Monday, May 30, 2011

The Emporer's New Clothes

Rilley modelling the new shirt.
Earlier this month, in an effort to recognize Rilley's 6 month anniversary since his surgery, Sara searched high and low for just the right memento.  She had come across a website that sells dog shirts with a variety of causes emblazoned upon them.  There was one that caught our eye that read:

It Came
We Fought
I Won
Brain Cancer Awareness

To which we added the line:
Thanks to the Ohlfest Brain Tumor Lab

When we dropped by to see Dr. Pluhar last Monday we had Rilley show it off to her.  She thought it was great.  So when we left Rilley at the Veterinary Medical Center with her, we took the shirt with us to show to Dr. Ohlfest.  When we pulled it out at the restaurant, he thought it was a really neat idea and asked if he could keep it.  Of course, it's the least we could do!  Tonight I received an email from him saying that he is thinking about framing it and putting it up in the lab to show the staff the impact they are having.  We think that is a great idea and can think of no better way that the shirt could be used.
A close up of the shirt.
One final of tonight Rilley's little blog has had 5056 hits!  Thank you everyone for your continued support and interest in his story.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Six Month Checkup - MRI Tuesday

Our last evening in Minneapolis was spent with our only opportunity to have a fur free dinner.  Since Rilley was at the University, we took the opportunity to take the girls to Olive Garden.  Of course, we chose a location near the VMC so that we could pick him up right after.

Tuesday morning came fast and furious.  The alarm got us up bright and early at 6:00am as we had to arrive at the University for 7:00.  To make the morning easier, we had packed our bags and loaded them into the Jeep the evening before.  So a quick shower and a speedy check out later we were on the road.

Once at the University, we took Rilley in and met with Dr. Pluhar.  She told us that Rilley's blood work from the day before came back perfect...well, almost.  It seems the plucky pooch's cholesterol is a wee bit high.  Well, I ask you...who doesn't have the odd bit of problem in the cholesterol department?  Hmmm????   In all seriousness though, it may have been a bit high and I'm sure Dr. Ewing will keep an eye on it, but it's nothing that we should be overly concerned about.  These results put us more at ease that his last set in February may very well have been atypical due to his emotional state.  We had, after all, pulled into town at 11pm and left him at the Veterinary Medical Center and he had stayed there the entire time.  This most likely stressed him out and cause the results at the time to be out of whack.

At around 8:00am, the anaesthesiologist came out to collect Rilley and prep him for his MRI.  The scan was scheduled to run for an hour beginning at 8:30.  Followed by another hour in recovery.  All went as planned until it was time to take Rilley out of the MRI.  Before they could lift him from the table, Rilley pulled a repeat of the last time.  He managed to wake, partially cough out the intubation tube and start chewing on it.  Since this wasn't the time for him to be without the breathing tube, the anaesthesiologist had to put him under again.

While we were waiting for him to come out of recovery, Dr. Pluhar came out to go over the MRI.  She called up Rilley's three month MRI next to the new scan.  If you remember back to February, his MRI was clear of tumour cells.  Here we were, looking at the newest images and some words that Dr. Ohlfest had said the previous day were ringing in our ears.

"Any recurrence of Rilley's type of tumour usually appears between the third and sixth month."

We must say, those words were in our minds all night.  However in the end, we had nothing to fear as the current MRI shows that Rilley is still tumour free!!!!
6 month MRI:  Clear of any tumour cells!!!!
Ok, so now we have the nerve wracking part behind us...what about Rilley?  Well, his extra dose of anaesthesia has him still sleeping soundly, but they were having trouble raising his core body temperature.  The anaesthesiologist brought him out to us along with a special heating blanket called, appropriately enough, the Hot Dog warming pad.  So here we sat waiting for Rilley to warm and wake!
Poor sleepy head.  Hey!  Keep that tongue in your mouth!
Since we now had some time to kill, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a group shot of the girls with the person who performed the life saving surgery on their best friend six long months ago.
Katherine, Elizabeth, Sara and a still sleeping Rilley
with Dr. Pluhar (sorry Dr. Pluhar, I should've taken
another one, but I didn't notice your eyes were closed!)
Once Rilley's body temperature had returned to normal and he had woken up a bit we packed up and hit the road.  The time was now 1:15pm, we were leaving quite a few hours later than we had hoped to get away.  Unfortunately we didn't have the luxury of having a stop over on our way home as I had to work Wednesday morning.  The most precarious part of the drive was travelling through Michigan in the dead of night.  For some reason, they have a high number of deer/car collisions and I lost count at six dead deer along the side of the interstate.  I also spot at least one deer standing in the ditch in that state and another two standing side by side along highway 402 between Sarnia and London.  Finally, 16 hours later, we pulled into the driveway at 5:15 in the morning.  We unpacked the Jeep and I climbed turned right around and drove into work.  By the time I went to bed Wednesday evening, I had a full blown migraine and retired around 7pm...37 hours since I got up on Tuesday morning.

