Dogs are lucky….

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…




6 thoughts on “Dogs are lucky….

  1. So sorry for Dad…the worst is hearing that he is scared. 🙁

    I too worry myself physically sick. I am going to practice being “more dog”.
    Wise words. Thanks Micki.

  2. sending hugs to your family, sounds like Dad is a real fighter. when i got my diagnosis, gayle had just finished up with her chemo, brave girl every day. she was so ‘un-scared’ about cancer, it helped me be more ‘un-scared’ myself. i was never as brave as her, but when i was getting zapped every day for those seven weeks, she was always the first face to greet me when i got home and made sure i knew it would be OK… our tripawd brothers and sisters are true blessings.

    charon & spirit gayle

    • Rio was always such a huge inspiration to my father-in-law. When she lost her battle, he really took it hard. And then with the bone pain starting around the same time, it’s been really difficult for him to keep fighting. I really wish there was some little bottle of hope that I could give to him, but he knows he’s not going to beat the beast, and I think that, besides the pain, fear is the hardest thing he’s facing.

  3. Our thoughts are with you.

    May your dad find peace. Remember how much you learned from him. His legacy will be forever. This coming to terms with our mortality is probably the hardest thing humans ever have to do.

    May you find peace, too. My sister, who lived with terminal cancer for 4 years–so, so hard to watch–used to say that sometimes we’re looking at the work side of the rich tapestry that is life. Though what we’re experiencing is horrible, it may well be that something else of beauty is being created.

    I love the “be more dog” because it reminds us to express those positive things that we might otherwise hold in for fear of others’ judgments. Living in the moment is harder, but it reminds us to appreciate the very small things.

    Gandalf and Meg

  4. Oh to be so ‘present moment’ and carefree! We humans make ourselves crazy with our overactive imaginations. I’m going to be more dog-like from now on! (I do have to take it easy on the treats, though)
    So sorry your Dad’s having such a rough time.

    Hugs and Wags,
    Judy and Baby

  5. Micki, I’m so sorry to hear he’s not doing well. I hope that he is more comfortable and feeling better.

    Dogs are the lucky ones indeed. How do we be more like them when faced with the inevitable in our own lives? I wish I knew. I’ve been faced with death twice in my own life, after having two serious accidents that almost did me in, but both times I was oblivious to what was about to happen to me, and it was only after the fact that I knew I could’ve died. It’s easy to say I faced it fearlessly when I never knew what was coming.

    All we can do is try. If we can do it, that’s the one way to real inner peace when we need it most. Just keep trying, and in return, spread the message to others.

    Hugs to you and your family.

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