Update on Willy the Rescue Dog

Just over two months ago, we adopted Willy the Australian Shepherd. I first wrote about how happy I was to have him as a new member of our family. Then all hell broke loose and he decided that he wanted to chase everything under the sun, including runners, cyclists, trains, loud trucks, and so on. My knee started to hurt from him jerking me as he took off after things. In the house, he was the dream pet, but outside, he became my little nightmare.

I admit that I had moments where I thought we had made a mistake by bringing Willy into our home. As my knee and back throbbed in pain from getting literally yanked around by my dog, I said the words aloud to my husband that I never would dare utter to anyone else, “I just don’t know if I can do it.” I hate thinking of myself as a quitter, and I did not want to give up on Willy. I looked at him with such love and wondered about his life prior to us. He was a stray when he was found. How long had he been on the streets? I knew he had lived with a foster home for about 10 weeks. How many other homes had he lived in? Had others given up on him? How many others?

I looked at Willy as I had these doubts creeping into my head and felt truly guilty. I did not want to be one in a string of new homes he got shuffled back and forth, in and out of. But, he was hurting me and, after breaking leashes twice so he could run after trains, I felt he was putting his and my life in danger. He loved to run and I so desperately wanted him to be my running partner. I had seen glimpses of real potential that first week, but now wondered if we would ever really be able to enjoy running as a team.

As we approached our two month anniversary together, I wondered if my husband resented having Willy in the house. An extra dog was creating more work and more expense. I had wanted the dog, after all, not him. I felt guilty every time I asked Steve to do something with or for Willy. I was the one who wanted the dog. I should be dealing with him. Then, one day, Steve sat on the love seat, scratching Willy’s ears and he said, “I really love this guy!” At that moment, my heart just melted. I knew I was carrying the burden of most of Willy’s ill behavior. But I knew that Willy was now really, truly, officially part of our family. I could not give up on him.

A Boy & his Dog

A Boy & his Dog

We have made so much progress in such a short period of time. He now rarely lunges at a runner or cyclist. He still gets excited for trains, but not in the same frenzy he once had. He is actually fun to run with now. There is no better feeling that coming home to his unbridled enthusiasm and excitement. No one has ever been so genuinely happy to see me every single time I walk in the door as Willy has been. The lady from the dog rescue had talked about different phases that you go through with a rescue dog, and the trainer talked about “3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months.” The first three days are the adjustment to a new home. The next three weeks are the honeymoon period and the three month mark is when you really see what your dog is like. I felt like we had skipped right over the “honeymoon period”. However, as we are working towards the three-month mark, we are seeing what a truly awesome dog Willy is and we are so glad we have him in our home and in our family.

Willy smiling on Section 16

Willy smiling on Section 16

Willy has acquired several nicknames along the way. There is Boxcar Willy (because he chased trains), Shotgun Willy (Because he always wants to ride shotgun in the car), his mobster name Tiny Ears Willy (because Peyton thinks he has tiny ears), and when his hair gets crazy, I call him Willy Idol (you have to be a child of the 80s to understand that one). We suspect he lived in a McDonald’s dumpster previously because he refuses fruits and veggies but loves to eat ice cream and french fries. He has a sense of humor and likes to steal gloves and socks. He loves to be chased.

Willy is, without a doubt, a full-fledged member of our family. I am so glad I did not give up in those really difficult weeks. Any adopted animal is going to have some issues. Our commitment to training and loving him seems to be really doing the trick. Willy is in his forever home, where he will be loved now and always.

Greta & Willy playing

Greta & Willy playing

The Significance of a Dog

We added a new member to our family this week. Meet Willy, the Australian Shepherd rescue.

At his foster mom's house

At his foster mom’s house

I recently have thought about how I spend a lot of time alone on the trails. I never used to think twice about going out on the trails solo, but as of late, have been hesitant to do it. I wondered why I suddenly got spooked while out alone on the trails. Was I just getting wimpy? What has made the difference? I thought back to when I first started running a lot of the more remote single track trails in our area and realized that I used to run with my big white German Shepherd, Klondike. He was my companion on my solo adventures and I never felt frightened or alone when we were together.

Klondike

Klondike

Klondike was my best friend who went everywhere with me. I still miss him, even though he died years ago. While I know I cannot rely on a dog for protection, I just feel safer and more secure with a canine by my side.

So I began the process of looking for a running companion. The dog would ideally be between 1-2 years of age, and of a breed that is built for the long haul. This brought me to the Western Australian Shepherd rescue organization.

http://www.westernaustralianshepherdrescue.com/

I filled out an application and we were matched with Willy (originally known as Riku, but he did not answer to that name). Willy was a stray that was found wandering the streets of Houston. He was brought north to Denver and lived with a foster family for 2.5 months. They kept getting lots applications for him because he is beautiful, but most of the people who applied had no understanding of the amount of exercise that this type of dog requires on a regular basis. Then we came along. I sent in an application that said I was looking for an intelligent and energetic companion. Soon, a match was made.

