October 12, 2015 by The Dog Rules
First the Reason:
I have taken a break from writing for two reasons. The first is that I suffered an unusual accidental injury to my eye and was completely unable to read/focus on a computer screen until the injury had healed. During that time my dearest fur friend has taken a turn for the worse in her own health and I have been focusing on taking the very best care of her that I can.
Dog is in her 16th year. One year, Two months and 10 days ago she was diagnosed with a spindle cell tumor on her right side at the end of her ribs closest to her hip. At first this tumor was a minuscule lump not at all unlike those harmless fatty lumps (lipoma) that seem to make their appearance on all senior dogs. It was so small that it wouldn’t have fit in the center of the palm of my hand – and there was something about it that kept me thinking and wondering. I took her to the vet for a check-up and mentioned that she had a couple of “those lumpy things” and I just wanted reassurance that everything was OK. I never mentioned that this one particular lump was concerning me.
I’ve taken all my fur babes to this particular vet for over 25 years. He is kind, compassionate and honest in his findings. I patiently waited while he examined dear Dog. At the completion of his examination he said she was in great shape and this one particular lump (the one that was worrying me) had him wondering. He had a “funny feeling” about it and suggested we do a needle aspiration to learn its composition. Since he agreed with me that it was concerning, I agreed. Thus the diagnosis of a spindle cell tumor. Because of the placement of the tumor, we mutually agreed that it was not operable and my dear girl was then officially in palliative care. The vet didn’t think that they could get “clear margins” (this means to take some healthy tissue surrounding the tumor to ensure they get it all) because of its location on her ribs and the probability it had already spread further through the tissue between the ribs into her body. I really didn’t want to put my dear fur friend through major surgery that was unlikely to benefit her and only cause her debilitation and pain.
So, we carried on like everything was absolutely normal. And it was several months before the tumor grew a bit more. Dog enjoyed her life and didn’t appear to notice that there were extra treats, extra cuddles, treats from my plate. Our walks became subtly, progressively shorter. We avoided places where it was necessary to do stairs and walked the grassy slopes instead. Dog’s legs couldn’t do stairs any longer; but she could easily manage sloping grassy ground. The lump grew into a bump the size of a grapefruit. Dog appeared to not have noticed and was her sweet self to everyone. People I didn’t know made remarks as to the size of her bump. Was it Cancer? WHAT was I going to do about it? When was she going for surgery?
Let me digress a moment and focus on the query about the surgery that I appeared to be ignoring as a treatment. It appeared to me that a number of people think this is the automatic next step when faced with a situation such as the one Dog and I were facing. The impression I got from some people was that I was not “doing” right by not subjecting her to a treatment that might, in some small percentage, extend her life. There was little or no commentary on the quality of the life she might have following surgery. It was the implied “but you MUST do it because at least you will have done something!” rather than “will it actually improve her chance of a quality of life rather that just cause her suffering?” when the bump didn’t appear to be causing her any distress and it was we, the humans, who were distressed by its appearance.
Until the last few weeks, Dog has been essentially unimpeded by her bump. It is occasionally itchy and we rub it and she is happy. We affectionately ask her if she would like us to rub her “bumpy” in the same tone as asking if she would like a bum rub where upon she presents the named body part for a gentle rub and appears pleased with the attention. The bump doesn’t hurt and until recently she even laid down on that side without a single indicator of discomfort.
Recently we noticed that she no longer lays on the bump. It has grown subtly larger. Now it proves a challenge to her balance and we can see that she is walking more carefully so as not to topple as she counterbalances the extra weight on one side. Dog is thinner, even though her appetite is essentially good. She is now consistently refusing to eat every third or fourth meal – it doesn’t interest her. She can no longer lie down or get up with ease. The lying down is a slightly controlled fall that ends with a small thump on the living room carpet. Getting up is a focused effort. Occasionally on walks she will stumble and be looking up at me from the ground with a “how did this happen?” look of surprise. This is difficult for us to watch and we would like to deny that it is happening to her – and we can’t. And through it all Dog is still her dear, sweet self. She doesn’t complain or whine. When we help her to her feet she wags her tail in thanks. When we carry her up and down the stairs she wags. She even positions herself for carrying by placing her front paws on the first step and then looks coquettishly over her shoulder for Daddy to carry her. We marvel at her acceptance of these changes – and it breaks our hearts. We’re not ready for her to leave us. In some completely irrational way we want her to rally, become the puppy again, entertain us with her delightful antics, wriggle into our arms, breathe her sweet puppy breath into our faces…
“She is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are her life, her love, her leader. She will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of her heart. You owe it to her to be worthy of such devotion.” – author unknown