See You in the Mountains, My Friend

Yesterday afternoon, John and I said goodbye to our sweet Porter.

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Despite our best efforts at fighting it over the past 7 months, the Mast Cell Cancer spread to his liver.

Dog, BMD, Porter, Bernese Mountain Dog, Maine, Hike, Mosquito Mountain, MountainHe brought so much love, light, and happiness to everyone he came in contact with both in real life and virtually in his 3 short years on this earth.

I woke up this morning to over 700 messages of condolences for Porter from his friends all over the world.

It is truly humbling and overwhelming to realize the reach he had, and I thank each and every one of you for your support and kind words.

He touched every single person he met.

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When he passed, the 3 vet techs that worked with him and his veterinarian were all in tears.  They surrounded him with John and I as we said goodbye, and we all cried rivers of tears for the passing of such a sweet soul.

Being without him is just going to be hard.

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When I drive, I reach over to put my hand on his head, and hit my console.

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When I am reading, I reach to pet him next to me, and hit the couch.

Porter the Bernese Mountain Dog

I walked into the house yesterday, took one look at his dishes, and just lost it.

I haven’t figured out yet if it is worse to have them there, or to take them away.  The same with his toys.

When I am at work walking through the woods and don’t feel his presence, I start to call his name…and then I remember he is gone.

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I miss him most as I walk through the woods.

My first hike without him is going to be the hardest thing in the world.

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But when I am standing on a mountain, looking at the clouds and the view around me, I will know he is with me, and I hope I manage to smile through the tears.

Mosquito Mountain

I desperately miss my happy sweet berner boy with the short tail, half an ear, and brilliant smile.

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I tried really hard to give him the best life I could.

I tried even harder when I realized we were on borrowed time.

He was a good dog.  A great dog.  The best dog.

Run free my sweet Porter boy.  I will see you in the mountains.

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Mount Abraham (Abram)

I felt like hiking a mountain I hadn’t hiked before, and as I searched on the internet for amazing places near my house, I was reminded of Mount Abraham - known as Mount Abram by many locals.

It is among Maine’s highest mountains, reaching 4,049 feet at the summit.

So I loaded up Porter and his little buddy, Austin, and drove the 40 minutes to Kingfield, ME.  After a mandatory (says me) stop at The Orange Cat Cafe, we headed to the trail head.

Actually, getting there is a bit of an adventure…

To get there…From the junction of ME 27 and ME 16 in Kingfield, drive north on ME 27 for 0.5 mile, crossing a bridge over the Carrabassett River en route. Turn left (west) onto West Kingfield Rd.  After about 3 miles, the road turns to gravel.  You will reach a sort of crossroads within the next 1/2 mile, and here you go straight ahead on Rapid Stream Road.  At 6 miles, reach a major fork. Take the left road, and you will see a pair of boots on a tree and a small parking area.  You can see where a bridge is out. Park there and start walking.

You have to cross 2 substantial streams right away – it turns out this is pretty tough to do without getting wet.

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Porter checking out one of the stream crossings…or a squirrel

Or maybe I am just clumsy.

Next time I would bring a pair of Crocs or something along, (put boots/socks in pack for this short stretch) and wear those to cross the streams and then toss them in my pack so I don’t have wet feet the entire hike.

After you cross the second stream, the road forks, take the right road and walk about .5 mile from there to the trailhead, which sits in a sort of T intersection.  The sign for the trailhead is straight ahead.

From here, it is 4 miles of blue blazes to the summit of Mount Abraham.  The trail is pretty flat and easy for the first 2.5 miles, with quite a few smaller stream crossings (that Porter and Austin used as water dishes).

Once you get to the site of the old ranger cabin (which is now the location of an outhouse and a small campsite), the trail starts to climb.

Within about 1 mile, you emerge above treeline and step into the alpine zone.

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Porter and Austin leading the way in the alpine zone

The views from here are impressive, the kind of views that take your breath away and make you want to rush and and scramble the remaining .5 mile to the top as fast as you can.  At least that is what places like this does to me.

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The last .5 mile of the trail is marked by cairns (piles of rocks that mark a trail) instead of blue blazes.  You can see a fairly well tread path as well.

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Climbing the alpine zone

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Following the cairns

After about 10-15 minutes of scrambling across loose rocks, we received our first view of the fire tower.

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Ohhh!! We are getting close to the top!!!

As I hiked up, I kept turning around and taking in the ever-growing and amazing view around me.

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Near the top, there was cave thing that looked like the remains of an old foundation (probably for a fire wardens shelter).

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Porter checking out the cave

I checked it out, there was a very old sleeping bag, a bunch of beer cans, and some moldy tupperware inside.

Finally we were on top!

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The views up here would leave anyone speechless.  Especially when western Maine’s foliage is peaking.

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Maine, Hike, Mount Abraham, Mount Abram, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Porter

Looking toward Sugarloaf

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Of course I had to check this out

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Maine, Hike, Mount Abraham, Mount Abram, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Porter

Austin checking things out (fire tower in background)

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It was so gorgeous, warm with a slight breeze (I really don’t want to know what this place is like in nasty weather).  We relaxed on top – I ate 2 brownies and the dogs took a nap.

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Zzzzzzzz

I was completely shocked that we had the mountain to ourselves for a solid hour – this place is amazing.

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Porter taking in the view

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Just when we were ready to (reluctantly) head down, some folks came up the trail and were kind enough to take a picture of Porter and me.

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We met a few more people who were heading up as we were heading down, which made me feel good – plenty of people know about this amazing place, I am just really weird and like to get up early to hike.

I highly recommend this hike – while some folks may feel it is a longer day hike, it is fairly easy and the rewards for your effort are just incredible.  For me I was able to knock off another Maine 4000 footer, and discovered another new favorite place (in truth, they are all my favorite places).

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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Peak Bagging Porter

Yesterday I received some good news – Porter had a check-up and his blood work came back excellent, his lymph nodes seem normal, all his vitals are great…This means he can continue taking Palladia, the medicine that is helping us fight his cancer.

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My Brave Cancer Fighter

Lots of people have asked me if this means Porter is cured…the answer, sadly, is no.  Palladia generally works for about 4 months-1 year before failing – either the cancer adapts to the medicine, or the patient can no longer tolerate the Palladia.  There are a few cases of dogs living much longer (we are going for THAT minority), but it is not the norm.

Regardless, we are thankful for every moment…12 weeks ago we thought we had 2 weeks with him, and right now he is doing fantastic.  I will take it.

Thank you all so much for your support, love, prayers, and positive thoughts for Porter.  We couldn’t have made the fight this far without it.

Hiking Weekend

Speaking of awesome, supportive, positive people – we were lucky enough to have our friend Regina come up from NYC last weekend!

And just in time for her visit, Maine was unseasonably cold.  My original plan was to take her white water rafting (usually the fall is my favorite time to go) but took one look at the temperature (low 50s) and we decided against it.

Fortunately, it was great hiking weather, and Porter loves Peak Bagging, so we took her to our two favorite mountains instead.

Mosquito Mountain

Saturday, we hiked Mosquito Mountain, a great hike that isn’t too far from my house.  It is sort of my go to hike for people who haven’t hiked much.  It isn’t too steep, but provides amazing views for the short 1.5 mile effort.

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Porter checking out the overlook

 

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Porter with Moxie Pond in background

It was FREEZING on top, so Porter, ever the gentleman, kept Regina warm at the top…

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My portable heater

And always the Mountain Dog, he was the first one to the summit…

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Show-off

From the top, you could see the Bigelow Range clearly, and it was fun to see where we had just been a few weeks ago, and point out our wanderings to Regina

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The Bigelow Range – it’s bigger than it looks!

Eagle Rock

The next day we met my friend Beth and made the hour drive to the Eagle Rock trailhead.

This is a fabulous hike, only 1.5 miles to the top and you are rewarded with a climb up two jaw dropping ledges (known as the “eagle wings”) and amazing views of the area surrounding Moosehead Lake, including Kineo.  (Note: This hike is not the best for anyone uncomfortable with ledgy areas/heights…because it is high and ledgy).

We had a ton of fun up there playing around on the “eagle wings”…

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Porter taking in the view

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Kineo/Moosehead Lake

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Looking between the two ledges – Porter and I on the top left of the two “wings”

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Me & my Buddy

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Group selfie at the top

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Best buddies

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Regina using the dog warmer

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Beth and Regina looking rather tiny as I look from 1 “wing” to the other

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One of the many attempts at a family photo

We were up there for about an hour, and then decided to head down the mountain and then to Greenville for lunch before heading home.  What a great weekend!

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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Just a Girl and Her Dog – Bigelow Range Traverse

For a number of years, I have looked out over the Bigelow Range from various mountain tops that I have hiked, and thought, I need to cross that range someday.

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The Bigelows at sunrise from Pleasant Pond Mountain
Beth McLaughlin photo

While I had once hiked up its second highest peak, Avery, I had never traversed the entire range.

