Saturday, December 29, 2007

Home Again!

And very happy my little dog-family are still all here. Herbie found it tiring to be surrounded by lots of other people, and put himself to bed as soon as we got back. Holly, on the other hand, sniffed round the house, then went to the front door, as if to say "OK, you can take me back to the party now".

One of my brothers, who only sees her every 3 or 4 months, couldn't believe how sociable she's become. When she first came to me, all humans were dubious, except me (because I fed her). Slowly, she's come to accept other people, and now she ricochets off them like a skate-boarder off a ramp. We're still working on the "Humans are NOT launch-pads" command.

It's been a long year, but it was the year I found Graham's article in Dogs Today, the same week Herbie was diagnosed with lymphoma. Unfortunately, by the time the article appeared, Prince had gone to the bridge, but I was comforted to read about someone else's experience - I felt less alone. Since then, I've also found Fiona with Yogi's journey and this week, Emily, with Maggie (and the guide-dogs in training!) In the time Herbie's had lymphoma (first lumps appeared in April, but he was being treated for auto-immune disease until September), there have been two dogs I've known of, Daisy the boxer, and Peatie McSweetie the greyhound, who passed on within a few days of diagnosis, before they were able to start chemo. I've been very lucky, and I am so grateful for every day that there are fresh muddy footprints on my duvet cover.

I'm not making New Year's Resolutions this year, but I am making New Year wishes, for myself and for everyone else going through this: Stay lucky!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

We've Eaten the Reindeer...

... and if we don't get our presents soon, we'll start in on Santa...

It's been another dark, foggy day, and the hounds are getting restless. They've piled all their bones and blankies into a heap, while planning their next move. I'm about to pack the car, so we can go to my Dad's for Christmas (only a couple of miles down the road, so not a big trip!)
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mind You Get My Good Side...

Herbie won't let me take photos of the side with no whiskers. His left side still has whiskers, but he gets grumpy when I follow him round with a camera. It's also Chemo Week 16, and last week's dose really knocked him for six. His blood test today shows that everything looks fine, but he's definitely weaker. I'm hoping that next week's Christmas goose (old Scandinavian tradition) will perk him up!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jack Frost...

... has stolen Herbie's whiskers - but only half of them! OK, I know it's the doxorubicin really, but I woke up this morning to find a couple of long black spikey whiskers on the duvet cover. I looked at Herb more closely, and the whiskers on the right side of his face have gone AWOL overnight.

I don't know why, I was expecting the hair loss to be more gradual. I know dogs don't lose hair anything like as much as humans do during chemo, but I somehow thought it would be more evenly spread. I'll see if I can get a picture of Half-Whiskered Herbie, but there's so little light today - hard frost and grey grey grey.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Vaccine One Day?

In this week's Dog World, in the breed notes for Rhodesian Ridgebacks, there was mention of a vaccine being developed for lymphoma at Penn State University - I found details of the clinical trials here:

I don't normally read the dog weeklies, that are all about show dogs, but a neighbour, who used to show labradors, mentioned the article, so I bought a copy. Apparently the dog who first trialled the vaccine has been cancer-free for three years now. I hope the trials are successful, and that the vaccine becomes available over here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chemo Week 15

The third dose of doxorubicin, and another visit to Mr. Lowe in Knaresborough. Herbie was un-nerved by it all, in part because another dog was protesting in the background the whole time. She was in for an operation, and not happy. I stayed with Herbie while he fought the anaesthetic, then waited until he was done. He's always very groggy, and keen to get back in the car.

While the results aren't as good as I'd hoped, the nodes aren't getting worse, and the popliteal nodes are down. The vet thinks that as long as the drugs are keeping the cancer in check, and he's not reacting badly to the drugs, it's worth continuing, so we're due back at the beginning of January.

When we got home, crisis! Herbie seemed to have dislocated a toe on his left back foot, and suddenly the nail was 90 degrees north of where it normally is, and his whole foot was splayed because a middle toe was lying sideways. I rang my usual vets, we rushed round, and as he jumped out of the car, he yelped. He'd relocated his own toe, he didn't want any more vets, thank you. I marched him in anyway, and the vet on duty said yeah, that happens sometimes, keep an eye on him in case.

