Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Momentous Day

Rilley fighting the after effects of his MRI anaesthetic.
Getting sleepy...very, very sleepy.
This past Thursday (Feb. 10) marked a momentous day in our journey with Rilley.  It has been six months since that awful day in August when Rilley had his first seizure.  When he was diagnosed a month later with the meningioma the prognosis was so bleak.  Even if we had employed all therapeutic options available to us (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, anti seizure medications) realistically we were only looking at having Rilley with us for 6 months.  As it was explained to me the problem with these types of tumors is not their ability to spread, but rather the fact that even once removed they grow back so quickly and start to put pressure on the brain.  Further, there comes a time when the seizures can no longer be adequately controlled by medication.  This is a problem which we were already starting to see with Rilley before his surgery.  This was when Roy & I started having very serious discussions about Rilley's quality of life if the seizures continued.
Sleepy pooch.

For us, we didn't have to watch Rilley's seizures continue because shortly thereafter he had his surgery and started receiving his immunotherapy vaccines.  The amazing combination of this treatment is that it removed the tumor and the vaccine got rid of the small amount of tumor cells that were left behind and has stopped any further tumor growth.

We are so thrilled that thanks to the amazing combination of surgical skills and research of  Dr. Liz Pluhar,  Dr. John Ohlfest, Dr. Matthew Hunt and the entire staff at The Ohlfest Brain Tumor Lab, Rilley will be with us long past the 6 months since his first seizure. 

Congratulations my little pooch!!!  Let's see what mischief and merriment you can create for us all in the coming 6 months!!!  Watch out Dr. Ewing the real Rilley is back!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jake the Warrior

The amazing thing about this whole blog concept is that you can track referring sites that point to your own.  It was through this feature that Sara came across another dog stricken with a brain tumour.

Jake the Warrior

Jake is a three and a half year old Boston Terrier who has a lot more in common with Rilley than simply his tumour.  They were both adopted from Shelters, although Jake sounds like he had been bounced from place to place and home to home before his owners Frank and Jenn took him in.

He has also been accepted into the Brain Tumor Program at the University of Minnesota and they are starting their 20 hour trek there on Sunday.  His surgery is scheduled for this coming Tuesday and we would like to wish them a safe journey and all the best for Jake!  We know that they could not be heading to a better place for help!

If you would like to visit Jake's blog, go to:

We're glad that they came across our little blog and would like to thank them for keeping Rilley in their thoughts.  Had they not been kind enough to post a link on their blog to The Chronicles of Rilley we may never have come across Jake's story!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February in the Midwest (The Trip Home)

The drive home.
On the trip down we managed to avoid the "great storm" and even shaved an hour off of the drive.  We figure it was mostly because Rilley is off of the medications that had given him an insatiable thirst which of course came with numerous bathroom breaks!  We completed the drive in just 15 hours.  So we had hoped that we would be able to complete the drive home in the same amount of time.
Picking up pooch!
We checked out of the hotel Saturday morning and headed over to the Veterinary Medical Center to pick Rilley up.  We ended up hitting the road just before 10am.  10am + 15 hrs = we should be pulling into our driveway then.
Since Rilley received his final vaccine at the University, he needed to receive his regular
Imiquimod cream while on the road home.
Going for a quick walk at a Wisconsin Rest Area.
"Are we home yet?"
Obviously, we made the expected stops on the way home, but Rilley really seemed out of sorts.  Originally we thought that perhaps he had an upset stomach from the anesthetic the day before.  We even tracked down Dr. Pluhar back at the University for advice.  She figured that it may have had a lot to do with all the travelling we had been doing in the past few days.  Then, out of the blue, she came up with the idea that perhaps Rilley was missing "all the snacks he regularly gets at home between meals".  Har, har, Dr. Pluhar, very funny!  (Yeah, we had a discussion about his weight during his follow up exam, which is a legitimate concern.)  Fortunately, it turned out that he was simply upset as he settled down when Sara and I switched places and she cuddled with him in the back of the Jeep.

