Cancer threatens a combat vet’s best friend and lifesaver

Guest post by Lisa Bonnington

UPDATE on November 16, 2018

Bella had her surgery a few weeks ago and one of her rear legs was removed. Recovery was swift. She is now a tripod and is learning quickly how to adjust to three legs instead of four. The leg that was removed was sent out for a biopsy that revealed cancer in the leg with no evidence that the cancer had spread to her body. If the leg had not been removed, the cancer would have spread.

When I learn more details from Lisa and Robbie, I will add them to this update.

Sincerely, Lloyd Lofthouse

****

Robbie spent four years as a US Marine before he became a Green Beret Special Forces medic in the Army.

Bella, Robbie’s PTSD service dog started her life as a rejected show dog thanks to an overbite. Then she became a skilled and irreplaceable service dog, a companion, a friend, and above all a life-saving member of Robbie’s family.

But the story of Bella and Robbie didn’t start there.

Several years after being honorably discharged, a deeply concerned friend tricked Robbie into going to the VA, where he was diagnosed with service related PTSD.  An account of this event is shared in Robbie’s soon to be released book The Next Mission.

Based on a recommendation that a service dog might help with Robbie’s PTSD symptoms that were becoming progressively worse, Robbie started the process to find a service animal. When he read Bella’s profile, he thought her temperament sounded ideal for his needs. Unfortunately, Bella was already scheduled for adoption to a man in Pennsylvania but that ended when the man lost his job and went through a divorce.

To meet Robbie, Bella started her second journey. She flew alone from Maryland to Atlanta with an eight-hour layover, before finally reaching her destination, Colorado Springs.  Bella arrived severely dehydrated, starving, scared, and covered in her own feces.  Lucky for Bella, Robbie’s medical training helped him deal with her health challenges and he was able to nurse Bella back to health.

Since then, the two have been inseparable.

Bella naturally and gracefully handles her responsibility as a service dog.  When Robbie’s PTSD is triggered she will place her head in his lap to take his focus off the trigger.  She will push her head under his hands, requesting a pet to give him a calming distraction.  If she hears stress in his voice, she often stands between Robbie and who or what has triggered him.

Bella is a kind, loving, gentle giant that thinks she is a lap dog.  I have never seen her aggressive unless she feels a member of her family is in danger.  She has adopted us, my boys and I, as her own.

Bella has grown into a skilled and irreplaceable service dog, a companion, a friend and above all a loved member of our family.

Recently Bella was diagnosed with Cancer in her hip.  The veterinarians and specialists we’ve met both recommended amputation of her hind quarter and possibly chemo therapy.  They also assured us that this was the best course of action and treatment to give her a chance to reach her normal life expectancy.  They assured us that dogs unlike people adapt quite easily to being a tripod.

However, this treatment comes at a very high price with the surgical estimate running between $5,000-$7,000 and that doesn’t include the expenses Robbie has already paid for x-rays, the diagnosis, medication, and the future possibility of chemo treatment.

With Robbie living on a fixed income due to his service disability, these costs are prohibitive, and we are not in a position to handle this expense.  We are now faced with the grim possibility of having to consider putting Bella down.  For anyone who has had to make this heartbreaking decision you know how devastating it can be.  To be forced to make it due to financial constraints is even worse.

We would not be able to live with ourselves if we did not exercise every possibility to help save Bella.  She has given so much of herself unconditionally, and it is our turn to take care of her.

Bella is the reason that Robbie, during very dark times, did not take his own life.  It is incomprehensible for him to consider taking hers.

I humbly ask you to consider a donation no matter how big or small and/or to share Bella’s story.  Go Fund Me: Saving Bella the Service Dog

Thank you.

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Which one is the Dream

Note: This post was written by me from a writing prompt in my Vet Center PTSD peer support group. The Prompt was “Dreams”.

When his daughter told him she wanted to go fishing, he didn’t know if he was dreaming or not. She was supposed to be dead, but he didn’t want her dead.

“How am I going to teach you to fish when I’ve never done it?” he asked. “I don’t own a fishing rod.”

