09Dec12: Update on Shayna’s medical condition

December 9, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

(Note: This is going to be a document that will evolve over time; check back for updates)


Catching up: Our life from Sept. 5 through Oct. 28, 2012

For the seven weeks after Shayna’s liver surgery on Sept. 4, life for us was pretty awesome.  As I describe here, she recovered very quickly, I was told by her surgeon that she was cancer-free, and her radiologist told us, prior to surgery, that if we go through with it and she recovers as expected, we will have added two to three years to her natural life.

We resumed our normal activities pretty quickly.  Shayna was relieved to not have anyone poking and prodding her anymore, or me watching her like a hawk, or seeing me so distraught at the possibility of another outcome of her surgery.  It was as if we’d been given a new lease on life – like we’d approached a huge obstacle, together, and had emerged on the other side, also together.

Here are a few pics from Sept. 23, which I emailed to her medical team, to show how her big scar is healing, and her overall status:

As you can see, she was doing fantastic.  The future was wide open, and my visions of it were very clear: I would finish up the book I’ve been working on about her, hopefully attract a good publishing deal, then in the spring, go out on a mini-book-tour to promote it and enable Shayna interact with friends new and old.

I began writing a modified promotional video for the book, which ultimately turned into this (until the 3:10 mark, anyway), a few days ago:

So what is this “serious health challenge” to which I refer at the end of the video?


On October 29-30, Shayna was diagnosed with having a tumor of some kind on her heart, that is bleeding – and inoperable

On Sunday, October 28, Shayna and I went out for a walk in the park, then visited a local coffee haunt, so we could sit on the patio, with Shayna enjoying her treats and a Kong and admiring comments from friends and passer-bys, while I did my work.  She wasn’t particularly “up” or “down” on that day, just sort of inbetween, blase’.

But then, something very unusual happened.  She was laying down, then tried to get up, and got dizzy and wobbly.  She stood up, and looked at me as if to say, “What was that?”  I looked at her and thought the same thing.  That was not something I was going to mess with, though, so first thing on the morning of Monday, October 29, we visited our holistic vet – the one who saved Shayna’s life, in part by reversing her kidney disorder, and more.  She examined Shayna, and said she is amazingly healthy.  I pointed out the fact that her belly seemed a bit bloated, and admitted that since her surgery, I’ve probably been going a bit heavier on the treats, but not enough to cause that; that we worked hard to get her weight down to the high 60s, which is where the vet wanted it.  She said we may need to adjust her food again, or her supplements, but that this isn’t something to be overly concerned about.

At about 7:30 that night, Shayna followed me upstairs, where I went to put in my contacts and shave, so we could go out for our walk, and to an outdoor cafe.  As she laid outside the bathroom, looking up at me and smiling, I felt such love for her that when I was done, I got down on the floor and loved on her and teased her, grabbing her paws, etc.

Then, she got up… or, tried to get up.  She was very wobby, looking like a drunk person trying to stand up, unsuccessfully.  She took about five steps, then laid back down, with a heavy drop.

That was it.  I bundled her up in the truck and took her to the nearby emergency veterinary hospital.  While waiting there, she was completely back to normal.  We had an initial appointment with a vet, who took her to the back of the house, then came back with her perhaps 10 minutes later, with a syringe that was filled with a reddish-pinkish fluid.

In a very dispassionate manner, he explained that her abdomen was filled with a fluid, and poked her belly to show the “jiggle.”  In response to my question about what this means, he said it means either heart failure, or kidney failure, or liver failure.

I completely broke down… in disbelief, and grief.

He recommended I bring her in the morning to the specialists who did her surgery, specifically the radiologist who operates with a much higher tech machine than they have, and see what she can find out.  He offered to keep Shayna there overnight, to ensure she has oxygen and fluids, but when he learned I live just a couple of blocks away, he said I could take her home and just monitor her overnight.  I opted to do this.

We made camp on the living room floor, lots of blankets, lavender oil, candles, etc., but of course, neither one of us could sleep.  After perhaps three or four hours of this, and my tears, Shayna began to quietly whimper, as if she were in significant discomfort.  I decided to take her up to the emergency vets who operate at the same facility, overnight, that our specialists do, by day, and let them take a look at her.

The vet there did an ultrasound of Shayna’s heart, and to her, it seemed like it was enlarged – but again, said that the radiologist there uses a much higher tech machine.  She said we should come back first thing in the morning – but I asked if we could just stay there, in the examining room, for the 5-6 hours it would be until the radiologist was to arrive (this was the first night of Hurricane Sandy, and no one knew for sure if she’d actually make it in).  She agreed.  So we made camp right there on the floor.  I took this picture during our 7-hour wait:

30Oct12: Shayna in the middle of the night in the emergency veterinarian hospital, showing her slightly bloated belly. We slept on the floor that night to ensure we were #1 in line in the morning to have an ultrasound done by her radiologist.

