<![CDATA[DILLIE THE DEER - Dr. Mel's Blog]]>Thu, 08 Mar 2018 08:40:28 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Blog at Psychology Today]]>Tue, 05 Jan 2016 15:46:03 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/blog-at-psychology-todayI was invited to post a weekly blog at Psychology Today.    Once I have a a few extra articles to post, I will post both here and there, with two separate blogs and topics.  Until then, please read my blog at Psychology Today. 


<![CDATA[Relay for Life]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 11:48:57 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/relay-for-lifeOn December 12, 2012, at noon, 12/12/12/at 12:00, I learned that the cancer I had already been battling for a year, had spread "everywhere:"  liver, lungs, bone, kidneys, etc.  It was this event that kicked me in the backside and made me write Dillie's book, and tell her and my stories.   Although, I am still three years later in treatment, my cancer journey continues to be intertwined with Dillie's.  

I am ready to not write another word about cancer, because it does not define me and my life is blessed daily by animals and animal lovers. But the three year anniversary this week of that fateful day did give me pause to stop and reflect on my path.  Then,  just yesterday, a Dillie fan that came to the house to meet her asked me if I could publish the speech I gave at a local cancer "Relay for Life."  And as things always seem to happen lately, just last night as I put away an old book, my handwritten speech from this event tumbled out.  This was definitely a "God Is Trying to Tell You Something" moment, even without the cast of The Color Purple.   Who am I to defy the will of God, and He time and time again makes that will known to me in the most obvious but cheeky ways. 

So, without further adieu, here is the text to the speech I was so honored to be asked to give at the Jackson Relay for Life in 2015.  And I PROMISE my  next blog with have NOTHING to do with cancer!!!   MRB


Thank you for your invitation.  Hello, my name is Dr. Melanie Butera, but  you probably better know me as “that crazy person that has the deer that lives in her house.”   

Yes, I am “Dillie’s Mom.”   Dillie the Deer that became an international webacm/internet star after appearing on TV and having over 1 million fans.  

As you can tell by my bald head, I am also a cancer patient.  No, this isn’t a fashion statement.  I am not getting ready to pose for the Sports Illustrated Uncle Fester Edition.

This is my third year of my cancer journey.  And I do see this as a journey, and a journey I was supposed to have made.  It is a journey that has taken me to places I have never been before.  I don’t just mean under the linear accelerator in a  radiation oncology room or my pink chemo chair, but I mean places in my soul and my faith that I have never examined before, and needed to.  

It’s a journey that has given me the absolute privilege of meeting the most incredible spirits in the world: wonderful, compassionate doctors, nurses, and staff-- but also the amazing fellow passengers on my journey that travel with me with such courage and determination. Once you’re on board this flight, the other passengers welcome you with open arms, and help you navigate the bumps and turns.  And there’s a lot of those.

I meet my fellow passengers everywhere I go.  We don’t have a secret handshake, but we’re easy to tell apart.  We’re the ones with no eyebrows and legs so smooth we could do a Nair commercial.  But we’re also those that are grateful for every day,    for every hug from our loved ones.  We are survivors together.  We are strong survivors, and we are are survivor strong.  

Cancer thinks it is soooo powerful.  But it’s not.    Oh, he calls himself the Tumornator and says “I’ll be back!” but he’s just Don Knotts in an Arnold Schwarzenegger costume.    He’s weak.  He can only hurt our bodies, that’s all.
He’s not the Terminator-  he’s the shakiest gun in the west!

He cannot take our souls.  He cannot end the love we have for our friends and families.  He cannot destroy our faith,  He only makes that stronger.  He cannot undo the impact we have made with out lives.  

These things stand forever.  

I know that the Tumornator may shorten my life, but he cannot make me ungrateful for every day I have.  He cannot take that away from me.

My biggest fear when I was first diagnosed was not that I might die.  We all die.  No, my fear was that my life hadn’t mattered, that POOF, I would be gone, and no one would even know I had been here.  My diagnosis prompted me to get off my backside and finish  the book I had started about my deer Dillie.  Seeing what a huge impact this little throwaway life had to people all over the world, from Australia to Siberia,  I realized my life did have impact, that we all make a dent in the universe.  This revelation–this epiphany– gave me the strength I needed to continue the journey I am on.

Those of you here today tat have already taken the flight I am on, God bless you all.  You are indeed survivor strong.

Those of you here today representing a loved one that wasn’t  able to complete the journey, on their behalf, I boldly thank you.  By honoring them, remembering them, missing them, loving them, you have refused to let the Tunornator win.  He’s crashing today in front of our eyes in a big ball of flaming mutated chromosomes. 

Your love is more powerful than cancer.

Together, we tell the Tumornator to go back to Hell.  Say it with me: Hasta la vista, Baby!

<![CDATA[Donkey Ride]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 21:04:19 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/donkey-rideThis is a chapter that I wrote for the manuscript "Dillie the Deer" that was edited and condensed and does not appear as a stand alone chapter.  It takes place in January, 2013, after I had just started my first year of chemotherapy for stage four cancer. Prior to this chapter, I had explained that my friend Sandy and I together had been taking a medical journey together, her with a debilitating neurologic mystery disease and me with endometrial cancer.    MRB

Donkey Ride

One of the movies I had watched during that first chemo was Young Frankenstein.  So, of course, that night I heard from my friend Sandy.  Her own health battle had taken a dramatic if not miraculous turn.

Right after she had told me about her  “Abby Normal” brain, I had relayed her symptoms to Dillie friends on Facebook.  One of them, Wendy,  wrote me  and said that her teenage daughter had a similarly frustrating experience with a similar illness.  She had seen specialists all over the world, and none of them had any answers.  Some of them had arrogantly suggested, as Sandy’s neurologist had, that she was making up her symptoms.   

There can be no more disheartening feeling in the world than suffering from a serious illness and having a trusted-- but ignorant-- doctor accuse the patient of “faking it.’  After over a year of her debilitating undiagnosed illness, Wendy’s daughter was watching a TV home makeover show, one where the TV remodeling crew gives a fresh home to someone enduring a difficulty.  The subject of this show suffered from a disease known as “Chiari Syndrome.”  Despite it’s romantic-sounding Italian name, Chiari is a very serious problem caused when the brainstems sags into the spinal column.  The intense pressure on the brainstem triggers a variety of seemingly disjointed signs due to the various nerve centers in that region.  The brainstem contains centers for breathing, blood pressure, nausea, balance, heart rate, and pain, and its surrounding cranial nerves  control swallowing, tongue movement (and therefore speech), and the autonomic nervous system.   

As the subject of the show explained her symptoms, Wendy’s daughter shouted: “Mom!! That’s what I have!”

Sure enough, after consulting a Chiari specialist and having a special type of MRI study done, Wendy’s daughter finally, finally got her diagnosis and treatment began.  

I was familiar with Chiari in dogs.  My practice associate Stacy had a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that was diagnosed with it via MRI at Ohio State.   Sandy’s complex array of neurologic signs all revolved around the brainstem.  Even the weird intermittent French accent that Dr. Gi Gadois had nonchalantly brushed aside could be explained by injury to the hypoglossal cranial nerve, located right along the brainstem.   Furthermore, Sandy had Ehrler Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder often associated with Chiari.  Ehler-Danlos allows extreme flexibility and contributed to Sandy’s  advanced dancing skills, but it could also cause that brainstem to sag or the spinal cord to crimp.  She very likely could have Chiari, but not one of her multitude of neurologists at three different hospitals ever mentioned the possibility nor conducted the necessary scans to diagnose it.   Instead, they arrogantly accused her of “faking it.”  How is it possible that a sixteen year old girl watching a TV show and a veterinarian at Ohio State could diagnose this syndrome, but a board certified neurologist could not?  

I told Sandy that she just needed a better doctor.  No, not just a better doctor: THE BEST doctor.  The Luciano Pavarotti of doctors.  I had also told her that I was making her an honorary Catholic so Padre Pio could guide her to a cure.  

Just two weeks later, Sandy called me, excited.  She was in town and needed to talk to me.  We met the next day for breakfast.  

She and her husband Gary bounced into the restaurant, full of joy.  She had found her miracle doctor.  Two days ago, Gary had driven her all the way from Virginia Beach.  She had to lay down in the back seat for the whole trip.  If she tried to sit up, she would pass out.

She had come back to Ohio to see a special doctor: Dr. Issam Nemeh.

Dr. Nemeh is a cardiologist that practices in the Cleveland area that has an international reputation as a gifted spiritual healer.  Sandy had met him when she had worked on a documentary on faith healers for the Christian television station where she worked.   Exasperated, ill, and convinced she was going to die before any doctor could help her, she decided to see Dr. Nemeh for advice.  

“Melanie,” she told me, “when I walked into his office, Luciano Pavarotti was on the loud speaker.  And there was a picture of Padre Pio hanging over his desk.  I knew I was in the right place.”

What eluded all those board-certified neurologists was obvious to Il Maestro Dr. Nemeh.  He pointed out that she had a mild but noticeable curvature in the bones of her neck.  Technically, she did not have Chiari, but the compression on the brainstem and effects were the same.  What she had was known as “kyphosis.” In layman’s terms, she had a hunchback.

“Just call me ‘Aye-gor’,” she said in character,  with a laugh, recalling our “Young Frankenstein” motif.   

Dr. Nemeh had not only diagnosed her, but by performing spinal manipulation and electro-acupuncture,  he had corrected her problem for the time being.

“Look!” she said.  “I can stand without passing out!  I can even dance.”

To demonstrate, she and her husband, as much of a vivacious bon vivant as she, stood and performed an impromptu tango, right there in our local Cracker Barrel.

I had never heard of Dr. Nemeh before that day, but I was amazed and grateful for my friend’s cure.  Sandy described him as a modest man of God,not like the uber-flamboyant so-called faith healers of televangelism infamy.   She urged me to go to one of his prayer sessions he led each Sunday.  

At that time, my cancer was supposedly gone.  I didn’t think I would need to ever seek the extra healing power of anyone.  Just a few months later, however,  when I had discovered the unceremonious spread of the cancer, I heard the Pavarotti of doctor’s name again.  

My mother called me one day and said: “ I want you to go to this prayer service with me.  There’s going to be a doctor there with great healing powers.  His name is Dr. Nemeh.”

I obliged her because, frankly, she is my mother and her superpower is to bend the will of her offspring so they cannot ever tell her no, but also because I could not afford to refuse to do anything  that might lessen my hope I would survive.

That following weekend, Mom and I waited among hundreds of people to see Dr. Nemeh.  he was just as my friend Sandy had said: unassuming, meek, humble.  He was the very antithesis of the psuedo-healers flapping their toupees while shouting “Be gone, Satan!”over the infirmed on TV.

This was not a show, it was a service.  There were no TV cameras, bands playing, or speaking in tongues.   A simple, quiet man timidly approached the microphone and told us he was Dr. Nemeh.   He was a classically trained cardiologist, he explained, but throughout his whole life he had known the healing power of the Holy Spirit.  He knew that there was more to medicine than the quality of the doctor and the drugs.  He had witnessed miracles, but he also knew some patients would not be cured, “at least,” he said, “in this realm.”

Sometimes, he told us, the cure is not to the physical body, but to the spirit.