Herbie's still coming round. It takes him all day to get over these treatments, and he's often a bit fragile the day after. I'm beginning to feel that way myself...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Random Weekend Musings

When you tag people, there's always people you miss - in this case Ritinrider, with her blog about scholarships (see, this is why I have dogs, I can afford training classes), and Erika the Wordsmith, who manages to write despite the efforts of the cutest toddler ever (and if he could be guaranteed to stay that size for ever, I would consider adding one to the menagerie!)

Here in the Northlands, we have managed to snatch a dry walk in between the rain and snow showers.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tagged twice in one week

Well, tough, folks, you're only getting the one set of facts. Tagging may be a fun game to play, but there are limits! The man responsible for all these shenanigans lives here:

Rules:Link to the tagger and post these rules on your blog. Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird. Tag 5 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1) I grew up in Bahrain, where we had street dogs, who lived partly in a nearby palm grove, partly in the shade of our garden wall. They all looked to be part saluki, but my favourite, Sandy, had a curled-over tail like a basenji. They got all our left-overs.

2) I used to work in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye called Murder and Mayhem (and felt right at home!)

3) I've written to my MP a couple of times now about greyhound welfare, and it's a real thrill to get a thick envelope back with the House of Commons logo on it (OK, know that sounds weird).

4) Recently packed in a job in local government - once thought it was a good idea, but then I worked for this one council...

5) I adopted Herbie from Sister Lilley, who appears in the James Herriot books as Sister Rose -she's in her 90s now, and has been adopting dogs out for the last 60 years or more.

As for passing the tagging on, I was going to select some blogs at random by pressing the "next Blog" button, but the first one, although all in Spanish, had a picture of a lady with no clothes who appeared to have lost her contact lens, she was crawling across the floor looking for it, and that's when I thought the Naked People Who've Lost Things blog probably wasn't a good one to link to, so instead, it's the Dog Virgin, Nancy (and family), YM, KaylyRed and Nigel and Sola. Sorry guys, but it's a dog-tag-dog world out there...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Chemo Week 14

Phew. Made it past the 13-week unlucky stage. Herbie is feeling much better as we scale the steroids down, to the point of naughtiness. We don't have many house rules, but one of them is: No Bones Upstairs. All dog-food remains downstairs.

Herbie smuggled a bone past me and into his bed in my bedroom. Holly's only ever tried it the once, and was caught straight away, clonking it up the stairs. Herbie got away with it for some time, until I realised the funny noise I could hear was Herbie grinding a bone down.

I can't be cross with him, in fact I'm rather pleased he's feeling well enough to misbehave. On the larger doses of steroids, he stops being a dog and starts being an ornament that needs feeding. He just lies in a little heap all day and doesn't want walks or attention. Now he's being pesky, and it's a huge relief.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A little light reading

Yes, it's the Donoughue Report. The one that's supposed to have the welfare of greyhounds at its heart, the one that's supposed to stop the greyhound racing industry from going down the tubes because people keep moaning about all the dead greyhounds.

Unfortunately, it spends so much time reassuring the current club members they'll all still have jobs (and look, there's a corner office with a swivelly leather chair), that it fails to get to grips with some of the real issues. For example, the number of greyhounds that end up in dog pounds every year. If they banned every owner and trainer with a dog registered to them that wound up on the council's death row, there would be a big gap in the ranks. Not surprising they don't want to follow up that issue.

Then there's the weeny issue of no one actually having any authority over the independent tracks (I guess the name is a bit of a giveaway). Without legislation, no one will have. So, the ex-NGRC, henceforth the JFBC (Jobs For the Boys Club), think they could self-regulate, while someone else checks up on the independents. And that would be fine, as long as no one ever checks up on the JFBC. Because they've done such a fine job of policing themselves all these years. And promising to politicians that they will, and politicians being daft enough to believe them.

