Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-09-28

Macy Monday: We Hired an Animal Telepath

Welcome back to Macy Monday, where I talk about parenting my beloved 11 years young Shih Tzu, Macy!

applepicking4All photos in this post from our little family trip to pick apples in September 2014. This orchard (Pennings Farm Market in Warwick, NY–about 90 minutes outside of NYC) had so much fun stuff, including a huge outdoor scrabble game but sadly no tiles!

When Macy was going through the recovery process from her ruptured disc surgery in July 2014, we had no idea that getting her back to normal was going to take as long as it did. We were told she would make either a full or nearly full recovery but not how long her road back to wellness was going to take. (To be fair, we were in such shock about everything I don’t think we asked.) I also think that her reaction to one of several factors made her recovery much more dramatic and difficult for her emotionally than it is for many dogs.

I haven’t isolated exactly what happened to trigger her deeply anxious response for certain. Animal professionals, psychics and friends have postulated either the surgery itself, the seven days in the hospital (I visited her every day, sometimes twice a day, while she was in there), or the anesthesia had a lingering affect. It was also mentioned by a friend of mine who is psychic that it is very likely that because I’m an empath, Macy is probably an empath, and her being in the crates at the hospital with all of those scared dogs really affected her emotionally. I have noticed that she prefers in home grooming so much more than going to the groomer, in part to avoid those walls of crates with the other stressed out dogs.

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Regardless of why, post surgery Macy was a basket case for about two and a half months. She was on crate rest her first week home and I couldn’t leave the room without my normally really well-behaved dog howling for me. I had to go to the bathroom with her in my arms. I contemplated getting one of those baby bjorn things for attachment parenting but was worried it would hurt her back somehow. I stayed home with her for a full week, then I started taking her with me everywhere I went because I couldn’t stay home literally all the time it was affecting my mental health.

Meanwhile, Dara was getting her radiation treatment for breast cancer on the Upper East Side, and it was bumming me out big time that I couldn’t be there for Dara because I had to be there for Macy. Eventually Dara’s therapist got her a letter to have Macy as her emotional support animal for cancer, which helped with having Macy with us all the time.

Because we didn’t know what was causing Macy’s anxiety, we decided to have a consultation with a Pet Empath, Dawn’s Animal Connection, that many of our friends had used. I figured, why not? I had heard good reports, from a friend whose cat was having accidents communicating that she wanted to use a piddle pad rather than a litter box, from another friend who had a posthumous reading with her dauchsunds. (Ever since I heard from her that the dogs complained about their food during the reading I seriously have been conscientious about what we feed Macy, and it inspired our changes to her diet as much as nutrition.)

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The reading with Dawn was via phone (way easier to schedule than in person) and we put her on speaker phone while we were with Macy. We prepaid via credit card and it was less expensive than I would have paid someone in person or in NYC, which made me even more inclined to try. At $60 for 40 minutes that’s pretty accessible.

We asked lots of questions. Mostly about how Macy was feeling, did she understand what had happened to her, why can’t she be alone in a room, what could we do to help her feel better.

We didn’t get an answer about why she was feeling the way she was, but we got interesting information about how she was feeling physical “zaps” in her body and brain, that reminded Dara of “zaps” she felt while she was going through chemo. Macy was very clear that she needed us to be with her all the time.

So even though the telepath didn’t really give us an answer of how we could be released from 24/7 dog care, we did understand a bit better what was going on for Macy.

Applepicking1We bought this backpack for her and she absolutely loves it. She tolerated being in dog purses for me for many years, but since I wanted something more gender neutral for Dara to carry her around in, I thought a backpack was a good choice. I think she digs the mellow motion of walking and the mesh so she can see everything and doesn’t get too hot. I got this one from Amazon–it was $44 when we bought it, now it is up to $60. It lasted a good year and then a zipper broke, but we use it a lot as New York City folks who take our dog lots of places.

The end of the Macy anxiety story is that about 3 months after her surgery and literally taking Macy with us everywhere all the time or hiring a dog nanny (seriously, we hired someone to come sit with her when both of us had to go to work meetings), we were finally able to start leaving her at home for short periods of time, and then longer periods of time until it was back to normal.

Honestly, I wasn’t super blown away by the first reading with the telepath. Usually I have a moment of evidentiary based “There’s no way you could know this and not just be guessing well” whenever I have a good psychic reading/tarot reading/astrology reading. But, that happened the second time we had a meeting with Dawn.

