Shadow's Story - The Big C

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Update 5/30: After 24 hours on prednisone he ate his first real meal in almost a month tonight (all by himself) and I cried, we all held our breath and then tried to contain our excitement and remind ourselves that this is part of palliative care. He's responding to the steroids, which is good, but it isn't signs of recovery--just a temporary reprieve. <3 We are now creating his official bucket list and we plan to make whatever time he has left nothing short of lovely surrounded by his family.

Update 5/29: Shadow received his final diagnosis today. He has cancer in his kidneys, liver and lymph nodes surrounding them. He will not recover from this long-term and we have begun palliative care.  

We will have to make a decision in the coming days and weeks as to when to finally let him go based on how he does. As such, we are only trying to raise enough funds to cover his palliative care, his last visit to the third hospital we went to and his final good-bye. After we got the news yesterday we temporarily shut down our gofundme, feeling completely lost and hopeless and certain no one would want to contribute to a fund for a dog with so little certainty as to how long he'd live, but after talking to a good friend, we've opened it back up again so that those who still wish to give may do so. Our digital downloads will continue to be made available for purchase by those who donate and have promo codes as well as for those who simply wish to purchase them. These funds will help us continue to pay for his palliative care (the diagnostic care he received that we financed) and his final good-bye. They are available here: https://www.familyadhd.com/product-category/wallpaper-for-shadow

You can read the full update on his story here: https://www.familyadhd.com/2019/05/kidney-cancer-in-dogs-golden-retriever.html 

If you'd like to reach out to us or continue to follow what happens with him over the coming days/weeks, we will update when we are able to on our Instagram (mostly stories) : @FamilyADHD 

Every donor will receive a promo code of equal value to what you donate to use towards one purchase of high-res digital download from our  online travel photography shop! For example, if you donate $10, you will receive a promo code for $10 (our digital downloads range from $1.50 to $5).

To receive this, please do the following:

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3. It will come via email from contact at familyadhd.com)!
4. You can redeem that here: https://www.familyadhd.com/product-category/wallpaper-for-shadow 

Shadow currently has an appointment at Tufts Veterinary Hospital set up for this Wednesday so he can see an internal medicine specialist--the best around--as long as we can pull the funds together ahead of time.  We have already seen 2 vets and neither could provide concrete answers on why he is in kidney failure and his time is slipping away fast. Can you help him get there?

We were told to create a bucket list while awaiting this last appointment because we have no idea what the outcome will be, so we took him to his favorite place yesterday (the beach) and the second his nose hit the wind and his feet touched the sand he became full of life and almost looked like his old self for a bit. I've shared some fo this on our IG Story and managed to get this shot of him below, which has now been added to the digital downloads in our shop !


We've spent the last 3 weeks seeing 2 vets, running countless diagnostics/treatments, leaving him all day multiple times to receive IV fluids for his kidneys, giving him very expensive anti-nausea meds to allow him to keep food down (due to the insane nausea with kidney failure), and keeping him fed and hydrated on a special diet. Our funds are completely depleted and as hard as this is to do, we need to ask for help to get Shadow to his upcoming appointment.

3 weeks ago everything changed when Shadow’s kidneys suddenly began to fail and things rapidly began to decline. Our golden is an anomaly. We have run test after diagnostic after test. We have tried treatments that should have at least stabilized him, if not produced some positive results only to have him do worse. We just tried to get a second opinion and redo some tests/getting new ones while also working to keep our boy going and we got no further answers. It is critical that we get to the bottom of this and find out what is causing his kidney failure and if it's treatable. The problem is, he's in kidney failure, care plus diagnostics are not cheap and we are now going to see an internal medicine specialist at Tufts this Wednesday if we can pull the money together.

At this point, we are running dangerously low on funds. In order to keep him going, get him in to see a specialist ASAP and run additional diagnostics, it looks like we’ll need to spend at least $2500 (probably more as they said on the phone they'd likely want him to be admitted) on top of what we've already spent (which has been more than that) to have him seen at the appointment we were able to get him at Tufts Veterinary Hospital so he can see an internal medicine specialist--the best possible vet hospital around. We are trying to raise $1750 of it through GoFundMe and sales of digital downloads of my travel photography prints  so that we can keep moving forward!

