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Behr in training

 

 

In my last post, I told you about the rough time we had when the vet thought I had cancer in my leg AND Mom got a head injury. I forgot to tell you about one of the things Mom did to cheer us both up. 

Mom grew up around boats and said she learned how to “anchor forward” when in a rough storm. She would throw the anchor off of the front of the boat (bow) and then use a winch to pull the boat forward instead of letting the winds and current carry her where she didn’t want to go. At least she was moving forward, even if really slowly.

With that in mind, she bought a new special backpack to use on our future hikes together. This one would be better for carrying my jackets, boots, water, and stuff. And my snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. I’ve learned to refuse to walk until Mom gives me snacks to get going again. I also make her pay me (more snacks) to stand still for photos. Anyhow, she got this new backpack as a way of anchoring forward and not staying discouraged. I watched her pack it so it was ready to go, including my toys and snacks. She put it where we’d both see it as a reminder.

Finally we took the new backpack on it’s maiden voyage on a hike to a waterfall. We had to hike through a deep canyon for 100 miles I think, just to get to the falls. Well, when you’re closer to the ground as dogs are, the earth seems to flatten out and stretch to get bigger. Or something like that.

Come on, Mom! Carry my snacks a little faster, ok?

Waterfall trail 

We passed little waterfalls on the way to the big one.

Behr by creek

Can you tell I’m hot? We had to cross the creek 9 times on the way to the waterfall, and got soaking wet. That was fun 🙂

After a while, I started to feel a little sick. You can tell in this photo that I was feeling light headed (see the light on my head?).

Behr by creek framed

Seriously though, I was getting really sick. Mom has pictures of me being really sick, but I won’t let her post them. Too embarrassing. 

We FINALLY made it to the waterfall way up in the mountains. How pretty! Even tho I was still a little sick, I let Mom take a picture of me with the falls.

Behr by waterfall framed

The falls are a 40 foot drop, but somehow I look pretty big in the photo. I’m not really 10 feet tall. And I’m not happy about standing still for pictures.

Another photo of the falls (without me)

  Waterfall framed

I’m glad Mom explained anchoring forward and picked something to look forward to. Mom struggled to recover, but she did, even if it seemed slow. I waited for her though, and looked forward to more snacks hikes and more fun times with her. We’ve been hiking together now for 11 years and 7 months. Yay team Behr Behr!! Still going strong!

♥♥ Love, Behr Behr, the 10 foot tall Dane (yeah right…)

P.S. – Happy Mother’s Day, Mom 🙂

 

Donkey framed

Note from Behr’s mom: This little donkey RUNS across it’s pasture every time it sees Behr, and then calls her relentlessly when we walk away.  They’re so cute together!

Hey, it’s me- Behr Behr, here to celebrate the joy of spring with you 🙂 The dormant things spring back to life again. All of the baby animals, birds and even flowers seem to signal renewed hope and joy!

That’s the story around OUR house right now.

2019 has been tough for us. First we had the cancer scare with my jaw. Fortunately that ended well. Then we went to the vet because I was limping and holding my foot up. The vet said I had bone cancer, which >AGAIN< sent shock waves through my mom and dad. (!) Mom decided to send my x-rays to a radiologist for a second opinion. He said it was just bone remodeling from an old injury and that I had a toe infection from something in it. THANK YOU Mom!!! Whew. Mom used homeopathy to help me with that and I’m all better now.

Then, right after our last post, Mom was hiking without me in Colorado. I was sad that I wasn’t there to help her 😦

She was hiking with her younger grandson and they were climbing down some boulders to a creek below them, she stepped on a boulder with ice on it. Oops…

She fell down the hill and stopped falling when her head hit a boulder. Really HARD= Not good. The emergency room said she had a moderate traumatic brain injury. Ugh.

That caused her LOTS of problems with memory, light sensitivity, severe headaches, depth perception and a whole bunch of other things. Mom was sleeping all of the time and walkies with me gave her severe headaches. I was pretty sad. BUT… Mom has gotten much better now (WAY faster than the doctors expected!!  Thank you homeopathy and herbs!).

