Today would have been Samdog’s 4 month ampuversary.
We decided to travel for the holiday instead of staying home in our empty house. My brother was gracious enough to extend an invitation and we gratefully accepted. The best part is that they have a new addition to their family. Maggie is a 3ish month old pup who is pretty intuitive and doesn’t let me get sad for long. I’m grateful for her too. But… I miss my dog.
Years ago, when my family was happy and healthy, a friend of mine gave me a poem when I walked in a 60 mile Breast Cancer walk. I was walking to support a friend of a friend and I had not yet been touched by the big “C” in anyone that was close to me. That feels like a million years ago. Too many friends have fought this battle, too many friends have fought until they couldn’t. My best friend and partner didn’t know why he had to go… just that he did, because of cancer. While pulling out boxes of photographs to seek out every image we have of Samdog that has been tucked away over the years in random places, to assemble a photo album of our life together, I found this poem again, tucked in a box and written on the card that I once carried 60 miles. It has lived on my refridgerator door, where I see it every day, ever since.
What Cancer Cannot Do.
Cancer is so limited It cannot cripple love It cannot shatter hope It cannot corrode faith It cannot destroy peace It cannot kill friendship It cannot suppress memories It cannot silence courage It cannot invade the soul It cannot steal eternal life It cannot conquer the spirit.
I miss my dog every day. But I have his love, his life, my memories and all of our stories.
Cancer does not get to have those, it cannot.
When we learned that chemo wasn’t working, that was only one week ago from today. So much has happened, our heads and hearts are still whirling. But Samdog answered my prayer and did the one thing I had left to ask of him.
Please, please, Sam… if we are going this way, please, just make it obvious. I don’t want you to leave with any questions in my heart. Make it obvious so I will know when it is time.
Sam had done so well during the week of Thanksgiving, his diagnosis of mets earlier in the week was staggering for us, but we were still hopeful that he would fight through as he always had. We couldn’t understand his rapid decline only two days after chest x-rays.
Saturday, we met with the hospice doc, started him on tramadol and got the prednisone from the pharmacy. That night, he wouldn’t eat potroast or eggs. We tried cheese. He spit it out. We gave him a greenie, his favorite treat that used to inspire a little happy greenie dance every time he got one. He put it down and looked at Dad. “I’m sorry” was in his eyes. This was bad.
As the evening crawled on, Sam was gasping for breath. “Pleural effusion” was what the hospice doc said. The lung mets were causing inflammation, which was causing fluid to pool in the space around his left lung. He couldn’t use it efficiently. If we needed to, there is a procedure to drain off the fluid but we had to go to the office to have that done.
I looked in his eyes, trying to calm him down so he could draw a full breath and I saw fear. I saw it. I knew it. We had to do something.
It was too late to call the hospice doc back to the house and we needed one more day, for the pred to kick in and reduce the inflammation and the fluid. He would feel better soon, if we could just relieve the pressure on his lungs. So we did what we hadn’t been planning to do, we loaded him in the truck and we went to the Emergency vet.
“Help him breathe, we don’t care what you have to do, we need one more day for the pred to work.” They did. Two liters of fluid from just the left side. Except, it wasn’t fluid. One of his lung mets had ruptured. What was flowing into his chest and restricting his breath was blood. He was bleeding internally and they didn’t know if they could stop it. We couldn’t bring him home. It would be awful. He had to stay. They kept him comfortable and tried to stop the bleed. In the morning, he was still bleeding. They couldn’t stop it. Instead they drained the lung again, so he could come home with us.
We spent Sunday snuggling on the bed and talking to each other on the grass. It was a good day. He was happy, tired, but breathing and happy. As the afternoon wore on, we could hear him breathing harder. It was time, we knew what was coming and we didn’t want to wait for that pain to return. Hospice doc came back to the house and we said goodbye to my heart, in the shade, on the grass, at home, surrounded by love. That was the right way to go.
I looked him in the eyes the whole way and breathed in his last breaths. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to know that exact moment when he left. I wanted to breathe him into me. But I couldn’t. He went past me on his way to somewhere I couldn’t go. He didn’t look back, he went through. It was okay.
Though I am sad and still stunned at how fast he went, he answered my prayer and made the decision obvious to us. I have no questions in my heart that we did the right thing, the right way, for our Sam. I have no regret about any of the decisions we made. We threw everything we could at the “C”, but in the end it was too strong.
