In the world of canine cancer, I had not been lucky.
My first dog, Riley, a thick-coated and majestic border collie with a tail that swept up and over her back all day, every day, unless she had no prospects or saw a bath on the horizon, succumbed to a cancerous mass in her chest at the relatively young age of 10.
As my very first dog, all of those adjectives you hear over and over again applied to us too: soul-mate, best friend, partner and life-saver. After a childhood of gerbils, lizards and fur pelts to fill the void of a lovelorn existence, longing for a dog but allowed none, she picked me at the ripe age of 33. Opening her cage at the pound, she laid her head against my shoulder as if to say, “I’m home.”
The symptoms presented as anemia, more properly something called “auto-immune hemolytic anemia”, and results in the body’s immune system attacking its own red blood cells because they sense an invader, in her case, cancer. We were on a walk and suddenly she collapsed, struggling yet unable to right herself. I rushed to her and held her down to quell her panic until she calmed and was able to stand. Once home, she collapsed again and I knew something was horribly wrong.
Treatment consists of blood transfusions to bring the anemia under control and then addressing the underlying condition. In Riley’s case, a massive tumour under her ribcage. But surgery was never an option because even with the transfusions, her red blood cell counts never normalized. We lost her within a month of her diagnosis. I grieved for what seemed like a lifetime.
The second furry love of my life has lived beyond what anyone has expected after her cancer diagnosis.
As I told her when she came home with me from the pound at the tender age of 7 weeks, she would have some pretty big shoes to fill.
Early on I told her she may never be the “best dog”, but in truth, she is tied for best dog.
On February 25th, 2011 at 8 1/2 years old, she was diagnosed with stage III multicentric lymphoma and underwent six months of chemotherapy.
She has remained in remission since her first week of treatment and next month she will turn 13 — an almost unprecedented 4+ year lymphoma survivor. She is everything one would ever hope for in a dog — smart, dedicated, funny, loyal, loving, independent, thoughtful, sensitive, eager to please and patient. She has taught me to be honest, true to my word, consistent and fearless. And so many other things…
I’m not exaggerating when I say these two wonderful dogs have been the single biggest gift in my life. Always there, always seeing me as someone they want to spend time with …. always happy to see me.
I am so grateful for them. Whatever unfolds, Skye-dog can count on me to make sure she is treated with honour and respect …. to her last breath.