One of the first questions the vet asked me when I brought newly adopted (hairless, itchy, allergic to earth, infection riddled) Melvin in was (and this was to gauge the medicinal road we would travel), do you want his life to be measured in quality of life or quantity of days.
My response was, I want his life to measured in joy.
The past (not even) two weeks have been a nightmare. We wished him a happy birthday and the next day we were getting an ultrasound and I heard the term hemangiosarcoma for the very first time. As I was gasping for air, in utter shock, I somehow asked, how long does he have?
Could be days, maybe a month or two.
We got that CT 40 minutes from our house. I have no idea how we got home. I immediately googled it. I joined a support group for parents with dogs that have hemangiosarcoma. All of the words I read were terrible. Grave prognosis. My healthy dog collapsed suddenly and died. My dog lived one week post diagnosis. There were some dogs who lived a little longer, if it was found in their spleen. Melvin’s started in his liver.
Please God, do not let this be happening.
The next week, I barely slept. I cried more in that week then I have in the last five years. I could barely take my eyes off of him. I was so terrified he’d…disappear. I would wait until he was tucked into bed and take the fastest shower. I would run out of the bathroom dripping wet to make sure he was still alive. I refused to leave the house. So many of the stories were ‘collapsed and then gone‘.
Hold onto him.
The vets said in all ways but one, this is the worst of the cancers. (In my opinion, they all suck the same). This one just happens to be the most aggressive, and unrelenting. There is no cure. There are barely any symptoms so by the time you catch it (if you catch it before death), your prognosis is short. The culprit, the tumors grow rapidly, they fill with blood. The tumors bleed and the cancer spreads. Eventually, the tumors grow so big, they burst. And the dog dies. The one thing that doesn’t make it the worst is that it’s not terribly painful, probably until it hits the lungs.
Why is this happening?
Eventually I had to leave the house. It was horrible. Not just being gone and terrified but coming home and having him wiggle with delight only for him to see me burst into more tears. The depth of emotion has been relentless. He’s lost ten pounds, despite getting a lot of extra food. He tires easily and the tumor is pretty big so it takes a while for him to get comfortable laying down. But other than that, he’s pretty normal. It’s impossible for me to believe he could go at any time.
He still feels joy.
It took a week to get in to see the oncologist. In the meantime we had a chest X-ray done to check for metastasis. The lungs looked clear. The oncologist found two things to seem positive. One, aside from his liver values, his blood work was great. Two, his liver tumor was so big that if it was hemangiosarcima, they would have thought it would have ruptured by now.
I had hope. I felt capable again. There was finally something we could do. A CT scan to see if surgery could buy us more than days.
Hope is hope.
I got the phone call this past Thursday evening. I knew it was bad when she asked how we were enjoying the weather. She said the cancer had spread. Despite the X-ray saying otherwise, the CT showed it is in his lungs. And there are more, large tumors in his liver. There was nothing they could do. Melvin has terminal cancer. I felt as if all the air was gone. While she didn’t expect him to die this past weekend, there were no guarantees. That large tumor, the one they thought was too big to be this cancer, well it is this cancer, so… it will rupture. In the meantime, the lung part will eventually start to cause discomfort.
We don’t have much time. We have crisis pills on hand should he collapse, they could slow the bleeding down to buy us a little time to get him to the vet. Typing that does not make it more real. Our holistic vet got us some herbs for us to give him the best general well-being that we can, like energy and balance. And we are continuing the daily doses of Yunnan Baiyao – the Chinese herb that promotes clotting. The very first thing they tell you when you get this diagnosis is to stock up on that.
In the meantime, the support group fills up with stories all day of dogs that lost their battle. No one seems to win this war. I want to post on all those how sorry I am. But the truth is, I don’t want to be part of this group. But that is not who I am, I don’t run away. So I post, and I feel their sorrow and shock and it’s heartbreaking.
The hardest part (aside from the thought of losing him) is that since day one with Melvin, we have been handed health issues and we have strategized and researched and fixed those issues. Time after time after time. We went to the vet 700 times to end up with a cancer with no treatment options. That hurts in a way I can’t put into words. But I know this, we didn’t go through all that to have his life end in crises. To have him collapse and watch as I panic and lose control and freak out. And I would never let him suffer. I just have to find a place between then and now to let him go.
This is my little family.
We chose joy.
For today, well for today both Melvin and I have to ‘live’. I am trying to not worry so much about what I am supposed to do. The only protocol right now is love. I have lifted all household rules. Barking, bring it! Stopping to turn back to see that I’m behind you and making me fall down, yes please! Regurgitating on my lap, thank you sir may I have another! It’s actually amazing all the things I found frustrating and annoying when I thought time was on our side.
I’m happy that I have the opportunity to shower him with (even more) love and adoration and I’m certain that even if I didn’t say it, he feels it. It surrounds him like a cocoon.
And then there is Jake. Jake’s truest love in life is Melvin. I have to get them both through this.
There are moments that Melvin looks at me and I know he knows. I whisper to him that I’m here. That is the best thing you can do in life, show up and be present.
Here is the thing that you guys should know, hemangiosarcoma is not the end of our story. Cancer is just a chapter towards the end of this book. And although we didn’t get to choose this chapter, we sure as hell can pen the poetry. Love lives on, and as sure as I am that Melvin and I will find our way forward through this, I also have deep and true faith we will find our way back to each another one day. And Jake and I will find a way to pay our love for Melvin forward. One day, probably not today though. Today we snuggle
Thank you to all who have prayed, sent good vibes, reached out and showed up. I am so honored that you save space for our story. I’m stronger for all of you. I’m better because of each of you. Melvin thanks you.
We’ll keep you posted. And while it’s easier to focus on what’s to come, let’s instead remember what has led us to this day. His beautiful life, his soulful existence, his delicious jowls, his giant block head and the love. All of the incredible love. Cancer can never rupture the love. Love always lives on.
He is my love.