Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 is upon us, my reflection on the past year

Rilley, the Christmas Beagle has changed hats today and is looking forward to what the new year will bring. I just want to take this time to reflect on 2010.

The year started off well enough, the first three months seemed to race by as I travelled to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Once I returned home after six weeks away, time didn't seem to slow down. It felt like we raced through spring and right into summer and everything seemed to be going along just as it should. Rilley seemed to be happy enough in his usual routine of sleep, eat, walk, nap, eat, sleep, all the while managing to fit in the odd attempt at stealing someone's lunch. Life has been good for the great Beagle of Georgetown who thinks he owns the world, well, the sidewalk anyway.

People who know me, our daughters as well, can attest to the fact that I've never been one to express much emotion towards our four legged companion. I have to admit that 7 years ago I wasn't thrilled about the idea of getting a dog in the first place. However, we do live in a democracy so I graciously accepted the 3-1 vote and went along with the status-quo as long as we adopted a "shelter dog". As the years went by I staunchly insisted that I did not love this dog, but I merely "tolerated" him. However, deep inside I knew that despite all of his mischeivious behaviour causing a lot of trouble around our household, I could never imagine ever giving up this beast of the Beagles. Yes, he began to grow on me...and I had to wonder how, at barely two years old, he could ever have ended up at the Orangeville SPCA.

Then August 10 of 2010 came along and it all changed. If you've been following this blog you will remember that was the date when Rilley experienced his first seizure and our journey into tumour-land began. At first, perhaps naively, we thought that this could've been an isolated incident. Without retelling everything that has been told, this proved not to be the case. Aside from all the disappointment and despair of the situation, a new, positive thing began to emerge. I began to realize how much a family pet can work its way into your life. There was no way I could fathom letting him go. Yes, he means the world to our two daughters, but I am slowly coming to terms that during all those years of merely tolerating him, he was really and truly growing on me. And this, my friends and kind blog readers, is my reflection for 2010.

However in the process we have met many amazing people and I am thankful for all the veterinarians that have help us along the way, such as Dr. Ewing (Mountainview Animal Hospital, Georgetown), Drs. James, Duque and Gauthier (Mississauga-Oakville Veterinary Emergency Hospital) on this side of the border. I am also in awe of all the research being done at the University of Minnesota, their College of Veterinary Medicine and the Ohlfest Brain Tumour Lab. Especially the surgical skills of Drs. Pluhar and Hunt and the medical wizardry of Dr. Ohlfest. Finally, let's not forget Jessica Bedi's determination in dealing with cross border vaccine shipments!

So as 2010 draws to a close, we are making plans for our first return to Minneapolis for Rilley's follow up visit and MRI. This will take place at the beginning of February and I hope to be posting some positive notes and images during that trip. Finally, we would like to thank everyone for your continued interest in Rilley's story and we would like to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year!


Oh, in case you're wondering, Rilley has been curled up at my feet as I sit on the bed writing this blog entry:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Eight Weeks Since Surgery !!!

Today not only marks eight weeks since Rilley had his tumor removed, but also that he has remained SEIZURE FREE since the surgery. While the possibility still remains that Rilley may have a seizure, as each day passes and he doesn't have one I relax just a little more ... I don't find myself calling someone to go and check on him while I am out.

One thing which people often ask us since Rilley had the surgery is if his personality has been affected. I can certainly attest that he is the same mischievous, naughty, yet lovable dog he always was. If anything is more puppy like than ever before. I often say that having Rilley is like having a toddler in the house. I never quite know what trouble he is going to get into or mess will greet me when I walk through the door.

He has always enjoyed burying things in the backyard ... when the ground thaws in the spring we often find an assortment of stuffed animals and various other goods that Rilley has dragged out. He recently decided it was too cold outside to bury anything so we are finding things in our closets, under beds and under the couch cushions. I am surprised that Winnie the Pooh has made it this long ... that poor stuffy has been to Minnesota and back and been dragged around the block more times than I can count, yet Rilley will not let it go.

Rilley and his beloved Winnie

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Very Rilley Christmas

Christmas has come and gone for another year and we all hope that it was a happy time for everyone.  With nothing new to report, a refreshing change, we decided to post a few pictures from Christmas Day.


Tasty presents!

One happy pooch, but are there any more presents?

All dressed up for Christmas dinner, thanks to Elizabeth!

Speaking of dinner.  Here is Rilley's Christmas feast!
On the fine china, no less!

Rilley enjoying his turkey and all the trimmings!

