Friday, April 30, 2010

Today's tea is....

1/3 c. astragalus root
2 T. slippery elm bark
1 T. yarrow leaf and flower
1/3 c. calendula flower
1/4 c. fresh plantain (lanceolata) leaves
1.5 liters water
1 4" bison leg bone

(first serving gets the marrow!)

I finally figured out that I should write up this whole herbal care program for my correspondence course. I should've been finished with the whole thing by now, but reasearching and preparing this stuff for Vida has been one reason I'm not, so I might as well use it as homework.

Well that was the dog's tea.
My tea: handful of nettles, pinch of red clover,pinch of blue vervain, all in my french press. Taste good, easy to make.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The "Ugh!" of Aftercare

And that's from Vida too.

It's clear now that one reason many dogs experience worse side-effects may be because they aren't getting the supervision and frequent interactions that I'm able to give Vida.

If I had to leave her alone all day she would have to wear a cone to keep her from scratching the area. She's getting away with a little bit, but it only takes one or two good scrapes with a nail to tear open the skin that's struggling to heal. I'm threatening her with a cone if she doesn't stop, and she hates my admonitions.

She also wouldn't get the frequent gel applications to her skin. When it dries out it gets itchy. It's also threatening (ok, more than threatening) to increase it's acreage on her chin. So I'm trying to apply it at least every two hours during the day. If she spends time outside with this wind it gets dry and itchy, so it looks like I'll be carrying a kit with me to a dog party this afternoon.

I don't know how one can really do good herbal work with singular recipes because circumstances vary so much. I'm changing her gel recipe today in response to the need for stronger and quicker healing of the skin (let's get this over with!).

3 t. irish moss simmered 5 min. in 8 oz water
this is poured over:
2 T. calendula
1 T. fresh comfrey leaf
1 T. yarrow
1/4 t. goldenseal
1/2 t. fresh sage
Let steep for at least 30 minutes (or until I get back to it, whichever is longer)
The resulting liquid is mixed 50/50 with aloe vera juice and stirred occasionally as it cools and thickens.

(I hope everyone hasn't lost basic cooking knowledge: lowercase "t" = teaspoon, uppercase "T" = Tablespoon)

This mixture adds more antibacterial and astringent oomph. I'm tired of green goo (Vida is too), and need to speed the healing. We'll see how it works.

Along these lines I'm also starting her back on two supplements: antioxidant capsules and PetLife. She's back on raw, still on tea and all her other goodies.

I'm also trying to use the Photonic on the wounds to speed up the healing. I say try because she's completely sick of any and all ministrations to the area, but luckily the red light therapy works well in short bursts. It's just trying to aim at at parts she's trying to hide while blocking her sightlines.

This is certainly a care situation that many owners could use help with simply because of the persistance required. Vida and I can't wait 'til it's over!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"The least side effects I've ever seen."

Yes, that's a quote from Vida's radiation oncologist, Dr. Proulx.


[sorry, images have disappeared into the ether, please continue to later posts for more photos, ex: 5/11]

He saw her today, four days after her final radiation treatment. She finally did have some burn effect on the outside of her mouth start this weekend (today's Tuesday), but not much. Here are the photos, sort of gross but really, if you're wondering what it might look like if it's ever your dog here it is.

I've marked the outer edge of her lip. The lip itself shows pigment loss, which indicates that she's lost the top layer of skin even though it looks ok otherwise. The very top edge is almost white today. I'm not sure if the pigment will come back. The dark color still on her front lip makes it easy to discern the bottom line, and the area under it where there's been hair and skin loss and the color is pink/grey.

You can also see how the tumor area continues to shrink and the shape has evened out.

This side view shows the worse of the two sides, she more often sleeps on this side so I think that's why it's taken on a little more damage (the area not breathing as well). Though when resting she often tries to keep her head upright, or hanging over the edge a bit.

You can just make out the orange line that was used as a guide during radiation (just follow down from the arrow, it angles slightly right), and you'll also notice that everything behind that orange line is intact (black lip, hair).

The lip has lost all the black pigment. There is a crease below the largest part of her lip that is a little problematic, and I ensure that I flush that area with gel by lifting the skin a bit.

The whole area is a bit gooey, but that's good. If allowed to dry out it becomes itchy and she scratches at it. While we might have been taught that this greenish goo is terrible, the skin under it is not red, so while she is pushing out junk it's not an infection. This goo helps protect the damaged skin too.

