Aug 20, 2010

Castor and the other Seaward (Cancer, that is.)

Live in the moment, the powerful, eternal present. Nice thought, but how? Non-human animals are sometimes the best role models for us.

“I don't know that animals experience gratitude, in the sense we commonly conceive of it, but they certainly don't feel sorry for themselves or suffer the kind of greed that plagues so many of us humans,” I wrote a couple of months ago.

My dog, my guru.

The teachings begin.
On August 10th, after a normal, gamboling morning at the dog park and 2-mile urban hike, I noticed Castor (see: the beautiful creature above) holding his rear left leg off the ground.

“Oh, S! He hurt himself,” I thought. I tried to calm down though, because I’ve been practicing the-sky’s-not-falling mantra for the past … well, all of my boy’s life. After hearing the worst things that can happen to these beautiful, gentle giants, especially from my surgical tech friend, Jen, (who sees the worst of it, over and over again), I learned that usually, it’s just a stiff day or a sore muscle. I can empathize with that.

Still, I called the vet the next day for advice. They helped steer me in the direction of rest and wait a day or two, since my vet was gone until Saturday (4 days away). I managed to not give in to guilty feelings as we walked right past the park and back home for 2 days.

He seemed to walk fine, once outside, but if standing he didn’t put equal weight on his back feet. My search for the area of discomfort was fruitless. He enjoyed his hip flexion and not a peep with knee movement. I know how stoic he is, so I wasn’t convinced.

On Thursday, I decided to take him in the next day. That morning, I noticed that his ankle was swollen. (When I told Jen it was “noticeably swollen,” she assured me that “noticeable” for me is probably invisible to most. It’s really not that swollen yet, which is good. Can you see it?)

“Okay, I’ll take him in at 4:15pm, and hopefully, even with x-rays, I can make it to yoga at 6:30, ” I thought. I hoped it wasn’t broken. I figured it wasn’t since he was walking on it. “I’m sure dogs can sprain their ankles just like us. GAWD, it’s gonna suck to have to keep him off of it until it heals! He loves his doggie friends!”

The veterinarian wanted to x-ray it right away. She says, “I’m not worried about it being broken, since he’s walking on it.” …Just as I suspected… “I’m more worried about a boney cancer.”

Time goes wonky.
After an hour wait (butterflies, included in the set!), she used the C-word on me. I was floored. After all this time, after convincing myself to inhale, it kicks the wind right out of me. “It does look like cancer. Do you want to see the x-rays?”

Did I want to see them? I’ll tell you what I wanted. I wanted to change Cas’ cancer into normal bone and cut him a frakking break. After January’s diagnosis of retinal atrophy and his puppyhood HOD flare-ups, I figured it easy going for him for the rest of our time together.

Of course, I looked.

Enlarged bone, spongy parts, and foggy regions.
(Foggy is generally not something you want to see in x-rays, fyi.)

I held it together, just collecting more data. (Data is for dealing.) Assuming he couldn’t have an amputation (WhoTF told me that, I can’t remember), I asked what I should do about his routines now.

“Just short leash walks to go to the bathroom.” That’s when the tears came. The catalyst was probably, “for the rest of his life?” Once you start to pinpoint the numerical meaning of that phrase, shit gets hard.

I knew that couldn’t be the plan. He loves his doggie friends. His favorite thing to do is play at the park, and my favorite thing to do is have his company to pick up the bread every day. Thankfully, I have great friends in the surgery business. I sobbed out two explanatory messages to Jen and Eric (Dr. Eric Wright, the fantastic surgeon Jen works for).

I spend the next 9 real-time (seemingly 24) hours waiting for a response. I finally spoke to Jen the next day, and she assured me that amputation was not only an option for him, but it was a blessing that it was a rear leg. It’s easier to adjust as a "tripawd" in that situation.

Hopes Readjust.
After much researching (mostly by Dabs, my BFF, who replaced restlessness with digesting canine cancer information) and consulting with various veterinary professionals, it seems there are 3 basic options for my boy.

1. Do nothing (including exercise), but treat the horrific pain. Put him out of his misery once said misery was peaking. (This often happens when they break their weakening bone.)

2. Amputate. This is done, oddly enough, to simply relieve their pain. It improves their quality of life. (Note: This can be harder for the human to deal with than their pup.)

3. Amputate and do chemotherapy. The so-called “gold standard.” (Because it takes a lot of gold to pay for it?) Relieve the pain; slow the cancer.

Best for my boy is option number 3, so 3 it is! Now, to overcome at least 2 more obstacles - metastasis and money. It turns out the first place osteosarcoma likes to open a second home is in the lungs. If there are lesions there already, amputation is usually not done.

I never thought I'd be hoping that Cas could have an amputation, but here I am. Tuesday, we saw an oncologist, Dr. Cadile in San Mateo. (She was great - informative, thorough, and warm.) We talked plans (see: 1, 2, 3 above). I told her I was going to have Eric remove his leg as soon as possible, if he was cleared for it.

After I coaxed him to the back for chest rads, I spent 4 hours waiting for the results. (Okay, really it was about 30 minutes, but time is funny that way.) Dr. Cadile came in garnering residual laughter, which I took to either be a good sign or a gross oversight.

Though I felt the urge to jump up and run to the nearest toilet, I sat in a calm suit while carnivorous nerves tore at my insides. I waited for it... "I can't see anything in his lungs."

YAYAYAYAY!!! Woooooo hoooo!!! After the much needed, 5-second dance party in my heart, we made plans. On to obstacle, the second.

Work it out!

I don't know, in the end, how we will pay for everything.
I trust that we will. He is my child. I have been given the opportunity to hold Castor through this, returning the unconditional love he's always given me. So, I shall.

"I'd sell my kidney for my dog!" A fellow dane lover who had been through cancer with her dane explained her position on the money issue in a recent conversation. She gave me the support she could - her story and understanding. To us, and many others, there's no obstacle tough enough to get in the way of supporting our pups.

We move forward together now. My best friends will all be here with us fortunately. Dabs and I drive Castor down to Santa Barbara Sunday. His surgery will be Monday.

So, the first 5 days felt like 3 weeks, and the next 5 like 3 days. The speed at which we must proceed mirrors the aggressiveness of this unconscionable disease. Now, time moves at breakneck speed.

Money may trickle in more slowly, but I trust that it will come. What else can I do?

Trust, love, and be present for my boy.

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