So let's dive right in as to why it has been six days and I don't actually feel like being around anyone, because here's my last 7 months. No one wants to see a bunch of depressing 'my dog is dying' posts scrolling through their newsfeed (I know I wanted to focus on the furry face that made me smile, instead of the diagnosis, prognosis and clinical notes that made me cry). A daily captioned picture of the big yellow boy doing something mundane felt better to me for that reason, plus it
didn't add to the already present negativity of self righteous, outraged political commentary that has also been going on for equally as long.
Starting Sometime in March...
I fall in love every time I look at him. I leave in the morning and he sits out in the driveway and settles down, likes he's going to wait as long as it takes for me to come back. In the evenings, he's either back in the driveway or on the front porch. Waiting. Then we go inside and lay down on the couch. No need to wait anymore.
I am so tired of the techs being the primary point of contact. I was still on the fence about surgery (amputation), but I felt like yesterday we had better odds with the lie. Now we have truth and a treatment plan of "wait". After a coming to Jesus with the oncologist, he is on board. Talking after the chemo appointment he said they were all surprised with Axel in the back, how lively and energetic he was, not like their regular patients. He said he could understand the push for not waiting. Not sure if he means it or is just back pedaling, but at least he knows who he is dealing with now.
I'm doing everything I have control over. I hate this. I hate this because I feel like there's this big egg timer and the sand is running out like the Wizard of Oz. I shift from panicking, to problem solving, to trying to be conscious of just 'being in the moment' and 'enjoying every moment' like everyone tells me. But being consciously aware of enjoying being in the moment just reminds me that the moments are going to run out. And then I get sad and cant enjoy them any more. All of these people who have already been through it, they're on the other side of the wall and they're waving to me and offering encouragement and 'I know what you're going through', but I don't want to know these people. I'm not on their side yet. I don't want to think about being on their side. I don't want it to be over. I don't want him to be past tense. I don't want him to be "the best dog I've ever had" the one I "measure all other dogs to". I already know I can never replace him.
I am pissed off that people are asking; "So, do you think you'd get another yellow lab?" Really? Why would you say that? Out loud. To me. Do you ask someone who just lost her husband when she's going to activate her Match profile? But I get sad because I cant imagine not having a yellow dog in my life. A big one. But then he would always be "not Axel". So instead I'd just become the crazy dog lady version of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Sitting in my living room, not sweeping up any of the dog hair, surrounded by bags of stale and expired food, holding his collar in my hand. People with addictions usually give up one thing and replace it with another. People who lose a dog, get a puppy.
I cant get enough of him; looking at him, scratching his fuzzy head, smelling his corn chip fur. And then I feel like such an idiot. It's "just a dog", right? But there are people who I haven't met yet, that will never get to meet him and fall in love with him. They'll only get to hear my stories. And that's not the same. How will they really know?
It's funny, he does better when he's moving more. Don't know why that surprises me. It makes sense. Riding bikes around the back was a nice reminder of how he loves that stuff and that he can handle it. So I just need to let him. Mum is totally on board. During her visit last year she shooed him off the couch, now she props a pillow under his head and gets something for him to rest his feet on.
I'm hyperaware of every little change. I was falling asleep last night and thought I should have one of those baby breathing monitors, so I can put it downstairs and hear him when I'm upstairs, in case something changes. And then down the rabbit hole I go; what will I do without him? Who will I be without him? My identity is so wrapped up in being his "person".
I'm worried that I'm going to run out of things he wants to eat, and then how will he sustain himself? He needs his pain pills, he needs his chemo, he needs his antibiotics. If he wont take any food, then it's just going to be worse for him. And already I feel the burden. This is my life. Worrying about him, the pills, the schedule, obsessing about if he's had enough water, has he eaten (enough of the right things), has he pooed (is it too runny, is he constipated)? My day always began and ended with him anyway, but this is something else. It's summer. This is the time I'm never home (nor is he). I feel like I cant leave home. I don't want to. It's exhausting.
So Axel is officially getting picky with his food. One day one thing works, the next it doesn't. I wish vets would tell you this stuff ahead of time instead of figuring out for myself after the fact. Meal time makes me so anxious now, because all I'm concerned about is being able to get his pills down, and keeping him at some kind of calorie baseline. I keep thinking I'll get good news or hope, but then it doesn't come. When it seemed like he was a "Go" for the limb spare procedure at Tufts because the tumour was on his non-weight bearing bone I was on such a high. That got taken away quickly with the whole, 'no lesions on the lungs, oh wait, take backsies, yes there are'. And then I hear all these stories of other dogs who are still around or got way longer.
We have an appointment with the new oncologist on Wednesday. I'm terrified because I know she's going to tell me his lungs are a mess now. I feel like we are in this protracted death march. I just want to be able to love him into health. Like I have enough love for him that that can overpower anything bad. Except there's no positive or happy way out of this. It's all bad and it's going to continue to get worse. I'm not used to that. I have these tiny flashes of 'should I just end it now and put us both out of our miserable, inevitable limbo'? And of course I don't mean it. But what the hell are we doing here? Treading water until we are too tired and get swallowed up and eventually drown? You can't tread water forever.
You know what I think is going to make this transition even harder? Yes, they are a part of your day from the moment you wake up, but when they're not well, it becomes even more. The pills, the special foods, the monitoring, the vet appointments, all of that. What is going to fill that new time with him when it becomes a void? I'm going to have so much more 'free time' that's not 'Axel time', and I don't know how I'm going to stand that. I feel like I'm losing my Axel already. I lost him when he couldn't go mountain biking as far, then when I couldn't take him for hikes, then when he stopped counter surfing and I didn't have to worry about leaving food out, then when he turned his head away from bacon. I just can't believe that this is really, actually happening. There are a lot of sick, older dogs around at the moment. Now it feels like whose turn is it next?
I am obsessed with getting him to eat, it's becoming a distraction from everything else. Like if I can get him to keep eating, that means he's still "ok". I feel like I'm running an upscale nursing home. So I obsess, I trawl the supermarket aisles looking for something that might be "the thing". Then it's prepping it, coaxing him to eat it. I'm getting lost in it. I feel the way I am feeding him is like a death row inmate, where every meal might be his last and I want it to be good. So then I get his leftover steak tips and salmon.
I have now gone from completely underwhelmed to flat out angry with the assigned oncology tech. The first time I met her she noted he had lost however many pounds it was since his last appointment. She looked me dead in the eye and asked, "Are you doing anything about that?". Nope. Just sitting here watching him starve. So I just called their office earlier this week looking for guidance. He's been having diarrhea and not eating much beyond dog treats despite being on an appetite stimulant. I do realize that the treats are essentially junk food, which are probably contributing to the squirts. The tech returned my call and immediately launched into a lecture about how those were very fatty and would give him pancreatitis. When I stated that this was pretty much all he was eating right now she told me that I then 'need to think about his quality of life'. I really wanted to punch her through the phone and say, "guess what lady, he already has osteosarcoma, how about you help me figure out what to do instead of lecturing me about pancreatitis?" Instead I started crying and hung up.
In an effort to make sure Axel doesn't get dehydrated I have made the decision to leave the toilet lid up. Why he wants to drink out of them and not his water thing I don't know. He likes bottled water too. Oh well. As long as he's drinking and there are no floaters I guess I can live with it.
Axel puked and had diarrhea in the car on the way down for his vet appointment. When I went to pick him up from his bone infusion and x-rays the tech asked if the doctor had called and spoken to me yet. Well, that can only mean more bad news. I guess I'm back to the reality of thinking about this actually happening. I've been pretending the last couple of months. It's been nice. The oncologist said there are microfractures now developing in the bone. She did also say that I was not wrong or being neglectful if all he wanted to eat right now were treats, because bottom line, he needs to eat. She prescribed something for the diarrhea and a different kind of appetite stimulant. Even with the bad news, I felt better, I want to know that what I'm doing is helping, not harming him. Until we go outside to load up. That snotty, judgy tech was leaving for the day and getting into her car, which was parked in front of the building (that would be reserved for patient parking) next to me. I remember noticing that car when I was trying to clean up his puke and poo up, because the back window was plastered with very political bumper stickers expressing outrage at the current political administration. She never spoke directly to me, but as she was climbing into her vehicle she muttered loudly that dog treats and raw hide were just junk food and candy. How dare she? After how much money has gone into that office's payroll, supplies inventory, student loans and general overhead during the last several months? And honestly, it's less about the money and more about the effort, advocacy and time that has been expended to make sure that everything humanly possible is being done to keep Axel healthy, safe, comfortable and happy. And yet this woman who has no advanced specialized training, education or letters after her name feels no qualms dispensing her opinion (both passively and otherwise), which is in direct conflict with that of the doctor.