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This summer Dara and I were wondering if we should take Macy with us on this long road trip to the World’s Longest Yard Sale, her niece’s Bat Mitzfah, and other Midwestern stops. Well, mostly Dara was wondering and I was saying we should leave her with a sitter. For $40 if you’re a returning client you can get a 20 minute reading with Dawn, and split two ways $40 to resolve an argument about dog care is a pretty good deal.

I actually really loved this second reading with Dawn. She knew lots of stuff she wouldn’t be able to know. She knew how Macy felt about her dog sitter (she feels like it’s a second home–which it really is, she’s been staying there for probably 8 years most of the times when I go out of town), how Macy felt about the cat that lives there and sometimes bullies her, but the best was the last thing the telepath told us.

We had a bit of time at the end so we just started asking the questions you’d ask your dog if you had the option. I asked what kinds of things does she like that we do with her. The answer surprised Dawn. She said, “I don’t know why she’s saying this but she likes to be scratched on her face and her belly but doesn’t like when you touch her eyeball. I don’t know why you would be touching your dog’s eyeball and why she is saying that.”

Well, in fact, I touch Macy’s eyeballs four times a day! I have to put in Optimune, this eye cream she has to have twice a day forever, in each eyeball, because she has a chronic dry eye condition common for Shih Tzus. Sometimes my application is really good and I can kind of hover in there and get the cream on without touching, but sometimes I miss a bit and touch her eyeball (gently, of course). This is a dog care activity exclusively on my side of the fence because Dara has a thing about eyeballs.

applepicking3There was a little farmyard at the Penning’s apple orchard we went to. I love sitting and watching chickens in a barnyard, I find it really soothing.

I would recommend seeing an animal telepath if you have mysterious things you’re interested in asking your animal companion. Especially with regards to resolving animal behavior stuff, it’s really nice to know what’s behind it.

If you reach out to Dawn’s Animal Connection, tell her I sent you! I’d love to hear what your experience is (come back and comment on this post!) because I adore woo modalities and love animals! I’m also super interested in learning to become an animal telepath, and I know Dawn does workshops.

2015-08-10

Macy Monday: Switching to a Raw Food Diet to Address Idiopathic Hypercalcemia

In February Macy had an accident and broke her leg. It was kind of the worst moment. Macy’s fallen a few times in her 11 years, nothing major, but this time, just one foot away from the ground while we were trying to get her leash on her, she slipped out of my hands, did a weird flip and landed on her ankle.

We took her to the emergency room the next morning when we realized it was still sore and she couldn’t bear weight. I learned that we probably should have just taken her in the middle of the night when there was no waiting for a doctor, because Saturday morning at the pet ER is bananas. We waited forever, got xrays, a leg cast with hearts and instructions to return for a visit with a Veterinary bone doctor.

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The bone doctor wanted to do sedated xrays because she couldn’t tell where the fracture was. Boy was that expensive. We have pet insurance, ever since her ruptured disc, and it covered all but $400 of the cost of the fracture. That part was a relief. The part that was not a relief was that she took the splint off Macy and ultimately she was fine with no treatment whatsoever, just rest.

The chip fracture in her ankle ended up being a blessing in disguise, even though it was expensive and worrisome, because we found out by accident that she had elevated calcium levels. They came up in her pre sedation blood work before the xrays. I have no idea when or if we would have done blood tests on her, so I’m glad we caught it.

The elevated calcium levels were a cause for concern because they are an indicator of cancer or thyroid issues. We had to do soooo many rounds of testing to rule out what could be causing the elevated calcium levels. The diagnostic situation was complicated because, while Veterinary Emergency & Referral Group (VERG) was the vet who found the elevated calcium levels, they referred us back to our vet (Crown Heights/Prospect Heights Animal Hospital) for diagnostics. But then our vet uses VERG for some of their diagnostic work like ultrasounds. We were very familiar with VERG because that’s where Macy had her ruptured disc surgery.

We had a full ultrasound of her belly and chest, no cancer found. We had special hypercalcemia blood testing (that was $300 on its own) that had to be sent to a special lab in Michigan and took a week to get back to us. That found nothing abnormal, especially with her thyroid. They decided to do another ultrasound, this time of her neck.

Dara went for it with the vets about the cost of this because we had JUST paid $400 for the first ultrasound. Macy is under 14 pounds, you have to work really hard to NOT ultrasound her neck when you’re doing the abdomen. Dara reduced the cost to a recheck fee of $85, so I highly recommend you advocate for yourself with vets if they’re doing testing and retesting of things.

We got some of the money back from the testing on all of this from our insurance and the out of pocket on that was probably about $300. There’s a deductible of $250 on our policy per issue, and a cap per incident depending on the diagnosis.

