Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The End

I am sad to say that Hannibal lost his battle with cancer yesterday.

Ten and half years ago a friend, who was a vet, called me to ask if I would foster a puppy. She warned me I might want to keep him because he was of the "giant" size dogs that I have such a soft spot for. My husband and I agreed to foster him. I remember the day we picked him up. She walked out of her house carrying him...all I saw was legs and ears, because that is all he was. At 9 weeks old he appeared to be walking on stilts and his ears were so large it looked as if he could take flight. We instantly fell in love and Hannibal (or "Fran" as he was affectionately known by the people who loved him) was by far the smartest "dumb" decision I have ever made.

He was a terrible puppy...into everything. He was so bad he had to be tethered to our coffee table at times to keep him from getting into trouble. That worked until he was strong enough to pull the coffee table around the house. He was then was tethered to the couch, that didn't last long because he was soon able to drag the couch from room to room. He quickly became very tall and he used that to his advantage. He brought us our dirty dishes out of the sink, and would proceed to "help" us clean them. He also had an affinity for standing on things he wasn't supposed to...I came downstairs one day when he was about a year old to find him standing, quite happily, on our coffee table. He also liked to stand on a very small table (meant to hold a plant) that was outside, he would just stand on it with all four feet grouped together, giving us a look that said "What?".

He was the happiest dog you ever met, not a care in the world. Everyone was his friend and every dog and cat his playmate. As large as he was, he was welcome everywhere, all my family and friends have had Fran visit at some point. As he grew older a very dignified, caring dog emerged. He was the most appropriate dog I have ever met, he knew his place in every situation. I could put him in with a pack of strange dogs and he would be friends with all of them by the end. He loved children and all animals. He was especially good with the elderly. My beloved great Aunt Alice, who always welcomed me and any animal I had into her home, used a walker in her last few years and was quite fragile. Hannibal would go to her and when he got just out of her reach he would stop and lean in towards her with his long neck, careful not to bump her, so she could pet him on the head. He also limited his tail wagging around her. Hannibal had a phenomenal tail, half the length of his body, he won a contest for the longest tail at a bark in the park event. He was notorious for being exactly the right height for striking the groin area on men. He has brought most of the male members of my family to their knees at some point or another. But with my Aunt Alice, he controlled it...as best he could.

Hannibal was not sick a day in his life, so when I saw his lymph nodes were enlarged July 7, 2007, one month after we moved to Georgia, my heart stopped. I have worked as a veterinary technician for many years and I knew deep down what he had. As I drove him 10 hours to the clinic I had worked at in Virginia I kept trying to reassure myself...he was not sick yet, I had caught it early, the mantra I had heard repeated in clinics for years...of all the cancers for a dog to get, you want lymphoma. And that is exactly what he had. Stage 4a B-cell lymphoma to be precise. So began our 19 month journey. Fran faced this as he did everything, happily optimistic and oblivious to the seriousness of the situation. But who could blame him...he felt fine. A dog with lymphoma in remission is virtually identical to a completely healthy dog. Fran happily went to the oncologist every week, excited to ride in the car and see his new friends. Chemo for dogs is thankfully nothing like it is for humans, he got his shot and came home and continued to do everything he always did. He was never nauseous, never depressed and tackled every meal with zeal. I was warned with every dose of chemo that his white blood cell count could drop...never happened, he defied everyone by staying relatively healthy.

In August 2008 he came out of remission, a slight swelling of his sub mandibular lymph nodes. We started chemo again, only this time it didn't work. The lymphoma was fighting back, he was resistant. Still Hannibal was not sick. We began rescue drugs to try and get him into remission if we were lucky, and at the least stable disease. We tried them all, the last this past Tuesday. It seemed to be working. Fran had a wonderful week, even Sunday he was great. Then at 11:00 pm Sunday evening, everything changed for him and us. After excitedly eating his dinner approximately 4 hours earlier, he refused his pills. Not normal considering they are wrapped in lunch meat. I immediately began checking vitals, only to find he had a temp of 105.4 and his attitude had changed...my happy, optimistic boy seemed depressed. I called my husband home from work and together we drove him to University of Georgia Veterinary Hospital where his oncologist was. He was started on fluids and antibiotics, fearing he finally had a drop in his white cell count. But not my Fran, his blood work was normal as always. That left only one reason for his illness...lymphoma.

My husband and I had agreed early on that we would not allow Hannibal to be sick, he had not been sick a day in 10.5 years, we would not allow it now. So on the morning of November 10, 2008, 19 months and 3 days from his diagnosis, we held our Fran while he was humanly euthanized, less than 9 hours after he first felt sick. Prior to this we sat with him and gave him hugs and told him how good he was. We gave him a hug from my parents, Joe and Linda, who couldn't be there. And we told him how many people were going to miss him. Fran left with the same dignity he had in life, brave, stoic and trusting to the end.

I will miss him forever, he touched so many people . My certified therapy dog who always knew how to act in every situation. My traveling companion who logged nearly as many miles I did over years, going with me everywhere. My protector and constant companion. Losing him is unbearable but never having known him would have been much worse.

Goodbye, my Fran Fran. We will always love you.

Donna and Walter

Monday, November 3, 2008


Sorry it has been so long. Things have gone as smoothly as the first time I did this. Donna told me that the chemo isn't working this time. Three weeks ago I had to start what they call "rescue" drugs. I don't fully understand but apparently they use these when the other chemo does not work anymore. Donna understands and it was the first time I saw her get upset, she assured me that it was ok...but I am suspicious. I don't like her upset and did my best to show her it was ok. But, I haven't felt as well lately. I still like to eat (alot, especially my chicken nuggets) and go outside. I am a little more tired and I feel a little weaker. It's ok, Donna and Walter have been real good to me and really spoiling me. I sleep in their bed all the time and they even move if I don't seem comfortable. I'll tell you a secret sometimes I fake it a little so one of them will give me more room!

I go tomorrow for more rescue drugs, the last couple of days my back legs seem weaker and I don't think I feel them as well as I used to. Donna is worried, so I show her that I can still do the stairs, but I like her to go up behind me in case I stumble. She has caught me a few times, I was impressed because I am a big boy!

Donna reminded me of something the other day. When I was much younger, Walter and Donna took me to a thing called "Bark in the Park" in Columbus, Ohio where we lived. I must have been around 1-2 years old. They had all this fun stuff for us dogs to do. I ran and played with other dogs and also met all sorts of people. I also passed my Canine Good Citizens Test and Therapy Dog International tests at this party. What she reminded me of was that they had "bobbing for hot dogs" (Donna said people do this game but with apples). Do you know that I was the only dog there that would stick his whole head under water to get the hot dogs?! I remember standing and looking at the other dogs (some were even labs...water dogs, right!) and none of them would go get all those yummy hot dogs at the bottom of the big bucket. So I just stuck my head right in and came up with hot dog after hot dog. I also got excited because all the people clapped and cheered, I always have liked that more then any treat. That was a good day. I hope I have some more good days soon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bad News

So I am told that my cancer is back...oddly I feel fine. I figure since I don't ever feel sick I shouldn't worry about it. Donna says we get to go to the hospital a lot more again. I like the hospital, it reminds me of when Donna used to take me to work with her when she worked in clinics. I am told it is not normal for me to like hospitals but everyone is really nice and I get to see other dogs...even some with cancer like me. I know they poke me but it doesn't really hurt. Also since all this started every time we go to the hospital, Donna gets me chicken nuggets after we are done...every time!

So today was a really long day, they poked at my neck, I overheard something about needing cytologies from my lymph nodes. They also took blood from me, but just a little. I used to donate blood when I a younger dog to help other dogs that Donna and Walter said were very sick. So I can sit very still and get a LOT more drawn then they took today...but no one tell them ok! The hospitals liked me being a donor because I was so big and could give a large amount. I was just annoyed I never got to meet the dogs I helped, Donna said it was OK and they were very appreciative and I was a hero to those dogs. I think she is a bit dramatic!
Then I waited while they looked at all this stuff. This was OK because I get to watch everything going on. I try really hard to get every one's attention, sometimes it works. After they got the results they went and told Donna, why no one discusses it with me I have never figured out! When they came back they gave me chemo again...I thought we were done with it! It's OK though, I do pretty good with it, none of it makes me sick. After this I started thinking about the chicken nuggets I knew I was going to get...when they started to take me back to Donna I decided that they were not going fast enough and thought it would help if I pulled them down the hall...for some reason humans have never liked being pulled anywhere, but they didn't understand that the faster I got to Donna, the faster we could get in the car and the faster we would get to that magic drive-thru thing where the people just hand chicken nuggets out a window!!!
{Please make sure all dogs know about this magic window, all sorts of food comes out it!!!}

So I have had a long day, I got my chemo again, I ate my chicken nuggets, rode in the car, ate my dinner when we got home, took my pills and now I am going to lay down and nap (in Donna and Walter's bed of course!).


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Story

Hi, my name is Hannibal. I am a 10 year old Great Dane mix. I have cancer...lymphoma to be exact. To be even more precise I have Stage 4a B-cell Lymphoma. I was diagnosed on July 7, 2007 and have been in remission for 13 months, I am told that is a long time. Unfortunately, my humans, Donna and Walter think I have come out of remission and so I am going to see my oncologist tomorrow.

Let me tell you a little more about myself. First, I am told that I am the BEST DOG IN THE WORLD....I am also told I wasn't always, especially when I was little. I live with two humans Donna and Walter, they are a little crazy but they spoil me so it's OK, I do my best to keep them in line. I also live with my best friend Vergil, a 7 year old mastiff, and two younger more annoying ones; a mix named Aggie and an American bulldog mix named Buford. I am in charge of everyone and I am pretty good at it. We also have 5 cats that are actually pretty cool...for cats.

Donna and Walter got me in Ohio when I was very young. I had another human once but it didn't work out, he wanted me to be a guard dog for his mechanics business and he wasn't very nice to me. Then I got really sick with what they call parvo, this person had me treated but while I was in the hospital he had motion sensors put in his shop and when I went back I kept setting them off, so he took me to the hospital where I had been hospitalized and told them to take me or he was going to get "rid of me" (Donna and Walter won't tell me what that means). The vet who treated me took me and called Donna, who she was friends with. She knew Donna would help me and be a sucker for me. Donna LOVES big, big dogs and already had a bullmastiff named Grady, (who would become one of my favorite friends of all time). Lucky for me, Donna said she would help me but only if Grady liked me. I did my very best, which was hard at 10 weeks old to make Grady like me and it must have worked because he did and so I came to live with Donna and Walter forever.

Having come from an abusive past, I initially was worried about pleasing everybody, and I was very scared that Donna and Walter would leave me (they called it separation anxiety). It took many years but I finally realized that they would never leave me. I was apparently a very happy, hyper puppy...and got into alot of things. I used to like to stand on Donna's coffee table, she didn't think it was funny especially when I weighed over 100 pounds. I also got very tall, very quick and I liked to help Donna and Walter with the dishes, so since I could reach the sink I would take the dirty dishes out and "help" them clean them...for some reason they didn't think I was helping (I let them do the dishes now). Over time I calmed down and settled into life with my humans.

I am proud to say that I am a retired therapy dog and I used to enjoy visiting with people and kids. I also used to do advanced level obedience and even some agility for fun. As tall as I am I really liked going through the tunnels, I did a super fast "commando crawl"! I have never met a dog I didn't like and I am pretty level headed. Donna uses the phrase "rock solid temperament". I also had never been sick a day in my life until that day in July 2007.

We moved to Georgia May 30, 2007. I went and sat the closing of our house (Donna and Walter didn't want to leave me in car and I got invited in!), I was told I was the first dog to ever do that and they said I was a "gentlemen". All was well for about a month and then at the beginning of July, Donna noticed I had lumps on my neck and back legs. Donna got real upset...she used to work in clinics and so she knew it what was wrong with me. I just felt a little tired, I was 9 years old! Since we didn't know anyone in Georgia yet, she put me in the car and off we went all the way back to Northern Virginia to the Regional Veterinary Referral Center, where Donna used to work and where they had an oncologist (she says they are the best vets in the world!). Let me say because of that separation anxiety thing I had, I LOVE the car and going places, even if it is just around the block. I think my favorite thing in the whole world is to go "bye bye"!!! Also because Donna worked in clinics I used to go to work with her all the time, I LOVE clinics. I know I am not supposed to...but I always have fun at clinics and get to see human friends and other dogs. So I was fine heading to NOVA! When we got there I had to go see all the specialists, I saw the oncologist, internal medicine, cardiology and even surgery. The worst thing was the bone marrow biopsy, but I went to sleep for it and it wasn't too bad. The cardiologist said that my heart was perfect and would be OK for chemo. The internal medicine specialist checked my belly, he is the one that found the spots on my spleen. I have two spots, both are lymphoma, but they don't bother me. Then the oncologist started my chemo (she did the bone marrow biopsy too), it actually wasn't bad. I am told we are not like humans and rarely get sick. SO that began my journey into cancer. I began chemo July 2007 and finished it 8 months later in Georgia at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital (you didn't think she drove me 10 hours each way every week! By the way she says these vets are also amazing!), still in remission...that is until now. I will find out tomorrow if I am out of remission.

Donna and Walter have been really strong for me, I know they get upset and I try to show them that I feel fine. And I do feel fine, I have never been "sick", I lost a little weight but still weigh what I always had when I was younger. I still eat my food...although I have convinced Donna that I will only eat when she puts cooked ground beef over my food (Vergil likes this as he gets a little on his food too)! I play with all my friends and even discipline them when they get out of line. I managed to convince Walter that I should sleep in the bed, which he agreed. In fact I started a whole new rule: only dogs with cancer get to sleep in the bed! I celebrated my 10th birthday July 28, 2008 and got all sorts of treats. I know the humans are worried but even though my lymph nodes seem big again, I still feel good!

I will update my status soon...I thought I might be able to help other humans going through this with their canine friends and I hope I can. I really like meeting and helping people. I welcome comments and questions!!!