We are able to go for hikes in the mts. again. Yippee!! Both of us have had close calls that almost ended our time together.

The hiking duo of Behr Behr and Mom continues!! 

We just went on a hike into the mts. to see if the flowers were blooming yet.  Yay! Take a look.  Many flowers here are just about ready to open.

Behr on flower trail framed

The Blue Lupine are high in the mts. now.

Behr on trail framed

You can see them on along the trail everywhere.

Behr on flowered trail

They certainly brighten up the trail with their beauty!  As we were hiking, it was sprinkling and overcast (and super windy at times). That’s why I’m wearing my Ruffwear wind jacket 🙂 

Mom liked the way the mts. looked with clouds hovering over them. 

mt hike framed

Wayyyyy up in the mts., we found this field of lupine and Mom made me stand in them for pictures. Silly Mom. Can you tell by my “ho-hum” look that I’m not excited about posing for her?

Behr in flower field framed

So, I hope you ALSO have reasons to celebrate spring and new beginnings. We certainly do!  I’m happy we’re back in action again and Mom is able to write about our adventures. I’ve missed everyone.

♥♥ Love, Behr Behr, the 11.5 year old Dane with a spring in her step…still 🙂

(Behr’s mom writing) Wow, what an emotional roller coaster we’ve been on for the last few weeks with Behr!! 

After a routine vet visit in December for accupunture for Behr’s spine, I was finished and waiting for some paperwork in order to leave. I sat down in the waiting room with Behr standing around in front of me while I happily chatted with other dog owners.

As usual, when people find out how old Behr is, they ask how I’ve managed to to help her have such a long and healthy life, I start telling them things I’ve learned through my researching medical literature. Well, in the middle of this conversation, my world suddenly came crashing down with a sickening thud!! Behr just happened to look at me (her head eye level since I was sitting)…and then she yawned. That’s when I saw the TUMOR in her mouth, hidden by her tongue. I was stunned.

Having lost my prior dane (and other animals as well) to cancer, I suddenly felt like a cold dark cloud of fear had enveloped me. I couldn’t even see out of it and was struggling to remain calm. We were rushed back in to see the vet again. The only good news she had at the time was that at least it didn’t look like melanoma, but only a biopsy would tell us for sure what this was.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, while the vet had been doing acupuncture on Behr only minutes before, we were discussing some neurological symptoms Behr was having. We decided that I should take her to the neurologist and ask if he saw anything serious enough to need an MRI (under anesthesia.) She (Behr’s vet) warned me that this would be really risky for Behr, however, and she advised against it if not necessary. Now here we were discussing a biopsy under anesthesia….the very thing we were trying to avoid!!

That started a whole round of vet visits to the neurologist, dental surgeon (because the tumor was in her mouth), and other veterinarians to decide what to do. The neuro didn’t think her neurological symptoms were worth the risk of 45 minutes under anesthesia for an MRI.  He did, however, caution about the high risk of death due to her age and other factors, as well as the risk of permanent paralysis if her neck wasn’t properly supported during and after the surgery.  All of the vets suggested full removal of the tumor under anesthesia. The dental surgeon even said she might need a large portion of her lower jaw removed. Ugh! That broke my heart even more.

What made this whole thing like torture for me was that Behr seemed oblivious to what was going on. She was totally happy and playful. She literally wants to play A.L.L. day long! She still gets zoomie runs, still goes for hikes, and otherwise has a good quality of life. I just couldn’t risk her becoming paralyzed or dying for something that might possibly not even be life threatening. We did not know for a FACT that this was cancer yet. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if that happened. Obviously, the risk is valid if it’s the only way to try to save her life. I have had animals need emergency surgery and I took that risk. Interestingly, twice in my life I made a decision against all medical advice that ended up saving lives. Once was for a prized horse of mine, once for my son. Cancer is frightening, for sure, but it’s usually NOT an extreme emergency. You can pause briefly to make a clear decision and often go with your gut instinct. (I worked for a while in cancer research…) 

So, after a TON of research about options, I decided that maybe cryosurgery was the way to go, IF I could find a vet willing to try it.

