How’s Lucas?

That’s the only question these days, and it doesn’t have a straightforward answer.

He’s great: He loves our micro-hikes and fast food trips. He loves friends dropping by with beef stew, cheese, bacon treats, and snuggles. Lots and lots of snuggles. He loves taking super slow strolls with lots of long pauses around the block. Then, he sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.

Lucas out for a micro-hike at Porter West

He’s exhausted: He’s never been so tired. He has spurts of fun, happy, joyful moments followed by long, totally zonked naps.

Lucas zonked with Cooper

He’s himself: He’s silly and obstinate. He snipes across the street at dogs who look at him funny. He wrestles daily with Cooper. Like this:

He’s not himself: His gums started to bleed a bit. The oncologist thinks that’s perhaps a sign of the osteo cropping up in his jaw because it isn’t a side effect of his medicine. He doesn’t seem to be in pain; he still chews his bone and plays tug with Cooper, but we switched him to a mostly canned food diet, just in case his teeth are sore. And the occasional turkey cheeseburger and grilled asparagus…

Dogs with cancer get turkey cheeseburgers

How’s Lucas? Mostly, entirely good. He’s happy. He’s having fun. He’s playful and spirited and still refuses to come when called. He’s feeling it, though, and we’re struggling not to grieve. It’s truly an odd thing, grieving the living. It’s exhausting.

In the meantime, I’m pretty much offline. I do my work, teach my class, then spend time with my herd. I turned notifications off on my phone (I HIGHLY recommend this… I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal… it’s life changing) so that I could stay focused in the moment.

How’s Lucas? Great today, but all we can do is take it one day, one step, one hop at a time.

Cheese, micro-hikes, and tracheas: Making every second count

At his checkup yesterday, Lucas was amazing.

Lucas at the vet 08.21.15

He has come so far since those early, fearful, aggressive days when the front desk staff would have to clear the lobby just for Lucas to even walk through the door. No, yesterday, he nailed it. Dogs on flexis, big dogs, little dogs, owners on their cell phones… we parked in the corner and doled out cheese and treats for nearly effortless “watch mes” from the big boy. Be still my proud, proud heart.

We didn’t get good news.

She moved the timeline from months to weeks. We sat on the floor with Lucas and his vet, and we cried. Then we brought him home and gave him a big, nasty, drippy, stinky bone. Which he loved, of course. We’re getting all his favorite things, like shredded cheese sprinkled on his meals from here on out. We bought yogurt and berries to make him ice cream. We’ll do as many micro-hikes as he wants and get him drive-thru afterwards. He’s chomping on a trachea right now.

I woke up just before 5 this morning to him twitching and crying in his sleep. It broke my heart, not because that’s never happened before–they all do it–but because I just want every second he has left to be good. No bad dreams. No bad food or sore muscles. No baths. Nothing but good.

The semester starts up on Monday, and I’m teaching two writing classes. I usually take a short blogging break during the first week because it’s so crazy getting everyone up and running. With this on top of it, well, I doubt I’ll be here much, though I’ll aim to post on Facebook and Instagram as I can.

Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers and messages and support. This is absolutely the hardest part of love.

Cooper’s turn!

It’s pretty fitting that Cooper’s post is a day late.

Poor Cooper.

So many of you kind souls have asked how Coop’s doing with all that’s going on. In some ways, he’s amazing–doing better than I ever could have thought he could do. Home alone for short periods? Nailed it. Doggy daycare without a brother with him? Nailed it. The big one: Boarding for a weekend all by himself? Nailed it! Hiking without his brothers? Eh, I wouldn’t say “nailed it,” but he did alright.

Cooper goes for a hike

I’m proud of him, and I think these past few months have given him the opportunity to find his own voice, so to speak.

That said, it hasn’t been all achievements and strides for this little bean.

Here’s the thing about Cooper: He is extremely bright. Honestly, he’s probably a bit too smart for us. He reads us perfectly, and he often uses that to his advantage. He’s a pro at reading our faces, and we test him sometimes but he never fails. He’s also very sensitive to every sensory detail around him. I think those two facts about his personality–his intelligent and his sensitivity–combine to make him reactive and to make him into a little Velcro strip on my pant leg.

When he reacts to anything, it’s a meltdown. On our walk today, a deer ran across the street, and he started yelping and crying and barking and flailing so loudly that the people at the playground far, far on the other side of the park stopped playing to turn and look to see who was killing a dog in the middle of the street.

