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.

 

Well, on June 13, my new seven week old Golden Retriever puppy picked me and I brought him home. I have had dogs all my life and raised all of them from this tender age but had not done it for ten years. I felt like a rookie all over again. Like any new mother with her first baby, I felt overwhelmed with a litany of new responsibilities and adjustments I had not thought about – or forgotten about

I had formulated all these grand ideas about separate vaccinations for each disease, natural products to protect against fleas and ticks – no massive combo vaccines or Frontline for me.

Then reality set in.

It is almost impossible to obtain separate vaccines for the principle diseases a puppy can get – they are sold in 4,5, 6 vaccine combinations and all the vets around here use at least a combo of four – so I caved and accepted the four shot combo (parvo, distemper, canine hepititis and adenovirus-2 vaccine)  – no leptospirosis though. At least not for this year. And, of course, since no one knows when a puppy loses its mother’s immunity so when the vaccines kick in effectively, Spirit is being given these vaccines four times, three weeks apart until he hits 16 weeks, when it is generally assumed the vaccines will be certainly effective.

A month later, he will get his rabies vaccine – I wanted it done separately mainly to avoid the possibility of a reaction with too many vaccines at one time – and to assure, if he does happen to have a reaction to the rabies vaccine, it would not be confounded by all the other vaccines.

At the same time he gets the rabies vaccine, I will have blood titers run for the antibodies associated with the other four vaccines to assure they were indeed successful. I want to know he is, indeed, protected. Next year, instead of any re- vaccinations, I will run the blood titers again. If the numbers look good, there will be no more vaccinations until the titers indicate he needs them. After the first year or two of good titers (just to build up a data base for his blood antibodies), I will probably recheck the titers every 2-3 years and hopefully, he will never need another vaccination (other than the required-by-law rabies shot).

As to my resistence to Frontline, well, when Spirit began scratching himself every 5 minutes and getting scabs on his body from fleas and I tried spraying him with my newly purchased assortment of essential oils – mainly cedar oil based – and the scratching did not abate at all (although he smelled like a brand new cedar chest) – and the vet confirmed a flea infestation. Being the chemical engineer by training who I am, I caved and gave him a Frontline Plus treatment and started vacuuming my house and washing my bedding periodically.

Within a few days, the scratching stopped, the scabs healed up and here we are.

The vet helped convince me – Frontline has an excellent safety record according to her (everything I find on the internet, pro and con, is all anecdotal anyway); she argued it does not go into the blood stream but follows the fat containing cells at the base of hair folicules along the skin – and it does not merely repel fleas but kills them (and the FL Plus kills fleas at different stages of  development as well) and my own research indicated that, if you choose to use an insecticide on your dog, Frontline is the safest choice out there. And, it lasts for a month.

Not only does FL deal effectively with fleas, just as importantly, it will deal with ticks – and we have plenty of them around here too.

Does any of this prove FL has no adverse effects on my dog? No. But, I watched him driving himself crazy with scratching, thought about how I would like living like that and said to myself, I am not going to watch this happen and not do something THAT WORKS to relieve his misery.

If it were me, would I rather live a long life constantly itching or a shorter life free of it? Simple answer for me. And this assumes FL shortens life. We really don’t know that either.

So, while I am at peace with my choices, I am disappointed I had to resort to these measures. I was hoping to avoid them.

Life

.

Golden Retrievers average life expectancy is 10 years. I have known some that have lived 15 years while treated with FL while my four have lived 11, 10, 8 and 8 years – so, maybe it is just the genetics of the breed and the breeding lines more than anything else. No one knows.

So much for my elaborate plans to follow the natural path to pest control for my dog.

 

 

 
 
 And so Chili, my last Golden Retriever, did.
 
As each one who has chosen to be in my life has.
 
Hurts my heart each time they leave. 
 
Why do dogs live such short lives>
 
So we can learn the minutes of life can be counted though we don’t know how many we will have together … and maybe … learn something about making them count.
 
So, we might learn something about Appreciation and Gratitude and Love.
 
So, we might learn something about the meaning of life.
 
They do all this without saying a word.
 
Amazing.

No Form Communication

 

First, a brief excerpt from my soon to be published book, “Dianna’s Way”:

 The spectrum of knowledge a dog has is not congruent with our own, so we deem them less intelligent. Fundamentally, I absolutely know this is not true. Truth is, we have barely a clue about what they know.

I do know, while Dianna lived in the Present almost all of the time, and I am an occasional visitor, it was Chili’s default way of being in every moment. This creates a wisdom we simply do not understand, do not even realize we do not understand, and certainly have no way to language. It is wisdom living in the language of the unspeakable.

All of us who love dogs and live with them learn to communicate with them in our own ways.

What I have learned is that, of course, they figure out what a few of our words mean – certainly the commands words we use in training, and words that alert them to activities they particularly love to do (“want to go outside?”, “go for a ride”, “want to go for a walk?”) and probably a few more. For them, just sounds (all words really are anyway) they learn to associate the corresponding activity, which is all I think it is.

But, in order of most impact, I think a dog responds most strongly to touch, followed by hand movements, followed by the sounds we make (our words) in that order.

These are all what I will call form oriented communication – they rely on the usual senses all animals, including humans, depend on for input data.

However, I have come to believe the most important communication between humans and dogs – at least I will say, between me and my own dog – is what I can only call no form communication.

I have learned over the years – and became particularly sensitive to it during the intense grieving period I went through after my wife, Dianna, died – my dog knows exactly how I feel and responds to those feelings accordingly (some practical examples show up in the book) – and communicates back to me with feelings of his own.

While he is very finely tuned to my feelings, I admit, I am not as adept at sensing his – so, he is keenly conscious at levels I am only weakly conscious.

Of course, it is no news flash human to human interaction contains tons of no form communication happening all the time but most of us generally do not bring this level of communication to consciousness – though we certainly react to it anyway (we may not notice it at all – or call it a “gut feeling” if we do)

This suggests if I am willing to become more conscious, there is an opportunity to communicate with Spirit (my new dog) at a level he understands only too well. Herein lays the possibility of an extraordinary relationship between us – with him the teacher and me the student. Maybe if I can turn down my brain chatter a little and open my heart and body, I might learn something.

And, is there even more beyond this? Is there the possibility of a soul level communication too? I don’t know.

We will see what Spirit has to say about it.  🙂