Dogs are lucky….

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I’ve decided that dogs are the lucky ones.  When we got Rio’s cancer diagnosis (the first time), I felt sick, scared, chewed up inside as if the very disease were eating away at me.  She didn’t.  She didn’t hear the doctors words.  She just checked her for treats — thrilled when they materialized, and demanding when they didn’t.  Her only concern through all of her treatments was whether she was getting her fair share of love and cookies. Not to gloss over her battle, yes, she had days of pain with the surgeries, and there were days where she was under-the-weather with the radiation and chemo, but she never had the despair of knowing that inside her the cancer was gathering strength for a new assault.

As a person, to hear the words, “you have cancer,” is devastating.  Suddenly, you are thinking “oh, god, I’m gonna die.”  Then every twinge you feel, every ache or pain, you wonder, is that the cancer?  And if it is, how much longer do I have?

Before you start being concerned that I’m speaking from personal experience, I am, but it’s not me who has cancer.  My father-in-law (whom I wrote about in my I HATE CANCER rant a while back) has waged a long and challenging battle with prostate cancer which was first diagnosed back in 1995.  After surgery, he was in remission for a number of years, but had it resurface 7 or 8 years ago.  He was able to get into a drug trial for a novel therapy about 6 years ago, one that my husband had been instrumental in the early-stage development of (not a coincidence).  Obviously, the treatment was considered a success, since he was given that much extra time.  But the cancer has reared it’s ugly head again — in his pelvis, ribs, spine, and skull, as well as his bladder and colon.

We visited with my in-laws over the holidays, knowing that this will likely be our last with Dad.  And we made the 500 mile trek again a couple of weeks ago to celebrate his 83 birthday.  The difference in his condition in 6 weeks was alarming.  He was in a great deal of pain, and he was scared.  He’d been feeling fine, he said, up until a day or so after we arrived, and then his condition seemed to deteriorate overnight.  Both he and my mother-in-law were terrified by how quickly things had gone downhill.  Both spoke of how they weren’t prepared, and that it had happened so suddenly.  As a caretaker, I could empathize with her fear, but I was having a hard time getting my brain around how scary it must be for Dad.  Rio had taken everything in stride, had never once been concerned about her eminent death and the enormity of what that meant to those of us around her.  I kept thinking of the phrase, “be more dog,” and I wondered how we, being the cerebral creatures we are, can really do that.  How can we put aside the fear and really focus on living each moment?  Is this even possible?  And how can I convey this sentiment to someone faced with the finiteness of their own life without sounding cliche and even callous?

In order for me to “be more dog,” I think I would probably need a lobotomy…  I’m one who overthinks everything.  The phrases ad infinitum and ad nauseum were invented for folks like me (as demonstrated by the length of my blog post).  I would literally have to be unconscious not to think about life and death and grief and pain and how to cope with these.  Dogs are oblivious to this metaphysical conundrum.  I’m not saying that dogs are not conscious of death.  I truly believe that death does affect them on an emotional level.  Tosca and Zephyr have both been grieving the loss of Rio in their own peculiar ways.  (You can say that it’s simply a reflection of how I’ve been feeling, but I would point to evidence to the contrary.)  It’s just that dogs don’t hear the doctor when he says, “you have six months to a year,” and this is something which, when heard, can’t be forgotten.  Dogs don’t understand what the word “metastasis” means — they don’t process the fact that the cancer is devouring them, one cell at time, and that at some point it will be excruciatingly painful as it does.  They have no idea how scary it can be to face your own mortality, and the feeling of helplessness that goes hand-in-hand.  They will never be fully conscious of the fact that every day takes you closer to losing someone you love, which, to me, is even more terrifying.  And for that, they are so very lucky…

 

 

 


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The final chapter

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So many words are bouncing around in my brain right now, but not many of them are making any sense at all. But I want to write this now, while it’s all still fresh in my mind, so that I can remember it later exactly how I remember it now.

Since my last post, Rio’s condition had steadily declined.  In the evenings, she’d always just lay next to me on the couch, snoozing comfortably, but in the last few days, she’d been unable to really get comfortable.  Her breathing had gotten a little more wheezy and shallow, and she’d cough after any level of exertion.  But what really told me it was time was the fact that she rarely lit up anymore.  I loved walking into a room and seeing her, because she’d always look like “HEY, IT’S YOU!!!!”  The face that greeted me was always so happy, and in the last week I had rarely seen it.  She perked up a bit when I mentioned going for a buh-bye or when I brought out the very favorite orange and blue rubber Chuck-it balls, but there was mostly no light.

