When your heart dog is sick - very sick - what do you do?
My Heart Dog, Maverick, has been in remission from lymphoma for 10 months now (yay!). I have been anticipating his lymphoma returning but instead, what started as a random and benign health issue (i.e. occasional nose bleeds) turned into something far more serious than even his lymphoma. An insidious tumor was likely growing in his nasal cavity and has begun to infiltrate his brain causing a wide host of neurological symptoms. The bottom line? One-month prognosis. Three months with treatment. So, one-to-three months after thirteen years of having him in my life was, of course, not enough time. I'm sure you can imagine my reaction.
The weeks leading up to his diagnosis have felt like being caught in rapid water without a lifejacket, anticipating, but not wanting to believe, the inevitable. Maverick's symptoms have been progressively getting worse but the realization that the worst case scenario really has arrived hit me like a punch to the gut. My dog, my furry love, was not going to be with me forever. Now don't get me wrong, it has occurred to me that "forever" does not exist between man and our best friends; it just never neared actualization until now (his lymphoma went into immediate remission so as difficult as the shock of the news was, the grief was only temporary). Life has been stressful enough the past year and my dogs have been my rocks. My pillars of comfort amongst a sea of uncertainty, unease, and change. The anticipatory grief that one of my only constants in life would not be with me much longer, truly felt like my heart was being pulled from my chest and stomped on.
So, the difficult decision arose when I had to decide whether or not to confirm Maverick’s brain tumor with a CT scan. This probable diagnosis came from the wonderful team at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph, Ontario (based on an oncology and neuro consult and bloodwork). I was told the only way to confirm their suspicions and officially rule out other possible causes was with a CT scan. Regardless, the prognosis, they informed me, was not good. The cost for the CT scan was $1200 – not cheap. On one hand, I considered this an investment for my peace of mind. Here was my beautiful, happy, energetic Heart Dog, still full of life and fully in remission from lymphoma, so how could it be that he suddenly has a tumor that is aggressively attacking his brain and causing monumental havoc on his entire body? It just wasn’t right!
On the other hand, would the results alter the outcome? No, because I already, with great difficulty, decided it would not be in Maverick’s best interest to treat. If he could be offered another 8-10 months of quality life, that would be another story. But three months composed of multiple radiation treatments along with terrible side effects such as blindness and losing the fur on his face and head, was not a quality life. Plus, treatment was another few thousand. Now, I don't believe anyone has a right to tell you whether or not such a cost is the right choice for them. Everyone is in a different financial place and it's a personal decision regarding how much you are comfortable to spend on veterinary treatment. But personally, given the amount already spent on the cost of Maverick's chemo treatments and being in a financially insecure stage of life, it was not a fiscally responsible decision.
I debated back and forth about whether or not to do the CT scan. Logic and my heart strings sure did a good job battling it out in my head. Besides the financial considerations, the answer came down to the question "What is best for Maverick"? Does going under anesthesia, which poses risks of its own, for answers to questions the veterinary team was already pretty confident about, help his quality of life? Or just mine? That answer was clear.
So the decision was made. No CT. But no CT = uncertainty, the unknown, and the unexpected to perhaps continue. More so, the unsettling feeling that I will never truly know what is wrong with Maverick. Regardless, I had to move forward in the hopes of having as much quality time with him as possible before having to say goodbye.
Have you ever experienced making a difficult decision regarding tests or treatments for your Heart Dog? If so, please feel free to share and comment below.
How can this blog help you?
This website and blog originated from the experience of learning to let go of my beloved Heart Dog, Maverick. By sharing my story and offering the opportunity for you to share yours, I hope we can all truly celebrate their lives. pay tribute, and heal from the loss of our one true canine companion. I hope this website will also raise awareness of the meaning of a Heart Dog because it is a concept that is not largely understood.