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January 10, 2013

I suffer certain doubts about how Lilly’s vaccine-induced illness is going and how it might end. I experience real dread at key points in the hills and valleys of our journey — as it stretches now into its second year. At times, I fear that I’m making bad decisions about Lilly’s ongoing treatment. I still cry … a lot. Perhaps that goes without saying. 

So as not to burden anyone, I do most of my crying in the shower, on our walks, or in the car.

The darkest times come:

  • On the drive down for Lilly’s first of four cytarabine injections every three weeks
  • Once we’re home after injection #4

best dog blog champion of my heart headlights photoThere is something about that pre-sunrise drive, in the dark and cold, that feels hopeless. Even with my brights on, I see only a fraction of the winding canyon road ahead. That view lasts the first 20 minutes / 10 miles of our drive. Here and there we get a glimpse of the city below. Otherwise, it’s a bit like being in a tunnel.

Then, we break out into “town,” with more traffic, and I see others scuttling off to work or to do something fun.

Me? I know I’m only on the first of 8 road trips in the next 48 hours. It’s discouraging for the logistics alone.

4 hours in the car both days.

The drive gives me time to think. Probably too much. I ask myself many questions that being with … “What if?”

You’d assume after the fourth injection Sunday evening, when Lilly and I are home safely, that I might feel a certain euphoria that it’s “over” for another 3 weeks.

It’s true sometimes.

But, other times, I watch her sleeping — because she is always EXHAUSTED at the end of a chemo weekend — and I worry.

I worry the meds are taking more of a toll than I realize. I worry that she feels icky, even though I’m told the meds don’t really hit full effect until a week or so later. I doubt my early treatment decisions and my choices to continue.

  • It’d be one thing if Lilly was old. She isn’t.
  • It’d be another thing if we knew Lilly’s case was hopeless. We don’t.
  • It’d be easier if there was a treatment end point. There isn’t.

This could be our new life for the long haul. It’s exhausting to contemplate.

Tom and I talked during our holiday break about where we’ve been — with ongoing illnesses and recent deaths in the family. We talked about how this year might be different. I admitted that I feared it wouldn’t be.

Tom suggested I imagine that certain things — the good things — are new so that I could muster some excitement about them.

While Lilly’s recovery status quo — not increasingly better, but no worse either — feels a bit like a slog day to day, Tom suggested I remember the relief of her recovery at all … after we nearly lost her again in August 2012.

And, yet, there is doubt … if I’m being honest. I’m not sure whether or not I would make the same treatment decisions if I’d known on day 1 what I know now.

I went with my gut. “Save. My. Girl,” I pleaded.

It’s such a blessing that they did. And, still … and, still … in my dark moments, I doubt.

Maybe there is something to be said for taking a view-from-the-headlights perspective on situations like ours. Try to look too far ahead, and you’ll find only darkness. Focus on what’s in front of you and take it as it comes. Pay attention only to the task at hand ~~ keeping Lilly happy, healthy, and clean.


About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. I’m so sorry for your internal struggle. My heart is breaking for you. I do know that following your own heart was probably what most of us dog parents would have done, especially not knowing the long road that lie ahead. I hope this new year brings you peace.

  2. Roxanne, I’m dealing with some very similar things in my own life. Having been forced to make a huge decision in the worst of circumstances. Finally, after a couple of months, I used sheer will power to stop second guessing myself. After awhile… I did. It helped some. None of knows what lies around the bend. I’m trying hard to live in the “now” these days. Not easy, but the times I succeed… are good. Sending hugs.

  3. I think sometimes when we are so caught up in the angst and emotion which comes from dealing with this type of situation, it is easy to lose ourselves in the doom and gloom.

    I would voice what others have said, focus on the good things, enjoy the little moments that are so special, hold onto those. Write them down. Paste one on the visor in your car. When you are driving, when those thoughts creep in, look at those special moments. They will get you through.

    It’s easy to spend our lives saying what if…and second guessing ourselves, had you made a different choice you wouldn’t have these special moments to hold on to.

  4. Roxanne, as an Oncology Nurse I’ve met with many of your questions and concerns with my cancer patients and their families. Always the question “but what if”… “did I do the right thing?”

    Roxanne, you made the decision at that moment that you felt was the BEST for your pup, and it was the best decision. Lilly will let you know when enough is enough…you will know…

    Learn (as I know you have) to seek the joy of moment and treasure it (like when Lilly was up all night and jumped on your bed cause she was feeling so good). Don’t dwell on the future cause it can cause negative thoughts that squashes that beautiful Joy you felt just an hour ago when Lilly made you laugh. Learn to live only for the day – it’s sufficient enough. Don’t let the future rob you of today’s treasure.