His wife then took the microphone.  She was a more outgoing and natural public speaker than her husband of thirty years.  She told us she had witnessed many healing miracles herself, but was at a loss to explain her husband’s gift.  She asked him one day: “How do I explain to people what you do?”

He took a picture off the wall of Christ riding to Bethlehem on a donkey.  This is the classic depiction of Palm Sunday, and Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem.  A crowd of admirers surround Jesus as he rides on a donkey into town, fulfilling a prophecy and bringing hope to His people.

Pointing to the picture, Dr. Nemeh explained himself to his wife: “I am the one closest to Jesus in this picture.”

His wife was puzzled.  “This little girl? The old man?”

“No,” Dr. Nemeh answered. “I am the donkey.  I am bringing Jesus to the people.”

After a long wait, my mother and I received our blessing from Dr. Nemeh.  I have met people before in been in places where the power of the Holy Spirit  was as obvious as the North Star.  When my mother and I had stood in front of the Shroud of Turin in Torino, Italy, I had felt that type of presence.  When we saw Mother Theresa speak at a local college a few years before she died, we felt it then, too.  This man, this simple donkey of Christ, had that blessed aura.  When he touched my mother, she fainted.

After that powerful service, my mother was determined for me to see Dr. Nemeh as a patient.  Just a few days later, she called me to tell me she had made an appointment, but there was a six week waiting list.  I was content with that, but she wanted us to go sooner.  I don’t know what spirit was guiding her then, but she called back a few minutes later.  

“I called them back,” she told me.  “I told them about Sandy, that we knew Sandy.  He’s going to see you tomorrow. “

The very next evening, therefore, with my friend Sandy’s unknowingly facilitating the appointment, I saw Dr. Nemeh in his medical office.  Just as Sandy had described, Padre Pio hung above his desk. This was the same photograph of the Padre  with his bandaged hands soaked with blood from his stigmata that I had purchased as a medallion  over a decade ago while in Turin to see the shroud.  On the loudspeaker was a classical radio show playing opera, and while we were waiting in the lobby, as I completely knew would happen, the announcer introduced Che Gellida Manina, sung by Pavarotti.  

I had to smile.  Sandy couldn’t have been more with us than if Marty Feldman himself had been in the lobby with Hans Delbruck’s brain in a jar.  

How many doctors had I seen at this point in my journey?  At least a dozen.  I couldn’t even really count, especially when I thought about all the doctors I only saw for a second during one procedure or the other, and didn’t even know their names till I received their bills. Not one of them was like Dr. Nemeh.  

Not one of them even had an exam room like him.  Instead of the usual anatomic charts and public service posters, his walls housed pictures of saints and the Pieta.  At the far end of the room, right across from the exam chair, was a statue of the Madonna.  If there had been a stained glass rose window and an organ, I would have thought I was in mass.  

My visit to Dr. Nemeh was three days after my first chemo, and the chemo demons were just starting to move in.  The fatigue, queasiness, and pain were just starting.  They would intensify over the next week, and then gradually subside.  Just when my energy started to come back, and food no longer tasted like a copper pipe, they would hit me again.  

That night, I was feeling pretty shaky and sick, but from the moment Dr. Nemeh came in to the exam room, I felt calm and tranquil,  like I had just been dosed with some IV “Twilight.” He introduced himself, as if any patient he saw didn’t already know who he was.  

Up close, he was the same quiet unassuming man I had met at the prayer service, but his personal presence was even more powerful.  He radiated kindness and love.

He asked about my cancer and completed his medical exam.  They he began and electro-acupucnture with a set of electric leads and a MacBook Pro.

I knew he was a Mac guy!  God wouldn’t waste his time bestowing healing powers on a Windows user!

As he conducted the acupuncture, I talked to him about the conflict I had as a scientist believing completely in the improbable existence of a God.  Had he ever had any doubts?

“No, never,” he answered quietly.  “I have felt HIs presence.  I have seen His work.  He is very real.”

When he had finished his procedure, he gave me the best medicine I received during my entire cancer treatment: hope.  

“You are going to be fine,” he said.  “The angels around you are there to help you.  They aren’t taking you home.”

I did not receive, not did I expect, a miracle cure from Dr. Nemeh.  however, he was a faith healer to me in the most literal sense–he healed my broken faith.

Every other doctor I had met to that point had done nothing but suffocate hope. They all  pussyfooted around the truth, keeping the most dire statistics and news away from me as best they could.  When they spoke to me, however, they all had the look that I had when confronted with a terminally ill twenty-one year old cat with a body temperature ten degrees below normal and unable to lift its head off the exam table whose pet parent furtively asks: “He’s going to be all right, isn’t he, doc?”  

Dr. Nemeh, who viewed himself  as no more than a donkey-servant of the Lord, was the very first doctor to give me the hope I needed to fight the battle of my life.

<![CDATA[That Wascally Wabbit]]>Sun, 22 Nov 2015 11:48:17 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/that-wascally-wabbit
Each week, I try to share some stories about Dillie, my journey, but also some amazing animals I have met through the years.  Going to step away from the present this week and talk about a case I saw a very long time ago.   MRB

Even after a two decades of emergency work, I never quite knew what to expect when the next patient came clanging through the swinging doors. It’s this constant uncertainty that made emergency work exciting,  gave me my nightly “adrenaline rush," and made me grey years before my time.   

One summer night, the familiar crash of the gurney against the doors caused me to look up from the laceration I was suturing. What was the staff rushing back?  A hit by car? A seizure case ? A heat stroke?  No, not quite.  What I saw was so bizarre that for a split second I thought my chronically sleep deprived mind was playing tricks on me! On the gurney lay a small black cockapoo,  thumping a scraggly black tail against the table top, with a woodstove on its head.

This poor little bugger had been minding her own business just a few hours ago. She had been enjoying the lovely summer day, playing in the cool fragrant grass, just another happy dog in the beautiful uncomplicated animal world when a fuzzy devil with long ears and a little white tail ran right by her. She gave fervent chase across the freshly mown lawn, into the barn, and was within inches of her quarry as it ran right into a woodstove. She ran right after it--or tried.  Physics has never been a canine strong suit and in the heat of the chase Missy the huntress did not have time to figure that her 18 inch rotund had-too-many-table-scraps body would not fit through a 10 inch iron opening.

But her head would.

Unfortunately, getting in the stove was the easy part. Now that she was in past her large ears, she couldn’t slide her face back out.   She was stuck--hopelessly stuck!  The more she tried to remove herself, the more stuck she became. And you can bet that Beezelbub in rabbit fur just sat there and howled squeaky bunny guffaws.

Meanwhile, poor Missy was starting to get in real trouble.  Now her neck and face were starting to swell, and she was starting to have trouble breathing.   Luckily some neighbors happened by and  heard Missy’s desperate cries.   They tried a variety of lubricants and techniques, but try as they might, they could not extricate the panicked pooch from the iron prison.

Missy’s owner was nowhere to be found, but the kind, concerned neighbors could tell that something had to be done to help Missy soon or she would suffocate. So, they gathered up the kids, started up the car,  and brought Missy into my clinic.

Woodstove and all.

The neighbors had actually been able to remove the door from the stove so what actually came crashing back through our swinging doors was poor Missy with her head through the door, her neck encased in the stove pipe, and her swollen, panicked face visible above the door.  The neighbor couple kept hold of the  door to keep Missy’s neck from cracking under the weight of the twenty pound door.
It was a classic case of WGD--Whatcha Gonna Do? Some things they just don’t teach you in vet school!  I couldn’t hardly look in a text book for advice on this one.  Let’s see....Woodstove on head....or in the  Ohio State professional vernacular: Ferric lignite oxidation chamber ensconced on cervical region of spayed female canine resulting in submandibular swelling, laryngeal obstruction via exogenous pressure source and subsequent inspiratory dyspnea...see also dogs that think they’re Houdini.

No, we were definitely on our own on this one.

After surveying the situation, we decided if we could just open the pipe up a little, we would have enough space to bring back Missy’s ears, and then slide her head out. Piece of cake! My assistant Robert  grabbed a massive pair of bolt cutters we keep on hand to cut off collars, leash clips, and other assorted metal pieces that dogs find ways of getting caught in their fur. Robert was very tall and very strong and applied all his might with the bolt cutters on the edge of the pipe, just hoping for a small gap in the pipe.

That woodstove just laughed at our feeble attempt and broke our bolt cutters in two.

Our next attempt was to try and slide Missy out. Using a mess of petrolatum, we tried furtively to extricate Missy.  Her swollen face and entrapped ears made this completely impossible.  We decided our only other option was to deliver her, like a calf in an iron cow.

When I was a young girl, my mother would futilely try to steer me away from my dream of being a veterinarian and toward the more lucrative profession of pediatrics. “You have such small hands,” she said, “They would be perfect for pediatric surgery.”  I did have small hands, and hated them, especially when trying to play ragtime on the piano. Though I will never have the 3 octave stretch that Scott Joplin and Zez Confrey and the other ragtime greats, I have found that when trying to deliver puppies and kitties,  small hands are a blessing.

And it was my glove size 6, never to be a “real doctor” according to my heartbroken mother, never to play the Maple Leaf Rag like Mr. Joplin meant, itsy bitsy hands that were just small enough to reach into the iron birth canal entrapping Missy. Once inside, I was able to lubricate and manipulate Missy’s ears and face and inch her out of the pipe back into the free world.

Little Missy was able to return to her rabbit-chasing ways in no time, though she became somewhat of a local celebrity.  The local paper carried her story and included a happy Missy with her owner after the ordeal and the picture we had taken of her when she had arrived.  She had the most curious look in her eyes, though--as if to say: “Why are these people taking my picture instead of getting me out of this bunny trap? Another inch and I would have had that sucker...“

<![CDATA[All About the Chemo]]>Sat, 14 Nov 2015 15:27:49 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/all-about-the-chemo

This is an unedited chapter from my manuscript about the beginning of chemo in 2012.  I promise we will get back to cute animal stories soon.  Just have to complete this crazy cancer stuff first.  MRB

After ending the year with these moving spiritual experiences, I faced the new year with a glimmer of hope. For the first time since the surgeon had blind sided me again, I started to think I had a greater chance to survive this than the surgeon had said. The radiation doctor had seemed more hopeful than the surgeon. When I called and asked him why he hadn’t told me about the mets in the other organs, he said: “Whether it’s one mass or three thousand, it doesn’t matter.” Then, he repeated the exact mantra the surgeon had told me: “It’s all about the chemo.”

He further explained his reason for not telling me the entire truth. “We don’t want to destroy your hope. You can’t fight cancer without hope.”

I later discovered this philosophy was shared by the acupuncturist I visited regularly after I started the chemo. His treatments helped me cope with the pain and nausea the chemo caused. He had a medical degree from the University of Beijing and took his art very seriously. I enjoyed talking to him about the differences between Western and Chinese medicine. He echoed what the radiation doctor had told me. In China, he said, they never tell the patient he has cancer. They tell the family, but never the patient. “As soon as you say ‘cancer’ to patient,” he told me in his adorable broken English, “patient shut down. Mind shut down. Hope shut down. Need hope to fight cancer.”

By the time I met my chemo doctor for the first time, that first week of the new year, my hope was already a James Bond martini, shaken not stirred. I had to prepare for the toughest battle of my life, for my life, and the hope I needed for strength was frail and quivering.

