Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Love and Lullabies: Farewell, Sweet Sophie

In this very special and attentive network of families of pets with cancer, word travels fast. Although it's taken me some time to post an update for our friends at RCF, many of you may have heard through other channels that my sweet Sophie passed away on June 17. What a tragic time for so many of our fellow pet parents - we had also lost Naleya, Potter, Roxy, and Celia the kitty (plus even a few others I've met throughout Sophie's fundraising campaign) within just a few weeks. Although I'd had nine months since her diagnosis to prepare emotionally and imagine every possible outcome, I was definitely taken by surprise.

When I posted our last update, "Time To Exhale," Sophie and I were settling in for some much-needed R&R - she after her second of two radiation treatments, and I after surgery to restore my hearing in my left ear. Knowing I would be required to abstain from physical activity for a couple of weeks and that Sophie would be resting up, I scheduled our procedures so that we could recover together. Sophie was undergoing a fairly uncommon treatment known as half-body radiation. It is a series of two radiation treaments, spaced two weeks apart with a strong dose of chemo in between. The desired outcome is extended remission from lymphoma. I was hoping for two more years.

Sophie's oncology team was thorough in explaining what to expect during her recovery: little to no side effects following first radiation, normal chemo effects in the interim week, and some tough times following second radiation (GI issues, inappetance, lethargy, diarhhea) followed by a return to healthy remission. Things played out as expected, and Sophie and I were a couple of lazy lumps around the house that week! We were able to manage a couple of short daily walks, and of course Sophie would muster all her energy to give our two roommates ("aunties" Hilary and Rae Ann) the usual waggly greetings as they came and went. She also enjoyed visits from the friends and neighbors who checked in on us that week, which was a real treat for both of us.

Unfortunately as I was regaining my bearings (and my hearing), Sophie seemed to be heading in a different direction. After a few days with very little food and extreme lethargy, I decided to take her the hospital for a checkup on Friday, June 17. I wasn't yet cleared to lift anything over five pounds, but Sophie wasn't up for the walk down to Broadway to catch a cab, so I hoisted her up onto my shoulder, like an infant (this always makes our roomies giggle). Hilary helped us downstairs and we were on our way. Of course Sophie did her usual show-off routine for the doctors, rendering useless my claims that she could barely walk on her own. After a thorough examination and sample collection, everyone felt that although she was struggling, her symptoms were within the normal range, given her recent radiation treatment. The doctor was comfortable sending us home with an appetite stimulant and anti-nausea meds, and told us they'd be in touch that afternoon with her test results.

I had just enough time to settle Sophie back into her comfiest spot, run down to my otolaryngologist at NYU Medical Center, and have the surgical packing removed from my ear. After wearing a hearing aid for over a year, I was elated to hear the sounds of the city in my left ear without it! I returned to Sophie's side and we enjoyed a long nap together while she sprawled on my chest. We were awakened at 6:00 pm by a call from the doctor who'd seen us earlier at NYC Veterniary Specialists. She had bad news, and everyone at the hospital was stunned. Sophie's blood calcium was sky-high, indicating that her cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her kidneys were in danger from the hypercalcemia and I had to bring her back in as soon as possible.

The next thirty minutes played out too dramatically, like some tragic, surreal film about inevitable heartbreak. The skies had just opened up in a passing yet brutal downpour, and hailing another taxi would prove nearly impossible. I placed a few frantic and tearful phone calls to friends with access to cars, to no avail. I stood in the lobby of our building holding Sophie, wrestling with whether I should wait out the storm or make a run for it. I did the latter, and by the time a taxi finally stopped, we were both soaked. On our way to the hospital, I had already decided that our fight had gone on long enough. The return of Sophie's cancer so soon after such a promising treatment was a sure sign that we had done everything we could. Most of the oncology team had left for the day, but many of the technicians saw Sophie on their way out, and stopped by for kisses and to say goodbye. My neighbor and dear friend Melanie, the same friend who happened to be with me the day I first brought Sophie to NYCVS, happened to be a few blocks away at the time. She rushed over and waited for me while I said my own goodbyes, and then saw me home.

