There’s been a lot of talk lately about how I’m coming to the end of my journey with cancer. (Assuming it never returns, and I’m going to make that assumption for my own peace of mind.) Everyone seems to bring it up. My doctors, my therapist, even Mark and myself. A very tangible evidence of the end will arrive at the end of this week when I go in to have my port removed. It’s not any kind of major surgery. They won’t even put me under full sedation. My surgeon says it’ll be over in a blink and the last remaining “cancer” tie will be gone from my body. Not counting the scars.
I told my therapist a few weeks back when she asked me how I was feeling about it coming to an end that when I look back on it, it almost feels like it wasn’t real. It all came and went so very fast. It feels like some strange interlude outside of time, as if everything came to a halt while I dealt with this thing that had grown inside me. And now it’s gone and in a couple of days, the contraption they stuck inside me to help them fight it will be gone, too. Which is why I suppose I have found the past ten days to be so blasted frustrating.
It’s no secret that we have dogs. It’s also no secret that our dogs are very much a part of our family. They are, for all intents and purposes, our children. And if you have a problem with people who love their pets like kids and generally treat them as such, you might as well stop reading right now.
Katie is our baby girl. That’s her on the left in both pics at the top of my blog. Mark spotted her in a mall pet store a few months after we came home from a trip to England in the spring of 2001. Mark had been wanting a Bulldog his entire life. And Katie pretty much wrapped him around her paw the first moment he saw her. She stepped on her food bowl and flipped it up and over onto her head, then proceeded to wear it like some kind of hat. That was that. He was in love. He didn’t bring her home that day, but over the next day or so talked himself into it by saying that he’d stop by after work and if she was still there, then he’d bring her home. She was still there, so he snatched her up. I can still picture her running around out in the yard when he got home. We had three other dogs at the time, Malcolm, Beulah, and Wiggles. Katie went after all of them with brazen bravado. Poor Beulah was just too shocked to know how to react. Anyway, it took us a couple of days to settle on a name for her, but we eventually chose Katie-Bar-the-Door, because she was like a little ball of wild energy and true to her breed name, pretty much bulled her way into and through everything.
It didn’t take us long to learn that Katie was flat out the smartest dog either Mark or I had ever known. And he owned a Border Collie when he was a kid. Katie picked up on words we spoke and learned them without us actually trying to teach them to her. I have joked for years that if Katie had opposable thumbs, she’s be ruling the world by now. Anyway, despite the fact that Briscoe is four years younger than she is, Katie still somehow manages to be the baby.
Katie used to worry us because she grazed grass like a cow. I mean she’ll go outside and literally graze from one patch to another, eating all the way. We’d always heard that dogs ate grass when they were sick, so we worried until I finally bought a book or looked it up on the internet or something and found that some dogs are just that way. It’s the ones who don’t regularly eat grass and then suddenly start doing it that you have to worry about. Which brings up Briscoe. Katie is something of an atypical Bulldog. We read books about them when she was a baby, that warned of issues with drool and flatulence and snoring and breathing issues, so we kept waiting for all that to develop, but it never did. So we decided to get her a little brother and along came Briscoe. He, unlike Katie, is the quintessential Bulldog. He drools consistently. And he snores loud enough to wake the dead, sometimes. And the gas! Oh, Lord, the gas can be bad enough to bring tears to your eyes! Plus, he has other issues that are typical of Bullies, including some trouble with breathing and eating due to the cramped nature of his snout and throat. He has this lovely thing he does where he goes and drinks half a gallon of water, then walks into the living room and regurgitates it all right back up. He does it with food, too. (The things we’ll put up with for the sake of love.) He’s done it most of his life, which is why it doesn’t freak us out any longer. It’s just part of who he is. Katie, on the other hand, never gets sick.
This is why Mark and I got very worried about her on Sunday night, Jan. 8th. She started vomiting and kept on vomiting until there just wasn’t anything left to come up. Eventually, we decided to take her to the same ER Vet who’d saved her life a few years back when she developed Pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus requiring immediate surgery. So we rushed her all the way up to Wilder, KY. Keep in mind that Mark was due to fly out to New Jersey first thing Monday morning. It was about 12:30AM when we decided to take her. We got her there and they took a look at her and confirmed that something was definitely up. We were afraid that she might have swallowed a piece of a toy. Katie is a serious power chewer. She absolutely must kill anything that squeaks. Which is why we buy her the hardest, toughest squeaky things we can find. No fluffy little fake rabbits for her. She’d have them gutted and de-stuffed within a matter of seconds. She got a new toy for Christmas that we hoped might last more than a couple of days. She killed it faster than we expected, though, and sat about ripping it to pieces out of spite because it had dared to SQUEAK at her!
