Grady's Story

~ a timline of Grady's diagnosis, prognosis and life with cancer
written by the lady hooman bean

Mid-November 2011. The limping begins...
Grady starts limping. He had just finished a round of classes and had taken several jumps in a row as a celebration. Grady loves his jumps. His eyes literally light up when he sees them and it's very difficult for him to not take the jump. So, we celebrated the end of fall obedience classes with him taking the jumps all he wanted. He also went on a rampage on the chipmunk in the backyard. He's been plotting the demise of his enemy for months and finally decided that the lil guy could hide no more. Grady dug about a 6ft wide by 3 ft deep hole trying to get to lil Alvin, Simon or Theodore...whoever he is.

We thought that the combination of this activity just strained his shoulder, causing the sudden limp. This all happened within a week. (about a week before Thanksgiving) The jumps, the chipmunk, the limp. So it made sense.

We visited Grady's vet who also felt it was a strain to his muscle and gave us some Rimadyl and demanded Grady go on crate and leash rest for several weeks, noting that after a couple of weeks we should see some improvement. We noticed Grady's shoulder was out of whack and he looked like he was losing muscle. The vet felt this was due to the strain and would also improve - within a week. Xrays were done and nothing found.

A week went by and he seemed to get worse. We called for another look. A 3rd vet had taken a look at Grady and said his wrist was out of place, nothing wrong with his shoulder. Give him more rest - 30 -60 days, more meds and he'll be fine. We pointed out that his shoulder looked even more out of place than the week prior and were told it was not, that he's lost muscle from not using his leg and would see improvement there eventually.

We were told at this point from his 1st vet that if things don't get better, we can see an orthopedic specialist at any point. We decided to "wait and see."

December 2011: More Limping...
On strict crate rest and meds, Grady's limp started to fade. His shoulder looked somewhat better - still outta place, but looked like things were getting better. We went out of town for Christmas and put Grady and Rubi in the kennels. When we returned, Grady seemed fine. No limp. Shoulder looked better. We felt we were out of the woods.

Shawn and I were off that week following Christmas and spent the time at home, hanging out with the dogs, doing random nothingness. We took the dogs out one really nice, warm December day. Shawn tossed a toy for the dogs a couple of times and Grady went estatic....jumping, flipping, taking off at full speed. He needed to settle down and Rubi needed her turn to play, so we put him inside.

By that evening, he was showing signs of limping. By the next morning...full on limp. And as murphy's law would have it...we were back to work the next day. So, Grady went back into the crate and on leash for potty breaks.

Again, thinking this was another strain, perhaps not fully healed from the first go around, we decided the following day to call the vet to see the orthopedic. We made an appointment to meet with the specialist that week.

January 2012. Orthopedic, and the News...
Met with the orthopedic specialist who felt Grady's shoulder. At this point, his blade was sticking out probably about an inch from his body. She felt something fleshy between his shoulder blade and his body wall and felt there was no ligament issue....but more than likely a mass behind his shoulder or a significantly torn msucle. A CT Scan was performed the next day.

The news, not good. What we were convinced was a significantly torn muscle, turned out to be a tumor. A large one. Approximately 6cm long by 10 cm wide. It was described to be about the size of a woman's hand. I was.

A biopsy was the next recommendation. This would determine what we were dealing with. At this point, it was presented as a "sarcoma" - not good news.

Biopsy results came in on Friday, January 13th. However, we didn't receive the news until Sunday the 15th. I believe that is because Grady took off in the backyard (he was given some relief from crate/leash rest, but was keeping things easy til this point) after a squirrel or a rabit or perhaps even that stupid chipmunk, and he exasserbated the biopsy site. I came home for lunch that Friday to Grady very weak, lethargic in his crate and extremely swollen. We rushed him to the Emergency Vet (same specialty clinic) and were told he's ok, he aggrevated the biopsy site causing it to rupture some and fluid was seeping out into his body cavity - this was visible from the large baseball sitting at the bottom of his chest, which later turned into a severaly bruised spotting on his skin. So, even though we asked, we were told the results from the biopsy were not in.

