The Storm – Part 2

So, it’s still cancer. It’s also very, very advanced. An ultrasound and additional X-rays show an advanced lesion on the liver, several lesions on the spleen, and aggressive metastasis in the lungs. Effectively, any treatment at this point is palliative; there’s no cure beyond miraculous responses to off-label drugs. The oncologist couched Froggie’s remaining time as a month.

So, we’ll lose him before my birthday in late August. He’ll get to stay in his house until the end and not have to deal with selling this house and moving. But he’s 8 and his passing is way, way too soon. Here’s The Dude through the years:

A photo from the foster parents, a few months before we adopted him

 A couple weeks after we adopted him, camping in St. Ignace, MI

Home, watching someone go upstairs (he learned to climb soon after)

A recent photo after a haircut

The Storm

So, it’s cancer.

In typically-clinical language, the radiologist’s report stated “CONCLUSIONS: severe generalized reticulo-nodular miliary lung pattern is concerning for diffuse pulmonary metastatic disease from unknown primary tumor.”

Basically, cancer has spread to the entirety of both lungs from an unknown source. There’s a mass in one lung that may be the source, but is likely a confluence of smaller masses into one larger mass. Strangely, his blood work is, medically, unremarkable. In the absence of imaging, he’s healthy. He’s not particularly struggling either, but he’s ‘off’, as they say.

So, now, we’re going to MSU’s Veterinary Oncology Center for a consultation. If they can find the original mass, that may provide some options for treatment. But, I think at this point, we’re really looking at pain management, barring an extremely fortuitous diagnosis.

Sidenote: based on imaging, there’s an extremely small chance this is a really bad fungal infection. It’s rare in dogs, but consistant with the evidence so far. I’m not a betting man and certainly not religious, but I’m superstitious enough to cross my fingers a few times for that option.

He’s a trooper, a soldier, and isn’t showing much concern for his condition. He hates the vet, but marches through appointments because we ask him too. For now, we have some time with him and he with us and we plan to make the most of it.

Me and Froggie, 2 July 2013. He hates the camera.

The Calm Before the Storm

About four feet behind me, a dog named Froggie lies in his crate, door ajar, struggling to breathe. He’s on a hundred milligrams of one drug and more of another. The X-ray of his rib cage looked like, quoting our veterinarian here, “popcorn”. Basically, it’s cancer. Tomorrow we’ll get a call from her, while she’s travelling, to either confirm that diagnosis or not.

Froggie after his most recent haircut, June 2013

Last night as we were cleaning up after painting our dining and living room (we know how to take vacations), he coughed up a Cup of phlegm-mixed-with-blood. It was shocking to say the least. He seemed off most of the day, but he spent it outside away from paint and fumes. We took him to the ER; he had some inflammation, but ate alright and seemed ok. We took home benadryl so he could sleep figuring he’d eaten a wasp or bee (he loves to snap at them).

About six weeks ago, he’d gone to the ER vet after becoming lethargic and simply not moving on his own. We were on a three-day trip to see my family cross-state and J–‘s parents were both kind enough to take him for us and caring enough that the vet still remembers them. He got some minor drugs and sent home, chalked up to dehydration (it was very hot), maybe eating a toad (not out of the realm of possibility). He got many hugs and treats when we returned, but otherwise bounced back in a couple days.

This morning, he coughed up more. We called and made an appointment for today, our vet was still in the office thankfully.

He’s coughing up stuff regularly now, although the volume has gone down, hopefully due to the drugs. But when he gets excited, he struggles to breathe, like a cat constantly trying to hork up a hairball. He gets excited pretty easily.

Froggie is 8, hardly old for a hound/terrier mix. We always joke that he’s a little man in a dog suit; his eyes are piercing and his mind is sharp, sometimes a bit too much so. He fears the big cat, adores the little one, and tries to hide both facts from J– and me.

He’s a total ham.

What’s a curtain?

He’s also, at his core, a loyal and faithful dog. It is truly difficult to describe the fierce and total loyalty a dog dedicates to an owner. Yes, he’s a huge responsibility, but he’s also a member of the house and he takes his job (and it is a job to him) with a seriousness not seen outside canines.

Tomorrow, we likely find out if a member of our family will leave us sooner than we’d imagined. Having a pet always comes with the promise of having to lose them, no matter how long we live. What’s hard is when a wonderful creature, full of life and eager to take that next walk, unable to comprehend the reasons behind his own suffering or mortality, looks to you with confusion in his eyes and the only potentially-real option is to stop his suffering before it starts.

My selfishness will not make him linger or suffer, but my sorrow at having to make such a decision stabs in my throat and makes me weep. I fear more tears are coming. For now, it is hard to proof words on the screen through misting eyes.

He’s finally asleep, his breathing has stopped being staccato rattles. I hope he dreams of finally catching that squirrel. I hope he dreams and smiles.

In Memoriam: Marlene Vis

Marlene Vis, my aunt, passed away this past Saturday, aged 63, loosing a prolonged battle with cancer. I know it’s trite to say that cancer patients “fight” their disease, but if anyone had, she did. Sent to hospice twice, she beat the odds to live more than a year longer than the most optimistic projections. She was–is–one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

Marlene is survived by her mother, her husband, her two children, four grandchildren, and hard-to-count numbers of nieces, nephews, great-level relations, and friends. To say she had a wide-reaching impact on the community would be an understatement; I think a large swath of Byron Center shut down for her funeral.