Katie has never, ever been one to actually eat her toys. Or shoes or wires or any of the other things puppies often find so appealing. Briscoe, however, did take the opportunity to use the gear shift in my car as a chew toy when he was still a little thing. It still has the teeth marks. Anyway, despite the fact that Katie has never made it a habit to actually eat the things she chews on, we started worrying that she might have swallowed a piece of this toy. That’s what we told the vet on duty that night and pretty much what she expected had happened. She took Katie off to take an x-ray, then came back a few minutes later and I knew from the look on her face that it was something bad.
The good news was that Katie had not eaten any pieces of her toy. The bad news was she had some kind of enormous mass in her abdomen that was so large it was shoving all her organs out of place. The vet that night wasn’t sure if it was one of her kidneys or something else. It was just too big to be sure. So we left Katie there and got home just in time to take a short 45 minute nap before we had to be back up and on the way to the airport. Later that morning I got a call from the day vet saying that they wanted to do surgery. We’d already figured that was going to have to happen. The surgeon called a little while later and said he’d go in and try to get all of whatever it was out. He did the surgery that afternoon.
Bulldogs are always risky to operate on. Their short noses make breathing normally a bit of an issue. Add in sedation and it can become a dangerous situation very quickly. But there was no choice. So I waited on pins and needles all afternoon until they finally called and said the surgery was over and she was fine.
I won’t go into all the gory details about what he found when he opened her up. Suffice it to say that this thing was nearly the size of a soccer ball. It was full of fluid and pretty much deflated when he cut into it. He took what he could out, but there was a lot he could not remove because it was very extensive. He sent biopsies off to be tested and I went and picked her up on Tuesday afternoon.
She was very sore and any movement at all was hard for her. Plus, we found out pretty quick that she had some trouble keeping food and even water down. (It was a bit like having two Briscoe’s in the house.) Mark came home on Thursday afternoon and had a meeting he had to go to. It wound up being after seven by the time we got home. There was a message from the vet waiting saying he had the biopsy results. I didn’t call him back that night. Mark had another meeting on Friday and had to go before I even had the chance to call the vet. When I did, he told me that it was cancer.
What’s the likelihood? I get done with cancer and now my dog has it? So, I wound up taking her back up there Friday afternoon so the surgeon could check her over and he started telling me about what she had and how they’d treat it. Chemo, of course. What else do you do for cancer? He mentions the names of a couple of the chemos they use and low and behold, one of them is Adriamycin. I had to stop him there. I explained that I’d just finished cancer treatment and one of the chemo’s I received was Adriamycin. I was plenty familiar with it.
We came back home with Katie. Just like me, her surgical wound had to heal before they could start the chemo. But the problems holding down food never did quite go away. Then, this afternoon she suddenly stopped being able to hold down anything at all, again. It was like deja vu from the night we took her up to the ER. I called the vet and he said to bring her in. They took her away from me again, to give her fluids and medicine to try to stop the vomiting and nausea. It looks like she might get her first chemo tomorrow. It will depend on how she does tonight.
The surgeon believes that the cancer in her abdomen is so extensive that it is essentially causing a blockage, which is why she keeps having problems keeping down food. His hope is that the chemo will shrink the size of all those tissues, thereby making it easier for her to eat comfortably. I called to check on her earlier this evening and at that time she still hadn’t eaten anything, but then they’d just put food in her pen right before I called. All her vitals were fine, which at least means she isn’t getting markedly worse. I’ll call in the morning to check on her and to see if they’re going to go ahead with the chemo.
So, here I am, trying not to worry about her and praying that she’ll improve and not take a turn for the worse. I cannot tell you how much I love that dog. She is so very sweet and gave me more comfort and laughter during my own cancer journey than I could ever express. I am trying very hard not to worry about what I cannot change. It isn’t easy, though. I miss my baby girl and I am very afraid that this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to missing her. Because if she doesn’t respond the meds, then there’s only going to be one other option. The very thought of it makes me nauseous.
I’ve been fighting tears all afternoon. I don’t want to lose my baby girl. Not now. Not yet. Please, Lord, let her hang on. Let the medicine work. Give me strength, Lord, to face whatever is coming.