Despite all the mysterious and powerful events I had experienced that week, I still had no expectation I was gong to live. God was making Himself known to me, but to call me home and ease my fear about the journey. I tried to re-ignite my hope into the bonfire I needed and told myself “It’s all about the chemo,” as the doctors had told me, but the most I got was a flickering flame in a gusty wind.

This first meeting with my chemo doctor doused that flame right out, with a fire hose.

Apparently all the doctors had gotten together and declared that one of them needed to give me the devastating whole truth. Dr. M, the chemo doc, had drawn the short straw.

Within just a few minutes of his friendly greeting, he hit me with everything I wanted to know about my cancer, but couldn’t bear to hear. The situation was worse than I thought. All the masses had lit up on the PET scan. No doubt about it, even the smallest specks in the lungs were cancer. There weren’t just three masses in the abdo, as the radiation doctor had misrepresented to me in attempt to sustain my hope, there were countless masses. They couldn’t put a number on them. Dr. M called it a metastatic shower.

He paused and offered me a box of Kleenex. I wasn’t crying, yet, but he knew there was more. Much more.

The biopsy showed that this was a particularly aggressive cell type, he said. Endometrial carcino-sarcoma. Then he turned on that fire hose. According to the statistics, less than 20% of women with this particular cancer were alive at five years out.

Oh, yeah. I’ll take those Kleenex now.

Seeing my reaction, he futilely tried to give me a little hope. “But of the ones that do survive,” he said, “they survive 100%.”


While I was still pondering how anyone could survive less than 100%, the dousing continued. More stats. He just loved those stats. Only 40% of chemo patients with this type of cancer showed any response at all to chemo. So, even though it was all about the chemo, I only had a 40% chance that the chemo would even work. Even if it did work, I had only a 20% chance that I would live another five years.

“You have a choice,” he said. “If you choose chemo, we start next week.”

“What’s my other choice?” I asked, thinking he was going to suggest some experimental therapy or radiation.

“Your other choice,” he said candidly but compassionately, “is to enjoy the time you have left without the medication making you sicker.”

“That’s not a choice at all,” I said.

“Some people prefer that,” he told me. “Especially when the odds are that bad. But these are just numbers, they aren’t you.”

I knew he said that to try to convince me to fight. He didn’t have to. I was all in. Even though I still harbored the feeling that the cancer would win and it always did, I had to fight. I had to fight so my family and Steve would not lose hope. They could not ever know the drastic details. In their minds, as long as I was fighting, there was a chance I would be cured.

“I promise you,” I told Dr. M, “I won’t give up.”

“It’s going to be tough,” he said.

“So am I.”

With that, he laid out the plan. Starting next week, I was to receive IV Taxol and Carboplatin every three weeks. He went through the litany of oh so pleasant side effects I should expect: nausea, hair loss, fatigue, anemia, low white blood cell count, bone pain, muscle pain, nerve pain, numbness of the extremities.

My acupuncturist later explained the basis of chemotherapy to me: “Goal kill cancer and not kill patient. Sometime kill cancer, sometime kill patient.” This was a very effective and succinct way to say what Dr. M was taking minutes to explain.

“You’re going to have to take some time off from work,” he told me.

I wasn’t trying to be a difficult patient; I had long since learned to do everything the doctor told me. Time off, however, was not an option. I was self-employed. I had no vacation days, no sick days. The Family Medical Leave Act applied only to my employees, not to me. No one was gong to pay me to not see patients and hiring someone to cover all my hours would bankrupt me. Our business was our sole source of family income and also the sole source of income for our employees. I couldn’t afford to be sick, and would somehow have to work through the entire 
term of chemo.

“How are you going to do that?” he asked. “You’ll need your rest.”

I didn’t know how I was going to, I just knew I had to. I had worked through adversity and illness before, pulling 100 hour weeks when I had pneumonia, flu, and an excruciatingly painful bout of Bell’s palsy. How I did it was simply one day at a time, one patient at a time.

I had to work through chemo the same way, one patient at a time. Each morning, no matter how sick I felt, no matter how hopeless my heart really was, I had to perform the aria from the opera Pagliacci: Vesti la Giubba. Though most Americans know the tune better as the “Rice Krispies song,” this is the famous aria of the laughing heartbroken clown and the title means “wear the suit.” Pagliacci’s heart is broken, but he has to put on his clown suit and perform. That was exactly how I planned to get through the most grueling ten months of my life. One day at a time I planned to vesti mi giubba – my scrubs– hang my stethoscope around my neck, forge a smile, and pretend, no matter how I felt, I had nothing in the world to worry about except the patient in front of me.

My chemo doctor probably thought I was underestimating the devastation the chemo would create to my body as it tried to “kill cancer, not kill patient.” Or, perhaps he thought I was overestimating my willpower to tough this out. He very likely thought I was in that one stage of grief I never languished in, denial.

I was, however, not a wide-eyed novice unfamiliar with the medicine. I knew the drugs. I knew the biomechanics of cell division. I knew how the chemo would kill off good cells as well as bad. I knew that my white cell count could fall so low, that my patients and the bacteria or fungus they carried could kill me. However, somehow, some way, I had go through the chemo and continue working. Giving up one meant giving up the other.

I promised him I would get as much rest as I could. My schedule now was much easier than it had been when I ran the emergency clinic. I only worked fifty-five hours a week now, had Sundays off, and I was able to get a full night’s sleep. If I really got sick, I would just close for a few days, something I could never have done at my 24/7 previous clinic.

“OK,” he told me, as he dismissed me from the exam room. “Get ready. Chemo starts Monday.”

I joined Steve waiting in the lobby, trying not to let him see the marks from the emotional lashing I had just gone through. I could not, could not, let him know the grim statistics Dr. M had given me. I had promised Steve I would never lose hope and never quit fighting until the day he came to me and told me I could stop. Had he known that I had less than a 20% chance of making it through this alive, he would have never recovered. I needed him to hope, because, frankly, I could not.

“What did he say?” Steve asked.

Time for Pagliacci, early matineé. I put on my winter coat and forged a smile.

“Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be good,” I said. “It’s all about the chemo.”

<![CDATA[Abby Normal with a Cherry on Top]]>Mon, 09 Nov 2015 16:20:54 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/abby-normal-with-a-cherry-on-top
The Mona Lisa of Hot Fudge Sundaes, from Heggys, in Canton, Ohio.
This takes place in December, 2012, after the surgeon had told me the cancer was "everywhere." ( in the previous blog post )  Parts of this chapter did appear in my manuscript, Dillie the Deer, but this is the original unedited version from the manuscript.

That night, the full impact of the news finally shattered Steve’s self-defense force field of denial.  

“What am I going to do without you?” He was crying so hard, that it only made me wish that I had not told him the truth.  

His fear made me stronger, as I had to force myself to pretend there was nothing to fear.  

“I’m going to be just fine,” I told him.  “Nothing’s changed at all. It’s all about the chemo now,” I said, repeating what the surgeon and radiation doctor had said.  

Exhausted from worry and ravaged by his man-cold, he went to bed without dinner.

I couldn’t sleep.  I had too much to do.  The surgeon had told me to get my affairs n order, and I went to my upstairs office to do just that.

First, I went online to look at funeral homes.  I knew that when the time came, Steve would not be able to deal with this unpleasant task.  I intended to pre-plan and pre-pay for everything so he would not have to worry about a thing.  Plus, I wanted this event, my final  hurrah, to be as joyous and unique as my life had been.  I looked for a funeral home that had a kitchen.   I wanted my guests to be served hot fudge sundaes.  

My whole adult life I had battled with a sluggish metabolism, fueled by excessive estrogen from polycystic ovarian disease.  Hot fudge sundaes were forbidden fruit I could never have.  Now I saw them as a gooey metaphor.   They were a celebration of life, the joy of living for the moment, and the need  to leave world without regrets, with a maraschino cherry on top.   I wanted to impart this invaluable lesson as my last official act on earth.

Not just any hot fudge would do for my friends.  Oh no. No Hershey’s syrup for this crowd.  The funeral director would have to procure Heggy’s  hot fudge sauce.  

Paris has the louvre, Toronto has Niagara Falls, St. Louis the arch.  My hometown has Heggy’s.   For nearly a hundred years, this family run chocolate shoppe and soda fountain  has served the Mona Lisa of hot fudge sundaes, with a rich homemade French vanilla ice cream, slathered with heaven in its chocolate syrup state.  Only that particular culinary blast of decadence could properly impart my final  message to the world.

Though my old country grandmother had told me when my grandfather had died when I was twelve that music during this time was disrespectful, at my funeral, I wanted music. I started to go through my I-tunes collection and picked out songs for the soundtrack of my life.  “Someday” by blues belter Michelle Willson brought me to tears with lyrics that came right out of my own heart.


I will go home
I will go home
And I will see the face of my father
And I will fear pain no more.”

No, no.  Too sad.  I wanted people to celebrate my life, not roll in the aisles wailing.

I tried Josh Groban instead.  Poor Josh.  His sweet baritone voice was probably played at more funerals than “Taps.”

Hearing her favorite singer Dillie pushed open the door and came in to listen, laying her head on my lap as she always did.

I could not keep my composure any longer.   I stroked her beautiful face as the tears fell.  “I will miss you so much, Dillie,” I told her.  “Please take care of your daddy for me.”

Dillie licked my tears, liking the salt.  Her tongue flipped out of the side of her mouth, in the goofy way it always did, and that made me smile.

Pets are completely in tune to their human companions.  They know when we are happy or afraid.  They know when our world  is crumbling around us.  Dillie laid down at my feet.   For a princess used to lounging on her micro-fleece blanket, 330 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets,  and Sealy Posture-pedic mattress, laying on my office floor was slumming it.  A few minutes later, Lady joined her.  Then Spazz the cat.  My entire animal family was around me as I continued to “get my affairs in order.”

My next task was going to be tough.  I needed to write my own obituary.  I am not a control freak, by any means.  I am surrounded by many, and I share the DNA of at least one of them, but I am not.  However, writing my final farewell was important to me.   

I was very bothered by the fact that nothing in my life was lasting, that I would leave the earth without anyone knowing I had even been here.  I planned to be cremated and have my ashes scattered with Steve someday on our land in Idaho.  I wasn’t even going to have a headstone.  There was going to be no granite marker telling the world like Ozymandias that at one time there was this person Melanie Butera that had been a vet and loving, breathing person.  I thought that if I wrote my own obituary, I would at least have something somewhere that told the world I had been here that  was lasting, even in this increasingly paperless world.  

As I struggled to find the words, my music library continued to play random selections.  Pavarotti began to sing the beautiful “Il Lucevan le Stelle,” the heartbreaking aria from Tosca. His doomed character Cavaradossi recalls his love and life from his prison  cell.  He knows he will be executed at dawn, and he sees the sun rising.  

Even in happier times, this performance had always brought me to tears. Pavarotti’s rendition is the most extraordinary three minutes of beauty and anguish I have ever known.  That night, it devastated me.  I wept uncontrollably  from the bittersweet cry of the opening clarinet to Luciano’s heart-wrenching finale.   

I wished I didn’t understand the Italian lyrics.  

“I die hopeless

And never before have I
loved life so much.
Loved life so much.”

I had the breakdown to which I was entitled, but up to then had not allowed.  

