Things are a lot better than they were a week ago.
In case you missed my stress from anthropomorphizing dog relationships, the short version is I was a mix of delight from adopting my new (adorable!) puppy, Lucie, and stress from Pascale seeming to hate her.
In the middle of all of this interpersonal relationship dog drama, they both contracted colds. First Pascale got sick, and my vet thought Lucie simply brought home a bug from the shelter, and then Lucie got sick from Pascale. So by Friday morning, they were wheezing, coughing and sneezing dog snot all over the place. This is not an exaggeration.
However, perhaps sharing a cold bonded the two of them because in the middle of me administering all the medication, they started to get alone.
It was subtle at first. Lucie didn’t jump on Pascale’s head as much, and Pascale stopped being as grumpy in the mornings. Then I’d play with Lucie in the evenings, and Pascale would put herself in the middle with a wagging tail. On Wednesday night of last week, Pascale was more playful than I had seen her in months. She squeaked one of her favorite toys, and made some playful gestures to Lucie (who was terrified at first). By last night, they were wresting together in my living room.
Of course, Lucie still doesn’t know how to behave sometimes and Pascale tells her who’s boss. But those corrections have gone from feeling like semi-constant to once or twice a day. While Pascale sometimes ignores her when she doesn’t feel like dealing with puppy drama, I see her sniffing Lucie and keeping an eye on her far more than she did a week ago. It seems like Lucie has become a family member to both of us.
This development has allowed me to let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. From grieving Pascale’s cancer diagnosis to adding a new puppy to my house, I’ve completely exhausted myself in the past month. Now I’m trying to relax, take care of myself and enjoy the good days.
Every so often, Pascale reminds me she has cancer. It’s subtle. Usually a very mild pain response early in the morning before her daily steroid. When I witness that, my heart sinks again. I know what’s coming. It will not be easy.
When I talked to my therapist about everything last week, I explained that I’ve treated Pascale’s cancer like a problem to solve. First that was through all my diagnostics, even the hail mary ones. Then it was the holistic treatments, which I’m still in the middle of working through. I feel like I owe it to her to try every reasonable treatment path, and I am.
I’ve kept a “Pascale Pain Diary” on my phone and mark down every time she has a stellar good day, or a sign of pain. That way I can keep track of how things are shifting. The problem with all of this is that any sign of decline, I just spiral into a depression. I can go from feeling pretty stable and chipper about life to being sucked down a black hole of anxiety. Anything can trigger it.
Explaining all of this to my therapist, I said that best case scenario Pascale lives six months or more (this is absolute best case, I am prepared for what’s probably closer to the reality). I want her to have good days for as long as possible, but realize that this intense watching/worrying is making me crazy. I feel like my entire well-being is being driven by this ominous cancer cloud, and it’s not even over a human. It’s with an animal who can’t talk and is genetically driven to hide pain.
To all of this, my therapist asked a simple question: “What if you looked at cancer as something to experience with her?”
And that, even now several days later typing this, breaks my heart to think about. To relax and experience this disease with Pascale is to accept that I can’t heal her. I can tell people over and over again that my beloved dog is terminal, but until I act like it myself my brain can’t accept it. To stop trying to solve every problem means I feel in my heart, maybe even for the first time, that she’s going to leave me.
I won’t sit here and tell you that I successfully flipped a switch in my head, and have resigned myself to experience this slow cancer death. I’m still trying the holistic methods, still researching diet and all the things. I will still follow through reasonable courses of treatment that don’t stress her out.
But I’m also trying to stop myself from falling into the darkness every time I see proof of this tumor. When she’s panting after playing happily, I am trying not to analyze how the right side of her tongue is wrinkled and shriveled compared to the left. I’m trying to stop asking myself how long this has been growing if the graying on the right side of her face is any indication.
Instead, I’m playing with her when she’s happy and energetic. Feeding her lots of treats. Telling her I miss her when she can’t come to the barn because of her sniffly nose, and promising her to bring her out to the big field as soon as I can. And of course between all of this, snuggling Lucie and laughing at her silly puppy antics. Glowing in the joy that is bringing a grateful shelter puppy into a safe and warm home, even if it does involve a lot of shampooing my white carpets.
Pascale has gracefully experienced the best and worst days of my life by my side. No matter how much time we have left together, I’m doing my best to be the same for her.