This range includes Cranberry Peak (3,194 ft), The Horns (3,805 ft), West Peak (4,145 ft), Avery Peak (4,088 ft), and Little Bigelow (3,070 ft) - a total of ~ 17 miles across with about 10,000 ft of elevation gain (according to Backpacker Magazine.)

I can tell you it is a lot of up and down.

I thought it was the perfect place to take Porter on a multi-day adventure.  It would be a hike for a cure, a way of making great memories with my best buddy, telling stupid cancer to kiss our butts.

So I filled my pack with a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads for both Porter and I, food for us both, and some other various gear, and got a ride from my Mom to the trailhead (Thanks Mom!)

Day 1:  Stratton to Horns Pond

WARNING!!! This is going to be a long post with lots of pictures!

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We are off!

Bear season had started, and while the chances of us and bear hunters crossing paths was pretty low, my dog looks very bearish, so I dressed Porter in hunter orange.

So off we went, climbing up the Bigelow Range Trail toward Cranberry Peak.

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About 5 miles to the AT!

The trail up to Cranberry is probably moderate with a day pack on, but I found it to be a little more challenging with a full 30 lb pack on my back.   I want to come back someday this fall and do this as a day hike.

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I am not sure what this sign means

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Porter waiting patiently for me to catch up

Porter always has been an amazing climber – I would think he might need a boost over a section and he would just get himself up.  At challenging sections he would go back and forth, looking, pick his line and go for it.  It was pretty cool to watch him work it out.

Before too long, we were at the top - our first of 5 mountains in the range to climb.

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As always, Porter beat me there

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Our first look at The Horns, where we are heading

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Porter chilling on top (honest, that is not a cliff)

We took a little break, enjoyed the view, drank some water, had a snack, and started our descent down toward Cranberry Pond, near where we would hook up with the Appalachian Trail, about 3 miles away.

Once at Cranberry Pond, I noticed our water was getting low, not dangerously so, but still, low…but it looked very bogish to me.  I have a water filter, but after seeing the signs that Giardia is definitely present, I decided to make what water I had last.

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Cranberry Pond

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Oh goody

I was happy to see this sign:

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Finally on the AT!

I decided that we would stay at Horns Pond, which would give us only 7 miles for the day, but I have always wanted to camp there, so that became our plan.

This allowed us to linger in the various view points that I would have to pass by if I was pushing for miles instead of memories.  The day was gorgeous, and we just had fun hanging out together and eating snacks (snacks are an important part of backpacking!)

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Porter looking at Horns Pond with The Horns looming in the background

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Porter taking a break with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background

Once down at Horns Pond, we picked a campsite and set up camp.   Porter was excited for the tent to get set up, his tail spinning in clock-wise and counter clock-wise motions as the poles clinked together.

There is a great water source near the caretakers camp, so we filled up.  Before dinner we walked out to the pond to check it out (no camera, sorry).

Dinner was dog food (for Porter) and Mac N Cheese with dehydrated veggies for me.

We were there early by hiker standards, it was about 3pm, but within an hour or so, AT thru hikers and section hikers started coming into the campsite, Porter greeted them all with a circle wag (sometimes he woofed a little).

By the end of the night the campground was pretty full of AT hikers, college groups, and overnight folks.

Day 2: Horns Pond To Little Bigelow Campsite

We were up early, around 5:30 am, Porter and I snuggled in the warm sleeping bag with cold noses when the thought hit me that it might be really cool to climb up South Horn for the sunrise.

I scarfed down a pop tart and then spent sometime re-stuffing my backpack and scratching my head (it all fit in so well the first time…)

Fine. South Horn close to sunrise.  We made the steep .6 mile climb up.

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Porter waiting on the steps up South Horn

To freaking breathtaking views, with clouds floating over all of the mountains around us like waterfalls.

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North Horn from South Horn

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It was hard to capture on camera, you will have to trust me on this, it was freaking awesome.

Given our tough day ahead, we choose not to do the hike over to North Horn.   That baby is on my list though (it is just another excuse to camp at Horns Pond again).

It was cold, my camera froze up after 3 pictures.  I put it in my pocket and hoped it came back to life for the rest of the day.

We climbed down from South Horn, and before long we were making the steep climb up to West Peak.

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Porter on the climb up (see the 1 ear salute?)

My camera came back to life, and so I took a few quick pictures, but the wind was really blowing and I was freezing.

