De-Bugged and Gutted

 

 

A girl and her (former) cars

We are driving down Freestate Parkway, or rather, Jon is driving and I am passenger-ing, away from Carmax in Laurel, Maryland.  Jon is wondering about lunch.

“What do you think? West End Grill?” he asks, turning slightly toward me from the wheel of our “denim” blue Ford Explorer.

I don’t answer. I can’t. Giant sad-emoji tears are cresting my lower lids and skittering down my cheeks. My throat is tighter than a welded lug nut. My chest begins to heave.

Jon jumps a little in his seat. His eyes widen.

“What’s wrong?” The SUV swerves a bit as he looks for a place to pull over. I am now guffawing in full abdominal sobs. I am not generally prone to tearful outbursts. He hadn’t seen this coming. Neither had I.

Carmax is a no-negotiation, this-is-the-dough-we-will-hand-over-for-your-automobile, multiplex where we have left my car, Betty Blue Bug, in our rearview mirror.

“Do you want to go buy back the car?” he asks, confused. We had talked about it. This was the plan.  We had one too many cars. We would get rid of my cute blue Volkswagen bug because we were tired of juggling positions in the driveway and the remaining two were the obvious, practical choices: the Explorer for the girls (dogs if you’re new here) and me,  and the Jaguar for Jon and, say, our date nights.

I shake my head no.

“Then...what?

“It’s just….” I inhale, then blurt, “The bug was the last thing I had!” I start sobbing all over again.

“What are you talking about?”

“It was…” More deep breathing, a bit of snot “…the last thing that was just mine!

So went our first marital automotive transaction. When I was single, I had bought the bug because it fulfilled my long-time ambition of having a dog car– a very well-worn, hairy, muddy well-suited for Ridgebacks, Jeep Liberty–and a cute car, in which I could arrive places free of mud and hair not belonging to me. It had taken me a lot of years to afford two cars, even if one was paid off.  But I had done it. The Jeep and the Volkswagen sat in my driveway as testimony to my achievement. Chalk up another she-woman, single girl accomplishment.  I hadn’t realized it during Jon’s and my personal car-talks, but selling that car was like handing off yet another shred of my disintegrating identity. Who was I, if not the person who could alone manage a single family home, a business, two cars, and as many large dogs?

The Jeep had gone belly up. We’d rented the house.  And now, a year into our marriage, I would drive a Ford Explorer and Jon would drive the Jag. The Explorer was actually the nicer vehicle. We’d upgraded the upholstery and the engine and nearly everything else. The seats and steering wheel are heated. Lillian and Delilah could occupy the entire rear section and I’d still have room for groceries, girlfriends, and 40-pound bags of dog food in the back seat. L & D had their own A/C controls and windows to slobber up. I could arrive places fairly clean, given the distance between the front seat and the dog-wagon.  It’s a good ride. I needed (and still do) a ground crew with flags and cones to park it properly, but I rarely went downtown anymore anyway. Still, the Explorer just wasn’t me. Or it wasn’t the me I’d spent 54 years constructing.

Dr. Kathy Gabriel, PHD, is a clinical psychologist.  She says very early on, we begin to develop ways to protect our own essence, that with which we’re born. Some people the shield is a career. For others it’s a relationship. We need those things to get through our lives, but we tend to over-identify with them.

“We mistake ourselves for the objects we attach ourselves to,” Dr. Gabriel tells me. “When those things are threatened or lost, we immediately try to reconstruct them.” That’s part of what causes the suffering.

So there I was, a very independent person, balancing all my “protections” (really not all that well, but I wasn’t in jail or anything) and then I get married and POOF.  My house, GONE.  My cute powder blue Volkswagen bug, GONE. Autonomy, GONE! Identity…GONE!

People say those who marry late in life may be “too set in their ways.” That’s a tad too diplomatic. We’re too set in our made-up, bricked up, mortared, slap-a-sold-sign on it, manufactured photo we have of ourselves. It’s real, but at the same time, it’s produced.  And sometimes it all changes, with or without our permission. We’re all glued up with bumper stickers declaring our beliefs, our loves, indeed ourselves, authentic or not. Ripping those off our fenders is jarring and painful.