Most of the comfort words we use when we try to console pet parents, who have just said good bye to their hearts, are about crossing the rainbow bridge where dog friends are waiting. I love the idea and I hope there is truth in it. I figure, the first thing he did when he crossed was find his leg and head to the nearest lake. Maybe Lucy or Allie would be there with him, plunging into the water. Peaches would be on the beach, howling her hello and Sam would have zoomed past her, skid to a halt, said hello and then run after Allie, who was always just a little faster, into the water. Athena and Gracie would be on the beach, basking in the sun as they liked to do. Kelso and Emma would each have a ball and would be in the water too. Sam wouldn’t need a ball… He would just swim out to the middle of the lake and swim in circles until he was tired. Because it is dog heaven, he wouldn’t ever be tired. Maybe a tennis ball or his wooba would be floating there, needing to be rescued. Maybe he would see Zeus, Jerry, Maxi, Maggie and the pugapalooza on the beach too. I would like for him to meet the amazing spirit tripawds who helped navigate our family through unfamiliar waters on his way to this beach.
But my dog was never happiest in the company of dogs. He was a people dog, not a dog’s dog.
I figure something different is in store for him. He was an old and wise soul when found me, even as a puppy. I hope our time together added to his wisdom and understanding of how to be there when someone needed him most. He wouldn’t be happy until he was with someone who needed him. I figure, after swimming for a while and resting for a bit with his dog friends, he will be back. There are plans for him to help someone else in their time of need, in the same way he helped me when I needed him most. I don’t know if he will be a red dog when he comes back. But I will watch for him and hope to find him again. I promised him that I would.
In order for there to be an end, there has to be a beginning. In these last days, we have found solace in archiving the memory of Sam. I have started writing his story, from the beginning this time instead of the end that we hoped wouldn’t come while chronicling his adventures here. There is so much more of us to share. If you will indulge me a little, I’d like to use this blog to capture some of that so I don’t lose it. By sharing our story with you, it will be out in the greater universe and won’t be lost to time. Not today… but soon.
I do believe that having this space has saved me. I believe that your support has steadied me in the storm. It made sure I was there for Sam, and there was nothing as important as that. Thank you, from the last piece of my heart.
Honestly, I didn’t even know such care existed for our beautiful pups. I am again grateful to the tripawds website for making the suggestion and I am so glad that we decided to take advantage.
We met a new doc today. Dr. C is a hospice vet. She came to the house and we talked about where Sam is, where he is going and what we can do to make the adventure as easy as it can be for all of us.
She saw what we have been seeing, which has left us stunned at the pace of decline in Sam. She couldn’t hear breath sounds hardly at all in his left lung, plueral effusion, likely. Which means he is only really using his right lung, which thankfully sounded good, she said. However, his heart rate is elevated and as of this morning, he insists on being upright, where yesterday he was flopping over on his side as he was sleeping. Which means he is trying to compensate for the reduced lung function. In all, the decline is real and not just us hovering with worry like reality show parents. His lethargy is related to not getting enough oxygen.
But she did give us some hope that we can make it easier. First, he is back on Tramadol. Not as much for pain, but for anti-anxiety. She sensed that he was also starting to guard because he can’t catch his breath, this might help mellow that stress out a bit. We are also starting him on Prednizone – can’t spell it either. She says the steroid could improve the fluid buildup in his lung and should help him feel generally better for some time.
But it is temporary. Our best hope is for a couple of weeks if the Pred really works its magic. We will give him everything we’ve got to help him feel good for as long as we’ve got.
Which starts with cooking. As long as he keeps eating my eggs, he will get them. Tonight, dad has a pot-roast in the slow cooker. Samdog will get some of that and get to try carrots for the first time. We will cross our paws that the Pred helps him bounce.
There has been a whole bunch of emotions flying around in our house today, but I want to make sure that the thought that is lasting in this blog is gratitude. Gratitude that there are wonderful people like Dr. C who work to make it easier, that there are people like all of you taking the time to read this post – you have provided us tremendous support in our time of need… thank you. And lastly that 10 years ago, someone brought a basket of tiny fuzzy puppies to my front yard, said pick one, that the puppy biting the sprinker became our Sam, and that he was always up for any adventure as long as he was with me.
Sam’s low energy and not eating kinda started to freak us out. It can’t be happening this quickly can it? Wait… maybe he just doesn’t like this new fishy kibble and feels like crap because he isn’t eating… well I can fix that.
Last night dinner was fresh salmon, cheddar cheese omelet with eggs from the girls. Mixed into the kibble. I hand fed it to him and he spit the kibble out but he ate the eggs. Okay, I happen to have an egg factory in my garden… eggs it is. Oh, and he ate half of my tenderloin steak that the hunny cooked for us after the omelet. But he ate it all.
