The Golden Life
I knew something was wrong. I could feel it in my gut. When you spend 10 years of your life with another living being, you develop a style of communication that is special to the both of you.. it creates a bond and an unbreakable connection between the two of you.
This past week, things began to go down hill with Abe (my giant Golden Retriever). I noticed he didn’t bound out of bed in the mornings when I came downstairs and instead, I got a look of “are you crazy woman?”. I chalked this up to being home and sleeping late the week prior because once he was up, he was fine. He would sashay down the front steps and go straight for his morning treat…. the chicken scoops ( a name that my bf came up with when he accidentally found Abe enjoying an afternoon snack of chicken poop). Abe, Ray-Ray (my pitbull mix rescue) and the chicken would eat their breakfast enjoying the cool summer morning until it was time to come back inside while I went to work.
And then it happened. I came home from work on Thursday and Abe didn’t get up. This was the first time in his life that he hadn’t greeted me at the door when I returned home. This is a dog that is just as happy to see me if I return to the door in 2 minutes after forgetting something or 2 weeks of vacation.
That afternoon I got him up and helped him outside. He looked up at me, grateful for the help and then was able to walk into the yard to do his business,
Dinner came. He was uninterested in eating his food. Another first for Abe. Food is one of the greatest joys in his life. He laid down and let out a big sigh. I sat down beside him and called the vet to see if we could get in the next day.
Hearing the symptoms over the phone, the receptionist made room for him on the busy schedule.
We drove the hour to harrisonburg, to the vet clinic where Abe had his knee surgery last summer. After an exam, x-ray, blood work and a hefty bill we were sent on our way, to await the call from the vet once his x-rays had been read by an outside agency for clarification.
The next 2 hours were quiet. I knew that our lives could change at any moment but we went on about our day with added belly rubs and some treats. And then she called.
The world stood still. She read from the report filled with long medical terminology and even though I didn’t understand their meaning, I could tell that it wasn’t a report filled with good news. Words like aggressive, destructive, proliferation, rapid, mass, and metastatic echoed through my phone. I looked down at my pen, as I tried to write notes of what she was saying so I could look into them later. but my pen stopped and I realized that I knew.
Osteosarcoma. An aggressive bone cancer found in dogs, especially golden retrievers. The tumor was in the ribs and was dangerously close to his heart & lungs, making breathing difficult.
“What is the next step,” I asked, ready to do whatever it would take to make Abe better. She sighed and said ” We keep him comfortable.”
Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer, it does not respond to treatment. Chemotherapy was only recommended if the cancer was in a limb and that limb was amputated. She couldn’t tell me a timeline and said I would know when time comes. She told me to keep an eye on 5 things that he loves, and when I see that he no longer enjoys those things, then I need to make the call.
I hung up the phone and laid on the floor with Abe, hugging him. This was the day that I have been dreading since the first time that I laid eyes on him at 8 weeks old. He had taken care of me for 10 years. And now it was my turn to take care of him. Abe nuzzled closer to me. He knew. He probably knew months before anyone else but he tried his hardest to keep going, to hold onto the life and routine that we had. Even on walks the last month, he was excited when I got the leash out after work. He sashayed along, slow but steady, smelling every corner and wagging his tail.
I took the rest of Friday and I closed off my house to the outside world. Abe now was allowed on my couch, as it is easier for him to get up from. He lay on one side and me on the other, his paw resting on my arm, like he always does. I cried into the night. My other dog, Ray Ray lay with us, quiet but supportive. He knew as well. These two boys were like my children. I never got married or had kids up to this point. I give them all the love that I have to give on a daily basis. They are my first priority and time after time they have stepped in when my own world was too much to bear. Abe and Ray have gotten me through the most difficult times in my life. I am not even entirely sure that I would be here if it wasn’t for them, as they were the one thing I held onto when my own incurable disease invaded my body & my mind.
I made a decision late Friday night that I would not spend my remaining time with Abe, crying on the couch. I decided that we would spend our moments together doing things that he loved. Even though those things may look different as they have to be adapted for him to participate, I hope that he still finds joy in those moments. Yesterday I took him swimming in a mountain pond. He swam and fetched his ball twice before he laid down in the shade, indicating to me that it was enough for the day. Today we went to the Tractor Supply Store, where he loves to walk around greeting people and getting treats at the register. I smiled when I saw his eyes spark with excitement as I got the leash out and we made our way through the store. I am holding onto those 5 things that he loves with a death grip
Abe and I have a lifetime of memories together, yet it doesn’t seem long enough. He moved with me to the caribbean and has been apart of so many adventures in my life. I want him to be around when I get married and to one day meet the children that I will have. I haven’t loved as deeply as I have loved my dog and though that sounds silly to some people, it is the honest truth. Abe helps define the person that I have become and this is already the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
So we are holding onto the present, as it is the only moment we are promised. I am now making all of the dog food to cut out the chemicals in dry dog food that cancer feeds off. I am incorporating lots of protein, vegetables, fish oil and other supplements to try to slow the progression of the horrid disease. Tonight as I end this post, I watch Abe finish his entire meal for the first time in days (I think he likes the homemade food!). It won’t cure him but every day that I have with Abe (without significant pain) is a day I will always remember.