I learned some VERY interesting things about cryosurgery and cancer. I had to keep in mind how very TRICKY cancer can be. It kind of fools the body into thinking it’s harmless so the immune system won’t fight it. “No problem here, immune system. You can leave us alone now.” 

However, more than one report suggested that cryo might stimulate the immune system to fight the tumor. For example, one human study showed that cryo killed tumor tissue and the immune system would finally attack it.

I’m not a veterinarian OR an oncologist, but from what I was reading it sounded like having cryosurgery would be far less risky and if it ended up being cancer, cryo might trigger the immune system to fight it. That seemed like a good plan for Behr, and I decided to pursue it.

The main veterinary surgeon using cryo for tumors was Dr. Martin (Marty) Goldstein in New York. He is the vet that many famous celebrities like Martha Stewart and Oprah take their dogs to for serious issues.

But, it wasn’t really reasonable  for us to go all the way across the country, so I searched for a vet closer than New York. FINALLY, after much searching and even help from other vets searching, I found the option we would choose. Dr. Betsey Hershey, and integrative veterinary oncologist (cancer doc) was only about a 5 – 6 hour drive away. She is integrative, which means she ALSO uses hyperbaric chambers, herbs, and other more natural forms of healing in addition to surgery and chemo. While she was in a neighboring state, this was more practical and affordable for us to attempt. Every conversation I had with her staff before we drove there was simply amazing!! They are incredibly helpful and compassionate.

The plan was a consult on Monday with possible cryosurgery on Tuesday, hopefully done with only a mild sedative. When Dr. Hershey walked into the (beautiful!!) exam room, she came over to Behr, sat down on the rug next to her and took her time petting her and putting her at ease. I’ve NEVER seen a vet do that! Wow!

Unfortunately, she told us the tumor was too big for just cryo, but that she might be able to cut it down to a smaller size and then cryo the base of it. We were sad, but figured it was still the way to go.

Then she had an idea! Since Behr was being pretty co-operative, she offered to squeeze us in sometime THAT day if we could wait. She would attempt a biopsy WITHOUT ANY anesthesia!!! Before you panic (like we did), she said the tumor had very little nerves anyhow. SO, if Behr would co-operate, she would reach in and slice off a chunk for a biopsy…with no risks!

It worked!!!!  Behr came bouncing back from the minutes long procedure happy and acting as if nothing had happened, even though her mouth was a bloody mess. We were amazed!!

Here’s what it looked like AFTER the biopsy. You can’t see the whole thing, but it arises from the bottom of her lower jaw and extends upward toward her teeth. AFTER Behr's biopsy

 

I could’ve danced out of Dr. Hershey’s office I was so relieved!!  What an amazing, kind, gentle, and considerate doctor she had been! Her staff couldn’t have been more understanding. She did a great job hiring such a compassionate team. No wonder all of the people in her waiting room raved about her. There was a large table in the foyer covered with recent thank you cards that said a lot about her as well. I kept reading things like, “The other vets said our dog only had a few weeks/months to live, but you gave him/her YEARS more, and they were happy dogs until the end” Same with the Yelp reviews. (NOTE: I get absolutely NO financial or other compensation for this review. It is purely written out of gratitude)

The result of the biopsy has now come in. GOOD NEWS! Not cancer! We have the option of leaving what is left of her tumor there and see how fast it grows and if it eventually is a problem for her to eat. Then we would have to talk about surgery. 

After weeks of crying about the possibility of losing Behr when she was still so happy and playful, we were done. Now I could cry for joy. There is still sand left in the hourglass.

Again, I do understand what it’s like to walk an animal through cancer. I’ve done that with my prior dane, a cat, horses, and even some birds. I’ve been there, and it’s a VERY crummy place to be.

For anyone currently going through a cancer ordeal with their pet, my heart breaks for you. It’s simply not right that our dogs are now getting cancer at super alarming rates. They are the canaries in the coal mine, telling us that something is very, very wrong with our environment (food, water, air, etc) and that we need to make some serious changes. 