All that said, here’s where the problem has been: Immediately after Lucas came home from his amputation, Cooper and Emmett started to get in fights. Not, like, snipes during a game of bite-face that gets too rough. Not corrections, either, like Emmett used to do when Coop was a puppy. All-out, up on their hindlegs fights that don’t fizzle on their own–we have to pull them apart. No real injuries, thank goodness, which shows they’re inhibiting themselves at least a bit, but definite clumps of missing fur and a bitten tongue here and there.

It’s not often. I think since April, they’ve been in a total of maybe six? And, frankly, we haven’t been looking at them at the moment of ignition, so Emmett could be doing something? Though that seems unlikely. Oddly, the fights have all been at meal-time. I say “oddly” because these dogs have never, ever, ever been resource guarders among each other. Never. They can take toys from each other. They snatch up bits of treat crumbles right out of each other’s mouths. We have never had a resource-guarding issue before. Could it be coincidence that this has happened at meal time? Maybe. Someone suggested that Cooper’s maybe unsure of his place now that both big boys are sick, but I don’t subscribe to pack theory and I sort of feel like his role as the spoiled baby hasn’t changed. Who knows.

You know by now that I can’t let problems go unsolved, so we’re working to mitigate future problems. We instituted “on your mat” with one on either side of the island while we prep bowls. Because Cooper is so smart, he knew exactly where he needed to go by the second meal of working on this. Emmett, well, it’s been a few months, and he’s still not entirely sure where his mat is. He usually gets close–like, in a down about six inches from the actual mat–but he doesn’t really have it. That’s okay; Cooper does, which ensures they’re still separated.

That is the only problem he’s had, though it’s a doozy. He’s gotten totally used to walking with us without a brother with him. “Cooper’s turn!” we shout as we get ready to take him for a walk or a hike or something special. He starts wagging and runs over to wait for his leash. On his doggy daycare day, he pops out of bed, raring to go even without Lucas.

I honestly think he’s just internalizing all the stress he can sense in the air, you know? He knows something’s up, but he doesn’t understand it. So he lashes out when the stress builds up. We’re running with him more (I still hate it… when does this get easier?!) and giving him puzzles to work on and extra attention when the bigs are sleeping the day away. And it’s not like this is a daily or even weekly thing. It’s just odd and upsetting.

Cooper and Newt
Cooper and Newt are still besties!

So, that’s the Cooper update! It’s really 90% great and only this little bit bad, but of course that’s what I’m fixated on. Overall, though, I’m super proud of the little bean. He’s come out of his shell in many ways already, and I know the more we practice getting him to be confident on his own, the better he’ll do!

Some of it is good. All of it is hard.

I wrote this post while staring down at my belly button… please forgive its length and self-absorption.

Lucas and his one block walk 08.12.15
Today’s walk

When John started his new job, one of the benefits was a spousal life insurance policy. So, of course, I filled out the paperwork.

And got turned down. For life insurance. Why? Because, and I’m paraphrasing here, at this point in my life, it’s still statistically more likely that I will die from cancer than not.

Truthfully, I’ve been doing okay with all this by simply putting one foot in front of the next, by focusing on one step and one action at a time. Keep moving forward. But that? That was a bummer.

I’ve lost a lot of things to cancer, in addition to my life insurance policy qualifications: I’ve lost hair. I’ve lost weight (which I gained back double… sigh). I’ve lost lymph nodes. I’ve lost the integrity of some relationships that I thought were one thing but cancer proved that they were another. I’ve lost sharing Lukey’s golden years with him because it’s going to take him too soon. It’s always too soon.

I’ve also lost the desire to pour my energy into things that aren’t really my problem. I’ve lost the self-absorption (this post notwithstanding) that allows negativity to seep in and leak out over day-to-day stuff. I’ve lost the ability to tell the dogs “not now” when they shove my fingers off the keyboard asking for a walk because from now on it will always and forever be “sure, let’s go.”

I’ve gained perspective on my priorities. I’ve always tried to be a positive person, but now I’m a grateful person, too. I hope so anyway. I’m naturally introverted, phone averse, and shy, but I’ve gained a bit of confidence that, I also hope, has made me a better friend.

