not only for the first round it turns out, but all subsequent rounds as well.
Girly Girl, being my incredible brave girl, settled back into the chemo routine and after several treatments of Carboplatin, Dr. Romansik took yet another set of x-rays. I had come to despise x-ray days and on that day at the end of July, Dr. Romansik was out too quickly, dragging me back to the light box. There, like a horrible series of family photos where everyone gets bigger every year, were April’s, June’s and July’s x-rays. In July’s x-ray you could plainly see four tumors. Formerly the size of peas in June, they were now the size of walnuts. Carboplatin was not working. There was still a Hail Mary option and we had fought so long and so hard, I knew immediately I wasn’t going to give up. We got two meds Doxycycline, an antibiotic and Cyclophasphamide, a chemo drug, specially compounded for Girly Girl at a compounding pharmacy and sent to us in the mail. When I researched the drugs later, I learned they were a modified version of what is known as the Metronomic Protocol. The actual Protocol would have included a cox-2 inhibitor in addition to the two other drugs.
Thus Girly Girl began her third round of chemo. During this time, finally, my steel core magnolia showed some signs of not feeling 100% up to par. She developed a cough that was at first, dry and unproductive but as the weeks went on, became wet and at some points was productive. Dr. Romansik told us that canines could lose up to 50% of their lung capacity and not be affected; however, I felt that in this case he was wrong and the tumors were causing her cough. As time wore on, it became quite clear that this was so.
Based on her symptoms, I feared that maybe a heart issue had been missed on her last echocardiogram. The symptoms mimicked heart issues so closely that I took Girly Girl to see our family vet, Dr. Edelbaum. She examined Girly Girl. She did blood tests and took x-rays. She listened to Girly Girl’s heart. She found her heart to be normal. The x-rays, on the other hand showed a giant mass in the center of her lungs. Either one tumor had grown to the size of a baseball or two tumors had grown together to appear as one in the x-ray. Dr. Edelbaum feared to treat Girly Girl for a heart problem given that the tests weren’t indicating she had one. I was pretty distraught about my sweet baby’s growing level of obvious discomfort. I was begging for some sort of action to give her relief. Dr. Edelbaum got us in for an appointment with Dr. Rossi, scheduled for the next afternoon. Dr. Rossi would complete an ultrasound of her heart. The only catch was we had to drive to Salem, Massachusetts from Bowdoin, Maine being that he was the closest option. But drive we did.
Once we knew what the fluid was, Dr. Edelbaum gave us a Traditional Chinese Medicine to use called Yunnan Baiyao. The next day, a Friday in mid-September, we saw Dr. Romansik for our first follow up on the metronomic chemo. I explained what had happened during the week and he began calling around to get all her records. Eventually these were all faxed to him while we sat in the waiting room. He took Girly Girl and gave her a quick exam. He was soon back with her. He told me to take Girly Girl home. He said there was nothing more we could do. We had lost the fight. The blood in her lungs was due to the tumors growing and bursting blood vessels in her lungs. Her fever was also common in end stage cancer patients. It was a completely unreal moment and I had a hard time believing we would not be coming back. I did have the presence of mind to beg him for something to make her feel more comfortable. Though he said there was not much he could do, he did send us home with 20 mg of Prednisone to give her daily. He said it would give her a sense of well-being. If she was in pain, he would call in Gabapentin or Tramadol.
Dr. Romansik had given us a couple of days to a week at most. Girly Girl, being stubborn, and not speaking human, made it a month further. More amazingly, the Prednisone and Yunnan Baiyao gave her a very good quality of life. We were cruising along in a strange sort of limbo until the evening of Sunday October 10th. At 6:30 pm that night, one or more of her tumors pressed on, or ruptured something crucial. At that time she had been laying on the living room rug. She looked up at me strangely and struggled to her feet. She took a halting step towards me. She stood where she was a while longer staring far away. Panic set in and I called her to me. She lurched towards me slowly. From that moment on, she slid downhill quickly.
In the afternoon of Tuesday, October 12th, Dr. Edelbaum made the trip to our house. Girly Girl, Blue and I had spent the day being together and, as if to make me question everything, Girly Girl rallied a bit. My girl got belly rubs in the sun in the backyard. She got stuffed with all her favorite treats. She and I spent a lot of time just cuddling on her bed. Then, as the sun was setting, out in the backyard in Girly Girl’s favorite belly rub spot, with her beloved Grammy, Charlie and Blue by her side, she departed for the bridge from the shelter of her Mumma’s lap.
That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story. I know that I will bring another greyhound into our lives at some point when I am ready. At this writing, I can’t conceive of that time yet. Blue is desperately sad and lonely and I know he needs another four legged family member to share his experiences with. The chance that Blue or this future unknown hound may take me on another cancer journey looms large in my thoughts and frankly petrifies me. Still Girly Girl changed my life so profoundly, telling her story, and our life together would not be honored if we remain a one dog household. Maybe, after all, the one person that this story will end up helping is me.