6 weeks ago we had a healthy 5.5 year old black lab/hound mix named Midnight. She bounced eagerly in place when I came in the front door, waiting for me to pet her shiny black head and tickle her under her belly and then to race to the back door to play ball in the yard.
6 weeks ago we had a dog who would make near acrobatic moves to catch a ball in one instant and climb into your lap as if she was only 10 pounds of puppy in the next.
6 weeks ago we had a dog that we were considering training for therapy work. She was so gentle that people everywhere would squeal in delight to see her – “Midnight’s here!”
6 weeks ago we had a hiking buddy, a nap buddy, a play buddy, a foster-sister to numerous puppies and a real sister to a golden, 3 cats and a rabbit.
6 weeks ago we had a dog that was exquisitely trained and mostly well-behaved, the occasional counter surfer, cat food sneaker and litter box raider.
6 weeks ago we had dreams of camping and hikes and dog beach and getting back in shape by taking her running.
That was 6 weeks ago. Today, we have an emaciated shell of that dog. She still wags her tail to see us and likes to go outside to seek some sort of normal, which we seek but cannot find.
5 weeks ago Midnight suddenly became bloated and uncomfortable. Normally a beautifully lean dog, we knew something was wrong. The vet recommended a surgical consult which turned into a 3 hour emergency surgery to remove a 10 pound soccer ball sized mass from her insides.
We felt like the worst possible parents. How could we not see this huge alien growing inside of her? Where did it come from? Had she been in pain and we didn’t see it? If we had seen it could we have done something sooner?
We waited the grueling 5 days for the biopsy results to come back knowing, but not wanting to know, the grisly truth. The results came back – our baby has cancer. And not only does she have cancer but it’s one that, everyone who’s seen it says, is a sarcoma more aggressive than any they’ve ever seen before. While I don’t know much about counts and cancer cell division, what the oncologist told us was that her count was 130. 20 and above is considered aggressive and difficult to treat. 130! He said that with that aggressive of cell division, the tumor had likely gone from nothing to 10 pounds in as little as 3-4 weeks and would do it again.
The oncologist told us that this cancer was not the result of anything we did or didn’t do. It was genetic – she was genetically programmed from birth that she had this cancer potential, that we could not have done anything differently to avoid it. It seems to have attached itself to a piece of ovary that was left over after her spay years prior. The tumor grew, bled out, spread the cancerous cells throughout her body cavity and began to eat away at her insides. He said it was so aggressively growing that each cell didn’t appear to be able to regulate what cells it was making so her tumor was a mass of bone and tissue and skin and fibrous materials.
We immediately began chemo to try to slow the growth. We’ve been hit extremely hard by the economy but what were we to do? This is our baby. There were no promises of “curing” this cancer, only that we might have a slight chance of remission and perhaps a better quality of life as her body fought it. Only 4 days after she did it, a week ago, it became apparent that it wasn’t working and the tumors are back with a vengeance. Her rib cage has started to expand. You can feel the many many lumps around her intestines. She doesn’t cry, just looks at us with sad liquid brown eyes. She has stopped eating. We’ve tried dog food, cat food, chicken, lamb, roast beef, wet food, dry food… She’s a little more testy with her furry siblings and sleeps most of the day. Our hiker and jogger only plods along resolutely on her walk. The only joy she seems to have still is continuing to bounce after tennis balls. We are obliging her. The vet says we have days – not weeks/months or years.
She’s 5 years old! You don’t sign on to having a pet that only lives to 5 years old! Where are the days where we get to watch her go grey? Where are the days where she starts to mellow and wants to cuddle even more? Where are the days where people say, “wow – she doesn’t look 10, 12, 15!” Where are the days where we just have easy senior maladies to treat – some aches in the joints or decreasing eyesight or hearing loss? That’s what we signed up for! We don’t get those days. She doesn’t get those days. She just looks at us with her beautiful big brown eyes asking for what we can’t give. Our baby, who we would give anything for, we can’t give her this.
We can only cry and hold her tight and tell her we’re sorry. Soon we’ll have to say the final I’m sorry and good-bye to this beautiful creature who literally has given her all to give us 5 amazing years. Until then, we’re taking it day by day.
6 weeks from now, we will only have an empty hole in our heart where she used to be and a renewed commitment to seeing pet cancer wiped out in our lifetime.
6 weeks ago seems like an eternity ago…