Willy & Riley

Willy & Riley

Willy came home with us Sunday afternoon and has settled in well so far.

Willy & Peyton

Willy & Peyton

He and I have developed a running routine already, which thrills me. He loves to run perhaps as much as I do.I  know over time he will become the best running partner.

It occurred to me after we got Willy and brought him home that there is something significant to my adopting a dog at this point in time. It means I am not putting my life on hold to see if I will be well long-term. It means that I am confident about my health and my future. It means that I have let down my guard enough to stop wondering about the “what ifs” everyday. In fact, I now rarely ever think about my cancer coming back. I would not have adopted a dog if I thought I might be too sick to care for it properly. I thought for a brief moment, “What if I have a recurrence?” But, I immediately put that thought out of my mind. It is not going to happen. We will be OK. Adopting Willy means that I just know that I am going to be fine.

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My heart feels happy and whole. Welcome home, Willy.

I Guess I Really Did Have Cancer

Yesterday marked exactly one year since I found out that I had pancreatic cancer. The date was November 22, 2013. I will never forget the date, in part because it is also my father’s birthday. I still feel badly about delivering that news to my family on my dad’s birthday.

A couple of weeks ago, I sought out a second opinion from another oncologist. This has nothing to do with the care I have received. It has everything to do with my own peace of mind. I really should have sought this opinion last November or December, but my insurance company fought me and denied me so many times that I just gave up. For some reason, I could never shake the feeling that I should have gotten that second opinion. This may sound silly, but there was even a little voice in my head that wondered if the original pathologists had been wrong. Perhaps I never had Pancreatic Cancer after all!

On November 21, 2014, one day shy of the anniversary of my original diagnosis, I heard back from the doctor’s office where I had sought out a second opinion. Not surprisingly, my original diagnosis was confirmed. I honestly felt only relief at hearing the news a second time. I was happy to hear that I could now put to rest any lingering questions I had. Yes, I had Pancreatic Cancer. Yes, I am glad I went through surgery and 18 rounds of chemotherapy. I have no regrets about the path I took, and though I am sorry my family had to experience so much pain, I know it was with a purpose.

Denial is a powerful thing, but I think my continued sense of denial helped me through this last year. I rarely thought of myself as a Cancer patient. I thought of myself as a really healthy runner who had a touch of cancer. I think that is part of why I was able to do the things I did all through my chemotherapy. I was not “sick”. I was a healthy person in a temporarily unfortunate set of circumstances.

I have written previously about seeking peace of mind. Even though I got my second opinion much later than I would have liked, and I had to pay for it out of pocket, it has helped me achieve some of the peace of mind that I have been seeking. It was truly worth every penny simply to hear, “Yes, your original diagnosis stands.” To anyone facing a major medical condition, I highly encourage seeking out that second opinion. There is no price tag that can be placed on knowing that you are on the correct path.

One of my goals going forward is to eliminate from my life things that take away from my own sense of mental peace and calmness. During treatment, I was pretty good at establishing my boundaries, and most people respected them. As I have gotten healthier, I am allowing obligations to creep into my life that in no way contribute to my own sense of emotional well being. I take ownership of this. It is my own fault when I find myself agreeing to responsibilities that do not add to my own quality of life. On the one hand, I am pleased that I am now getting healthy enough that some of the lessons Cancer taught me are not always in the forefront of my mind. On the other hand, those lessons were so valuable to me as a person, and to my family as a whole, that I will do everything in my power not to forget what I have learned. As a mother of daughters, I try to live my values and lead by example. I know I personally struggle with attempting to please others while honoring my own needs. As I work towards my second year as a Pancreatic Cancer survivor, I owe it to myself and my family to continue to evaluate the choices I make. What adds to our lives and what detracts from the time we have together? I sure hope I have another 45 years of healthy living, but I cannot afford to take one day for granted.

Why We Go Home

Our trip to visit family in upstate NY and VT continued this week. We typically venture east to see family once per year. While I was going through chemotherapy, it became critically important to me to make the trip this year. I wanted to see my family and to physically be able to hug and touch the people I love. I wanted to get away from all of the distractions of our day to day lives so we could just focus on one another. I needed to take care of my soul.

We spent time at the beach on Lake Champlain.

We enjoyed spending time with Stephen’s family in Clifton Park. We saw his mom, most of his six siblings and their families. There is a special kind of party-like atmosphere when a large family gets together. I always love seeing the cousins on the Smith side running around together, even when they have not seen one another for a year or more.

This is Stephen and his mom, my Mother-in-law. She is really a great lady and I am fortunate to be a part of their family.

We ran along the Erie Canal. The east coast trails are so different from western trails, but they are beautiful in their own unique way.