(Except, Erin, if you’re reading this today… I’m so sorry Grace’s gift is still on my desk… no excuse but the aforementioned navel gazing… and post office aversion…)

Anyway, last night on his twice daily jaunt up and down our street, Lucas lost traction. He stopped to catch his breath, then he laid down in the neighbor’s backyard.

Among all the things I’ve lost and will lose to cancer, the most devastating is my Lucas. I’ve always said that if Emmett is my heart dog, Lucas is my soul dog. (Cooper is my little co-dependent angel, but that’s a story for another day. Actually, several of you thoughtful friends have asked how Cooper’s doing with all this. I’ll write that update for Friday.)

Recently, someone suggested that maybe I was being too positive in my posts about all this, that maybe I needed to share the hard stuff, too. I get that. But the thing is, it’s all hard. All of it. Every single second of it. Every wag of his tail. Every rest stop on a short around-the-block walk. Every song he sings. Every stuffie he snatches from Coop and shreds on the living room floor. It’s all hard. That’s not what I want to focus on. Today’s post I think will be it. Because focusing on the road ahead won’t allow us to focus on the moment, the right now, the joy he gets from those short neighborhood hops and toy shredding sessions. The only way I want to move forward is by staying in this exact moment, one little hop at a time.

Promise to lift my eyes up from my navel very soon. In the meantime, thanks for being here, and I hope you’re having a wonderful week.

One last note. A favor, really. There are too many friends, too many dogs facing down cancer right now. It’s unfair. When you’re thinking your happy thoughts or saying your prayers for today, please think of our friends Callie and Maggie, a good news diagnosis for Honey, and for our human friends Jeff and Sara.

On cancer and kindness

We heard the elderly couple express their fears of administering an oral chemo at home to their dog, Dixie. Their concerns centered around one theme: What if something goes wrong?

We heard them tell the oncology resident about Dixie, about how she literally saved their lives from a burglar and how she, as his farm-hand, saved him from a charging bull.

We heard them explain how she’s their baby, how their kids are grown, but she’s everything to them.

We, of course, were already wrecked at that point, and hearing their worry pour out touched my heart. When the resident walked away, we jumped in. We explained that Emmett was on an oral chemo for over a year, and we shared our experience. They asked us how we get him to take the pills–because Dixie is picky about pills–and we said we give him his worst one shoved inside a large marshmallow every day. They asked us if we subscribed to a veterinary journal about cancer. We don’t, but they said it was invaluable and pulled out a file with marked-up, highlighted articles. We chatted some more and discovered that they live in another part of Bloomington, the opposite side of town from where we are. Before we both got pulled into exam rooms, they asked for our address so that they could send us information about that veterinary journal.

Our appointments ended at the same time, and we parted ways at checkout.

A few days later, John went out to get the mail and came back with a photocopy of the latest issue of the journal along with a note and a reply card so that we could mail it in to start a subscription.

That gesture–the couple going through the effort of photocopying the magazine, then driving it with a reply card all the way across town–that kind gesture perfectly reflects the tremendous kindness that accompanies cancer.

The kind messages and emails that we’ve gotten…

The tremendous outpouring of support for the eBook I launched last week…

The tips and tricks from others who have been through the same diagnoses…

The support, the unending positivity, the kind words, the wishes for light and healing and peace…

If you’re someone who turns on the TV or looks at the internet or reads the paper or posts on Facebook–that is to say, if you’re a human alive in 2015–it’s easy to get bogged down in negativity and fear. Because those are the stories that get told. Day in and day out, watching all that negativity unfold, it’s easy to become negative. To become fearful and disheartened at the behavior of other humans.

There are so many horrible aspects to cancer, whether it’s you experiencing it or someone else, that drain your physical and mental energy. But the constant that helps replenish what’s drained is the bottomless well of kindness that comes from friends, family, and perfect strangers.

All that negativity? It’s really just a teeny sliver of what really goes on.

What really goes on is love. And kindness. And support. And warm wishes and positivity and connection, real human connection.

I don’t think those stories are told enough, so to say thank you for all your support over the last week, I guess I wanted to share one of those stories–the lovely, thoughtful, kind gesture of nearly perfect strangers.

Thank you for your support. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for your wishes and words and thoughts.

Lukey sure is tired (though still a goofball!), but all of our spirits are lifted because of your kindness. Thank you.Lucas is a goofball 08.10.15