“Look, Dad, I’m not going to be around much longer.” Amie was nine. “Everything the doctors tried has failed. The treatments have been worse than the Leukemia.” She covered her bald head with the spread fingers of both hands. “I hate being bald. I want my hair back. I want to live my final months without the treatment pain, and I want to start by learning how to fish together. Then we can go skydiving or go skiing in South America when it’s summer here.”

“I’ve never skied,” he replied.

“We’ll learn together,” she said and took his hand in both of hers. “This is going to be fun and you’ll have pleasant memories of us doing things together after I’m gone. That’s what I want.”

Warm tears flooded his eyes. He didn’t want to lose her too. He’d already lost his wife to a hit-and-run driver when they’d been out riding bicycles together as a family. He’d witnessed it happen. He’d also seen the car’s license plate before the driver sped off, but he didn’t report that to the police. He wanted to execute the murderer himself, and he knew who’d help him. They were all in the same Marine Corps unit and had been deployed together several times to Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Wait, how could they help him? They’d all been killed in the same ambush in Afghanistan where he’d been taken prisoner by terrorists.

“Don’t go, Dad!” Amie said. “You can’t leave. We have to go fishing again.”

But her voice faded and was gone, and he opened his eyes to darkness. The air was frigid and stuffy. He tried to straighten his legs but couldn’t because the space he was in was to small. He explored it with his hands. It seemed he was in a rusty metal box that was about a foot high, two feet wide and five feet long. He tried to scream but his tongue was swollen, his throat raw, and his lips scabbed. His rectum also hurt and then he remembered how they had stripped him naked, and tied him face down to a metal rack before taking turns sodomizing him.

He heard metal screech and then the top of the metal box opened letting in blinding light. He blinked but couldn’t clear his vision. He felt rough hands grab him and drag him from the cramped box. He was slapped. He was punched. He felt blood running from his nose.  He wanted to fight back, to resist, but he was too weak.

Then they were tying him to a metal lattice and lowering him into a pit full of a brown slop that smelled like shit. Once his body was immersed, he had to lean his head back as far as possible to keep his mouth out of the crap so he could breathe.

“Dad, Dad,” he heard Amie’s voice say. “Do you hear me?  It’s okay. I’m right here with you. I’m not dead. You were rescued. You’re in a military hospital. You aren’t a prisoner anymore, and leukemia didn’t get me. Remember? And I’m not nine. I’m twenty. We’re going to get through this together. I want you back, Dad. You’re all the family I have.”

He hoped Amie’s voice was real.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

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PTSD is a Never Ending Challenge and when help arrives “Don’t Let Go”

I turned twenty-one in Vietnam. There was no cake with candles, no presents, no party, no happy birthday songs, but I remember the tracers from thousands of armed Marines lighting up the night from the 1st Marine Division’s perimeter, and that display of destructive, brutal power was not a celebration of me turning twenty-one. It was from combat.

When I returned from Vietnam in 1966, I had no idea I came back with a permanent illness that later in the 1980s became known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Combat vets aren’t the only victims of this disease. Rape victims, child abuse, domestic abuse of women, someone who grew up the target of lying, cruel bullies and trolls just like U.S. President Donald Trump (Trump is not the vicitm. He is the bully. He is the troll.), victims of muggings, survivors of accidents and brutal acts of nature.

Imagine my surprise when fifty-one years later, a twelve-year-old girl sang her way into my life through YouTube and offered me a lifesaver that helped me manage my PTSD better, and she probably will never know it.

PTSD is all about how our body reacts to fear.

From 1966 to 1982, I never talked about the combat, the snipers that almost took me out, our own troops firing on a patrol I was with on our way back to base camp, the mortar rounds that rained down on our tents, the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and grenades that maimed and killed others in my company, the ambushes, the recon missions, the rocket attacks that left one Marine in my unit headless, and the regiment/division sized field operations.

I was a field radio operator and in the field, through that radio, I carried on my back, I passed on orders that killed hundreds of armed Vietcong. Marine Corps training is intense. When we leave boot camp we are different from the child that arrived.  When we leave, we are trained killing machines.