That day began and ended on two entirely opposite ends of a spectrum of hopes and expectations. Still, I felt lucky that the decision came to me as definitively and peacefully as it did. And what better way for my girl to spend her final days than playing nurse to her mom, receiving so many loving visitors, and seen off by the caregivers who'd fought with her every step of the way. It was a week filled with snuggles, love and lullabies.

I'd like to emphasize that Sophie's passing is not attributed to her treatment plan; her cancer took full advantage of this vulnerable moment to return, and it simply wouldn't back down. Half-body radiation has favorable outcomes in dogs with lymphoma, which was carefully considered by the experts at RCF when they agreed to help us with the costs. I am not a medical expert by any means, but as a pet parent, I wholeheartedly advocate this treatment option and I don't regret our choosing it. In the spirit of openly sharing information on all available treatment options, here are the links to two studies on which the half-body radiation treatment is based:

"Sequential low-dose rate half-body irradiation and chemotherapy for the treatment of canine multicentric lymphoma."
Lurie DM, Gordon IK, Théon AP, Rodriguez CO, Suter SE, Kent MS.
J Vet Intern Med. 2009 Sep-Oct;23(5):1064-70. Epub 2009 Jul 14.

"A toxicity study of low-dose rate half-body irradiation and chemotherapy in dogs with lymphoma."
Lurie DM, Kent MS, Fry MM, Théon AP.
Vet Comp Oncol. 2008 Dec;6(4):257-67.

Although I'm still in the darker moments of my grief, I know there are many favorable outcomes to look forward to, thanks to the people and organizations I have come to know during Sophie's illness. After six years of life as a "single doggy mom in the city," scheduling my days around walks and meals, declining invitations in lieu of cuddling at home, and constantly worrying whether Sophie had all that she needed from me, I have more time and options available to me than I'd care to have. But when the dust has settled, I'll want to create new ways to channel Sophie's struggle into hope and funding for more families of pets with cancer. (I'm beginning to train for my first running of the NYC Marathon in November, a prolific fundraising opportunity if ever there was one!) My sadness will be overwhelmed and overturned by the treasure trove of memories of Sophie and the new friendships she brought into my life. My lullaby to Sophie the day she passed was "Lean On Me," and someday, I'll be there for YOU to lean on, too.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sophie & Jenny: Time To Exhale

Last Thursday, Sophie completed half-body radiation treatment, a supplement to her chemotherapy which is expected to boost her remission by as much as two years. It has been quite a roller coaster to arrive at this point, and there have been times when I wasn't sure we would ever get here. When my girl finished chemo back in late April, it was a hard-won milestone for sure. After months of hospital visits, a few health setbacks and a lot of fundraising work, Sophie and I were both ready for a break! At that point I had decided that I didn't want to stop at chemo, but I wasn't ready (or brave enough) to embark on the tough road toward a canine bone marrow transplant. (The transplant has cured cancer in numerous dogs and the Riedel & Cody Fund, together with Save-An-Angel, have been instrumental in helping them obtain this treatment. Please read more about the truly inspiring "BMT Pack" at!) As a compromise, our oncologist suggested half-body radiation for Sophie. It involves two treatments - one for each "half" of the animal's body - two weeks apart, with a dose of chemo in between. It carries a price tag of about $5,000 in New York City, but we had made it this far and felt so supported by our donors and the RCF community that we scheduled the treatment and crossed our paws!

It's important to give the treatment while the animal is early in remission, and the "cancer clock" was ticking. Donations continued to roll in, but there just wasn't enough time to raise the amount we needed. During this time, every day was a struggle for me as I thought about how far Sophie had come, the sacrifices we made to save her and how bravely she has endured her illness. I probably cried at least once a day, worrying that I had let Sophie down by missing our fundraising mark, and questioning whether this treatment was meant to be. Finally, at the eleventh hour, we received word that the Riedel & Cody Fund had come through with enough funding to complete the treatment. Within days, we were back on schedule at the hospital and into the welcoming arms of our health care team, who had been rooting for us all along. It all happened so quickly and my gratitude was overwhelming!

