The dreaded C-word: CANCER. It's been a long time since I've blogged, and I've written so many posts that I haven't published. I've really missed blogging, and as I sit here typing this, I wish I was posting one of those other posts - posting about when Hush passed her Canine Good Citizen test, or posting about how cute it is that Milly licks Hush's ears after I clean them, how my two beloved Golden Retrievers have become inseparable best friends, how I've fallen in love with an amazing man, whom I now live with and we share our lives not just with each other, but also with our two goldens, and his toy poodle, Ally. Oh, how I wish I was posting one of those stories right now. But I'm not. Instead, I'm writing about how my beloved Milly has cancer.
Yesterday, was picturesque, to say the least. I woke up in the morning, early for me on a Sunday. Two of my dear friends, Eileen and Olivia came over, we packed a picnic and headed to Markham, VA for a day of sour cherry picking. We brought Milly, Hush, Ally, and Evan (Eileen's dog, and one of my dogs' best friends, especially for outdoor adventures). When we got to the Orchard we let all the dogs of their leashes, and they raced through the apple trees away from other cherry-picking-patrons, sniffing every leaf, joyfully rolling in the grass, catching a wiff of something in the air and darting off after a flying bird - in short, it was any dog's best day. We all commented on how great Milly looked, a picture of health and fitness - at 13 or so years, she can outrun Evan (a seasoned long-distance runner, and Eileen's companion as she trains for half and full marathons), Hush (just shy of two years old, her body is muscular and fit, as a retriever's should be - she's fast and has incredible endurance)... so it's truly amazing to see this geriatric dog joyfully racing at lightning speeds through the fields. It was a perfect day - warm, but not hot like DC June days tend to be. We picked cherries, we laughed, the dogs played. After, I headed home, grabbed a quick bite to eat and packed up my beach bag for a pool-party father's day cookout at the beau's father's house. My beach bag contained all the necessities: towel for me, two towels for the dogs, a ziplock baggy filled with freeze dried bison, and plenty of toys for both land and water. Milly again was filled with joyful energy as she darted across yard, begged for bites of everyone meals, and even took dip in the pool. You may remember, Milly fails as a water retriever - she doesn't like to play fetch, and she's not a fan of swimming... but, Hush who loves the water, has influenced Milly... slowly helping her gain confidence in the water - and for a few minutes Milly was happy to cool off in the pool.
When we got home we were all exhausted. We went to bed - the dogs conked out on the bedroom floor. In the middle of the night I woke up to Milly breathing heavily, making that tell tale noise all dog owners know as "my dog is about to puke!" Sure enough, up came some sort of food, and I groggily pulled myself out of bed to clean it up, make sure Milly had water, and went back to sleep thinking she must've gotten into some human food at the cookout. A few hours later, the above happened again, and I began to get a little worried. An hour later, the process was repeated for the third time - by this time Milly was breathing heavily, and I realized she had urinated all over the floor, and all over herself. Something was seriously wrong. I tried to get her to stand up, and she wouldn't. She just lay there, heavily panting. I couldn't get her to move, not even for treats. I checked her gums, they were somewhat pale and dry. Her heart seemed to be pounding faster than normal, her breathing was heavy, and her lower end was covered in urine. We picked her up and carried her to the car and raced to the vet.
When I got to the vet a tech help me carry her inside, and took her vitals. My normal vet is on her honeymoon, so I saw someone else. The vet listened to her heart, it was beating fast. Listened to her lungs, they sounded wheezy. Her stomach was tender to the touch, and hard. Her lymph nodes were okay. Her gums were pale and dry. She was listless, depressed looking, panting heavily. The vet wanted to give her IV fluids, some strong anti-nausea medicine, run a complete blood work panel, and take x-rays of her chest. I was told it could just be a virus, it could be something more sinister like cancer or organ failure, it may be a blockage in her intestines... we wouldn't know until after the diagnostics. I left and went home, nervous, but hoping for something mild like a stomach virus. A few hours later, the vet called. Milly was feeling better - they'd gotten results of the blood work, and nothing was concrete. The blood work had abnormalities in it - liver count was off, white cells were a little off, etc. but nothing pointed to any one thing. Disconcerting, to say the least. The x-rays, however, proved more useful. From multiple angles a fairly large tumor was present on her lung. I was shocked. In all of Milly's years with me, she has been the epitome of health... and I don't mean healthy for an older dog, I mean healthy for any dog - young or old.
Based on where the tumor is, it is unlikely the cancer started there - it more than likely has spread to her lungs from another part of her body. The vet reassured me there are options - there is a great oncologist nearby, we don't have to make any decisions right now. Or, based on her age we could simply treat the symptoms as they crop up - let her live out her days and keep her happy and comfortable, and enjoy the time I have left with her. The vet wanted to do an ultrasound, and I agreed to that - based on where the tumor is, we may even be able to biopsy it during the ultrasound. Milly could stay over night, and have the ultra sound in the morning, or I could come pick her up and bring her back. I chose latter. She's with me now, groggy, sleeping at my feet. Her breathing is loud, but she is happy and peaceful. I can't help but listen to every breath and wonder how many more I'll hear.