They handed her to me, and she looked up at me. She had a mohawk, and licked the end of my nose before snuggling into my elbow. I let Mike hold her, and held her sibling. But I already knew, and soon had her back in my arms. “DoÂ we need toÂ go get a checkbook?” Mike asked. I nodded. But we didn’t go… he did. I held her. She was my baby from that moment on.
This week, my fears of a couple weeks ago were confirmed: Annie, my baby, has cancer. There is a main mass on her shoulder, another smaller one connected to it, a spot in her lungs, and some affected lymph nodes. Not that it is ever an easy thing to hear, but it was not what we were ready to hear. She had been limping, and we were worried about a soft tissue injury since we couldn’t find a source or swelling, and she hadn’t be getting better with rest, so we took her to the doctors who had done such a wonderful job with her ACL replacement in February.Â With their finding of the mass, and their concern,Â we started the tests, and the waiting. It was 4 years exactly since the day we named her, 4 years and a day since she was first handed to me.
We didÂ a biopsy of the shoulder mass, an aspirate of the smaller one — the biopsy wasn’t good news, and the aspirate was inconclusive. Then a CT scan of her shoulders and lungs, and an ultrasound of her abdomen. The CT found the spot on her lung, but her abdomen was clear. Then an aspirate of the lung spot, and while not conclusive, it was another indicator of cancer. And yes, we cried. And held her. And let her sleep in the bed.
Now, with all the tests back, we are deciding. We’ve met with her oncologist (yes, my dog now has a surgeon, internal medicine specialist, and an oncologist — she couldn’t have a better medical support team than those three!) and we are facing one of the hardest choices, if not the hardest, that I have made so far in my life. Do we make her as comfortable as we can, enjoy the weeks and maybe months she has? Do we do chemo, which is different in dogs and people, in that dogs are not made ill by it, but at the same time it doesn’t hold the hope of curing it permanently, and have another 6-12 months with her, with a vet visit in San Diego every 3 weeks? Or do we combine the chemo with radiation, the hardest hit on the family both financially and with time (with four weeks of weekly visits to San Diego to go along with the visit every 3 weeks), but giving her the longest chance at 12-18 months?
We can’t cure her, but if all goes well, the extra time with her (with treatment) has a good chance of temporarily curing her. But the outcome no matter what is the same: my baby dog will not grow to be the old dog I have always pictured, but cancer will take her from me sooner than I ever imagined I’d say goodbye. I thought I was at peace with loving her as long as I could, but just making her as comfortable as possible. But the more I learn about the treatment options, the more I don’t know if I’m ready to take the least medical approach. She is my baby. But I also don’t know the affect it would have on my family as we, in some sense, just prolong the inevitable: knowing what we face, could we truly enjoy and savor the time we have together, while not losing the other parts of our lives that make us who we are? Not focusing on Annie to the exclusion of Gracie, and Kenzie, and Mike, and the relationships and goals andÂ dreams and plansÂ we have with each other?
To Annie, all is the same. As her wonderful surgeon said “Her reality is that her shoulder is a little sore and she has the best family in the world… and that Dr. Ganz keeps finding ways to drag her down to San Diego and stick a needle in her once a week…” And with any of them, my heart is breaking.
She was meant to be part of our family. She almost shares my birthday, being born one day before it. Driving to the other pet store across town, the compressor in the ac in my car blew out (again). And I laughed. “I’m glad I’ve already got her! We might have been too busy dealing with the car and its expensesÂ if we had waited.”
It all startedÂ on a bike ride a day before our one year wedding anniversary, having just got back from volunteering at Ironman Canada. We talked about how Gracie seemed to have fun staying with friends with other dogs while we were gone, and about a pack member for her. At home, I found a puppy online that I really liked from the info… named Beauty. But the one named L’il Bit had the picture that drew me in. At the adoption day at the pet story, those dogs weren’t there. But someone who knew their foster mom was, and she was called, and brought the girls down. They handed me L’il Bit first, and told me the info for L’il Bit had been posted with Beauty’s picture, and vice versa — the info and picture I loved were L’il Bit, and I hadn’t fallen for two dogs. And she came home with us. I think Gracie was more interested in the canaries in a cage near the dogs, but she sniffed the little black ball. And once home, Gracie was a bit more curious, although she seemed to look up at us saying “You know, those yellow birds were pretty cool… and you brought home this?”
And some more pictures from then: