We played our first game of fetch since surgery today. It made me both very happy and a little sad. R could really only do one gentle run at a time, and then he had to take a rest in between each. But he was so happy when he trotted back with the ball each time and I made a huge fuss over him. So that part was awesome.
It’s just such a change from the dog that was my dog for so many years, you know? There is no denying his looming mortality with reminders like that. For nine years before this R was my go, go, go beast. As a puppy he used to break through the ice in the creek by our hour to go swimming and then hike back for an hour through snow as tall as he was with icicles hanging from his belly. As an older puppy I literally only saw him really tired ONCE, and it was after a truly full day of swimming and running off leash through the woods. Up until just a few weeks ago we were playing full-run fetch for a solid hour most mornings. We used to rank his mid-air catches on a scale of 1-10. We’d usually have at least one or two standout catches, leaping into the air and turning 180 degrees or something.
Now it’s five fetches. Gentle throws. Resting for a second when we get the ball. And then lying down for a longer rest each time we bring it back.
All of a sudden, in literally a matter of weeks, R got very old.
That part hurts.
We had a similar good-bad day yesterday. We got our stitches out, which was wonderful. I asked the vet in about twelve different ways if R was allowed to do this, or that, or that, or this other thing and I was told: Yes, whatever he wants. So that was great. We also got our first chemo out of the way and so far so good on that. (Though I’m braced for the weekend. I understand nasty side effects wouldn’t show up for a few days. So. Pending.)
But we did have a few new mets on lung x-rays. The first one hasn’t grown any bigger, which is good. But there were a few newcomers, which is bad.
All in all though, I knew we had lung mets already. I’ve always been a brace-for-the-worst kinda person, or at least as long as I can really remember, so I was preparing myself for the vet to come out and tell me the lungs were just exploded with mets in three weeks. So, then two doesn’t sound so bad.
It’s not perfect, but it could have been a lot worse.
That’s, I guess, how I’ve ended up feeling about this whole situation. I wish R didn’t have cancer. I wish he’d pass away one night very peacefully in his sleep at fifteen with no real health problems. (And, if we’re being really honest, that some other member of my household might find him and gently break the news to me.) Or, really, I wish he’d just never die. Let’s go for that option in our dream scenario.
But cancer has weirdly given me a head’s up that I really need to savor these last months. I was already starting to do a little of that. R was coming up on 10 anyway, so I had started giving myself little rules like whenever he comes up to me, no matter what, I take two minutes and pet him and tell him I love him. Or, every night, he gets a really good right-before-bed body massage while I recount how we met and some of my favorite memories over the years. I was already doing that. But now I know I should take an extra thirty seconds every time he gives me puppy eyes and just kiss his little ears one more time. And I should cherish snuggles like they’re freakin’ bitcoin. And I should try to memorize what it feels like to sleep at night with his little buddy curled up against my chest.
And the COVID lockdown… It’s weirdly given me more time with him too. Lots of suck in that scenario, obviously, but how wonderful is it that I’m working from home right now. In a normal world I’d be in the office all day, every day, wondering how many hours I was losing with him that I couldn’t get back.
I’ve gotten almost ten years with R. Ten years where he’s kept me company in seven houses spanning thousands of miles and no doubt bottomless pits of loneliness if he hadn’t been there. We’ve gotten to love each other for nearly a decade. R has taught me a lot about how to love another living creature again, about patience, about gentleness, about animals and how much life and personality there are in those eyes. He’s shown me new facets to my world.
I’m so grateful, after all is said and done, to have gotten so much joy.
How blessed have we been, really?
The end isn’t something any of us can avoid. I’ll die one day too. All we can do is get as much joy as possible from whatever life we have. And R and I have gotten a lot, I think.
I’m hoping we still have months together and R can play fetch many more times.
It’s not perfect, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
We’re going to count ourselves lucky.
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