I can't take enough pictures of him. Soon he won't be lying in the driveway waiting for me to come home. I know I'm behaving like the only person in the world who loves their dog and is going through this. I went to pick up some more meds at the vet today. There was a guy there picking up his dog's ashes. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Feels like the sand in my egg timer is closer to running out. Every day I wonder if today is going to be the day I come home and see something awful. I don't want him to be in pain. I plan my week thinking about what I'm doing and what I'll do for an alternative if I need to. Then I think about the women who want to have a relationship with the person who delivers their baby. I feel the same way about what's coming. I don't want it to just be a stranger vet. I guess I just want it to be someone who knows Axel. Who's seen who he is and how special he is. That he's not 'just another dog'. I can't stand the thought of coming home and seeing some awful break knowing he's been in pain and wondering how long he's had to suffer. Am I going to fall apart? How exactly? What will that look like? I have some ideas, but I don't know until it happens. I guess this is me trying to micromanage ahead of time so I can try and put stuff in place that will "help" but I don't know how it will help because I don't know how it's/I'm going to be. It all sounds very histrionic for "just a pet". But he's mine. There's no pre-grieving where I can get all my sadness in the bank now and save myself some of that later. It's still going to be and feel devastating and awful. All these happy little fun daily dose posts. They're all bullshit. He's here now, and soon he'll be gone. And I just have to get used to that. Just like everyone else who's ever gone through it. I'm no more special and nor is he.
My anxiety is ridiculous right now. The last two nights I've barely slept and all I can think about is Axel. I got in a panic because he was outside and I kept listening for him, then I worried that the rubbish bins are out there and what if bears or coyotes come because they are attracted to the food? It's rural enough. He is alpha enough to try getting into it with another big animal, even being partially lame on one leg.
Parents say dogs are not like having children, correct, they are different. However, neither infants or animals can verbally communicate, they rely on you to keep them safe, warm, fed and take care of their medical needs. That is no different. What I want to scream is, "what the hell do you know?" You've never had a dog. Scratch that, you've never had an Axel. You know about as much as what it's like to be me, as I you. And if you looked a little harder, you'd see it really isn't all that far apart. They all depend on us to be their advocate.
Just sold my spare bike. I can pay for Axel's radiation. We drove down to Boston today. The next four weeks he and I are taking a 6 hour road trip. I like the radiation doc, she's cool. She likes Axel, she said in life you should always eat the cake, she wants him to eat the cake, until he doesn't want to.
And now he's gone...
I don't want to vacuum, or clean, or wash away the fur tumbleweeds or any other evidence of his presence in my life. I walk out the front door and there are big muddy paw prints on the porch. I don't want to sit out there where we'd happy hour, or watch a thunderstorm roll in. Or be on the back deck seeing him trot around sniffing and peeing on things. I don't want to be at home, but when I am, I don't want to leave the bedroom. Going downstairs means seeing all of our shared spaces. At least in bed, the only things I have to deal with are my own memories. Of course he snuggled on the bed, but the living happened in the rest of the house. Coming home is the hardest, so I either don't want to leave the house, or I just want to leave and never come back. Now coming back means not seeing the big yellow lump of fur and thumping tail before he hops up to greet me. Right or wrong, healthy or not, he was an extension of my ego. When I was out in public with him I felt proud. He was my 'leash candy'. People noticed, paid attention, paid compliments, wanted to love on him. There is no other living thing in this world that I have ever quite so freely, repeatedly and unsolicitedly said the L word to. With him, I just couldn't say it enough. And it's not like he even knew what it meant. Maybe that's why?