Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Final Trip: Day 2 and then we hit the road home!

This day would bring our last official visit to the University of Minnesota.  After all of the stress of our first day in Minneapolis it was nice to have a bit of time to sleep in, eat a relaxing breakfast and then pack the Jeep for the drive home.  Once we were all checked out of our hotel, we headed over to the Veterinary Medical Center to meet with Dr. Pluhar at 10am so we could discuss the results of Rilley's final MRI, blood work and physical exam.
One last visit to the Veterinary Medical Center at the
University of Minnesota!
As always there is some anxiety involved with this process.  The fact that Rilley's treatment is new and experimental has not been lost on us.  Whenever we come here we are always wondering if there will be any bad news.  Did they find anything during the MRI?  Could the tumour have come back?  Is there something else wrong?  While the girls kept Rilley entertained, Sara and I went off to a viewing area to look at the MRI with Dr. Pluhar.

Just like every other time, she pulled up the scan from our last visit and placed it side by side with the new scan.   They were identical!  The new scan was completely clear of any cancer cells!  We were all relieved.
The final MRI:  Completely clean, no tumour cells!
The only difference is that Rilley had grown some more bone where they had cut through his skull a year ago to remove the tumour.  I found this very interesting as I didn't realize that this long after the surgery there was still some healing going on.  Additionally, Rilley's blood work was normal.  Ever since the beginning Dr. Pluhar has kept an eye on his liver enzymes as his old anti-seizure medication, Phenobarbital, had cause these to rise to dangerous levels.  Once again, they were normal as well, indicating that his current medication is not causing any ill effects.

Rilley is now considered to be officially cured of his cancer.  He is expected to live out his years to their full extent and Dr. Pluhar does not foresee any recurrence of his brain tumour!

So, good news all around but sadly, it was time to go.  This having been Rilley's one year, post-op checkup also means that his participation in the brain tumour clinical trial has come to an end.  We said our goodbyes and Rilley posed for one last picture with Dr. Pluhar.
Rilley and the two Elizabeths!
Before we left the University for the last time, we went over to the school book store to pick up some souvenirs, U of M sweatshirts to be exact and then it was time to hit the road for the drive home.
Bags of U of M souvenirs and it's time to head back home.
Having done this drive a few times before, we decided that we would not attempt to do the entire 16 hours of it at once anymore.  We've done that before, but it just wasn't worth the fatigue.  Those who have driven through Michigan and Wisconsin will know that there is a lot of deer along Interstates 90 and 94 and they have a tendency to become large scale road kill.  Therefore driving during daylight hours is definitely the safer method, especially when travelling with children.
At a rest area in Wisconsin.  Notice the snow in the background?
Still there from a few days before!
We drove six hours, straight through Wisconsin and spent Friday night at the Sheraton in Elk Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  Sara had always wanted to try true Chicago style pizza.  Before we even left home Sara had done some research and found out that some of the best pizza is from a pizzeria called Lou Malnati's and as luck would have it there was one just around the corner from the hotel.
Two pies from Lou Malnati's in Chicago.  Darn good pizza!
I must say the buttery, pie-like crust was a surprise but added an interesting texture to the pizza.  We've never had pizza like this before but was very good!

The rest of the trip home was quite uneventful.  We were back on the road Saturday morning and sailed right through Chicago.  The weather was great which helped make the drive through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan much, much easier to take than the snowy Wisconsin weather I drove through on the trip to Minnesota.  We finally arrived back home around 7pm that evening and everyone was glad the last drive was done.

As I said, this was our final trip to the University and Rilley is no longer part of the clinical trial.  However, the story is far from over.  We will continue to stay in contact with Drs. Pluhar and Ohlfest to keep them informed on Rilley's progress.