This am he got the same omelet with only a little kibble sprinkled into it. I had to give him a little by hand, but he ended up eating all of it. Me, i warmed up a day old cup of coffee. That was my breakfast… something about priorities?
He came to work with me today and was much perkier than yesterday. But a little tummy trouble told me it was too much of a good thing.
Tonight he got brown rice and lean hamburger. He helped himself to a whole bowlful and then asked for seconds… then he begged the hunny to let him lick the pot!
So, today was a good day. Here is to hoping for another one tomorrow. I’ve still got salmon in the fridge and eggs in the chickens. What should we cook tomorrow?
Right now he is standing by his bowl asking for more. I think we will go to bed instead. 🙂
Sam wasn’t feeling so great today. His energy seemed low and he hasn’t eaten kibble in a day or two, turkey and flying dutchman he will eat, kibble not so much. Today was also the big chest X ray and chemo #5… The news we got was not the news we wanted, but the big “C” doesn’t play fair and it wasn’t unexpected.
One tiny spot in his lungs has become three, one of them significant and likely the cause of his cough that we noticed last week. Dr. S advised us not to continue with chemo, because of how fast the mets have advanced, even while on the carbo. So, no number 5 for our pup… he came home instead. Dr. S really doesn’t have any other recommendation for us. We could try all sorts of things, but they all have side effects and there isn’t any science that she knows of to support putting him through it. So, he came home with the advice to spoil the crap out of him for as long as we have left, which likely won’t be long but we don’t know that. It is between Sam and the course of nature at this point and I am back to the prayer of please, please, just make it obvious when it is time.
I am sad. I’m afraid my game face has not been good today. I keep finding my brain thinking about things in the future and recognizing that Sam will likely not be there in body to join me for them. It is unimaginable. For 10 years I have poured so much of my heart into this one love, that I am worried I will be a shell of a person when he has to take it with him. In truth, he can have all of it if it will help. Now is not the time to worry about the future.
Now that he is off the chemo – we can load him up on the antioxidents and suppliements he couldn’t have during treatment, just to give Sam as much nutrition in his arsenal as possible. He alone will be fighting this, but we have his back for as long as he needs it.
Until then, I plan to spoil the crap out of my dog. No more worrying about what he gets from the table or how many treats he has eaten tonight. No more yucky kibble when there is turkey in the fridge and steak in the freezer. (actually there is a big slab of salmon on the counter – guess who gets some of that tonight) 🙂 This weekend we will figure out how to warm the pool so he can keep swimming until he doesn’t feel like swimming anymore. The long hours at work can wait and when they can’t, he will come with me. Nobody can say “no” to this three legged, big brown eyed dog with the horrible dog breath, not even me anymore.
It will be the 30 days of Christmas around here. Every day will be a gift and we will focus on that. No more sad blogs, for as long as he is with us.
As if Thanksgiving isn’t exciting enough… three months today, baby!
Our house has been full of life and love (and turkey). Usually it is only Samdog, us pawrents, and the three chicken sisters around the ranchito. For the last week we added 4 more adults, one young short person, two more dogs, and a cat to the homestead.
It has been great. Sam would like to add that there was turkey too.
He has been doing great! 4 chemos down and another one next week. We also get a chest xray to look at that dang spot to see if it has changed. I refuse to admit it out loud, but in writing it is worth noting that I am hearing a cough. He coughed before and I should not worry until we look st the chest film again, but I do.
Sam spent time swimming yesterday with his pal Millie. Too cold for humans but it was pretty good for retrievers. Sorry we didn’t get pix.
After Sam was done swimming and we took off the float coat, he decided he wasn’t done and went back in without it. He had to rescue tennis balls for another 20 minutes or so. Somebody had to, Millie was having trouble using the steps to get in the pool and she was too nervous to jump in. She is a country girl, used to swimming in real ponds, not cement ones.
We must have over done it though, because when Sam came out his teeth were chattering and we were having trouble warming him up. He looked like a beached whale in the living room with 4 towels and 2 blankets layered over him with me snuggling and he still shivered for about an hour. I admit, it frightened us all a little. Then I got smart and threw some towels in the dryer to warm them up. We peeled back the layers, added the warm towels then layered him back up. The shivering slowed down and he fell asleep still looking like a big red seal under the blankets. When he woke up, the blankets were so heavy, he couldn’t shake them off and stand up. Hah.
So, here is a question… Sam spent all summer swimming in nearly frozen water without trouble. The air temp was colder in the sierras in summer than here in AZ yesterday… does carbo effect his ability to thermoregulate? Why would he have been shivering so badly yesterday? It is a mystery for now… I am thankful we are back to doing great today. We even went swimming, but for less time.