This happened at the worst possible time and we cannot go on without help. At the suggestion of one of the vets we've seen and with some encouragement from friends, we've decided to give GoFundMe a try, but rather than just asking for money, every donor will receive a promo code of equal value to what they donate to use towards one purchase of high-res digital download from our  online travel photography shop (please provide an email we can send it to in a comment when you donate)! We want to feel good about this and we want those that support us to feel good about it, too.

Here's what the last 3 weeks have looked like...

Our food-loving golden, Shadow, stopped eating out of nowhere on Sunday, May 5th. This is a dog who, despite all of his allergies, is picky about almost nothing except soggy lettuce. He loves his carrots, his apples, his crunchy lettuce, etc. And his food, man did he always love his food! In fact, this guy had to use a slow-feeder (one of those funky bowls with different nooks, to prevent him from eating too quickly.

So you can understand why having our guy suddenly stop eating was … shocking. At first we wondered if in his old age (he’s 10) he was simply getting picky. We wondered if he was suddenly sick of the flavor dry food he was eating. We wondered if he would prefer going onto 100% raw (he used to eat raw and dry). We even tried the B.R.A.T. diet, which he’d always been fond of because of his constant stomach issues. At first we were able to coax him tortuously through a meal. Within 5 days he was barely eating anything.

We tried everything. I made every possible things he had ever liked. We purchased new flavors of his foods, cooking up batches if different things to entice him, bought new bone broths and proteins and bruits, etc. I spent hours (literally) working on getting him to eat just enough.

Then there was the excessive drinking and longer than usual urination.
Don’t get me wrong, our big golden can hold a decent amount in his bladder if he chooses, but we noticed him drinking a bit more and peeing a bit longer. That’s when I thought, “Oh darn! He has a UTI! He probably feels awful.” And sure enough, everything on line talked about dogs with UTIs exhibiting similar symptoms, right down to not eating as much because they felt poorly.

We had called the vet already to schedule an appointment and they were unfortunately unable to see us right away, so we waited and finally got in days later. 

At this point we were super concerned. We could see he was off. 
Rather than going over everything we had done, I’ll just say that we spent the next 2 weeks doing diagnostics and treatments. I was in the vet’s every other day. Our emotions were raw, already tight funds were getting strained and we felt no closer to getting an answer. Everything was coming back with results that didn’t clearly point to one answer. His creatine and SDM levels were high. He had bacteria in his urine (from what we remember being told). Could it just have been a UTI that hid him hard in his old age and traveled back up to his kidneys and gave him a kidney infection? His kidneys were failing. So many questions, so many unknowns.

The problem was, treatments had no affect. Antibiotics weren’t changing things. Two days on IV fluids didn’t change anything other than his weight due to the volume of fluids. The vet, whom we had seen for the last 2 years, was instilling no confidence in us that she had a handle on things. In fact, at one particular bizarre moment she actually said, “The other vet here asked me where I was going with all of this (meaning the testing and treatment).” 
But we were in crisis mode. We were working and juggling all of our usual responsibilities while also trying to manage everything going on with Shadow. 

The vet thought kidney disease, an infection in his kidneys caused by a UTI or of course cancer was briefly mentioned. 

The Worst Possible Phone Call
The vet we were seeing at the time finally told us an ultrasound was our last resort to confirm cancer or something else that could potentially be causing what we were seeing in Shadow.

We scheduled it and he went in. We waited on pins and needles all morning and then finally I got the call.

“It’s not good. Unfortunately, he has cancer in both kidneys.”

I was working (I work from home, for those of you that don’t know) and everything stopped. I tried not to cry and asked a few questions as the vet basically told me with cancer in both kidneys he had no chance. We could take him to a special oncology group that was referral only (meaning we couldn’t even speak with them ahead of time to ask questions), but that was it.

I hung up and called Patrick while he was at work, completely losing it the second I got off with the vet and dialed him.
He was devastated. We decided to wait to tell the kids about the final results until later that night so we could all be together. 