“Is this all there is?” I said out loud to a Creator I thought would not answer me.  “I am just here and then ‘poof’ I am gone?  Did nothing I have done mean anything?“

Cancer had taken Il Maestro’s life, too, but his gift and voice were immortal.  Peformers and artists touched people long after they are gone.  Writers teach and entertain people for eternity.  Builders create bridges and monuments that time will not wash away.   What had I done?  I knew that I had achieved my goal of being a good vet and I had helped  a three hundred thousand and change clients and patients, but nothing I had done was lasting.  Nothing I had done made a single mark on the universe.  My life had not mattered.  

Awash in self-pity and the futility of my life, I didn’t even notice that the next music library random selection was perhaps not so random after all.  The Master DJ had His own playlist that night.  His next choice was from the soundtrack of “The Color Purple.”  The song He chose stopped my tears long enough for me to regain my composure: “God is Trying to Tell You Something.”  

I was so self-absorbed, I didn’t even notice that what God was trying to tell me was that He was trying to tell me something. It wasn’t until the third “random” selection I finally got the hint.  Of the 1436 tracks in my eclectic collection of blues, jazz, opera, and soundtracks, He chose the one single track He knew would grab my attention by the horns: “The Brain,” from Mel Brooks’  “Young Frankenstein, the Musical.”  

A lesser god would have chosen any song that was meant to turn my tears into laughter.   Only a truly ominiscient and omnipotent Super-God could have known that this particular song would not only dry up my tears, but make me know He was there.

The lyrics of that crazy song were not what finally got my attention.  The coded message was the musical and its parent movie themselves.  “Young Frankenstein”  had become a key symbol of hope between an old friend and me as we fought our illnesses together.

The  day before my first cancer surgery, a friend from high school, Sandy , had posted essentially a goodbye to the world on her Facebook page.  I called her, perplexed why such a beautiful, gifted, and spiritual lady could be so desperate.

Sandy explained she had been battling a mystery illness for several months and despite countless visits to specialists and emergency rooms, she still had no explanations.  She couldn’t stand without passing out.  She had constant headaches and neck pain, vertigo, nausea, shortness of breath.  She had twice coded in emergency rooms when her blood pressure fell to  forty over twenty.  

Through it all, she had kept her faith and her humor.  Once she awoke from a blackout in a hospital room, unwittingly sporting an Inspector Clouseau French accent.   She tried to get the resident to understand her speech had changed.  For some reason, however, the doctor could not hear the problem.  He insisted her speech was just fine, and that he had never heard of such a condition in all his years training in his hometown of Paris, France.  

The last straw for her, though, that had finally beat her hope into submission, was a snooty lady neurologist that had gone so far as to suggest that Sandy was faking her symptoms.  Although this doctor with accolades out her overeducated wazoo could not explain how anyone could fake a BP of forty over twenty, she arrogantly chose to accuse her patient of hypochondria instead of accepting her own limits as a doctor.  Instead of researching Sandy’s symptoms or even just asking “Siri” on an I-phone, she ignorantly assumed that Sandy was “faking it.”  She addressed Sandy in a shockingly condescending manner.

“So,” she said, oozing insensitivity in tones reserved for speaking to a child, “you’re mother  died from a stroke.  We want to be like our mother, don’t we?”

After that enraging experience, Sandy, this vivacious, loving, gifted, child of God was ready to give up.  She could no longer fight both the illness and the doctors.  Exhausted, she gave up all hope that she would ever be well and accepted that she was dying.

“Sandy,” I told  her, “don’t you give up. My surgery is tomorrow.  I’m just starting my journey .  We’ll keep each other company along the way.”

We prayed together.  Sandy was a minister’s daughter and I was Catholic.  We were raised in different traditions and radically different faiths, but we prayed to the same God.  She led a prayer from her heart that she would have enough strength to help me fight my illness and that I would help her fight hers.  I told her, jokingly, that I was praying to the modern Catholic saint Padre Pio for strength, and was making her an honorary Catholic so he would help her, too.

I was infuriated at her last neurologist.  “Don’t you dare let some arrogant doctor ruin your hope,” I told her.  “As soon as I get back on my feet from surgery, we are going to get you to a better doctor, to the best doctor – to the Luciano Pavarotti of doctors.”  

When I called her a few days later to tell her my surgery was over and I was home, I discovered she had been in the hospital herself during the same time.  After our last conversation, she had blacked out again.  She had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  She would not allow them to assign the same snooty neurologist, so the French doctor was back. She jokingly called him in an exaggerated French accent “le docteur Gi Gadois”  (Peter Sellers’  alter-ego to Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies.)

Despite what she had just gone through, her voice was strong and full of hope.  She explained why.  Two things had happened this time that had not happened before.  They had put her on a “tilt table” to test her to see if different angles induced her signs.  It did .  She coded when they elevated her about 40 degrees.  During this time, as the doctors and nurses ran around her trying to get her BP to register, she had a feeling of warmth all through her body.  She knew that the Lord had wrapped His arms around her.  He then told her: “You will live as long as you are supposed to, my child.”  This brought her peace.  Whether she lived or died, she took peace in knowing that either path was her destiny.

The second thing that had happened during this hospital visit was that her MRI finally showed something wrong in her brain, not a tumor but changes were noted in the brainstem  area.   She was greatly comforted that finally someone, in this case Dr. Gadois, could point to something and show the world that she had not made this up.   The problem wasn’t in her head, it was in her brain.  

The source of her problem was still a mystery, but le docteur  saw an area where the structure was wrong.  In his French accent, he told her that her brain was “abby normal”.

“Melanie,” she told me laughing.  “As soon as he said that, the first thing I thought about was your brother Tom in high school mimicking Marty Feldman in “Young Frankenstein.”  He had the whole schtick down and kept saying his brain was ‘abby normal.’ He was such a cutie!” Poor Dr. Gadois never did know why the patient he had just given serious news to responded with a hearty laugh.

Just a few hours after that conversation, the “Young Frankenstein” symbol between us was solidified.   I was recliner-bound, recovering from surgery.  Steve turned on the tv.  Without  changing the channel or consulting the channel guide, the movie that was playing was, of course, “Young Frankenstein.”  The very first image as the tv came to life was Marty Feldman looking through the “brain depository” flap, on his way to steal “Abby Normal’s” brain.  

Now, six months later, as I hopelessly faced my own death as the sun began to rise, God was trying to tell me via “Young Frankenstein” what He had told Sandy: “You will live as long as you are supposed to.” This gave me such peace.  This song “The Brain” could only have been chosen by a truly divine all-knowing, and surprisingly cheeky God.

Smiling, I trashed the draft of my Magnum Opus obituary and with dry eyes looked through digital folders for a certain picture of myself.  Again thinking that  “getting my affairs in order” meant I had to prearrange my own funeral, I wanted to find a photograph to enlarge and frame to display at the calling hours.  I don’t really like any photos of myself, but there was one with Dillie that I thought would be all right.   

I opened a folder I had entitled “Dillie.” The photograph was not there, but I discovered I had stored the first draft of a book I had begun to write about Dillie two years ago.  She had gotten famous in 2009, and all these people were writing about her and putting  her in books.  I had boldly and, perhaps, foolishly thought:  “I know her better than anyone.  I should write a book about her.”  As I reread the pages I had written so long ago, before my cancer, before Pat’s cancer, before Dean’s tragic fall off the ladder in his dream home, before all the losses of the animals and people in my life that had occurred in the last two years, I knew I had to finish this book.  Even if it never sold a copy, even if no one else ever read it, I had to finish it.  This was my legacy.  This was my ganite marker.  This was my proof that I had existed.  

With the sun rising, and Dillie, Lady, and Spazz lounging around me, I began to “put my affairs in order.”  I wrote  “Dillie the Deer, Love on Hooves.”


<![CDATA[Sudden Death Overtime]]>Sat, 07 Nov 2015 14:36:05 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/sudden-death-overtimeThis is an unedited chapter from my original manuscript that was not included in the final draft.  Chronologically, it takes place after the last blog post, "Return of the Blob."
The moment before my life changed forever. The surgeon's exam room.

A week later, I was still oak strong that this cancer thing was just going to be another bump in the road. My confidence did not waver even after the surgeon called me to set up my suture removal and ominously told me “we had to talk about the scan results.”


I’m surprised that no one has developed a sound effect button for physicians’ telephones. I guarantee it would be a big seller.

He was going to hit me with the scan results. He thought I was gong to crumble. No, no, not I, I thought to myself. For as long as I know how to love I know I will survive.

Calling Dr. Gloria Gaynor. Please report to oncology...

I sat in his exam room a few days later, bubbling over with confidence. I chastised myself for showing weakness the last time I had seen him, when he had blind sided me with the photo of the tumor lurking inside me like the creature from “Alien.”

Not this time, I told myself. You’re going to be strong. No tears. No fears. You got this. I was psyching myself up like an NFL coach at the Super Bowl half.

He’s going to come in and tell me about the scan, I thought. He thinks he’s going to shock me, but I already know the results. Three masses. Next stop chemo. You got this.

I was more than confident sitting in that beige drab exam room; I was downright cocky. I took a cell phone photo of the empty stool he was about to occupy to try and rock my world. I was going to post it on Facebook, with a laugh at his expense!

By the time the surgeon finally came in the room, with a boy-surgeon intern in tow, I was ready to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. He sat in the same stool I had just photographed and asked how I was doing.

“Better than the last time I saw you,” I said.

“You talked to Dr. R?” he said, getting me ready for the big reveal.


“And you know the results of the scans?”

“Yes.” I answered with a pre-planned smile.

He was surprised at my positive demeanor. He was just lining up for the field goal, in sudden death overtime.

“So you know about the tumors in the abdomen.”

“Yes.” A clear, confident answer.

Then he kicked the ball, right through the goalposts.

“And you know about the tumors in the kidneys, liver, lungs, and bone?”


I was stunned. Stunned. Dr R had distinctly told me there were three masses in the abdomen. Three. He didn’t even hint at anything else, and certainly never told me the killer cells were already in the lungs and bone. That defined my cancer as stage four, potentially terminal.

Stage four meant that the cancer had crossed the diaphragm and had spread throughout the body. Stage four was as bad as it could get. If I reached stage five, the pain would stop and I would no longer need chemo, but I would be the newest contralto in the choir invisible. In my profession my situation would prompt me to have a serious talk with the client about the pet’s quality of life, and reach for the purple juice with the funny name.

My bravado marched off the field, crushed. The tears I promised myself would not come couldn’t help themselves. He had blind sided me once again.

Well played, Dr. H, well played.

“It’s all about the chemo now,” he continued. “It’s everywhere.”

I could barely speak. I feebly assured him that Dr. R had already made the necessary arrangements.

“Good,” he said. “Go home and get your affairs in order.”

He had been pleasant, kind, and compassionate, or rather, as pleasant, kind, and compassionate as one could be while hitting someone over the head with a blunt instrument. He led me out of the room with an apologetic smile.

I was reeling. I was free-falling to earth with no parachute, and somehow, someway, I had to muster enough strength to walk to the waiting room where Steve innocently sat playing a drag racing game on my I-pad. I had to slap a smile on my face so he wouldn’t know the truth until we were at a better time and place for me to drive a stake through his heart.

Fortunately, Steve was absorbed right then in his own medical drama, and did not notice the bruises and wounds on my game face. He himself was nursing the single worst disease in the world. More debilitating than Lou Gehrig’s disease, more lethal than Ebola, this disease had claimed more victims than the Black Plague.