I'm putting the gel on her mouth at least six times a day. During the day I try to do it every couple of hours. She hates it. She doesn't mind it in her mouth, but she hates it gooping up her chin. She immediately tries to groom, even reaching back to lick her shoulder in an attempt to curl her tongue down to the side. Mainly she licks her forelegs, again to turn her tongue back so the underside of it wipes her chin and lip.

I also started adding colloidal silver and crab apple flower essence to her drinking water to help keep the area from harboring infection.

I can't emphasis enough the diligence with which natural remedies need to be applied. I know I won't need to do it forever, and that keeps me at it. She's still getting her tea, and all the other supplements. I'll start cutting back her prednisone this weekend to every other day.

Speaking of pred - the vet had no idea why her lipoma got smaller. He said he'd never seen that happen before, and couldn't say why. I presented my theory that the lipoma had been storing cancer junk (a technical term, hehe) - that when we first started her on TCM herbs for the cancer the lipoma began to develop, as if the body was trying to quarantine the cells it was finding, and continued to grow slowly until she was started on the pred. So did the pred kill those cells off, shrinking the lump?. He didn't seem concerned about it, and didn't mention anything about removing it. We'll have to see if it comes back when she's off the pred, I guess.
I love that my dog's recovery has a bit of mystery to it.

We're back for a re-check in two weeks. Vida's tired of not being able to play fetch and such. Soon!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Photo Update - Day 23

A quick peek at the start of her last week. 

[sorry, images have disappeared into the ether, please continue to later posts for more photos, ex: 5/11]

The only indication of burned skin is the loss of pigment on her lips.

She's shown no sensitivity, so pain seems minimal. In fact she's back to chewing vigorously on her nylabone, fetching her old
Kong, and taking treats with full contact of her front teeth.

I made up a fresh batch of mouthwash for the burns. Still working out what the final recipe will be (complete with pretty pictures, going to enter it in a contest), but today's was:

One cup of water. 2 tsp Irish Moss. Give it 30 minutes in the cold water before bringing it carefully to a boil. Pour that over 1 T fresh Comfrey leaf and 2 T Calendula flowers. Let steep 30 minutes then strain. When room temperature stir in an equal amount of Aloe juice and chill.

Closeup of the curious hole I noticed. I'm going to ask about that tomorrow.
[sorry, image has disappeared into the ether, please continue to later posts for more photos, ex: 5/11]

And as a reminder, here she was
on day 2.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea Change?

Vida's going through a liter of tea about every four days, so I'm making another batch this morning. I've adjusted the recipe a bit: Astragalus, Calendula, fresh Plantain are all the same, but I've halved the Slippery Elm and filled that in with Marshmallow Root, and brought back a little bit of Nettle Leaf instead of fresh Comfrey Leaf.

Did I need to change? Am I changing capriciously? Am I overthinking? I'm not sure, but I know that there is never one way to do things when it comes to herbs.

There are always multiple choices for supportive herbs, and while some people find that aggravating I actually find it comforting because I know that as long as I stay within certain parameters I'll be doing fine. I also feel that this gives me the freedom to make these small changes to customize it for each animal.

For instance, I've kept the foundation of Astragalus through all the changes I've made, as this is so strongly indicated for her situation with cancer (immune booster, qi booster, affinity for the stomach).

A couple batches ago I switched from Chamomile to Calendula because Calendula's anti-inflammatory and healing aspects for skin were so important to promote healing right in her mouth, and I knew that it would have the same soothing result in her stomach, though it's not often thought of for internal use.

I kept the fresh Plantain because it's such an all-rounder - good for her mouth and her digestion, and so easily picked, chopped, and added for an ideal food.

I decided to add a little Marshmallow Root in place of some of the Slippery Elm because it's a little cooler, and she's getting plenty of Slippery Elm directly in her meals. Sometimes I like the idea of herb partners, they have similar actions but slightly different energetics.

I decided to put a modest amount of Nettle back in to the mix for the mineral nutrients and support. I took out the fresh comfrey leaf because I already have it in her mouth rinse, and admit to some concern about even slight impact on her liver due to the prednisone.

