On February 25th, 2011, we were given the news that our beloved border collie, Skye-dog, had lymphoma.
She was 8 1/2 at the time and otherwise perfectly healthy. Despite the grim diagnosis, we elected to move ahead with treatment which meant six months of chemotherapy.
My first dog Riley died within one month of diagnosis at the approximate age of 10. She had a cancerous tumour in her chest that stimulated her body to kill off its red blood cells, the ones that move oxygen throughout the body. I knew something was terribly wrong when she collapsed on her walk for no apparent reason. There was no cure and so despite several blood transfusions and loads of love, we had to let her go.
When Skye was diagnosed, we were told that with treatment, she would probably achieve remission and stay there for anywhere between 12 and 18 months. Then we could choose to repeat chemotherapy, but each chance of remission would be smaller and each length of remission would be shorter. The cancer would win in the end and we would have to say goodbye.
Fast forward 4 years and 8 months and 4 days and she’s still here. And I have been experiencing anticipatory grief for 4 years, 8 months and 4 days.
However, last Wednesday, Skye had a scary episode of the wobbles. Her head and upper body leaned left, her eyeballs darted from side to side and she basically wanted to fall over. The condition is called vestibular disease as it affects the body’s vestibular system, which controls our balance. Like vertigo, it wreaks havoc on our ability to sit and stand without falling over and because the world is spinning, we are nauseous and if we were interested in eating, could not even be successful in finding our mouths to eat or even drink. As you can imagine, it is not a nice condition.
Having already been dealt a blow to her mobility a couple of years ago with a condition called spondylosis, the effects of vestibular disease are not at all welcome for my lovely old dog.
Hence the pee pads.
On Day 6 of recovery, Skye now trundles around the ground floor, with my help holding her up and straight, on a pathway made of pee pads, she trying to convince me that she can go outside to pee. I say “Nope, sorry. Not yet.” So we trundle out of the living room, through the dining room, into the kitchen where the back door resides, out again into the front hall and then back into the living room, where she flops down on her plastic and pee pad covered makeshift bed, exhausted from the effort and I’m sure, disappointment.
You see, as a border collie, not only is she sensitive but she is also easily shamed. Training a border collie means saying something once and they understand. It doesn’t mean they’ll do it mind you, but they do understand. In their minds, they will first contemplate the universe, consider the pros and cons, and make their own conclusions. If you have created a bond with your border collie, this will all take a split second as the bald truth is, they only want to please you.
So that moment I took teaching her how to use the outdoors as her washroom has stayed with her, and she considers any deviation from that to be heresy. Hence the anxiety centering around toileting indoors, on pee pads.
……and I’m back to anticipatory grief……
We all know it isn’t forever and we all wish for our dogs’ lives never to end, but we all know they will.
All I wanted was more than one month.
I was gifted so much more.
Fearless and flawless leaping.
Traveling to weird and wonderful places …
Or not going very far at all…
Does she see what I see? A full life, a life of love and care.
1584 borrowed days. And counting. Maybe grief can take a holiday for now…
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.
Fast forward to today.
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.