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#Proof

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Looking at Avery Peak and Flagstaff Lake

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Avery Peak and Little Bigelow – where we are heading

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The Horns peaking up in the background

As we looked back from where we just came (The Horns) and looked toward where we were going (Avery Peak & Little Bigelow) it was pretty amazing the amount of ground we had covered, and still had to cover.  It was about 10am when we descended down West Peak into the col between West Peak and Avery Peak, into the very awesome Avery Memorial Campsite.

We didn’t linger, we had miles to walk, so I grabbed some water and kept moving.  We bumped into a very nice guy named Jim, who was out for a day hike of Avery.  We let him by and then climbed up Avery ourselves, and met him up there sitting on the summit with a big smile on his face.

Porter of course became fast friends with him.

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Porter’s New Friend

We had a snack, filtered our water, and spent some time on the top.  It wasn’t freezing like when we were on West Peak an hour or so earlier.  The views were amazing.

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Porter checking out Flagstaff Lake

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Porter with Little Bigelow in background

We walked a little past the summit to the old tower and a memorial that honors Myron Avery, a man from Lubec, Maine, whose hard work very much made the Appalachian Trail what it is today.   A man of few words, when he was to give a dedication for a sign that marked the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a trail he and others spent years and years working, mapping, negotiating, (and some say bullying) to create a footpath that connected Maine to Georgia, his speech was simply, “Nail it up.”

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Old tower and site of Avery’s memorial

 

Porter, Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD, Avery Peak, Bigelow, Bigelow Traverse, Maine, Hike, Backpacking

Thank you Mr. Avery

We regretfully said goodbye to Avery Peak and turned towards Little Bigelow.  First we had to descent Avery Peak (I must mention, going down is as hard, or harder than climbing if you ask me).

As we started the easy climb up Little Bigelow, I realized that we were not going to make Flagstaff Lake today.  We had spent a lot of time hanging around on the summits, enjoying the day.  I do not regret this for a minute, but it just changed our plan a little, and in the end, changed our entire trips end point.

Little Bigelow was a blur.  My legs were tired, I just put my head down and slogged forward, up and down over the undulating terrain.  My shoulders started hurting, my feet, everything.

So Porter and I stopped and had a snack, because snacks make everything better.

We got up, and started hiking again, meeting a few folks, getting passed by the speedy thru hikers on a mission, with 2000 miles behind them and under 200 to go to reach their goal.

I thought I took some pictures but apparently didn’t.   I wish I did because looking back at all we did that day was pretty impressive, and a photo would have captured it well.

But my next photo after leaving Avery Peak is this:

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Porter in bed

Bigelow Traverse, DONE!

We camped that night at the Little Bigelow Lean-to/Campsite.  There was a great water source there, as well as a great swimming hole called “The Tubs” which I was too cold to jump into.  I ran into a section hiker who had stayed at Horns the previous night, we talked about the day, and how gorgeous and tough it was.

That night, the campsite filled with thru and section hikers – both northbound and southbound.  It was fun listening to their stories as we fell asleep under the cloudless night.

Day 3: Home

Our original plan was to walk back to Caratunk – for this to happen in the time frame I gave myself, we would have to hike 17 miles to Pierce Pond.

This seemed kind of not smart to do with Porter.  He would follow me to the end of the earth, but we are doing this for fun and to be together, not to make him lame.  I texted my Mom for a pick-up at a pre-planned location on the Long Falls Dam Road.

We had to walk 4 miles of trail to get to the road, and it was a gorgeous walk along Flagstaff Lake.

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Porter Taking Flagstaff Lake in from lake level

What is cool is that we can get dropped off here some afternoon and do an easy 2 night overnight to finish this section of AT.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to our Hike for a Cure – we are going to continue to fight Porter’s cancer with all we have.  Mostly we do that by living in the moment, and doing what we love to do.

And I must say, to quote a friend of mine, “Nothing.  NOTHING, is better than being in the woods with your dog.”

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

 

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A Little Scare and Some Big Plans…

As many of you know who have been following us, my friend Porter is fighting stage 3 Mast Cell Cancer.

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Porter and I at work

He is really a champ, this is his 8th week on Palladia, and the lymph nodes have all shrunk to normal size and he is his normal peppy self.

Quite a big change from thinking we had 2-4 weeks left with him.

We hike a lot, and at least according to some people, we hike too much (don’t get me started).   It is something that we have done together since he was a pup…

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Baby Porter taking a break on top of Moxie Bald Mountain

…and someday (in like 100 years) when he is gone I will walk those same trails and think of him and maybe smile through the tears.

