Eric took Sam hiking at Greyrock this morning. Dexter had coughed once last night, woke up around midnight and in my sleepy Mom mind was having trouble settling back down, so I got on the couch with him until he fell asleep. Then this morning, he coughed another time. Eric had planned to take him hiking again (they went yesterday), but we decided maybe Dexter shouldn’t go–even though we know that if Dexter had only one day left, he’d choose to spend it hiking rather than resting. Eric took both dogs on a short run before leaving with Sam. Dexter was so energized when they got back, so happy, watching so hopefully as Eric put things in his backpack, I almost changed my mind about him not going, but in the end he stayed with me.
Writing in my journal this morning after they left, I was considering the situation we are in. It was over a month ago when Dexter went on a hike, got a bloody nose, and I felt this same anxiety, thinking “this might be it, the last week, the final days” but I was wrong. What’s hard about a terminal illness is you are ready, waiting for it to be over, and yet you fear the end, wish it would never come. You suffer living with the mantra “he’s dying, he’s dying, he’s dying,” but you also feel a spike of anxiety and despair whenever something shifts, “oh no! he’s dying!”
It came to me in my morning meditation that the only answer is now, in this moment, in staying present. Nothing else works or makes sense–not numbing out, not running away, no method of escape or resistance, no hoping for something different or wishing for something better, no clinging to what’s positive or thinking only happy thoughts and rejecting the rest–you simply have to stay, be here now, live/love in this moment.
Presence and mindfulness and awareness are the only real medicine–the sound of my pen scratching on the paper, the thump and hum of the dryer, the sound of the dog asleep next to me breathing, the warmth and shelter and light, the ink in the pen and the blank pages in the journal and the air in my lungs, my body that remembers to pump and breathe without needing my interference, my bones and muscles doing what they do to keep me upright and writing, my eyes seeing, my brain processing language, knowing what word comes next and how to form it. This is all there is, and even it isn’t solid or fixed or even completely comprehensible. It shifts, gets a bit colder, the dog gets up and leaves, I pause not knowing what to say next. And then, the heat kicks on, the furnace hums, the dryer shuts off, and I know what to do.
I make plans, but they don’t work out. The plan to keep Dexter “safe” by keeping him home with me didn’t ultimately work. He was in the backyard, saw a squirrel and chased it. When I looked outside seconds later, his back end had given out. I didn’t see what had happened, so at first I wasn’t sure if he was having a stroke or something related to the cancer, or if he’d broken something. He continued to try and run after the squirrel, but his back legs wouldn’t cooperate. His left leg wouldn’t straighten out or hold weight, so we headed immediately to the emergency vet.
Long story short: he’s injured his left knee. It’s either his knee cap, which is in the wrong place, or a tendon. He’s on pain medication for now, with strict orders to take it easy, and we will continue his anti-inflammatory as it’s one of the strongest available. We have a physical therapy appointment in the morning, and will meet to consult with his regular vet. Surgery in Dexter’s case, because of his cancer, just isn’t an option. The reality is, with Dexter’s age (he’s almost ten now) and activity level, something like this was likely to happen at some point, cancer or no cancer.
There is good news. Dexter feels okay, although it annoys him his leg won’t work. We start physical therapy in the morning and there’s a good chance that will help him feel and function better. And while at the vet, they xrayed his chest, so we know that his cancer hasn’t metastasized to his lungs or heart. And even though I did cry a little, panic, and feel sad, and there was a bit of tenderness, terror in having to take care of it alone (Eric was still hiking, out of cellphone range), I didn’t freak out, I handled it. In the moment, something bad happened, but I knew what to do.
Any good energy you can spare my Dexter, kind and gentle reader, would be much appreciated.