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May 17

200 days was the time from Millie’s first clinical signs of osteosarcoma to the day she was taken from us on 29 April 2011.

At the beginning of the week commencing 11 October 2010 I had never heard of osteosarcoma. By the end of that week, osteosarcoma would be a word I would never forget.

Millie was born on 4 November 2004; we adopted her on 17 July 2008. From the moment she arrived, it was obvious that she had found her forever home and we our forever dog. She was always so happy and healthy, the perfect dog. There was no reason whatsoever why she should not live a perfectly long and normal life.

On 12 October 2010, she started limping. There was no obvious reason, but maybe a piece of glass, a too long a walk, a minor trip, trodden on by her canine companion. But she only limped in the house; in the garden and on walks she was fine. I took her to the vets just in case. The pain seemed to coming from the upper leg and as a precaution the vet recommended an x-ray. The vet did mention that because of her breed and because there were no obvious signs of injury, there was a chance it could be osteosarcoma. I went home and looked it up on the web. My heart sank. The x-ray was carried out and the vet found nothing in the area that seemed to causing Millie the most pain. By chance, she also x-rayed the area above the knee joint and found a small area showing a different density of the bone tissue. The chest x-ray was clear. The vet was mildly suspicious about the leg and wanted to refer to the orthopaedic specialist.

During the next week, Millie’s condition improved so much to the point that I became convinced that she was OK. Had a call from the vet on 20 October to say that the orthopaedic vet was 98% sure that osteosarcoma was not present, but they did want to do a follow up x-ray just to make sure. Her improving condition at that time led me to expect no other answer at that time – she was fine.

So we got on with our lives. Millie was walking and running well, but was tending to lean more to the left on her back legs. November 4th came and Millie celebrated her 6th birthday. To mark the end of her health scare, we took her to the Peak District for a weekend, her 4th holiday of 2010.

On 15 November, we had a follow up visit to the vet and apart from arranging a  follow up x-ray at some time in the future that was it.

Within a week she was limping again. Exactly as before, only limping in the house. At one stage, I thought it was in her head – the limping and mention of cancer had put Millie in prime position for the best food and best cuddles. She was also carried up and down stairs and was receiving  non- stop pampering. Since Sid, our male greyhound arrived in April, Millie had taken a back seat but now she was getting all the attention again.

Back to the vets, receiving a course of pain killers and lots of assurance that they were still 98% sure it wasn’t cancer. Outwardly, Millie still seemed to be in perfect health. From my research, osteosarcoma is a fast growing, highly painful cancer and she should have been a lot more pain that she showed.  So it just couldn’t be cancer, could it?

November 26, 2010

The further x-ray was taken today and the news was devastating. The abnormality had spread from a small patch to covering most of the bone above the knee joint and had started to grow outwards. The vets were now highly suspicious. There was no other possible explanation, I agreed for them to take a biopsy although it would take a week for the results to come back. The last weekend of November 2010 was a difficult one because I had some very difficult decisions to make. The vet outlined the choices before us.

My first instinct was that if the biopsy confirmed the worst case we would bring her home for a final week.  That week would be Millie’s send off, full of love, happy memories, a final run in the woods and naughty food then Millie would leave on a high. With potentially only 4-6 weeks to live, how was her life quality going to deteriorate under constant pain killers? From what I have read it would be like her living in a fog.

It was as that point that I became aware that other dog lovers had already been through this. Sharing their experiences led me down a quite different direction from the bleak path on offer on November 26. The amputation option may therefore be the way forward. Initially this was my least favoured option given the long recovery period I had read about and short life extension that this offered. Also, the very thought of her being subjected to an operation that would leave her with only 3 legs was just something I could not deal with. Then I read about 3 legged dogs from Tripawds and the amazing stories of recovery post amputation and how these dogs cope so well without that 4th leg.

November 28, 2010

I was now concentrating on how we should proceed.  I was getting past how unfair this was and how dare this happen to my ray of sunshine. There was a seismic shift in those 2 days on how I felt about this. The recovery period may be less than 3 months and if the cancer hasn’t spread, this just might work.  Everyone I was contacting was recommending the amputation option; no one was advising me to rely on medication alone.  These people knew about dogs. I knew I had to act quickly because amputution would probably not be an option in a month or so.

If it gave her a year, that is 6-7 years to her. Does she deserves the chance? Of course she does. She is young, fit, determined, with no other health problems so she could get through the surgery. She has no problem going to vets or having injections.   She is great at taking tablets wrapped in cooked meats.  She is supposed to be resting but is insisting on jumping on the settee.  Today things looked more positive than 2 days ago.

