Sunday, August 26, 2012

Circle of Life

Ahnung visiting her friend 'M' in hospice
The past few days have been filled with ups and downs ... the rollercoaster of life came down with full force: new life, loss, uncertainty, fear, hope. This morning I decided I needed to make room in my heart, and to slow down and to honor all that has happened in 48 hours.

Ahnung at the vet (her BIG belly!)
Early Thursday morning I noticed Ahnung's belly was HUGE ... hard and distended. I lost my dog Shen to spleen cancer in September, 2006. By the time she showed any symptoms it was too late. I feared the worse with Ahnung with her history of two previous cancers in less than a year. Has the cancer spread to her spleen? I immediately took her to my vet (and that morning all my appointments for the day were cancelled including my own doctor's appointment). Fortunately she was acting her usual perky self. X-rays were done to check and see what was inside that huge distended belly. The doctor comes back to tell me it appears Ahnung found some food somewhere and ate LOTS of it!! I later discovered that she found the secret stash of food in a spare room. Yes, the nung-nung All You Can Eat Buffet! I sighed a huge sigh of relief. The vet went on to tell me they were sending the x-rays off for a radiologist to review and to ensure that they weren't missing anything. We had just been at the vet on Wednesday for them to draw blood from Ahnung. We are on our 3 month cancer check up. Two hours after I return home I get a call from the vet. The radiologist has reviewed her x-rays and concurs that there is massive amounts of food and gas, but also indicates Ahnung's spleen is enlarged and prominent. My heart sinks. We discuss options and I tell the vet I'm not willing to take any chances with my girl. "The only way we will know for sure what is going on and if there are any tumors or masses or abnormalities is with an abdominal ultrasound." Ahnung is scheduled for an ultrasound Friday morning. For the rest of the day I am worried ... she had a lumpectomy in July, 2011 after being diagnosed with mammary cancer; in April, 2012 she had major surgery on her neck/back to remove a tumor and was diagnosed with invasive adenosquamous carcinoma. Both cancers were removed with good margins but both were determined to be aggressive cancers. Ahnung has blessed me with the gift of allowing me to catch the cancer early. I've caught the tumors. I pray daily for Ahnung. I ask her to guide me and to help me stay ahead of the cancer. I pray for the cancer to leave her body. I ask her to give me signs ... but deep down I worry that if the cancer is in her spleen or liver how will I ever know. Did she eat a massive amount of food to guide me to her spleen? Is she trying to tell me something. I look into her eyes and I tell her, "I am listening sweet girl .. I am listening with every fiber of my being."

On Friday morning I take Ahnung in for her ultrasound. She's busy winning the hearts of the staff at Blue Pearle Veterinary and others in the waiting area. As soon as anyone comes over to her she rolls over to let them know, "belly rubs please!" They take her back and i'm waiting outside for an hour and a half. I flash back to September 14, 2006 when I'm sitting in the waiting area of the University of Minneosta with my dog Shen having an ultrasound done. The doctor comes to get me and has a very somber look on her face. I know it's not good. "I'm sorry, it's not good. It appears the cancer has spread." I'm not ready to let Shen go and even though the doctor tells me anything we do now is palliative. I opt for surgery and the very next day Shen goes through surgery. The cancer has spread everywhere and after two blood transfusions I make the decision to let her go. And I rush back to the U to be with her and hold her as she crosses over the bridge (to read Shen's story:

As I'm waiting for Ahnung in the waiting room I am filled with the anguish of previous losses and the potential of losing Ahnung. No matter how hard I try to stay in the moment I can't. The thought of not having Ahnung by my side is a pain I simply cannot fathom.
Ahnung napping under 'M's bed after eating her 2 burgers!

90 minutes later the doctor comes out. She has a relaxed look on her face. She smiles and tells me everything looks good. I can feel tears welling up in my eyes ... yes, tears of joy. The doctor goes on, "Ahnung has an enlarged spleen (and apparently some dogs just do) but she does not see any masses or tumors or abnormalities and the blood flow is good." She said she also checked out all her other organs in the area and they also all look good. She is aware of Ahnung's cancer history and I share with her my concern of cancer spreading to her spleen and not being able to catch it early enough. She tells me that adding ultrasounds to her cancer screening is an option. She would recommend having it done every 6 months. So Ahnung's cancer screening plan has been adjusted: every 3 months we go in for blood work and check ups with her vet; every 6 months she will have a chest x-ray and ultrasound done; and she will continue on her Chinese herbs, fish oil capsules, wild mushroom supplements and anti-cancer diet. So for this 3 month cancer check up, Ahnung got a clean bill of health. Her blood work came back normal, her lymph nodes all feel normal, the small lump near her incision is scar tissue.