He woke up having trouble walking one morning 2 weeks ago, and together we made it down the stairs.  I noticed it was his right front leg that he was having issues with.

It was so hard seeing him so confused and in pain, and being able to do nothing to help him.

When you are dealing with a complex medical condition such as cancer, you think everything that happens is because of the cancer.  This isn’t necessarily so, but still, when the problem your buddy is having is on the same side of the cancer – the place you know it is likely to spread – you can’t help but worry.

What bothered me was that we hadn’t hiked or done anything to speak of for almost 2 weeks.  If he hurt himself hiking, it would have shown up before then – which is exactly what freaked me out.

So we went to the vet, did x-rays, and determined that it was thankfully not cancer causing the problem, it was something else, likely a soft tissue injury or some sort.

I felt like we dodged a bullet.  Since our vet wasn’t sure what exactly was causing his pain, she prescribed rest, pain medicine, and an anti inflammatory.

Within 2 days, he was back to himself.  I kept him rested for another week or so, going on a few easy walks along the river/Wyman Lake.

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Kennebec River near Wyman Lake

Yesterday we went back up to Moxie Bald Mountain (and forgot our camera, but trust me, it is a freaking cool place).

Porter and I had big plans to do this epic back packing trip this fall to help increase awareness about canine cancer and to raise money for the National Canine Cancer Foundation, who funds grants to cancer researchers to help find better cures, treatments, and to find find more accurate, cost effective ways to diagnose canine cancer.

Canine, Cancer, mast cell, charity, research

Well, in light of Porter’s mystery injury, we amended our plans.

We now have a trip planned that is a little less epic, but still very cool!  We are going to hike from Rt. 27 in Stratton/Eustis, across the Bigelow Range, and then home to Caratunk – 37 miles.

We are still going to work to raise money to help fund canine cancer research, in hopes it will help others facing the same issues as we are (see the banner on the right of my blog, or click HERE to donate).

We are saving the epic trip for next year – we are going to celebrate him beating the odds.  I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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For Right Now…

I know it has been a few weeks, but not a lot has changed…and we have been busy discovering new things.

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, Labyrinth, mountain

Labyrinth on North Peak, Moxie Bald Mountain

Porter is still on Palladia (a chemo drug specifically for certain types of Mast Cell Cancer) and still is handling it well – he has experienced none of the side effects.

If you didn’t know better, you would say he is just a normal, happy, healthy dog with not a problem in the world.

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, mountain, Porter, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

Happy Boy!

I am pretty sure that is what he thinks too.  That is alright with me.

This drug will not cure the cancer, but it has shrunk the tumor in his lymph node significantly.  What it has done is it has given us more quality time.

We are choosing not to focus on how long we have or don’t have, we are focusing on right here, right now.

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, mountain, Porter, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, White cap, White Cap Mountain

Porter taking in the view

Because right now, Porter is feeling great.

He is strong and active and happy.

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, mountain, Porter, White cap, White Cap Mountain, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

White Cap Mountain Summit

So we spend our days off together exploring and not worrying about what the future might hold.

We found a new favorite mountain…

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, mountain, Porter, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, White cap, White Cap Mountain

White Cap Mountain

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, mountain, Porter, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, White cap, White Cap Mountain

White Cap Mountain

Revisited an old favorite with some good friends…

Maine, hike, Moxie, Moxie Pond, mountain, Porter, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mosquito Mountain

Porter and Cooper, Mosquito Mountain

We traveled some familiar ground…

Maine, Hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, Moxie Bald Mountain, North Peak, Side Trail, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

Moxie Bald Mountain

 

…and started wandering from there and discovered a whole new and amazing place…

Maine, Hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, Moxie Bald Mountain, North Peak, Side Trail, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

Umm, why haven’t we checked this out yet Mom?

Maine, Hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, Moxie Bald Mountain, North Peak, Side Trail, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

Heading toward North Peak

Maine, Hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, Moxie Bald Mountain, North Peak, Side Trail, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

Porter looking toward Moxie Bald

Maine, Hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, Moxie Bald Mountain, North Peak, Side Trail, Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

North Peak, Moxie Bald Mountain (Mosquito Mountain in the background)

So for right now, we are good.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

 

 

 

 

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The Bucket List

As always, I am overwhelmed with the support that has been given to me and Porter – I thank you all for the gifts, the well wishes, the hopes, the prayers, and the love for my buddy Porter.

A quick Porter update:

Porter, Caratunk, cancer, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD

Hello everyone!

Currently he is on Palladia (a chemo drug specifically for certain types of Mast Cell Cancer) and seems to be handling it well.  This drug kind of…pauses the growth of the cancer.

