A belated Murphy update

Sorry for the lack of updates, it’s been a busy spring. Also, we got a new computer and I’m having trouble getting the photos off my camera and onto the computer so hopefully I can figure that out soon and share some new pictures! (Avoid Windows 8 if you can, our experience with it has been horrible.)

Murphy went in for his second round of scans and blood work a few weeks ago. I was hoping just to come home with a dog upset about having a shaved belly, yet again, but unfortunately, we brought some other news with us. When he had his original scans done, they found a tiny spot on his spleen that they weren’t concerned about, but made note of so they could watch it in case there was growth. And unfortunately, it grew. It wasn’t enough that they could do a biopsy or were imminently concerned about, so we scheduled another round of scans for one month later to see if there was additional growth. He’ll go in for those tests on Tuesday of next week. If there’s no growth, we just keep an eye on it in future scans. If there is growth, he needs to have his spleen removed and then they’ll do a biopsy. If it’s benign, that’s great news and he just needs to recover from surgery and continue with his current dose of chemo. If it comes back as malignant, then his chemo dosage will need to be upgraded and we’ll have to have a discussion with his doctors about where we go from here.

Those are a lot of “ifs.” I’ve been trying very hard not to consider the long line of “ifs” and instead spend as much time just enjoying the fact that Murphy is acting completely normal and is immensely happy that the snow is gone and he can spend his days sunbathing on the deck. Although, those peaceful moments are interrupted when Lucy comes home from school and recruits him to play the parts of both Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer from the movie Frozen during her impromptu performances in the backyard. Occasionally he will break out of character and choose to sit down and chew up a pine cone, but he has actually gotten quite good at following her around and indulging her Broadway fantasies.

The other morning on our way to school, before Lucy made me put the Frozen soundtrack on so that she could sing it to Murphy and anyone who had the pleasure of sitting next to us in traffic, the DJs on the radio posed the question, “Do you kiss your dog before you leave the house?” I turned around and looked at my beautiful dog who was blowing hot, stinky breath in my face and giving me a look that said, “Um, why aren’t we moving so that I can stick my face out the window and feel the wind through my hair?” Then I looked over at the beautiful little girl straining to reach over far enough to pet her dog and tell him that he’s a good boy. And I didn’t hesitate to answer the DJ’s question out loud to both of them. “Of course I kiss my dog.” To which Lucy replied, “I love Murphy, he’s the best!”

I didn’t have to ask Lucy the DJ’s question, I already knew the answer. Every morning when I drop her off and every afternoon when I pick her up, Murphy is in the car with me. The last thing she does before leaving and the first thing she does upon returning is hug and kiss her dog. It melts my heart every time. It really is the best way to start the day, no matter how much of a struggle it was to get her out of the house that day, witnessing that moment makes it worth it every time.

Yes, Lucy, Murphy is the best.

And we’re hoping only for the best news on Tuesday. So please keep Murphy in your thoughts this holiday weekend and I’ll give you an update next week (hopefully with pictures!).

Have a very happy and safe Memorial Day weekend!

Two rounds of blood work – two rounds of good news

Murphy has had two blood draws and they have both come back clean. Lucy accompanied him on his trip to the University of Minnesota for his first round of blood work, but refused to wear her Batman costume (it was her birthday weekend and I think she was a little worn out from celebrating). But she did have fun greeting all the other animals who were there for their appointments and posing for pictures with the Charlie Brown and Snoopy statues in the lobby.

Purple paw prints

Lucy & Charlie Brown


Lucy & Snoopy

The Veterinary Medical Center at the U of MN is a massive building. But in order to make it easy to know where you’re going, they’ve devised a simple-to-follow paw print color scheme on the floor. Oncology is purple so our little troop set off along the purple path, like Dorothy and her friends in search of the Emerald City.

Purple paw prints 2

Trying to follow the purple paw prints

I watched Lucy’s eyes light up upon seeing all the other sick dogs and cats throughout our journey and I thought of the amazing work that therapy dogs do. That would be a perfect job for her. Instead of a therapy dog coming into the hospital to assist in the comfort and healing of a sick or injured human, Lucy could be the equivalent for animals. I can picture her walking around in her Batman costume distributing cookies and hugs to all the dogs and cats. When I had to put Chico down, I told his vet that I was worried about how it would affect my daughter. She asked how old she was and when I said two, the doctor said not to worry about it, she was too young to understand. But she did. And three months later she is still asking for him. When I mentioned it to Lucy’s pediatrician, she was impressed with her level of compassion and empathy at such a young age. As I watched her strutting down the path of purple paw prints alongside her best friend Murphy, I just smiled and thought, “Never lose those qualities sweet girl. They may bring you heartache at times like this, but they will also bring you unimaginable levels of happiness and love and many times, it will be because of an animal.”