This is also not the end of Rilley's blog either.  It's been such an adventure so far and we know there will be many more stories to share in the future.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Final Trip: Day 1 in Minneapolis

Waiting to spend the day at the University.
While the drive had it's moments with the weather through Wisconsin, Thursday had its tense moments as well. While the weather in Minneapolis was calm, there was enough concern about Rilley that Sara chose to fly into town to be present for his MRI the next day.  Despite this change in plans, the day was to progress as normal.  The girls and I were to get up, have breakfast and then head over to the University so that Rilley could spend the day with Dr. Pluhar.  This would allow her to do his final physical and neurological exams and collect the samples for his bloodwork over the course of the day.

As I mentioned, Sara was on her way and she caught a morning flight.  Her journey was to have three legs.  Toronto to Philadelphia, then on to Chicago (that toddlin' town!) and finally from Chicago to Minneapolis.  However, before leaving for the University, I got my first hint that things were not going as planned.  Her flight had been diverted to Pittsburgh due to fog in Philly.  This was putting her other connecting flights and planned arrival time of 4pm in jeopardy.

On the drive over to the Veterinary Medical Center Sara called to say that her flight was departing for Philadelphia.  This was good news as it made me feel like the day was back on track.  The girls and I dropped Rilley off and with him preoccupied for the day, I had promised the girls lunch followed by a few hours at the Mall of America, in particular the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park. While leaving the campus, I received a recorded message from the airline telling me that Sara's Philly to Chicago flight was being held to accommodate the delayed/diverted flight from Toronto.

Before lunch, I quickly popped into the hotel to check the status of her flight on the computer.  I soon realized that while it was good that her flight to Chicago was waiting for them, this would cause her to miss her last connecting flight into Minneapolis.  The major concern here was that her first two flights (three including the diversion) were with the same carrier, but the last leg was a different airline and they may not be sympathetic.  However, for the moment, there was nothing I could do.  Rilley was at the University and Sara was still in the air heading to Philadelphia.  So given that we only had a few hours of free time this entire trip, it was the perfect time for the kids to be entertained.
The Nickelodeon Universe wristbands, courtesy of the
Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
At this point, I must thank Debbie Stirtz of the Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau for providing the two free, unlimited ride wrist bands for the girls.  She had left a nice little welcome package at the hotel's front desk ahead of our arrival that was filled with goodies and coupon books for the area's businesses.  Debbie even went well above and beyond the call of duty when she found out the reason for our trip.  She went out of her way to leave Rilley a bag of Natural Choice Crunchy Treats!  Debbie, Rilley says thank you!  He loves them.
...and a special welcome treat for Rilley.
Thanks for thinking of him Debbie!
The amusement park was empty as it was a weekday (the local kids were in school) and the girls were having a great time.  Then, as if Sara's travel problems weren't enough, I got a call from Dr. Pluhar.  It seems that something had come up and they needed to do Rilley's MRI right away.  This was not something that I had anticipated as we already had a very specific schedule.  Now, you might say what's the big deal?  Well, the problem lay in the fact that Rilley has not had a good history with the anesthetic.  The last few times he had been in the MRI, he had woken up and extubated himself, that is to say he coughed up the breathing tube that keeps his airway open during the scan.  Back in May he even began to chew on the intubation tube resulting in the need to give him more anesthesia to put him back under.  I knew this would not sit well with Sara as she had wanted to speak with the anesthesiologist prior to Rilley being prepped for the MRI.  I sent Sara a text to call me at the first available opportunity.

A short while later, Sara landed in Chicago and as expected missing her connection to Minneapolis.  She managed to check her itinerary online using her iPod touch and noticed that someone (or something) had updated her itinerary and booked her on another flight out.  Awesome!  Being on the secure side of the terminal, there was no need to return to the check-in counter so she went to wait at the assigned gate for boarding.  When she approached the gate attendant she was informed that while her itinerary had been updated, there was no electronic ticket issued and the flight was full.  Sara then got on the phone to the airline and they rebooked her onto the next flight out.  Again, when she went to board there was no e-ticket.  At this point she was stranded so she called me and it quickly became evident that she didn't need the stress of the change in plans in Minneapolis on top of the fact that she seemed to have no way of getting there.

