Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California

Racing Against the Clock – Tick Tock

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Reggie after acupuncture #4 at Hope Animal Medical Center Jan. 18, 2019

This is the first in a series of shorter blog posts I’m going to write in the next week, hopefully longer, about Reggie – in lieu of one longer weekly post.

I want to chronicle my memories, the events, the important moments, facts and photos of the last days of the life of my sweet Reggie.

Last night, Dr. Stoppe came into the exam room and said, “I’m glad we took the pictures. The cancer has spread to his lungs. His lungs are filled with tiny tumors and cancer cells. I’m sorry.”

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Reggie waiting for me in the lobby at Hope Jan. 18, 2019

It didn’t hit me right away, and yet it did. It’s hard to explain – I felt both sensations – of nothing – just numbness – and the sense that an L-train had just crashed into my chest.

The doctor went on to say that she had seen how Reggie was breathing differently – as if something was pressing up against his diaphragm, but really it is the cancer causing him to struggle and it takes more effort for him to breathe in and out – thus the heavy movement I’ve been seeing in his abdomen the last several days. And he’s very tired – he still can jump up on the bed and climb up and down the stairs and walk, but he does lay in bed among the blankets for longer and longer periods of time, and it is hard to tell if he’s just sleepy or uncomfortable.

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Reggie wrapped in blankets

Wednesday was the hardest day: he didn’t want to eat and I couldn’t get him to take his medicine. I was sure that was it, and I was ready to call the vet the next day and bring him in to find out. But, he rallied on Thursday and ate normally – took his medicine, was happy – tired, but happy. I took him with me to visit my friend, Carmen, at Epps Bridge Jittery Joe’s and he rested peacefully while we talked.

I figured he could make it without an urgent care visit until his 4:30 pm appointment for acupuncture on Friday – but – I still scheduled an exam with Dr. Stoppe, before she did the acupuncture itself.

We talked about how Reggie’s diarrhea (pardon the candor) had gotten much more frequent and bloody the past week, and the breathing…I mentioned he was eating less and she said that when she scanned his belly, it looked like the tumor had gotten bigger, maybe, and that it was harder for him to digest food, that it was moving more slowly, so he might not be as hungry. She said his stomach was full, in fact, on the scan.

He still has shown interest in my food, though, and I’ve given him pieces of cauliflower and blueberries and blackberries and a little bit of hamburger.

Dr. Stoppe asked me if I wanted her to take a radiograph of his lungs to find out if the cancer had spread, or if he might be breathing more rapidly and heavily due to pressure from his stomach.

We got our answer, and she told me I need to think about letting him go soon – not today, she said, or this weekend, but to be thinking about next week.

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Reggie on Toby’s dog bed, once Lizzie’s now, Reggie’s.

I asked Dr. Stoppe how I’d know, and she said we would have to see how he does. She said I could feed him whatever he wants now – hamburger, fruit, ice cream, whatever he wants.  As long as it’s not binding, she said, give him whatever he wants to eat at this point.

(Reggie is sleeping in his stroller in Barnes and Noble Cafe, next to me, as I’m writing this post, and a lady came up to me to ask what kind of dog Reggie is. I ran into someone I know from meditation, and at least 5 people have come up to Reggie to say hello. Oh my goodness, they know him here, now, “The Girl with the Dog in the Stroller,” and one day, very soon, too soon, I will walk in here, without Reggie, without the stroller, and they will be looking for him, and ask where he is. It reminds me of those first days after Toby died – everyone at University City Starbucks came up to me to ask where Toby was – and some of them didn’t need to ask…Bruce, this one regular looked at me and said, “Toby’s no longer with us…”)

Those questions are the hardest part, and now, I think, I will have no reason, soon, to even go to Hope Animal Medical Center, and I won’t see them again…unless I get another dog, which I won’t for the time being. I don’t think I can. I will long for one, but I take having a dog very seriously, and I don’t have the money to adopt another dog until other things are sorted out…if one organically came into my life, knowing me, I’d do it. But I can’t see purposely seeking out a new dog. It takes a lot of time and training, if you do it right, especially rescue dogs. I feel spent – physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat – in fact, I thought I’d be doing it for a few months at least.

But this is always how it is with dogs – it is unexpected, and unplanned, and it never lasts as long as you think it will – you think you can keep your dog alive, and comfortable, and then it all comes down the way you don’t want it to – no matter how much you do to help him or her to keep going – for you, more than for them.

When Dr. Stoppe and I began to discuss putting him to sleep, I told her I wished I could do it at home, like I did with Toby, because Reggie hates the vet (so did Toby). He shakes and tries to get out of there, heading towards the door, his tail between his legs, looking up at me with fear in his eyes. They love him and he always does fine once he’s in the back with them. In fact, when I went to pick up more pain medicine for him this morning (Gabapentin), I talked to Anna about my worry about knowing when to put him to sleep and she told me they love him. (Dr. Jeni was just thinking about us this morning, she said, and wanted to send me home with some information about how to know when it’s time to let go).

I am trying to be brave, and I know I can be – but I also know I’m not myself lately, maybe I won’t be for a long time. A big dog that some college student let off leash in the lobby started charging toward Reggie when I was paying the bill last night. I pulled Reggie back but the dog (Rosie) came at him fast and I screamed and growled with bulging eyes at the dog and put my body in between Reggie and her. I can’t explain it, I’m not like that, I don’t scream or yell or growl or threaten other dogs, but I knew if that dog attacked Reggie, he’d never survive that. I’d just found out I had only a few days with him, I wasn’t about to let some dog take those days away from me because some stupid kid can’t keep his dog on a leash. My primal instinct, something in me, that protective lioness, the mother, kicked in and I was ready to fight that dog before I’d let her hurt Reggie.

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I apologized once everything calmed down, because I was embarrassed, but the student, of course, defended his dog, “she’s fine,” he uttered, and didn’t apologize at all, for his part in the incident. There are many lax dog owners (trying to be generous here) and I try to remember to just be grateful nothing bad happened. I’ve made mistakes, too, but I get frustrated when those mistakes happen on someone else’s end and they can’t just own up to it and say, “I’m sorry,” but I was more embarrassed it happened in front of the people working there, and I scared myself. Obviously this all is harder on me than I’m allowing myself to admit. And the worst part is, I did the wrong thing, the stupid thing, for both dogs.

I guess I need some peace, and some time with Reggie, and some comfort that isn’t there because Reggie and Lizzie…they were my comfort.

I asked them about taking Reggie on the trip, and damn the weather, it’s raining all weekend, but Monday it is supposed to be sunny.

Friday, January 25th, is the 10-year anniversary of the night I met Audie, and I’d like to go that day, for both of us. It is a hard day to look ahead towards alone.

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Audie used to call Toby, Reggie, Lizzie and me, “My little family.”

 

But if Reggie doesn’t make that date, I don’t want to wait, so we are going on Monday, MLK day, when it’s a holiday and the sun is supposed to be shining. I hope Reggie is here on Friday, too, so we can take two trips, and my dog and I can take off to somewhere far from here, far from exam rooms, and medications, and waiting…waiting for the ending.

Whatever happens, whenever it happens, I’m so grateful that Reggie and I have had this time together as human and dog. We have a special bond now – like my bond with Toby – and it’s all come full circle with Reggie – even the dog bed that has become his reminds me of how it all has come around to this moment with Reggie and me.

I love him so much.

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