This page is dedicated to, Trace, my Siberian Husky who was diagnosed with a high grade mast cell tumor in early 2014. In memory of his noble, gentle spirit, knowing he will always be running in the wind and dancing in our hearts, we love you, Trace!
For anyone who has ever had a family dog diagnosed with cancer, you can appreciate the long process of taking care of a four-legged family member with an unknown future. My heart goes out to you! The entire process is scary but you don’t have to do it alone and you can educate yourself by doing your research to make the best choices for your dog.
I have found that there is a spectrum of thought and emotion throughout the process, ranging from the initial surprise of finding that lump or bump, to getting the confirmation from the vet about diagnosis, to doing surgery, to doing treatment and ultimately, in many cases making the most difficult decision about what is best for your dog.
This process entails stress about money, time, and energy. It also includes hearing from other people and their opinions about what you should do – you will agree with some and disagree with many. The bottom line is that YOU are the best advocate for your dog, regardless of what others tell you. And what comes with that is also doing what is best for the dog, NOT you.
In your “search for answers”, you will quickly find two distinct approaches to animal (and human) treatment of illness. Many times it gets political so if you find yourself somewhere in the middle, you will need to adopt a flexible mind with the varying approaches. For instance, the ever-evolving conflict between traditional medical approaches vs. ‘all-natural’ or homeopathic approaches comes up all the time in animal health, especially when it comes to cancer.
Trace’s Story: The ‘Trace’ of My Heart
This is a series of posts I wrote, simply documenting the process of finding out about Trace’s mast cell tumor and the process of managing that experience.
January 22, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART I
In an attempt to process my thoughts and feelings, while holding back the tears every so often, I begin a series of posts on a heartbreaking experience not even words can describe. Maybe in some regard this will ease the worry and pain along the way.
As many of you know, one of our canine family members is Trace, the Siberian Husky. We adopted Trace in 2009 from a local Siberian Husky Rescue organization. He was about 3 or 4 years old at the time. I had always wanted a husky: sure they are beautiful dogs but its their energy I was attracted to. Little did we know, Trace would have an interesting introduction to his new family. The day we brought him home in we quickly found out, the difficult way, that he was carrying giardia. If you don’t know what that is, look it up and you will appreciate the difficult time he had his first two months with us. Fortunately, he pulled through and he has been a wonderful member of our family.
Fast forward in time to about two weeks ago. It was evening and Trace was lying on the floor on his usual spot next to the reclining chair. We noticed that he had some blood on his paws and then on the floor. Quickly we found him “investigating” his penile area and much to our shock we saw a mass on the sheath of skin that covers his ‘you-know-what’. It was mass about the size of a cutie orange. I took him to the vet the next day (Monday the 13th) and they chalked it up to an “injury” and put him on an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory for a week as a first measure.
A few days ago, on Monday, when the meds were up, the mass hadn’t gone away and Trace was still irritated by it. I took him back to the vet and they did an aspiration of the mass to look at the cells under microscope. What was merely a couple minutes seemed like an eternity, waiting for the doctor to come back in with news. Hoping in my mind it was just an abscess that could be drained, something in my heart knew we were about to receive bad news. Indeed, the doctor informed me that the cells looked “suspicious” and he indicated a mast cell growth.
I stood there, fumbled my words, seeing Trace lying on the floor having no clue what was going on. I tried to keep asking questions only to find myself a bit flustered. So the vet told me they would send off the sample to a lab in Indianapolis for further analysis and then Trace would need to be scheduled for surgery. Trace and I left knowing it would take a few days for the lab to get back with the results and we trotted out the door with a prescription for Benadryl to ease the itching and inflammation.
I called back today to check on the progress and ironically, the doctor had some news…and it wasn’t good. The lab confirmed it was a mast cell tumor and indicated it was “aggressive.” Additionally, since the tumor is in such a difficult spot, a decision was made to refer out to a specialist. At this time Trace has surgery scheduled for next Wednesday at Circle City Veterinary Hospital.
None of this is to glorify the situation. This is merely my ‘free association’ if you will, of my mind. I’m scared to death…
I look at him and there are moments where he is just so peppy and alert and energized, and then there are those moments where you just know in your heart that he “knows something’s up.”
Dogs don’t talk but they sure do know how communicate through heart and dammit he sure is doing a number on me. This isn’t just about a dog. This is situation has awkwardly reminded me about the richness of life – even if it includes pain….and I say that with tears in my eyes. Anyone who has ever feared for their dog’s life, and ultimately lost their dog to illness…cancer…you know how this feels.
That’s about it for now…
January 23, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART II
Picking up from yesterday’s post…
When it comes to questioning the life expectancy of your dog, a number of thoughts run through your head:
-Should I be this worried over an animal?
