Lakeshore Cottage

A reno blog for a cottage just outside of Toronto
 
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Hemangiosarcoma in dogs, aka so much sadness

Friday, June 16th, 2017

This isn’t a cottage post but I don’t have anywhere else to put it and Rosie was very much a huge part of my life in building this cottage. I’m writing this in hopes that it helps someone looking for answers or support when faced with a diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma in their beloved dog. I lost my best friend of 14 years this past Sunday and I read anything and everything I could on this awful disease. I hope this helps someone.

We first realized something was not right when we were woken up at 6am to the noise of bottles crashing – Rosie had collapsed into our kitchen cart. She was disoriented and couldn’t walk properly. Blood results showed high white blood cell counts and low red blood cells. Our vet said it pointed to anemia and kept asking if we had noticed blood loss anywhere. There wasn’t, and we hadn’t, so after she showed signs of improvement two weeks later we didn’t think anything of it until she showed signs of getting worse the next weekend. We took her back to the vet where further bloodwork showed a near non-existent red blood cell count. We were sent to an emergency clinic for an appointment with a specialist.

This is where I first heard the word ‘hermangiosarcoma’ (an extremely aggressive cancer of blood vessel cells) and was told that she had at most 3 months to live. An ultrasound and xray showed that she had 2-3 tumors in her spleen and one had most likely ruptured, causing the collapse. They had also done another round of blood work and her numbers had improved over the last test, so they told me that if I wanted to go ahead with her only option – a splenectomy, the removal of her spleen – today was the day.

At the time I didn’t understand how choosing the surgery route would only get us 3 months. How could something that would ‘fix’ the situation mean such a low life expectancy? But that was only because I didn’t yet understand that it meant that if I didn’t go forward with the surgery, she would be at risk of dying at any moment because of another tumor rupture. That’s what had caused the collapse in the first place. I left her for the surgery and was able to pick her up again three days later.

Recovery was really bad. She already hadn’t been eating leading up to the specialist visit but didn’t want to eat after the surgery either. I wish I had paid more attention to this because I think it was a big indicator that something was wrong in the first place. She lost a crazy amount of weight from both the cancer but also because she had stopped eating her regular food leading up to the diagnosis and surgery. We went into overdrive trying to find anything she would eat and cooked endless homemade dog food (all human grade) recipes. She’d eat it for a couple days and then switch and not want anything to do with it. I also saw that there had been a UPenn study using the Turkey Tail mushroom and tracked it down online to sneak in her food. (As of this posting date, it looks like they are continuing research into hemangiosarcoma and might be worth checking out if you find yourself needing more info/options.)

We took her to follow-up checkups and on the second one we were told that if we wanted to do anything further to try to prolong her life, chemo was the only method. We decided to go with it as we were told it could typically extend the life expectancy to 4-8 months. After the first round of chemo we were convinced we had made a mistake with choosing it. She had a seriously difficult time with it – wasn’t able to walk well for the first few days, didn’t at all seem herself, was falling over again. We opted to do the second round three weeks later (instead of the usual 2 weeks) and took a reduced dosage.

The idea with chemo for dogs is to find the balance of quality of life essentially knowing that they’re going to die anyway. With humans the goal is to kill the cancer at all costs, with the person being able to deal with (and understand) the end goals that make quality of life temporarily unbearable. During the time between her first and second round of chemo she was able to fully recover from the surgery and chemo and found her appetite again. We felt pretty good (albeit cautious) going into the second round. Surprisingly she had no issue with it and actually showed great signs of improvement. She was back to her old self, chasing our other dog Pickles around the yard and fetching her ball – something she hadn’t done in months. The third round two weeks later also went well. Somewhere between the third and fourth though, I noticed a slight decline.

I don’t know if it was something in the bloodwork for the fourth that prompted the specialist to ask if we wanted to do the ultrasound before her fourth round or wait until the fifth, when they normally would do it, but I said yes. Good news was that her abdomen was clear, but there was possibly something starting in her lungs. It was too difficult to tell so we decided to do another ultrasound two weeks after her fifth chemo session.

In the time between her final session and the scheduled ultrasound, she started to show signs of something more serious going on. She had become more picky with her appetite again and was ‘squatting’ on her back legs instead of standing straight on them. She seemed to be more dazed and was sleeping more. I said to Molly a few times that I thought she was sick again but we kept holding out for the ultrasound to tell us if anything was going on. This past weekend we spent it at the cottage and she was walking around, playing with Pickles, hanging out in the sunshine and even went swimming twice. We were all with each other the entire time. When we came back Sunday night we left for two hours and when we came back into the house, she didn’t greet us. I found her lying on her side in the bathroom. From her bodily reactions at that point, we had probably missed her final hemorrhage by a few minutes. Heartbreaking.