I know that the issue of liver effect from Comfrey is contentious, but if the liver is under direct pharmaceutical stress I figured I'd play it safe by alternating the use of the Comfrey (the leaves are young now, which means this is more of an issue - sorry, don't want to look up the chemical particulars for you on this).

The importance right now is support.

It's always important to have a goal with your herbs. The goal might change frequently, but you always need to keep your basic goal in mind when creating teas (and other concoctions).

The goals of this tea are: support of her basic energy, support of her digestion, contacting her mouth with herbs that will help prevent burn side effects (in conjunction with a more specific mouthwash).

This is a concentrated time of support while she goes through radiation. It will all be adjusted again (and again and again...).

I don't think I'm being cavalier about the changes, and the base of the tea is in place so it shouldn't cause her to have to adjust to it.

I love experimenting on my dog, but I think I'm experimenting in a good way, not a reckless way. Believe me, it takes some herbal education combined with good observation skills to do it well.

This experience is an amazing education for me, and will result in my being able to help others with their dogs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Who's pain is it anyway

Here's Vida on Day 16 of her radiation (and prednisone) treatment.

Her determined look is because she does NOT want to open her mouth for the photo. I took a lot of pictures, and at least got a straight on look here because I was waving around a piece of Salmon Paws (did I mention the prednisone?).

I swear, as soon as the camera came up, the mouth went shut.

But do you notice - the mouth is ALL the way shut! That is a terrific improvement (just take a look at the photo in the post called "Zap Away" from March 30th).

I'm going to get a proper photo soon, but I've been giving her a break from too much mouth examination handling. Just get her smiling and you can catch a good look (so if your a fan you'll have to come see her in person).

She's going to the chiropractor tomorrow (Cheryl Ricketts-Mulvey), and I can tell that she really needs it. I hope my back feels better after her adjustment too because I swear that I'm taking on some of her various states of being. I think this process is making me a little too open. I don't normally have such a variety of fleeting pains and problems: back, head, stomach... I need to take care of myself a bit more.

So far she hasn't had any signs of burns that I can see. They said it would start 10-12 days in. That makes me feel pretty good about my herbal concoctions.

I've been flushing her mouth four times a day, a process she's grown accustomed to (chin down, squirt one side, squirt the other). I'm currently trying to work out a recipe that includes irish moss to create a gel - and by currently I mean I'm getting up in the middle of writing this to whisk it as it chills to see if that and my reworking of the proportions gives me gel and not jelly.

I'm quite enjoying the freestyling of these remedies. I'm not using anything too unusual, I'm just choosing judiciously and creating products that my dog accepts.

For instance, I don't want to make something for her chin that has a lick deterrent in it, because I think that sets up a negative energy for the healing. If she needs something applied a few times a day in and around her mouth, shouldn't it be tolerable?

The irish moss is interesting because it smells like the ocean, and she seems attracted to it.

So now I need to get some rest so I can get her back to the vet tomorrow morning at 8am for treatment number 12 (of 19). She doesn't want to use the Bio-Mat so I'm going to use it for awhile.

She vibrates with nerves while we're waiting, but they told me that when she gets to the treatment room she jumps her front feet up on the table as if to say "ok, let's get this over with!"

This is a healing job for both of us, and we're gettin' through it together.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ingredients for this week's dog tea

In anticipation of burns starting soon, I've made a new tea for Vida.

Clockwise from the top:

+ fresh Comfrey leaf
+ fresh Plantain leaf
+ dried Astragalus root
+ dried Calendula flower
+ fresh Bison bone
+ dried Slippery Elm bark

Yes, I've resorted to cooking a bone with the plants to get easier compliance. This is because I really want to be sure she's drinking it full strength when asked.

I've formulated this tea to help with the impending burns, to see what I can do to have less severe burns produced during the radiation process. While I did make a wash with aloe juice and calendula/comfrey tea, and I've started irrigating her mouth with it a few times a day, I think that the more frequently I can put helpful herbs on that tissue, the better.

This was made with one liter of water. The bone, astragalus, and slippery elm went in cold water which was brought to a boil and simmered for about 45 minutes. I then added the flowers and fresh leaves (which I minced). I turned the heat off and left it for over an hour before I strained it out. She loved it!

It turns out that Vida's been getting out more quickly from treatments because they changed the gas they were using. I don't remember being told they were using gas at all with the IV, but hey, they probably expect most people don't want to know the details.