Sunday, the 15th, I come back from the gym to Shawn pretty upset. The vet had called. The results were in. Most likely, it was hemangiosarcoma or less likely a histiocytic sarcoma. Prognosis was very poor. Roughly 4-6 months.

We were recommended to see the radiation specialist as amputation was not possible due to size and location. Later that week, we met with Dr Treuil. He was wonderful, explained the radiation process and suggested further staining of the biopsy to confirm what type of tumor, in case we decided to treat with chemo as well.

Staining was done the following week. To our surprise, it was not hemangiosarcoma, it was in fact, histiocytic sarcoma. Not that it changed anything as far as prognosis...but for some reason, it just sounded less severe. An appointment was made for mapping to be done to set Grady's radiation treatment. They also, at that time, did further scanning of his thorax, lungs, and abdomen to find out if the cancer has already spread. Much to our hasn't!! Whew!

Radiation was done later that week. His first treatment began on January 26th.

February 2012. Radiation...

Met with another oncologist (Dr. McFadden, she is actually the one who started the oncology program at Carolina Vet Specialists) to just talk things out. She agreed with our course of action for Grady. I asked her about the Tall-04 therapy I had read about, but sounds like it's no longer being offered. The study was done in the early 90's and found (out of the few dogs in the study) to put the dogs in complete remission. All had histiocytic sarcoma and after treatments, were relieved of their symptoms and lived 6+ years. Finding the study gave us hope, but Dr McFadden discovered that the doctor who started it, passed away and the study/treatment died when he did. She reached out to her oncology community and found someone who knew someone who was talking about starting it back up again. If they are able to track this other oncologist down, Grady may have an opportunity to participate. However, she mentioned another therapy - pamidronata infusions. It has been shown to shrink tumors and slow cancer cells. We are still researching and considering this option.

Through radiation, Grady seemed to go up and down. The only side effects we noticed was weight loss immediately after treatment. He'd gain the weight back throughout the week, but day of radiation, he turned skin and bones. His skin has darkened in the areas of radiation. He seemed a bit depressed after treatments, but everything would bounce back through the week between radiation sessions.

March 1st, Grady completed his 6th and final radiation treatment. The tumor causing his shoulder to stick out, looks to be gone. His shoulder is back in place and all looks good. In order to know for sure if the tumor is still there, would be to go through another CT Scan. We opted against that, as we wouldn't continue radiation at this time. For now, he is pain free and living a normal life. We are happy with that.

March 2012. Sans Radiatin, a Run and a Trial...
March brought great things for Grady. He continued to do well after his final treatment early in the month. He started gaining weight back and was looking really good.

So good, that I decided to enter him in his first trial in about a year, and since he became ill. Rather than going back to work on his Rally Excellent title, we moved to enter Beginner Novice - an AKC optional titling class, meant to prepare newbies for more formal Novice classes. The trial would be at the end of March, and I entered him for 3 days, hoping to earn his BN title. A part of me felt it would be Grady's last trial, so I had high hopes of granting him one last accomplishment and title to add to his name - just to prove what a great dog he is.

To prepare for the trial, we began working daily on his obedience and took him to a few new places to work on his training, focus and distractions. He was doing better than ever. He seemed more focussed, more intent on performing, and overall just so happy to be working again. So, it was great.

On St Patricks Day, I participated in my first 5k run which Grady got to come out and be a spectator, as well as run the 1 mile fun run after the 5k with me. It was a memorable day all around. Running my first 5k was a near tear jerker because it symbolized all I had accomplished getting there. Running 1 mile afterwards with Grady, was a definite tear jerker, as it symbolized all he's been through and all he's overcome to be able to be there. He absolutely LOVED the 1 mile run. I didn't want him to overdo it, so at first we just did a very fast walk, slow jog. He was running with the kids and ever step he got more and more amped up. About halfway through the run, he took off, nearly yanking my arm off. I had to hold him back so hard that my shoulder was sore for 2 days aftewards. But running behind him, to just see that moment where he said, "hey, this is awesome" and could see the power shift in his body from a confused "where are we going" trot to a full on run, fighting to hold him back, gave me chills up and down, as well as caused the tears to flow. As he crossed the finish line, we both had the biggest smiles across our faces. His just had more drool.

I'll never forget that day, he was the strongest and happiest I'd seen him in months.

After a couple of weeks of daily training, Grady started to develop a slight limp. We thought perhaps it was due to the extra activity or returning to his squirrel chasing duty in the backyard, so we tried to get him to relax as much as possible. The limp was very subtle and after a couple of days, seemed to not bother him. We contacted his oncologist who said it could be a number of things....from the tumor regrowing to really just the dynamics of his shoulder changed from the pervious tumor to even peraps just over activity. So, not much we could do but watch and see if things got worse, then we could consider another set of radiation treatments. Eventually, it seemed that the limp was hardly noticeable and perhaps something we'd just have to live with. So, we continued on, but tried taking it easy, especially the week leading up to the obedience trial.

March 30th, was the first day to his obedience trial. We woke up early that morning and he was so amped. He knew we were going somewhere and he just couldn't wait to get there. I had to work for the club and so that meant Grady was there all day long. Despite boredom, he handled everything really well. I was concerned that perhaps by the time we were to step in the ring, that he'd be tired and so bored that he'd have no interest in competing, but again....he proved me wrong. Our practice throughout the month musta paid off, as he earned a score of 191.5 out of a possible 200 points AND he earned FIRST PLACE!!! That's my boy!!!!

He lagged in his heeling exercises and the majority of it was due to little mistakes I made. Typical. Nonetheless, earning his first leg, a first place and a score better than I ever imagined again was symbolic to all he's overcome in the past 5 months. Another moment I'll never forget. He was so happy that day. Happy to be back doing what he loves. Happy to be with me all day and in the ring, proving what a team we can be. What a team we ARE!

However, the next day, we woke up to him hacking and coughing and having difficulty breathing. He had a few episodes earlier in the week where he woke up, coughed like he was trying to get something up, then eventually produced mucus that was tinted pink. Blood! The episodes seemed to happen first thing in the morning, so we kinda chalked it up to allergies as he's suffered in the past and we had been sleeping with the windows opened. Since it wasn't daily, we didn't think much of it, as it was only a couple of times that week. We'd keep an eye on it and call the doc the next week if things didn't get better. Saturday, the 31st was different. He seemed to hyperventilate and coughed up more blood in the morning, and the attack lasted longer than the past.

We rested for a while and contemplated going to the trial at all. After a couple of hours, he seemed fine, although tired - which could easily be chalked up to a long day the day before, as would normally be the case with Grady. So, we decided to take it one step at a time. Get in the car, see how he does on the ride. Get to the show site, see how he does. etc. etc. etc.

We got to the show and he seemed so unlike the happy, strong boy I had seen all month long or even the day before. He was tired. He was droopy. He was barely going through the motions as I walked him along the side of the ring to warm up for our run. I put him back in his crate and watched him for a little bit. His chest seemed to move like I'd never seen before. At first, I couldn't tell if it was stress and told Shawn I didn't like how he was breathing. He seemed labored and breathing heavy. I went to get our trial number and came to get him out of the crate to see how he was doing.

That's when it was obvious that something was seriously wrong. He hacked. He coughed. More Blood. He had a hard time breathing. Unlike his past episodes where it happened once in the morning and it was done, this seemed to keep happening and making it difficult for him to breathe.

We turned in our numbers, packed up his things and went straight to the emergency vet.