Both Holly and Herbie were dumped - Holly was pulled from the pound at the 11th hour, while Herbie spent six weeks at a vets, he was in such poor condition. I'm not about to believe any promises on welfare, I want to see legislation and criminal convictions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chemo Week 13

..And a flurry of superstitious dread at the number. It's only a number. Herbie went for a blood test this morning, and his white cell count is holding up. That's one relief. Unfortunately he doesn't want to walk much, which is bad sign. However, I think it's related to the prednisolone. He is one of the few dogs who doesn't tolerate it well, and his muscles waste fast. He also becomes depressed and mopey, with intermittent episodes of rapid heartbeat and panting.

It's possibly the only thing that will slow his cancer down, so I'm sticking with the prescribed dose because the lumps are growing back more slowly. But his little face, at the top of the stairs this evening, panting, worries me. The vets at Cambridge said it's more of a psychological effect, and physically he'll be fine. But he looks miserable. I'm not sure what to do. I think I may have to phone the vets again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Big Thank You

... for all the support I've received over the last day or so. Going to the vets is turning out to be stressful these days, and I really appreciate all the kind comments.

Today I have mostly been soaking sugar beet pellets. These come in 25 kilo sacks (the smallest size) and I put half a dozen pellets in a bowl of water this morning.

The end result looks like something you scrape out of a blocked drain. Tomorrow Herbie gets his first taste.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chemo Week 12

We're just back from Knaresborough, and Herbie is still wobbly from the sedative. Our first visit to Mr. Lowe, who felt that Herbie was still in good condition, despite everything he's been through to date. I felt in really good hands, and had the first good discussion with a vet about how diet can really make a difference. I've been asked to stop all carbs, and if he needs a little fibre to keep his poo firm, try sugar beet pulp. Apparently you can buy this from equine feed merchants, so I'll go to Farmway tomorrow morning.

For tonight, all he's having is a little boiled chicken, and probably the same again for breakfast. And we're back on the prednisolone, just when he'd finally been weaned off them. At the moment, it's any port in a storm. If he doesn't achieve remission with this dose of doxorubicin, there may not be much point in continuing. Once multi-drug resistance develops, as it seems to have done in Herbie's case, all we can do is slow things down a bit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Herbie's Winter Coat

Here he is, in his new winter coat, courtesy of those nice people at Greyhounds in Need. Now that he has so many shaved patches, from ultrasound tests and blood tests, he needs his fleecy coat!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chemo Week 11

This is a week we don't have to go anywhere, since Herbie's next treatment isn't due until next Tuesday. Now that we're off the weekly treatments, it might seem odd commemorating individual weeks, but I'm keeping track of when we started on this journey.

So, Week 11 may not seem exciting, but I'm sure that without chemo Herbie wouldn't have had a week 11. In the summer, when we didn't know what was wrong with him, I bought him a new winter coat, while secretly wondering if he would ever get to wear it. Fortunately, he has. Faith and hope come and go in waves. Like meditation, where you count your breaths and try to stay focused, I'm counting the weeks.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Life Before Dogs

It's funny, but I've almost forgotten what it's like not to live with dogs. I've been reminded by reading a wonderful, funny blog by a lady in the pre-greyhound stages (catch it here ).

There's a long list of things I didn't know about or understand before dogs, such as the importance of a good doormat. Other things include (with explanations for the caninely-deprived):

Pig's Ears (yes, real ones, off real pigs, sometimes with an ink tattoo still visible)
Kongs (rubber chewing things stuffed with food - a form of dog entertainment)
Tick tweezers (owning a pair miraculously stops your dog getting ticks - how does that work?)
What Frontline is (flea treatment)
Ditto Panacur and Drontal (worms)
The concept of a poo-torch (unless they go directly under a lamp-post, you will need help finding the pile)
Poo-bags - why biodegradable nappy bags are no good if it's raining (they dissolve before you get home)
Teeth-chattering (your greyhound doesn't have flu, he's just pleased to see you)
Bed ownership (it's not yours anymore, that's for sure)

I'm sure other things will occur to me. Since I've had a dog, complete strangers have stopped me in the street to let me know the butcher's got rabbits in, and the dogs would love one, or that's there's broken glass just past the bus-stop, best take a detour. You become a different person - and it's not just the fine coating of dog-hair on your clothes.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A New Day, A New Doormat

I know, I know, hold the front page. It's a little bit tragic when the most exciting event in your life is a new doormat. However, the mud months are beginning, and once you first hear the patter of tiny (dog) feet, you begin to appreciate things that are machine washable. Before I had dogs, I never gave doormats a second thought.