They switched from Isoflurane (very commonly used) to Sevoflurane (more expensive). The Iso- gets them both sedated and then awake in about two minutes. The problem is that when they wake up their cognition comes back before their motor skills do, which can obviously be stressful for some dogs. Vida's first action was to try to bark, small muffled barks at first, which indicates her stress. So a few days ago they switched to Sevo-, which gets them sedated and awake in about thirty seconds, and when they wake both cognition and motor skills return simultaneously, which is much less stressful.

I haven't been able to break through her serious nerves beforehand - full body shaking, poor thing. But I have to say, when she comes out, she's not doing that at all. She's happy to leave, but she's much more relaxed. The nervous system is very powerful. You can't always get it to do what you think is best, no matter how many times you give flower essences and press on acu-points. Sometimes you just need to let them be nervous, knowing that it will be over soon.

So that's 8 down, 11 to go. Tomorrow is Friday, then she has the weekend off.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Smart Dog? Hmmm.. yes but....

Day 9.

6 treatments down, 13 to go.

The steroids have already made the tumor smaller. The lipoma on her rear leg is smaller too, which I hadn't expected. I'll need to ask the vet about that when I have a chance.

Don't worry, she may look like she's wincing but she's just being faced with the sun, and is not keen on having her portrait taken.

Vida is a smart dog. Sometimes that helps this process, sometimes not so much.

I learned today (when she came out in record time again) that when she starts barking the first time she's ready to eat, and when she starts barking the second time she's ready to go home.

She doesn't really like taking the Animals' Apawthecary Ginger/Mint tincture because it makes her burp right away - but of course in an hour she's feeling great and wants to eat (which by that time she usually shouldn't to avoid later stomach junk).

She's learned to eat her sort-of hidden prednisone in order to avoid the indignity of being pilled.

She lets me do acupressure and tui-na to move the qi down, which I need to do a few times later in the day/evening to help her digestion. She gets so warm, it's as though the radiation is creating heat, and it's swirling around her midsection. The qi is all discombobulated. Today I gently stroked her with a zoom groom (a rubber curry), and she burped during that.

She may come to hate what I started today: dabbing her ching and irrigating her mouth to fend off burns. I'm using aloe vera juice combined with an infusion of calendula flowers and (fresh) comfrey leaf. Hopefully, when it does get more irritated, the cold soothing wash will be welcomed.

She's terribly nervous when we are waiting to go in for treatment. I feel bad about that, but I know it will pass. She knows when it's a treatment day because she doesn't get fed first thing, so she spends the next hour trying to change my mind, while at the same time refusing to drink any water. This morning I resorted to spiking her water with meat juice because I knew she hadn't had any water since early the evening before....

She normally doesn't drink at night. The steroids have made her more thirsty, and one night in particular she had a big drink at night. Poor thing wet the bed, so no more night drinking (her decision). I can tell she's feeling dry, but she refuses my entreaties to just have a sip. The dog door is open, but she doesn't want to get caught. The radiation works better on hydrated tissue so it's a bit of an issue. As for her leaking - this used to be caused by a sensitivity to chicken, but in general it seems to be that she doesn't have enough qi down there to do the job, hence the tui-na and acupressure during this process to get it moved back down the body as smoothly as possible.

Often she just wants to take care of herself. This is the disconnect between us, where she doesn't always understand the benefits of what I'm foisting on her. If it's not immediate it's hard for her to make the connection, despite what I try to say. So I just do it. After all, what she thinks about me in this moment is as important as helping her feel better and do better with this process.

I can take the dirty looks.

Friday, April 02, 2010

What a difference a day makes!

Sorry, cheesy title, but it's true.

Vida was a new dog today, almost back to her old self.

And I'd like to take credit.

Well, I'd like to share credit with all of our friends who've been sending their loving, healing energy our way. I swear I can feel it, and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

It's certainly not the anesthesia, radiation, and steroids that are making her feel better. It's the herbs, most of all, I think. The astragalus, given by both tea and tincture. The slippery elm. And all the other goodies I'm giving her, helping her detox the side-effects of the treatment, build her qi, and soothe her digestion.

It may seem like a lot of work to some, but the payoff is astounding. This is the kind of care I wish every dog got. Supportive care to help them through this strong process. To use plant medicine to provide gentle support, rather than mainstream pharmaceuticals that throw the body around from one extreme to the other and unable to balance itself.