All in all, the trip with it's long drives, tornadoes and sleep deprivation was worth it as our beloved Rilley is home safe and with a clean bill of health.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Six month checkup - Monday

I apologize for leaving everyone hanging after our post last Sunday.  However, the tornadoes seemed to have knocked out some Internet connectivity in Minneapolis.  We were able to check email, but a lot of web access was rendered inaccessible and when it was, speeds were severely reduced.  Then we hit the ground running when we returned home with life not slowing down one bit.

Over the next few posts we will update everyone on what transpired during our final two days in Minneapolis.
Clearing skies were a welcome sight after Sunday's weather!
On Monday we took Rilley over to the Veterinary Medical Center for his six month physical checkup and blood work.  It was really nice to see Dr. Pluhar again and the girls were finally able to meet the person with the steady hands that took the nasty tumour out of their beloved beagle's brain.  Rilley even seemed very happy to see her.  We brought her up to speed on Rilley's progress over the last three and a half months and Dr. Pluhar even remarked on his amazing weight loss progress.  Since he was there back in February, Rilley has managed to shed seven pounds and is currently tipping the scales at 43 pounds!  Not bad, considering he will eat anything he can get is jaws on.
The girls first visit to the VMC!
We had made arrangements with Dr. Pluhar to leave Rilley with her.  That would give us some time to go out without having to have someone stay behind at the hotel to watch Rilley.  It also gave Dr. Pluhar the ability to do his physical check up and blood work at her leisure over the course of the day.

One important stop for us this day was a lunch date with Dr. John Ohlfest himself.  However, we still had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up.  For those of you who know us, number one on Sara and my list on ANY given day is to locate some good coffee!  So once we had a fresh cup of Caribou Coffee we thought it would be nice to show the kids around town and some of the places we had been on our previous trips.

Once we had given the kids a bit of a tour of Minneapolis, including the still roofless Metrodome (collapsed due to snow load).  We were on our way to the East Bank Campus of the University when we passed by a giant cherry on a spoon.  I kid you not!  Actually, Katherine and I had spotted a picture of it back at the hotel and I had jokingly suggested that we try to find it.  Now that I had laid eyes on it, I just had to take a moment to stop and get a picture.
"Spoonbridge and Cherry"
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Ok, with that little distraction behind us, we headed off to meet Dr. Ohlfest for lunch.  Right at the appointed time, there he was standing outside of the restaurant.  As he had said to me, despite not having met in person before, at least by being in the Discovery Channel story together we knew what the other looked like.  It makes these kinds of meetings easier!
Dr. John Ohlfest, Elizabeth and Katherine.
We all had a great discussion over lunch.  Dr, Ohlfest spoke about the Brain Tumor Program and other dogs that have benefited who are now well over a year (and sometimes a year and a half) out and are doing extremely well!  Dr. Ohlfest also told us about how the program is facing a tight financial situation.  In recent months he's been forced to lay off three staff members, including Rilley's friend Jessica Bedi who was responsible for navigating the gauntlet that is cross border shipping.  He is spending a lot of his time trying to secure more grants.  Additionally, the fiscal restraint gripping the country of late has seen a dramatic decline in philanthropic donations as well.  This news did not sit well with Sara and I as we can see the successes of the program, not to mention the sheer importance of cancer research.  Ever since we became involved with the clinical trial we've heard from countless people how their lives have been touched by brain tumours, either directly or through someone they know.