The dogs have just pointed out that they themselves must not get wet, under any circumstances. Today's venture out into the drizzle was a one-off.

Herbie's sub-mandibular nodes are beginning to swell a little. I'm not sure if this is normal, but it's 10 days before we see the new vet in Knaresborough. He's doing OK, and is now sleeping with Honky the Pheasant curled up under his chin. (Honky no longer honks, since Holly punctured the squeaker. This means that he is safe for Herbie to sleep on.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Yay, it's working!

After the first dose of doxirubicin, and all the up-chucking, Herbie's submandibular nodes are shrinking. It suddenly all seems worth while.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Little Better

Yesterday, we were all so tired that Holly, Herbie and I spent the afternoon each with 0ur heads under our respective blankies. Today, Herbie's feeling a little better, and had some chicken for breakfast.

At lunch, I was going to give him some egg, but he barged Holly out of the way for a Markie (crack cocaine for dogs, and he hasn't been allowed them for months) and then again for some steak. (My father came over to walk Holly and had brought some left-over steak.) It's been a couple of hours now, and the steak seems to be staying down - fingers crossed!

I'm in a better mood today, but not impressed with the concept of anti-vomiting pills after a dog has started chucking up. The Cerenia tablets came straight up again, and I know now to insist on an injection. I'm learning lots, but mostly at poor Herbie's expense.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chemo Week 9

Or, wall-to-wall dog sick. "He may experience some nausea or vomiting." Yup. Oh boy.

We went to Cambridge on Tuesday, and they agreed that the COP protocol had stopped working, and it was time to try doxorubicin at three-weekly intervals. He had the first dose there, and an anti-emetic injection. Good job it lasted long enough to get us home, because my sister, God bless her, drove us there in her car. It was a long day, four hours each way, plus stops, and a five hour wait while they did tests.

Now Herbie's home, and not feeling too good. I've been to get some anti-emetics from the vet that say "May cause vomiting if given on an empty stomach". Great, really useful for a dog that's thrown up and now won't eat anything. He's also only had three-quarters of one pill so far, because he keeps gacking it up, no matter how much I stroke his throat to make him swallow. Greyhounds aren't built like other dogs, and pilling them isn't easy.

I'm about to go to bed and pull the covers over my head. Leaving the front door open so that Herbie can vomit outside for a change.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Not My Favourite Dog

A certain young lady trod in something nasty on her trip to the woods on Friday. Unfortunately I only realised half way home, and so the inside of the car was covered in poo-prints. Both dog beds needed an urgent wash.

Today, we reach the car and she has a brown streak across the middle of her head. And her muzzle has brown smudges. Luckily I keep baby wipes and kitchen roll in the car, but even so... I could cheerfully swap her for something less poo-encrusted.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A trip to the Experts

I've arranged to go see Cambridge Vet School next Tuesday with Herbie. The chemo is no longer holding him stable, so it's time to go see if there's anything else left in the medicine cupboard.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chemo Week 8

Herbie was weighed again, and caused me vast embarrassment, he's 36 kilos now, and a bit of a porky pup. Maybe it's time to lay off the tripe. The steroids make him more interested in food, but I think it's time I started monitoring portion sizes.

However. The nodes at the right side of his neck, where this whole saga started, are enlarged again. The chemo may be losing its effectiveness. Given that first-line chemo hasn't knocked him into remission during the first seven weeks, what are the chances of anything else working?

My vet is going to contact the oncologist at Cambridge to discuss where we go from here. And I've taken Herbie out to rustle his way through the autumn leaves, in the warm sunshine.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Holly - Just Because

She isn't getting enough attention at the moment.

