Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Battle of Cancer, Leroy's Tale

There are the stories of the pets and the people that you meet that nestle their way deep into your heart and capture your spirit. They define who you are they shape who you want to become and they remind you that the beauty of life is sharing the love that surrounds us all. 

For me, and many of my clients, these stories are centered around our pets. Those creatures who stand beside us, lay by our feet, follow our wanderings, and gaze up at us with adoring eyes. For us our pets do not merely provide companionship, they are the truest form of devotion, respect, and love that we know.
To be a part of that relationship and to be able to assist in keeping those pets healthy, or comfortable, and sharing all aspects of that families joy, pain, and sorrow is a humbling, deeply meaningful duty.

There are few dogs and few people who will mark my heart with more memories and sense of devotion than Leroy.

Leroy was a Bassett Hound whose spirit was evident in every piece of his being. The long droopy apathetic ears, the sagging soft eyes, the sway-backed sorry Eeyored back, and the low slung cowboy tail, with just enough sway to notify you that “Yes, I am a very nice boy.”

Leroy’s tale spans many years at our clinic. There were many years of routine visits of varying importance where he was always a willing patient and a friendly face. Leroy could always be found at the feet of his parents, attached to them by a leash but seeking security at the safety of the tops of their shoes. He was ever faithful, ever calm, and ever present. Although he was a shy and timid boy when you knelt to see him and gave him a soft “Hello” he would always respond with a slow low wag. He, like so many other Bassett’s, always portrayed the peaceful charm of a man secure in his own down trodden excessive skin.

When his parents arrived to notify us that fateful day that his demeanor had dampened a bit, we quickly discovered that he had cancer. It was a painfully difficult realization for his parents but they persistently and faithfully brought him to every appointment with every specialist and followed every path with any promise of recovery and return to wellness. They were a steadfast two person army charging forward regardless of any roadblock set before them. Through every visit, every blood check, every i.v. fluid therapy, and every step and stumble along the way they remained determined to make Leroy better.

I have seen enough cancer to know a few things;

First, it is a crap shoot. There are statistics, and options and twists and turns in a mine field of uncertainty. The more people you invite into your disease discovery and treatment process the more opinions you get and the more confusing it is to know which way to go.

Second, your chance of success in beating the odds and surviving to see a remission is better if you go to a specialist. I know it is more expensive, and incredibly time consuming, but I have seen successes with their help in pets that far exceeded even my optimistic spirit.

Leroy was one such dog. His diagnosis of cancer led to weekly trips to the veterinary oncologist for months on end. The repeated i.v. infusions, chemotherapy drugs, anti-nausea medications, endless blood checks, and many days of rescheduled treatments were an ever constant fight to beat the disease that raged inside of him. Even when his body didn’t appear to be strong enough for another chemotherapy knock-down he would waddle into the front door, give a little wag, and settle on the floor by the door.

Through the ups and downs Leroy’s tale wagged, granted, it slowed and it lowered but his sweetness persisted.

There were many days that his blood count was too low to withstand another dose of chemo, or days when he wouldn't eat, or stubbornly protested the placement on yet another i.v. catheter. But there were periods of his smile and joy that let us all believe that the treatments were worth the efforts of everyone involved.

The treatments gave him months that he would have otherwise likely not had. And in the end his spirit was diminished by the anemia and exhaustion brought his parents to us for that final visit.

I have had my own long, sad, frustrating, and emotionally draining voyage down the road of cancer. I meet with clients facing the same road I had been down with a different perspective because of this. I remind them that every disease has its own path, its own enemies, and its own destiny. Be aggressive if you can, fight for every day you can give them, be hopeful, and in the end, for however long it may be from today, love them enough to let them go peacefully. 

Third, remember they are not afraid. I think they understand what our human higher consciousness has lost, that we are all a part of a life with many shapes, and forms, and our spirit is always with those we leave behind.

I see and talk to Leroy’s family often via the pages of Facebook. They are and always will be a part of our family. They don’t have any pets now, but I know in time Leroy will lead them to another hound to make a place in their heart and home. 

I got a call from an old dear friend just the other day. He called to tell me that his 3 1/2 year old Corgi was diagnosed with stage 5 b lymphoma. He was undergoing chemotherapy but having a very difficult time getting him to eat. I gave a few recommendations based on having my own dying pup who was refusing food more and more as his days grew shorter and shorter. He texted me back to say his appetite was improving slightly and that his chemo treatments seemed to be slowing the progression of the disease a bit. He is in my thoughts and prayers.

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