Before starting chemo, she was a bit slower and stiffer because of her age but still had her old spunk, loved to go for walks, play with the other dogs, chase tennis balls, especially loved snow and had come to love to go pheasant hunting.
In June we took her to the vet to have her examine a lump in Joy’s neck. I thought it was a lipoma because she already had several and she showed no signs of being ill. But the lump was growing faster than the lipomas did so we wanted to have it checked out. The vet aspirated the lump, looked at it under the microscope and said it looked different enough to her that she felt she should send it to the Colorado Vet school for examination. A few days later, she called us in the evening and told us Joy was in the early stages of lymphoma. Of course we were devastated and in shock.
We asked her what to do and she suggested a chemotherapy regime they had been using successfully. She said they had a golden retriever with lymphoma and the treatment gave him 15 more months. I asked what would happen if we chose to not do the treatment and her response was “It will just eat her up inside.”
Joy started chemo the next day and so began our nightmarish summer. She was doing pretty well, went into remission quickly and the small lump in her neck all but disappeared. For the most part her spirits and energy were good, she would still play some tennis ball even though we could tell she was not her old self. She was more tired, and her appetite changed daily, and was often absent.
On 9 August, Joy was scheduled for her 9th chemo session with adriamycin (one of the strongest of the drugs used). By now her veins were so small, they were difficult to find. They finally found one on the inside of her left leg and started the treatment but in the process the vein was nicked and some of the drug leaked into the tissue of her leg causing a red swollen area that was as large as the palm of my hand. We were given some special cream to apply a couple of times a day and told to ice it several times a day.
Gradually, it seemed to get better, the swelling decreased and a scab formed over the center of the wound. In October our vet suggested we all take a break and go on a short hunting trip. But on Thursday, a few days before we had planned to leave, I was treating her leg and noticed a slight unpleasant smell. By the next morning the smell was very noticeable and we knew it was not a good sign. We took her to the vet and they kept her most of the day as they cut out all of the necrotic tissue leaving a large, ugly hole in her leg. They treated it with wet/dry bandages and we changed them twice a day. I could not sleep, got up several times in the night to check on her, just be with her. But Joy became weaker, would not eat and by Sunday was telling us she could not do it anymore. We called the vet, took her in and she died on 10 October. Our decision to let her tell us when it was time to go was a blessing because she would have been facing many skin grafts or amputation and we never would have put her through that.
My grief was over-whelming and then gradually seemed to ease. But in March I started having bouts of fatigue that became intense and daily. I went to see my doctor to see what was wrong. He told me it was grief fatigue but I could not accept that, told him I was through the hard part of the grief, that it had to be something physical. He reminded me that though I have been sad when any of our dogs have died, my relationship with Joy was special, that such an intense loss has many layers of grief and that I was into another, deeper layer. But, mostly to ease my mind, he drew 5 vials of blood and tested for everything; also had an echocardiogram done. Everything was ok. And again he told me I was deeply grieving Joy and that I needed to accept that. He increased my antidepressant, gave me a sleep medication, and energy booster and suggested I keep seeing my therapist.
Finally I got the message after doing some internet research specifically on fatigue related to grief. This is a quote from one site written by Dr. Linda Edelstein: “…the fatigue and exhaustion [that] is frequently a part of grief. Grieving people are knowledgeable; they expect to feel different emotions after a loss, whether the loss is permanent, like a death, or is a separation, like a break-up, or is temporary, like an illness. They aren’t shocked by their anger and sadness. These same people may fail to recognize that fatigue or sluggishness may also occur and make even simple chores difficult or impossible to manage. This isn’t about being weak or strong. The fatigue of grief can’t be pushed through; you take it an hour at a time (on bad days, a moment at a time) or a day at a time. Time alone doesn’t do very much. Time and psychological work is usually the answer.”
Once I accepted what was happening, the grief began to pour out and I noticed that my spirit now seemed more connected to my Joysie. I also began to have more energy, at least in the mornings, but by afternoon was exhausted and spent my time resting, doing yoga, just being. My doctor told me to listen to my body and my therapist told me to listen to my spirit; both told me to take it one day at a time.
Joy is buried in our little pet cemetery and for months whenever I walked by there I could not look at her grave. But now it has flowers planted in a way to spell out her name.
And with the help of my husband, therapist, doctor and Joy’s vets, I am gradually moving through the grief. I have no idea how long this process will take and it is different every day; some days are lots of tears of loss, other days I feel such anger that this horrible disease took Joy, and many days I feel guilty for not taking better care of my girl.
One of the main problems I now face is that if I talk to someone who knows that Joy died but has never had a dog nor the connection Joy and I had, they do not understand. They tell me “it’s just a dog” and “how many thousands of dollars did you spend on her?!” I try to stay away from those people and some that I thought were friends no longer contact me.
No, Joysie was not just a dog. While I have grieved all of the dogs that have finally passed on, there was something special with Joy; she was like a sister to me and she was not “just a dog”.
From time to time, people tell me, “lighten up, it’s just a dog,”
They don’t understand the distance travelled, the time spent,
or the costs involved for “just a dog.”
Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog.”
Many hours have passed and my only company was “just a dog,”
but I did not once feel slighted.
Some of my saddest moments have been brought aobut by
“just a dog,” and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch
of “just a dog” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day.
If you, too, think it’s “just a dog,” then you probably understand
phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.”
“Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship,
trust, and pure unbridled joy.
“Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience
that make me a better person.
Because of “just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look
longingly to the future.
So for me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog”
but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future,
the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.
“Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts
away from myself and the worries of the day.
I hope that someday they can understand that its’ not “just a dog”
but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being
“just a man” or “just a woman.”
So the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog,”
because they “just don’t understand.”