Monday, January 30, 2012

Best Birthday, Ever




Yeah, today's my birthday and a good one it was. Great, one might even say, if one could ignore the personally addressed solicitation from Lone Tree Cemetery in Hayward that arrived, alongside flowers and birthday greetings, announcing, "Hurry, special 50% offer ends February 29!"

Seriously, folks.

That faux paux aside, family and friends spoiled me, reminding me (as if I could forget) that I am indeed surrounded by the cream of the crop. Pretty damned lucky, yes.

But, I have to confess, the star of the show was Elvis. And you have to understand why.

Last Friday morning, I was getting ready to leave for work when I went to say goodbye to Olivia, then Elvis when OMIGOD what was that? An angry looking, swollen, walnut-sized lump had sprouted overnight on the incision site on his neck. Gingerly, I touched the intruder. It was hot. Soft. Bulging. It didn't appear to be causing him pain, but damn, the thing was huge.

I sent a text to my manager explaining I'd be late, but in my heart I didn't really think I'd be late. I didn't think I'd be coming in at all. Because while driving Elvis to Dr. Arnott's office, I was convinced that this was "it." He would tell me that the tumor had returned and it was best to just accept the inevitable and put my boy out of his misery. Now.

And I was prepared to do just that. Wore my glasses because I can't see clearly when I'm wearing my contacts and crying. Wore my mom's special necklace because I want her spirit with me when I send Elvis into her arms. And tried to ignore that sick throbbing knot in the pit of my stomach.

After Dr. Arnott examined Elvis, I steadied myself for the words I've been dreading. I certainly wasn't expecting, "This might be good."

What?

He suspected that the lump was filled with the disintegrating remains of the tumor. Remains that were killed by the new chemo Elvis had two weeks ago. "I think it's working," Dr. Arnott said incredulously while extracting the liquid. "There's no other explanation for this fluid." He reminded me that this cancer is not curable, but the chemo appeared to be having the desired effect: stunting the growth of the tumor and buying time.

This weekend, Elvis polished off every morsel I put before him, eating with a gusto that made my heart sing. We took walks, albeit slow, but steady, and I let him take the lead and go where he wanted to go. He's a smart boy. He knows which routes are long, which paths are peppered with the lemon grass he loves to nibble on, and which are the shortcuts that take a measly 15 minutes.

Of course, he chose the long paths. With Olivia by my side, obediently restraining her youthful energy, it took us two hours to complete a simple two-mile walk. But the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and Elvis was relishing every nibble, every sniff, every step.

As was I.

This was a gift I didn't see coming. And one that helped make this such a great birthday.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Vegetarian at the Butcher Shop





Years ago, I read an interview with the country singer, Naomi Judd. And don't quote me here, but I recall a line where she said something about being a vegetarian "...but not a fanatic."

The concept resonated because, uh, that would be me. As a most-of-the-time vegetarian, I do occasionally succumb to a Caesar chicken salad, Casper's Hot Dog or backyard barbecued hamburger. Smothered in ketchup. Yum.

But most of the time I'm straight-up, hard-core veggies. My original reason for going vegetarian was simple. I felt better. Healthier. Leaner. It was only after watching the horrific, eye-opening documentary, Food Inc. that I understood and embraced the humanitarian aspects of vegetarianism.

Now, when I do make that rare meat or poultry purchase, I drive out of my way to shop at the grocery store nicknamed "Whole Paycheck." I'll spend the extra money for products with those buzz words: free-range, grass fed, cage free, and trust that it's true. I can only hope that somewhere, a cow or chicken didn't suffer for my lapse.

Lately, however, I'm pressed for time and shopping at the grocery store closest to home, grabbing any beef or chicken that's readily available, buzz words be damned. I'm in the kitchen, grilling, frying, roasting and searing, using techniques that are foreign to my brown rice-tofu-eating ways.

I'm doing anything I can to entice Elvis to eat.

His throat is still bothering him from his recent surgery and kibble is an obvious irritant. Ah, but ground beef with mashed potatoes soaked in chicken broth? It takes him awhile, but slowly, surely, he licks his bowl clean. Much to the dismay of Olivia, I might add, who watches his every move hoping for a stray morsel.

This is why, with apologies to all the cows and chickens out there, this most-of-the-time vegetarian is temporarily forsaking her ways and surrendering to the dark side, if only for the sake of my dog. Because these days, there's only one buzz word I care about.

And that's Elvis.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Quality Time



I'm feeling sad tonight, so very sad.