Determined, Sara got on the phone to the company that she had originally made her travel arrangements through.  While they claimed that the missing e-tickets were not their fault, Sara kept pressing them until they confirmed her onto a new flight that would arrive in Minneapolis at 9pm...a full five hours after she was to have originally arrived...before this entire ordeal began.

One added stress that we didn't account, or more to the point, budget for was a whole bunch of cell calls.  We had thought that the quick call to say Sara was fine and where to meet her at the Minneapolis airport would be all the calls we'd make.  You see, when roaming in the U.S. on a Canadian cellular plan each call costs $1.45 per minute.  That last call to the travel company lasted over 45 minutes!  I can honestly tell you that at this point I am afraid to open my next cell bill.  So afraid in fact that I am not ashamed to ask:

"Does anyone out there work for Rogers Mobile who has the power and the will to wipe out the roaming and long distance charges accrued on this trip?  In the name of science and cancer research?  Please?  Pretty please?  Pretty please with sugar on top?  I will even give you a shout-out on the blog!!!!"

Seriously, at this point I am really, really not ashamed to ask!

The day rounded out with the girls and I picking up Rilley from the University around 6pm and eventually, Sara did make it to Minneapolis.  Boy was Rilley happy to see her!  In the meantime I had contacted Dr. Pluhar and arranged an appointment for Friday to go over the results of the blood work and MRI.

More to come...Rilley's final day in Minneapolis.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Final Trip: What a drive!

Have Winnie will travel.
Rilley's Winnie-the-Pooh has accompanied him on every trip to Minneapolis.

This is the first post detailing Rilley's final visit to the University of Minnesota.  The trip ended up being quite hectic and left little time for me to update the blog while we were away.  Now that I've had a day to recover, I can begin by writing about the drive to Minneapolis.  One thing that made it interesting was that it was just me, travelling alone with Rilley and the kids, as Sara had to stay behind to work.  This proved to make everyday quite hectic as I always had to plan everything around running out to the store and leaving them in a hotel room alone.  Sorry Rilley, I can't really trust you to be an effective babysitter!

The kids and I left home around noon and drove the first six hour stretch to Kalamazoo, Michigan where I had booked us a room at the Best Western Plus.  This is the same hotel we had stayed in when the four of us made the trip last May.  They not only accept pets, but for a regular hotel they have easy access to the outside.  Whenever Rilley needed out, there was a door at the bottom of the stairs that I could use to get out and back in.  So no waiting on an elevator and no need to make our way to the lobby every time.  This night the kids discovered their new favourite pizza, the "All Meaty" from Jets, a local pizzeria whose ad was in the room.  The pizza was quite good and given Rilley's constant drooling, I think he really, really wanted a bite...sorry buddy.
Elizabeth and Rilley getting comfortable.
We got up to watch The Early Show as I had posted about the last time.  However, if anyone else did watch the show they will have noticed that Drs. Ohlfest and Pluhar were nowhere to be seen.  As is inherent in television news, something can always come up and that is just what happened...another story bumped theirs. However, The Early Show producers have assured Dr. Pluhar that the story will air and once they provide her with a new air date she will pass it along and I, in turn, will post it here.
Rilley enjoying the ride.
We were on the road again around 9:30am to complete the remaining 10 hours of driving to Minneapolis.  I had checked the weather prior to leaving the hotel and took note of the high winds expected as we got closer to Lake Michigan.  In the end, the winds were not a major concern but rather the snow storm that we hit beginning in Belvidere, Illinois and lasting well into Wisconsin.  It felt like the middle of February!  Some of the road conditions did make the girls nervous, but fortunately for us, after a few hours of winter driving, the weather, as well as the roads, cleared right up.
Just after entering Wisconsin.
The same state...a few hours later.
I must admit for a lot of the drive I almost forgot that Rilley was in the Jeep at all.  He really seems to have taken to travelling.  We had set up his bed on a special "dog hammock" to help keep him from falling into the space between the back and front seats.
Katherine and her favourite pup!
Around 5:30pm we arrived in the Twin Cities.  Here I also booked us into the same hotel as the last trip...the Marriott Residence Inn in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan.   Just as the hotel in Kalamazoo, this hotel was picked because it has easy access to the outside for Rilley.

So, that about sums up the journey to Minneapolis. It was definitely more comfortable having one less person in the car, however it really felt strange travelling such a distance without Sara.

Thursday didn't turn out as expected...but we'll save that story until tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Drs. Ohlfest and Pluhar on CBS's "The Early Show" tomorrow!

I just got word that Dr. John Ohlfest and Dr. Elizabeth Pluhar will be on CBS's "The Early Show" tomorrow!  They will be discussing the canine brain tumour study that Rilley has been participating in.  Too bad that we are still en route...perhaps our pup could've made a special guest appearance!

From what I understand the show is on at sorry for the short notice, but they definitely deserve the attention.  I will try to catch it from the hotel room before we head out on the road again.

Hitting the open road one more time!!!!

We can't believe it's time to leave for our final journey to Minneapolis!
I'm writing this just before I pack up the laptop for our final trip to Minneapolis for Rilley's last exam and MRI. Having done this trip three times now, I've wised up and am not attempting a straight through, 16 hour drive in either direction.  Just as last time, we will be stopping for the night in Kalamazoo, about 6 hours into the trip, leaving the rest of the drive for Wednesday.

The schedule is pretty tight, so this may be my last post until we return this coming weekend, however I will endeavour to update it along the way.


Friday, November 4, 2011

MAJOR MILESTONE: Rilley has made it to one year!

Rilley, left,  just after surgery one year ago and today, right.
One year ago today Rilley underwent brain surgery to remove the meningioma that was threatening his life.  This was the first step in his amazing recovery and thanks to the groundbreaking work being done at the University of Minnesota he is still with us today.  By the time we return from his fourth and final visit to Minneapolis this month we will have driven almost 12000km (close to 7500 miles) but seeing the smiles on our daughters faces whenever they see him has made it all worthwhile.

Rilley is celebrating this day in his usual style...lying around the house.  Yeah, high energy, I know.  I don't think he realizes just how far he's come.  Just look at the pictures above...his shaved head and stitches which earned him the nickname "bacon-head" because of the colouring and the one that was taken today where he looks like his old self.  The only indication of the fact that he had surgery is the slight black line in the white highlight on his head.

While we observed this special date in our household today, over the coming weeks we will be celebrating this monumental milestone on the blog.  It will be getting a facelift and we plan on creating special posts where we will look back over the events and people from the past year and provide updates on the last trip for his final exam and MRI.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cancer patient meets dog receiving same treatment as Rilley

Yesterday I came across an interesting story done by Boua Xiong of KARE-TV in Minneapolis.  It focuses on a very unique meeting that took place at the University of Minnesota .  A patient enrolled in the human trials had the opportunity to meet one of the dogs enrolled in the same trial as Rilley.  John Huls was diagnosed with a brain tumour two years ago and is receiving a treatment similar to the one that Rilley had undergone.  He got to meet Piper, a 14 year old golden retriever at the University's Small Animal Clinic...a place Rilley's gotten to know very well.  Here's the story:

I had come across this story on another blog, written by Dr. Damien Dressler out of Hawaii.  I haven't explored his site completely but he seems to have a lot of good resources for those whose dog's have been diagnosed with cancer.

One other link that I found on his site could be of benefit for those who have come across our blog while looking for answers.  It is a list of veterinary oncolological clinical trials maintained by the Veterinary Cancer Society.  The link is and I will add it to the "Related Links" section at the bottom of the page.

Lastly, tomorrow is November 4th, a very significant date around our house as it will mark the one year anniversary of Rilley's surgery!  It's hard to believe that it has been that long already...a theme that may end up recurring throughout tomorrow's special post.