Magnetic Fields Cause Lymphoma?

I've just been reading the October issue of Bark magazine which mentions some research done in 1995. Apparently dogs living in homes with high magnetic fields are seven times more likely to develop lymphoma.

Suddenly I remember that at our last house (we moved in January), Herbie's upstairs bed was next to a powerpoint and a phone socket - and (his choice) next to the radiator. Although he spends most of this time on my bed, did he spend too long near a power socket? And what about this house? It might be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but I have Holly to think about too...

Then I found out how much the cheapest EMF meter costs... plus I can't afford to move just now. Wonder if I should cover all my walls with aluminium foil?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Semi-Birthday

Yesterday was Herbie's 7 1/2th birthday. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is. He first developed swollen lymph nodes around his birthday, six months ago, but went untreated (or rather, treated for the wrong thing) for four months, so his survival to date is a little miracle in itself. There were moments in August when I didn't think we'd see his half-birthday.

It seems too much like tempting fate to mention future landmark dates, so I won't. Every day is a bonus, but I'm glad he made it to 7 1/2.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chemotherapy Week 7

He's back home after his seventh lot of chemo, and is exhausted. Before he goes into the vet's consulting room, he is shivering, teeth rattling, deep shudders running across his ribs. He does NOT like this process.

But now he is safe for another week, and his blood test shows that his white cell count is fine, apart from the eosinophils. These have been on the low side; there are various infections known to cause raised levels, but I have not been able to find out what low levels mean. His neutrophils have been slowly rising, to 3.4, which is on the low side of normal for ordinary dogs, but just fine for a greyhound. Greyhounds have a different blood composition to other breeds, and the test results judge "normal" by other dogs. Everything has to be re-interpreted in the light of greyhound blood values.

I no longer have to collect pee samples, now he's off the cyclophosphamide, so that will make Tuesdays easier. He still has lumpy lymph nodes, though....

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Damp and misty morning

Will the dogs go out, will they heck. Herbie has made it perfectly clear where he intends to be spending the morning.
Greyhounds suffer from a little-known condition called "meltophobia", a morbid fear of dissolving in the rain.
No cure has yet been discovered.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another day, another drug

The vet rang this afternoon. Since Herbie is developing cystitis with the cyclophosphamide (Endoxana), she's been consulting with the awfully nice people at Cambridge Vet School. Herbie's oncologist has suggested we substitute it for chlorambucil (trade name Leukeran). Again, every other day, and it's cytotoxic, so you have to wear rubber gloves to handle it. I now have a special pair of pink rubber gloves in the kitchen (Pink for Pills) just for dog medicine. Plus, this one needs to go in the fridge.

Chlorambucil has a whole different range of side-effects. Let's see how we go. Herbie doesn't know about this one yet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Boiled-up Liver

... and other culinary delights. One of the hardest things I've found is taking the time to provide a good anti-cancer diet. I've taken a look at a number of places, including Canines in Crisis, Laurie Kaplan's book and Ginger's diet (for hemangiosarcoma), and added some supplements as recommended by Shawn Messonnier.

So far, I've steered clear of the so-called "miracle cures", because they seem more like faith healing, and I'm not sure my faith is sufficient. Maybe later.

At the moment, Herbie is getting a packet of frozen raw tripe or other meat (available from pet shops with a freezer, as 400g bricks) defrosted for breakfast, with a fish oil capsule, and in the evening some boiled meat (chicken, liver, lamb, turkey) with boiled broccoli and/or cauliflower or green beans and a little brown rice, with some arginine and glutamine (available from the body-building section of health food shops).

Tonight we're boiling up lamb's liver. He's been putting on weight, after losing four kilos in the early stages, when he wasn't being treated. I'm not sure if it's the diet or the treatment that's putting the weight back on him, but he is almost tubby now, and for once I don't mind.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chemo for Lymphoma Week 6

I've just retrieved Herbie from the vets. As usual, he is starving, anxious to be home, and exhausted. His urine sample is clear this week, but the vet has consulted with his oncologist at Cambridge Vet School - no cyclophosphamide for another week, to be sure his bladder is healed.