Took Elvis to the vet this afternoon to get the stitches removed from the throat surgery he had two weeks ago, and to have his general condition evaluated.

It's been my observation that he just hasn't bounced back from this second operation, but what do I know? I"m just his "mom" after all, and not a veterinary professional. Maybe Dr. Arnott would see something I wasn't seeing, something good. Something optimistic. Something to give me hope that my boy might be okay after all.

"We probably shouldn't continue the chemo," he sighed after looking Elvis over. "It's not having the effect we were hoping for."

I knew that. In my heart, I knew that.

Yet still, I've been hoping against hope that the chemo might buy me some extra quality time with this dog I love so very much. Time to enjoy leisurely walks to the park. Time to watch him devour his meals with gusto. Time to relish his playful greetings when I come home from work each night, and time to lay alongside him on his La-Z-Dog recliner and feel my blood pressure drop while holding my beautiful boy.

But I've seen none of this over the past two weeks. He's been sluggish, quiet, morose. Nibbling at his food and disinterested in walks, just stretched across his pillow, barely breathing it sometimes seems. He doesn't appear to be in discomfort or pain, however, this isn't the Quality Time I envisioned for Elvis. And it certainly isn't what I want for him.

Tonight was a turning point because I've resigned myself to the inevitable. I'm not going to subject Elvis to anymore invasive chemo treatments or stressful vet visits. Instead, I'll embrace what time we have left, spoil him rotten, and try to take comfort in the fact that when Elvis does cross the Rainbow Bridge, I'll be handing him off to my mom, who will be waiting on the other side with open arms. I know she'll take good care of her cherished "grandpuppy."

Until then, he's mine. And I'm treasuring every minute.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Weekend for the Dogs




I had so many things planned for this glorious three-day weekend, so many things.

For starters, there was a much-anticipated Saturday lunch date with my good friend, Terry. Not to mention errands to run, closets to clean, cars to wash and plants to prune. And my home office? Yikes. I had drawers to organize, papers to file, documents to shred and columns to write. Many, many columns. Oh yes, it was going to be such a productive weekend.

I did none of the above.

Instead, I rescheduled my date with Terry, forfeited all pending projects, and spent almost every minute with my greyhounds, Elvis and Olivia. My gut told me this was what I should do.

And so I did.

I took advantage of the unseasonably warm 70-degree weather and satisfied Olivia's youthful energy with long, leisurely, sun-filled walks. We hiked around the Lafayette reservoir, explored new streets in my neighborhood, and traipsed down the Iron Horse Trail.

When I wasn't walking Olivia, I was at home lying next to my elderly boy Elvis on his La-Z-Dog recliner. With one hand, I used my iPhone to capture blurry self-portraits of this special time while cradling his head in the crook of my free arm. I literally spent hours rubbing his tummy, skritching his ears and massaging his neck; telling him what a good boy he is and how much I love him. Elvis ate it up. Whenever my hand tired of the circular belly rubs, he would raise his head to nudge my chin with his needle nose, clearly saying, "You're not stopping, are you?" Uh, of course not. And I would resume.

Yes, it was a perfect three days, even if I did feel a bit guilty for letting so many errands slide. That is, until my friend Sharon helped put things in perspective.

"Who says every weekend has to be productive?" she emailed. "Instead, have a memorable weekend like this. You won't remember those where you run errands and clean, but you will remember one where you devoted all your time to those precious to you."

And she's right. So the closets didn't get cleaned and the car didn't get washed. Instead, I bonded with my new dog and spent cherished time with my beloved older boy who is fighting cancer. It was, indeed, a wonderful weekend.

Productive? Maybe not. But priceless? Absolutely.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doing Right By My Boy

Ever since Elvis had his second surgery for a cancerous tumor on Friday, I've been observing his slow recovery, kicking myself and agonizing:

Did I do the right thing?

Friends who called over the weekend to check on Elvis wound up getting an ear full of tears as I sobbed my concern that I shouldn't have put him through such a brutal procedure. I should have just accepted the inevitable, kissed my sweet companion goodbye, and put him to sleep.

Wonderful friends that I have, they reassured me that I made the best decision based on the information available at that time. No one anticipated the viciousness of this second tumor. And Elvis might bounce back, they reminded me. There might still be some quality time ahead.

Still, I've felt nothing but remorse. Did I do the second surgery for Elvis...or for me?