Xrays showed mestasis had set in. Three nodules were found on his lungs. The news we had feared, yet knew would one day come along, was finally here. Well, I shouldn't say "finally" as it seemed way too early. We had hoped it would have been months before hearing this news. Heck, we had been so hopeful after his treatments and with how strong he was getting, that perhaps it would be a year. Not 30 days later. It just seems so unfair.

He was prescribed prednisone and we were told our oncologist would be in touch with us Monday. The prednisone would make him comfortable. We were basically told, it's only a matter of time and comfort is all we can offer him now.

Needless to say, we did not go back to the trial that weekend. He had a great run. He gave me one more shot at it. One more happy memory to put in my memory bank forever. I thank him for that run on Friday. It was really the best I'd ever seen in him. He gave it his all and by the next day, he musta been so worn out, that he just couldn't take another day of it. So, as I've told him many times over the past several months....I will not be selfish and make him suffer. He came home from the E-vet, a little tired and annoyed from having to go back there....but he spent the rest of the afternoon chasing butterflies, instead of a title. He seemed to have more frequent attacks throughout the rest of the weekend, but were less productive and nothing ever came up. So we figured we got him on prednisone just in time as it was getting more difficult to breathe, it was stopping him from coughing up bloody mucus.

How's the saying go?.....March. Comes in like a lion, out like a lamb? Well, for us it was definitely the opposite. It came in like a lamb and out like a wild and crazy, starved lion on the prowl for his next prey. Damn lion.

April 2012. Life is Good...
This month was a good month for Grady. Despite the set back of finding out his cancer has spread to his lungs, he's been on prednisone (10mg/day) and it has managed his coughing. No more hacking, no more spitting up blood. He's put a bit more weight on and is enjoying life to the fullest. He is loving his obedience classes, being the star dog each week. However, it is noted that he does get tired a bit more quickly. So during class, we spend alot of time getting "up" and bringing him back down so that he can relax between exercises.

So far, that's all that's been an issue for him this month. He has his days where he's a bit down or depressed, but for the most part, the days he is up and happy are the most fulfilling for Shawn and I.

May 2012. Well, guess not that good...
Grady had been doing so well in his classes and enjoying getting out, that we entered him in the Obedience trials in Columbia, SC. I really wanted to get his Beginner Novice title on him, after feeling cheated in March knowing just how much he deserved that title. So, since his health seemed to be hanging in there, we entered and we got it!!!! He earned that title, sick with cancer, with all 1st place finishes (191.5 in Concord in March, and 193.5 & 196.5 in May (12th & 13th in Columbia.) I'd say that's pretty impressive. It just proves whatta fighter he is. Such an inspiration!

However, the Wednesday following our awesome weekend at trials, proved to show just how much it had taken out of him. We had noticed Grady sticking his leg out again (same leg where the original tumor was treated). It wasn't bad and didn't appear to be bothering him, so we watched it for changes and issues. Wednesday, I came home from work and was tying my shoes when I noticed the limp a bit more prominent. His shoulder appeared to be bulging out a bit, but he seemed to be fine. It was the last class of the season, so I thought to just go ahead and take him, take it easy on him and he should be fine. But, by the time we took the 30 min drive and got to class, it was obvious that something was really wrong. He lifted his leg to pee outside and stumbled a couple of times. Got him in the building and thought maybe he was slipping on the slick concrete, so we tried some sits and stands on the matting. Grady appeared drunk. He was falling over, leaning, and just seemed to be sinking into himself.

Needless to say, we did not make it to class. I took him home and he appeared to  only be getting worse. We took him to the vet the next morning where they ran blood work - which came back normal. The thought from the vet is that he either is in so much pain from his shoulder that he is toppling over or he had a seizure while we were at work and this was a bit of a residual effect. We were prescribed pain meds (tramadol) to see if this is a pain issue, and are waiting to see how that goes. So far, not much change.