When I was honorably discharged from the Marines and went to college on the GI Bill, that PTSD I didn’t know I had was behind the heavy drinking. I often say that between 1966 and 1982, I drank enough hard liquor and beer to fill a swimming pool.

My first step on the road that led me out of the darkness of PTSD managing me was an accident. I was thirty-six and my health was falling apart from all the booze, beer and bad food. Someone I worked with was a vegan and her husband, raised a vegan, helped me get off the liquor and change my lifestyle. Once the booze was out of my system and I was eating better, the vivid flashbacks of combat lost some of the intensity that woke me at night drenched in sweat and ready to fight with an unsheathed, razor-sharp USMC KA-BAR that I kept under my pillow and a loaded 45-caliber automatic pistol in an easy to reach drawer.

I came to the conclusion that the booze and bad diet made the flashbacks worse so I stayed sober and stuck to the healthy vegan diet Greg and his wife helped me transition to.

Decades later, after I retired from teaching high school English and journalism, I discovered that the VA offered counseling to help combat vets manage their PTSD. I’m in a group now and most of my friends are combat vets who also work hard to manage their PTSD.

I’m seventy-two and a thirteen old girl I’ve never met and probably never will meet has helped my PTSD demons to take a few steps further back. By definition, this young woman is a child prodigy, and I wrote about What does it take to become a child prodigy? for one of my other blogs in an attempt to understand what was happening to me because of her and her songs.

When she was twelve, she won America’s Got Talent by singing songs she wrote. She was signed by Columbia Record and Simon Crowell to a record contract. Her first album has only five songs on it. Her next album, with more of her original music, will be out November 3. I already have a copy of her first album and have preordered the longer one.

Perfectly Imperfect, her first shorter album, reached #9 in the U.S. and #11 in Canada. This child prodigy’s name is Grace VanderWaal. Something about her and the songs she writes and sings is helping me manage my PTSD better, and I’ve been trying to understand what that is, and I think I’ve figured it out after watching her first almost hour-long concert a half dozen times. It’s the themes of her songs and her nonverbal language. Studies say that nonverbal language is 70-percent of communication. Her fans call that being genuine. Some critics and a friend of mine have called her an old soul. I think it is her nonverbal language that makes her genuine to some and/or an old soul to others.

I don’t think she is an old soul. Grace is unique because of a number of factors. One was the family environment she grew up in. Her mother, father, and I think especially her older sister, are a big part of who she is.  Genetics also plays a role in Grace being a child prodigy. Child prodigies are unique as I explained in What does it take to become a child prodigy? Another factor is that some of her songs are about bullies and in interviews, Grace has mentioned that she was a target of bullies in grade school. I was also a target of bullies when I was a child, and that is probably the reason I went into the Marines to make sure no one ever messed with me again.

In “Clay”, one of her original songs, she sings,

“Your silly words
I won’t live inside your world
Because your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me
I’m not clay”

In another original song, Gossip Girl, Grace touches on this topic again.

Grace is thirteen now and this month she went on her first concert tour starting with the Austin City Limits Music Festival. If the full concert is still available through Red Bull TV, you can access it through the next link. I tune in to this concert every evening because her songs and her performance help me sleep better. I think that is because of the combination of her genuine joy at performing for a huge crowd of fans that love her and the themes of her songs.

Austin City Limits Music Festival
Red Bull TV told me this video is only available for a limited time. If you click the link, I hope it’s still there.  Red Bull TV said they aren’t allowed to sell a DVD of this concert, so I sent an e-mail in an attempt to reach Simon Cowell and see if his record label will offer it on DVD soon.

Grace’s next video is a song called “Escape My Mind”, and Grace performed it live in Austin for the first time.