A while back I had put together a press release of sorts and had sent it out to as many Canadian and American media outlets as I could think of.  However, I did not get one single enquiry.  Did I make the fact sheet too slick?  Did I not emphasize that this research may be helping dogs at the moment but is for the greater good of mankind?  Something must be done to help Dr. Ohlfest continue his groundbreaking work.

We wrapped up our visit with a tour of the Ohlfest Brain Tumour lab.  Even to someone like myself, who is definitely not an Einstein when it comes to science, I found the tour very interesting.
The Ohlfest Brain Tumor Lab.
We even got to meet Brian Andersen.  He is the one who actually created Rilley's vaccines from his tumour cells.  Brian is not a lab technician, but rather a Neuroscience MD and Ph.D. Graduate student.  From what I understand that means he will be a Neurologist (Medical Doctor) and have a Ph.D. in neuroscience.  Yup, definitely waaaay above me on the intelligence scale.  Sara and I can honestly say that we could not ask for a better person to have Rilley's back in the fight against brain tumours!  Thank you Brian.
Brian Andersen, the man who was responsible
for making Rilley's lifesaving vaccine.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tornados in Minneapolis...and Rilley seems to like hotels!

Tornado damage in northern Minneapolis (Source: CNN)
Just in case you're following the news.  Several tornadoes ripped their way through northern Minneapolis around 1:15pm today.  According to CNN, one person has been confirmed dead.  We are fine and there doesn't seem to be any damage around here as Eagan is in the south end of the city.  But we did have some severe storms in the area.

Rilley seems to be quite at home in hotel rooms!
As for Rilley...when we came to Minneapolis back in February, we had Rilley stay at the Veterinary Medical Center  the entire time.  You see, when we came for his surgery back in November of last year, it was not a good experience with him at the hotel.  He wasn't a very well behaved little boy.  However, we have come to realize that a lot of it had to do with the tumour, medication and the surgery.  On this trip Rilley seems to be very comfortable in the hotel room and as you can see from the picture above, he feels right at home sleeping on the bed!  The severe weather today didn't even seem to affect him.

Trip #3: The dog AND the kids this time!

Skyline of Minneapolis.
This trip is a bit different than previous visits to the Twin Cities.  We decided it was time the kids come along to see the place that saved Rilley's life.  We left home on Friday after work and in an attempt to make the long drive a little easier for them, we broke it up by stopping over in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  This was roughly six hours into the trip and we arrived there around 11:30pm.
Bright-eyed and ready to hit the road....
We'll see what another 10 hours in the car will do to them!
Saturday we were up at 8am, had breakfast at the hotel, refueled and hit the road shortly before 10 o'clock.  We must admit, given that we spent close to 10 more hours in the car, only stopping twice the whole time, once for coffee at the Oasis near O'Hare airport and once for fuel when we were about 3/4's of the way through Wisconsin, the kids handled it pretty well.  We didn't hear "Are we there yet?" too often.  Rilley though, seems to be getting used to the drive and slept a lot of the way.

Oh, wait!  There was one more, 10 minute stop...apparently ever since Sara found out that Wisconsin is famous for cheese, we just had to stop and pick some up.  Fortunately, these tourist type places are conveniently located at just about every exit off of the I-94!  I must admit, despite the inconvenience of having to stop again...the garlic cheese curds Sara picked up are actually quite tasty!  (We also picked up some fudge...haven't tried that yet.)
Humbird Cheese Mart
Exit 143 on Interstate 90/94
in case you were wondering.
Finally, we got to our hotel in Minneapolis around 5:30pm.  We're actually in the suburb of Eagan, just south of the mighty Mississippi, because we needed to find a dog-friendly hotel that had direct access to the outside from the room.  This makes it easier for middle-of-the-night trips outside.  The Residence Inn is actually set up across fifteen individual buildings, each with four ground floor units and four second floor units.  We requested a ground floor room as it has a sliding door to a small (tiny actually) fenced in patio.  Although, I'm not convinced that, if left unattended, Rilley wouldn't escape...not that he hasn't tried already!
Checking out the patio.
(With Katherine keeping a watchful eye.)
"I wonder if I can squeeze through these bars?"
To wrap up a long day of travel, we looked up a pizzeria that we had tried the first time we were here.  Pizza Luce and their famous pink boxes.  To our disappointment, the closest location in St. Paul doesn't deliver to Eagan.  No matter, we ordered it as take out and Katherine and I hoped in the Jeep and drove into St. Paul to get it.  It wasn't that big of a deal though, since the hotel is right near the highway it only took us 15 minutes to get there.
Ok, so this time the box was blue...hmmm, the wonders of Photoshop...that's better!
(I hope I picked the right shade of pink...ok, maybe it's more of a fuschia.)
More to come over the next few days.  We still have Rilley's actual follow up and MRI to do.  As well we will be having lunch with the man behind the vaccine...yes, we finally get to meet up with Dr. John Ohlfest!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