I picked Shadow up, the vet again went over the results. I asked if he needed to stay on the antibiotics and I distinctly remember she told me that since he had bacteria in his urine he had a UTI so it was at least worth getting rid of it so it was one less thing for him to deal with (when we got his records to get a second opinion it showed that he didn’t have bacteria in his urine and she later on told us she never said this). She offered no estimate on how long we might have when I asked. She just basically told me with two cancerous kidneys that even with treatment it “wasn’t good”, but that she didn’t specialize in cancer and had never dealt with a dog with two cancerous kidneys. Then why did she even suggest we have the ultrasound there when she suspected it was cancer if she couldn’t tell us anything about it after? She said we’d either have to go to the special referral oncology group she’d written down on a post-it, which we couldn’t even call directly (only they could on our behalf), then gave no other alternatives.

I tried to hold back my tears and got Shadow and the boys to the car. I was in shock, but had to keep it together. If you’re a mom you have no time to lose your mind on a dime. Sometimes, you have to hold it together until a more “convenient” time. 

That night we told the boys. Everyone cried, hugged, gathered around Shadow…

It was devastating. He’s been with us since our youngest was 1 and our oldest was 3. He chose US when we went to see his litter. His chubby little puppy butt stumbled out of a complete sleep, crawled up onto our oldest’s lap (he was kneeling on the floor because this puppy was technically for him) and fell back asleep.

My husband and I looked at each other and said, “Guess he’s ours!” And he always has been since.

Too Many Questions, Not Enough Answers
He has always been the sweetest, gentlest, dopey, protective golden. The golden that used to sleep in front of the front door only when my husband was away for work at night. The golden that would never bark unless a suspicious person approached our door. The golden that would look immediately guilty if he tore up a random tissue or paper towel he found somewhere.

Shadow on his trip with us to Virginia.
I just didn’t feel settled about what we’d been told by the vet. Something seemed … off? I didn’t feel like she had given me any REAL information. You always see dogs getting prognoses if they get diagnosed with cancer. She couldn’t tell me anything, just that he had cancer in both kidneys based on the ultrasound and therefore, no real hope.

A childhood friend (who has been so incredibly wonderful throughout all of this) had reached out and mentioned her vet and how wonderful she was before we got the results.

I decided I needed a clearer answer. If we were at the end of the line I needed peace knowing what that meant and looked like–at least to some degree.

I schedule an appointment for the next day.

A Second Opinion
While it would take pages to explain everything that went down, it basically became very clear to us that the original vet had a lot of discrepancies in her paperwork and that the ultrasound and diagnosis he received were wishy-washy at best (in our opinions and based on the opinions of the second vet we’ve seen and her board certified ultrasound technician, both of which reviewed everything). In fact, we were told that the ultrasound images were of such poor quality that even while doing the ultrasound there was no way the guy who did them could have seen enough to accurately diagnose our dog. They were so poor that the ultrasound tech reviewing them said she was appalled by the quality of images. We were also never told that the person who was doing the ultrasound was just another vet, which is what the second vet saw from his credentials. 

There were other discrepancies and issues with what we were told versus what labs and notes stated in his records from the first vet, but there’s far too much to go over and we’re at the point where we have to focus on moving forward for now, not back (for now).

At this point our funds were basically drained. Money we had saved was gone. I applied for grants from every organization I could find (lists of 30+ I’d been given or found) and we were approved for two small grants, but nothing near the full amount we’d already spent and one had been applied towards the first vet. Shadow’s age and health disqualified him for a lot of them. We had used one on the ultrasound we could no longer use. We were now faced with having to repeat a bunch of diagnostics and do new tests.

For those curious, we did approach this first vet about all of these issues with the discrepancies in the records and quality of the ultrasound; among other things. We personally felt she responded with a mix of defensiveness, deflection, a different version of the story and no empathy or acknowledgement that she seems to have been in way over her head (in our opinions). Again, this is based on our opinions and the feedback we got from taking Shadow for a second opinion, but that’s exactly how we received the way she responded. We asked for his records a second time (I’d previously requested them in case we needed to go to an ER over the weekend prior) and suddenly there were tons of notes supporting her claims mixed in with the other documents. Not something we received before… We asked to be reimbursed for part of his diagnostics and care as so much had to be redone elsewhere. She said she wouldn’t charge for the ultrasound, but wouldn’t reimburse anything else. She then put in the notes she included that were sent to us after this conversation that we agreed to pay the ultrasound fee if the second one confirmed the same results. This was never said or agreed upon.

It became very clear that getting any real resolution with the first vet was a dead-end (at least for the time being) and Shadow doesn’t have the time for us to focus on it. So here we are today, having spent another week running tests with another vet, caring for him, getting IV fluids to help his poor kidneys, setting up more appointments, etc.