We ran around some of the historic sights of Plattsburgh, NY. We ran through the now closed Plattsburgh Air Force base.

We ran by monuments and historic buildings that I had seen a million times growing up. For some reason, on this trip they seemed both fascinating and beautiful in a whole new way.

We gathered four generations of women from my family together.

We spent time with friends. We saw Bridget and Curtiss. Curtiss is a chef who became passionate about creating healthy and therapeutic recipes for his wife during her cancer treatments. He contacted me during my chemotherapy and shared his experiences and his knowledge with me because he truly cares about other people. I was so happy to be able to see him and Bridget so I could thank him in person. Most of our evening conversation had nothing to do with cancer. However, when we eventually got around to discussing that topic, it was such a comfort to talk with another couple who understands what Stephen and I have been through together this year. As we shared our experiences, it felt reaffirming to be able to say repeatedly, “Yes! I have thought those same exact things!”

Curtiss’s website is below. He has a cookbook and recipes available online. It is definitely worth checking out if you or someone you care about has cancer, or if you just love good food.

http://www.pinkribboncooking.com

We had drinks with Karin and Tim. Karin is a lady I have known since sixth grade. She is a fitness instructor who teaches classes at a gym where I once taught a million years ago. Karin inspires so many people to become better, healthier versions of themselves. Her love for teaching fitness is obvious and her desire to bring new classes to her pupils is admirable. We talked about all of the good things in our lives, but it was the conversation about our vulnerabilities that has stayed with me. Thank you, Karin, for sharing both your joys and your concerns with me, and for letting me share mine with you.

There is one last thing I want to address about reunions. When I see someone I have not seen in a long time, I guarantee that I am not thinking about whether that person has gained or lost weight, or whether he or she has aged well, or about any of the other things people tend to worry about. If I want to see someone, it is because I just want to be with that person. Spend time with people who care about you without worrying about superficial stuff that just does not matter. The day may come when there is suddenly no more time, and you will wish you had not been so concerned with things that no one else notices.

When we first arrived in NY, I felt somewhat overwhelmed. I tried hard to put into words what the experience was, but it was difficult. I had wanted for months to go home to my family, and then suddenly when I was there, I felt odd, different, and somehow like I was living in some strange parallel universe. My life over the last ten months has been so completely different than what it had ever been before. My little nuclear family has been consumed with cancer, chemotherapy, illness and cure. Yet coming home has made me realize that everyone else’s lives have gone on pretty much as they always have. We are separated by so much distance that there is no way anyone who lives across the country can truly understand our day to day experience. The only thing I could liken it to is when a soldier comes home from a long deployment. I imagine the soldier builds up the reunion in his mind, as does his family. He comes home and tries to communicate some of his experience to the people he loves. People can intellectually understand some of it, but on an emotional level, they just have no comprehension of what the soldier has experienced. There is a disconnect, and both parties know it.

It took me most of the trip to sort these feelings out. I had a conversation on the beach with my sister who told me how relieved she was that I was still me. I had not changed. I was still the same person. On some level, I do feel different. I feel like some things within me have changed. But by the end of my trip, I too realized that I was the same person I had been a year ago. I am still me. While my experiences have changed me in certain ways, I am still essentially the same human being. I needed to see to see myself through the eyes of people who know me well.

This is why we go home, after all. To rediscover who we are.

Normalcy

When I got my cancer diagnosis, suddenly thoughts of cancer started to dominate every aspect of my life. The chemo port in my chest is a constant reminder that something is terribly wrong. My life is different in ways large and small right now. I crave to sense of normalcy from my pre diagnosis days. I want to be concerned with the mundane aspects of life.

 So, even thought it was -4 windchill with several inches of snow on the ground here yesterday, my husband and I went for a run. It is just what we do. We were both runners when we met, and we built our relationship over hours, days, weeks, months and years of running together. We are not a dinner and a movie kind of couple. We prefer to be out, pounding out miles together, discussing everything from the very run of the mill (what are we having for dinner) to much deeper topics. We have solved major problems in our life while out doing long runs together.

  A month after we met, we ran the Wyoming marathon together. It was a small field, and I came in first female. Here we are at the finish.

A week later, we ran the Taos marathon together. Soon afterwards, we ran the snow mountain ranch marathon together. We have run countless miles and races together since then.  Running is a very big part of our relationship. It is a special bond we have together. When I ran the Vermont 100 this past summer, it was my husband who ran with me for 30 miles through the night, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else with me during my first 100 miler.

 So yesterday, we hit the trails despite the cold, windy, snowy weather.

And after a frigid run, we took our youngest daughter to American girl. She has been saving up to buy Caroline.

And then we came home and watched the football playoffs and had dinner together as a family. Even though I am very much aware of what is to come in the next week, it felt as close to normal as it is going to be for a while. I am grateful for normal.