Ultimately they found nothing wrong with Macy other than the hypercalcemia, so her diagnosis is Idiopathic Hypercalcemia, meaning there’s nothing wrong with her that they can tell but her calcium levels are elevated. I rolled my eyes because we had to go out of pocket over $1,000 to find out that they don’t know. A lengthy diagnostic process is so obnoxious, stressful, expensive and hard.

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This was especially emotionally taxing for us because, due to the broken leg, she fell way behind on her physical recovery from the ruptured disc surgery last summer. Also it was so triggering because her recovery from ruptured disc surgery was really difficult for Macy, she was so anxious for awhile we ended up literally attachment parenting for 2-3 months. For 2-3 months we didn’t go anywhere without her or without a dog nanny for her. I’ll talk about that in another post.

So once we knew she had Idiopathic Hypercalcemia the vet said we should just keep testing her calcium levels every 3-4 months. At the level she was she didn’t need medicine but if it raised and was left untreated the calcium would start to leave deposits in her organs. We decided independently to try changing her food to see if it helped her.

I knew from my experience radically changing my diet to address a chronic digestive issue that food is foundational and can make a big difference. We were primarily interested in trying a homemade diet for her and I did a lot of research and really wanted to try a raw diet. I had heard folks were having great experiences with their dogs having more energy and resolving issues with their allergies. Macy had been having flaky, itchy skin for about a year at that point.

We started with Primal while in the process of the diagnosis to see if a raw diet was of interest to her while we researched homemade diets. Suggested by Sequinette of Fur Majesty NYC, our in home dog groomer, as well as a few other folks on the internet, I began with a pricey bag of frozen nuggets from a boutique pet shop around the corner from VERG.

Primal works like this: You can feed your dog either frozen food that you thaw in the fridge (it’s good for up to five days) or freeze dried food to which you add a bit of water. We just went with the frozen because it seemed more natural and closer to the raw homemade diet I was hoping for.

macyturkeyneckThis is when I tried giving Macy a turkey neck to see if she would eat raw food like a regular dog I read about on the internet. I think this works for bigger dogs. She didn’t know how to deal with it.

Primal is served either in patties or nuggets, the patties are bigger and meant for bigger dogs, the nuggets are cute little bricks a little bigger than a standard ice cube. On the bag Primal suggests to maintain weight at Macy’s size she gets 5 nuggets per day, split into two meals. We used to just free-feed her wheat and corn free fancy dry dog kibble. Left to her own devices she’d eat a bunch, not eat for awhile, eat some more. She adapted very well to the meal times of Primal and seemed to really love the food and taste.

Primal is pricey. It’s $20-$40 a bag, depending on the kind of meat you get. (Duck is way more expensive at $35 a bag than $24 turkey & sardine, for example.) In general I prefer to eat humanely raised happiest possible animals, and I would prefer that for Macy. In my home cooking I’m pretty strict about it. With dog food that can be harder to find, and it seemed odd that Primal didn’t at least have free range chicken for that price and how precious it is to have to thaw out your dog’s food every day.

We would go through a bag about every 10 days, with 48 nuggets in a bag. Basically, her food expense leapt from about $20 a month to somewhere around $60-$80 depending on how spendy we were with the type of meat available at the pet stores.

She sometimes got really barky around her dog bowl. The barking concerned me. She’s always been treat motivated but is literally never a begger. (Training my dog to not associate me eating food with her getting table scraps is a lifestyle enhancement I cannot endorse enough.)

Dara and I figured out that her barking by her food bowl meant she was hungry. So sometimes we would give her a little more food, but we had heard from a friend who owns a pet store that the raw food diets like Primal don’t fill them up.

MacystaringThis face.

That kind of sucks, thinking of your beloved canine companion not getting enough food! I started adding a little brown rice to her bowl with the Primal and that seemed to help. She would do her best to painstakingly eat all the Primal but not all the rice, though I know she got some rice in spite of her efforts.

Dealing with Primal and dog sitters was hard because we had to get her food so frequently we would need to make sure the sitter had enough and it takes up some space in the freezer, etc… The freeze dried nuggets are a helpful work around for that, and for those times you forget to thaw the food. Macy would eat the freeze dried kind with no hesitation but I can’t imagine it was more delicious than the thawed meat.

Within 2 months of starting Primal it was clear Macy’s skin issues were gone and she had more energy! That was amazing. I loved how much of a difference in her quality of life we were able to make just by changing her food.