That is totally my term, the pause, because that isn’t really what it does but close enough for me to explain it to everyone.

Since he has been on it, the cancer in the lymph node has shrunk, he has had none of the possible side effects, and his blood results have been good.  He really is his normal self, except he has a rather large medicine cabinet.   Palladia will not cure the cancer, he will be on this for as long as his quality of life is good while on it.  Then…

Then we take him off of it and, well, the cancer comes back and our time becomes very, very short.

So far, so good.  My hope is we get to have a 4th birthday blowout for him on June 14.

My vet Julie is understandably very guarded when I say this, saying, “We will see what we can do, I certainly hope so.”

Me too, Julie.  Me too.

Porter, Caratunk, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD, cancer

Me and my boy (Beth McLaughlin Photo)

SO…

We have a bucket list.

Sort of.  It kind of forms as we go, I don’t have it written down or anything.

It isn’t too fancy, we are pretty simple.

It includes things like…

…catching a sunset on Pleasant Pond Mountain with one of your best friends…

Porter, Caratunk, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD, cancer

4am, hiking by head lamp

Porter, Caratunk, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD, cancer

Pleasant Pond Mountain Sunrise
Beth McLaughlin Photo

Porter, Caratunk, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD, cancer

Porter resting at the top

 

…laughing your head off on top of a mountain at 6am…

Porter, Caratunk, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD, cancer

Family Photo on top of Pleasant Pond Mountain

…spending a lazy day watching rafts go through the crib

Maine, raft, Penobscot, River, whitewater, telos

Watching the show

 

…spending a weekend camping…

maine, camping, tent, abol, abol pines, penobscot

Home sweet home

 

…discovering a new favorite mountain and hiking a (very, very small) part of the 100 Mile Wilderness…

Barren Mountain, Maine, Appalachian Trail, 100 mile wilderness, BMD Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD, Mast Cell Cancer, MCT, hike, Maine

Porter and I on Barren Ledges

Barren Mountain, Maine, Appalachian Trail, 100 mile wilderness, BMD Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD, Mast Cell Cancer, MCT, hike, Maine

Barren Mountain Summit

Barren Mountain, Maine, Appalachian Trail, 100 mile wilderness, BMD Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD, Mast Cell Cancer, MCT, hike, Maine

Porter smiling on Barren Mountain Summit

 

…and enjoying a boat ride on Wyman Lake…

Wyman Lake, Caratunk, BMD Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD, Mast Cell Cancer, MCT, Maine

All smiles

 

He also wants to eat a steak dinner at a restaurant and put his paws in the ocean among other things.  We will probably hike a few more new mountains, take a few more boat rides, and see some more sunrises and sunsets from mountain tops.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

 

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Borrowed Time

I know it has been a little while since I posted an update on Porter.

I guess things were going so well, I didn’t feel like posting.

His 5th chemo treatment came and went and he seemed so good…I found a lymph node on him that seemed a little large to me. But I had it aspirated and there were no mast cells present.

When my vet, Julie, told me that things were OK, I think I didn’t believe her. I didn’t celebrate like I should have, because I had this gut feeling there was more to it.

But we moved on, living our lives like he wasn’t sick and I was just paranoid.

All this week I felt that lymph node as he laid across my console.  To me it was changing…it now felt like a goose egg – large and hard. My gut twisted every time I touched it.

When we went to Julie, and I showed her the lymph node, she touched it and then made that face that I have come to know as the “bad news face”.

It is this smile is covering up a grimace.

“Well, let’s aspirate it again. That is the only way to know.”

Porter and I waited for what seemed like hours for the results. It was probably like 20 minutes.

Julie and Ashley (the vet tech) came down the hall, and Julie waved me into the room.

Julie had her “bad news face” on.

She had me sit down. She sat next to me, took a deep breath, and put her arm around me.

“I am so sorry Mandy. There are mast cells present, along with…blah blah blah…”

I didn’t hear what else she said. Tears poured down my face and I dropped to the floor and hugged Porter. He put his chin on my shoulder and pressed down.

That sweet gesture shattered me. I breathed him in and he licked my ear.

The cancer wasn’t responding to the chemotherapy. In fact, it was spreading.

I remember back in April, when I read the oncologist’s report to Julie state, “What a wonderful dog and wonderful owner. This is truly a heartbreaking case.”

Heartbreaking? I didn’t know why she said that.

With my blinders of hope on, we were going to fix him and maybe she was heartbroken because he had to be sick at all.