Today she came to work at the store. I brought a bed from home and put it in the back room, expecting her to spend much of her time in it, resting and avoiding the activity of shoppers and their pets.

Boy was I wrong. She spent the day hanging out by the counter begging for treats, greeting people, and generally grabbing the attention of everyone who came in the door. She wasn't at her highest energy, but I saw her do things I haven't seen her do in over a week: canter, groom herself, and, most surprisingly, perform her "La Vida Loca" trick (catching her tail and walking with it). She really wants to get back to normal, and does it at her own speed. A speed that was much faster today than I expected.

So if you ever think that you couldn't possibly keep up on caretaking for a pet with natural methods, measuring out homemade concoctions, dispensing drops, and cooking, well let me tell you that you must know that it will be worth every effort.

Pour your love into these actions and you will be rewarded. You may not always be able to "cure" your pet, but you will certainly provide them, and yourself, with healing.

Next week I'll start concocting a topical rinse. If I start dabbing it on early maybe I'll head off the worst of burns.

Today's score, 4 down, 15 to go, with the weekend off. Hurray!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Choreography of Caretaking

I'm starting to learn the new rhythm of the day for Vida.

What governs this rhythm?

Medicine: anesthesia, radiation, prednisone (steroids). These are so strong that they require everything else be done in response to them. You can't ask them to be forgiving, you have to get your timing down to help her body rebound from the worst of their effects. Not guerrilla warfare, but guerrilla care.

The herbs, acupressure, flower essences, reiki, and food - these all have to partner with each other and be choreographed within the framework of the medicine.

She woke up today hungry, but since she couldn't eat until after her radiation treatment she went to a bowl and drank. She hadn't gotten up at all during the night to drink, despite her evening dose of steroids, so she drank a lot. Within a few minutes she was clearly working hard to hold it down, and spent the rest of the early morning in bed. I left her alone (in part because her bowl of water included tea, which was doing some secret good inside of her).

Then she trots out to the car and hops in. This reminds me not to freak out when she's in bed looking so off.

We had a bit of a schedule glitch, ending up with a later treatment time due to a mechanical glitch. She ate her whole meal at the hospital, and the tea with me in the waiting room (not sure why she waits to drink it with me). She drank even more in the car.

She came home and looked at her empty dish. So I fed her again about an hour later. I figured that I should feed her when she wanted to eat, because later in the day she wouldn't (the previous night she finally ate at 9pm, eagerly, but only when I brought to her in bed). I put her detox tincture, herbs, and digestives in the food. I keep forgetting the fish oil, a sign that I've not quite acclimated to the new routine.

The mantra is "get the herbs in when you can."

The other mantra I'm learning is "get the herbs in when they're needed."

It seems like she gets a couple hours of high off the sweet anesthesia, then it all starts to go downhill (I joked with someone that I was worried she'd become and addict). The downside of the anesthesia hits her - her stomach is gurgling, she lays in bed looking miserable.

The ginger-mint tincture helps (she burps a little). I wash it down with some tea. I give it again a couple hours later with some astragalus tincture and make a note to start earlier with this intervention tomorrow.

I also use acupressure on Earth points (ST36, SP4), and CV12.

I've taken to making her get up every so often to walk around (don't worry, my insistence is completely hands-off). I'm glad if she stops at the bowl, but then have to stop her before she fills up too much. She walks around looking a bit delicate, the hair on her lower back rising up, a sign of discomfort I don't quite understand. I've learned that in the afternoon she just wants to relieve herself and go back to bed.

She's surprisingly warm, as if the heat of the radiation has taken over. Her pulse is a bit fast, as is her breathing. The restless breathing is what bothers me the most because it tells me she's not at ease (though she's quiet in her bed).

Now that I've given her the prednisone again I'm waiting to see if things settle down for the night. I'll probably syringe a little tea/water in later if she doesn't drink on her own (on the way back from her last trip out at night - one that I'll likely have to insist on.

I may get a TCM herb formula from Dr. Weingardt to help her stomach if I'm not able to be more effective on her own.

It's my task to find the balance point. To do what's needed when it will work best, and do it as simply as possible.

I'm glad that her treatment is on a schedule (M-F, 8am). It will help both of us get the hang of this difficult dance together. Then it will be over and we'll be on to bigger and better things. Current score: 3 down, 16 to go.