Last night, after an hour waiting for the sonogram to be completed, I got the news--my dog has cancer. Winston, the big, genial American Bulldog I've had for almost 11 years--now has a fast-growing, malignant tumor on his heart that will kill him in a few months.
"Because of the way it wraps around the heart, it's inoperable, it can't be sectioned," the vet explained as I sobbed into a wad of crumpled tissues. "All you can do is make him comfortable at this point."
Winston has been in my life for 11 years. He wasn't meant to be my dog--when we bought him, I was living in the New Jersey suburbs with my husband and 13-year-old son, both of whom thought having a giant bulldog would be fun. But somehow, I was the person the dog ended up loving most, and when my ex-husband and I split in 2005, he was insistent that the dog (and the cat) go with me. In the 5 years since then, Winston's been my constant companion through three moves, an equal number of relationships, and a complete re-thinking of what I want and who I am. Always good-natured, always ready for a walk (or a pat), Winston's been one of those loving animal friends who keep humans' blood pressure down and hold depression at bay.
Sadly, though, it's these giant breeds--Rotties, bulldogs, Great Dances in particular--that can get these malignant tumors as they age--on the spleen, the liver, or the heart. Manifested through weakness, vomiting, swollen tummies, and general malaise, these fast-growing cancers cause internal bleeding that manifests as anemia (pink, pale gum) and malaise, and ends up as weakness, heart attacks, internal bleeding and, yes, death.
It is so hard to look at my dog--begging for bits of toast in the kitchen this morning, then snoring at my feet as I type, and recognize that, three months from now, he will probably be feeling quite different--sick, weak, frightened and in pain. That thought keeps making me cry.
How can I protect and care
for this pet I love without cutting him time short too early? How can I make
sure this cancer doesn't steal away his life?
No matter what I do, Winston is going to sicken and die. I can be witness to it, I can be owner and supporter, but a process has started I do not have the power to unwind.
And so, I cry.
I cry for my dog, for the years we spent together, for the affection and good humor he has given me. I cry for the future, for the pain and suffering he can't see, but that I imagine is to come. And I cry for the end of life, the death we will come to together, that moment--natural or imposed--when Winston will die and cross that rainbow bridge, leaving me to remember the best, most-loved pet I've ever had.
Buddy, I love you. And I cry for that.