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Old 09-04-2012, 10:33 PM
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Penny's Story

Hi everyone! Many of you know of my Penny and how she is currently fighting cancer. I have been meaning to start a thread about her and the journey I have had with her. So I actually wrote a short story and wanted to share it with you all.

Please note, this is a bit long!

The Story of My Best Friend, Penny.

Summer of 2009 is when my worst nightmare came true. My best friend, Penny was diagnosed with fibrous fibrosarcoma; a type of cancer that is in the face. She was diagnosed just before we were getting ready to celebrate her sixth birthday. I was devastated. No one ever wants to hear that an individual who they love has a life threatening illness. Penny came to me as my sixteenth birthday present. I had been begging my parents for many years for a dog of my own, so when I got Penny I was beyond the happiest I have ever been.
I still remember that day we were bringing her home in the car when she was eight weeks old. She was sitting on the seat next to me, and I said “your name is going to be Penny”. She turned her head, looked me right in the eyes, and immediately I felt her soul touch mine as her eyes locked into mine and said “okay, and you are going to be my girl”. Penny instantly became my best friend, and as I was going through those hard teenager years, she was there for me every moment.
Penny was not only there for me, she was there for everyone in the family. She was there for us when my brother went on tour to Iraq. She understood when we needed her, without ever having to be asked. She was always there to lick those tears away, to give a golden hug, and to listen to us as we poured our heart out on her. She was our personal therapy dog.
I competed with Penny in various dog sports, earning many different titles. She ran through tunnels, jumped over jumps, walked up and down sea saws in agility. She heeled beautifully at my side, stayed in her stays, and came when she was called in obedience and rally. She passed with flying colors the canine good citizen test, showing off her friendly well behaved doggie manners. However, those titles are nothing compared to the work she has done as a therapy dog.
After everything Penny did for my family when my brother was on tour in Iraq; it was clear to me that Penny would make a wonderful therapy dog. So, when Penny was five years old, I took the steps needed for Penny to become a therapy dog, and not before long, she was a registered therapy dog. Penny started off in a small assisted living facility in my home town. The facility is a homey atmosphere with no more then twenty residents living there. Almost every single resident keeps a treat for Penny hidden away in their pockets, walkers, or in the rooms. Even though therapy dogs are really not suppose to get treats, I could not tell them no. It is therapy for them to have those treats waiting for Penny and to give them to her. Penny has her favorites, as she directs me down the hallways going to the rooms of those she knows who are waiting for her. She enters wagging her tail with her ears back, saying “I am here; it is me, Penny, your friend!”
As years went on, Penny and I started adding to our list of facilities we visit for therapy work. We have gone to other assisted living facilities here and there, but have stayed loyal to our original facility. I work at a neurorehabilitation facility, and it was approved for Penny to come into work with me once a week to do therapy with some of the clients I work with. I had to be creative and teach Penny to sit up in a chair for an individual who uses a power wheel chair and can not bend over to reach Penny. Penny is a patient girl, who allows clients to take her on brief walks, most of which have abnormal gaits, canes, or wheel chairs. Some days Penny just sits there and lets the clients softly pet her and whisper secrets in her ears.
Two years into battling cancer, I started taking Penny into Maine Medical Center. I felt that she could connect with patients there, since she herself is battling an illness. From the children’s wing, to the cancer wing, Penny has been through them all, bringing smiles and joy to those who are not feeling well. People seem uplifted when they hear Penny’s story, and how she is here to bring them joy, when she herself is sick. She brings a positive message to many that it is important to take things day by day. Do not frown on what happened in the past, or worry what is going to happen in the future. Focus on today, and live today to its fullest.
Lastly, Penny and I, and a team of other therapy dogs, have recently started visiting the Youth Development Center. The Youth Development Center is a correction center for juveniles. Penny and I, along with the other teams of therapy dogs were the first therapy dogs to visit this facility. We walked in unknowing how the kids would react to the dogs. The minute the kids saw the dogs, they swarmed them like a hive of bees. Penny laid down on the ground, and let many hands just pet her and tell her about their own dogs. From the quiet kid into the corner, to the biggest toughest looking kid there, they all were there on the ground talking to and petting Penny. When the visits are over, the grounds are covered in dog hair.
Living in Maine, we drove the three hours down to New England Veterinary Oncology Group (NEVOG) in Massachusetts. As advised from the veterinarians there, we decided to have Penny’s tumor surgically removed. She had to spend a few nights in the hospital, because this was a major surgery, having to remove part of the left side of her face. With Penny’s tumor removal, the goal was to not only remove the tumor, but to also remove a certain amount of area around the tumor which is called margins. The reason is, because Penny’s type of tumor has tentacles that spread out from it, reaching out to spread else where. So to remove the cancer, we have to also remove those hard to see tentacles. The surgeon was brilliant, and got the entire tumor and almost all the margins. The places where she could not get any more of the margins was towards the back of the throat. However, all of the margins came back clean of cancer cells.
The veterinarians wanted us to do five days a week for three weeks of radiation on Penny. We decided against it, and felt confident in Penny’s quality of life after she heeled from the surgery. When fighting cancer with animals, it is always quality vs. quantity. I researched and started Penny on some holistic supplements, with the guidance of a holistic veterinarian. These supplements were geared to support Penny’s immune system and to keep her as healthy as possible. Penny gets better care then I have ever given myself. Penny’s surgery area healed and she amazingly adapted to half of her face being gone. She was taking all of her supplements and was a very healthily dog, enjoying life to it’s fullest.