The last time we had done the drive we had wanted to try out White Castle (made famous by the Harold and Kumar movie).  So when we pulled off of the interstate in Indiana there was one of their locations!  So we did our own Harold (Sara) and Kumar (Me) Go To White Castle!  (No, the irony isn't lost on me...Harold was the smart one...well, so is Sara, after all she found the clinical trial that saved our little Beagle.)
The White Castle meal for two.
2 Fries, 2 Drinks and 10 Sliders.
As we were getting closer to the border, we didn't realize that a storm had ripped through eastern Michigan and into Ontario.  This made for an interesting drive once we reached Detroit.  There were cars in the ditch, spun out at the ramps and abandoned at the side of the highway.  The four wheel drive on the Jeep came in handy; this was the first time I had seriously needed it.  However, the slow down added another 2.5 hours to the drive and we ended up arriving home just after 3:30am on Sunday.

Yes, we were really tired!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The three month MRI

When Rilley was first diagnosed with his meningioma I remember saying that when I first laid eyes on the MRI display, without a word said, even I knew that he had a tumour.  It was that predominant in the scan.  That was on September 10, 2010.  It was a Friday and we will never forget that day.

Then, less than two months later Rilley had another MRI immediately after his craniotomy.  The amazing thing with this one had been that his brain had already begun to relax and reclaim the space where the invader had once been.
Rilley patiently waiting for his 3 month MRI.
Last Friday, exactly three months since his life saving surgery Dr. Pluhar did the first of three follow up MRIs.  As we had reported in our last post, through the miracle of Dr. Ohlfest's vaccine, there weren't any signs of the tumour.

Below is a composite image comparing the same area of the brain.  Obviously, I am not a diagnostic imaging specialist, so hopefully I was able to pull roughly the same MRI slice for each image.  Regardless, I think you'll get the idea.
Comparing Rilley's 3 MRIs.  Click to enlarge the image.
In the image on the left you can clearly see the meningioma.  If you look closely at the image in the centre, you will notice a small black hole.  This scan was taken immediately after surgery and you can see that the brain had already begun to fill back in as the hole is much smaller than the tumour was.  Finally on the right is the newest scan and it shows a healthy brain that completely fills the brain cavity again.

Not only is this good news for Rilley, but it proves that this new form of treatment is indeed working.

On the blood work front, there seems to be a consensus that the elevated levels were most likely a result of the stress that the travel had put on Rilley.  He is a very sensitive and high strung dog, so this seems to make sense to us.  Rilley was, after all, on Prozac to help him deal with separation anxiety while I was away at the Vancouver games this time last year.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three month checkup day!

The VMC in winter.
When we arrived back at the Veterinary Medical Center around 7:30am Friday morning Dr. Pluhar brought Rilley up to the front to see us before the physical exam. We took Rilley outside for a stroll around (not to mention the prerequisite doggy potty breaks). As we were out, along came another very important person involved with Rilley's case. Jessica Bedi had come by to meet us and bring along Rilley's sixth and final vaccine. Yes, he did end up receiving his final vaccine at the univeristy, so no more worries about shipments, over zealous customs brokers, etc! As Dr. Pluhar so eloquently put it in an email..."praise the lord"! ;^)

Anyway, if you've been following along, Jessica is an important member of Rilley's team at the University of Minnesota because she is responsible for navigating the international vaccine shipping mine field. Thanks to her due diligence, Rilley always received his injections on this side of the border on time. Thank you Jessica!
Jessica Bedi and Rilley
Then it was on to Rilley's follow up examination. We started with the usual...getting Mr. Stubborn on to the scale. Well, the scale is recessed into the ground, so it was more of a fight to get him to sit still. It's almost as if was trying to hide something from Dr. Pluhar. Perhaps this spoiled little pooch isn't really so little after all. Well, once the scale settled down it seemed to find that this beagle weighs in at a hefty 47 pounds! Unfortunately, we can no longer blame medications and such, so he will need to be kept on a strict diet that does not include sympathy scraps from the table.

As we had hoped, and somewhat expected, Rilley is continuing to pass his neurological exams with flying colours, Dr. Pluhar couldn't find anything wrong with him! In that sense anyway.