He had a man-cold.

The man-cold, or rhinitits horriblis masculinis as it has been known since the middle ages, is even more dangerous than the man-paper-cut or the dreaded man-hangnail. It was the Kryptonite of masculinity. This powerful virus turned robust males into shivering, quivering, teddy-bear clutching, bowls of Jell-O with size 12 work boots, that were unable to go to work, make a cup of soup, or open the needed anti-sera, a Coors Light, without help from their never-sympathetic-enough spouses.

Like all women, I fortunately was immune to the man-cold. Women get colds, all right, but just the usual kind, not the devil’s own man-cold. Our colds just give us a stuffy noses and runny eyes, but we still have enough energy to report to all three of our jobs, feed the children, do the

laundry, go shopping, and fix the TV when the cable goes on the fritz in the middle of the big game.

Steve had this stage 4 man-cold for seven days now, and he barely could walk back to the car. Subsequently, even though I was free-falling and searching for a way I could hide my fear from him, I didn’t have to worry. His focus was on his man-cold.

“Why did it take so long?” he asked, obliviously. “My head hurts. I think I have a fever. Feel my forehead...”

He didn’t even realize anything was wrong until we were nearly home and my dad called me. I couldn’t pretend any longer, and tearfully gave my dad the news.

Steve pulled his truck over and listened to my conversation.

“Don’t tell anyone,” I told my dad. “Promise me.”

I didn’t want my mother and siblings to know just how bad things really were. I had caused them enough grief already.

“I won’t tell,” my dad said. He was crying, too. He kept his promise to me, and my family never knew how extensive my cancer was until I had finished my chemo. Some of them perhaps  not until they read this chapter.
<![CDATA[The Return of the Blob]]>Sat, 31 Oct 2015 13:40:29 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/the-return-of-the-blobThis is the unedited version of a chapter in my manuscript, Dillie the Deer, about the return of my cancer.

“I think my cancer is back.”

Dr. R didn’t believe me, but I knew in my heart it was.  

“No, no,” he reassured me with a laugh.  “You just finished radiation a month ago.  You had thirty-eight treatments.  That means you had thirty-eight CT scans as well.  If it were back, we would have seen it.”

This was my radiation oncologist, the doctor in charge of the radiation treatment.  My surgical oncologist had retired the day I had my sutures out.  The very last thing he did was refer me for radiation treatment, a move I had originally protested.  

“Why do I need radiation treatment if the cancer is gone?” I  had asked him.  

He hemmed and hawed and basically gave me the medical equivalent of the parents’ quintessential  explanation “because I said so.”

What he hadn’t explained to me, but the radiation doctor had, was that my cancer cell type was a uniquely aggressive one, and nearly always showed back up angrier than before.  By irradiating the sites where the original cancer had been, they could lessen the risk that it would grow back.

I was learning.  One of my more recent lessons was that physicians are exquisitely bad at telling bad news to their patients.  My original doctor had let the surgeon tell me that the cancer that he described as “slow growing” and “no big deal” was anything but, and the surgeon had let the radiation doctor tell me that the cancer was highly likely to come back with a vengeance.   

One of my Ohio State professors used to always tell his captive audience of budding veterinarians that “Life is a learning experience.”  Indeed it was, and cancer was the SAT’s.

Once I understood that my cancer  was a bad one, I stopped complaining about the inconvenience of having to go up to the hospital every day when I should have been working, and the considerable embarrassment the treatments caused.   On the day I received my diagnosis but had not yet told anyone, my practice associate Stacy had informed me she was pregnant and was quitting.   She was kind enough to stay on duty until I was back to work after my original surgery, but as soon as I came back she had left.  This meant that during radiation treatments  my office could not see morning patients.  It also meant that by day 38, when the side effects and fatigue the treatments cause were hitting me the hardest, I was working a ten hour day alone.   

Really, though, the hardest part about the radiation treatment in the beginning was not the side effects at all, but the indignity.  Despite all I had been through as a patient, I still had not learned to toss aside  vestiges of human dignity.  

I remember the stunned face of an ultrasound technician early in my cancer journey when I refused her request to let a male medical student be present during a very unpleasant procedure. She told me in a huff: “He is a medical student!”

I turned right to the barely-old-enough to shave future doctor in his fresh,  pristine,  not-yet-baptised-with-patient-blood  virginal white coat, and told him firmly: “Here’s your first lesson.  Your patients aren’t a piece of meat.  We have feelings.  We get embarrassed.  And we don’t want men around when we do.”

That was before I had surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and even a DaVinci robot poking and prodding all over me.  Even after all that, I still clung to the silly notion that my dignity was essential.

Radiation treatment beat that right out of me.  By the time I was done with that little learning experience, I had been tattooed in places a biker chick would not allow, had a plastic mold of myself made so I could be affixed to a  table like Hannibal Lechter, and had an entire cast of unknown male technicians moving me around a table like I indeed was USDA prime.  I learned quickly that dignity during times like these only made it harder to endure.  By the end of the treatments, the doctor started to say: “Now I am going to insert this ....”

“Don’t tell me,” I said. “Just throw a towel over my head and do it.”

Had that same ultrasound technician asked me at the end of radiation treatment if a male medical student could be present, a different person would have answered her.  “Sure,” this new person would have said.  “Tell him to bring his friends.  And some chips.  And a camera.  The more the merrier!”

Once I had given up the silly quest for dignity, the hardest part of the radiation treatment was laying still for thirty minutes every day.  I had a million things to do.  I had patients I was working on, bloodwork to review, clients to talk to, employees to manage, bills to pay.  I had all this hubbub going on with Dillie.  I was teaching a night class and had lectures to prepare.  I was designing a database for lost and found pets in the area and revamping the database I had created for the emergency clinic.  I was a very, very busy person, yet every day I started my day by being strapped to a table and having to lay perfectly still.

I started to pass the time by imagining I was having a conversation with my dearly departed friends Pat and Dean.  I missed them both terribly, and it was therapeutic for me to think of them and pretend Pat was telling me a joke or Dean was counseling me about a case. At first, I had to force myself to think about them, but by the end of the month, as soon as I got snapped into the table, they were right there, anxious to talk to me.
After that, any time I was on a CT table, they were immediately in my head.

This was no supernatural event.  No ghost story.  The Long Island psychic  was not hanging about.  I was conjuring them up in my head simply to pass the time.   Yet, sometimes, my conjured  friends took on a life of their own and   said and did things I didn’t expect.  

Pat reminded me one session about the last time we had all been together as a group.  Steve and I had treated the staff to a night out, and rented a Hummer super-stretch limo  to cart the whole gang up to see Larry the Cable Guy perform in Cleveland.   Pat and her husband Dan, her daughter Sherry and husband Jim, Dean and Joan, Dean’s assistant Michelle and her husband, my nephew Matt and his girlfriend, some of the former employees from the ER, and Steve and I  all climbed into the huge Hummer with a lighted dance floor in the center and went to see the raucous redneck comic.   

“We were white trashing it style that night!” Pat told me unexpectedly as I lay on the radiation table.  Her distinct gravelly laugh was as loud in my ear as if she were sitting right there.

Only a few weeks after that memorable staff outing, Pat took me aside and told me she needed to take some time off.  She had been feeling run down and her chest hurt.   She didn’t want to go to a doctor because she knew he would just tell her to quit smoking, and she didn’t want to hear that.  She was just going to take it easy for a little while.  By the time she went to the doctor,  the cancer was inoperable.  When she visited me on the radiation table, she was still wearing the pink bathrobe and big, fuzzy slippers she insisted on being buried in.  “No fancy dresses for me,” she had said.  “I am going to the afterlife in comfort.”

Then, just a few months after that, Dean was gone, too.  

My own diagnosis came less than a year later.  The past two years had been more of a learning experience than I ever wanted to have.  Learning that people I loved that had so much life and energy  could be taken away so quickly, as could I, was a lesson I had rather not had.  I should have skipped class that day.  

I began to actually look forward to  my radiation treatment and that quiet thirty minutes where Pat and Dean came to me in my mind.  By the end of the treatment, I didn’t have to try to force myself to think of them.  They were there waiting for me.  As soon as I laid on the table, I could hardly shut them up!

A month or so after  I had completed the radiation protocol, the telltale  dull but persistent pain reappeared.  I knew it was the cancer.  I knew it.  I didn’t ignore the signs because I knew the pain meant the tumor was back.  

The radiation doctor, though, was trying to convince me it was probably the gallstones they had seen on the scans, and sent me to a surgeon to have my gall bladder removed.  

For the second time in a week, I began a conversation with a doctor, this time the surgeon, with the same phrase.  

“I think my cancer is back.”

The surgeon was a tall, thin man with an easy smile and friendly manner.  I was thankful he did not have the legendary surgeon’s arrogance that I had witnessed among the equine surgeons at Ohio State.   But then, I wasn’t a ten million dollar racehorse with a broken canon bone.  I was just a frumpy veterinarian with cancer paranoia, and gall stones.  

Like my radiation doctor, the surgeon also laughed at my paranoia.  He tried to reassure me that this was a very simple procedure, and they would go in with an endoscope, get the gall bladder out of there, and I would be home that after noon.  Easy peazy.  No big deal.  

“When you’re in there with the scope,” I said, “Could  you take a look around?  I really think the cancer is back.”

The next time I saw the surgeon was on surgery day at the outpatient center.  He had on his blues and I was getting my IV put in by the anesthesiology team.  “Don’t worry,” he told me. “We do these all the time. I will see you when you are waking up.”

The very next thing I remember was him once again standing over me, but with a completely different tone.  I was in the recovery area now.  I must have been awake prior to that because I was sitting in a chair, but I do not remember one second before him standing over me and saying:

“You were right. It’s cancer.”

Then, he left the room.  

I turned to the nurse in a panic.   “What does he mean? Cancer of the gall bladder? The pancreas?”  

Even in my sedation fog, I knew that those types of cancer would be infinitely worse than the endometrial cancer I had.

The surgeon reappeared and finished his explanation.  They had gone in with the scope, and just to the right of the entry point, right where my pain was, there was a five centimeter mass.   He showed me the photograph they had taken of the yellow blob of tissue with multiple blood vessels running to it that was attached to my abdominal wall.  

“While we were in there, “ he continued, “we pulled up your CT scans from just a month ago, and this wasn’t there. This is a hot one.”

My immediate reaction, enhanced by the “Twilight” drugs, was  juvenile and feeble:  “But  I did everything they told me to do,”  I whimpered.

The surgeon unnecessarily explained that cancer just didn’t work that way.   

I knew that.  In my fog, though, I thought it should.  Just like getting an “A” in the many  hundreds of classes I had taken in my life, I put the work in, so I should get the reward.  I endured the surgery and the radiation.  I kept every appointment.  I did every scan they ordered.  I drank enough disgusting “EZ-Cat” barium-infused lemonades to make Andrew Zimmern wince.  I did the work; where was my “A”?

Finished with futile explanations, the surgeon said he was going out to the waiting area to tell my family.  

“No,” I said.  “I will.”

