Below is a story excerpted from my book (still in editing, tentatively titled 11 Life Practices) to provide the background and context we need for what is happening now with Spirit’s cancer treatment process.

In my next post, we will begin reporting both the nitty gritty and spiritual aspects of the healing, treatment process Spirit and I will be using during this adventure in living.

One day I look down at Spirit’s rear leg and notice a lump, the diameter of maybe a quarter near his paw. Where did that come from?

I call the vet and set up an appointment to biopsy the lump.

It is cancer but appears to be a treatable one.

A few days later Spirit and I are driving to our walking place. He has his front feet firmly planted on the center console, his head right next to mine, mouth open, happy, interested, alert. He loves to see where we’re going and what‘s going on out there. He can also easily paw my arm, telling me to pet him. I begin gently stroking his muzzle. Suddenly, I notice another small lump on his lower jaw. My heart sinks.

This has now become more than my local vet can handle.

We visit Michigan State University Small Animal Clinic, the oncology section. After lots of waiting, multiple tests, I learn the lump in his jaw is cancer too. There is not much more they can do to achieve a possible cure, they tell me, unless I want to cut off his leg and remove a chunk of his jaw, then hope for the best. Otherwise, he has months left to live, they say.

Not doing that to him. Wouldn’t do it to me either.

On the long drive back home, I have plenty of time to think about how three of my last four Golden Retrievers died of cancer. About all that Dianna went through with it.

I stumble through the rest of the day and into the night, feeling like I have already lost him. I stare into the dark empty void of my future with terror, writing furiously in my journal, words pouring out of me as if he has already died, my love for him saturated with dread, grief and sorrow.

Suddenly I notice something important.

This story I am writing is the same story I have been telling myself for the entire time I have owned Spirit. All along, I have been thinking thoughts about the past (my other dogs lost to cancer) and about the future (fearing this dog is going to die of cancer too.)

Every day, in some form, I have been whispering in his ear, “I would be lost without you. My life would be empty, like ashes in my mouth, I could not live without you, my dear friend, blah, blah, blah.”

Once again, I am having my legs kicked out from under me, so I might learn what it is I have still have not learned.

“What we fear we bring to ourselves.”

We create our personal reality with our thoughts and feelings, with the stories we tell ourselves, for good or ill.

I already know this!

Dammit!

The light shines even brighter.

When I speak my fears into him, I am urging him to cooperate with the story I am creating. Does he understand my words? No. But he most certainly understands the feelings my words are communicating; feelings akin to desperation, neediness, dependence, of love gone astray. What else can he do but accept them, like a sponge sucks up water. It is what dogs do.

I feel a shift happening within me.

Of course. All our dogs die before we do, except maybe the last one.

Those of us who love our dogs like our own children take this on as a given when we hug a squirming little puppy in our arms for the first time. Our hearts tell us the pain of certain loss is worth it. Their death is just one of the many miraculous gifts they offer to us, helping us to be more present to the preciousness of life, to appreciate more, to be grateful more, to love unconditionally. They offer us a golden opportunity to practice doing what Love does.

They model all this for us with the way they are with us, and with all that life offers them.

In this moment, I see the shining opportunity being offered to me. I can forgive myself for my unconsciousness, then let go of stories that have been weighing me down. He, on the other hand, has no need for any of this. He has no stories resurrecting old fears or future anxieties. He lives almost entirely in the now-here.

So, now it is time for me to wake up.

The next day, after a long day and into the night of working through my thoughts and feelings, I finally wake up to what is. I smile in my heart as I study this beautiful animal, who is is sitting there in front of me, looking up at me.

How silly he looks, and how disconcerted he obviously feels, wearing this blown up plastic pillow around his neck that prevents him from, once again, chewing off the bandages wrapped around his leg.

“Tough, bozo, this is what you get when you won’t leave it alone,” I say, holding his head gently between my hands, staring into his liquid brown eyes.

He stares back into mine. He gets it and he doesn’t.

Just like me.

As with all stories in this (physical) reality, life goes on, with or without Spirit, with or without me.

Life is.

Spiritdog

Well, just found out my dog, Spirit, has cancer.

If anyone is wondering, I named the blog first.

So, when I picked up this tiny squirming puppy almost seven years ago, I knew before I ever saw him, I was going to name him Spirit.

Well, as often as not, I call him Spiritdog.