Of my relations, Marlene was special. She was friends with my mother for more than five decades. My cousins were near the age of me and my brother and more than friends for years. In the small area in which we grew up, they were secondary family in significant ways.

My fondest memory of her is a Tiger’s baseball game in the post-’84 seasons. The extended family (dozens of us) would venture all the way across the state to DEEtroit to see a Tigers game. It was an event of epic proportions for us in the late 80’s. Marlene and I sat next to each other (I was the Cute Nephew), but had Obstructed Seating. In Tiger’s Stadium, that meant we had a big-ass kind-of-painted-blue steal beam blocking out a majority of the field.

But not the pitcher’s mound. Oh no, that we could see just fine. And so we shouted at every pitch, howled at every K, and taunted every Ball. And, god help him, when Willie Hernandez (aka Whiplash Willie) strode to the mound, he must have heard every invective hurled at him from our two seats.

That memory is nearly 30 years old today. It’s my most precious memory of her and one I choose to hold onto. I know that people change and that the aunt I lost this week is not the same person who shouted at a relief pitcher at Trumbell and Michigan.  But that’s the person I miss most; the infectious laugh, the force of nature who dared you to enjoy yourself.

I hope you’ve found peace and freedom from your pain, Aunt Marlene. Few have earned it more than you. We already miss you.

Eulogy for Lillian (Hulst) Vis

Lillian (Hulst) Vis, aged 85, died Friday, 24 August 2012. She was preceded in death by her husband, Gerrit, and a daughter, Erma Vis. She is survived by 3 sons, a daughter, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, me amongst them.

My grandmother was a devoted mother, grandmother, and Christian. She will be missed by all of us, but most of all by Myrt, her sister and constant companion.

I’ve had a hard time coming up with words for how I feel about her and her passing. I left the West side of Michigan almost a decade ago, having left the first time almost 15 years ago. Almost half my life has been spent away from the area I grew up in or in the company of my family. My paternal grandmother was a large part of my early childhood, but less in my adolescent and adult years for reasons I can’t quite place. She loved me, but I fear was fundamentally disappointed in my life path.

Grandma lived on her own until she was nearly 75, driving on her own and living on her own. She was fiercely independent and strong, traits she learned raising 5 children in the strict, petty surrounds of Protestant, rural Michigan. She was the essence of what I perceived to be Dutch as a child: certain, decisive, frugal, faithful, and resourceful. As I reflect now as an adult, I see the effort she put forth to make all of us comfortable and provided for, while she herself toiled in kitchens, gardens, and factories.

Conjuring up my childhood around her brings flashes of memories: baked goods, punishments, moments of solidarity, shotguns, snapping turtles, Christmas, farm equipment I’d no business operating. A closet full of toys that were old when we were born, yet were always in use. Lessons in how to make a kitchen work. How to care for kittens. How to pray.

Grandma was, in many ways, the matriarch of my nuclear family. She commanded respect and attention, at the end when it was more than some were able to provide. She instructed, corrected, and disciplined me, my brother, and my cousins as a parent, rarely slipping into cliched, grandmotherly permissiveness. She was fair, she was honest, and she never once lied to her grandchildren as a kindness.

She spent her last years in assisted care, loosing first her leg then her war with her heart and kidneys. At 85, she gave Death a good run for its money, however, never proffering her dignity for more time–a feat in her nursing-home-surroundings that, while serviceable and all, suffered from all the typical nursing home smells, characters, and disease. She deserved a better experience, something I will regret for a long time.

On our last visit to see her, she didn’t know we were in the room. My father told me she expressed that she was ready to die and Hospice was kind enough to make sure her last days were not filled with pain. It’s difficult for those of us left behind to reconcile the person we see lying in an adjustable bed, ravaged by time, drugs, and mental deprivation. My memories of her were and will be of a recent retiree scolding me as I “weeded” her annuals  instead of actual weeds. My memories of her will be of the family matriarch holding court over the adults’ table at Thanksgiving. Of the grandmother who came to my college graduation, beaming. Of the forced smile when I told her I was leaving West Michigan again (for good), wishing me luck.

Rest in Peace, Grandma. You are already missed.

Rick Santorum's Google Problem

Poor Rick Santorum. When he isn’t making sure you know gay marriage and adoption are “violations of natural law” (his words) or that the Super Scary Sharia Law is already here, he’s got this small Google problem. Google his last name. Go ahead, but be ready for something pretty gross to read. Actually, you don’t have to Google it, just click here.

He earned that years ago. But, now, he started blaming Google themselves, asserting that the company is purposefully letting the search results stand because he’s, yah know, a intolerable, intolerant, bigot.

Well, Rick, it’s not Google. It’s me. And millions like me who think you’re a worthless excuse for a politician and a cog in the machine driving this country into a partisan hell. Congrats on getting one more link to re-enforce your Google problem, you insufferable douche.