I wanted to tell them.  I didn’t want them to go through what they had during my first surgery. When I had had my original robotic surgery, Steve, my dad and his wife Reva, and  Sherry had waited for ten hours before anyone even came out to talk to them.  The procedure had taken that long.  Finally, the doctor emerged. The first thing he said to them was: “Could she have been bitten by a cat?”

After ten worrisome hours, that was the very last thing they expected to hear.

“She’s a vet,” Sherry reminded the man who knew my insides unlike any person in the world but didn’t remember my life’s work.

“Oh, that explains it then,” said the surgeon.  Then he left, leaving my family even more bewildered then before.  

Finally, he came back and explained that although my lymph nodes did not look cancerous, they looked like at one time I might have had “Cat Scratch Fever,” an occupational hazard.   Then, he proceeded to tell them that the procedure had taken so long because the cancer appeared terribly aggressive, and they had to dissect out all the lymph nodes in the area.  I was going to need radiation, he told them, and very likely chemo.  

“This is going to be bad,” he told them.  

Devastated, Steve went home alone that night thinking my condition was terminal.  Dillie and Lady climbed in bed with him, but he was inconsolable. All through my illness I had tried to reassure him that I was going to be fine.  I just had some unpleasant work to do, but in the end, I would be fine.  We would be fine.  Sobbing into his pillow with Lady and Dillie trying to lick away his tears, he realized for the first time that  I could die.

In my hospital room the next day, Sherry came in to see me before the doctor made his rounds.   

Sherry had had her own cancer learning experience when her mother. She was Pat’s daughter.  Sherry had tended to her through the chemo and  through the cancer’s inexorable spread to the brain.  Sherry was  with her when she had taken her last painful breath.   She had learned through her mother’s ordeal that doctors were not always completely candid with the patients.  She knew I would want to know what the surgeon had said.  She had taken notes, and showed me her little steno notebook.

Yet, later that morning, the surgeon told me a completely different story. “We got it all,” he said.  “There was no cancer in the nodes.  The abdominal washings were clear.”  I needed to take a few weeks off from work, but then I was good to go.   I could resume my life of being bitten by angry cats and untwisting Great Dane stomachs.

Now, here I was not even six months later, and a different surgeon had just shown me a photograph of the innocent-enough-looking blob of tissue that was trying to kill me.  I wasn’t about to let him tell me one thing and tell something even worse to my family.

I wiped away my tears as he showed them back to the recovery area.  Brave face forward, I thought.  Be a good soldier.  I did not want them to see I was upset.  

How silly I was to think that I could hide anything from them.  My heart broke to see Steve come bouncing back with a big smile on his face.  

“That was quick!” he said.

My dad and his wife Reva came in next.  Dad was still recovering from a double knee replacement surgery that had nearly cost him his life.  The post-op complications had sent him to ICU for a month. He came back in baby steps, using his cane.  

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” he asked in his booming former DJ’s  voice.

I discovered that despite my professional training, I was not  any better at relaying bad news than the doctors were. I started to cry.  “The cancer’s back.,”  I blurted out.

The surgeon stepped in to finish the explanation, and showed them the photograph of my cytological nemesis.  “I will order  CT scans,” he told them, “and then we’ll know how many there are.”

On the way home, Steve was in denial mode.  “They’re not really sure it’s cancer, “ he said.  “They didn’t biopsy it.  Maybe it’s just scar tissue.”

I had no time for denial.  There was a fight to fight.  Throughout this entire journey, I wasted no time hanging out in the denial station.  I just got back on the train and continued on.  Yet, at the same time I tried to feed  him as much positive, flowery outcomes as I could. Now, despite seeing a photograph of the killer itself, he was hanging on to those flowery outcomes like a San Francisco hippie in the “Summer of Love.”  I couldn’t bear to beat down his false hope with what I knew to be medically true: that any time cancer gets outside it’s original site, the patient was in trouble.   I  was in trouble.  

I called the radiation doctor from the car, leaving a voicemail message with today’s bad news.  In less than two minutes, he called me back.  I told him  the surgeon had ordered CT scans next week.

“No, no.” he said, in his melodic Indian accent.  “We need those scans yesterday.“ He instructed me to report to the radiation department at seven the next morning.

More barium lemonade, I thought.  Yum.  

A week later, he called me  with the results.  “There’s three masses,” he told me, without sugarcoating.  “There’s the five centimeter mass, right at the original incision site.  Then there’s two smaller masses where the robotic arms went in and out of the abdomen.

Then,  he spelled out the plan.  He had scheduled me for a CT-guided biopsy in a week, on Christmas Eve.  On New Year’s Eve, they would put in the indwelling IV port for chemo.  On January 2, I would meet the chemo doctor, Dr. M, who, he reassured me, was one of the best in Akron.  On January 5, I  would begin chemo.  

“It’s all about the chemo now,” he said.

The train was on track, and it was a bullet train.  

I was extremely grateful how he had taken over my case.   Pat had not been so lucky to have Dr. R on her side.  She had taken herself to an emergency  room once the cough had gotten bad enough.  With just a chest film to go by, the ER clinician had told her she only had six months to live.   He referred her to a pulmonologist, who couldn’t see her for weeks.  Discovering she also had a mass in her small intestine, the lung doctor then referred her to a gastroenterologist, who couldn’t see her for  more weeks.  That doctor then referred her to an oncologist, that wouldn’t even schedule an appointment for her until the gastroenterologist had sent the chart over to his office in 2B of the medical  building, from all the way at the other end of the Andromeda galaxy, 2A.  After three more weeks of waiting for the  gastro doc to complete the referral, she learned that he had left for a four week European vacation, leaving her unsent chart on his desk.  

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.  Five months of the six that she was told she had left had already passed and she hadn’t even seen an oncologist.  Sherry and I fervently urged her to go elsewhere, but she didn’t want to rock the boat.  She was caught in a sticky web of denial, and the dangerous assumption that these doctors that didn’t even know her name cared if she lived or died. She finally got mad enough at the situation that she demanded her chart and drove herself, as sick as she was, an hour away to Cleveland Clinic. for a walk-in exam. That very day, they admitted her on emergency and moved her to the oncology service.

By then, though, it was too late. The chemo they started only served to make her remaining time harder to bear.

I had, thank God, a totally different experience.  I was  never once in a disastrous holding pattern as Pat had been.  My course to a cure was charted immediately and definitively.   Dr. R’s take-charge attitude reassured me.  I now understood why when my original surgeon had told me he was retiring and I had gone all Scarlett O’hara on him “Where do I go? What will I do?,” he had told me with reverence: “Don’t worry.  I referred you to Dr. R.”

I  was confident I would be well again.  My faith in my medical team and the power of chemo was steadfast and strong.  

At least for a couple more days.

<![CDATA[A Visit from Howard Hughes]]>Sun, 25 Oct 2015 09:52:55 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/a-visit-from-howard-hughes
Howie today, fat and happy. Thanks to Sean and jeananne for the photo and for giving Howie a great life.
This is the unedited version of a chapter in my book Dillie the Deer.  The final, edited version in the book is the chapter titled "Howie's Hideaway." 

A Visit from Howard Hughes

Living in the woods as we did, we were accustomed to wild visitors in our yard.  Raccoons and opossums raided the bird feeder every night, causing poor Lady to spend hours with her nose pressed against the plate glass door, anxious to chase them away.   WIld deer came through the yard every day.  Bunnies, squirrels, skunks, foxes, beavers, wild turkeys, ducks, and even  coyotes were all frequent visitors.

Only a few of these visitors could make it into the fence. Dillie lived her life behind an eight foot fence, as required by Ohio law.  She was not allowed to mingle with wild deer, nor were they allowed to enter the fence.  This barrier  also prevented predators like coyotes  and stray dogs from endangering her.

Peaceful wild animals  often did come in the fence, and Dillie showed a natural curiosity about them.  She followed  the animals around the yard, lazily chasing them, but not showing any fear.  A nesting pair of mallards which  used the pool cover as their private pond each spring became such frequent visitors that they no longer even scooted away from Dillie.  She started to nuzzle them like she did her  familiar cats. In the early evening, the cottontail rabbits grazed right next to her, completely unafraid.  She paid them no attention whatsoever.  She was content to share her space with any unthreatening critter.

In late July, however, Dillie had a visitor that set her tail afluff and her hooves stomping. That visitor was none other than Howard Hughes.

Dillie was enjoying a splash in her baby pool  while I was in the main pool swimming laps. I noticed as I swam by that Dillie was staring at something near the garage.  Dillie’s tail fluffed. Her hair stood straight up. She stomped her hoof.

“What’s wrong with you, Dillie?” I called from the pool.

Dillie remained with all four hooves in her baby pool, but at full fluffed-up attention.  Hoof stomp!

Steve appeared at the back door. He looked over the same direction  where Dillie’s gaze was fixated.  He was puzzled.

“What’s that goat doing here?” he asked.

“What?” I answered from the pool, thinking I heard him wrong.  “What do you mean?”

“There’s a goat over there,” he said, pointing toward the garage.  “A big white goat. With horns. In the fence.”

From my vantage point in the deep end, I could not see what he and Dillie were seeing, despite my best effort.  “You’re crazy,” I said.  “How would a goat get in the fence? It’s eight feet tall!”

“There’s a goat-- right there.”  He pointed again. “It has horns that curl around its head and a long white beard. He’s big.”

“Oh, come on,” I said, splashing water at him.  “You are just trying to make me get out of the pool to look, and then you’re going to tell me it was a joke.”

“No, really!  There is a goat right there.  Look at Dillie, “ he said. Dillie was still at full fluff. “She sees it.”

“Ok, ok, “ I said. “I will get out.  But there had better be a real goat there or you are going to be a goat.”

I swam back from the deep end, to the steps  at the other end  and got out of the pool.

“He just left,” Steve said.

“What??  I knew you were pranking me.”  I didn’t believe a word he said.  He was not going to get my  goat!

Steve was adamant. “There was a goat, I swear.”

“Then what happened to it? Where is it? Or did he sprinkle pixie dust and fly back over that huge fence?” I wasn’t falling for another one of his jokes.

“He didn’t climb over the fence.  He crawled under  it.”

“Oh, right.”

I rolled my  eyes and shook my head, and went back to the pool to finish my laps.

I had good reason to believe he was joking.  He had a well-earned reputation as a prankster.  One of his more memorable escapades was  planting a tree in the middle of a friend’s concrete driveway– an elaborate event involving a concrete saw, construction cones,  wheelbarrow, shovel,  bag of Quickcrete®, and, of course, the six foot cherry tree.  Another friend, Ray,  made the mistake of telling Chevy man Steve that his Ford truck was better. When Steve said the only things Fords were good for was giving Chevy’s something to tow when the Ford broke down, Ray told him he was “full of BS,” using the actual term for stinky bull caca.  Steve repaid him  by running a classified in the local newspaper  with  Ray’s phone number advertising “Free bull manure, by the truckful.”  Ray was subsequently inundated with callers asking if they could get their free truckful of  bull dung.

Fully aware of Steve’s  practical jokester ways and the lengths he would go to stage a prank, I was not about to fall for the goat story.  I had no doubt that, if necessary, he would import a goat from New Zealand, rent a  helicopter, and drop it  into the yard, just so one day he could make me get out of the pool to see his imaginary goat. I was not going to give him the satisfaction of falling for his little farce. So  when my nephew Kyle came over to swim that day and said: ”Why is there a goat in your driveway?” I  was convinced that Steve had put him up to it.