    Chemo takes it’s toll on Lilly, on you, your husband… the caregiver (you) feels the brunt far more than the patient. Take a moment for yourself each day also – Lilly will forgive… :o}

    You and Lilly will know when enough is enough… and that’s okay…just take the Joy of the Moments… their still there…


    1. That’s good advice, Debra. Thank you. I’m pretty sure part of my struggles are the recent loss of Tom’s mom (to cancer) and the looming loss of my mom (from a neurological condition that has symptoms similar to Lilly’s). It’s as if I cannot “get over” things because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I need to figure my way out of that.

      1. Why “When it rains, it pours” happens at the worst of times, Roxanne, I don’t know… but know this – those things you have no control of (Tom’s mom passing, your own momma’s illness, Lilly’s reaction to the vaccine) give you the opportunity to grasp those moments even more. Yes, it is hard “getting over” things when you are anticipating that “shoe to drop”.

        Dear FB friend – that “shoe” can drop at any time for any one or anything. As hard as it seems to do, try not to wait for it to drop – you’ll miss a treasure or three…

        You know…you’re doing better than you think.

      2. In my own life I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop. And a neighbor just died of cancer which intensified my feelings of doom and anticipations of grief.
        But as I was brushing my teeth yesterday the phrase “Just let it go” popped into my head. I took it to mean don’t live for the future, live for today and inhale every moment of togetherness and love and peace we share with those we love. Our time together is limited. That’s rule No. 1.
        Debra is so wise. Find a quiet time to really absorb what she advised.
        Whatever you decide know Lily’s life was given back to her in spades when you adopted her. With you and Tom she’s had more happiness and security than fate seemed destined to grant her.
        And what has she given you? What have you learned from her? Have you made a list?
        Her time with you has been a true partnership. Together you will agree on the right path to take.

        1. Thanks, Cybele. The blog, in a way, is a record of the many things Lilly has given me, but the main thing is that she has been at my side at many terrible, terrible times in my life when others (for a variety of reasons) couldn’t be.

  5. Roxanne, this post really resonates with me. Sebastian was only sick a week before he passed away, but I had the same doubts. I still do. I wonder if I could have done more if I had the financial resources or if keeping him alive caused unneccessary suffering for him. We just never know the answers and do the best we can. I think about you and Lilly a lot and love your honesty in these updates.

    1. Thank you for noticing and appreciating the honesty / raw element of our posts lately. I’m no fan of the dark time of year, so that doesn’t help. Plus, it has been so doggone cold. I’m so sorry again for your loss, but I’m happy that you’ve added a few feline friend into the mix.

  6. I had a dog with a chronic problem that resulted in him being in a similar condition as Lilly. We dealt with it for four years and I felt a lot of the doubts that you do. His problem started acutely and I had the same reaction as you, too…just please save my boy.

    Had I known what the next four years held for us at that point, I might not have been brave enough to hope for him to survive, but I would’ve missed out on some exceptional time with him.

    I worried that I wouldn’t know when it was time to stop, but when that time came, I knew it and I believe he did, too. And so will you. All any of us can do is what we think is best in the moment. You love Lilly and she loves you and lots of us love both of you…

    I know that isn’t any practical help, but cry when you need to and trust your instincts. You and Lilly are an amazing team.

    1. Thanks, LeeAnne. Whew 4 years? If we could just get the incontinence under control, it would be a real boost to my stamina for the day-to-day care. Today has been particularly long and gross and stinky. I hate that I spend so much time dealing with that, rather than simply being with Lilly and enjoying her.

  7. I have followed your blog since near the beginning of this. I can empathize with your feelings. I just bought pet health insurance because I know I can’t afford the type of treatment you are giving her although I am sure its really financially hard for you. I never want to have to make the decision to put my baby down just for the sake of money. What a terrible decision. At the same time could I, in the event she would not recovery or have a less than happy life, make the decision to end her life? I hope I am never faced with that. God bless you and Lilly. She is lucky to have you. You may doubt your decisions but you have made them with the total of your heart and passion for her. Most people do not value their dogs enough to spend any amount of money to save them. You inspire me no matter what you decide in the future. Whatever that decision is I believe you will make it with Lilly’s best interest at heart.

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