We switched to a homemade diet (more on that in a different post) at the beginning of July. Right around then we had her first blood recheck for the hypercalcemia (the recheck is $85) and her calcium levels are back to normal!!!

So switching Macy to Primal was great, because it cleared up a lot of minor and major health issues for her but possibly left her feeling hungry. I’m excited to see if the homemade diet keeps her in the same top health!

2015-08-03

Macy Monday: Our Experience with In Home Dog Grooming with Fur Majesty NYC

Welcome to Macy Monday! A new feature on my blog to share some insights about pet ownership I’ve found in my nearly 11 year tenure being a mom to my beloved Shih Tzu, Macy! I’ve been following several pets on Instagram and really enjoy the blog features that accompany them, so I thought it would be nice to join the fun!

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As a Shih Tzu, Macy has hair not fur. This means her hair will grow and grow until she becomes a total show dog style Shih Tzu with tresses that sweep the floor. If she or I were up for daily brushing, which we aren’t. One of the best characteristics of most hair not fur dogs is that they are hypo allergenic, so most folks (not all, but most) who are allergic to dogs are not allergic to them.

If you let your Shih Tzu or other groomy dog, like a Poodle, Maltese, or a Chow Chow grow out without taking care of the fur it can get matted and cause intense problems. I read rescue dog stories all the time where the dogs aren’t taken care of and need intense veterinary intervention and a super difficult grooming experience to begin their healing process.

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So if you have a hair not fur dog, part of your dog ownership journey is getting your dog groomed once every 2-4 months. If you have a long-haired cat like a Persian or a Himalayan (Bear and ALF were one of each) they also can go to the groomer. For Bear, the Himalayan, getting a haircut every 8 months made a huge difference in his quality of life. For ALF, he didn’t need cuts but getting a wash and blow out saved me from a lot of extra cat hair on my stuff, making a huge difference in my quality of life.

I tried grooming Macy myself for about a year and it was a huge hassle. I knew right away why it is that grooming costs what it costs (a bit more than a human haircut at a salon, but humans don’t bite and heads are shaped pretty simply while dog bodies are not). Also my grooming skills are pretty shitty, and actually it was my ex fiance who did most of the grooming work on Macy. The one time John tried to groom Bear, Bear thanked him by pooping in his shoe so we decided to just go back to the groomer for the cats.

1315079433_a391bf2307_zThe home haircut years were HILARIOUS. Like, by week 3 it grew out enough to just look shaggy shih tzu chic or whatever, but seriously her legs were so choppy! We had bought a dog grooming clipper kit for $30 and you really get what you pay for with those tools!

Macy is a really easy dog to groom because she’s so used to it and easy going, but I knew she hated going to the groomer. I always thought that she was not super thrilled with being groomed but I realized after beginning in home grooming how she was just reacting to being in a grooming salon!

Grooming salons are intense. They range from super posh to super NOT posh. Most salons involve a waiting period where your dog sits in a crate on a wall with other dogs in crates. Macy hates that. The other dogs are sometimes yowly and scared or obnoxious and I can tell it’s a very stressful environment for her. The last time we took her to a salon it was at the local Petsmart in Brooklyn and she was clearly freaked out when we brought her home.

2882269009_b19101bf12_zMacy at her fully grown-in look, around 4 months from having been groomed. I don’t let her go so long anymore, since she’s older Sequinette said it’s easier for them to get more frequent groomings because taking off less fur is less taxing. Having a groomer come to me makes it way easier for me to schedule them more often.

Enter Sequinette, my longtime friend, local drag performer and new dog groomer (Fur Majesty NYC). She had a burgeoning in home grooming practice and in May of 2014 I gave her a try. It was great!

First of all, Sequinette is so sweet and clearly has a deep connection with animals. I think that’s a crucial element to a dog professional in any capacity.

She has great accessories and continues to get newer and cooler stuff, much of which is pink. It does not surprise me that professional grade grooming equipment comes in pink given the gender presentation of some of the grooming professionals I’ve known.

Macygroom1In-home grooming at my partner’s place because we don’t live together.

She’s also very concerned with making sure the client gets what they want from the haircut.

By which I mean, I am a totally picky mom about how Macy’s hair looks and I love that I’ve worked with Sequinette enough times that she knows exactly how I like Macy’s cut.

She comes in, hangs with the dog, gets set up, does the shave, washes the dog, does the rest of the cut, the nails and then Macy’s done. Sequinette sweeps up when she’s done, but I usually use it as an opportunity to do a good sweep and mop afterwards to make sure there’s no white fur anywhere.

IMAG0016In the process of dying Macy purple.