Steve was not giving up. Each day, over the next six days, while sitting down for dinner, he said nonchalantly: “I saw that goat again.”

“Right,” I said.  “He must have a lot of pixie dust.”

On the seventh day, I ate humble pie. I was sitting on the wide front porch, reading a book, enjoying the warm summer  day. Lady, as always,  was right by my feet.  Dillie was on the porch as well, licking Lady and trying to steal ice out of my iced tea.  Once again, Dillie suddenly came to white fluffed attention.  Lady stood up and growled, wagging her  black pompom tail with the same excitement she had when a squirrel came into view. I looked up.  On the front sidewalk, six feet away,  was a goat.  The  goat.  A big white goat with horns that curled around its ears.

I  picked up my phone and called Steve who was tinkering in the garage.

“Steve, that goat is here, on the front sidewalk.”

He couldn’t resist.  “What goat?”

Now that I was finally able to see the goat, I could see it was extremely unhealthy.  His coat was ratty and he had weeping sores on his side.  His wrists, knees, and ankles were swollen, and he limped on his back left leg when he walked.  The horns curled around his ears in such a tight spiral that they were cutting his ears.   From his little tail to his wattles he  was downright filthy. Every bit a he, his prominent male package was in full display.

I called out to  him.  “Hey, goatie goat!  Are you hungry?”

He looked up at me  horizontally-slotted  big brown eyes, jumped in place, and fearfully ran toward the garage.

Steve called me back.  “I just saw him go under the garage.  That’s were he is living.” Underneath one side of the garage, there was three foot crawl space.   This had become the luxury accommodation of one very homely goat.

I walked down to the garage with Lady leading the way. Steve showed pointed out the goat penthouse suite.  Lady sniffed around, peeked underneath, and growled.  

“He’s way under there,” Steve said. “Now will you apologize for calling me crazy?”

“No way, “ I answered. “You are crazy.  You just happened to be right about this goat, but you still are crazy.”

I looked in the crawl space, too, and could see those brown eyes peering back.

“Only we could have a goat show up in our yard,” I said.  “As if life wasn’t weird enough around here.”

“I wonder where he came from,” Steve said.  

“Beats me.  He looks like he has been living feral forever.  He is in horrible shape,” I told him.  “We have to keep him away from Dillie.  He could be carrying parasites and diseases that she could get from him.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Steve was always Dillie’s Papa Protector.  “If he gets within thirty feet of her, I will chase him away with a bottle of barbecue sauce.”

Steve and Lady ventured to the house to get provisions for our new subterranean guest. Soon, they returned with hay, sliced apples,  and water. He placed the meal at the edge of the crawl space. Then they stood back and watched the hungry goat peek  his nose out, take an apple slice, and retreat to his suite.

“I never saw a goat so afraid of people,” I said. Usually goats were gregarious, friendly creatures.   “He’s  a complete recluse.  Like Howard Hughes.”

“Hey, Howie,” Steve called as he pushed the food tray further under the garage. “Come get your room service.  Don’t forget to leave a big tip!”

Over the next few days, Howie became a little more adventuresome, and actually came out to eat his food, even if we were watching.  If anyone tried to approach him, however, off he would go, back under the garage.

For our part, we began  to accept Howie was part of our daily routine.  Dillie had become more accustomed to seeing him, and didn’t hoof stomp or fluff when he joined her, at a respectable distance,  in the fence.  Lady stopped growling when he was near.  Steve prepared food trays for him daily like he did for Dillie.  

Still the unkempt recluse like his namesake, Howard Hughes  would not allow us to get close enough to touch him. As a veterinarian, I desperately wanted to start antibiotics, wormers, and lice treatment .    The complex goat digestive system greatly inactivates most oral medicines; therefore, the best way to treat him was with injectable and pour-on medications.  Howie, though, was a long way from allowing us to touch him. Oral antibiotics seemed my only option. I hid a tablet within an apple in his food tray.  He was too wily for that! He ate all the grain, berries, suckers, and greens. The only thing left on his entire food tray was a delicious-looking  bright  green  Granny Smith apple, with a sulfa drug hidden in the center.

“Funny how he knows there’s something in there. He’s like a giant cat,” I remarked, knowing from my clinical experience that  most dogs would take medicine easily if with a little peanut butter or Velveeta®, but fooling a cat was nearly impossible.  A pet owner could put out an entire buffet of tuna, chicken, and Nine Lives® out, to hide one drop of pink Amoxidrops® within a morsel of the feline’s favorite food.  Hungry Morris would  run to the buffet, take one whiff, and turn away in a huff. Apparently, Howie had that same ability.  No matter what I hid his tablet in, that was the one and only food item he left behind.

After two more solid weeks of spoiling Howie with delicious salads, fresh hay, and sweets, he finally allowed us close enough to him that I was at least able to apply a wormer to his back.  Trying to give him an injection, however, was going to take a lot more restraint.   I discussed the options with Steve.

Steve decided he was going to set a trap for him, so they could at least move h im into the barn.   He wanted him caught, too, and not just to give him medication. An intact male goat has about as unpleasant of an odor as a skunk, and the noxious fumes were ruining his garage time.  He and his garage buddies, The Garage Rats, as I affectionately called them, devised what they thought was a brilliant plan.  They were going to set up fencing we had left over from trying to segregate the corral to keep the horses from bothering Dillie.   The fencing was actually a six foot tall dog run with a gate in the front.  The ragtag group of would-be engineers believed if they could lure Howie into the pen with some treats, they could then  run up and close the door, catching him in the pen.

Not surprisingly, Howie was too crafty for the average gearhead.

Their first attempt at first seemed promising. The guys set up the pen next to the entrance to Howie’s suite under the garage and put the treats in the pen. However,  Howie was no longer the starving waif he was when he had first appeared.  His belly was always full now, and he had no need to venture into a pen to get more treats.

Steve instructed everyone to stop giving Howie any food, water, or treats except in the pen.     During the day, Howie completely ignored the smorgasbord.  At night, however, when no one was around to close the pen, he feasted greedily.  In the morning, all the food was gone.  

Steve was undaunted.  “It’s just a matter of time,” he said, optimistically.   “Sooner or later he is going to go in that pen while I am around and I will get him.”

Just a few days later, his decree came true.  Howie did indeed venture in the pen and start nibbling his hay and grain.   Steve ran out of the garage and tried to close the door.  Howie saw him coming.  Despite his arthritic joints and lameness, he scooted out of the pen and back under the garage before Steve could even reach the gate.  

The Garage Rats regrouped.

The new plan was to tie a rope around the gate and pull it shut remotely, so Howie would not have time to run out.  Once again, they set his meal in the pen.  They tested the gate  and rope remote control.  It actually worked!  Not only did the gate swing closed, but the latch caught.  

They had him now!

Within just a few hours, they saw Howie go into the pen.   Triumphantly, Steve pulled the rope and heard the gate clang shut.  The guys all came running out of the garage to meet their quarry face to face.  It was not Howie’s face, however, that greeted them. They arrived at the pen just in time to see Howie’s behind scurrying under  the pen, back to his Plaza suite.

In the end, it was not human inventiveness that would catch the crafty old goat, but love.

The very next day, Howie was in the fence with Dillie, but being unusually friendly.  Instead of keeping his usual respectable distance, he kept trying to approach her, as a mate.
Howard Hughes had found his Jane Russell.

Dillie was having none of it, and after scampering away from Howie’s advances several times, she ran into the house for the day.   I closed the door behind her or the confused, lovesick goat may have just followed her right into the kitchen. Howie was only a few steps behind and peered longingly through the full length window of the back door.

“Now, we have to catch him,” I told Steve. “We are going to have to knock him out and neuter him as soon as possible.  We can’t have him chasing Dillie around like that.”

Fortunately, that very night, Howie himself made other plans.  At ten o’clock, I received a phone call from a friend, Sean,  that lived about a half mile through the woods.  Sean had three pet female goats  penned behind his house.

“Hey, Mel,”  Sean began, “did you and Steve put that goat in my pen?”  I had run into Sean a few weeks ago and told him about Howard Hughes, the goat recluse.

“Put him in your pen? We can’t even get near that goat.”

“Well, he’s in there.  Chasing my does around.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty horny, excuse the pun,” I said.  I told him that Howie had been chasing Dillie around that day.  

“If I can get him in a stall, do you think you can come over tomorrow and knock him out and neuter  him?” Sean’s house was right behind my clinic, so the plan was to sedate him in the stall and put an end to his hormone-related problems.  “If you can do that,” Sean continued, “I will keep him.”

“He’s pretty sickly,” I warned.  

“We’ll get him back in shape,” he promised.

After successfully completing our plan the next morning, Sean said  that he thought he knew who owned Howie.  He gave me a name and phone number.

Later that day, I made the call.  It was a conversation that left me shaking my head for the rest of time.

A pleasant enough lady answered the phone and I explained that Sean thought this goat is hers.  “He is at Sean’s now, but he was living under my husband’s garage for weeks.  He’s very wild and sick.”

A simple start, but then the conversation turned just plain baffling.

“He’s not really ours,” the lady said. “He was given to us by a friend, but he keeps running away, so he’s not ours.”

“Did you have him in a pen?” I  asked.

“No, but if he were ours he wouldn’t leave the yard.”

 I couldn’t believe what I had heard.  What planet is this woman from?  Can  she really think any animal, especially hoofstock, especially a male, will just stay in a yard without a fence? No one could be that clueless!

Then it got worse.

Despite working with the animal-owning public for over two decades, and hearing  every dumfounding statement that ever existed, or so I thought, I could not believe what she said next.

 “The only reason we got him was because my doctor told me my baby was allergic to cow’s milk.”

Huh? I was speechless. This goat was a ram!  A male! She got a  male  goat because her baby needed goat’s milk?  

“But it didn’t work,” the lady continued.  “My son’s still allergic.”

Two groups of people inhabit the blue planet. The first group is comprised of  people that could be dropped by an airplane into a jungle with nothing but a pocket knife and a pack of chewing gum,  and  come out  three days later,  five pounds heavier,   with a nice suntan.  The second group, however, was made up instead of those lost souls that  could be dropped into a Super Walmart with a twenty dollar bill and would never make it out alive.  Their skeletalized remains would be found right in the potato chip aisle years later. These are the  people that have such startling little common sense, such exquisitely diminutive ability to reason, such infinitesimally developed problem-solving skills, that their brains collapse in upon themselves. What remains is an intellectual black hole that  will not allow a single thought to escape and will greedily suck in pieces  of good brains around it.   

I knew I had to end this conversation quickly or I was in danger of having my own brain sucked out of its calvarium crypt.

After hanging up, I  told Steve that Howie was better off with Sean and his girl goats. There was no way he is going back to that home.  I replayed for him the baffling conversation I had just had.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“No, I wish I were.  I swear to God that is what she said.”

 “You mean she was trying to milk that boy?”  

“Either that or she thinks just by having a  goat, any goat, her son would no longer be allergic.” Either way, the explanation defied logic.

“What was she trying to milk anyway?” Steve thought about it and  squirmed.  “Geez.  No wonder he ran away.”

(A side note:  later that year, Steve had a friend with at GTO car that needed some work.  I came home and found the GTO parked in the yard.  I said to Steve: "What's that goat doing there?"