This is why I was so grateful for a website comment I found the other night. It was in response to my recent column about Elvis that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle a couple weeks ago:

"Eileen, like so many others, I have loved Elvis for years and hope for his happiness and comfort as long as you can be together. I know that any decisions you make will be with his best in mind.The years you have shared him and Lucy with us are precious. The gift of all the other critters' tales has been made all the more special because of the love you have shared with him. We KNOW you "get it."

The stories of your discoveries through Elvis, and all that came later (your mother and Lucy), empower us to do better with our own families (human and otherwise). Thank you. Give Elvis a skritch from us, keep us posted on the ups and downs. And may you both be fortunate enough to be there when he sleeps his last... (hopefully not too soon)."

These kind words stopped my tears, warmed my heart, and lifted the temporary amnesia that my tears had induced: it took an anonymous stranger to remind me that everything I've ever done has always been in the best interest of my beautiful boy. When that day comes and Elvis is ready to go, he'll let me know and I'll do right by him.

Just as he's always done by me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Round 2: Elvis in the Ring



It came back. Just three weeks after Dr. Arnott excised a walnut-sized cancerous tumor from my beloved dog's throat, the damn thing came back. In spite of the operation. In spite of chemo. In spite of a tumor-fighting anti-inflammatory. Larger, uglier and nastier than its predecessor.

It came back.

And practically overnight, it seemed. Up until last Tuesday, Elvis hasn't just been doing okay--he's been thriving. Thriving! Prancing around the house like a pup with his favorite toy clenched between his teeth, trotting on two-mile walks with a renewed vigor I haven't seen in months, and eating like a horse. I've been over-the-top ecstatic to see my lovely boy doing so great.

Until Wednesday.

Without warning, Elvis started coughing. Hocking. Hacking. He didn't eat his dinner and had a restless night. The following day, Dr. Arnott consulted with UC Davis Oncology and they suggested removing the second tumor and trying a different chemo.

Put Elvis through another surgery? I looked at my gasping, choking dog, in obvious distress, and considered how beautifully he recovered from his last operation six weeks ago. How well he's been, how playful and exuberant. It was either take the advice of UC Davis or...say goodbye to my beautiful boy. Now. I was crying. The entire staff was teary-eyed. I just couldn't do it, not yet.

And so, Elvis had a second surgery yesterday. Afterwards, Dr. Arnott told me that this tumor was more invasive than the last. This one was determined, angry and vicious, entwined with arteries and threaded among muscle.

This morning, as I watched Elvis sleep, I kissed his knobby head and cringed at the brutal scar ripped across his throat. Did I do the right thing? All along I've known that this particular cancer can't be cured. I'm doing what I can only to provide Elvis with a quality life before his time comes. And that's what I've witnessed this past six weeks--the Elvis I knew when he was young, vibrant and healthy.

Just a little more time. Please. That's all I ask. Just a little more time with my very special boy.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Horoscopes



I'd like to establish right now,horoscopes? Don't read 'em, don't follow 'em. Period.

Oh, I used to, in a light-hearted, whimsical sort of way. I would peruse my daily horoscope each day, optimistically believing the good stuff while using my rose-colored glasses to filter the rest. That is, until 2009, when every single horoscope promised that this year would be my Best Year Ever.

Seriously, each daily horoscope was so titillatingly convincing, I actually started wondering if maybe the stars knew something that I didn't. Could 2009 indeed be shaping up to be my Best Year Ever?

I was cautiously curious.

But in 2009 my mother--my best friend, my confidant, my counselor--died unexpectedly, throwing me into an emotional tailspin that I still haven't quite recovered from, and perhaps never will. And I stopped reading horoscopes, even for fun.

The false promises felt mocking.

But today, on this first bright, brisk morning of 2012, I found myself slipping into old habits and sneaking a peek at my horoscope for the New Year. For posterity, proof, or simply for the record, here it is:

Aquarius by Minerva
Home is where your heart is through much of 2012. You go merrily about buying and refurbishing homes, mending fences and families, canning peaches, joining the PTA, etc. Sound ho-hum? You won't think so--until June, when you get a sudden urge to party!

Your spring break comes late and lasts till Christmas. Come 2013, you'll not only have a new young energy in your life--very possibly a lover--but a hobby or creative interest will take off big time.

Make a big decision on January 22 and expect to reap the results July 11.

Uh yeah. Okay. Sounds good, but whatever. I guess there's no harm in hoping for the best (and preparing for the worst), eh?

What do the stars bode for you in 2012?
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