It takes about 2 hours total for the groom and Macy is only about as annoyed as she is when she gets a bath from me. She’s totally happy by the time we say goodbye to Sequinette. Super ultra bonus that I don’t have to schlep anywhere to pick Macy up and drop her off, and she’s not stressed and agitated by the other dogs in the cages at a salon.

I usually work in the next room while Sequinette is grooming Macy so I am ready to answer questions and occasionally hold Macy during some difficult to reach parts. Since she’s my friend sometimes I just hang out and visit with Sequinette instead of working.

Anytime she can’t give me exactly what I want with Macy’s aesthetic there is a reason, and it usually has to do with me not brushing Macy’s hair enough between grooms and having some knots in her ears or tail. Now I’m getting specific homework from Sequinette to brush Macy twice a week and it is helping.

We started in May of 2014 and the next cut after that was her first cut post back surgery and hospitalization! Understandably, we had to wait awhile and Macy got really shaggy. I felt 100% confident getting Macy groomed in home during what was a really rough recovery from surgery and a week in the hospital. I know if I had to take her to the salon I would have FREAKED OUT about it so I’m glad I already had an in home option!

Sequinette was so good with tender post surgery Macy (Macy was super traumatized by the surgery and hospital stay) and I knew from then on that we would always do in home grooming with Sequinette.

Sequinette is working on creative grooming and I got her to come over to dye Macy’s fur lavender for Pride! It faded out in about 2 weeks. Our next project is going to be zebra stripes!

19157503416_1f4f1f4275_zThe Pride purple look.

Sequinette is also doing some pet sitting for us and is really great. She’s available to do in home grooming throughout NYC and also does grooming in the Catskills, NY when at her partner’s place in Phoenicia if you’re an upstate person.

I cannot endorse in home grooming enough if you have pets who hate the grooming salon. They just are more relaxed in their home environment. And if you’re in NYC Sequinette is truly a wonderful gift to have as a groomer!! Fur Majesty NYC has a website, an instagram and a forthcoming email list!

You can follow Macy on Instagram here, (she’s a Leo), and if you follow me on snapchat (queerfatfemme) you’ll get some daily doses of Macy cute as well!

2014-09-16

Post Cancer Treatment Life in a Nutshell

It’s been awhile since I posted substantively and when I get to this point I get into these quagmires, “But there’s no context for me on my blog anymore!” I like this space to be an ongoing narrative of who I am and what I’m doing at the intersections of these identities of queer, fat and femme. So to kick off more posts about what I’m excited about, here’s a newsy update.

IMG_20140816_203125Dara and I had a great “progressive dinner” date where we went to three different restaurants for different courses. This was for the vegan ice cream course at Van Leeuwan in Brooklyn.

Post Cancer Treatment

Dara is doing well post-cancer treatment. She is really loving life, she has a zest that is similar to her love of life pre-treatment, except her zest is more gentle and self-loving now. She has a way of really being present and relaxing into the idea that a day doing nothing is the perfect way to keep from working too much.

IMG_20140822_220118Me and Dara at a rooftop party a couple of weeks ago. I love when you get to tower over a sea of blingie skyscrapers.

We have so much fun together. We had fun during cancer, she often tells me I “made cancer fun.” My opinion throughout was why should cancer treatment not be a series of tumblr post worthy, good photo opportunity adventures? So that’s what it kind of was. But even as we made the best of things, it was still with a bit of a pall covering everything. Without most of that damper we’re having even more fun now. Everything feels a bit more joyful, with the gratitude of not being in cancer treatment.

We’re doing tons of new stuff. We went to a park neither of us had been to at the foot of the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson River to take a tennis lesson. I haven’t played tennis as an adult and I never took to it in high school; I don’t mean to brag but I lettered in badminton. I was all set on racket sports and didn’t need that clunky tennis racket to cloud my badminton focus!

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But tennis as an adult! It’s pretty fun and quite a workout. I’m sold! Dara and I went to another tennis lesson in a different park and it wasn’t nearly as fun, so now we’re on the hunt for the perfect city tennis situation.

She has her zest back but not quite her endurance… she injured her knee and two other body parts within a week. She has insomnia from the Tamoxifin, a hormone blocker that she has to take forever. Or like 10 years. So that’s another ding for energy.

We are hoping to go apple picking and camping this month! And next month we’ll reprise our trip to Southern California we were supposed to take in June when her father passed away suddenly. It feels healing to schedule out the adventures we want to take and folks we want to visit. I feel really lucky we’re able to do that.