I knew right away that the best way for us to express our thanks would be to do everything we can to help more animals get the help that they need. Luckily, not one but TWO opportunities to do this emerged quickly. RCF was gearing up for their first annual FETCH fundraising event in Connecticut, and a local TV station wanted to meet one of the sponsored animals on short notice. They called us up and we were available, and before we knew it, Sophie and I were making our first onscreen appearance! Shortly thereafter on Saturday, May 21, after running a half-marathon in Brooklyn, I scooped Sophie up in a Zipcar and headed out to beautiful Connecticut for FETCH! We bunked overnight at the home of Mark and Theresa Tillinger (Riedel's mom and dad), along with our friends the Sullens pack, who'd made the journey all the way from Louisiana! It was a weekend we will remember all of our lives, and we spent almost the entire following day napping and dreaming about all the wonderful people and dogs that we met.

I have taken some time to myself over the past few weeks to open my heart and search every corner of myself, unsure of exactly what I was searching for. I think I was grasping for every possible moment of hope and triumph we'd felt since Sophie's diagnosis last October, trying somehow to capture that strength so I can tap into it the next time I need it, or more importantly, the next time someone else does. Most of all, I needed to give myself permission to breathe. After so many months of existing in a state of high alert, it was time to finally exhale.

For the last few days I have been in vigilant mommy mode, so attentive to Sophie's every breath and twitch that I've scarcely completed my own daily tasks. (I'm not sure how long my roomies' patience will hold out concerning my dirty dishes.) I know how important it is to keep track of any changes or abnormalities right now, and there have been a few - some accidents in the house, tentative appetite, a little restlessness during the night. None of these come as a surprise, thanks to Sophie's nurturing oncology team who briefed me on what to expect. So far, the symptoms have been manageable and Sophie just wants to sleep, so of course I am allowing her that.

This morning as I write this update to you, I am home with Sophie, still vigilant and a little concerned that she hasn't had breakfast. I'm sitting here next to her as she sleeps, a little heavy hearted with a mother's worry. But she is sleeping peacefully, and I know that if she needs me, she will let me know in her way. My gut and my heart tell me that she is healing from the inside out, and will emerge victorious into what we hope will be a long, flourishing remission. Most importantly, we are both taking time to just breathe.


Jenny & Sophie

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sophie's Radiation Rehearsal

Sophelina is spending the day at New York Veterinary Specialists in Manhattan with the NYCVS oncology team, undergoing a "dress rehearsal" for half-body radiation. Among the technicians caring for her today are Darlene and Stephanie, who know Sophie very well. They agreed to take a few photos so I could share them with you! Here a link to the set:

Today Sophie was anesthetized so that she could remain motionless in the radiation chamber while precise measurements are taken for the treatments. Half-body radiation is two treatments, two weeks apart, with a check-up in between. She is expected to experience some side effects after the second dose, which will be administered on May 18. The cost of the procedure is about $5,000, but the payoff is unquestionably worth it to me: TWO MORE YEARS of quality life.

Can you help Sophie cross the cancer finish line? We are closer and closer every day, thanks to the compassionate people we have met through the Riedel & Cody Fund. Thank you so much for all of your support!


Jenny & Sophie

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sophie in the New York Post!

Here we are in the New York Post, everyone! Sophie is FAMOUS!

THANK YOU, Riedel & Cody Fund, for helping us get the word out about our campaign!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sophie's Chemo Visit

Hi everyone! Sophie and are working on a new blog entry this weekend, but in the meantime, we wanted to share a video we made of Sophie's most recent chemotherapy visit. If your pet was recently diagnosed and you are feeling apprehensive about starting treatment, maybe seeing Sophie's enthusiasm about seeing her hospital pals will bring a smile to your face. She is being treated at NYC Veterinary Specialists, and she just can't get enough of all the love and pampering she receives there!

Sophie will "graduate" from chemo on Wednesday, April 20. Near the end of the video, I was reflecting on what the past six months have been like for Sophie and me. This experience has tested me in every way, and through it all, Sophie's strength and determination have kept me going. We are very close to the cancer finish line!

Here is a link to the video - I hope it works! If you wish to view it on our Facebook page, you can find us at Enjoy!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Super Fun Day In The City With MOM!

Wowwee wow, WHAT a weekend! Mom and I did all sorts of stuff. She's been working waaaay too hard lately and it was so pretty outside, so we spent tons of quality time together and that's my FAVORITE thing to do!