We arrived at the Oncology door, where Lucy was excited because she got to ring the doorbell. Murphy’s doctor came out to retrieve him and sent us back to the waiting room. We had just enough time for a few poses with Peanuts statues before a happy Murphy came bounding back out to greet us, unfazed by the needle prick because it meant that he got to cuddle with his doctors and play with the other patients.

His doctor explained that the Oncology room was basically a daycare and at his second blood draw, I got to see what they meant. And they were right. There is a large circular room where the dogs (if they play well with others and are well enough to play) hang out with the doctors. To Murphy, it is a dream come true, even if it means they quickly poke him with a needle. There is nothing he loves more than playing with friends. Now I understand why he gets so excited when he recognizes where we’re going when we drive onto campus.

My dad and Murphy

My dad and Murphy

Lucy taking in the beautiful scenery at the U of MN Veterinary Medical Center campus in St Paul

At his second appointment, they also aspirated a lump we found on his side. Thankfully, it was just a fatty lump and nothing to worry about. He will have another round of blood work at the end of this month and then next month he’ll have another scan to confirm that the cancer has not metastasized. Unfortunately, that means that they’ll need to shave his belly and sides again. But this time, at least it won’t be -30 degrees and we won’t have to bundle him up in my fleece jackets – hopefully.

One week down, 51 to go

We finished our first week of chemo and so far, so good. Murphy is tolerating the medication well. He’s also very excited to get a hot dog every night and has only stealthily spit out the pills twice. I’d love to know how he manages to eat the hot dog, but discard the pill – I bet he can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with only his tongue.

IMG_1620Prepping the pills (they need to be handled carefully, so we have to wear gloves)

IMG_1621The first dose


Lucy has assumed the role of being his being his home care nurse and is constantly following him around, giving him kisses and telling him, “it’s o.k. Murphy, everything is going to be o.k.” It melts my heart every time.

On Monday, she got a day off of school due to the extremely cold temperatures, so she and Murphy snuggled on the couch with a blanket. She very tenderly tucked him in, gave him kisses all over, then cuddled in next to him. But as soon as nap time was over, she took it upon herself to give him a full check-up, which consisted of measuring him using a Slinky and shining the flashlight all over his body. He’s such a good sport and never put up a fuss, but I have a feeling he was relieved when she went back to school on Tuesday.

IMG_1675All tucked in

When Murphy had his scans to check if the cancer had spread, the doctors had to shave his entire belly and part of his sides. The hair is just starting to grow back, but his belly is still pretty bare. So when the temps dip dangerously low, we need to bundle him up to go outside.  We’ve been using one of my fleece jackets, which has worked really well (and he looks so good in blue). We quickly learned the right way to tie it up so that it’s nice and snug against his belly, preventing the cold from sneaking in and also so that he doesn’t pee in it. This is just another way he has been a very good sport during all of this, but I know that – like the rest of us – he will be very happy when spring finally arrives and we quit dressing him up in my clothes.

Tangled up in blue

It was so cold the other night, that while we were doing laundry and Murphy walked by the
dryer vent,
it immediately froze and created an icy beard on his face.

On Monday, Murphy goes in for the first blood draw to check his levels. But it will be a special trip because we’ll have some honored guests joining us. My parents will be in town to celebrate Lucy’s birthday, so they are going to come along. And I’m keeping Lucy home from daycare so that she can finally get her wish to accompany her sidekick to the doctor. I foresee the next public appearance of Bat Lucy and Robin Murphy. Photos to come…

IMG_1586Robin Murphy at his last appointment at the U of M. He’s excited to have his partner join him next time.

Meet Murphy


Meet Murphy – a 7-year old Golden Retriever who enjoys chasing squirrels, soaking up the afternoon sun on the deck, and digging a hole in the same spot in our back yard every year that requires between 5 to 10 bags of top soil to refill (we’ve even dug deeper to see what he’s looking for, but have never found anything). He, like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, has “his” spot on the couch and if you choose to take it, he will stare you down until you relinquish it to him. Murphy has many roles in our house, but perhaps the most important one is being the superhero sidekick to my nearly 3-year old daughter, Lucy.


Lucy loves superheroes and over the summer decided that she and Murphy would be Batman and Robin for Halloween. At the time, we had no idea how influential or life-changing that declaration would become. It was around this same time that our chinchilla, Chico, went in for surgery for a lump on his tummy. When the pathology report came back, it was the outcome we feared: cancer. Chico was an unbelievable fighter and when Halloween got closer, Lucy decided that he too needed to be recruited for her Justice League. Not knowing if he’d be around to help her celebrate her favorite holiday, I made him a cape (as requested by Lucy) well in advance. He, however, preferred that we hang the cape on the side of his cage.