“Escape My Mind” is another original song, and I understand what Grace means because I can’t escape my mind either, but Grace is helping me to at least escape the PTSD demons tattooed in my mind for a few hours while I’m sleeping and that is a first. I hope it keeps working. I think the joy Grace feels while she sings and receives the love of her fans is the reason for whatever is happening to me, and I hope she never loses that genuine joy for her music and life as her career grows. If she manages to keep hold of that unique genuineness, I’ll continue to be her fan, but thanks to my PTSD, I’ll probably never attend one of her concerts, because crowds are a trigger for my PTSD, and I work hard to avoid those triggers. That’s why I want to buy a DVD of Grace’s first concert.

The Grace in this concert, and all of her previous performances is still the genuine thing, and that helps me feel better about life. It’s all about escaping the demons even if it is only for a few hours at a time. Like I said in the title of this post, if help arrives, “Don’t Let Go!”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.Where to Buy

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Transitions from War, from combat to active living

Mike Ergo was a Marine rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines from 2001-2005 and deployed to Iraq twice. Coming home from combat was rough. His body returned, but his mind and spirit were still in Fallujah for many years. … Triathlons, trail running, and endurance challenges like GORUCK have help him to overcome the sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety that are a part of PTSD.

The Biggest Race of My Life by Mike Ergo

“Lindsey Schmidt from Ironman’s PR firm reached out a few months ago to say they heard my story. Ironman wanted to get me on a cool, new veteran podcast to talk about why I race. It would be a chance to talk about the Marines on my jersey that keep me moving towards the finish line. I agreed to do the interview.  I wrote an eBook  about the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Finally, a chance to talk to a larger audience about a great way to deal with PTSD!

1927897_52180045766_8469_nMike Ergo is on the left

The interview started out great (listen to it here). We talked about how I went into the Marine Corps, ditched the band and joined the infantry, and shipped out to Iraq. He asked me what house-to-house fighting was like in Fallujah. Chaps was there in 2007 and has walked the streets of the former Baath Party hub. And of course, we chatted about how triathlon has helped me deal with the demons of PTSD and turn it into something positive. So Chaps throws the verbal jab and I take the bait.” …

This post is continued on Mike’s Blog Transitions from War from combat to active living – Reconnecting with Mind, Body, and Spirit

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Lloyd Lofthouse, the host of The Soulful Veteran, is a former U.S. Marine (1965 – 1968), Vietnam Veteran (1966), retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

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Megan Leavey and her dog Rex, Semper Fi – Once a Marine, Always a Marine

I saw a film today, Wednesday June 14, 2017, based on the true story of a U.S. Marine and her dog.  While watching the film, I was with her every step of her journey. The first part of the film shows a young American that has lost her way due to the death of a close friend. Her family is dysfunctional and poor just like mine was. I identified with her reason for joining the Marines and that decision straightened her life out like it did for me.  When she reached boot camp and I watched her expression and body language as the DI’s tore into her and the other recruits. I laughed because that was me in 1965 at MCRD. Leavey went through boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

When Megan is asked in the film why she joined, she said, “To get away from my life.” I couldn’t have said it better.

But after book camp, she was still struggling to find a balance in her life, and that got her in trouble leading her to the shit detail that introduced her to the Marine Corps infantry bomb dog program and Rex.

The battle scenes in Iraq were intense, and I was there with her every step of the way.

After she leaves the Marine Corps, she finds herself lost again until she takes up the struggle to adopt and save the life of Sergeant Rex, her combat dog, who had been retired and was scheduled for euthanasia.

After Vietnam (1966) and the Marines (1968), it took me years to find that balance. It’s not an easy journey.

Since it isn’t a secret that she was reunited with Rex, who taught her what love is, I’m going to admit that my eyes got misty while watching this part of the film. If you see the film, I suggest that you take some tissues.

Megan Leavey grew up in Valley Cottage, New York. She enlisted in the Marines in 2003 and after boot camp was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, where she was paired with military working dog Rex. They served together on two deployments in Iraq. They were first deployed to Fallujah in 2005, and then to Ramadi in 2006, where they were both wounded by an improvised explosive device. Leavey was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a “V” device denoting heroism in combat.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

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The Donald Trump Campaign’s Latest Stupidity Explodes on Twitter

Donald Trump’s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, who is as ignorant as the Donald is and probably has the same narcissist ego, took to Twitter and blamed President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the death of Captain Humayun Khan, who Trump insulted when he insulted the hero’s parents when the mother did not talk at the DNC.