It wasn't all roses though. Some concerns have arisen due to his blood work. I don't understand it all, but from what I can gather Rilley is producing too many red blood cells. This could be a result of a number of things but we are hoping that it is due to some slight dehydration as a result of the long car ride. Although we managed to shave an hour off of our trip there, it still took us a good fifteen hours and Rilley didn't seem to take much of an interest in drinking his water.

After his exam we sat with him to await his MRI which had been booked for 11am. During the wait Rilley had some time to get himself into mischief, so he decided to pose for a photo on one of the dog stretchers.

Rilley hamming it up for the camera.
It was the time for the moment of truth, has this radically new form of cancer treatment worked? The anaesthesiologist came to take Rilley in and we were left to wait for about an hour.

After Rilley's MRI Dr. Pluhar let us know that the scan was clear. There were absolutely no signs of any cancer cells anywhere! When his original post op MRI was done, there were a few "white spots" remaining on his dura. These were some tumour cells that they weren't able to remove during surgery. However, even at the time, the medical staff were not concerned about them as they were convinced that the vaccine would help his body to take care of them. As it turns out, they were 100% correct! Thanks to Dr. Ohlfest's revolutionary new form of treatment Rilley has beaten the cancer!

As for Rilley's blood test results, we discussed that during his stay at the Veterinary Medical Center, Rilley's eating and drinking returned to normal and he was given I.V. fluids during his MRI; this should have normalized his hydration. So it was decided that his blood work would be redone on Saturday morning just before we would pick him up for the ride home. However the results would not be available until after we have returned home. We will be receiving these results tomorrow and we will update the blog with what we have learned.

We will be posting some more stories from our trip as well as some of the new MRI images for everyone to see in the days to come.

An update on the 3 month trip is coming!

Sorry for the delay in updating the blog.  I know we had promised to update while we were in Minneapolis.  However, the drive is a large undertaking so we were pretty tired when we were there.  On the drive home we did run into some weather related slow downs in Michigan and again in western Ontario.  We didn't end up pulling into the driveway around 3:30am this morning.

There is a lot of information that we would like to post and will hopefully begin that later today.  We have new MRI images from Rilley's three month check up, plus we picked up copies of the set done immediately post op back in November of last year.

All in all Rilley is doing well.  More to come!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Back in the Twin Cities

So, contrary to our last post, we ended up leaving home about six hours later than I had indicated.  However, we are here now and Rilley is safely tucked in at the Veterinary Medical Center and we have checked in to our hotel.

It proved to be a wise decision to postpone our departure from Wednesday to Thursday as the sky was clear the whole way!  There were only a few slippery spots in Michigan but everywhere else had the perfect road conditions.

Well, it's been a long 15 hour drive so I'm signing off and heading to bed.  We will update the blog with Rilley's MRI results tomorrow.

As Les Nessman of the famed WKRP in Cincinnati would say "So long and may the good news be yours!"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

12:30am and hitting the road once again

With the winter storm behind us, it is now 12:30am on Thursday morning and we are about to hit the road for the 16 hour trek back to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We are hoping to reach the university by late afternoon to check Rilley in and have his blood work drawn.

More to come....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Return visit to Minneapolis delayed

In light of the severe winter storm occuring between us here in Georgetown and the Twin Cities we have decided to postpone our departure by one day.  Hopefully this will allow the storm to pass by and allow the road crews some time to clean up.

(NASA / February 1, 2011)
The majority of our travel concerns centred around the city of Chicago.  Apparently they are being hit the hardest out of all the areas along the route.  We had considered not changing our plans and pressing on, but as we received more and more reports of poor conditions we began reworking our arrangements. 

(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune / February 1, 2011)

Luckily, Dr. Pluhar is very accomodating and arranged for Rilley's MRI to take place on Friday instead.  Even the hotel we booked changed our reservation without any issues.  Coincidentally, we received an email from Dr. Pluhar yesterday to let us know that Rilley's sixth and final vaccine will be ready for injection when do finally make it.  The lab was having a great run at growing the cells for this round.  The best news about this is that we won't need to deal with any trouble that the courier company can cook up!  No more customs brokers, whoo hoo!

(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune / February 1, 2011)
So in the end, despite the set back due to weather, everything seems to be falling nicely into place.  Sorry Minneapolis/St. Paul, Rilley's triumphant return is delayed, but only by a day!