December 4, 2010

The past  week, Millie has enjoyed roast beef, Chicken Korma, cheesecake, poached salmon and sirloin steak. A final send off maybe, a long goodbye, a last chance to spoil. Who knows? She has certainly ate more and better than I have.

Today the vet confirmed the biopsy result and I am now 100% certain that Millie had osteosarcoma, the most malignant form of bone cancer. The result was not a surprise, her leg has got worse over the last week and any thought of any other cause are long gone.  The news is in some ways a relief, because the uncertainty was now over. We now have an appointment with the surgeon on Monday and the operation  booked for Tuesday December 7.

December 5, 2010.

Today I bought Millie a cage in which she could recover in peace and quiet. I read somewhere that it would be useful. She refused to go in;  I threw a piece of chicken in and she ignored it. She knew me well enough to know that she would get the chicken anyway without having to do anything for it. The cage goes in the garage – I’ll sort it out later.

December 6, 2010

The vet is at pains to point out that the operation is not a cure; both it and the chemotherapy may improve the quality and length of life but because of her age and the nature of the cancer it is unlikely to give her more than a year.  Millie looks so normal, so idea what was wrong with her or what is going to happen to her tomorrow.  Her final meal – chicken breast, rice and a lar ge piece of best quality steak. If it all goes wrong tomorrow, I could not live with the knowledge that that steak could have been her final meal. First hurdle tomorrow is getting past noon without a phone call from the vets.

Tuesday  December 7th, 2010

I slept remarkably well considering the day that lay ahead. Millie was panting a lot last night.  She winced as I carried her down the stairs. Her walking is getting slower and obviously more painful, but I can’t tell whether  this is the cancer or the continuing pain caused by the  biopsy. She has virtually given up on her back leg, it is more of a hazard than a help to her. It is a dark, bitterly cold Winter’s day, 7c below zero, this shouldn’t be her last day.  Gave Millie lots of farewell kisses. This really was crunch day. At just after 12pm, the vet rang to advise that the operation was done, the chest x-ray clear and Millie was awake. A few hours later, more good news, she was walking well. She stayed overnight at the vets at my request and would be ready to be picked up in the morning.

Thursday 9 December

Millie came home yesterday morning and I’m wondering what the fuss was all about. She came out of the vets not only walking fine on 3 legs but walking better than when she went in. Her wound was covered and didn’t look that bad.  She manages the 3 steps into the house without assistance. Millie seems to coping ok, she is panting, a bit whiny, very thirsty and not hungry. After watching her for a couple of hours, I leave her for a little while to clean some snow off the lawn and come back and she has nibbled at the plaster and made the wound bleed, so it is the bucket from now on. She goes outside, not going to attempt the steps. It has been 2 weeks since she was trusted with that and she is not going to start on her first day back. She has her first wee. No problem. She ate a little supper of chicken and steak. As with most of the next couple of  weeks, I slept downstairs with her, although it would have been no problem to have taken her upstairs.

Friday December 10, 2010

Today, she continues to improve, took to vets to get dressing changed. Everyone really pleased to see her. Today, she is back in the habit of catching flying sausages. Took her for a little walk and did her first post op poop, in the snow. The bruising is coming out in full, but much of it is covered by the bandages.

Saturday December 18, 2010

Millie has had her stitches removed and chemo was planned to start the next Tuesday. The vet rang to go thru the details warning me of urine in the house and to avoid childrens’ play areas. Millie, of course, has never peed in the house and we always pick up her business. Today it snowed lots. Millie no longer has pain relief and today is her last day of anti-bs. She has been running in the snow and climbed down the steps for the first time. Whatever lies ahead, today we are feeling positive at having made the right decision to have the amputation. She is starting to like back tickles again.

By the end of 2010, Millie had had her first bout of chemo, followed by a bad tummy episode resulting in many of bottles of white liquid from the vets. Her wound is healing and her coat is coming back. The biggest hurdle we have had is the snow and ice that is preventing us from going for a proper walk. She is coping incredibly well with everything and that is helping me to come to terms with her condition. She seems so normal and as soon as the weather improves we can start proper walks again.

Looking back to those first few days in December, do I regret what we did? Not at all. Worst thought is December 7th being Millie’s last day. That day of biting chill winds, slippery pavements and little  hope.  She seems fine, she has adapted to 3 legs and she has had no pain relief since 4 days after the operation. The weeks  spent sleeping on the settee was worth every second.