Six weeks ago another chunk fell off. My sweet Delilah died. You’ve all heard it by now.  The loss has turned us sideways with grief.  I knew the vacancy would be loud and uncomfortable. What I’d forgotten was Lillian and Delilah were a cornerstone in my identity construction.  Lillian is a beautiful girl, and together, they were real head-turners.  The three of us entered a room as a chaotic, mischievous unit. We were a harmonious, well-muscled, love triangle. I couldn’t see one without thinking of the other.  “Where’s your sister?” had become my constant refrain.  And even though I am married to a loving and dedicated step-dad, they were still “my girls.” I managed them. I monitored food and exercise, administered medicines and took them for their regular vet visits. They looked to me for instruction and discipline more so than their beloved Papa Jon.  Jon has always joked that I was A-dog, Lilly was B, Delilah was C and he was D.

I couldn’t see one without the other.

Now “C” is gone. So goes my grip, my last bit of control, the category in which I still excelled, where I was still strong. One Ridgeback is so much easier, so much more ordinary than two. And that means the ‘ol superwoman folk-hero has to face yet another rehab. The worst part is the gutting, which, I hope, is nearly over. But please, someone, pass the botox.

Lilly is settling in to being a single dog, with two parents.  This morning she climbed into our bed and snuggled up to me. I scratched behind her ear for a minute before she threw her head onto Jon’s leg. She’s divvying herself up. She understands the new dynamic, the new triangle. She is so much smarter than I.

My husband is no dummy either. He drives the Explorer now. I dart about in a convertible Mini Cooper.  We both know that most times, Lillian is at the wheel.

 

 

Follow up from Mom

Delilah arrived in my life as part of a puppy pretzel: two coal-black noses, furry necks and warm, round bellies, intertwined. They were delivered in a crate to Baltimore Washington International Airport, groggy and jetlagged, having traveled all the way from Idaho. She and Lillian were wrapped around each other and then me and then us. The unraveling has left our little family threadbare.

To those of you who’ve been following along, especially Dr. James Pelura, Megan and Tammy, thank you all for your support through D’s illness and now her death.  I can’t bring myself to say the cancer won. I can’t give it that. Fuck cancer.

Canine lymphoma is fairly common. If you’ve been following this blog (aka the DLOG) you know Delilah’s symptoms began in late July. She simply stopped eating. Then the nodes under her chin swelled. Her spleen bloated. Tests confirmed the worst, and we gave her prednisone and began chemotherapy, in the form of a pill called Laverdia ca-1, two times per week. But her tummy wouldn’t tolerate the powerful drug and we had to stop. Two weeks later we started again. This time she kept the pills down and the nodes receded. She got some spring back in her step. She ate well. We were optimistic.

                   

But then there were more lumps. They were round and large, like marbles, on the back of her neck. Then everywhere. Dr. Pelura thought perhaps it was an allergic reaction, so we added Benedryl to her meds. It didn’t touch the lumps. And despite consuming gravy-soaked chicken breasts as fast as I could cook them, she continued to lose weight. In her last 24 hours she managed to walk outside to lay on the patio.  She loved being out there. But she began to shake with the fall chill and was too weak to walk back inside on her own.

Of course, I’m second-guessing everything. If only I’d caught it sooner, if I’d started the chemo back up faster, if I’d not left for ten days to move my mom out of her home in Phoenix, if, when, how, I did, I didn’t, I failed to keep our girl alive.

Lillian is doing okay. She was extraordinarily kind and protective of her sister, in ways I didn’t think she had in her, through the worst of D’s illness. But it seemed to me, maybe a week before Delilah died, Lillian checked out. She went back to being her A-dog wild-child self. Like she knew. As if she wanted to separate herself from the finality.

I always say dogs know everything.

Lillian doesn’t do well with big, heavy emotions. It only takes a sigh to send her skittering from the room. Both of our bathtubs have paw prints in them because that’s where she retreats when I cry so I’m trying to cut down on the sniveling. She’s become more robust (Jon thinks I am too critical of their mutual girths.) perhaps in order to absorb all of our extra affection.

I keep saying to Jon, “I loved having two.”  There is more to this, having to do with loving them as a unit, as one blob of happiness, as a chaotic duo.  It has to do with identity, it has to do with handling two powerful beings with my one strong single self, it has to do with a powder blue Volkswagen bug. But I’m still unpacking.

Thank you all, again, for understanding this grief. Not everyone does.

Cat owners, for instance.

I’m joking.

Until next time.

DLOG: xoxo

We lost my sweet sister, Delilah on Friday.  Mom and Papa are pretty sad and mopey. I am not quite sure what to do with myself, except to lay on their feet and crowd them in their bed. Pope Francis says we will all be back together again sooner or later, so we can be glad for that.