All Packed and Ready for Trip #3

Back to the Twin Cities!
Our bags are packed and tomorrow we hit the road to head back to Minneapolis for Rilley's six month follow up visit and MRI.  He officially hit the six month mark back on May 4, but we wanted to take advantage of the Victoria Day long weekend to make the trip.  This trip is special because our daughters are making the trip with us.  Although I don't think they quite grasp just how long of a drive it really is.  Also on this trip we will finally get to meet Dr. John Ohlfest, the man behind the curtain who developed Rilley's custom vaccine.

Rilley had a visit with Dr. Ewing late this afternoon to have some preliminary blood work done.  During his three month follow up his blood work had some abnormalities.  He has been healthy ever since the surgery, so these anomalies were thought to possibly be from the long drive and the fact that we had him stay at the Veterinary Medical Center the whole time we were in town.  He can get himself stressed out quite easily and this may have messed with the results.  This time he will be staying with us at the hotel and the fact that the girls will be with us may help him to stay calm.

Well, it's time to get some sleep, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow as both Sara and I have to work as well.  Then it's home to grab the kids, bags and of course the beloved beagle and head out on the highway.  We will be making a stop over on the way down to avoid too much night time driving and to give the kids a break.  However, when we drive back we will be leaving directly from the University immediately after Rilley's MRI and do a non stop run home.  Hopefully the sedation from the MRI will still be in his system and make for a relaxing drive...well, at least for part of the way!  This may very well be the last post until we return as it will be a very busy few days.  However, if we get a chance to update the blog from Minneapolis we definitely will.

Stay tuned!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

MILESTONE: Six Months Since Surgery!!!!

One happy beagle...Six months post op!
Exactly six months ago today Rilley underwent surgery at the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Medical Center to remove the meningioma that was growing in his brain and to begin his experimental treatment.  As we have been posting over the last half year, he is doing extremely well and has completely returned to his old, pre-tumour self.  (Much to my chagrin at times!)  We have not seen any signs of seizure activity and on our three month return trip to Minneapolis his MRI was completely clear of any tumour cells.  We also received word that tumour antibodies were found in Rilley's blood stream; on the hunt and ready to fight any tumour cells that may try to return.  All in all it has been an exciting adventure so far and our family couldn't be happier with the results of this clinical trial thus far.

Looking forward, we will be travelling back to the univeristy later this month for Rilley's six month follow up visit and MRI.  During this trip we will finally meet Dr. John Ohlfest, the man behind the vaccine.  We had hoped to meet him and tour the lab during our last visit, but some of his other responsibilities had him busy out of town.

We realize that as time goes on and Rilley continues to do well, there is nothing much to write about, but we really do appreciate everyone's continued interest in our blog.  As of this writing, the blog sits at 4744 visits and steadily heading towards 5000 hits!

Finally, one sad note to pass along, a few weeks back we posted that Jake the Warrior had run into some trouble with his fight against brain cancer. Ultimately, Jake lost his battle that very weekend and his owners Frank and Jenn lost their best friend. While his tumour and treatment protocols were vastly different from Rilley's it serves as a stark reminder of just how devastating this disease truly is. Let's hope that the work being done at the Ohlfest Brain Tumor Lab will find a way to stop brain cancer in its tracks for both dogs and people.