It was because she knew that this was a nasty form of mast cell cancer that rarely is cured.

Anything we do now is buying time, an extra few months maybe. I will do anything to give him a good quality life for as long as possible.

If we are really lucky he might see his 4th birthday, but that isn’t likely.

I pulled myself together. Sort of.

Julie and Ashley hugged me and said they were so so sorry. To call them tomorrow and we can make a plan.

I walked up to the receptionist to pay. She very kindly said, “I am sorry for your bad news.” I burst into tears and handed her my card to pay for the aspirate.

I sobbed the entire way home.

My sweet, loving boy, who wouldn’t even hurt a fawn:

Porter, forestry, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Maine, Wildlife, deer, fawn

Can you find the fawn?

Has terminal cancer.

Heartbroken doesn’t even cover it. Picture impact proof glass when it is hit by a rock, it shatters but some thin film of something you can’t see seems to hold it all together.

Something like that.

The next day happened to be Friday, and I needed some time with just Porter. So after work, I packed up a bunch of camping stuff and dog food and headed to Greenville to camp at Big Moose Pond for the night.

It is about a mile walk in, and I figured even on a summer weekend, there was a pretty good chance at a nabbing a site.

I was right.

Porter ran around in the pond and drank and drank:

Porter, forestry, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Maine, Wildlife, deer, fawn

Big Moose Pond

Sat in the tent away from the bugs and looked at the lake:

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD

Less buggy view

He chased squirrels through the spruce:

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD

Squirrel!

Then we got up the next morning and drove up to Rockwood to hike Mt. Kineo.

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, , Kineo, Moosehead Lake

Kineo from Rockwood Dock

We took a ferry across (everyone on the ferry noted how well-behaved and handsome Porter is), and made our way to the top of the rocky cliffy mountain.

Porter stopped at all of the overlooks and took in the view as the sweet wind blew in his face:

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD

Overlooking Moosehead Lake

I love that he does that.

He waited patiently for me as I climbed the fire tower.

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, , Kineo, Moosehead Lake

He looks very little down there!

The views were awesome:

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, , Kineo, Moosehead Lake Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, , Kineo, Moosehead Lake

And then we made our way down, stopping to have a snack along the shores of Moosehead Lake.

Greenville, Maine, Big Moose Pond, hike, do, Bernese Mountain Dog, , Kineo, Moosehead Lake

Break time

We stepped on the ferry home, and a whole new group of people loved on Porter. One pointed out to me that he was a very special dog.

“I know, thanks.” I said with a very tight throat and tears stinging the corners of my eyes.

Watching Porter appreciate all of these things with gusto (and no worries about the future) reminded me – that was exactly what I needed to be doing right now.

I am no less heartbroken, trust me. But I can’t control what is going to happen, I can only control how I handle each moment as it comes. I plan on grabbing onto each one that we have and living it to the fullest.

We really should be doing that anyway, because in the end, we are all on borrowed time.

Thank you everyone for your support and kindness. Porter is doing well and we are going to be starting Palladia this week – this is a drug that could shrink the tumor, keep him comfortable, and maybe buy us some precious time. Our primary concern is his quality of life, so as long as he is happy and comfortable, we will do treatments.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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A Bit of a Scare…

The day before his 3rd chemo treatment, I was on the lawn with Porter sitting in my lap (he does that).  As I scratched behind his ears, I felt something that stopped my heart.

No…No….nonono…

It can’t be.

I found a new bump. 

It was just like the first one when it started, it looked completely insignificant.

It was on the same side as the ear that had cancer. 

I was crushed.  How can he be getting new bumps when he is going through chemo??? Isn’t chemo supposed to be killing cancer?

My friend Suzie pulled in as I was trying to look at it, and I showed it to her.   She hugged me and I could tell she was as worried about it as I was. 

I didn’t sleep much that night.   If it was cancer, that would mean…what?

3rd Chemo Treatment

The next day, we went to the vet. 

I just said, “I need to see Dr. Keene.  I found another lump, I need it aspirated.”

Michael, the vet tech that I had been working with, felt it and said, “Aww..buddy…” and went to get Dr. Keene.

While waiting for her, they did blood work on him to make sure his system was OK to take the chemo.  Those results were good, and his white blood cell count had even gone up.

Dr. Keene came in and I showed her the bump behind his ear. 

She just took a deep breath. 

I told her “I want this to be a bug bite or a cyst please.” 

She nodded and said, “Me too.  I really hope so too.”

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

What is all the fuss about?

My heart was beating a million miles an hour, and while we were waiting for those results, Porter went off for his chemo treatment.