Lucky is a great way to describe how we feel post treatment—we saw the movie the Fault in Our Stars, about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. It really hit home how temporary love can be. And even though the length of love is sometimes short, it can still have important, life changing intensity.

I feel like Dara’s cancer treatment was a life changing intensity time for me… as it was for Dara. We’re excited to see what our relationship is like after cancer treatment. I think we’ll both be different after treatment. (This was also why I declined to move in with her after cancer treatment—I want us to just have fun together for awhile instead of adding another pile of stress to the end of what has been a really difficult year for me.)

Macy’s Recovery

20140821_175210Family selfie.

My beloved dog Macy had surgery for a ruptured disc in July and her recovery is ongoing. Her intense separation anxiety post-hospital has finally waned. Perhaps it was taking her to that first tennis lesson with all that noise and flying balls that convinced her that insisting on being with her people 24/7 wasn’t necessary, but she is finally able to be left at home alone again. For awhile I couldn’t even leave her in my bedroom for two minutes without her wailing. It was very intense.

Macy has to begin pricey physical therapy for her hind leg. She is walking on all of her legs, which is huge progress from the surgery, but she’s limping really hard, her body is shaped kind of like a comma when she walks, curved to the right. She can’t jump onto furniture and she can’t push open the doors in the house anymore like she used to, and she’s bearing 80% of her weight on the front legs which can lead to more problems down the road.

I hope that the physical therapy involves hydro therapy because it is very cute to watch in you tube videos. It’s also very successful at strengthening weakened legs so I’m hopeful for a full recovery.

IMG_20140816_214812The third stop on our progressive dinner date, short ribs poutine from Mile End. Macy in her “accessibility backpack” that enabled us to take her all over the place this summer when she couldn’t be left alone. She even went to an outdoor YoYo Ma concert with Dara in the Berkshires! I picked up the backpack on Amazon for $44 and think it’s a great value.

Macy’s only ten years old and she’s otherwise perfectly healthy. Her veterinary neurologist expects that she’ll live out her days (Shih Tzus live to be about 16). So here’s a pro-tip, if your friend’s dog has had major surgery, don’t say anything like “She’s had a great life!” It’s really different to have a pet diagnosed with a chronic illness or an injury than to get a terminal diagnosis! She has had a great life (she was photographed in Time Out New York and Curve Magazine before I ever was!) but she has a lot more life to live!

I am still visioning for Macy to make it into People Magazine and Southern Living Magazine, two of my favorites. Maybe even Oprah Mag. But mostly, I’m still visioning lots of fun adventures for my charming and magical Shih Tzu!

Plus Size Party Girl

Instead of producing monthly parties, I’m now focusing my energy on less frequent bigger productions. Though, in lieu of all of that, I took a hiatus while Dara was going through treatment.

I just finished producing Dollypalooza, an Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton on 9/5 (get it?). It was the biggest production I’ve ever taken on single-handedly. (Way to come back to party planning with a bang!)

bevingroupsingdollypaloozabyJenaCumboDrae Campbell, Miss Mary Wanna, Me, World Famous *BOB* and MILK from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice.

It reminded me of the intensity of Picnic Day when I was in college. That was the UC Davis open house—all departments, student organizations, sports teams, etc… put on some kind of exhibit or event. There was a parade, six stages of entertainment, a student activities fair. Legendary events during my tenure on the Picnic Day Board were the dachshund races in the basketball stadium, cockroach races in the Entemology Department and the fistulated cow demonstration by the College of Agriculture. The fistulated cow was a cow who had a hole cut into her stomach so people could put on a glove and reach their hand into the cow’s stomach to retrieve partially digested grass–cows digest the same food several times. It was rightfully shut down by animal rights protestors in the late 90s.

Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of event, involving a board of 20 and 500+ volunteers. There was a frenzy that overtook me and the entire board of organizers of Picnic Day the week before the event. I remember super late nights in the Picnic Day office laminating photographs into security passes. Dollypalooza was the closest I’ve ever come as an adult to that feeling. I love planning and executing major events, especially unusual ones that bring people joy. The lights in folks’ eyes when I fliered for Dollypalooza let me know I was on to something.

IMG_20140906_153536Me and my hero World Famous *BOB*–as her performance she told an amazing story about meeting Dolly Parton and had everyone from the show on stage at the end to group sing Hard Candy Christmas.