But Captain Khan sacrificed his life to save his men from a suicide bomber in 2004 when G. W. Bush was President, four years before Obama was elected president.

Of course it isn’t Katrina’s fault if Trump ordered her to do it. From what I’ve read of his business history based on the experience of people who once worked for him, the Donald is an extreme micromanager and no one does anything without him knowing and approving.

In addition, this is what I’ve been thinking. Captain Khan deliberately risked and then lost his life to give his men time to fall back from a suicide bomber rushing their position in a car. Why did he only get the Bronze Star, why not the Medal of Honor?

How was it Hillary Clinton’s (HRC) fault? Because in the Donald’s twisted brain, she voted for the bill that approved the Iraq War.

On 60 Minutes, Donald Trump clearly blamed HRC for voting for the bill that approved the Iraq War – watch the next video to hear him say it with your own ears – and you will also hear that he didn’t blame Mike Pence, his VP running mate, who not only voted for the bill that authorized the Iraq War, but authored it. That means Pence helped write the bill.  All HRC did was vote for the bill. Since then, HRC has publicly admitted she made a mistake signing the bill that approved the Iraq War, but Pence has never admitted it was a mistake that he wrote and voted for it.

In the 60 Minute’s clip, Trump also claimed he never supported the Iraq War since the beginning.

However, FackCheck.org reports that “On September 11, 2002, Howard Stern asked Trump if he supports invading Iraq. Trump answers hesitantly, “Yea, I guess so. You know. I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

Conservative Critics often dismiss fact check sites that reports conservative lies, because they think these sites are biased against conservatives – even though the same fact check sites report the lies that liberal politicians also say in public – but that doesn’t change the fact that Trump said what he said in 2002.

In addition, on January 28, 2003, Trump appeared on Fox Business’ “Your world with Neil Cavuto,” on the night of President Bush’s State of the Union address. Trump says he expects to hear “a lot of talk about Iraq and the problems,” and the economy. He urges Bush to make a decision on Iraq. “Either you attack or you don’t attack,” he says. But he offers no opinion on what Bush should do.

How can anyone that is sane, who’s knows about this and calls themselves an American citizen, support Donald Trump?

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award winning author.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

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The Ignorance of Donald Trump on Display with another Foolish Twitter Rant as he insults a U.S. Marine

Donald J. Trump went on another Twitter rampage after the Democratic National Convention ended, and in one Tweet he said, “General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD #Never Hillary”.

This is another example of how ignorant and foolish Donald Trump is.

How could General John Allen (click link to discover Allen’s accomplishments) fail badly in a fight he never fought? Although he served in Iraq, he never had command of the Multi-National Forces West, and he retired from active duty more than a year before the Islamic State of ISIS and/or ISIL was established.

Who is General John Allen? CNN reported, “Allen graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976, and has racked up a long and distinguished list of accomplishments both on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as an attempted role as peacemaker to one of the longest and most intractable conflicts in the Middle East.”

General John Allen commanded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from July 18, 2011 to February 10, 2013, and then he retired from active service after having served the United States as a U.S. Marine for 37 years — something the Donald has never done because during the Vietnam war, Trump managed to avoid being drafted with several deferments. Read all about it in Was Trump a ‘draft dodger’?

In fact, in June 2014, Aljazeera reported, “Sunni rebels declared new ‘Islamic caliphate’. Armed group ISIL changed name to Islamic State, and says its empire extends from Iraq to Syria’s Aleppo.”

ISIS has operated out of Iraq & Syria since 1990 under several different names and did not appear in Afghanistan until 2015 about two years after General Allen retired from active duty.

Do we really want a president who is this ignorant and libels and slanders people without knowing what he is talking about? Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump is a loser. Donald Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump has a thin skin. Donald Trump is a coward and a bully. Donald Trump is a small man no matter what size his body parts are.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

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Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy followed by his award winning memoir Crazy is Normal.

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