Update Following Toby’s Appointment

I’m not sure what to make of Toby’s visit to the Animal Cancer Clinic on Tuesday.

His blood count is in the normal range, and an ultrasound did not show any tumors in his liver, kidneys, lungs, or any other organ.

The vets still diagnosed him with stage five cancer and believe it is somewhere in his nervous system. They maintain that it would be exceedingly rare for his type of cancer (lymphosarcoma) to appear in his eye first. They think it came from somewhere else in his body, but they don’t know exactly where.

The scary answer is that the cancer is in his brain or nasal cavity, which could account for his three nosebleeds last week. Fortunately, he hasn’t had any bleeding since Friday evening.

After his appointment, Toby went with George and Grandpa to the beach and did some sprints. Yesterday, he charged ahead of Mandy on their walk. His eye is healing beautifully.

My sister, Stephanie, suggested a radical idea: What if Toby doesn’t have cancer anymore? Is there room for that kind of miracle? Maybe the cancer did show up in his eye first, was only in his eye, and with the removal of his eye and the tumor, away went the cancer.

Nobody but us thinks that is any sort of a possiblity (the vet quoted about a 10% chance of that being the case), but people don’t know everything!

George is currently making calls to various clinics, and we are working on a treatment plan for Toby.

For Today, a Happy Toby

I can’t believe how well Toby is recovering from the surgery to remove his eye. If the eye problem was the only thing he had to deal with, I’d be relieved and excited about the outlook for his future. He almost seems like his normal self: barreling over Mandy to get to the front door first, lolling on his back on his couch, looking for treats and eating up all his food.

Except for the always-present knowledge of his cancer and a couple of nosebleeds this weekend that sent him to the vet for a new blood count (fortunately, the count had not changed from last week–our first bit of good news since this all began), he’s seemed very well.

He even got to go to a doggie slumber party this weekend at Auntie Steph and Uncle Ryan’s house and visit with his doggie cousins Kody, Kalia, and Roxy.

Auntie Steph snapped a picture of Toby and I may be mistaken, but the dog in this picture doesn’t appear to be suffering too much! 

We can only hope.

Toby is out of town with George and Grandpa Jack now at the Cancer Clinic, and I hope to have an update on his health and all other matters soon.

Happy Toby

Prayers for Puppies

Toby had a good day yesterday. He got a nice warm bath, lots of wholesome treats, and time to rest on the couch. I even found him lying next to 8-month old Vincent in the middle of the family room carpet, soaking up the warm afternoon sun that streamed through the window. He also went for a walk with George, 2-year old Eva, and Mandy.

As I observed Toby throughout the day I kept thinking how, with the exception of the missing eye, one would never know he was ill. He just seems like our regular guy; big, strong, quiet, and handsome.

Of course, though, we watch him like a hawk.

“Does Toby seem more tired to you?” I ask George.

“No, I don’t think so,” he replies.

“You said he weighed 67 pounds? Isn’t he usually closer to 70?”

“Well, he has been walking all winter so he might have trimmed up some.”

“Do his shoulders seem sunken?”

“No, it’s just when he’s sitting. When he stands, it goes away.”

“Did he eat all his dinner?”


Then we realize how we sound and make a few jokes.

“Has Toby always been black-and-tan brindle?”

“Has he always had four legs?”

“Has his name always been Toby?”

We were lucky to secure an appointment for Toby next Tuesday at the Animal Cancer Clinic. Both traditional and alternative sources recommend chemotherapy for his type of cancer, and we keep hearing he is a good candidate for it because he’s young and otherwise healthy. We’re crossing our fingers that is the case.

We still don’t know much about anything at this point. And—we’ve been wrong on everything we thought we knew, so who knows. I’m staying positive. Positive thinking may not help much, but I know that negativity will certainly hurt.

Eva and I said a prayer for Toby on our way to Jazzercise this morning and I know other people are praying for him, too. I know God must hear prayers for puppies.

I got a break last night and spent the evening with some friends. I have a circle of girlfriends—Carley, Apryl, Kim, Heidi and Heidi— that goes back 28 years, to when we all met in kindergarten. We get together for dinner once a month. We used to meet at restaurants until we realized how much more fun and relaxing it is to rotate meeting at one of our houses and bringing a dish to share. And, because most of us are mothers (our kids range in age from 10 weeks to 7 years old), our children can also come if need be.

I’ve had to miss the last few gatherings because George has been away fishing and I have been exhausted, but he was happy to babysit both Eva and Vincent for a couple of hours last night. It’s hard (and actually, feels quite unnatural) to leave my house and drive off alone, but it’s important to do sometimes.

I chuckled to myself as I left Apryl’s house last night because I’d made an observation. When her cell phone rings, it plays a song by Justin Timberlake. Kim’s plays Bon Jovi. You’ll hear George Strait on mine.