I really can’t for the life of me understand how a dog who was totally healthy, still very active despite being a senior dog, could just up and get this cancer. I will never understand why she, a short terrier mix mutt, got a disease that mostly affects large breed male dogs like labs, boxers and danes. But there is website after website talking about this awful cancer and there are so many stories about how an owner never had any indication that their dog was sick until they collapsed and died from an internal bleed. I feel fortunate that we had the extra time with her but at the same time it was filled with a mix of dread, sadness and a small bit of hope that she’d beat the odds. I lost count of the times that I would look in on her sleeping in her bed long enough to make sure she was still breathing.

She died two days before her scheduled ultrasound, almost 2 weeks after her fifth chemo session. We’ve had conversations since about whether we would have chosen to put her down had they found something after the ultrasound. There was nothing in this past weekend that would have made us choose that, though. She had a good weekend and did things she loved doing, namely, swimming. We wouldn’t have picked that for her because she still seemed healthy and happy, despite being slower. I have read comments on pages where people say they regretted doing the surgery and chemo. I want to add my voice to say that we didn’t regret doing either. She was at her highest in this whole ordeal after the surgery and second chemo session. She was actually her old self and we were so happy for her. If we hadn’t gone this route, she would have missed out on that. We just wanted her to have some nicer weather to be able to do things she enjoyed, understanding that the odds were against her seeing the end of the summer.

This little dog was an amazing dog. She was with me for pretty much all of my adult life and went everywhere with me. She’s outlasted every relationship I’ve been in and been the faithful friend through everything good and bad. I would have done everything for her and I believe that we did. I just really hate that she died alone. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt such sadness. I have a hole in my heart that I don’t think is going to be filled any time soon.

Rosie - hemangiosarcoma

Rosie
May 27, 2003 – June 11, 2017

 

Misc work and bird feeder activity

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

At some point just before we started into the bathroom project we did a few days of work on the utility room downstairs, which is basically our water room. It used to be completely open to the crawlspace because the behemoth of an oil furnace we had stuck out partially into the room and therefore couldn’t be closed off. We switch to propane about a year ago – I just did a search and couldn’t find any post for it, which is weird – and the new Napoleon furnace is much better and much smaller. This meant we could finally close off the room from the crawlspace.

There are two external walls in this room and neither had insulation except for flimsy/old white stryofoam stuff nailed on the outside of the MDF (?) paneling. This also explains why the room would sometimes get to extremely low temperatures (even into the negatives) which always made me nervous considering it houses the main water line, water pressure tank, and hot water tank. We pulled everything down, ran the electrical and ductwork for the upstairs dining room register through the walls/joists (previously had been sitting outside the walls), replaced with Roxul insulation and put poly over it. We drywalled until we ran out of drywall so it’s half finished. We also moved the light more in the middle of the room which I’m grateful for, because we discovered that some mice had chewed through the wiring and left the black hot exposed – yikes. We fixed it all up, did some crazy drywalling around a main furnace duct we wouldn’t get away from, and the room is so much better and warmer. We still need to mud and finish the drywall but it’s good enough for now.

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We’ve also had a bird feeder going for the winter which has been a great supply of nature TV. The birds are a bit hard to see in the photos below but we’ve had have repeat visits from dark-eyed juncos, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, northern flicker, American goldfinch and even a pair of turtle doves.

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We also had an ordeal dealing with a Home Depot install of new eavestroughs/gutters which I’ll have to save for another post.

Bathroom reno from hell – Part 1

Monday, January 18th, 2016

We’re currently in the middle of renovating the only bathroom at the cottage. We both had 10 or so days off over the Christmas holidays and figured we weren’t likely to get another chunk of time off like that, so I set out planning the demo and reno of the bathroom. It really could have been possible over that time, but we ran into unexpected issues that basically took 4 days away from our schedule. It’s been a fucking brutal slog.

This is what we started working with:

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It doesn’t look too terrible in the photos, but don’t be deceived. It was a gross, shitty bathroom, and I hated all that brown puke cracked marble (!!) tile. I don’t have photos handy, but the bathroom was originally an even scarier place. The entire room was basically covered in those heavy marble tiles. They ran about 4′ up the wall, on the floor and in the shower. Probably a year or so after buying the cottage we swapped out the old wood vanity, which they had tiled around, so we took it as an opportunity to lose a wall of tile and ran new drywall and a light+switch. This time around, all of it was going.