Summer of 2011, Penny started showing some upsetting symptoms that the tumor was growing back. Sure enough, a cat scan showed the tumor was indeed growing back. Once again, my heart sank to my feet. I felt so confident that we had beaten this cancer.
I still remember that day very clearly. I fell to the ground right beside her crying. She proceeded to lick my face, and then got up, grabbed her favorite toy the frisbee, and ran to the back door growling. As if she was saying “You need to stop crying, it is a beautiful day! Let’s go outside and enjoy this time and play together”! From that day on, I tried my best not to cry about Penny’s cancer. Instead, I made it my goal to enjoy my time on earth with her as much as possible.
Surgery was not an option this time around. Part of the tumor was growing back in the back of her throat area. (Where the surgeon could not get any more margins.) So we decided to do three treatments of palliative radiation, each one week apart. Penny was in a lot of pain after the second treatment. The whole left side of her face went numb, she was having trouble eating, and she even got an infection on her face. She lost hair on her face, and her left eye had damage to it. We made it through the struggle though, and after Penny was feeling better we noticed the tumor had shrunk. Even though the tumor did come back after her surgery, I was glad we did not do the five days a week for three weeks of radiation they advised. Just three powerful treatments took so much out of Penny, and I could not imagine what more would do to her. Again, it is quality vs. quantity.
I drove Penny down to an ophthalmologist in New Hampshire to have her eyes checked out, because I feared that her left eye was damaged from the radiation. The ophthalmologist was very nice, and reported that her right eye looked fine, but her left eye did indeed have some slight damage to it. So Penny was prescribed to stay on eye drops the rest of her life.
A few weeks after radiation was over, we started Penny on metronomic chemotherapy. Metronomic chemotherapy is a low dose chemotherapy that can be given over a long period of time, because it can be tolerated longer. With metronomic chemotherapy, it can slow the tumor down or even stop the tumor all together. The kind we were giving Penny was cytoxan, and she seemed to be tolerating it fine with no major side effects. We noticed no signs of the tumor growing back, and Penny seemed to be doing well for about seven months. She made many therapy dog visits, and went on many walks. One side effect of the cytoxan, was that it can get into the bladder and irritate it. Well, that is what happened to Penny, and it caused her to pee multiple times in an hour. Poor thing practically wanted to live outside, so we had to stop the cytoxan.
It has taken months for Penny’s bladder to get better. Today, she can go four hours without having to go pee, but I don’t think she will ever be able to hold it any longer. Unfortunately stopping the cytoxan caused the tumor to start growing back. I feel like with this cancer, it is an up and down rollercoaster. For a few months, there are no signs of the cancer, and everyone is enjoying life and things seem perfect. Then, the cancer is back, and we are going through our next battle. I only choose to continue treatment depending on how Penny feels. She is a strong soul, who keeps telling me that she still wants to fight and be here. I will stick by her and fight until she tells me otherwise.
It is cute watching her when she is all spunky. She will run around with toys just like a puppy, and not like a dog fighting cancer. Humans have so much to learn from dogs. Here is Penny, who has been through so many treatments and does not always feel well, but still she takes the time every day to enjoy life. She focuses on the present, and what she can do at that moment to make the most of life. She lets those she loves know she loves them everyday, and she has a positive outlook on life. Her glass is always half full. Sometimes as humans, we get too caught up in all those itty bitty details in life, and we forget to slow things down, and really take a moment to smell the roses.
Summer 2012, Penny celebrated her ninth birthday with a birthday party on the beach with all of her dog and human friends. She also celebrated that it has been three years that she has been alive since she was diagnosed with this cancer. It was a wonderful celebration, with lots of goodies and swimming. Meanwhile, we had started Penny on another option of chemotherapy to try, chlorambucil. This chemo was different; she seemed a bit more tired on it. We were unsure if it was working, because we noticed upsetting signs of the tumor growing back. After a few months on chlorambucil, and many visits down with the veterinarians at NEVOG, we decided to stop using it. The oncologist felt that the chlorambucil was not working for Penny.
My heart sank to my feet. Here is my best friend, with a tumor eating away at her face once again. I felt helpless, angry and upset. I could tell that her eye was especially bothering her. There was a small bump that had started to grow next to it, putting pressure on her eye. The oncologist suggested that another three treatments of palliative radiation was the next best step. I looked down at my Penny as we sat in the treatment room listening to the oncologist. I knew that if we did not do another round of radiation, there was a big chance I would be saying goodbye to my best friend soon. I didn’t want to be selfish though and keep Penny here for just me. I wanted to fight and keep her here only if she was still enjoying life. “What do you want Penny?” I thought. “Do you still want to fight?” She looked up into my eyes saying “I am your girl” and started wagging her tail. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do another round of radiation.
Currently we are finishing up Penny’s last round of radiation. Once, again, she is going though the same horrible side effects. This time, we are a bit more prepared, and have been able to ease her pain a little better. She still continues all of the holistic supplements we have her on, all though sometimes it is hard to get them all down. It amazes me that just the other night, she went outside in the back yard with her frisbee, and wanted to play. So I threw the frisbee, and she ran as fast as she could to go get it and bring it back. She acted like a healthy two year old dog. Not like a nine year old dog that has been fighting cancer for over three years. She is enjoying her life every day to its fullest. Penny has taught me a great lesson in life, and I will ever be thankful of her for showing me it.