It's weird, it's almost like you've failed an exam. Failed one of the chemo drugs. I shouldn't take it personally, different dogs react differently, and that's why I've been chasing round the garden with a plastic bowl every Tuesday morning, to get the sample for testing. (Such fun this morning, in the rain. Somewhat of a diluted sample.)

He is now crashed out in the blue and white dog-bed that he's too big for. His lymph nodes are slightly smaller this week. Little, tiny incremental improvements.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Happiness Depends on Poop

Dog no poop, me no happy. A worrying morning, hoping something would appear. Plenty has gone in the top end over the last 24 hours, so where is it all? At lunchtime, success! A little step for a dog, a giant step towards human calmness.

Now that I'm feeding Herbie on a home-cooked diet, there's a lot less residue (so to speak), but even so, he used to go twice a day before chemo. Now he's on chemo, he'll only go in the mornings. It's not listed as a known side-effect of steroids, but the vet assured me that slowed "transit times" were a known feature of steroids. (There was me thinking maybe the chemo was killing off too many gut lining cells... or something. Should have paid attention in biology class.)

The trouble with all these drugs is that you never know what's an unusual side-effect, and what's normal, and when to start worrying. The net result is, you worry all the time. Maybe I should set an alarm clock, and allow myself half an hour's worrying a day, then forget about it until tomorrow.

For more on steroid side effects, see

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lymphoma - The Story So Far

Herbie has been a particularly unlucky dog, as far as getting a diagnosis. I took him to the vets at the beginning of April to arrange for a dental, as his teeth were looking quite manky - not unusual for a greyhound. He'd cracked a tooth last year, and my then vets had said it's best to leave it unless it's causing trouble. New vets said Hmm, time to come out, and he'll need antibiotics first. While he was on a week's course of antibiotics, prior to the dental, the lymph node on the right side of his jaw swelled up, golf-ball hard.

The vets said Not good, he'll need a biopsy under general anaesthetic, so he was booked in for a week after the dental. Then 10 days' hellish wait, and the verdict: not lymphoma. The entire node was removed, so it seemed a clear diagnosis. He healed well, but the nodes on the other side came up, then the popliteal nodes (at the back of his knee). Further tests, for bacterial infection, viral infection, you name it. Anti-histamines, in case of allergy. Then prednisolone, in case of aut0-immune disease.

The steroids had an immediate effect, but made him very sick. Rapid muscle wasting, to the point where he could barely stand, climb stairs, and walks were out of the question. Panic attacks, panting with rapid heart beat, for hours at a time. I was afraid the treatment would kill him. He lost two kilos in 10 days. After a week, the dose was scaled d0wn rapidly - but his nodes went right down.

Then a frustrating two months(!) while I asked for a second opinion, phoning the vets a couple of times a week, and little or no action. They wanted to start him on cyclosporin, for auto-immune disease, and I wanted that second opinion first. Finally, a referral to Cambridge vet school, and a nightmare six-hour drive (should only have taken four). I had to leave him there, but by the time I came home again, they already had a diagnosis. Lymphoma, and well advanced. Lungs clear, but spleen swollen. Could they start treatment immediately?

Absolutely. A month later, Herbie is still alive, his nodes are reducing, but he's a long way from being in remission.

Lymphoma Treatment Week 5

It's been a long time since I posted, and in many ways I have a superstitious dread about posting details of Herbie's illness. But I want to keep a record of how he's doing - at the moment, his vet bills are the only record I have.

He was finally diagnosed with lymphoma on 4th September (long story, I'll post later) and had his fifth chemotherapy treatment (intravenous vincristine, part of the COP protocol) on Tuesday 8th October. His urine test showed microscopic traces of blood, so the vet asked us to lay off the cyclophosphamide for a week, and see how he's doing next time.

One of the risky side-effects of this drug is hemorrhagic cystitis, so I'm glad they caught the signs early. See Graham and Prince's blog for how uncomfortable this can be: