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

Asking Questions When There Are No Answers

Reggie leaning over the edge of the stroller

It’s cold again today (though not as cold as yesterday) and Reggie is all bundled up again in a blanket with the neck warmer, his chin propped up on the front edge of the stroller, looking around at people in Dunkin’ Donuts. We’re waiting for the car to be fixed – there was a nail in the right rear tire – luckily we made it safely to Tallulah Gorge Park and back yesterday ( I wasn’t worried). We’ve been to two different stores today to find the right matching tire, and Reggie has been very quiet.

For the first time, I had my own “code brown,” as Pet Supplies Plus calls it, on the floor in the back. While we were driving from Watkinsville Tires Plus to Epps Bridge Tires Plus (in search of the elusive tire they did not have in stock at the first place), Reggie started barking and crying in the front seat – he jumped up on the console, facing backward, then down to the floor in the back (the stroller was on the back seat) and started pacing on the floor. I knew what that meant, we’ve been through it before, but we’ve always made it home in time.

This time, we did not make it in time. Sigh.

At least when he went, he went on magazines and Trader Joe’s grocery bags, mostly. And…on my umbrella, sigh, but that I was able to clean up.

When I hear myself calling out to Reggie as I drive on Mars Hill Road (“It’s okay, Reggie, we’re almost home. We’re almost there. Hang on, Reggie.”) or in this case Epps Bridge Parkway (“We’re almost there, Reggie. You can make it, don’t worry. We’ll be there in a minute.”), as we kept hitting all red lights, it reminded me of how my mom used to try to reassure me “we were almost home” when I was little and I got carsick. (I often didn’t make it home in time, if you know what I mean). So, to all of you mothers out there – and I wish I were one – I know I would have been an amazing mother – I feel your pain when your kid gets carsick, or has to go to the bathroom, and there is no easy or safe place to pull over – I’ve been living it lately.  Except for today I got lucky – you moms, like mine, whose kid does not make it home before they throw up all over the car, not as lucky – and I sympathize.

The mechanic at Epps Bridge who came out to the car was understanding, thank goodness, since now there is a smell, albeit not too bad, in the car. Sigh. I told him Reggie has colon cancer and he had an accident in the car.  He was very kind and said, “I’ve been there.”

Thank goodness most people are very nice – especially in the south.


This morning, Reggie was back to where he was before the trip – no worse, but not better, and I felt myself longing to go back to yesterday. Dr. Stoppe had called me while we were on our road trip to ask how Reggie was doing and to offer support as I try to gauge how to make this awful decision, and most importantly, when to make it.  We talked this morning and she told me if it would make me feel better to bring him in later this week to re-evaluate, that she’d be happy to do so. She said she didn’t have a clear medical explanation as to why he felt so much better up there and now, back in the house, his breathing sounds raspy again, and he’s lost his energy, and his pep – again. His breathing also sounds like it’s getting shallow, again, as he is resting in the stroller beside me now.

I suppose the most important thing she told me is that given where the cancer is spreading, Reggie will probably be the one to “tell” me when it’s time.

I don’t want to go through this again – not now – am I allowed to just say that? I don’t want to do this – I don’t want to make this decision again – I just made it 3 months ago with Lizzie, and I have not recovered from that. I don’t know how to recover from losing my last dog – right now, at this time, the most difficult time in my life to date. Reggie and Lizzie have been my beacon, my lighthouse, my buoy, my rock, my source.

Reggie was supposed to be around for a few more years, not a few more months – how could this happen?

Stupid question. I know.

James, our technician the past 3 years from American Pest Control, is scheduled to come by today. I better tell him – I better tell him he will not see Reggie when he comes back in March to start mosquito treatment. Ugh. James is a dog and cat person himself, and he was so empathetic when I told him Lizzie had passed. I remember that day when I didn’t even have to say the words and he knew she was gone. You can tell looking into someone’s eyes how they feel – usually.  I dread telling him today, but I’d rather give him the chance to say goodbye to Reggie.

I can still see both dogs, Lizzie and Reggie, following him around the house, right at his ankles, every time he’s come to treat for bugs. Those are the little things that pull at my heartstrings – so many little moments I can recall just like it.



It’s hard to keep going like this.  This morning it took me almost an hour to clean up after Reggie – he had a bad night. And I cried, for a couple minutes, like I often do in the morning, while he’s downstairs and he can’t see me. Some days I cry for 10 minutes.  It is hard to wake up and face it first thing in the morning every day, and I sometimes wonder how long I can keep doing this, and then I go downstairs and see Reggie again, and that’s it – I have my answer. As long as I have to.

“I can do this,” I tell myself as I’m filling bowls with soap and hot water and grabbing paper towels and Equalizer pet odor spray. “Keep going. Don’t give up – not until he tells you it’s time to give up – and until the vet tells you it’s time.”