So, for now, we have some more time left to enjoy our little Behr Behr. We value those moments and are grateful for every one of them. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our day to day lives and forget how SHORT our dogs’ lives usually are. We don’t know how many “tomorrows” we have left with them. I know I’m trying to remember to do as much as I can with Behr TODAY, instead of telling her “Maybe tomorrow I can___”  (take you for a long walk, play with you, let you just enjoy sniffing everything, etc.)  Lets, as a group, start celebrating today with our pups, while we have them.

Remember the hourglass. Once the sand is gone, it’s not coming back.

 

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

moose munch

It’s funny how walking along in silence with your dog can MAKE SPACE for contemplation and overall de- stressing from our hectic pace of life. Sure, I like hiking with friends sometimes, but there is no silence to be able to process life. Walking with my dog gives me that needed time. Sometimes I even discover things about myself during that quiet time, but this time my dog taught me a much needed lesson.

When we got Behr as a puppy, she was unbelievably energetic.  We’re not talking normal Dane puppy here; she was a ball of fiery energy that never stopped. She only had TWO speeds…full throttle zooming ahead and sound asleep. No in-between with her.

baby behr with stick

Everything Behr did as a puppy was with full gusto. Life was one big adventure to her. She never walked, she only ran and jumped. I’m NOT kidding.

behr running in oregon

Taking her for walks was seriously exhausting both mentally and physically.  One time as I was being dragged by a neighbor’s house, she yelled out, “Hey, do you get frequent flyer miles with that dog?” She was referring to the fact that I was almost airborne as I chased after my full speed ahead pup. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when she said that.

Behr had a mind of her own and was seriously stubborn. Ha! I had originally planned to show her in conformation and obedience, but she made it clear that she had other plans. Mind you, I was quite capable as a trainer and had a long history of training some top obedience dogs, horses, and even wild animals for film. Yet, I couldn’t get this puppy to do anything. I had signed up for puppy obedience classes, mainly for socialization, but she got kicked out. It was suggested by more than one nationally known trainer that I get a different dog because this one was incorrigible. Wow, that was humbling after my history of successfully training animals.

BUT, she was the PERFECT dog for me to hike with!  I was “conquer oriented” and aimed to cover as much ground with the most elevation gain possible. I have always kept logs of our distance, speed, and total elevation gain during our hikes. Depending on temperature and season, we averaged 40- 120 miles per MONTH for much of Behr’s life (with time off for my knee surgery and sometimes for work schedule) No matter how aggressively I hiked, I still had to turn Behr loose to run in fields and up hills just to burn off excess energy and make the hike pleasant for me.

Behr had an interesting fault, however. She simply never acknowledged pain. She could injure a paw and I would never know it. The only way I would figure it out was noticing she maybe wasn’t walking quite as fast as usual. She didn’t slow down if she was sick, injured, tired, hot, cold, or anything else. More than one emergency veterinarian pointed out that she was incredibly “stoic” (their word) Looking back, that probably explains why she acted a little dazed but fine after her fall over the cliff in Oregon.  After her neck injury was diagnosed (due to paralysis), I realized in retrospect that her only clue was that she would play hard and then stop suddenly and go lay down, probably due to pain.

Things have slowly changed in the last two years, though. She eventually got to the point of trusting me enough to let me know she had a problem and needed help. If she got a sticker in her paw, she would now STOP and wait for me to come help her. If she was too hot while hiking, she would plop down under a bush or tree until she cooled down.  When she got thirsty, she would pull me over to a large rock (kind of place I usually stopped to water and snacks) and wait for water. She stopped dragging me most of the time, and began to walk at a normal pace. Sometimes she even lags behind me. It feels really odd to walk in front of her for the first time in 11 years. The roles have changed. She loves to stop and sniff things thoroughly or to stand on mountain tops and stare at the view forever. She absolutely LOVES to do that, in fact. I have no idea what she’s even looking at, but she likes it.

Sometimes she decides she is done hiking, or doesn’t want to go the way I do. She puts her little brakes on and like a mule, won’t budge at ALL. OK, maybe with a bribe she’ll get going again. Maybe she wanted to go that way anyhow and got a snack out of it. I don’t know. 