Dr. Keene came in with a big smile on her face. 

Not cancer. 

OMG.  YEAH!!! I felt like I drank a bottle of wine. 

We hugged and she told me she was so happy to give me good news for a change, I could tell that she was probably as relieved as I was to find out the good news. 

Then she sat and talked with me while I waited for Porter to finish his treatment.  

She is pretty freaking awesome. 

When he was done, he came in wiggling and smiling, happy as could be.  I gave him a giant hug.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

3 down, 5 to go!

Dr. Keene warned me that sometimes after 3 weeks in a row of chemo, that the side effects often get worse.   

Crap.  I was really hoping for things to stay the same.

They did. 

If I didn’t know Porter was going through chemo treatments, well, I wouldn’t know it (very Yogi Berra of me to say, huh?)

I know it seems a little like what I did last week, showing you all the ways in which he is acting like his normal self, but I am really am amazed at how well he is doing, and I really want to show anyone who is going through this that your buddy can have a normal life even while undergoing some pretty heavy duty treatment.

I mean, look at all he did!!!

Porter worked in the woods…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Checking my flagging

He played in the rain…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Drying off

Went for walks…Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Went swimming…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Pleasant Pond

And he hogged the bed…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Bed hog

He still seems to be his happy little self.  I will take every one of these happy moments I can get.

Next week is the last “every week” chemo.  Then he goes every other week 4 times. 

Then we are done.  I freaking hope.

I say this every week – but I really am so thankful to you all for all  again for the thoughtful comments, messages, the prayers, the support.  We are almost half way through (9 weeks/5 more treatments to go) and so we appreciate it more than I can say.  

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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Just A Little More Special…

I want to thank everyone for the amazing support, kind words, healing energy, good thoughts, prayers, and overall love that has been sent our way regarding Porter’s fight with Mast Cell Cancer.

As I said last week – I want to share our story so that it might help others who are going through something similar. If I can do anything to help anyone going through this, I want to do it.  If anyone has questions on the specifics of what we are going through do not hesitate to send me an email (button top right of this page), comment below, or find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. 

2nd Chemo Treatment

So the second treatment was last Tuesday.

I hated the idea of bringing my sweet, happy boy back to the freaking vet to put more of that stupid poison into him when he was doing so well.

I feared that the second time, he would have harsher side effects since the first time the effects were practically non-existent.

Before going to the vet, I took Porter to a pet store and told him he could pick out anything he wanted.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

I will hug him and kiss him and…

I guess I should have been more specific.

No, he didn’t get a Guinea Pig.

We went to the vet and I was fortunate enough to be visited by Louise (check out her blog HERE) -  I was very thankful as it made the time fly by much more quickly, and it was really great to spend some time with her. 

But let me tell you - sending him off to the chemo room does not get any easier.  But he went off, brave as could be, wagging that little stub tail of his in a circle.

He came back, happy to see me.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Honest, he isn’t that big…

The vet tech told me he was one of the best chemo patients they had (I bet they say that to all the doggie moms).  They added that he was very well-behaved, and that he laid down when they asked him to, and just let them give him the chemo.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

My little trooper!

Sob.

I paid the bill and got the heck out of there. 

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Porter paying the bills…

I cried the entire way home.  I hate that he has to go through this at all.

What Does a Dog on Chemo Feel Like?

Everyone has asked me about how Porter is doing (thank you!) and really are curious about how a dog on chemo feels…Honestly, until now, I had no idea.  While I can’t speak for every dog, I feel I can speak for Porter.

A dog on chemo feels like…

…running around in the mud on the shores of a river…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Muddy Paws

A dog on chemo feels like…

…sitting with his owner next to his stream while she scratches his ear and a half…

 

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Ahhh…nice relaxing evening

A dog on chemo feels like…

…going for a hike (and leading the way)…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Heading into Moxie Falls

A dog on chemo feels like…

…watching over his yard…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

King of his domain…

A dog on chemo feels like…

…digging in the flower beds to find nice cool soil to lay down on…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Helping me dig my flower beds…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

What? Were you doing something here?

A dog on chemo feels like…

…swimming in the river…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Happy Boy!

In short, what I have learned that a dog on chemo acts like…

…he did before chemo.  He is just a little more special, he holds a little bit more of your heart than maybe he did before.

Thank you for all  again for the amazing kind, comments, messages, the prayers, the support.  We are really at the beginning of this road (10 weeks/6 more treatments to go) and so we appreciate it more than I can say.   I plan on posting again next week with his progress.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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