This isn't an easy blog to write.
Our precious Max has cancer. To be specific, he has Canine Lymphoma.
He was given four to eighteen months to live.
Ironically, we received this horrible news precisely one week after the one-year anniversary of the day Max became the newest member of our odd little family. We call ourselves The Misfit Toys.
There's Little Miss Princess Kitty Kitty. To her, everything belongs to her because... well... This is her kingdom so whatever she finds there belongs to her. She's an orange tabby polydactyle, meaning, she has thumbs... and extra toes on her back paws. Because she has extra toes on her front and back paws, and she's an orange tabby, and she's a "she," among polydactyles she is rather rare.
There's also Little Bit, a Russian Blue we took in after she was abandoned in the parking lot where I
worked in 98 degree heat. She was about 10 days old, dehydrated and hungry. She wasn't given very good odds of surviving but we took the challenge. We took shifts bottle-feeding her every two hours. We had to burp her and even stimulate her little kitty-bits to make her go to the bathroom because she was even too small to know how to do that on her own.
Then there is Einstein, our goofy, nevertheless well-trained and highly protective German Shepherd Dog. He went through months of private lessons, a six-week boot camp at a glorious place in Brooksville, Florida called New Sentry K-9. He even earned his Canine Good Citizenship Certificate from the American Kennel Club. He sheds a lot and loves to play soccer. If you ever turn on a garden hose around him you will be expected to engage in an enthusiastic round of "water the puppy." We adopted him from the Humane Society about a year and half ago. Six months after Einstein became a member of the Misfit Toys we decided to look for a Chihuahua. We found Max.
The Lord moves...
Max is a big boy. Where most male Bulldogs average about 50 pounds, Max tilts the scale between 75 and 80 pounds. So, while he thinks he's a lap dog, his size can be a bit challenging to deal with, especially when he gets excited or wants to express his never ending affection.
Getting a kiss from Max is like getting slathered with a wet chamois. It might start as a harmless nuzzle... but if you giggle or, my God, make eye contact... Well. You're gonna need a towel.
Along with snoring... loudly... he barks in his sleep. He also howls… loudly, with extended hang-time. It always makes me laugh out loud.
If you gasp, and open your eyes real wide, and whisper, "What's that?" He will freeze, his pupils will dilate and then he will spring up in the air and hit the ground running like a wind-up toy with lots of intentions but with absolutely no clue where he's going.
I shared the story of Einstein and Max in a previous post. They became new residents of the Brunswick Mineral Springs Bed and Breakfast back in January when I moved here to take over management of the B&B.
Max loved it here. With 27 acres of unfettered land and with so many things to smell and pee on, what dog wouldn't love being here? Since he doesn't take heat very well he could usually be found sitting under a shade tree, watching the squirrels and butterflies. He finds such joy sitting in gardens, smelling the flowers. He has always reminded me of Ferdinand the Bull.
Then one day, I was sitting on my bed with my daughter giving Max some playful belly and face rubs and my hands slid across something abnormal on his neck. A chill shot straight through to my toes. You know that feeling. The one you get when you suddenly that realize something is very wrong.
I scheduled a trip to Florida and contacted his veterinarian. Her name is Dr. Donna Mignemi, D.V.M. of Nature Coast Mobile Veterinary Services. She has been our family vet for many years and we trust her implicitly.
By the morning of his Friday appointment I was on the phone begging them to come right away. He was so weak he could barely stand. He was shivering from a high fever, he was struggling to get air into his lungs and his lymph nodes were the size of plums. By the time Dr. Mignemi arrived he was in such bad shape. She gave me the bad news right away. Canine Lymphoma. But a biopsy would be needed to confirm the diagnosis. She said we could start him on Prednisone. But when she began pulling meds from the cabinets she stopped and put her hands on the counter.
"I'm calling it." She said, explaining that she had been a veterinarian for decades and of all of the cases of canine lymphoma cases she had diagnosed she had only been wrong once and she was calling this one, right now.
She then advised me to start chemo… right now... In her opinion he would not survive the weekend. If we stared treatment with prednisone, it would make his system immune to the full benefits of the chemo... and we wouldn't get confirmation of the biopsy until Monday. Time was of the utmost importance. In addition, she just so happened to have a spare chemo therapy dose in the mobile unit because another dog in her care has the same thing. The Lord provides. Amen.
She explained the regimen. Treatments will be once per week, every Friday at 5PM, with an average cost of about $500 per month. I gave her the go-ahead. We'll just keep praying for a way to pay for it. I started a GoFundMe account so, if you feel so inclined. Prayers would be much appreciated.