Okay, so maybe it wasn't the best thing given his slight weight problem, but we think that after everything he's been through, he deserved a nice meal at Christmas!  Here's looking forward to New Year's Eve!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rilley's Christmas Greeting

It is definitely a very merry Christmas around our house this year!  Rilley got to enjoy another round of night time patrols to keep an eye out for Santa, soon family will be gathering for dinner and he will be hoping something will drop, and not to mention presents, lots and lots of presents!  In all seriousness, most people would not have had the opportunity to do so much for their pet.  It seems as though all of the stars were aligned in Rilley's favour as the day he was formally diagnosed with a meningioma, September 10, 2010 to be exact, we received an email from Dr. Ohlfest confirming that Rilley was a possible candidate for the clinical trial at the University of Minnesota.  What are the chances of being given a shot at being accepted into the last opening of such a ground breaking study to treat his exact type of tumour? And right when we needed it the most?  Had it had not been for all the caring professionals, we would not be celebrating this Christmas with quite as much enthusiasm.  This experience has truly been the best possible present.

Rilley would like to wish everyone
a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

MILESTONE: Vaccine Number 3!

Poor Rilley, losing more of his fur to
make way for more injections!
Rilley has now reached another milestone. He received his third vaccine today...he is now half way through the bi-weekly treatments! The nice thing is, given that he doesn't mind going to the vet and obviously trusts Dr. Ewing, he didn't even flinch when he was given the injections. While his fur is growing back nicely on the top of his head, Dr. Ewing noted that the areas on the back of his neck, where the injection sites are, has been slow to regrow. She figures that it may be a result on the vaccine/immune system's effects to the immediate area. Now, to add to his "fur-challengedness", Dr. Ewing had to shave some more of his original fur further down the back of his neck! This was necessary to make room for the injections as we cannot reuse prior injection sites.

Rilley receiving the second of two injections
during his third vaccine treatment.
When we were in Minneapolis, Dr. Pluhar had mentioned to us that the first couple of vaccine treatments should be fairly uneventful, however after this particular injection Rilley may experience some of his pre-surgery symptoms. These could even include seizures. It isn't guaranteed that he will experience this, but it isn't uncommon. As long as any seizure activity remains fairly minor (not lasting for long periods) we shouldn't be too concerned and simply help him through it. Hopefully this isn't something that Rilley will run in to.  One extraordinary thing happened today. Rilley's vaccine shipment made it all the way from Minneapolis in less than 24 hours and without any intervention on this end! It was even delivered directly to Dr. Ewing's office without Sara having to pick it up from the FedEx facility at Pearson International!

All in all, for a "vaccine-day" it went very smoothly. He was all done by 12:30pm leaving us time to do some Christmas shopping! We leave you with a shot of Rilley's latest loss of fur....
Rilley's latest bald spot.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Changes to Rilley's blog

New features have been added to the blog.
As you may have noticed, some changes have been made to the layout of the blog.  We've added a listing of the 10 most popular posts to the left column and a sign in box to the right column.  This can make it easier for you to follow new posts to the blog.  Also, if you scroll to the bottom of the page we've added a collection of links to sites that are related to Rilley's story (these will be updated as necessary).  We hope that you'll find these additions useful and informative.

Rilley is still doing well and appreciates everyone's interest in his story.  He is due for his third vaccine treatment this Thursday (Dec. 23) and we'll post an update then.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Physical Signs of the Vaccine at Work

There is now some physical evidence that the vaccine seems to be doing its job.  The vaccine is comprised of two main components.  Irradiated tumour cells, which were harvested from the tumour removed during Rilley's craniotomy and immune activators.  The irradiated tumour cells are dead cells which cannot cause any recurrence of the cancer.

The vaccine is injected intradermally (between skin layers) in two sites at the back of Rilley's neck.  Each site receives a mere 0.5cc of vaccine and the injections are intended to introduce the cancer cells to his body in order to force his immune system to seek out and destroy them.

Our daughters noticed a red area on the back of his neck.  When we had a look we noticed that Rilley's skin had turned red at one of the sites of his initial vaccine injections and his skin appeared to be breaking open.
You will notice on the right side a red area on the skin.
If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will get a better view.
Obviously, we were concerned so we sent photographs off to Drs. Ohlfest and Pluhar back at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Ohlfest said that it was most likely a result of Rilley's body killing the skin cells that were infiltrated by the injected tumour cells...a very good sign that the vaccine seems to be working.  Basically, his body is learning how to kill cancer cells, or more accurately, any cells that are part of a meningioma.  Dr. Ohlfest actually summed it up quite well when he wrote to us saying that "this is very bad news for any tumour cells left behind after surgery".  Yes, Rilley's building his own army to seek and destory the enemy that was in his head!

So while this seemed at first to be a possible negative reaction to the vaccine or possibly a skin infection, it turned out to be a very good sign.  It's amazing what you learn, especially when you have two brilliant doctors who are so willing to share their knowledge and don't hesitate to answer your questions!  (No matter how many you may have!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rilley's fur is on its way back!

