Today is a special day. Fifteen months ago, on May 4th, 2009, our beautiful Red Dog faced the surgeon's scalpel and both won and lost something important. She lost her right front leg and scapula, receiving in exchange hundreds and hundreds of stitches and staples, and she won a reprieve, a reprieve from the ticking of her life's clock thanks to the insidious cancer that lurked within her. What has she done since then? The picture above is a perfect frozen frame of what we've tried to make her life be...a celebration of joy and fun and everyday stuff. A celebration of time, our most precious gift.
Where does this time go? And how much do we have? These ruminations may sound contrived and overly-dramatic, but they illustrate the urgency felt as our pets age, especially one that has beaten the odds as Shiva has. The bittersweet passage of the days is inextricably woven with the ecstatic joy of survival and the absolute certitude of mortality. The endpoint is upon us before we know it, often without warning.
Emotions were raw as Shiva's Mom and I took the Red Dog to see Dr. Maples for some blood work and a checkup two weeks ago in anticipation of her latest milestone. Fifteen months might not seem like a lot, but when considering the multiples of aging in dogs combined with the massive odds against surviving osteosarcoma for that long, it may as well be an eternity. Even with amputation and multiple rounds of chemo, fewer than half of the dogs with the disease make it to a year. Without chemo (or with only one round, like Shiva had), it's four to five months.
Our stress was off the charts as we arrived at the clinic. Shiva, sensing this - along with the fact that bad things were certain to happen there - immediately began pulling for the door and whining like a puppy, two things those who know her know aren't characteristic of her. Fortune smiled on all of us, however, as Dr. Brandi and her crack staff made quick work of the exam and extraction of fluids, and we were out the door in short order. We then took Shiva and newly-liberated foster kitty Pink to see her surgeon Dr. Mitch, who was pleasantly surprised to see her in such good condition so long after surgery. After that, we dropped off Pink and headed back to the house with the knowledge that the unknown soon was to become known, no matter how terrible the truth might be.
We put our experience with waiting to the test over the next 48 hours. After all, we waited to find out if Shiva was healthy enough for surgery, waited to find out if Shiva survived surgery, waited to see if she would recover from surgery, waited for the results of previous post-op blood tests. So we waited...and prayed. And waited some more.
Two days later, a nondescript text message arrived proclaiming the health and fitness of the Red Dog. Just like that, we were off the hook. Again.
How do you express gratitude for such a thing? How do you reconcile her survival with the pups that don't live that long, or don't even make it through surgery? How do you explain it?
While the conventional expectation of the miraculous is sudden and certain change, maybe it's the slow, gradual approach we should be seeking. Indeed, is it not miraculous that this goofy dog is still here? Certainly the odds say so. Dr. Mitch said she exceeded all prognoses and expectations, and he's the steely-eyed professional. After all, inspiration is where you find it...you just have to look. Maybe she's here to inspire others. Maybe she's here to inspire us. Whatever the case, we're choosing to see the miraculous, however small it may be, in the life of our dog.
And if you really think about it, maybe that's exactly the kind of place the truth ought to be.