-If my wife or child had a tumor, surely I would feel even more devastated than I do now, right?
-I don’t know what’s going to happen so why get so ‘doom and gloom’?
-Is it worth the money to ‘save’ the dog? What will other people think?
-What will I tell my daughter if he doesn’t make it?
-How lonely will my other dog be if he doesn’t make it?
…and so on and so on…
If you’re as neurotic and worrisome like me, then maybe you can appreciate those mind-racking thought processes. Its as if we are convinced we need to justify having our thoughts and feelings in the first place. The above was my mode of mind yesterday.
Surprisingly, today is a ‘better’ day, and I owe it to my wife. Last night as we were laying bed, she whispered, “I’m worried about you,” to which I replied, “what do you mean?” knowing very well exactly what she meant. She said I was depressed and moping around. And I needed to hear that from her because she was right – that’s exactly how I felt and exactly what I was doing and it was having an impact on others. I told her I was scared and she empathized like the wonderful soul mate that she is.
This whole situation has consumed me, and that’s not a judgment against myself, merely, it is my awareness of it. You see, this is part of my (our) nature: I have this deep bond with my dog and the fear and hurt shows up. And the next thing my wife whispered, “you need to be positive about this,” to which I whispered back, “I’ll try.”
Since waking up this morning, I’ve decided I’m NOT going to ‘try.’ That’s too half-assed for me. Instead, I’m choosing to commit to adapting my mindset about this situation – so I will “be positive” out of choosing to act upon what I value. In this case, I value 1) reflecting teamwork within my family and 2) providing my dogs with the best possible life they could have, whether they live one more day or many years.
But allow me to expound a bit. Being ‘positive’ has certain connotations in our culture and I sometimes cringe when I hear the term used in my clinical work. Why? When we say to ourselves or to others, “be positive about it…” that is often in an attempt to avoid how we really feel – raw feelings don’t always feel pleasant so the tendency is to try to get rid of them. At times, it is a cop-out we use to bail us out from our pain – we quickly learn this doesn’t work for us. The clinical term I use from the therapeutic model I practice (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is the process of experiential avoidance. Oftentimes this refers to the avoidance of private experience (i.e. thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, etc.).The more we hide from how we really feel, to push away the deep movement of energy and e-motional drive that pulses through us, the more it builds and we become closed off. Its that classic implosion-explosion process we so often experience. We live in this feel-good world that convinces us something is wrong with us when we feel a certain way or think certain thoughts. Its an unfortunate ‘disease’ we all pick up on when we are young. When we don’t like how we feel on the inside, the problem-solving mode of mind kicks in to gear and most of the time it doesn’t work – actually many times it makes our suffering worse because we become stuck.
So here I sit. I’m sad. I’m scared. I’m pissed off. I’m also turning my mind. I have to have faith as well as acceptance. I’m realizing that this whole situation with Trace is out of my control and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. From an emotional point of view, I’m starting to see that nature will ‘decide’ Trace’s fate, and who am I to get in the way of that? I’ll stop fighting it – it is a simple truth: he will live or he will die AND if I respond openly to either possibility, it seems as if there a sense of freedom by not clinging to the inevitable. This is not to “give up” or to abandon; instead, it is an approaching, a refocusing on what I can do: love the hell outta that dog!
If we really want to be honest with ourselves about any situation in our lives, the issue oftentimes boils down to control. I am a believer that we as humans beings control nothing – not even our own thoughts or feelings – because there really is ‘no-thing’ to control. Try it out for yourself: for the next 5 seconds make yourself stop thinking and feeling. The more we try to control, the farther we get from what the present moment offers to us: peace amongst the storm. And this isn’t about denial. True acceptance is about seeing and feeling what IS without frantic efforts to change, modify, dismiss or get rid of the private content. This doesn’t mean resignation or approval or giving in. Rather, it simply means releasing the grip of control. And maybe in a sense, as a by-product of this process, there is a ‘positive’ that grows without any effort. An appreciation that shows how meaningful and dignified our human (and animal) experience is.