Walking along thinking about all of these changes recently, I realized what an amazing lesson this was for me. I really needed to pay attention to what Behr was teaching me!!!

 I realized that when she began to change, I was kind of agitated inside, although I would never admit it. I think I was so used to her being my “land conquering companion” that I couldn’t believe she was changing. Sure, I knew she couldn’t keep up that pace forever, but was still bothered. My last dane was my training partner for my trip to Nepal and Tibet, and hiked 12 out of her 13 years before the dreaded bone cancer stopped her. Was I somehow hoping Behr would do the same?

behr in ss field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could looking at her graying face and feet and be visually reminded that it was time for her to slow down some. Not only that, but she has a spinal injury that I need to be careful with. I would think about these things and then feel like the bad “dog parent” for expecting more of her. What was wrong with me to expect her to never slow down?  As we walked more slowly, which I needed to do now anyhow (my spine and leg injury), I suddenly realized what was happening. What I realized was painful at the heart level. Deeply painful, in fact.

Behr, as a younger dog, had been just like me. Together we raced through life and ignored all pain and illness. Yes, I did it too. We were quite the pair. When I had major reconstructive surgery on my knee, the surgeon told me no more hiking on hills. Did I stop? No. As soon as I got out of my full leg brace, I started walking again. I just wear a smaller brace on my knee now. Hiking is a BIG part of my life. I had a job that was very demanding and for over 8 years straight I worked 90 hours per week with no vacation. I was sometimes so exhausted that I would be sick, but would keep going. I, like Behr, even have a serious spinal injury that caused damage to the nerves in my leg. I wear a brace that shocks my leg and helps my foot move. (It had become sluggish and I was tripping a lot) Behr has a spinal injury and slightly drags her back feet as well, wearing her nails down in the process. How odd of a coincidence is that?? We are more alike than imaginable.

Except in one way…

Behr learned to slow down and honor her body before I did. 

I think I subconsciously thought I could be super woman or something. My whole life has been spent trying to prove how capable and strong I am. I was the crazy one that would get up at 4 a.m. and run 10 miles, get the kids off to school, go to the gym, then to work, to their sporting events, and run a 10 acre ranch and keep a humongous house perfectly organized. Oh, and make it all look easy to anyone watching. The list goes on and on for my whole life. What I used to be proud of is now embarrassing to recount. What was I thinking? None of that matters in the end. Really.

So as we wandered through the hills that day, I realized that Behr had grown up and gained wisdom that I needed. She was modeling how life should be lived. Who would have ever guessed that the wild and crazy puppy would one day become my teacher? The lesson she was teaching me was hard to swallow, though. To slow down and admit my physical needs made me feel weak and vulnerable at first.

Since that day, I am trying to honor her requests to stop and enjoy the view from e.v.e.r.y mountain top. I even took a pad to sit on recently and when we got to the top of a mt. she loves, I sat down and let her stare as long as she wanted. I let go of my agenda to conquer miles. She seemed quite surprised, but enjoyed it.

behr looking at view

I’ve even bought a little compact ultralight chair that fits in my backpack to take when the weather is nicer, just so WE can stop and enjoy the mountain tops. I bring snacks and water and we just sit down and have a little picnic together. Honestly, I’m enjoying the view as well. There is so much beauty that I’ve missed in my years of race-walking through life. It’s amazing how powerful the stillness and calm of nature can be for healing our tired souls (see my recent post about forest bathing for more information..) The trick is to go for a walk and NOT spend the time thinking about what we need to do when we’re done. That totally cancels restorative benefit and stresses us out more (because we’re “wasting time”). I’ve taken off my backpack full of expectations (both self-imposed and real) and decided to admit I can’t do everything anymore.

So now what? Well, we’re both taking off our super hero capes and hanging them up. Neither of us need them anymore. Besides, we were never super heroes anyhow. We were only like little kids dressed up in costumes pretending we had super powers. The only ones we fooled were ourselves. And now we are free to run and play like we were meant to, without the heavy weight of the hero capes.

♥ Behr’s mom

 

watching flower framed

Forest Bathing - Behr

(Different view of yesterday’s post)

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