February 1st, 2017
| Survivor: Hodgkin's Lymphoma
I remember fading in and out of consciousness, not much else. I had no idea where I was and how I got there. I remember seeing a glimpse of my mom and what I can assume were doctors. Apparently I was in a bad car wreck and had been asleep for some time. Here I was flirting with my own mortality yet again. Apparently surviving Hodgkin's Lymphoma twice as well as testicular cancer was not sacrifice enough to appease the universe. I do remember asking my mom where my fiancee was-- a standard question to be asked after being with someone for 13 years when you find yourself waking up in a hospital room.
My mom told me that while I was unconscious, my fiancee informed her that we were breaking up and that I was not to return to the home we purchased together. Yeah, true story.
Fast forward a few months: I moved in with my parents and had just made the decision to get the dog I’d always wanted. My very own English Bull Terrier. A man only needs his dog, right? I figured I would probably never find another partner and even if someone took pity on me and endured the baggage which comes along with being a cancer survivor, I would never be able to give her a child.
Realistically this was the closest I was ever going to become to being a dad, something I’ve always…always wanted. The great thing (or not so great, depending on how you look at it ) about Bull Terriers is that they are very needy and love-- no, demand attention. This was exactly what I needed: a clingy dog to be by my side through thick and thin.
After finding the perfect Bull Terrier, my little Clementine, everything sort of just naturally fell into place. I did actually end up finding that special lady who I’m so proud to now call my wife and we became a happy little family. Years later after returning home from a weekend trip With Miranda, I noticed Clementine's neck was swollen. We called the vet and got her in for the next day as any responsible parent would do. We went through tests upon tests, but got no answers. Things started to feel eerily familiar. It can’t be cancer, I thought. She’s only four and it’s not even common as they mature like other breeds.
A biopsy later, and -- yep, lymphoma! It felt horrible when I got the same diagnosis, and again the second time, and then again third time, but that was nothing compared to how I felt when the vet told me my dog had cancer. "No problem," I said. "We have an amazing university here that's known for their veterinary program."
To which the callus local veterinarian made sure to inform me that animal cancers aren’t like "people cancers." The odds of her staying in remission were apparently very unlikely. The vet made it clear that Clementine wasn’t going to have the same outcome as me and that it wasn’t going to be worth the very expensive treatment.
Boom: we immediately left the veterinarian and were off to the university. Clementine is only four and she's so strong, I thought. She can beat this no problem-- just like her daddy.
The amazing staff at the university carefully explained our options. Once we got to the money part it seemed as if they kept waiting for us to say "No, stop, that’s too much." We honestly had no idea where the money was going to come from, but we were going to get it. I would do the same for a human child, so why wouldn't I make that sacrifice for my Clementine?
Then the biggest shocker of them all: her chemotherapy drugs. As the veterinarian calmly tried to explain the drugs and their side effects, I stopped her and said, "I’ve been on every one of these medicines. I know what they do and I know how she’s going to feel."
The veterinarian kept saying how incredible it was that I’ve beaten cancer three times. I said, "No big deal, it’s what I do."
I should’ve relished in such encounters and statements over the years, but at that time I was not ready to accept that I was somebody special. I knew what it was like during treatment, how it felt to want just a little gesture to know I was not alone. I was not going to let that happen to her. Nobody should have to experience the isolation that cancer can sometimes bring -- and often does.
As Clementine slept in our arms I realized that I had survived cancer for a reason. I was an important person to the people in my life, especially to Clementine, and especially now.
Everything went as well as could be expected. Her tummy was upset, she was eating all the time because of the steroids, they had to stop certain medications because of her heart and lungs. I was unaware I was going to be given a glimpse of just how harmful these medications can be & why my organ functions were monitored so closely during treatment.
After months of treatment, we finally reached the day where as much as she wanted to fight, it wasn’t the loving thing to do keep treating her. Clementine’s heart had had enough; a common side effect with the medicine her and I were on. We had to let go. It remains one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
My wife and I both think about her everyday. I’m writing this as I’ve tried many times to relay my grief with the loss of Clementine at support groups and it gets greatly overlooked. Even members of cancer support groups don’t get it. Clementine was on the same protocol as most lymphoma patients.
Here's what I've learned from sharing a cancer fight with my dog: Life is not a competition. No one’s cancer journey is easier or harder than anyone else’s. Nobody deserves more or less depending on their specific hardships. Everyone, everybody and everything should just be good to and love one another.
Did you have a pet to help you through cancer, or one that you helped through cancer? Share in the comments below or sign up here.
Photo courtesy of the author.
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