We made almost $700 for the Imagination Library in the raffle, Dolly’s literacy charity that sends books every month to kids in need, and it was an unforgettable show. I am brimming with ideas for next year. But I definitely know I can’t take on anything like that single-handedly again. I’m super grateful for Dara’s help—she did some amazing PR work that got a videographer from ABC News to come by, and some interest from People Magazine. My friend Jess, who brought me to Dollywood for the first time, took over the raffle and made that part so easy for me. We also figured out how to do a contest to send the performer who brought the most people in the door to Dollywood and got a raffle donation from Dollywood Cabins! At the end of the show, I felt like Oprah telling people “You go to Dollywood! And YOU go to Dollywood!”

IMG_6337The gorgeous view from the Dollywood Cabin I stayed in last May.

Mental and Emotional Health

Seeing a counselor with the Lesbian Cancer Initiative was the best choice I made as a caregiver during treatment. She pointed out to me going into post-treatment that I would have an adjustment period, and so would Dara. It is a significant energy shift.

IMG_20140829_162150This isn’t for the LCI but it’s from Callen Lorde, my physical health provider.

I’m in the weird process of looking for a therapist for the first time in my adult life. I’ve got about 50 possibilities from friends and am whittling it down. I am intentionally being really public about this process because my mental and emotional health are really high priorities for me and I want to encourage folks to feel empowered about seeking help. While things feel like the “calm after the storm” right now, I also think that the amount of life traumas I’ve faced in the past 12 months is unusual and I’d like to sort through them with a professional. Last night I had a dream about a friend of mine who passed last November and I’m about to go to Atlanta for the first time since her funeral. Crisis mode means you just scoot from one trauma to the next without digesting time, and I want to make sure I can go back in and digest things. Kind of like a metaphorical fistulated cow demonstration.

So that’s me in a nutshell (I really wish I had a picture of me in a nutshell).

Oh, and the first stop on our progressive dinner date (all in outdoor venues that allowed us to have our special needs Shih Tzu) was crispy kale salad in the backyard of Battersby… It was a great date!

2014-07-16

Macy’s Surgery and the Power of Showing Up Imperfectly

The first time I visited my beloved Shih Tzu, Macy, after her ruptured disc surgery, I freaked out. I didn’t even realizing visiting in a vet hospital was a thing but once I found out I could do it I knew I’d be there every day. Macy’s there for me through thick and thin, I knew I needed to be there for her.

I couldn’t visit until the day after her surgery. When I went in, they put me in the same exam room we had seen the veterinary neurologist for her initial consultation, watching Macy painfully hobble around the room. Now I was in the room alone, waiting for Macy, who wasn’t even 18 hours post-op.

The vet tech brought her into the room cradled in a towel and set her in my lap. He left and I was staring at Macy. I didn’t expect her to look so crappy. There was the obvious stuff that I had never thought about, like the rectangle shaved over her spine with the frankenstein stitches woven across. But then there was the stuff I didn’t expect; the pleading, confused look in her eyes and the sour smell of a dog that has gone through it and bathing isn’t in the cards just yet.

IMG_20140708_161532Our first visit post-op.

I felt panic and shock as I held her. I began calculating in my mind how quickly I could leave. They said I could visit not that I had to. Would she even notice if I was gone? Did my being there matter?

This panic lasted for about a minute and I started to talk some sense into myself. I am the kind of person who believes we are more than just our bodies—our spirits matter. If I was in a coma I think I could still sense that people were in the room with me and that my loved ones would matter to me. I know that Macy’s consciousness isn’t developed in the same way as mine, but I also know that me showing up for her would matter in some way I couldn’t explain.

So I stayed. I sat with her, in a way we don’t usually do in our day to day lives. Quietly, lap sitting, togetherness. No TV, no work, no distractions. I cried a bunch, I told her it was going to be okay, and while doing so was half telling myself. I showed up for Macy.

20140713_190929I really appreciated everytime the hospital brought Macy in with a flamboyant blanket or towel because I felt like they really saw my gender.

I’m never really positive how Macy feels about me. She’s not a lap sitting dog, with the exception of butch laps. With me she prefers to be four feet away at all times—when I work she sits in her bed four feet to my right. When I cook she sits in the kitchen four feet away and watches me. When I’m in the living room she’s on the couch just out of arm’s reach. Sometimes I get a complex about how little she wants to snuggle me and how much she wants to snuggle Dara.

In the week after her surgery I visited Macy every single day. Some days we just sat together, some days we worked on physical therapy exercises her neurologist showed us. I got daily calls after her neurological exam. She stopped making physical progress for a few days (the vets expected this) but when I visited I could tell things shifted for her. One day she was much more “herself” again. Later she seemed to almost get excited about things, especially when I started bringing in high value snacks like chicken and sausage. I was glad I was visiting because I could tell from her spirit progress that was different than the surgeons.