Ahnung snarfs down her burgers
We normally visit our friend 'M' in hospice on Thursdays but we had to postpone our visit. I call 'M' on Thursday to let her know that Ahnung and I will be coming by to visit her on Friday and will be bringing White Castle burgers and a Coke for her as we promised. 'M' sounds weak on the phone but says she is looking forward to seeing us, and yes, especially Star Good Girl :)

On Friday lunch time I swing by White Castle's drive through to pick up 6 burgers and a Coke. I never would've imagined myself going through a White Castle drive through. I know 'M's roommate also loves White Castle burgers (she tells me she started eating them when she was 12 years old!). On the drive to see 'M' my car smells like burgers and onions. I had also promised Ahnung she would get to enjoy one or two after her ultrasound :) We walk into 'M's room and she is sound asleep. She looks tired and weak. She hears us come in, opens her eyes, smiles and softly says, 'Star Good Girl.' Ahnung goes to the side of 'M's bed as she always does and waits to get pets and strokes on her head. 'M' is noticeably weaker and tired. She can barely keep her eyes open. I tell her I have White Castle burgers and a coke for her, and ask her if she's hungry. She responds, 'Even if i'm not hungry i'm eating my burger!' I give her roommate a couple burgers and then help 'M' with her burger. It takes her a long time to eat her burger, and she periodically drifts off and closes her eyes. Ahnung is staring at me saying 'Don't forget about me and the burgers you promised me!!' So of course, I give Ahnung her burgers and she snarfs 2 of them .. no chewing just 2 big swallows for each burger!!
'M' finishes her burger!

For most of our visit we sit quietly next to M's bed. She opens her eyes at one point and says "I'm sorry i'm not very sociable today." I tell her, "It's okay. Just close your eyes and rest. Your body needs rest. Star and I are happy to just be here with you. In fact, Star likes to sleep a lot too and right now she's sleeping with half her body under your bed. I also get tired easily and need to sleep a lot ... we'll just come and hang out with you and take naps!" 'M' smiles and says, "You don't know how much that means to me .... maybe you and Star should just come for a sleepover." I smile and I let her know that we are happy to just be there with her. We stay by her side for a while and 'M' continues to drift off to sleep for most of our visit. She opens her eyes periodically and looks for Ahnung ... when Ahnung stands up to get her pats and strokes on her head, 'M' says, "Star, Good Girl ... the best dog in the world," and she drifts back off to sleep.

'M' has wiggled her way into my heart in the two months we have been visiting her. She has given us a priceless and precious gift of allowing us to walk by her side as she enters the final stage of her journey. I would be lying if I said my heart doesn't hurt to think of the day when Ahnung and I will no longer be able to visit her ... our visits have gone from ones of lots of conversation to visits of simply being there, and being present for her so when she opens her eyes she sees us there by her side. The grace, dignity, gratitude and love that fills her heart is a gift I will always hold in my heart.
Two of the pups from Red Lake Rez

And during this period, animal rescue work continues. On Friday, 1 mama dog and her six 1 week old pups and 3 other 8 week puppies make their way from Leech Lake Reservation up to Animal Allies in Duluth. They will be cared for and vetted and when they are ready, will be placed up for adoption. On Saturday, a huge transport makes it way to the cities from northern Minnesota (Red Lake Reservation and Leech Lake Reservation) -- in total 29 dogs make their way to rescues and shelters in the cities ... 22 puppies and 7 dogs. And on Saturday we also experience loss as we welcome two bright new stars into the night skies. In the palm of our hands, how is it possible that we can experience so many emotions at the same instance: love, grief/loss and ending of life, celebration of new life, uncertainty, hope, fear, anger? How can our hearts hold all the emotions that sometimes feel like they are ripping our hearts to shreds while at the same time filling our hearts with so much hope and love?
Petula's 3 day old pups ... Petula had her pups in the Leech Lake impound on Thursday (1 was still born and 5 survived)

So this morning as my heart is filled with so many emotions from the past 48 hours, I realize I must pause. I must honor all that I feel in my heart .. the joy, the pain, the fear and the hope.

"To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."

~ Wendell Berry

1 comment:

  1. The gift of time and conversation you and Ahnung
    share with "M" is absolutely priceless, Marilou.
    "M" will take much love with her.