Doing the DLOG is not that much fun with out my side-kick — there is no one to laugh at my jokes.  So I’m turning it back over to mom. You know how she is: blaaahdy blaaaah blaaaah,  so you’ll hear more from her once she gets it together. Snoozles and licks to you all – our whole family thanks you for your support during these very ruff past few months.  xoxo  #Cancersucks

Caution: Mom Hazards a Few Words

Twice, I have nearly rolled across the marble-top kitchen island, diving for the girls’ water dish in order to keep Lillian from lapping up tainted refreshment.  On several occasions I’ve slid like Lou Gehrig into home, catching Delilah’s drool with a paper towel before it turns the wood floor into a hazardous waste site.   At night I could be mistaken for a worm charmer, decked out in a headlamp, white plastic gloves, carrying plastic bags and a water bottle.

Canine chemotherapy isn’t nearly as glamorous as everyone says it is.

I decided to re-take control of my blog (I’ll return it as a DLOG as soon as I’m done here) to explain how some of this canine cancer stuff works. As Delilah’s bespectacled, dogged research showed, (see DLOG #1) canine lymphoma is pretty common. So, hopefully this will help someone.

Delilah flunked the cancer test about six weeks ago now. After talking with her veterinarian, who is not a drag-it-out sort of doctor, my husband Jon and I decided we’d give this pill form of chemo- Laverdia-  a try.  We started on a Monday, administering a pill every three days. Chemo days would be Mondays and Thursdays.

For three days following each pill, her saliva, urine and stools present a  hazard to children, other dogs and the pooh-picker-upper. That’s the reason for the crime-scene gloves. As an extra precaution I squirt water anywhere she leaves a trace. At night, the headlamp is so I can see all of the, well, circumstances of her pooh. And so I don’t step in my work. Lillian gets the run of the back yard. We walk Delilah out front. Sometimes, when we’re sure D is empty we supervise her in the back yard so she can frolic a bit and lay on “her” outdoor sofa.  Sundays, family day, are chemo free. Trickiest is the water bowl situation. Two bowls is just two bowls. I thought of labeling them with their names, but while they are pretty good typists, (see the DLOGS) it turns out they can’t read.  So I do a lot of bowl rinsing.

                                                  Delilah enjoying a little couch time

The manufacturers of Laverdia  say most dogs don’t become ill on the pill. D is apparently not “most dogs” as her whole dinner wound up on our bedroom floor around 1:30 in the morning that first Tuesday.  Thursday’s dose came back up around 10pm. The following Monday, Labor Day, I came home from a neighborhood party to check on her. She stood up and vomited bright, red blood.  Her eyes were weary. Her body, thinning. I tearily went back to the party to get Jon and we came home to spend what we thought was our last night with our girl.

I called the vet Tuesday morning expecting to schedule her final rest but was met with undaunted certainty. “This is not the end,” Tammy told me.  Dr. Pelura said I was to stop the chemo and do what I could to rest her stomach. “We’ll just call this a minor setback,” Tammy said.

So for two weeks I coaxed and tempted and tried various doggie delicious dishes that she might eat. At first she refused everything. Gradually a combination of chicken, pumpkin, a bit of regular dry dog food and most importantly, I think, chicken gravy seemed to do the trick. I also administer an occasional mini-pint of Ben and Jerry’s doggie ice cream. D gets most of the treats but I slip a little to her forlorn sister, making sure that healing one pup doesn’t cause obesity in the other.

The “other,” Lillian, has been, surprisingly, an exemplary sister.  She doesn’t (often) steal her sister’s special food. She is respectful of D’s space, while at the same time quietly hanging out with her in whatever cool, dark space D finds, most often our exercise room. (D always liked to do Doga.)  Lillian has sometimes embarrassingly, become more protective, barking at other dogs with slight aggression. She never did this before. And when we went to the park last Sunday D tired out so Jon walked her back to the car while I continued on with Lilly, who needed more exercise. Except it was nearly impossible to get her to run the other way. She just didn’t want to leave her ailing sister.  I thought all of this was my imagination. But Dr. P confirmed. “She know’s she’s sick,” he told me.  This. Tears me up.