IMG_1137Halloween arrived and Bat Lucy and Robin Murphy made their first public appearance. They were a hit around the neighborhood and I fully expected that to be the end of the Dynamic Duo for a while. But a month later, all of us were called upon to summon our super powers and we learned that Bat Lucy and Robin Murphy would be around for quite a while.

IMG_1126The first week of December brought a lot of change and heartache to our household. On Monday of that week, Murphy had to go in for surgery to remove what we (and the vet) believed to be a fatty cyst. Surgery went well, but as he was recovering the next day, I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put Chico down. He had fought an incredible fight and no one expected him to make it as long as he did. But unfortunately, it was time to retire the Superman cape and give Chico the peace he so desperately needed. I knew that this would be hard on me because he’d been a part of my life for ten years and a huge part of my daily routine, especially toward the end when he required a lot of extra care. But I never anticipated the effect it would have on Lucy and Murphy. Lucy still asks for him and two weeks after he passed, I found her carrying a suitcase through the house. When I asked where she was going, she said “to the doctor to get Chico, he’s been there too long.” Murphy didn’t go in Chico’s room for a month and doesn’t like to be left alone anymore. It was obvious that there a huge hole in our Justice League.

ChicoBut, only three days after Chico’s passing, while the grief was still fresh and raw, Murphy’s vet called with the pathology report from his surgery. I honestly hadn’t thought anything of it and when the doctor began speaking in a low, sympathetic tone, I knew something was not right. My stomach dropped to the floor and then he delivered the news I hoped to never hear: Murphy’s tumor was cancer.

Murphy had a low-grade subcutaneous hermangiosarcoma. We got incredibly lucky, he explained, because this type of tumor typically presents on the heart or spleen and you never know they have it until it ruptures and they bleed out. The fact that his was somewhere near the skin where we could feel it and have it removed was somewhat of a miracle.

Two weeks later, we were meeting with an oncology team at the University of Minnesota to determine the extent of his cancer and decide upon the next steps. By this point, Lucy had made the conclusion that when you go to the doctor, you don’t come back. So when she heard that Murphy was going to see new doctors, she not only demanded that she come along, but also requested that she be Batman and Murphy be Robin. So I made her a promise. I explained that she would need to go to school that day, but that I would absolutely put Murphy in his Robin costume for his appointment. And that’s just what I did. The University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center is an amazing place. They do incredible work and they are so wonderful with the animals. And when I walked in with a dog dressed up as Robin, no one in the building thought anything of it. When people asked, I explained it was the request of a 3-year old and every single person just nodded and got tears in their eyes. His team of doctors all fell in love with Robin Murphy and requested that he wear his costume for every appointment, which he has.

First apptMurphy & Lucy the morning of his first oncology appointment

From the surgical report, it appeared that all traces of the tumor had been removed, but the problem with his type of tumor and its location is that it’s in the blood vessels and the chance for spreading throughout the body is high. So his doctors at the U of MN did a full round of blood work and scans of his internal organs to determine what we were dealing with and how to proceed. The week before Christmas, we received another small miracle – the cancer hadn’t spread. However, if left alone, they explained he had a good chance of the cancer returning in 6 months. So they recommended a year-long course of low-dose chemo to inhibit growth of the tumor.

We begin chemo this week. The doctors have explained that the side effects are minimal and there’s only one reaction we need to look out for. My heart is full of hope and I am trying so hard to be 100% optimistic. But the reality that I’m administering chemotherapy to my dog set in this weekend when the pills arrived. A little part of me kept hoping this was a bad dream and that there was still time to wake up. But in those moments of panic and fear, all I have to do is look to my amazing little girl and my beautiful dog and I know that everything will be O.K.

Murphy is a special dog and he has had a lot of people sending him good wishes and asking for updates. So I decided to create this blog to chronicle the next year of our journey. This is meant only to share his story and the medical information I provide here is but a brief recap of much larger and in-depth discussions with his doctors. If you believe your dog might have cancer, please seek the advice of a veterinary professional. There are many helpful online resources and as I do more research, I’ll post links to those sites on this blog.

Thank you for being a part of our journey and thank you to all the people who have sent us love and support. Murphy sends his love right back and if you come to our house, he might even let you sit in his spot. Well, maybe not that, but he’ll let you scratch him all over and give him lots of hugs. And he’ll even let you help him dig for buried treasure in the backyard.