It is the last week of February, we are in Wales for our first holiday of 2011. Millie is very much still with us and has coped incredibly well with everything that has been thrown at her. She has now received 3 treatments of chemotherapy and is due to receive the 4th next Monday. Chemo # 2 gave her a minor urine infection resulting in a wet quilt but nothing major. Chemo #3 has been trouble free – Millie has had antibiotics every day for a week after chemo to keep any infection at bay.

What does our routine look like these days? Millie is carried upstairs every night; spends every night at the top of the bed, then is carried downstairs every morning. She has a run on the garden as good as 4 legged dog; walks these tend to shorter but more frequent nowadays. She occasionally manages a longer walk depending on where she is in the chemo cycle. She always has something cooked in the evening. I try to load her food with protein and avoid carbs as much as possible.  And of course she has lots of treats and love. The attention from passers by has dried up recently, you have to look twice to see she has a leg missing. How do I feel about walking a tripod in public? I always get an immense feeling of pride and completely understand why these tripawds are so special. Could I ever want a 4 legged dog again? I am so proud of Millie.

She continues  to love back tickles and now uses my knee to rest her stump on to balance whilst back tickles are in process. We have had good weather since the beginning of 2011 with no snow, few frosts and relatively mild temperatures. This compares sharply to the hellish weather experienced before Christmas.

March 8, 2011

Yesterday was 3 months since Millie’s operation and in 4 days time will be 5 months since her first signs of limping. She is the most incredible living being I have ever known. She is so normal, so happy, totally trusting and totally devoted, despite everything she has been through. One more month and she will half way through her average life expectancy.

April 1st, 2011.

Another 4 weeks on and Millie is absolutely fine. Her 5th chemo session last week was uneventful and she has had no side effects. Her walks tend to be shorter but of no concern. She is eating fine and is loving spending more time in the garden. She is still fascinated by cats, squirrels and pigeons. There is nothing more to write – all is normal. The final chemo session is on April 13.

One question I keep asking myself – have we beaten osteosarcoma? My answer is:  we’ve beaten it today, just as we have beaten every single day since October 12. Tomorrow, next week, next month, the answer may be different, but we are here today and that is all that  counts. So every week, every day, every hour, every minute, every second is a bonus as we continue along this journey.

She does funny things – the other day she is sat in the garden watching a pigeon. Normally she would chase it off. But today she sits and watches. I then call her in and instead of coming straight in, she gets up, chases the pigeon off, then runs in. Thinking on, she has been doing funny things since the day she arrived. She also has a habit of finding cats hiding in a hedge we have to pass every time we go for a walk. This usually involves a fight with the hedge.

April 13th 2011.

Millie has today had her final and 6th and final bout of chemo.  She is now in the lap of the gods and only time will tell whether the cancer has spread. . She seems ok and all we can do is wait and love every day with her and tell her we love her everyday.

Millie has won 1st prize in the dealing with adversity class on Darcys dog show. Darcy has been our inspiration and has survived osteosarcoma for 4+ years. 1st prize is a nice surprise today.

April 17th 2011.

Today is not a good day. Millie is very lethargic and her back leg doesn’t seem to have much strength in it. She is not interested in her normal food and has only eaten a whole packet of smoked salmon , chicken and some treats. The ruffwear harness, not used since her first week post op has come out just to give her some support getting up. I expected her to be like this the day after her operation, not 4 months later.  She is also a bit shaky. At least today she has hasn’t slipped as she did yesterday. I can only hope this is a post chemo effect and nothing else. She is not coughing so that points to not a secondary tumour. She is doing runny poops which is typical of post chemo. Her teeth are amazing and so is her breath. Who would have thought chemo would do that?

April 24th 2011

Since last weekend, Millie has been to the vets twice – firstly last Monday when everything was ok in terms of blood and heart. She improved a lot since Monday with a dose of pain meds. Unfortunately since Friday her poop turned into black sludge so another visit to the vets was called for. Black faeces can equal blood and with cancer cells probably still swimming round her blood system this didn’t look good.  The vet puts the blood down to a bad reaction to the pain meds and the problem can be easily treated.  Millie’s digestive system may have been adversely affected  by the chemo so put these factors together and you have blood in the poop. And then she does one of those Millie things that just amaze you. She is sitting in the garden enjoying her evening and I leave her. The next time I see her she is strolling into the lounge having managed the stairs all by herself. The first time since early December she has managed that.

