This morning we slept until 6:45 before Charlie woke us with his most vibrant good-morning-crow. Phoenix was startled – as was the rest of the household -kitties and myself –with the volume coming from the office and jumped up, alert, headed for the door. In spite of the shocking reality of a rooster in the house it was good to see Phoenix so full of life, eager to greet the world. I let her out in the early dawn of our neighborhood back yard, watched from the doorway for her to pee and whether or not she wanted back in, but she continued on with her morning excursion – headed for the back of the shed – a once very normal and daily path. I went in to the bedroom to gather urine soaked towels – a routine of the past two or three weeks, yet was amazed not to find any?
I checked the rest of the house for incontinence accidents as the bedroom door was ajar when we got up – I thought perhaps she spent some of the night in another part of the house, yet still there was nothing. It appears she made it through the night without an accident; could this be? Yesterday I noticed a healthy sized poop in the yard too – haven’t seen one of those in weeks, instead the best she’s been excreting have been small pellet sized turds or globs of orange-colored diarrhea. The vet explained this was due to the tumor’s pressure on her stomach and small intestine and probably the bilirubin absorbed from the stress on the gallbladder and liver in addition to blood adsorption from the latest tumor bleed.
90 days was the average life expectancy.
That was a year ago.
She is alive today, in the back yard as I write, barking at the chirping chipmunks and communicating with neighbor dogs.
She made it through the night for the first time in two weeks without urine incontinence following her 9th bleed, or near death experience (NDE) as I’ve come to call them. How can I not have hope?
A YEAR AGO
Phoenix was diagnosed at age 12 with a splenic hemangioma – more likely than not malignant, or hemangiomasarcoma (HSA). It was September 10, 2015, they told me she had a 10 cm tumor in her spleen and that life expectancy for dogs with HSA is reported at 90 days average. Not wanting to accept this prognosis I did some extensive reading and found the information to be discouragingly true, although a research study with 15 dogs undergoing splenectomy for this disease at University of Pennsylvania has revealed a few of those dogs living to a year or a little more with the use of a turkey tail mushroom extract. https://news.upenn.edu/news/compound-derived-mushroom-lengthens-survival-time-dogs-cancer-penn-vet-study-finds
Over the last year, in addition to scouring the Internet for any information on HSA and treatment options, I consulted with 8 different veterinarians to learn as much as I could from them on their experiences with this most prevalent disease in the world of canines. This, I would say was not in vain or disillusioned attempt to “save” my dog, although of course I wanted to do all I could for her, but more to satisfy an innate curiosity of these bodies we inhabit, dis-eases that come upon them, and how to best support the healthy part of Life that is there. My unending curiosity – How to best support the miracle of the healing process as far and as deeply as I can.
A MONTH AGO
Alive, and living a quality life – wanting to play ball, take walks, harass the chickens, even after her last NDE which through a second ultrasound revealed the mass had spread throughout her entire abdominal cavity – squishing her small intestines literally up into her back, putting pressure as well on her stomach, bladder and other organs. She was not bouncing back after this last bleed as she had with others in the past year. And it was her lack of appetite, the dark color of urine and the incontinence that took us to the ER two weeks ago. I have been fully aware over the past year that any of the bleeds could take her life and have no disillusionment about a “cure”, but I thought perhaps I was missing an underlying infection that could be treated, so to the ER we went.
Watching the Vet do the ultrasound and listening to the report of what she was seeing was horrifying to me. What she told us we were facing – that the growing mass now has the potential of rupturing her aorta which could likely cause a panic and fearful situation for Phoenix – not just a peaceful bleeding out as may occur with the tumor bleeds themselves. This was additionally heart wrenching to say the least. We were left in the moment with the most likely option of having to assist her in euthanasia before it got to that point – and that would likely be in days.
I spent a day and a half grappling with what seemed to be a very real decision before me, looking into and coming to terms with the loss of my friend, the care of her body afterwards, what to do with all of her belongings – the house, the car, the office filled with them.
During the day or so after the ER visit, in addition to feeling stressed with incredible heartache, there was also a sense of flatness – life force gone even though we were both still alive. I wasn’t aware of this incongruity until later – when Phoenix didn’t die, or give me the signal that she needed assistance to transition, but instead started showing signs of improvement – yet again.
BACK TO TODAY
The “yet again” is our experience over the last year. I have equated it to the movie Groundhog Day where I am re-living the dying process over and over again. I have judged myself – thinking that the experience of death should get easier and that I should be used to it by now – fully prepared for the passing of my friend. But it hasn’t. It hasn’t gotten any easier, the heart ache, the fear of what it will be like with that hole in my life, yet there has been a transformation of something…. A deepening I’m not sure I have words for at the moment.
Regarding the incongruity: Looking back to the 2 days after our ER visit I realize the flatness I was experiencing was around having nothing else to try with regard to supporting life. I was not just preparing for death, but more like “waiting” passively for it, and feeling somehow as if it – the end of life – had already occurred, yet Phoenix and I were still alive – in there lies the incongruity I was feeling: Life-engaged vs no life-flat. This has become metaphoric for me. When she started to show signs of improvement – as unbelievable as it seemed – given the circumstances, I started engaging life again. I dove into the the research on supportive care for cancer patients – both human and animal and started again intuiting what remedies, what foods, and what elemental energy combinations may best support the Life in Phoenix.
It has been with this experience that I realize how much I enjoy nurturing the living essence we call Life – which of course includes the dying, or transitioning process. The deepening I mentioned that I don’t have words for seems to fall in the lines of a Joy, a fullness I experience in caring for Phoenix, not just as my dog, but as representative of the living essence itself.
It is with this sense of fullness in my heart that I wish to share our living experiences on this blog. I wish to give others facing HSA with their dog, or any dis-ease process within a loved one or themselves, hope. Hope and support in nurturing the most beautiful Life we have in the moment.