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Old 09-05-2012, 01:49 AM
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Thank you for sharing her story, I remember some details from your other thread. Penny is beautiful inside and out and will always be. She is your heart and soul I can see that. I will pray for Penny to fight hard and win one more time. Hugs to sweet girl.
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Old 09-05-2012, 05:25 AM
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Thank you for sharing Penny's story with us!
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Old 09-05-2012, 05:45 AM
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Bless your hearts Penny, Lauren and Luna. Prayers and lots of emotions coming your way from Northest PA!
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:00 AM
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Penny's story is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us.

They sure can teach us a lot, can't they? In the hustle and bustle of life it's all too easy to forget the incredible the gift each day - the present - is. Penny, like my boy, is a beautiful reminder that life is right now, not what has happened, or what may come around the next bend.

All the best of everything to you two
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:09 AM
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Thank you for sharing Penny's story - she is a girl with amazing grace and a true ability to give freely of herself to help others.
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Old 09-05-2012, 09:55 PM
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Thank you for linking through on the other thread. Penny's story is so moving and, like you and others have mentioned, a not so gentle reminder to live for that day, that moment. Penny is so fortunate to have you as her advocate, caregiver, and family member.
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Old 09-07-2012, 06:25 PM
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Lauren, thank you for sharing the beautiful story of Penny. She is very much your girl and your therapy work with her is commendable. I hope she continues to tolerate the radiation treatments so you are able to enjoy her for many years to come.

My golden is also battling cancer and is currently on chlorambucil but it's only been two months and it's hard to tell if the chemo is helping or if it is just a very slow growing cancer. I am considering surgery again and then trying cytoxan. I know only too well the rollercoaster ride you referred to.
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Old 09-07-2012, 06:44 PM
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Lauren

Lauren

Bless you for sharing Penny's story with us-she is an amazing and beautiful dog.
She will serve as an inspiration for so many dog lovers on this forum, going through treatment for cancer.
I will keep Penny and you in my prayers!!
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Old 09-07-2012, 08:00 PM
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What an amazing and beautiful girl! Truly you both are examples of grace in the worst of times. Will keep you both in our thoughts and prayers for the strength to continue to beat this beast. Praying for a miracle.
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