We are also thankful for friends who are family and our community here at tripawds. Oh, and Sam would again like to add… and for turkey.
Hoppy Three month ampuversary to Samdog and Hoppy Thanksgiving to you all!
I first want to say another word of thanks to the whole tripawd commuity. You all were able to refocus my sadness from last week with a few heartfelt words. I deserved a much stronger swift kick than I got from you.
That said, Sam did a great job of keeping my focus all weekend. We spent time in the garden, in the pool, in the grass and snuglging on the bed. Looking back two months, the day before his surgery, we spent time in the garden, in the pool, in the grass and snuggling on the bed.
As long as we stay focused on those things and continue to find creative adventures, we will keep giving cancer a strong swift kick, instead of the other way around.
Happy two months of new normal. Here is to as many happy months as we can get. (Flying Dutchman for dinner tomorrow is a great start).
HAHA! Have to add, I just convinced Sam he could push a door open that wasn’t latched. He pushed through it. Then he looked at me like “should I close it now?” Yes, Sam you can “close it”. So, he jumped up and pushed the door closed! He used to do that without my asking… it was just good manners to close a door he opened. But I hadn’t asked for it since surgery. One more thing to celebrate that is the same as always. 😀
Sam had chemo round 3 today. Handled it like a champ, per his usual self.
I had to work all day. In order to make the appointment I had to drop him really early. I asked the tech questions. She asked me questions. I told her I was really concerned about the chest film and let her know I wouldn’t be back until the end of my work day.
So, when the phone rang, I jumped out of my meeting to find out what was wrong. It was Dr. S, which was a nice surprise. I figured I wouldn’t get to chat with her until tomorrow. I cheerfully asked “how’s my good boy?” She says “well, …………………”
They found a spot on his lung.
It is small. So small, she cant be sure it is a met… but she cant be sure it isn’t.
But, he is on the best Protocol so we aren’t goon to change anything. Send him through two more rounds and then check again. Six weeks. Six weeks of not knowing anything and worrying about everything. Either, the spot is a blood vessel or my dog is dying.
I tend to throw the word “adventure” around when it comes to Sam, so I think it is important to explain that I use that term in its full intended authenticity. Me and Sam are like peas and carrots who love to go to new places and look for new things. I think it is why we made it as a search team for so long.
We even go on vacation together. A girl and her dog in a truck and off we go, dad is usually invited but rarely can join us. This summer we took two weeks to explore Yosemite and the eastern Sierra – we made it a goal to hike to and swim in a glacial lake every day.
So, it was quite a treat when DAD says “can you take Tuesday off so we can go to New Mexico for the holiday weekend?” um, what? really? Sure! Let’s go.
We have taken day trips since his surgery, but this was our first overnight trip and we decided to make it a trip to visit Sam’s friends who have been so supportive through this whole ordeal.
We are 7 weeks post amp, two chemo treatments down, and this was a good week to head out.
First stop was in Deming to visit his Uncle Ken and Aunt Nancy who we have known for 9 of Sam’s 10 years. Then up to Sante Fe to see my brother and his lovely wife. Together, we went out to the Jemez mountains because I wanted to see aspen leaves for my birthday. We don’t get much color down here in southern Arizona, and it was time to see some autumn leaves. It was gorgeous. We drove up to a picnic area and expected to sit in the sun for a while. Sam had other plans.
He found a trail.
He decided to hike that trail.
So, we followed. He was happy about it and I think I snapped my new favorite photo of him.
We didn’t go far as it was pretty steep and had lots of roots and rocks to navigate. At one point he jumped over a 2 foot wall, just because it was in his way. Yes, there was a trail to go around it. But Sam decided to go over it.
We splashed in a creek, sniffed some rocks, and he ran ahead and waited. Our new motto is we don’t go far, but where we go, we go fast!
From Sante Fe, we moved north to see our bestest friends Deb and Fred and Millie. Millie is a beautiful golden girl who Sam loves, and Deb… well, all dogs love Deb.
_We took a day trip up to Great Sand Dunes National Park and tried to go for a hop on the sand. Sam was game, but man… sand is hard to hop on. We didn’t make it to the dunes, but we got a good picture of me and my dog part way out. Instead of continuing, we headed back over to some more aspen trees and Sam was ready to go. So, we started hiking… and he kept going, and going… it was a loop, so we stayed with him and took breaks when he needed them.
We went a whole 1/2 mile and he still had energy to spare. Every time I think he can’t do something, he does it anyway. He is our Sam and is up for anything.