Sunday, March 25, 2012

Millie’s Long Winter of Discontent

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No one was happier to see Spring arrive last week than Millie.  It has been a really miserable Winter for her (with a few exceptional days when she got to go swimming, of course!).

Back in December, I had taken Millie to our hometown vet to get her teeth cleaned and get a benign lump removed from her chest.  I had been putting it off for months as I didn’t want her to miss out on enjoying all her normal outdoor activities.  The vet called during surgery to get permission to also remove a molar that had gone bad, as well as a small tumor she discovered on her rear paw.  Millie was pretty miserable that first night, but quickly bounced back within a couple of days to her old self.

The Monday after Christmas, the vet called with the results of the pathology report:  Good news- the large benign chest tumor was indeed benign.  Bad news- the little paw tumor that nearly went unnoticed turned out to be a mid-grade malignant Mast Cell tumor.  My baby had cancer!

The vet referred us to a veterinary oncologist in Chicago who ran some test to confirm that Millie’s cancer had not spread beyond her paw, so she advised to amputate Millie’s toe rather than do radiation.

I didn’t know which way to go, and during that time, my work life was also in flux with a sudden request to go out to Tucson to fix a client project.  So, I decided to bring Millie and the RV with me and look to have Millie treated in Tucson.

After a few weeks of getting settled into a new routine in Tucson, I finally got going on finding new vets for Millie.  The first vet we went to was very nice, but after examining her, he advised that the amputation surgery was really beyond his capabilities, but said Tucson had an excellent veterinary oncologist in town so he referred me there.

Millie and I arrived to Southern Arizona Veterinary at the beginning of February and were seen by the chief oncologist, Dr. Mary K. Klein, 2 of her residents, and their oncology surgeon, Dr. Mary K. Quinn (hmm, are all their vets named Mary K?).  Well, aside from the names, I was immediately impressed by the expertise, warmth, and compassion of both doctors and staff.  After examining Millie, the doctors concurred with the Chicago oncologist and suggested toe amputation as the most effective option.  So her big surgery was scheduled for
Feb. 13th and she’d need to stay overnight until Valentine’s Day.

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She was feeling no pain her first night back home with all the nice pain meds the surgeon had prescribed.  By the next week, she had gotten a spiffy new purple bandage and was ready to celebrate Mardi Paws!

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At the end of February, Millie got her bandage off and stiches out and was walking around like nothing had happened.  Unfortunately, the pathology report was not as cheery.  There were still some lingering cancer cells that the surgeon was just not able to remove.  So, Millie would now need radiation after all.

The following week, we began a grueling series of daily visits for radiation treatments.  The first few days, Millie was happy to jump in the car every morning to go for a ride.  After each treatment, the nurses and techs spoiled the heck out of her giving her plenty of tasty bones and yummy canned dog food for breakfast.  But by the second week, Millie was less enthusiastic about the daily ordeal, and by week three, I literally had to drag and pull her into the car.  No dumb blonde dog here!

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By the last week, the skin on her paw was so raw and sensitive that I had to put a bootie on it when walking her.  She also now had to start wearing the big uncomfortable plastic collar to further protect her paw.  Just before her final two treatments, the pain got so bad that she also had to have a large rectangular section of fur on her back shaved off so that a Fentanyl pain patch could be applied.

But Millie is one tough dog!  She’s now finished with radiation and growing some pretty new pink cancer-free skin on her paw.  We’re staying out in Tucson a few more weeks so the oncologist can do more follow-up checks.  Keeping our fingers (and paws) crossed that we’ll be able to leave for home before Tucson temps break into triple digits!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Views Above Tucson

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I decided to spend a few weeks parked at the Pima County Fairgrounds on the far southeast side of Tucson (can’t beat their $100 a week rate for a full hookup site!).

Besides paying another visit to east “Rincon Unit” of Saguaro National Park, I wanted to take 2 drives up into the mountains behind Tucson.  The first was a 4-wheel drive route called Redington Road.  There were some pretty Mexican poppies in bloom and even a bud forming on a prickly pear cactus:

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One rather disturbing site driving back down the mountain was the numerous groups of Tucsonians parked along the side of the road shooting their guns into the hillside.  Yes, I know, guns are commonplace out here in the West and they certainly can’t be doing target practice on the city streets below.  But, still a bit unnerving to see some couples taking their small children out for some shotgun fun.:
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There was still a few hours of daylight left when I got back down into Tucson, so I decided to go ahead and do the more famous paved mountain drive only a few miles away.

The Catalina Highway (aka the “Drive to Mt. Lemmon”) takes you from the arid saguaro cactus Tucson foothills up beyond the snow line above 8000 feet in less than an hour’s drive.  It was a fabulous way to quickly cool off from afternoon heat that had now climbed well into the 80’s.

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As great and diverse as the drive up the mountain was, the drive coming back down was nothing short of spectacular.  I couldn’t have planned better timing or sky colors when I arrived at Windy Point Vista just as the sun was setting.  It was absolutely breathtaking!

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As soon as the sun set, I raced back down the mountain remembering a vista that overlooked the city of Tucson.  I was hoping to get down there in time for some sky color just as the city lights were starting to appear.

As you can see by the first photo at the top of this post, I lucked out and even found a good vantage point behind a saguaro cactus!  What a great day!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A visit to the Tucson Desert Museum

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I had almost gone to see the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum last winter when I was staying at Gilbert Ray campground (only about a mile away), but wondered why I should pay nearly $15 to see the same desert as I was already seeing next door.

But friends and colleagues kept mentioning it this year—“have you been to the Desert Museum yet?”  “You can’t leave Tucson without seeing the Desert Museum—you really MUST go!”

So, finally, I decided before Mom returned home to Chicago, we were going to see the darn Desert Museum and find out what all the fuss was about!

I’m happy to report that it was absolutely worth the price of admission!  Not only did they have beautiful desert gardens of all kinds of plants, but they also had numerous animals and a wonderful restaurant and gift shop as well.  I’d sum it up as a fancy zoo with gardens and amenities.

We first visited the reptile house.  It was starting to warm up in Tucson and I wanted to know what all these dangerous creatures looked like that I might encounter in the desert!  I won’t post all the snake pictures, but will show you this nice looking lizard!

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This endangered Mexican Wolf was hiding under a tree trying to stay cool

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Prairie Dog Village was buzzing with activity seeing who could pose the best for all the tourists.

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There were some nice garden displays as well.  A variety of Agave plants:

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and other colorful plants as well:

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There were some species that I didn’t expect to see, but greatly enjoyed, such as these toads:

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And Bighorn sheep with a lizard who had somehow managed to stop in for a visit:
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We were pretty hungry by the time we got to the restaurant area.  There was a traditional fast-food sandwich kind of option, or a fancier sit-down place with white linen tablecloths.  The menu for the sit-down restaurant looked much more appealing and we were not disappointed.  I had a delicious veggie quiche, while mom had a tortilla-crusted fish filet.  It was just the relaxing “recharge” we needed!
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After lunch, we went to the aviary to walk amidst the birds:

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The Hummingbird aviary was saved for last—what an amazing treat to see these little guys (but so much harder to photograph them!):
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All and all, it was a very enjoyable day and I’ll be sure to tell anyone going to Tucson in the future “be sure to visit the Desert Museum!”

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