                       Lilly keeping her sister company, whether she wants it or not

This past Monday after a sleepless night, I called the vet and got the thumbs up to re-start the chemo.  “If she vomits, we’re out,” I told Meghan at Dr. P’s office.  “I understand,” she said quietly.  Again, I slept with one eye open. But Delilah’s remained, peacefully closed. She had refused dinner, but snoozed well and gobbled her chicken-pumpkin-gravy breakfast in the morning. She’s spunkier this past week and the light is back in her eyes.

She gets another dose tomorrow.

Today, I am hopeful. The knot that’s been in my stomach for the past six weeks is loosening. Perhaps our little family will stay intact for a while longer.

The girls will keep in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DLOG: NOT TODAY, CANCER!

Delilah: I’m still on a break from the chemo bombs.

Lillian: So I can sniff her pooh as much as I want.

D: Mom’s been feeding me a whole bunch of chicken and gravy.

L: This preferential treatment is tyrannical. Someone please send help. Or steak.

D: Today I was feeling so good we went to the park and we got to see our friends Lizzie and Dottie. I actually broke into a TROT once or twice.

L&D:  NOT TODAY, CANCER!!!

DLOG: FOOD FOWL!!

ALRIGHT. I GET THAT SHE’S SICK BUT WHY DOES DELILAH GET CHICKEN AND PASTA AND I JUST GET REGULAR ‘OL DOG FOOD?????

#cancersucks  #cancersucksforthewholefamily

 

DLOG: Going Green!

 

Lillian:  What a beautiful bow that is, sister!

Delilah: Likewise!  It’s a lime green lymphoma ribbon.

Lillian: #cancersucks.

Delilah: I’ve been feeling pretty chipper but I had another chemo-bomb this morning.  Hopefully the yummy beef and gravy mom cooked for my breakfast will come out the end the good Lord intended.

Lillian:  Fingers, such as they are, crossed. But I got you a lime green barf bag just in case.

L&D: TTYL!!

 

 

 

For the time being, we’re taking over Mom’s blog. Now it’s a DLOG!

 

Lillian:  Hello DLOG lovers!

Delilah: We’re here to let you in on a bit of an upheaval, which MAY lead to some actual up-heaving, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Lillian: Ahem.  Well, I’ll just get straight to it. My sister has lymphoma.

Delilah:  I have crab-apple sized lumps under my jaw-bone.

Lillian: You look a little like a frog.

Delilah: I think I look like Maria Shriver.

Lillian:  I see the resemblance.

Delilah: On the additional up-side, I’ve been getting lots of treats and everyone is SUPER nice to me. Lillian even stopped stealing my dinner.

Lillian:  She’s a little skinny. And I didn’t want my super-modeling career upstaged.

Delilah: One thing I’ve learned is, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, one in every 15 dogs will get lymphoma.

Lillian: Good research, sister!

Delilah: That’s why I’m wearing my glasses.

Lillian: They make you  look smart.

Delilah: Why, thank you! The other thing we learned today is there is now a chemo drug that’s a pill.  It’s called LAVERDIA- CA1. So, I expect I’ll be getting it in a chunk of cheese, rather than intravenously.

Lilly: Wait. There are PILLS in the cheese?

D: Yep. Mom thinks I don’t know.  But she’s been feeding me Prednisone for a couple of weeks.  That’s why I’ve developed such a drinking (and peeing) problem and I pant so much and it’s been really hard to sit still.  Especially at night.

L: Oh. I thought you’d gotten into Mom’s bourbon.

D: Ha! Well, the steroid part’s over now. I start the chemo tonight with dinner.

Lilly: Well, thank goodness for the pills.  You don’t like needles much.

D: I don’t like ANYTHING at the vet much.  Which reminds me– I’d like to apologize to Dr. Pelura, Megan and Tammy at Davidsonville Veterinary Clinic for being a somewhat less-than-gracious guest over the past, ummm, decade or so.

Lilly: You might apologize in advance for the next time.

D: Yes, I’m sorry in advance for being a bit of a PIA.

Lilly: So will the chemo bomb cause you lose your ridge?

D: Supposedly we canines don’t USUALLY barf or lose our hair with the chemo, proving that we are the superior species.

Lilly: Most excellent! There’s already enough hair lying around here.

D: Anyway, we’re sorry to share this not-great news, but we thought if we, as a family, DLOGGED, it might help other dog-families in similar situations.

Lilly: So, Mom, Pappa, D and I will keep you in our loop! Feel free to share.

D & L:  Hugs and Lix!!