On top of the chemo, there are his ancillary drugs. There's the prednisone and other antibiotics to help combat infections while the chemo battles the cancer and subsequently weakens his immune system. There are also meds for his occasional bouts of nausea and vomiting. We've added a type of CBD Oil made for canines. That seems to help better than the nausea meds... But there are days when he needs both. Oh... Buy stock in Kraft, thick-sliced cheese. Wrapping his meds in cheese is about the only way he'll take that many pills every day.
After giving Dr. Migmemi the go-ahead, I had to leave the mobile unit so she and her (assistant) husband could administer the chemo. I sobbed all the way back to the house. I sobbed as I stood at the front window staring at the mobile unit and waited for it to be finished. I sobbed when I went back inside the mobile unit and saw little Max sitting up on the table with his head hung low and I sobbed when saw the patch of shaved fur where the needle went in. It's just so hard to believe that our little boy is going to die. We've only had him for one year! It's bitter sweet seeing the automated Anniversary Facebook posts popping up of when we first brought him home.
Because his veterinarian is in Florida, my husband (Tom)and I decided it would be best if Max stayed with him at our house in Florida. It would not be wise to change that cart in the middle of this river. He sends me photos, and regular reports are relayed over the phone. It was so hard for Tom the first time he had to be the one staring at the mobile unit through the front window while he waited for the chemo treatment to be administered.
We cry with each other about Max a lot lately. It's hard not to be afraid. We know it's inevitable. We just don't know how long we have with our little boy.
Tom had lunch with a friend the other day whose wife is a veterinarian. She said that (sadly), when hearing the diagnosis of cancer in a pet, most people don't bother with chemo. It's an economic thing for most, I know. But we just couldn't... Our fur-babies are just that, our babies. We just couldn't give up on him.
Aside from the few days where the chemo kicks his butt, you would never know that Max has cancer. Dr. Mignemi said that most dogs, unlike most humans, respond rather quickly and very well to chemo. Most days, he's playful, energetic, annoying... He's, Max! He loves his short, nevertheless enthusiastic walks around the block and then spending the rest of the day lounging on the sofa in the air conditioned comfort of the house.
Tom is a wonderful fur-daddy, the kind that would make most women go, "awwww!" He's also very skilled in the kitchen (another bonus) so he has now turned his culinary skills toward creating foods to help our boy stay strong during this challenge.
While three of the chemo treatments Max receives each month are administered intravenously by the veterinarian, there is one treatment per month that Tom must administer orally, by hand, for four days. He must wear gloves when handling this medication, and Dr. Mignemi advises that (because of the nature of his chemo medications) other animals not be allowed around areas where Max might relieve himself. That means Einstein, who came back with me to the B&B alone.
Einstein misses Max, I can tell you that. You see, there's his bed (a large, memory-foam mattress big enough to accommodate a toddler), and then there's Max's bed (a smaller, oval-shaped bowl-style bed that's stuffed with fluffy batting. Lately, he prefers sleeping in the smaller bed that smells like Max.
One of the most touching things about this experience is how Little Bit has responded. Since the day Max came back to Florida, she has not left his side.
On his good days, she will engage him in play... or pester him until he understands that it's time to play, and she will follow him around to see what mischief they might get into together. Their favorite adventure is to go digging for yummies in the garbage bag. He gets it open, she helps drag things out so they can conduct inventory. She will nap with him during the day and cuddle wherever he is at night. In any case, she will always be where she can see him.
However, on his bad days, when the best he can do is lay on the cool tile floor and keep breathing, she will just lay near him and reach out to touch his paw so he knows she's there.
Max and Little Bit became members of our family about the same time and from the first day she was allowed to venture out to explore the house on her own she gravitated toward Max.
She was little more than the size of his head when they were first introduced but she never feared him. Since that first day she was always up under his feet, attacking his ankles, stalking him and jumping on his back and riding (very briefly) him like a horse. And Max tolerates the annoyances of his little sister so patiently. No matter how much she pesters him he just stands there like the tolerant big brother, hanging his big head waiting and watching until she wears herself out. When she's finished, he lays down, she snuggles up against him and they take a little nap.
He was given four to eighteen months. It's been one month since he was diagnosed. It's so hard. It's the "not knowing how long," part that's the worst, I think. The odds are not in his favor, but we cling to hope anyway. Most dogs who wind up with a cancer diagnosis are much older than Max. SO maybe his youth, stubbornness and incredible jest for life will be part of his winning strategy. Maybe he will be our success story. Reading the survivor stories of others does give me great comfort and courage.
Do you have a sick fur-baby? Share your story and some photos in the comment section. Do youhave questions? Advice?
In the meantime, if you do have pets and they seem perfectly fine, go give them a hug anyway.
You never know...