One thing we noticed this past weekend is that Rilley's fur is coming back with a fur-y!  (Pun intended.)  If you were to look at him face on, you would be hard pressed to tell that anything had happened.  Below is a comparison of two photos taken exactly three weeks apart.
Rilley's fur, then (three weeks ago) and now!
The one thing we had been wondering was whether or not the white stripe on his face would grow back. When he had been shaved, you could see the pigmentation in his skin which matched his fur colour for those areas, but it looked quite dark up the middle of his face.  However, as you can tell this distinctive mark of his is back!

Other news from this weekend is that he did not seem himself.  As you may have figured from our last post, Rilley had his second round of vaccine injections on Thursday.  One difference about this round was that he really seemed to be under the weather on Saturday.  From reading this blog, you may have figured out that he is very food motivated we knew something was not right when Sara sat on the sofa with a snack, and all Rilley could muster was to raise his head and have a look, as opposed to getting right in her face demanding some of the food!  After consulting with Dr. Ohlfest, it turns out that he may very well have had a low grade fever and may seem sluggish for a few days.  He explained that this is normal as long as it doesn't last for more than a couple of days.  We also noted that his injection sites felt a bit warm.  Apparently this is an indication that more of his immune system is recognizing and working on the tumour cells, which in turn is a good sign that Rilley's body is reacting positively to the vaccine.  However, we are happy to report that tonight he seems to have bounced back quite quickly.

Lastly, thanks to everyone's kind interest in Rilley's story, as of this writing our little blog has had 2016 visits since we started it in late October.  A large part of that is due to the spike in traffic as a result of Rilley's story airing on Daily Planet as well as the front page article written by Lisa Tallyn in the November 30th edition of the Georgetown Independent.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rilley's 2nd Vaccination - More Shipping Frustrations!

It has been two weeks since Rilley's last vaccination and the major headache getting that one through customs.  Today he had an appointment for his second of six rounds and you'd think that everything would now be in order and the shipment would happen smoothly.  Well, guess again and this time I can't even say it was the government's fault.  From what I can gather, and hopefully it is as factual as it can get, it seems that someone at the courier company took it upon themselves to decide for Canada Custom's what they would or wouldn't do.  Instead of this person allowing the Canadian Border Services Agency to decide for themselves, they refused to pass the package onto the people responsible for what comes into the country!
The precious package!
Styrofoam container, dry ice and a tiny, tiny vial containing the vaccine.
The shipment had been held for clearance in the courier's facility in Mississauga since early this morning and it was finally released to us just before 4pm!  On top of all of that, they made us come and get it as they didn't want to touch the package!  Apparently they read that it contained irradiated cancer cells and thought that they'd get cancer from touching it!  Now I may not be a doctor, but the last time I checked cancer was not contagious and I know that anything that has been irradiated is most definitely dead!  Come on people, use some common sense!  Not to mention that Health Canada provided a "No Objection Letter" stating that they had no reason to stop the package from entering the country and said letter was attached directly to the outside of the package!
The "No Objection Letter" provided by Health Canada securely affixed to the side of the shipping contianer.  Can you believe the courier claimed it wasn't with the package?
I think you can understand how frustrated we are!  Our caring Vet, Dr. Stephanie Ewing, neurosurgeon Dr. Pluhar as well as lab staff at the University of Minnesota had to take time out of their busy schedules once again to deal with what should be a simple process.
The priceless cargo.  Placed next to a car key to give you a sense of how little vaccine is actually shipped.  The vial is only about 1/3 full.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

MILESTONE: One month since surgery

Rilley's fur is slowly beginning it's own journey back to his head!
This weekend has marked one month since Rilley underwent the craniotomy to begin his tumour free life!  He is doing extremely well and the Great Canadian Bald Beagle is beginning to show serious signs of regaining his fur.  The best news is that he has now been seizure free for over four weeks.  He is doing so well that he can now be left for a few hours on his own.  We just need to make sure that there is no food out as he is much more active and will get things off the counter once again!  (To most people, that may be a sign of poor behaviour, but no matter how annoying it may be, to us it is a sign that he is getting back to his old self.)

This coming week, Rilley will be receiving the second of his six rounds of vaccines.  We are hoping that the shipment will be much smoother this time around and actually make it to Dr. Ewing's office without any intervention!

We've noticed the increased traffic to the blog since the television and local newspaper stories from early in the week.  As of this writing, the blog has had 1853 visits!  We just want to thank everyone for taking such an interest in Rilley's story and hope you will continue.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

UPDATED: Daily Planet show now online!

If you missed Rilley's appearance on Daily Planet, go to the show's webpage to see it online.

There is a new link to see Rilley's story where it will be available for a long time:

I would like to thank those who maintain the website for creating this special link for me.  In particular, Heather Mahmood who made it happen.

The original link I posted in this space pointed to the latest online episode which is changed everyday.  However, I would like to leave the link to that available as I believe the show is worth watching, no matter what stories are presented.

The direct link to Daily Planet's page on the Discovery Channel Canada website is: