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Griffin's Journey

Mar 11

It has been one month since I said goodbye to Griffin.  The sharp sting of grief has mellowed to an ache that has burrowed deep into my bones.  I still look before moving the ottoman.  I still catch myself automatically soothing, “You’re okay” when I hear a car backfire outside.  I still feel disoriented when I wake up without a solid warmth snugged up against my side.  My days feel adrift without our routine and the house is so very quiet.  I miss Griffin tremendously and I expect that I always will.

From Griffin’s diagnosis to his surgery through five different chemotherapy protocols to the very end, I was grieving.  Not every day and not all the time, but the anticipatory grief of losing him was pretty consistent and every oncology appointment that never resulted in good news brought me low again.  Each time I cycled through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression a little quicker, trying desperately to stay in a positive mindset knowing there would be plenty of time for tears later.  And now it is time for me to practice acceptance.  My beloved boy is gone, and nothing will bring him back to me.

My very wise 14-year old niece shared this quote with me: “As long as there is love and memory, there is no true loss” (Cassandra Clare).  One of the best things I did after Griffin passed was to ask everyone to share their favorite memories of him.  From family and friends, to colleagues at schools where Griffin accompanied me, to staff at the hospital that treated Griffin and the hospital where we volunteered, to my neighbors – over 100 people shared stories about Griffin.  I knew most of the stories, but the new ones were lovely surprises, as were some photos and videos that I had not previously seen.  Each story affirmed what I already knew – Griffin was an amazing soul who touched so very many people with his joy, his gentleness, his empathy, his silliness, and most of all, with his capacity for unconditional love.  Reading those shared memories is a balm to my aching heart and the document into which I have compiled them all will be a treasured legacy.

It has been one month since Griffin passed and while I feel sad every day, I am doing okay.  I go for daily walks in our favorite park.  I attended an individual therapy session and a pet loss support group meeting.  I started volunteering with a local dog rescue processing adoption applications and completed initial steps to become a volunteer with two other organizations.  I am steadily working through a list of spring cleaning tasks.  I have buckled down to find a full-time job.  I am reading a ton of books.

One of those books was The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift by (Rabbi) Steve Leder.  He writes, “We lose so much love to death, and if that love was real and deep, the grief is real and deep.  Grief is not a race to be won or an illness to be cured.  To deny grief its due is to deny love.”  I am very lucky to have the support of so many and no one would question my need to grieve, but somehow reading that passage really made plain to me in a way that I did not fully understand before that love and grief go hand in hand, mirroring each other in their depths.  It is comforting to think that when my grieving is over, the beauty of our love will remain.

On a practical level, I know that how long or how much I grieve will not change the fact that Griffin is no longer by my side.  And so from a self-preservation perspective, I try to focus on gratitude rather than sadness.  I am grateful for so many things about how Griffin passed – that he did so peacefully at home, that he was not in pain or scared, and that it was so clearly his time to go.  I am grateful for the 11 years that I shared with Griffin, and considering we were rarely apart even when I was working, it probably adds up to far more time than most people get to spend with their pups.  I am grateful for Griffin’s magic, as evident in the outpouring of stories, and that I lived in the presence of that magic up close each day.  I am grateful that Griffin inspired me to work towards a healthier lifestyle and made even the bitterly cold morning walks fun.  I am grateful for all that Griffin taught me – patience, kindness, being fully present, determination, curiosity, and finding joy every day.  Griffin truly was the sunshine of my life and I will love him forever.

One day I will create a video to celebrate all of Griffin’s life, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these photos that each represent a year, from 2010-2021, that Griffin spread his sunshine to all of us.  Thank you all for the love and support that you gifted us throughout Griffin’s journey.  May his memory be a blessing.

Jan 18

Griffin turned 11 years old today!  We celebrated with an extended morning romp in the park with Griffin’s best friend, Murphy, and a brief family Zoom party this evening.  Griffin chowed down on a chicken and lamb meatloaf cake with Velveeta frosting.  [Fun fact – The blue candle on his meatloaf cake is from Griffin’s very first birthday 10 years ago!] Earlier today we delivered some goodie bags to Griffin’s friends in our apartment building that contained delicious pupcakes and squeaky birthday tennis balls.  What a fun day!

Griffin celebrated his 9 month ampuversary in Buffalo, NY.  We were so happy to visit my mom, 2 sisters, and 2 nieces whom we had not seen in a year due to the pandemic.  My niece, Abby, accompanied us on daily walks in her neighborhood and she always made sure to give Griffin lots of treats in the afternoons.  Abby had a dream about Griffin while we were visiting and was kind enough to type it up for me!

Griffin started his 5th chemo protocol (Chlorambucil) 11 days ago and has not exhibited any negative side effects.  His cough, likely due to a combination of acid reflux and the lung tumors, is limited to a handful of times each day, most often occurring during the night hours after Griffin has been laying down for an extended period of time.  Aside from the cough, Griffin is healthy and in good spirits.  His weight is stable, his appetite is strong, he loves eating treats and playing with toys (especially squeaky balls that belong to Murphy), and eagerly runs out the door for our daily morning walks no matter the weather.

♥ We hope that 2021 brings good health, great adventures, and much happiness to all of you! ♥

Dec 26

Griffin and I were lucky enough to have an extended stay with my godchildren this month where we experienced the first snow of the season!  Griffin has always loved the snow and I was so happy to see him romping with the kids.  During our visit, Griffin also  supervised virtual learning, went for walks in the foggy park, took some well-deserved naps, toured the neighborhood to check out the Christmas decorations, guarded the children while they were sleeping, and learned a bit about playing rugby.

After returning to NYC, Griffin had an oncology appointment on December 23, 2020, where chest x-rays showed that unfortunately, his lung metastasis has continued to progress.  Griffin had been taking cyclophosphamide (metronomic chemotherapy) for 7 weeks, so the growth of existing tumors and new ones signaled that the chemo was not working.  I made the decision to change Griffin’s metronomic drug to chlorambucil, which will be his 5th type of chemo.  Griffin tolerated very well 3 of the 4 previous chemo drugs (carboplatin, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide), so I feel comfortable giving a new one a try.  If there are any signs that he is not doing well (as occurred with palladia when he stopped eating), I will immediately stop.  It is possible that the chemo is having no effect, but it is also possible that the chemo is slowing the growth of the lung tumors and in the meantime, doing something feels better than doing nothing.  Aside from the x-rays, Griffin exhibits no side effects from the lung tumors.  The oncology team said that his breathing sounded good (no wheezing or crackles) and he is still active, playing fetch and walking a mile each day.  I was recently reminded (thanks, Rene!) that very little about Griffin’s tripawd journey has been normal, and I’m holding onto that true statement with hope that he will continue to defy the odds.

One new medical concern is a cough that Griffin developed about a month ago that his oncologist believes is related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  The cough is a hacking, non-productive cough that ends with Griffin gagging and swallowing.  It never occurs when he is active and almost always occurs when he has been lying flat for a period of time.  The episodes are short (5-10 seconds) and occur 6-7 times a day at their worst.  His oncologist first recommended famotidine (Pepcid, 20mg/day), which worked well for about a week (reducing his coughing episodes to 1-2 times per day) before the cough resumed at the previous levels.  We added omeprazole (Prilosec, 20mg/day) a few days ago and it seems that the combination of the 2 drugs is having a positive impact.  I also try to elevate his head when he is sleeping on the floor (my mom sent Griffin a 2-foot long Lamb Chop stuffie, which works great as a pillow!) and I feed him 3 smaller meals each day.

In the meantime, Griffin and I continue to enjoy every day we have together.  He was able to frolic in the NYC snow for a day after we returned, making a few snow angels and leaving 3-legged paw prints along our walk.  He loves spending time with his bestie, Murphy (a mini-goldendoodle), racing to see who is first in getting to the ball that Murphy’s mom endlessly throws for them.  Our Christmas was a quiet one with just the two of us at home, but with the results of my most recent covid test back quickly, we are heading to Buffalo, NY tomorrow to see my mom, sisters, and nieces whom we haven’t seen in a year.

Griffin and I hope that your holidays have been filled with peace and love, and that 2021 brings good health and great joy to you and your loved ones!

Dec 02

 

 

Today is Griffin’s

8 month

ampuversary!

 

He continues to live his life to the fullest and regularly amazes people we meet who cannot believe he has been a tripawd only since April and will turn 11 years old next month!  He looks forward to our daily walks, rain or shine, and has really enjoyed playing in the leaves this autumn.

Griffin’s appointment at AMC last week went very well.  He gained back about 1.3lbs and he is still considered to be in ideal body condition.  The results of his bloodwork and urinalysis were normal, and his oncology team is very pleased how well he is doing with the new metronomic chemo protocol.  So, I was extra thankful on Thanksgiving!

My dad and I traveled to northern Virginia to visit my sister’s family for the holiday.  My nieces, Valerie (11) and Victoria (5), both adore Griffin, but that wasn’t always the case.  Valerie is only 5 months older than Griffin and as a toddler, would literally climb her father’s body while screaming to get away from Griffin.  Over the years, Griffin worked his magic on Valerie, and she was such a tremendous help this trip, coming with us on every walk, holding Griffin’s leash, pushing his wagon, and getting him water on our hikes.  Victoria has always loved Griffin, giving lots of hugs (a bit too tight sometimes!), tucking him in under a blanket at night, and having him sleep next to her.  I think it is pretty funny that Griffin’s smile matches each of the girls’ smiles in the photos below!

One excursion we took without Griffin was to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (Vienna, VA) to experience their Winter Walk of Lights, which was fantastic!  I look forward to other outdoor holiday events this season and hope that you are finding moments of joy in spite of the continued challenges of 2020!

Nov 21

Griffin is loving the mostly cooler fall weather, although in the last few weeks we’ve had coat-less days in the high 60s and other mornings with temperatures below freezing.  We are on day 18 of Griffin’s latest metronomic chemotherapy protocol, and so far, I have not observed any side effects.  Griffin’s appetite is great, his energy level is high, and he remains playful and affectionate.  He was groomed recently, and I noticed some changes in his hair that are likely a result of the chemo.  Specifically, the hair along his back is darker than before and the texture is wavier.  I wonder if those changes will be permanent since they are confined mostly to his back and not all over his body, but regardless, he remains the most handsome boy!  We will return to the Animal Medical Center on November 24, 2020 for a physical exam, bloodwork, and a urinalysis (cyclophosphamide is known to irritate the bladder), but we won’t repeat x-rays until January to give the drugs time to work.

To make up for the rather short update due to life being pretty normal, please enjoy these autumn photos and videos of Grifin!

What a difference a few weeks make!  On the left, pretty fall foliage on October 30th.  On the right, bare trees on November 20th.

Pre and post haircut…shaggy versus sleek!

The temperature hit 68º on November 7th and on November 19th it was 31º!

Enjoying a little nibble of grass…

…and a good back scratching session…

…and a romp in the leaves (I only caught the tail end of his zoomies that day)…

…and no day is finished without a round or two of fetch!