April 26th

After a settled night, Millie’s rear left leg is no better and  the black sludge problem has not cleared despite all the meds she has been on.  She has eaten all her breakfast. I cannot understand how she has deteriorated so quickly. I think her leg has gone the same way as the other and now I have found a lump in her leg. Sid, my other greyhound doesn’t have one.

Millie is back home with us, for now. The chest mets are visible on the xray, but her leg is OK, the lump is fatty tissue. I am not surprised at the chest mets but  am surprised at her leg.  As we did in December, she will eat the best , including chicken , steak, smoked and fresh salmon.  The cooked chicken was eaten by Millie in seconds and with the help of cheese all meds safely administered. Unlike December, the treatment options are now almost exhausted. Next appointment is Friday morning.  We go for a walk in the country, she only manages a few steps before lying down. Even in the car she settles down quickly; normally Millie would be standing all the way observing the world around her as we drove though it.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Today feels like one of those days after the day when someone close to you dies. The head full of tiredness, the face fighting back the tears, the body that feels kicked and lifeless. And the world around you carries on with its’ business totally unaware of the state your entire body is in. For Millie, the ordeal of life lingers on. She is panting yet the room is cold. Food is too much trouble. I have tempted her with steak, yoghurt and salmon with only the salmon prompting any interest. I give her food, she takes it, then drops it in the bowl and just can’t be bothered. I give her a tripe stick – she takes it, has a bite, then drops it.

She is sat by me on the settee . She looks miserable and unhappy. My ray of sunshine has gone, probably forever. This is  not how she should be living. Her black sludge has now turned into black water so it doesn’t look as if the meds have worked there either.

Yesterday’s news now feels like she has already gone. I can play at final few days of treats. I could take her anywhere for a photo but it doesn’t make a jot of difference to the outcome. Maybe she will rally round, but at the moment all I can see is how my other dogs have looked in their last days. Those eyes are the same – given up, resigned to an inevitable fate.

Nobody I contact is linking her chest mets to the problems in her leg and this was shown in the xrays. I accept this, but it doesn’t explain her general loss of wanting to live. Yes, we could go for hydrotherapy. But that can’t happen whilst she has an upset stomach.

It is now the end of a day of ups and downs. She left her roast chicken tea, but managed her tablets with the help of some smoked salmon. Her tummy is no better. I try her on  2 cheeseburgers and fries and she eats all of it!  She walked further tonight but slipped on the way back.

Thursday 28 April

As I write, I am totally split as to what to do next so try to be rational by looking at what quality of life she has. It doesn’t help – she does however  eat 3 steaks for tea  and  I feel a little better. We have a sleep on the lawn; not even back tickles invites a reaction from her. There remain few positives to take to the vets tomorrow.

Friday 29 April 2011.

The final day. Millie had a really unsettled night, she was panting and couldn’t get comfortable. She tried to move around but couldn’t stand up. I took her to the garden but she was struggling to walk. Her walk over the park was the same.  Before taking her to the vets, I did some tidying. From being here 4 times before it is saves much heartbreak to come home and not find memories of your dog everywhere. So hidden were Millie’s tablets, food and bowls.

Millie was put to sleep at 11.17 am. Her head dropped slowly as if dozing off to sleep.  I was saying goodbye to my 6 and a half year ray of sunshine who on the outside still looked perfect. She deserved so much better.

200 days since first clinical signs of osteosarcoma. 29 April 2011: Journey’s End.

29 April 2012. One year on from Millie’s last day. Today it is cold, wet and windy; a very different sort of day to that warm spring day last year. We did all the vacations originally planned as part of Millie’s final year but she was never far from our thoughts. We did acquire a new greyhound, a very nervous boy called Yogi. He could never replace Millie and indeed has never tried to. Both him and Sid have both had limping incidents and both been rushed to the vets, in both cases were found to have small cuts. Such is my attention to what limping can lead to. Do I regret any of the treatment we put Millie through? Put in factual terms, the  treatment failed and Millie became one of those statistics that young dogs rarely live beyond 12 months after diagnosis. What it did do was it bought us some extra time; it gave us chance to do some special and some very normal things – walks in the countryside for example ; to say goodbye properly  and to appreciate just how special life actually is. That is the legacy that Millie has left us.   (GW: 29/04/2012)

Millie (left) with Sid – July 2010

New Years Eve 2010, 3 weeks post surgery

8 weeks post op: Video 1

On holiday – February 2011 Video 2

Spring 2011

Millie – the last week, April 2011