Thursday, July 23, 2015

brokenhearted.

***I wrote this post two weeks ago, and only now do I have the heart to post it. My sincere apologies for my lack of posting lately -- I will try to get better, promise!***

It's not often that I'm at a loss for words, but today, I am completely broken.

This past Friday, July 2, 2015, we said goodbye to our pet, family member, and good friend -- our sweet, sweet London Grace. Even as I sit here now, tears are streaming from my face, as they have been since that night--my heart has a hole in it that can never be replaced. Wanting to remember her life, her whole life, even the unfair ending is why I'm writing this today. This post is long, please bear with me, but I'm writing it for me.

We first noticed that London wasn't completely acting herself on Thursday, June 25th. Despite her always sweet demeanor, wagging tail, and eagerness to be with you--wherever you were--she was just a little off... not quite right. She had been licking her legs something fierce for a few days. Spencer and I were chocking it up to allergies (she's always had them) and had planned to get her an oatmeal bath in the next few days to help ease the aggravation. In addition to that, she was just doing some odd things -- when she would drink water, it sounded like she was almost trying to chew it, chomping it like she would her food. It was taking her slightly longer to eat, too--and when I say slightly, I'm talking 1-2 extra minutes--our girl LOVED dinner time.

Friday morning, we woke to her little legs covered in her own saliva. Knowing how much her allergies were bothering her, we decided not to wait, and I called that day to get her a bath. The soonest she could get in was the next day at noon. I also noticed a minute amount of blood on her legs, but could not find a sore or open wound anywhere.

*Rewind*

On Tuesday, June 23rd, I was home just before Spencer (an unusual occurrence) so I took her out to potty and give her dinner. She was eating as Spencer came through the door, and as he did, she came out to greet him, chomping away before going right back to her food. He sat down and once she'd finished dinner, came racing up to give him a proper hello. He was petting her head, and we noticed a streak of blood (very little) on his pants. "Is that coming from her?" he asked. "I don't know", I replied, and walked over to look at her mouth. It was clean. Hmmm, strange. About that time, Spencer was walking through the hallway where she'd come to greet him, and noticed a teeny amount of blood on the floor. "I think it came from here" he said. It clicked. "Ohhh", I replied, "you must have startled her when you came through the door, I bet she bit her lip". Sure enough -- we'd decided that must be it. We noticed a trace amount of blood one other time between that Tuesday and Friday morning, not even enough that I remember what brought our attention to it anymore.

*Fast forward back to Friday morning*

I decided to text my cousin's wife who is the Practice Manager for a veterinary clinic, and who is also holds a degree in Animal Science. I texted her the picture of London's leg, explained that I thought it was allergies, and that I'd checked for foxtails (weeds), but did she have any other thoughts, etc. Being the wealth of knowledge I knew she would be, she sent me a note back with a million and one questions / thoughts / ideas. Regardless, I'd already set up a bath for her the next day, so we were going to start there as I was still leaning most strongly to the notion of allergies. I get off work early on Fridays, so our routine is that I take her out for a loooonnnng walk to kick-off the weekend. She loves it. Normally. This Friday, I tried to take her when I got home, but she wasn't feeling it. Whatever, it was 80 degrees outside, I totally understood and we headed back inside.

When I dropped her off at the groomer on Saturday morning, I noticed that in her saliva was a tiny amount of blood again. Her breath was horrible, so I asked the groomer to please brush her teeth. I mentioned the blood, and she said "OK, she might have a little mouth irritation, I'll be extra sensitive". I thanked her and popped over to the grocery store next door for a few items. I was checking out, 20 minutes later, when my phone rang. I looked at the caller I.D. and noticed it was the groomer. I instantly knew something was wrong--it takes at least 2-1/2 hours for the full grooming session. It was the groomer on the other end of the line; she was letting me know that when she went to brush London's teeth she found a large cyst under her tongue and that I might want to call the vet to get it checked out as it might be a cyst or cancer.

The C-word. I raced to the car, sat in the parking lot, and made her an appointment for that night at 7:00 PM when I knew Spencer would be home from work and we could go together. A couple of hours later, they called back to say London was ready, and I went to get her. The groomer opened her mouth to show me her findings and staring back at me was a large, angry looking mass. What the hell? How did I miss this? It was completely hidden by her tongue, but still... how strange. I thanked her and took London back home. I called Spencer to let him know what was going on, and we waited for him to get home.

When we got to the vet that night, they took her weight. She'd lost four pounds. "Wow", the vet tech remarked, "was that intentional?". Spencer and I kind of looked at each other as if to say "not really", but she had been on a vet-recommended diet for quite some time, and since she hadn't been back since December, we thought maybe she was just killing it on the weight loss side of it. I made a mental note to start feeding her a little more. The doctor came in the room, asked us some questions, and didn't look inside of her mouth yet. I knew why. He knew why. He was making sure he had all questions answered first. When he opened her mouth, his face said it all and confirmed all of our fears. "Wow, guys... this is, unfortunately and I am so sorry to deliver this news, but this looks like oral cancer, and it looks extremely aggressive". He went on to discuss potential treatment options and that we *could* do a biopsy, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it was so advanced, we'd be better off taking her home and enjoying her for what time she had left -- which was, by his assumption, 4 to 6 weeks. 4 to 6 weeks? Are you kidding me? We left with two different types of medications--an antibiotic to treat the infection and an anti-inflammatory to keep her comfortable. She would be on the anti-inflammatory indefinitely.