On October 30, Shayna was diagnosed by the radiologist who discovered her liver tumor as having developed a tumor of unknown origin on her heart, that is: (a) bleeding, and (b) inoperable. Her symptoms were apparently caused by the bloody fluid filling up the sack that contains her heart, and overflowing into her abdomen.

The radiologist drew all the fluid out of her heart sack, and I was told that the fluid in her abdomen would be re-absorbed and expelled within a day or so – which is exactly what happened. She gave Shayna a remaining lifespan of one day to four months. She said that if the same situation arises again, we could repeat the procedure (extracting the fluid from her heart sack), but that it becomes riskier each time.

You can imagine my reaction.

As I told a friend not long ago, I’ve never known a love like what I share with Shayna, so it makes sense that I’ve never felt pain like this in my life.

The radiologist and our holistic veterinarian recommended a combination of Chinese herbal medicines that we have been using, which are believed to help facilitate blood clotting, cleanse the body systems, and increase overall health. We’ve also been using several experimental supplements, one of which was designed by a University of Virginia-trained endocrinologist, which is designed to help the body to fight cancer at a cellular level. Our holistic vet also recommended acupuncture and massage therapy.

That night (still October 30), I went on a long walk at UVa, starting at the Rotunda – specifically, the stoop in front of the statue of Thomas Jefferson.  It was there, in November 2001, when I first arrived in Charlottesville, that I began going to begin healing myself after 9/11.  I began visiting that statue again after I moved here in December 2001, to ask whatever cosmic forces exist to bring me the “right” first dog, for me.  It wasn’t until March 25 – the day I was about to give up my search – that I finally met Shayna, and knew that she was “the one.”

So, after I adopted her on April 7, one of our first stops was of course Jefferson’s statue in front of the Rotunda:

That night, however (October 30), I went to UVa for a different reason: to seek guidance, and consolation – because as I was experiencing pain and confusion unlike anything I’d ever felt.  The kind of pain that makes one feel as if his entire world is coming apart at the seams.  And I went because I felt like I was completely helpless to help Shayna; that the hands of fate had given her this terrible disease, and now I was being told that at any moment, her life – and our journey together through the deepest, sweetest, most complete love I’ve ever known – was going to come to an end.

An added element of anger and frustration was the fact that it may fall to me to decide when it’s “time.”  It was hard enough being the last, lone holdout when it came time to discontinue life support to my recently-separated girlfriend, in Ft. Lauderdale (May 2001); to have to make a similar decision in regards to my beloved Shayna, my “little girl,” the angel of my life, was unfathomable.  And yet, as her “dad,” it fell to me to keep it all together, and be as vigilant now as I’d ever been.


The great news: Shayna has been successfully fighting this disease, and now has more energy and stamina than she’s had in years

Amazingly, since her procedure on October 30, Shayna has been transformed to some degree: overall, she now has more energy and stamina than she’s had in years.

This started on October 31, Halloween night, when I took her to the University of Virginia, which she loves visiting.  There is special significance to the front of the Rotunda there:

Given our journey together, it seemed very poetic to bring her back to that place, which we’ve visited so many times, at this particular moment in time.

Upon our arrival, however, something miraculous happened: Shayna wanted to go on a longer walk than she’s been on in years, around the campus.  I don’t mean ten or fifteen minutes – I mean we walked for nearly 45 minutes without a break.  And I got a lot of it on video:

As shown in the video below, taken on Nov. 16, Shayna has resumed running after her tennis balls, which she hasn’t done in years:

Also, every day, twice a day (after lunch and dinner), we continue our toy-retrieval-by-name training, to her intense delight (video coming). We have also begun doing visits and training demonstrations at nearby nursing homes and senior centers, to everyone’s delight.

Dec. 1 update: A walk/run through the woods
A video taken during our walk through the woods on a warm fall morning; as you can see, Shayna looks and acts like a normal, healthy dog:

My hope and belief is that with the recommended therapies and supplements, Shayna is going to end up living far longer, and far better, than expected. With your help, I will be able to maintain her care at this level.

Dec. 8 update: A walk around UVa, the Rotunda, etc.: Shayna runs after her tennis ball
If there were any doubt as to how well she’s doing on her “up” days, like this, this video will allay them:


Please consider donating to:

Shayna’s Health Fund

My Kickstarter campaign to help crowd-fund the completion of my book about her

Thank you –


(More coming)



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