Looking down at him right now (he’s panting, that’s the sign he has to go), it does not feel like it’s time, but this is confusing. I told Dr. Stoppe, and others at Hope – I feel confused. I don’t know how to be objective, especially not about Reggie. I have told my friends they will find the strength when it’s time. It doesn’t feel that way right now, the way I feel, especially after yesterday, I’m terrified of letting him go too soon, which is absurd given his cancer is metastasizing.

But I’m serious when I say – every single day he is with me, is one more day I do not have to be without him, and that means everything.


It’s time to go pick up the car now, we just got the call, and I’m glad we did this today, in case I’m able to take Reggie to Unicoi State Park on Friday, which would be amazing, if he can make it. He’s looking out the window at Dunkin’ Donuts at the cars going by (false alarm on the #2 I guess). He’s always happier when he’s not at home – there’s something going on with the house, or something, I told Dr. Stoppe – he feels much worse at home.

Dr. Stoppe said we just have to wait and see – I was sure I was going to let him go this week – and now – I don’t know.

As I’m walking the sidewalk in front of the stores of Epps Bridge shopping center, on the way back to pick up the car, I can see Reggie’s reflection in the window – he’s sitting upright, he is smiling, and his eyes are open, looking around – as if he didn’t have a care in the world.


He is one tough little dog.


(Continuing from earlier today)

James took it much better than I expected, which I’m glad about – maybe, a lot has happened in his life, too, since October. Sometimes that numbs a person – not to the point of losing all feeling, but more like a state of resignation. I feel that way sometimes – you kind of have to reach that point, at least now and then, in order to cope with multiple losses or grief will consume you to the point you can’t find your way out to go on living.

I knew James had arrived because Reggie started barking and lo and behold, the truck was in the driveway and James was at the door in a winter cap, gloves, and a thick black turtleneck with “American Pest Control” sewn into the collar. I warned James when I opened the door, “You might want to put on something to protect your shoes, it’s a minefield in here. I am having trouble keeping up with him.”

(James already knew that Reggie was sick with something gastric from all of his service visits to the house the past year and a half).

James pulled some booties out of the truck and came in to spray. I said, “There’s something I should tell you. Reggie has cancer and it’s spread to his lungs.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, in that voice of resignation I understood so well myself (I’ve used it a lot lately).

“I wanted you to know because he probably won’t be here when you come back in March to start the mosquito service and I thought you’d want to say goodbye to him.”

James pet Reggie and this time, as James went from room to room, window to window, door to door, Reggie did not follow – this was literally the first time. In October, when James was last here, Reggie had indeed followed close behind him every step of the way. Today he stayed by the glass door for almost the entire 20 minutes, until he appeared on one of the bottom steps and waited, watching, until James came over to him, and I picked him up so James could say goodbye.

I put Reggie in the car as we left James to spray the outside of the house and drove him to East Athens for my Tuesday chronic illness support group. Only one other group member came today, along with our facilitator and the intern, and I hoped that Reggie would make it to the next one so that more of the members could say goodbye to him – I used to bring Lizzie, and they were happy when I started bringing Reggie in the stroller – dogs are great therapy for anyone who needs comfort. I told them about what was going on – the fact that the tumors were found in his lungs – and they told me they were sad to hear this, but glad he had come with me – all bundled up in his blankets and sleeping through most of the meeting. (Shortly before it was time to go he sat up and started paying attention, panting, but smiling. He didn’t cry so I wasn’t sure what prompted his sudden change in behavior).


A few weeks ago, Dr. Clifton told me that it was hard to say how much time Reggie has – it’s dependent on a few things. One was to keep from losing too much weight and to keep eating and drinking. The other was to watch the blood – if it was just spotty, then he was stable, but if he lost a lot of blood, then it was a sign he was getting worse.

I came in a few minutes ago (having left Reggie alone for a couple hours to meet a friend) and there was a lot of blood on the floor…I haven’t tried to feed him yet (I will  as I finish this post)…but the blood is a bad sign, one of the bad signs that Dr. Clifton told me to look out for. I don’t know if it means anything (or if it means everything), but he’s breathing very fast, even though he’s just laying by my feet right now…


Cancer: what is it and where does it come from? Why does this happen? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who has it, or has had it. I lost my grandmother to breast cancer when I was 7 years old, and I was devastated. Why does it even exist?

I bet many, if not all of you, have asked yourselves this question.  For a person you love…or maybe a dog, or cat, like mine. I’m sure there isn’t a single one of us who does not hate cancer for what it’s taken away from us, for whom it’s taken away from us.

Reggie…why does cancer have to steal you from me, from all of us who love you, way too soon. Way too soon…

Okay. Enough. He’s outside now, going to the bathroom, and when he comes in, it’s time to eat, to stuff all this down, to be his parent, to think of him, and not myself.

To keep going, and going, for as long as he’ll let me keep up the hope.

There are many grants for cancer research in dogs, and for cancer treatment of dogs.

Keep up the hope…keep up the fight.!.aspx



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