That night was a complete blur, even as it was happening, and we talked about all of the things we wanted to do with her over the course of the next month. Hiking, a birthday party (since we will miss celebrating hers in October), a final romp to the beach, etc. etc. When we awoke the next morning (Sunday), we started by doing all of her favorite things--beginning with coffee on the patio. She LOVES sitting out on the patio with us, watching the cars go by, watching the neighborhood people walk past. Sometimes, when she sees a dog she knows, she perks up and the owner will come over and lean over the fence to give her pets, and I'll do the same to their dog. After coffee, we decided to go for a little walk. She was eager to do so--running and sniffing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g... just like always. She seemed to get a little tired pretty soon into it, so we stopped at a big patch of grass and took some pictures and loved on her. Once she was feeling a little more spry, we hopped up and headed for home, but she wanted to go one more block before we went back inside. We hesitated, but she seemed up for it, so we continued. She was ahead, all the way at the end of her leash, when I heard Spencer say "is that coming from her?". There was a drop of blood on the pavement. I looked ahead. There was another. And another. And another. About that time, she turned around to see what was the hold up, and her little face was just bursting with blood. It looked like she'd fallen face first on the concrete, but she'd never so much as stumbled. Pardon to be so graphic, but it was just pouring from her little body, hard and fast. I immediately called the vet who said to bring her in. We raced there, and met with another doctor who gave us a different outlook. He said the bleeding was 100% common with this type of oral cancer, and that because she was so young (she's only 7-1/2 years old), we should possibly consider doing a chest x-ray to see if it's spread to her lungs. We agreed, and within minutes, he came back with the good news that her lungs were clear. The next thing would be the biopsy (cystology) and those results would pinpoint the specific type of oral cancer. There was a glimmer of hope that if the cancer was localized (meaning, it hadn't spread) we could do a mandibulectomy where they would remove just the portion of the jaw where the tumor was located and she could go on living a happy life. Of the three types of cancers considered, one didn't make sense to operate on (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) but if it came back that it was one of the others, the chances were very good to have a successful operation.

The next two days were the longest days of my life waiting on those results. In the meantime, London was rapidly slowing down. She'd stopped drinking water that Sunday, and since we'd already moved her to a soft diet which I was blending, I would use a tablespoon or two of her soft food mixed with water to give her a little extra nourishment. She seemed OK with this, and it was the only way I could get some hydration in her system, so it worked for us.

Tuesday morning (June 30th), Spencer and I were leaving at the same time. I had my purse on my shoulder as he was walking to the living room to open the blinds, London in tow. She seemingly tripped over nothing, fell, and started bleeding all over again. Spencer had a mandatory meeting that began at 8:30 that morning, but I could be a little late, so I stayed with her until it stopped. I texted work to tell them I'd be a little late before calling to check in with the vet, not knowing it would take an hour and ten minutes to control the bleeding. My poor baby. When I finally got to speak to the vet, he said to bring her in that afternoon as he should have her results by then and he could do surgery that evening. We'd already decided that surgery was something we wanted to pursue, so I took the rest of the day off and stayed with her. We loaded her up that afternoon, and trotted off to the vet--both extremely hopeful that our puppy would be cancer free in just a couple of days.

When the vet entered the room, he started talking about another type of cancer altogether -- Osteocarcoma, or bone cancer. This whole conversation blurs again, but basically we found out that it was in her bones, and even with surgery, chemo AND radiation... we were talking about the inevitable and would only buy us months... not years. So, once again, we took our puppy home to live out the next weeks of her life.

Every single day she grew more and more tired, she bled more and more, and seemed to enjoy life less and less. We were at first thinking that she was going to fly past the 6 week mark, and now we were sure it was going to be closer to 4... or less. By Friday morning, July 3rd, she was refusing food altogether, and when she did eat people food (the only thing she could do), she was bleeding so much you could tell she wasn't enjoying it. Friday morning, she didn't move for 9 hours straight--didn't want to eat, drink, or potty. I called the vet. We knew it was time.

I'll spare the rest of the details from that evening as I just can't bear to think of my baby girl in that much pain. We have the world's best veterinary staff, as they stayed open an hour later to allow us to say goodbye to her in complete privacy--when no one else was there. I will never, ever forget their generosity or their wonderful care they took of our sweet London that evening. They assured us the timing was perfect, as she was not suffering... but she was in severe pain. Another couple of days, and she would be suffering greatly -- something Spencer and I did not want her sweet spirit to endure. That was my biggest fear--letting her go too soon, but I instantly felt better when the vet said that. He gave specific examples to back it up, and I knew I had the confirmation that it was OK.

I still cannot believe that in just 6 days... less than one week... we went from a bouncy, happy girl to one that was finished with this life. Somewhere in that time frame, she was given another medication for pain, but it seemingly didn't do much to help her, if any.

I am missing her. Every single second of every minute of the days that are dragging on and on. She and I shared a bond that I have never had with another human, let alone animal. Her gentleness, sweetness, and overall joy for life have inspired me and left me absolutely heartbroken in her absence.

Rest in peace, my sweet, sweet London Grace. You have made me a better person.