I’d been thinking we were getting close…  and I had spoken with her doctors about “the plan.”  But part of me wanted so badly for her to keep fighting.  I couldn’t really admit to myself just how much more tired and uncomfortable she was.  I was still hoping she’d rally…

Wednesday, we had quite a bit of snow, and she was excited to go and catch snowballs, but after about 3 or 4, she was tired and didn’t want to play any more.  I had to run over to her doctor’s house to pick up a box of Trilostane, and so she had a chance to take a look at Rio and see her in action.  That day, she was almost crouching on her back leg as she hopped, because she was so tired.  But the crazy girl kept going, kept running up to people and checking them for treats (there were a group of neighbor kids sledding in Dr. Rachel’s yard because she had the only good hill in the neighborhood, and Rio had to sniff them all).  I finally put her back in the truck to rest while I finished talking with her doctor.

The next morning, Rio woke us before the crack of dawn coughing and vomiting, but then with a little coaxing, she ate breakfast, and by the afternoon, she seemed pretty normal again.  She ate her lunch without any encouragement, and also her dinner.  Even “second dinner” was eaten with some enthusiasm.  But she wasn’t comfortable.  She was restless, and having trouble finding a position that she could relax in.  She moved from the couch to the floor, and then a few minutes later would ask to get back on the couch.  This went on most of the evening.  I chalked it up to a little too much exercise the day before and the fact that I hadn’t given her any of her meloxicam.  (Her doctor and I had talked about moving to Rimadyl or other NSAID because it didn’t seem like the meloxicam was doing anything for her.  But to do that, Rio needed to be off the meloxicam for 2-3 days.)

When Rio woke us Friday morning, again before daylight, coughing, gagging and vomiting, and refused her breakfast (this time no amount of coaxing could get her to touch it), I knew…  If you could have seen her face…  she just looked beaten, worn out, exhausted.  I called her doctor and told her that Rio was finished fighting, and that it was time for her to rest.  She sounded almost as heartbroken as I felt, and she said she’d come when she got off work.

I had wanted to take Rio out for one last adventure in her “Ride,” but the weather Friday was dreadful.  It was literally pouring rain, and all the beautiful white snow was turning into sloppy, slushy, ankle-deep muck. But we could go for a ride in the Expedition, and so I loaded the girls in the back and drove around Kingston.  While I was driving, I was trying to think of things that Rio loved that we could squeeze in on such a foul and stormy day.  She loves ice cream, but the place that gave her the free ice cream this summer was closed for the winter season.  The other place that we used to go was also closed until the end of January for some remodeling or something.  I didn’t feel up to facing a bunch of people at the burger place either (no drive-through window), so I just made a quick stop at the grocery store, bought some hamburger and vanilla ice cream, and then we drove home.

We had wanted to bury her in my veggie garden because she loved to hang out with me there when I worked, however the ground was so saturated that the hole kept filling up with water, and there was no way I could put my girl into that cold brown water.  I decided then to let the doctor take Rio’s body with her…

Shortly after we got home, a friend came over to say goodbye to Rio.  Tosca and Zephyr were also very excited to see her, and they kept crowding between her and Rio.  I finally gave them each a Chuck-it ball so that they would chill, and Allie could give Rio some loves.  But Rio wanted her ball, too.  She laid on the floor and tossed her ball to me and then to Allie, over and over, just as happy as could be.  When Allie left, I made a special homemade “flying dutchman” on the grill, and while they were cooking, I fed the girls some ice cream.

And then Dr. Rachel arrived…  Rio finished her burger and asked to get up on the couch, where she promptly went to sleep.  We talked for a while, remembering funny stories about the Woo, about how she got her name, about the day I brought her home, about her unwavering ability to poop where ever she went, regardless of how many times she’d already gone that day.  Dr. Rachel cried with us as she explained what she would be doing.  And then she administered the sedative.  Within just a few minutes, Rio visibly started relaxing.  And that was the point at which I knew unequivocally that I was doing the right thing for her.  Just seeing her so at peace, so restful after so much struggle and fight — that helped assuage my fears and doubts.

I kissed her sweet face and breathed in her Woo scent, trying to memorize the feel of her, the smell of her, telling her all the while how much I loved her,  how sweet she was, how there would never be another dog like her, how lucky I was to have had her in my life.  I told her now it was time to rest.  She was very tired from her long fight, and now she she didn’t need to fight any more.  She was so strong, such a warrior.  And then we kissed her goodbye.  And then we wrapped her up in a little brown blanket, and inside that bundle with her tired, battle-scarred body was my heart.

I slept badly last night, awakening frequently and spending hours staring out the window into the night.  I watched the sun come up this morning with Zephyr spooned tightly against me, softly running my fingers through her silky curls and wishing, wishing that it was Rio’s softness and warmth just one more time….

 

Rest in peace, my darling girl