20140709_143004 (1)This is Macy’s little walking tool–it’s a harness for her back legs to keep her moving and give her practice using her back legs as she acclimates to mobility.

It’s been really difficult during this time because my girlfriend is going through radiation therapy for breast cancer on the Upper East Side. If you don’t know NYC geography, she’s basically an hour away via train. She got an apartment around the corner from her radiation hospital so she wouldn’t have to endure a daily commute for her daily hour long radiation appointments. It’s sucked so much to not be able to be supporting her as I thought I would be doing this month, and to not have her support during Macy’s recovery. We did squeeze in a visit one night (benefits of the hospital being open 24 hours) and another visit the next day where we did some good walk therapy. Macy loves her Dad and will always come when Dara calls.

20140711_170632Dara’s mom was in town and came to visit Macy, too.

My initial discomfort with seeing Macy in the hospital really got me thinking about the power of showing up for people in their time of need. Showing up sloppily, imperfectly, but with a big heart and good intentions. It matters.

The shock of seeing Macy in that condition reminded me of how folks must have felt the first time they saw Dara with a bald head after the chemo hair loss began. How hard it must be to see how tired and out of it she gets. It’s easier for me because I’ve watched this happen gradually, but it is difficult for folks to witness it when they haven’t seen her for a few months.

Sitting in your own discomfort with shock and change, having faith that you’ll get through it is an incredibly powerful gift you can give to the folks in your life who are suffering.

I’ve seen how important it has been to Dara’s spirits during recovery from surgery, chemo and now raidation for her friends to show up for her. Sometimes all she can do is sit and watch TV with people but it means a great deal and definitely puts her in a better mood.

IMG_20140714_113430The hospital was really amazing and sent me photos of Macy in her crate.

People have been showing up for me in the past nine months in amazing ways. Little texts of, “Thinking about you, sending woo/prayers/love,” make me smile. I think that positive energy has so much power and being thought of is really nice. Folks have brought meals. Folks who keep inviting me out even though I haven’t been able to go out as much and often have to decline—it’s nice to be remembered. The people who relentlessly play phone tag with me in order to have a catch-up. It all matters.

Dara convinced me to take a few friends up on their offer to pitch in for Macy’s astounding medical costs, the whole thing is in excess of $7,000. When I first heard the price tag of what it might cost (we had to pay for a $1500 MRI to find out if she even needed surgery), I couldn’t even fathom how I was going to pay for it. I was lucky enough to know I could borrow the money. However complicated I felt about asking for help with pet medical expenses, I knew I had to open myself to whatever help we could get. We raised $500 in the first 24 hours, and it’s already up to nearly $2,000 a week later.

MacyEstimateThis is the initial estimate of her prognosis–the low end was if we only got the MRI, the high end was if we got surgery. It didn’t include the vet visits and blood work leading up to surgery.

And the thing about crowd fundraisers? It’s about opening the channels to letting people support you. I feel like sometimes we pass around the same $20 to each other when we need it. I think it’s amazing. Katie from Empowering Astrology blew my mind when she told me that money is just energy in 3D form. She’s totally right—we’re passing energy to each other. The person who donated $2 and said they wished they could pay for the whole surgery—that meant so much to me.

My BFF Spunky told me when I thanked her for donating to Macy’s fundraiser, “It’s literally the least I can do.” Because our friends, especially our far away friends, often want to show up for us in tangible ways that they can’t do. But money is energy. And for me, going through this, knowing that a great deal of the financial burden is taken care of? That blows my mind. It has enabled me to take some of the stress off the shelf and focus on caring for my beloved Macy.

It can be so hard to think that what you are able to do is not enough for your friend or loved one. I had no idea whether visiting Macy in the puppy hospital mattered to her or not, especially in those moments when I had to give her back to the vet techs. Saying goodbye was awful. It wasn’t perfect that I could only be there for an hour, or a half an hour, or whatever, but it was something. I had to trust it was going to help her get better and not feel so lonely.

IMG_20140714_145911Me with Macy on Monday when I got to take her home after a week in the hospital!

Since Macy was discharged on Monday I can’t leave my bedroom (where she stays in a playpen on bed rest for at least the next week) for five minutes without her barking her scared, “Please don’t leave me alone” bark. The vet said it’s normal for dogs who were in the hospital for a long time to feel really anxious and have a difficult transition home. What I’m realizing is that Macy missed being four feet away from me at all times just as much as I missed her being close to me. And I realize it mattered that I showed up for her.

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