That’s why we’re still friends after all these years: We’re similar enough to stay close, different enough to keep it interesting.

Toby Resting in the Sun


Regal Toby

Our dog, Toby, does have cancer.

I went into the family room today to ask George about the construction dust layering the house.

“I have some bad news about Bo Bos,” he said.

That’s when I noticed George was sitting quietly next to Toby on the couch, his arm around our stoic friend.

I’m shocked. Toby is only four. So many people told us eye tumors are normally benign. He displayed absolutely no symptoms until the accident.

The next steps are finding out just where and how spread out the cancer is, and deciding upon a mode of treatment. Only 20-25% of these cancers show up in the eye, so that doesn’t seem good; however, Toby does not display any outward signs of cancer besides the eye, so I don’t know what that means.

We have got our “best people” on it, so if any dog stands a chance, it will be Toby.

Our unflappable Toby was not happy today. He seemed a touch sad and lethargic even before he witnessed our distress.

This is a good boy–not only a wonderful representative of his pitbull breed, but for all dogs. He walks perfectly on a leash. He went to beginner and intermediate doggy school and knows his commands. We’ve never had to tell Toby to “be quiet,” or “stop barking,” or “stop begging,” or even “bad dog.” The only thing he does that requires a command is to settle down when company comes, and even that is only because follows the antics of his more-excitable border collie mix sister, Mandy.

I keep thinking about Toby and his life and I have to remind myself that it is not over yet. I’m not going to write all about him, because he is still here and I hope the fact that he is young, strong, and has so many who love him will be enough to see him through.

I mean, it’s Jen and George, Mandy and Toby, Eva and Vincent. One girl, one boy down the line. We are even in the middle of a huge house remodel to accommodate everyone in our family, including the dogs.

I keep wishing we could turn back the clock and stop everything. Reverse the trip, the jump, the diagnosis. Stop everything and go back to last week when there wasn’t a darned thing wrong.

Somebody commented to me recently that we take for granted the time we have here. We assume our loved ones, whether they are pets or humans, will go on living and in good health.

I can honestly say that I don’t feel that way.

I know we are lucky if we and our loved ones go on living each day, and I don’t take any of it for granted. Knowing this does not mean that I live a perfect life or treat everyone the way I should, but I am acutely aware that there are no guarantees, for good people or good pets.

Toby on the Beach

Mandy, George, and Toby

Good Boy, Toby

Last Thursday, I wrote and told you about our dog, Toby, who sustained an injury to his left eye after misjudging a jump into our truck while we were on our spring break. The eye became red, swollen, and misshapen upon our arrival home, so we took Toby to the local vet. The vet recommended Toby see the ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist shocked us with her diagnosis of a tumor in Toby’s left eye and the recommendation that his eye be removed and tested for cancer.

Well, having an eye cut out is no small thing, especially for a young, healthy, strong pitbull. George and I were both horrified at the thought of our sweet Toby losing an eye. We consulted with some friends who are animal experts, who in turn consulted with their friends, also animal experts. We all agreed that a second opinion was in order.

We didn’t get any sleep Thursday night. On Friday morning, George rose early and made calls to secure an appointment for Toby with an ophthalmologist in the big city. He made a bed for Toby in the front seat of the truck and at 9 a.m., a grim-looking George pulled out of the driveway.  Brave Toby sat up straight in his seat and looked out the window with an expression even more concerned than usual on his big, serious face.

“Unfortunately,” George said when he called later that day, “The second opinion is the same as the first. They are pretty convinced it is a tumor and they think the eye should come out.”

“When?” I asked.

“Today,” he answered.

George and Toby returned home at 8 p.m. that night. Toby had a large plastic cone around his neck to protect his head and eye, and his big pitbull head was wrapped in a thick purple bandage. Toby–who has always been solid as a rock and unflinching–cried, shuddered, and whimpered the whole way home and throughout the night. Over the weekend, several visitors came bearing gifts of squeaky donuts, squeaky monkeys, treats, and laps for Toby to lay his hurting head in.

The surgeon said that Toby’s eye did indeed have a large tumor and that his vision could not have been more than 30% in that eye, which may account for why he missed the jump into the truck. It was not the accident itself that caused the tumor. Apparently, it had been there and growing for some time.

We now await word of whether it is benign or malignant.


A Captain Wears Many Hats

George expressed mock concern recently that my blog posts don’t always make life at our house sound very fun. Of course, I didn’t agree. And anyway, heck, who wants to read about a perfect life? Not me. Boring! I like to write–and read–about real life. 

Because this is a blog that celebrates the commercial fishing life–the good, the not-so-good, the funny, the not-funny, the seasons, the breaks–I can include many things, because they all count.

We’re back from vacation, and it was a good and relaxing time. (See? I include the fun!) In fact, some of you may have seen us. Country Jack’s, anyone?

George wears a lot of hats. He wears the Captain Hat, the Husband-and-Father Hat, the Tax Hat, the Mr. Fix-it Hat, and the Budget Hat. He also wears the Investment Hat, the Fishing Hat, the Home-Improvement Hat, and the Keep-it-All-Together Hat.

“What exactly do you do?” someone asked me once, before I had kids.

“I clean,” I said. “Work out. Pay bills. Generally, keep the home fires burning.”

“Oh, yeah,” my sister’s (ex) boyfriend said with a hearty chuckle, “I’m sure! Keep the home fires burning. With your feet up, reading a book, no doubt!”

Anyway, George found his Fun Hat while on our vacation, and, casting off all other hats, put it on. It looked great, gave us a good many laughs, and we had a pleasant week off from real life. Next time, we’re making it two weeks. George even bought a kite and I snapped a picture of him flying it on the beach.

Unfortunately, though, our post-vacation glow came to an unexpected end this afternoon.

While we were on the trip, George called to our dogs to jump into the truck–just like always. Our 4-year-old pitbull, Toby, was overly excited and jumped–prematurely–right into the tailgate of the truck.

It was a hard hit, but Toby seemed okay.

Yesterday, a friend remarked that Toby’s left eye seemed odd. We thought it was a black eye from hitting the truck. We took him to the vet today, and received surprising and bad news;  Toby has a tumor. Was hitting the truck a fluke that brought the tumor to the surface? We don’t know. The vet said his eye must be removed next week. Results from x-rays and blood tests will be available tomorrow to see if there are more tumors or if they are cancerous. 

We’ve had Toby, a purebred pitbull, since he was six-week old puppy. He was one of our foster dogs, when we fostered dogs through the local Shelter. He was so sweet that we adopted him ourselves. He’s the strongest, bravest, most patient dog you’ll ever meet. He is wonderful with his doggie sister, Mandy, as well as our Eva and Vincent.

We’ll know tomorrow what his prognosis is.

Flying a Kite Here is a picture of George from our trip. He’s flying a kite. Is there a guy more carefree than the one flying a kite on the beach?

For the Writing Mothers Out There

Here is a great opportunity for you Writing Mothers out there.

(And by the way: If you are a mother who likes to write, you are a Writing Mother.)

Here is the link to a call for submission for an upcoming anthology, A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers. The deadline of April 1, 2008,  is fast approaching, so we’ll have to work quickly.

New mothers, or experienced mothers looking back–what is your favorite story of that time? Write about it in 1000-2000 words and send it off. As I’ve said before, what do you have to lose? Read the Writers Guidelines on the Cup of Comfort site, follow them exactly, and—most importantly, enjoy writing your story.

If you’re wondering how long 1000 words is, my short story on this blog, If Tears Could Build a Stairway, is just under 1000 words.

I’m going to work on a story to submit. It’s a story about the exact moment I made the transition from New Mother to Mother. It’s a story that still makes me cringe, so it will be difficult to write, but I’m forging ahead anyway.

What are you going to write about?

Which of your stories do you replay in your mind? Which of your stories makes you laugh–or cringe? Which story do you tell again and again?  That is probably the story you should write down and send off.

That’s our assignment for the next couple of weeks. I know, it’s going to be tough. For me, too. George is home on his break. I have my 2-year old and my 7-month old. I’m attending Jazzercise district meetings and learning new routines to teach. I have other writing deadlines.

I’m still going to write something for this, and so should you.

At the very least, our reward will be that we captured on paper a story about our children and our families that they will always treasure.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you when we get back from our break!

Between Crab and Longlining: Spring Break!

“Make room in your family’s life for the dad’s viewpoint and way of doing things.”

(Adapting to Change–Fishing Families, Businesses, Communities, and Regions

1997 by Oregon Sea Grant)


A few days from now, we’ll be embarking on our “Spring Break.” George has about six weeks off in between the crab and halibut/blackcod seasons, so we’re taking one of those weeks and heading to our favorite retreat. The original plan was to stay longer than one week, but I’m scheduled to teach a Jazzercise class not too long from now, and the permits for our basement project were finally approved by the City, so a week is about all we can do before life starts up again. 

You may not be surprised to learn that George and I have different ways of looking at packing up for a vacation. I aim to pack as minimally as possible, while George likes to pack as much as possible. 

He all but hops down the flight of hardwood stairs to the garage to fetch his big blue ice chest. Upon returning to the kitchen, he promptly fills it with…everything out of the refrigerator. And the cupboards. He pulls out the organic milk, non-fat and 2%. Tillamook butter and Colby Jack cheese.  Cheetos, goldfish crackers, popcorn–microwave and stove top.  Coffee, espresso beans, diet pepsi and rootbeer. Beer.

He moves through the house. Two duffle bags of books and toys for the little ones. The pack-n-play, diapers, baby food. Pacifiers, portable high chair. Dog beds, dog food. The dogs.

It takes half the day just to gather our stuff. After it’s packed and piled by the front door, George hauls it out and loads it into the bed of the Ford. Luggage and supplies tied off to to Port. Dog beds situated Starboard.

“We’re wasting time,” I say. “We don’t need to pack all this up! Let’s just go. We should each pack just one bag. One bag only. We can buy bread there! We don’t need that old half-gallon of milk!”

Another hour of sidelong glances and comments muttered just loud enough for each other to hear will pass.

But then, I’ll  glance out the dining room window and notice how excited George does actually look to be packing up the truck. When he runs up the stairs for another load, I’ll roll my eyes just once more for good measure.

“Don’t you see?” He’ll say. “This is what’s fun for me. I like doing this.”

“Make room in your family’s life for the dad’s…way of doing things.”

I’ll shake my head and stifle a smile as I finally go downstairs and buckle in the kids, climb into the front of the truck and load the brand new Alan Jackson c.d., “Good Time.” We’ll head down the road then, with any luck, on the way to our own good time.





Post-Dungeness Crab Season Pics–Welcome Home!


Note: If you’re looking for more dungeness crab season pictures, check out the archives for February, where there are a few more.

Here are a few pictures of the Captain, Crew, and Boat upon their arrival home today.

Bryan and Brett are the Oregon Ducks fans—Brett waited until George left the boat one day in Westport before attaching and flying the Oregon flag in the rigging.

One (of two) Oregon Ducks Fan on Board

Stacked Crab Pots on Land

Busy on Deck

Captain and Crew

The Famous Flatbed Truck and Trailer

Daddy’s Home–or Will Be Soon

“All fishing families depend on the sea for their livelihood and must create a family life that involves times when husbands are home and times when they are at sea.”

(Adapting to Change-Fishing Families, Businesses, Communities, and Regions

1998, Oregon Sea Grant)



And so it begins.

I got a call from George today, live and at large from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

He’ll be home in a matter of hours.

The Vis 2007-2008 Dungeness Crab Season is officially over, and the break before the halibut/blackcod season begins. Of course, there is at least a week of boat work to get through before that break begins—unload the crab gear, load the longline gear—but never mind the details.

The boat’s home, so let’s get this party started.

And if history is any indicator, it will be a good party for a while.

“Daddy’s home!” I’ll announce to Eva, to Vincent, and to our dogs, Mandy and Toby. I’ll fling open the front door before George is even out of his truck, and proudly show off my clean floors, sparkling bathrooms, and freshly bathed children.

“Can I make you a drink, hon?” George will ask once he’s inside.

“Why, that sounds great,” I’ll say. “And how about Papa Murphy’s for dinner?”

“Fantastic!” George will answer. “Anything interesting to watch on the DVR?”

“Yes–48 Hours, Cold Case. I’ve been waiting to watch them until you got home. And by the way, are you coming to church with us on Sunday?”

“Sure, hon,” he’ll answer. “That sounds great!”

Ah, there’s nothing like the Homecoming.

Check back two weeks later. This could be the situation:

“It’s 5:15 p.m.,” I’ll announce. “Where’s my drink?”

“What, you can’t go one night without?” George will ask with a smirk. “How about Round Table for dinner?”

“No,” I’ll say. “I’ll throw up if I eat one more piece of pizza. What happened to rice and fish? That’s what we should be eating! As for the drink, spare me. Are you coming to church with us on Sunday?”

Then I’ll glance around the house. I’ll see a pair of men’s slippers that have been flung onto the living room floor instead of placed in the closet shoe rack. I’ll notice the mail dropped haphazardly onto the dining room table. Dishes piled in the sink. Pieces of paper on the kitchen counter with lists of things we haven’t gotten to yet, and probably won’t. I’ll hear Vincent crying to go to bed, Eva whining for dinner. I’ll see two lovable but big and stinky dogs sniffing around for treats.

“Argh!” I’ll say. “I can’t stand this! Everything was clean. Everything was orderly. Everything was calm. Now everything is messed up because….”

“Because what?” George will ask. “Because I’m home?”

I’ll look up at him then, this one whose hard work pays for this house, the car I drive, who does his best by his wife and his kids whether he is at sea or at home. Who listens with infinite patience to my chatter about Jazzercise, my blog, my writing, my family, our babies.

I’ll see the hurt in his eyes as he asks the question. I’ll remember quickly how lucky I am that he even came home, because not every fisherman does. Who cares about a little mess, a little disorder?  It’ll be time to make the transition then—the one from “George is at Sea” to “George is at Home.”

It should be a good run.