But what else can we do but push on? How do you just walk away not knowing if your beloved pup can be saved?

The bottom line is that our golden appears to be a very tough case. He is in kidney failure and they’re not sure why. His test results and responses to treatment don’t make sense, especially in comparison to the fact that he is still himself … though a much slower, food-refusing version of himself. Every day is up and down, hour by hour.

More Dead-ends, More Questions, Less Time
Last week we sent several samples (including 2 aspirates from a lymph node and a slide with cell samples from a mass in his mouth) into a lab (paying a significant amount extra for priority processing so we’d get the results faster) with the second and everything came back as inconclusive, essentially. The two lymph node aspirations had too much blood for them to see and the slide from the mass in his mouth was primarily surface bacteria so they couldn’t see cells from the actual mass. The vet had looked at one of her slides of the mass in his mouth and thought she saw irregular cells similar to melanoma in structure, but the lab itself was unable to feel they saw enough cells to make a report from what we were told. We had to resubmit them again, pay the resubmittal fee and now have to wait until after the weekend for results, which will hopefully be available Tuesday, but may be Wednesday.

This past Friday, Shadow spent all day getting subcutaneous fluids because his veins were too bad to put a catheter in again and they wanted to flush his kidneys again. He had blood work done before and after and the vet sat me down for one of those serious talks at the end of it all to discuss his lab results, which showed his levels hadn’t even maintained (you’d hope for some improvement), but had gotten worse over the course of the day. But the second vet pointed out he still has life in him, despite all of that, which is a good sign and reason for possible hope. I was shown how to give Shadow subcutaneous fluids (there was an incident I may discuss later during that, but for now I have to focus on the next few days and getting this boy diagnosed) and we went home with more subcutaneous fluids to administer to him ourselves. So far this weekend Patrick has been able to get them successfully done each time, thank goodness.

As of right now, Shadow is getting the following:

1. He gets subcutaneous fluids 1x at morning and 1x at night (though we run out of them after today)

2. He is still on antibiotics (almost done with a 2-week course)

3. He is currently on 2 anti-nausea meds, both incredibly pricy (kidney failure makes you insanely nauseous and unable to keep liquid or food down without meds and he was vomiting non-stop before he started on both). 

4. He is being fed baby food mixed with ensure (as instructed by vet #2) to get calories into him because he can’t stomach regular food due to his extreme nausea–kidney failure does this to you.

5. He is drinking water mixed with unflavored pedialyte (50/50) to help with additional hydration

I’m not sure where all of the funds to keep going to pursue answers and potentially treatment will come from, but we aren’t at a point where we can give up–especially without knowing what is really going on and if it’s treatable. I have literally spent the last few weeks in crisis mode, coordinating his care, working, failing as a parent (in my opinion), doing regular feedings and meds, driving to and from multiple vet’s offices in two states. I love him and I just know that we can’t allow him to die by starvation or dehydration, which would happen to a dog in his position without intervention, while we await the results we desperately need. I will never feel peace without knowing why he suddenly went into kidney failure and became such a tough case to diagnose. 

How do you play “god” when you have an animal that clearly wants to live? And better yet, how do you do it with so many questions left unanswered that can be answered with more time?

At this point all we know is that he is very unwell, we haven’t been able to get a single concrete answer aside from the fact he is in kidney failure and we are doing everything in our power to keep him as comfortable and cared for as we can while we race to get to the bottom of this.

Kidney failure is a BEAST! It is foul, ugly and I hate it and need to know why this is happening and what we can do to help him.

It’s forcing him on a devastating rollercoaster ride that so many of these kidney pups end up on where a decent day that makes you think they’re possibly returning to themselves is followed by a sharp decline that dashes all of your hope and yanks you back to reality–leaving you to question what’s real and what isn’t.

I just have to trust that if we work hard at trying to figure this out–and pull together the funds to be able to see this through–maybe even though my heart may break in the end, I won’t have regrets. 

Just know that we will never push Shadow to keep going once it’s clear he’s given up. His quality of life is worth more than our absolute heartbreak at the thought of losing him. If he ever gets to the point in this process that he is clearly done, we will not hesitate to do what is right for him.

