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.