If you are not a gearhead or a Garage Widow, this explains the joke:   http://www.ehow.com/about_6659054_gto-called-goat_.html
It's amazing how much car stuff I have absorbed by being married to a Gearhead.    MRB)

<![CDATA[The Hokey Pokey]]>Wed, 14 Oct 2015 18:42:23 GMThttp://dilliedeer.com/dr-mels-blog/the-hokey-pokey
Dillie meets Ellen and her sister.

This was a chapter I wrote for Dillie's book that did not make the editor's cut.  This happened in summer, 2013.

As spring turned to summer, the pain of losing our beloved dog Lady lessened and we could once again remember her with smiles instead of tears. I was still going through chemo, but the results so far had been encouraging. Follow-up scans had shown the tumors in the lungs, liver, bone, and kidneys had gone. All that was left were a few of the largest masses at the original surgery sites, and they, too, were on the run.

Dr. M gave me the good news before my latest treatment. He said he was thrilled, but surprised, at my response. I realized then that even he hadn’t given me the whole truth when he blasted me with those gut-kicking statistics at our first meeting.

My chemo nurses Cathy and Cindy both hugged me. Then, they plugged me into the iv pump and hit me once more.

Take that, sucker, I thought. Here’s another dose of hellfire for you. You had better get your chemical bonds in order, Tumornator. I am coming after you.

Once I was settled in, Cindy came over to my pink recliner and talked to me about Dillie. She had read about me in the local newspaper and wondered if I could bring her ten copies of Dillie’s book.

“I need one for each grandchild,” she said. She reached for her cell phone, and showed me a photo. “These are my kids,” she said proudly.

The picture showed all ten children, none over ten by the looks of them, a mixture of boys and girls, all button cute in little school uniforms, and all of very obvious Asian descent.

Cindy could see my surprise and smiled. “My sister and I adopted three refugee families and their kids. We are their adoptive grandmas.”

She explained that these three families were members of a tribe of people from Burma known as the Karen people. The Burmese army had been attacking these people for “ethnic cleansing.” After seeing their parents murdered in front of them, three siblings (the parents of these precious children) fled into the jungle. For three years, they endured the jungle and evaded their would-be murderers, the Burmese army. Finally, they arrived at a refugee camp on the Thai border.

They spent another seven years in the refugee camp. By the ages of the children, some of them were born in this camp. The camp had become so overcrowded that the Thai government asked the UN to step in and place some of the people in other countries. By the luck of a draw, these three families were placed together in Akron, Ohio. Various church groups stepped in to help them procure housing, education, and necessities.

Cindy’s sister Penny came across their story through one of the churches. She and Cindy had both done mission work throughout the world at various times. They still felt a need to do this, but could no longer travel to the Philippines or Africa like they had before. The two of them decided that they would make these three families their mission. They would become their adoptive grandmothers, and provide the three families with whatever support they needed.

With their assistance, all the parents got jobs, homes of their own, and medical insurance. The children all received education under the watchful eye of their loving adoptive grandmothers, who made sure the children did their homework and practiced their multiplication tables.

I sat in my chemo chair, amazed. Forget the Hokey Pokey, I thought. This is what it really is all about. This is what a life of service to God is: showing His love by sharing His love. It isn’t just sending in a check to a fund that will take care of the children in a refugee camp. No. That was not enough for this incredible nurse in front of me. She had given her life and love so completely to these kids she was now their grandmother.

I was embarrassed to realize I knew nothing of the plight of these people. I considered myself a well-educated person, constantly updated on current events. I was not one of those people shown on a late night talk show “Man on the Street” interviews that couldn’t name the vice president or didn’t know the Earth revolved around the Sun. Yet, I was not even aware that the government of Burma had tried to extinguish an entire race of their own people.

As Americans, we are woefully undereducated about the hardships around the globe. Unless it catches the eye of a celebrity who then stages a telethon, genocides like these are not even on our radar. Yet, even in these modern times, holocausts occur every day.

I had always vowed not to be like that, to not be so wrapped up in the luxury of American freedom that I was blind to the tired and poor, yearning to be free. However, there were times like this when my ignorance slapped me in the face.

When I first met my family doctor, for example, I was intrigued by her thick slavic accent and asked her if she was Russian. She pounded her fist on the exam table and said emphatically : “I am no Russian! I am Ukrainian!”

Oops, I thought sheepishly. I am American and I don’t know the difference.

Embarrassed, I later researched Ukrainian history and learned the source of her indignation. The Ukrainians had also known ethnic cleansing, by the iron Russian hand. Under Josef Stalin, Russia tried to obliterate the Ukrainian people and culture. Millions were killed by forced starvation. Women were raped and forced to bear the children of Russian soldiers, as a plan to “Russianize” the people. Whole families were executed and entire villages were burnt off the map.

Stalin wanted all evidence of the Ukrainian people erased for all time. He even tried to eradicate their history. Ukrainian history and lore had traditionally been told through song by blind minstrels, kobzars. In 1930, Stalin called them to a conference and executed every single one.

Shame on me for not having known this. Likewise, I knew nothing of the plight of the Karen. In fact, when Cindy had first mentioned them to me, I thought she had said they were Korean. I did know about the current plight of the North Koreans, and thought that was what she meant. As I sat in my chemo chair, I researched Burma on my I-pad.

Everything Cindy had told me was true. Prior to that day in chemo, I couldn’t have pointed out Burma on a map. Yet, life really is a learning experience and that day I learned about the history of Burma, including how the current government was butchering its own people.

That beautiful group of children in the photo and their parents had endured unimaginable horror. Lady Liberty had given them a new life, as she had my own grandparents escaping the Sicilian fascists in the twenties. My ancestors, too, had risked every thing to be free, coming to a foreign land with only lint in their pockets but a heart full of dreams. This was what America was all about.

I was grateful for the lesson Cindy had given me that day. “You must bring them over,” I told her. “They can stay the day and swim with Dillie.” I didn’t want this to be an empty promise like a “let’s do lunch” goodbye. Her story had touched me so deeply that I truly wanted to see all ten kids playing and laughing with their adoring grandmother.

On a Sunday afternoon a few weeks later, Cindy and her sister, the parents of the families, and the cutest group of grandchildren ever on Earth graced us with a visit. I was just pulling a cake out of the oven when my phone rang. They had the whole group together because they were going to celebrate a birthday for one of the little girls. Could they stop by with them?

I looked at the mango pineapple upside down cake in my hands. I bake a cake no more often than once a year. I had only made this one because we had some mango and pineapple for Dillie that was getting overripe. I could just throw some candles on it and– voilá– a birthday cake for a little girl!

They arrived an hour later in two separate vans. My nurse Cindy and her sister Penny, the children’s parents, and suddenly a swarm of laughing, giggling, running, playing, delightful children. They ran in ten different directions, trying the swing set, exploring the yard, marveling at the pool. The sound of their laughter filled our yard and our hearts.

The parents greeted me in very broken English but with generous hugs and thank yous. The children’s English was perfect as they peppered me with questions about Dillie. What does she eat? Does she like to swim? Where does she sleep? Why does she like bananas?

Dillie was in the yard when they arrived and at first she was a little overwhelmed. Grandma Cindy took charge, however.

“Ok, kids,” she said. “Everyone quiet down and line up over here.”

With the obedience and precision of a marine platoon, all ten children lined up next to her in complete silence. “Ok,” drill sergeant grandma told them gently, “we are going to go pet Dillie in groups of two.” Group by group she took them all up to the corner of the yard where Dillie grazed.

Dillie enjoyed the visit. She licked their little hands and faces. She shook her head as they tickled her ears. One of the boys was wearing a ball cap, and Dillie kept taking it off his head with her teeth. Everyone giggled as she did this over and over again.

Now that she was more accustomed to them, Dillie started playing with them in the yard. She put her head down like a little bull and mock-charged them. She kicked up her hooves and jumped in place. Everything she did caused a wave of child laughter to flow through the yard.

Steve and I looked at each other and smiled. We had had many treasured moments with Dillie and new found friends since she had become famous. This moment with these children was a special one. We would keep this one in its own little box in our hearts and pull it out when we needed a smile.

After the kids were done visiting with Dillie, Steve brought out the cake and lit the candles. The birthday girl was a precious little girl named Ellen. She had the jet black straight hair that all the family had, but hers was pulled back with pink ribbons. She wore a pristine white dress adorned with tiny pink flowers, lace trimmed Bobby socks and black Mary Janes. A more beautiful child could not exist in a Disney movie.

We all sang “Happy Birthday” as the children clapped. Ellen blew out the candles, with a little assistance from her grandmother Cindy. I handed the birthday girl the first piece of cake.

“Don’t forget the ice cream!” Steve said, placing a scoop of vanilla next to her cake.

“How old are you?” I asked her.

“Six,” she said, proudly.

“What do you want for your birthday?” I asked.

She looked up shyly at her Grandma. “It’s ok,” Cindy reassured her. “You can tell her.”

Her answer floored me.

She said sweetly: “A Bible.”

She had been born and raised in a refugee camp, this beautiful little girl whose smile outshone the summer sun. Up to just a few months ago, her young life had been full of uncertainty and fear. Yet, she didn’t want Barbie dolls or the latest video game. All she wanted for her birthday was a Bible. .

Dillie wandered over to Steve who was eating his own cake and ice cream. Her nose twitched and her ears wiggled. She was after the cake! The children all laughed as she pulled the plate repeatedly from his hands. Finally, Steve gave up and fed her what was left of his serving. As the softened ice cream splashed all over her nose, the children laughed more loudly than ever. The laughter was the most beautiful music I had ever heard.

I looked around the patio at the adults, the children’s parents and their two grandmothers. I could see the love in their eyes as they watched the children. How blessed we were to be able to give them all this moment.

Much too soon, the visit was over. In single file, their grandmothers marched them into the cars and off they went. Steve and I waved as they drove away and little voices shouted good bye. The yard that had just moments before filled with joyous laughter was now completely quiet save for an occasional sparrow chirp and the muffled sound of a neighbor’s lawnmower.

I contemplated all the stars that had to be aligned to have made this meeting possible. Through a chain of love and a miracle of grace this group of children had been brought to this point of time from a Thai refugee camp into our backyard. Had I not had cancer and had we not had Dillie, we would have never gotten to meet the angel in the pristine dress, the giggling gaggle of boys and girls, their parents, and their adoptive grandmothers with their boundless love. Right then, I knew my cancer journey was a blessed path, and Dillie, as always, was leading the way.

My own pets had lived a more comfortable life than these children had for nearly all their lives, yet they were filled with joy and love. I have met many people that had never endured one real hardship, certainly never saw their parents hacked to death in front of them, never slept in a jungle, never pulled bugs out of their day’s ration at a refugee camp, yet somehow still felt the world owed them an apology. Our country has an entire generation of milliennials that play baseball on X-boxes instead of getting real grass stains on their knees or think a harsh parent is one that will not allow them to upgrade to the latest I-phone. Sadly, we also have millions of Americans that turn to a life of cruelty, crime, or drugs because they say “there just isn’t anything to do.”

Tragically confused, so many people just can’t seem to find any meaning to their empty lives. They put their left foot in. They take their left foot out. They do the hokey pokey and turn themselves about. And they think the hokey pokey is what it’s all about.

Not even close.

Those children, this life of love, this is what’s it’s all about.