May 25th, 2012. Goodbye Sweet Monkey Face
Sadly, even on meds, Grady wasn't getting better. He was having a much more difficult time getting around from room to room. He'd use the walls in the house to help guide him from the kitchen to the bedroom. It was obvious he was in great pain.

We made the decision to let Grady go before the pain got any worse for him. The tumors on his body were starting to take over. His eyes showed the hurt inside him, even though he tried to put up a fight every now and then.

On Friday, May 25th, we made sure Grady's day was fulfilled. Shawn and I took off work to be with him, giving him lots of hugs and kisses and just let him know how much he was loved.

He had filet mignon in his din din the night before and for breakfast. He had a normal day, but we also took him and Rubi for a short walk together. One final journey for the two of them. We spent lots of time outside, even though it was obvious Grady didn't want to be in the hot sun anymore. We tried to get Grady to play with a ball he loved, which he tried with all his might to paw at and mouth. It just proved to be too much for him.

Getting to the vet that late afternoon was the hardest drive of our lives. But, for Grady, he eagerly walked into the office and right into the room they had set up for him. He laid down right away and let everyone come in to say their goodbyes. He laid on the bed we brought for him and as he went to sleep, we held his head in our arms, kissed him over and over again, told him what a good boy he was.

He slipped away very peacefully, just the way we hoped he would.

I told Grady he has a big job to do at the Rainbow Bridge. We were to start our agility classes in the fall. We never got there. So, I told Grady as he rested his head in my hands, that he needs to build the biggest and most bad ass agility course for us to run the day we meet again.

Since Grady's departure, it's been tough. The first two days were extremely hard. From bawling over an empty egg carton (a symbol of the hardboiled snacks we gave him everyday) to just sitting there and looking at his monkey toys on the floor. It was hard. As the days have come and gone, I've learned quite a bit about my relationship with him.

He waited for us for 11 months at his breeders to come into our home. There was a reason he was sent to us. He's given me the tools I need to move on in obedience and agility. He started a foundation of what I hope to continue on for the rest of my life. He gave us a wonderful gift having known him and giving us a chance to love him. I could never ask for anything different.....other than maybe not such an ugly, aggressive cancer and not take him away from us at such a young age.

But, I honor his life. I don't want to be selfish and wish he was still here with us. If he was, he'd be in great pain and still relying on us to help him get up and down on the bed, or clean him off when he fell over trying to go to the bathroom. Instead, I am glad that he is finally at peace. No more hurts. No more pains. No more trouble breathing. No more coughing up blood. No more. Just freedom.

I've asked him several times to send me a sign that he is ok. In the past few days, he's sent many. From the frog that came and sat next to me on the patio, to the beautiful brindle-like marked butterfly that followed us in the backyard, to the flower pic sent from a friend that reminds me of a pic I took of Grady and is also my favorite flower - the sunflower, to receiving his ashes today with a ID# marked on it of 3276 - my birthday is 2376 - to receiving a sign in the mail from a vendor with a monkey face on it and the caption "monkey see. monkey do." It may sound funny to some, but these are all "Grady-things" and I do feel he is slowly but surely getting comfortable at the bridge and ready to tell me that he is ok.
I'm sure he's building us that agility course, so that we can someday take the run together that we were meant to take. In the meantime, I won't deal on the "why's" and "what ifs" anymore. Grady wouldn't want that. He was always my consoler when I was sad. If he knew you were sad, he always found a way to make you lift your chin up and be happy and move on. He'd start with a gentle look in the eye, a slowly reaching paw to my shoulder, followed by a big bear hug then completed with a small corn-cog nibble on my chin and ears, nibbling til I laughed. Then he'd jump down and bark as if to say, "hey, come on! It's ok. Let's Play!"

That's right, Grady. We can play now. I feel your paws wrap around me every time I think of you and can hear you yelling at me to stop. Together....we will play again.

Good night, Grady Boy. Good Night.

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