I don’t think anyone is ever ready to lose someone, but there is a threshold where you find you can possibly make peace with it. Which is why we are currently hunting so desperately for answers so we know if we’re there yet or if he is treatable long-term.

I don’t know how we’ll make this all work, but somehow we have to and I have faith we will. For Shadow; our sweet, sweet boy…

If you guys have any ideas, please let us know! We’re working 24/7 to figure all of this out, especially financially. And please excuse any typos or run-on sentences. My mind is exhausted and my heart is breaking and I’m writing this at 3 AM after checking on him for the millionth time.

While we have created a gofundme, we don’t expect anyone to donate without getting something in return! For every dollar you donate you will receive a promo code of equal value (dollar for dollar) that can be used towards a 1x purchase of digital downloads of some of our most popular travel photographs ! Please don’t feel obligated, but every share and dollar are greatly appreciated <3 

For anyone that would like to help us on our journey to getting Shadow an accurate diagnosis and continued care while we await results, we are also having a special sale on downloadable wallpaper versions of some of our most popular photos to help us continue to push forward: https://www.familyadhd.com/product-category/wallpaper-for-shadow 

Every dollar helps and we are beyond appreciative to anyone that supports us in any way–emotionally, financially… Thank you!

Thank you, to the many kind people who have been thinking about us and praying for our family as we go through this. There is nothing easy or simple about this. We need answers. Shadow needs answers. He’s unfortunately one of those cases where we’re fighting to get them and it is devastating.

If you’d like to follow along in real-time, I’ve been updating a bit more frequently on Instagram ( https://www.instagram.com/familyadhd/), so feel free to periodically check there if you want to stay up on what’s going on there.

Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We definitely need it…

I don’t know how we’ll make this all work, but somehow we have to. For Shadow; our sweet, sweet boy…

Thank you so much to anyone that took the time to read my long, rambling explanation of what's been going on. And to those who choose to help support us on this journey, thank you so incredibly much!

Please make sure that if you donate that you leave an email you have access to in a private note so that we can send you a promo code to get your choice of any free digital download on our site <3

This was our smiley boy (yes, he really used to smile before he got sick) before...


And this was Shadow with us on a family road trip, which he loved...

And this is him now (the shaved spots on his arms are from catheters for treatments)...

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Shadow passed away just after midnight. He fought so hard to be with us for as long as he could. I will share the story of his passing once I’m able to on our site. Thank you for all of your love and support. We are devastated.
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We've posted a longer update on our ongoing thread about Shadow and how he's currently doing here: https://www.familyadhd.com/2019/05/kidney-cancer-in-dogs-golden-retriever.html
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We are at the end of day 4 with Shadow’s new palliative care med regime and so far he’s eating independently (so grateful for this after nearly a month of him not), still drinking water (a lot), his belly is a bit upset and overall he’s getting up and around a bit more. The belly sensitivity is possibly from the prednisone, I’ve heard this is common from other cancer pet parents in a support group we’re in. This new normal is ... strange. He’s “better” than he was but not actually better, if that makes sense? He can eat again, which is SO amazing, and he’s able to occasionally do some of his usual “Shadow” things like greet us at the door or go to the kitchen to ask for lettuce when I’m making a salad, but he’s definitely tired, very sensitive to noise and movement and just ... yeah. I remember the vet saying this is how it would likely be. He has cancer. It is affecting his body; the waste it produces is affecting his body. It is a regular reminder that while he is able to feel a bit better, his body is actually not better. It’s hard to wrap your mind around. We’re taking it day by day, adjusting to today’s new normal and waiting to see what tomorrow brings. He is still the sweetest, best boy in the world and we are grateful for every extra day we get to spend with him <3

On a positive note, we knocked another thing off of Shadow’s bucket list, which was getting his favorite smoked bone for him from a cool shop that does it in-house. Super natural, super delicious to him!
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After 24 hours on prednisone he ate his first real meal in almost a month tonight (all by himself) and I cried, we all held our breath and then tried to contain our excitement and remind ourselves that this is part of palliative care. He's responding to the steroids, which is good, but it isn't signs of recovery--just a temporary reprieve. <3 We are now creating his official bucket list and we plan to make whatever time he has left nothing short of lovely surrounded by his family.

This is him laying down with a full belly for the first time in May. Excuse his crumbs, he's a little rusty at this whole eating solids thing <3 We couldn't be prouder!
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