I couldn't wait for Mommy to get home from work on Friday night. I was asleep in my basket when I heard her come in, and she sat down beside me to rub my belly and ask me about my day. After a few minutes she got all sniffly, and I tilted my head to ask her what was wrong. She told me it was just a really long hard day and that she's worried about a lot of things right now. She had a long talk with Kristie and Johnny (Angel's mom and dad), and they are REALLY helping us raise the money I need for radiation. But Mom's afraid she'll run out of time and energy and she doesn't want to let me down. I looked at her in a certain way and tried to let her know that she's an AWESOME mom and I have such a happy life with her. She could never let me down!

Saturday morning was much much better for Mom. Don't you just love waking up and the sun is shining, and the birds are singing and everything seems all happy again and you just can't wait to get outside?! Well that's just what we did! When I see Mom packing her backpack, and she puts in a little bag of treats and a bone, I just know we're going somewhere fun together and I can BARELY contain myself!! I didn't even wait for the elevator, I took off running down six flights of stairs!

First we had to stop at our friend Janet's office for a visit. We were almost late from talking to auntie Kristie and unkie Johnny on Skype (WHOAH! Omidog Skype is SO COOL and I saw the WHOLE PACK over there!!), so we decided to splurge on a cab. I was a really good girl in the car and Mom took pics and stuff. Janet is Mom's therapist and they've been seeing each other since before I even came to live with Mom. I LOVE going to see Janet because she's one of my biggest fans, and she smells like her two pretty cats, and and there's all sorts of nice friendly people at her office, and and and she lets me kiss her a little bit and roll around on her rug which feels rully rully good!!! So I just let the girls talk for awhile and it got pretty boring, and by the time I felt a little snooze coming on, Mommy said it was time to go the park and we took off again!!

Central Park is right across the street and we couldn't wait to get over there. We walked around for awhile, and sat down so Mom could have a sandwich. She gave me my bone to keep me busy for a few minutes, but I was like omidog ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There's all these other dogs and smelly food and birds and squirrels and horses and things! I'm not interested in any bone, MOM. So we walked some more down by the big fountain and then we saw the big lake. People were out in the lake in rowboats and it looked really fun! Mom looked at the boats, and then she looked at me, and then she looked at the boats again and then back at me, and I knew she was thinking what I was thinking! I've never been on a boat and it's on my bucket list so LET'S GO!!!

Omidog it was SO FUN. I mean SO FUN, like nothing I've ever done before! I could see so much and so far across the water, and we saw turtles and beautiful graceful birds and some fish, and of course other people in their boats, enjoying the beautiful sunshine just like us! I guess they've never seen a dog in a rowboat before, because they kept telling me how cute I am and taking my picture. But I'm pretty used to that stuff.

We walked all the way home after the boat ride and that's like 3 miles or something, which is no big deal for me since my cancer's in remission and I feel GREAT right now. But Mom got pretty tired and I could tell she was ready for a nap. She had to work on Saturday night AND on Sunday...what a BUMMER, right?! Seriously y'all, she really needed a break this weekend and I was more than happy to treat her to a fun day in the New York City sun. We were a couple of carefree city girls!

So that's pretty much it, you guys. I just wanted to tell you how much fun we had crossing one more thing off of my bucket list. There's a LOT of stuff we want to do together before...well, you know. There is no cure for lymphoma and thanks to all our Heroes who helped me get chemotherapy, I really feel like my old puppy self! But the sad truth is that if we don't raise enough money to get radiation for me, we will rully rully be racing against the cancer clock to do all of the other stuff on my list, like going on vacation together, and running around off the leash chasing stuff, and and playing in the ocean and stuff like that.

Omidog NOW I totally understand why Mom is under so much pressure right now! She rully rully loves me and I love her too, and if I can get radiation then it will prolly be like two more years of us being carefree city girls together! We have LOTS of fans like YOU and your doggy loving friends who know how we feel right now and we rully need your help. Can you maybe visit the Ways To Help page on our website and help us out a little bit? If you've already made a donation or if you just can't right now, we know times are hard and we understand! If that's you, you can STILL help by SHARING the links to our videos and blogs on Facebook and stuff. Every little bit helps, you guys!

I'm gonna go crawl into bed now next to Mom. She's snoring like a grandpa over here. Sheesh!


Sophelina Chantilly Smith