I told the breeder, I wanted the pick of the litter and a male. I also knew before I went I was going to let him pick me.

There were five males waiting for me when I arrived, all playing together in an outdoor pen. They were all at one end of the pen so I sat on the grass at the other end and waited. All of them came and went but finally, one came over, laid down between my legs, rolled over on his back with his little legs up in the air and looked up at me. (He still does this). In that moment, I had found, in this entire universe, my new Golden Retriever.

So, now I am going to do whatever I can to give him the opportunity to heal himself.

Our medical system does what it can to treat symptoms. With cancer (whether people or dogs) the process is cut, poison and radiate (new research is slowly changing some of this). My deceased wife went through all of it many times over during 17 of the 20 years we were married before she died of cancer in 2008. Not a bad run. She did it with remarkable grace, so much so I wrote a book about her and our journey together titled Dianna’s Way.

So, I have had some experience with cancer.

Treating symptoms never cured anyone but it does buy us time for the body to heal itself. Sometimes we win, sometimes not. But, we all die one day anyway. The real challenge is to hug life tight, live with joy in our hearts and, when the time is right, let go.

So, here we go.

I am going to use this blog to track the entire treatment process for Spirit as well as what I need to do to support him on a practical day to day level . At the same time, I will also report what we go through on a more spiritual level. using the very practices I wrote about in my book, 11 Life Practices.

No doubt, I will do some things well and likely make mistakes too. I’m prone to doing both.

Will, unflinchingly, report all of it.

Until next time, be well my friends.

 

The Origin of 11 Life Practices

Hi Steve, Mark,

As you know, my wife Dianna died at 7:04 AM on February 20, 2008.

As you also know, while still grieving, I started to write a book. I wanted to tell her story, about the way she lived her life.

We were all moved by how she expressed herself in the world.

That book, Dianna’s Way, was a best seller … well, among her friends and family anyway. 🙂 Thanks for buying a copy, by the way. Did sell a few hundred copies and I enjoyed talking to people about it.

Still, I was nagged by a feeling there was still more to say.

What were these qualities that made her stand out?

In Dianna’s Way, I showed the reader what these qualities look like when embodied in a real human being, but nowhere did I identify them, even for myself. Which was fine – it was a memoir not a self help book.

As I began to write this book I slowly realized I was not talking about qualities, I was talking about practices.

Makes sense now. It’s not like we’re born with a list of qualities we then magically use to master the game of life. Regardless of our raw talent, none of us walks out on a baseball field for the first time, already a Hall of Fame player.

To get good at playing the game, we have to practice, practice, practice… And of course there are guys like you that never get any good at it! 🙂 Sitting around drinking beer or smoking joints does not get it done. Okay. Kidding. I admire both of you or I wouldn’t be writing to you.

Anyway, as you now know (finally – I hesitate to tell you I told you so but I told you so) better than I, we are playing a particular game while we are here messing around in physical reality. Sure, we enter this reality imbued with some genetically based talent for playing the game (physical life) but if we want to excel at our position (our unique expression of Infinite Being), we will have to practice if we are to gain the skills needed to become competent at playing our position (our role in the grand game of life).

In the game of life, from our first breath to our last, not a day or an hour or a minute goes by that we are not practicing. We are always in the game, no time outs, like it or not.

The only question is, practicing what?

Some practices are useful for creating a life we love living, some are enough to get us by and some are counter-productive. Of course, I wanted to focus on the former – we all know how to do the rest without trying.

Hence the origin of my upcoming second book, tentatively titled 11 Life Practices/ Creating a Life that Works.

In my next blog, I will talk about why I saw the practices naturally divided into two distinct groups, hence the reason for Part I and II of the book.

Dear Steve and dear Mark,

You guys should have stuck around awhile longer.

I have nearly completed my second book.

Would have loved sharing it with you, seeing how you reacted to it. Of course, I know neither of you can read but at least you could have held it in your hands and admired my great work. 🙂

My working title is 11 Life Practices/ sub title: Creating a Life that Works.

I split the book into two parts.

Part consists of four practices in being.

Part II consists of seven practices in expressing our being.

The two parts are bridged by a chapter called “The Huddle” where we review what is at stake for us all and why these practices matter.

My goal is to publish it sometime in the fall of this year. Hopefully sooner but we will see how it goes. Better done as well as I can than just done.

Miss you both very much.

Will be seeing you soon enough. But not too soon either.

Love always, dear friends

John