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It was obvious that the shower was leaking but we ended up discovering that the toilet was also leaking. That said, the (surprising) 3/4″ subfloor under it all didn’t seem in such bad shape. We had spent the two weekends prior to the holidays demoing the room. 1400lbs (!!!!) of crap taken to the dump later, we thought we’d be able to start the process of putting the room back together starting December 26. We booked 3 nights at a hotel nearby because we expected we’d appreciate the ability to shower after each day of work.

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What were we thinking? No such luck.

After getting down to the plywood we realized that the floor had way too much movement in it when just walking across it. Around the toilet it was like a trampoline. There was no way we were going to put anything new on top of the existing floor, so it meant another day of demo to pull up the floor to see what was going on under it.

This is what we found (ignore the new wood under the top wall):

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Would you like some shitty floor joists? Because we had them. They were 2x6s (!!!!!) that had been poorly sistered. I guess the first bathroom leaked (tub was stamped 1969), rotted the joists, so they threw some new ones in beside them. Why not, eh? Yeah, too bad those ‘new’ ones rotted with the second bathroom. I guess we’re glad the tub was too gross to take a bath in?

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Do you see those pieces of blocking between each set of joist near the side wall?

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That’s all that held the joists into place. Once we cut the blocking out we were able to move the joists with just a finger; they weren’t secured at all. Add this to the 2x6s used and it explains all the deflection.

We also found this lovely gem:

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The wood under the floors had disintegrated and the walls were propped up with air. No big deal, though! It’s not like it’s an exterior wall or anything…

We put some new stuff in there:

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And then set out rebuilding the entire floor. After realizing we were left with a mess to rebuild, we went to the hotel early and did hours of reading on wtf process to take.

We decided it was better to start fresh and replace all the old joists. We had to use 2x6s again because that’s all the room we had under the walls, and it didn’t seem like using 2x8s but notching them at the ends would actually add anything worthwhile. We’re lucky that the length from the exterior wall to the beam they rest on is only 8′, and we used hangers to secure them 12″ OC instead of the 16-17″ they were before. We also put a shit ton of blocking and replaced the subfloor under the exterior walls. Using this we were able to get a tile deflection rating that would safely work for the new floor we were going to put back in. I write this like it was No Big Deal but it was a lot of fucking work.

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We also used construction adhesive to glue and screw a 2×4 flat along the bottom of the 2x6s. This apparently does some engineering voodoo magic to improve the strength and stiffness of the joists.

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This stole about 3-4 days from our original schedule, but when you’re spending money on a new bathroom, there’s no point in cheaping out on the subfloor. BTW, that’s the crawlspace under the bathroom, and the insulation between the joists was one of the first things we did for an eco energy audit early on. It was pretty disheartening to have to remove work already done, but also spend so much time confined in a space of about 2′ of height dealing with old plumbing messes and gross spiders.

You can see how much the old floor had dropped under the weight of the marble – almost an inch:

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At this point we were able to start rebuilding. Since it’s a small room and the floor tile gets cold when we run the pellet stove only, we splurged on some discounted in-floor heating, which got covered in self leveling cement. We haven’t worked with it often but it scares us every time. It was especially stressful considering how much time we had spent just to get to the bare subfloor, but it went totally fine. Caulk every gap or hole, know where your low spots are, and use a rubber floor squeegee thing with notches cut out of it to spread it around. It came out totally smooth.

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Next up was the Ditra and tile. This is how we spent our NYE. The dogs relaxed, we worked.

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We woke up the next day and had no water. The temperature had dropped significantly overnight and the heat trace hadn’t been sent on high, so we thought maybe we just had a frozen pipe. We gave it til pretty much mid-afternoon before packing it up and heading back to Toronto three days early. No water = no grouting.

We came back three days later on the Sunday before going back to work, armed with bottles of water, and grouted.
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It was too cold and windy/snowy that day to properly examine the water line from the lake but there was one part that seemed icier than the rest of the line (which had snow melted away from it because of the heat trace). We contacted the water company we had used in the past to see if they had any ideas or availability to come check it out and they suggested it might be a leak or blown pump. Last weekend the weather wasn’t as cold and we found the source of our water issues:

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Thoughtfully, the water gauge and pressure relief valve also decided to give out at the same time, so they got replaced. I’m glad we didn’t blow the pump since the lake is now frozen.

After drywall, grouting, minor plumbing work and finally getting water, we got to this very exciting stage – a functioning toilet!

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And now we’re off to the races. We only came up for a half-day yesterday but were able to finish the Durock around the tub. We ran out of seam tape however, so weren’t able to thinset like we had hoped.

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We’ll have to do that this coming Friday evening, and then waterproof using Redgard on Saturday morning. Tiling should start Saturday afternoon and probably continue through to Sunday. We plan on using 4×16″ stacked white subway tile so hopefully we won’t need longer than this weekend. Argh.

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Fun additions

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

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