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

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