The other thing that has paradoxically put a bit of ease into my heart is my remembering what death truly represents. Death implies there was a life that was lived, no matter what form, no matter how short or long and there is value in that. We don’t often adopt a young pup thinking to ourselves, “one day you’re gonna die doggie.” And I’m certainly not implying we should just shrug it off. Rather, we can take the knowledge of the inevitable (i.e. birth and death) to know and do what matters. And I’ll leave you today with a quote from Alan Watts regarding this:
“So then, when you die, you’re not going to have to put up with everlasting non-existence because that’s not an experience. A lot of people are afraid that when they die they are going to be locked up in a dark room forever and sort of undergo that. But one of the most interesting things in the world…try and imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Think about that. Children think about that. It’s one of the great wonders of life…what will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, that it will pose the next question to you: what was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born. You see, you can’t have an experience of nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum. So after you’re dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience, or the same sort of experience as when you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after people die, other people are born. And they’re all you, only you can only experience it one at a time. Everybody is ‘I’, you all know you are you, and wheresoever beings exist throughout all galaxies, it doesn’t make any difference, you are all of them. And when they come in to being that’s you coming into being…”
January 25, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART III
If there’s one thing dogs do well, it is bringing humans together, giving us a pathway to come together in harmony. Sure, they are indeed sentient beings, and we also derive a symbolic relationship with them. They resemble something to us. They bring out what is kept inside.
I was gone yesterday at a conference in Indianapolis on understanding the new ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)’. I didn’t worry about Trace hardly at all. I find that a bit freeing. Of course, my brain was highly occupied by the conference, but part of it too was knowing I have the support of family and friends. I even had one of my very close friends stop by the house midday to take the dogs out. I got a really nice email from my mom and dad giving words of advice and compassion about Trace – they would know as we had three dogs over the course of about 25 years as I was growing up. And I’ve gotten some great feedback from a cousin who is a vet.
It’s nice to know that people care. And even if we have times in life when we feel no one cares, we still have this capacity to still care for others and there’s something humanizing about that.
But the more we pay attention to a person, animal, place, or thing, we begin to feel an intriguing new energy about it – the other becomes sacred to us. A quote from Tara Brach:
“There’s a story of a prisoner who lived in solitary confinement for years. So he didn’t speak to anyone, meals were served through an opening in the wall. Well, one day an ant came in to his cell. And the man contemplated with fascination [as the ant] crawled around the room and over the days and weeks to come he would hold it in his palm and just look at it and watched it move around and watched it’s patterns and he gave it a grain or two of rice and kept it under a tin cup at night. That became his friend. And one day it struck him that it took ten years of solitary confinement to open his eyes to the loveliness of an ant. That basic life, sacred energy that lives through an ant.
Krishnamurti says if you take a stone, any stone from outside just take it and put it somewhere in your living room. And every day pass by that stone at least once and spend maybe 20 seconds paying attention to that stone. Within a few months it will become a sacred stone. Do you understand? That when we give our attention, that presence, that’s a communion, we actually sense what’s really there.
We know it with our dogs, and our pets. It’s always amazing, you can see the dogs all around, and always you love dogs and, ‘oh what a nice dog.’ But your dog is special. You know intimately the specialness of this dog that might look and be like many many other dogs but this dog is special. Do you know what I mean? When we pay deep attention, whatever is there, comes to life. It reveals it’s essence, it’s beingness. And we cherish the beingness that’s there. That’s what we are in love with. It’s the same beingness that’s looking through your eyes right now. It’s the same beingness that’s listening. That’s what we fall in love with.”
What Tara reminds me of are the dogs from my past. We had a Collie named Mac that my parents adopted in the mid 70s before I was born. I have a faint memory of him but I imagine I gave him as much annoying attention as my almost-three-year-old gives Bella and Trace. In 1989, when I turned 6 we adopted a Border Collie named, Charmin. She was, as we recall vividly, a “maniac.” We ended up giving her to a farmer when we moved back to Ohio – it was the best for both our family and for Charmin. And then there was Ashley, our golden retriever, who we had from 1994 to 2000. With all of these dogs, to this day I can still feel the heart-to-heart connection even though they have passed away. In a way, as weird as this might sound, the dogs of my past share this same connection as Bella and Trace. In some way, they have “met” each other. The same way we share connection with our parents extends through us to our children. It is a sense of transcendence.
Enough philosophy for one day…
Four more days! Have a nice weekend!
January 27, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART IV
I’m feeling a little bit of ‘pep’ today and I can tell because Trace is reflecting it. Its a strange feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still worried, but with a pinch of confidence. I don’t know if you can appreciate this but it almost feels, to a certain extent, like I’ve grieved a loss – yet, Trace is alive and ‘well’. I’m very much aware, as I know from my clinical training, that the mind/body will act in ‘preservation mode’ when a stressful situation occurs. I’m careful not to convince myself that ALL is well (you know, that whole denial thing). But its this odd feeling as if I’ve crossed over some sort of grief. As a colleague pointed out to me, it is much like an initial mourning after the shock of first experience.
But what a fool I would feel like if the surgeon comes back after surgery and says, “well, he’s good to go – no problems here.” Of course, that is a true wish, and one I would take in a heartbeat. But it would feel like a sort of “phantom grief.” Maybe “fool” isn’t the right term. And I know very well that what I feel now is normal and that some day, when Trace (and Bella for that matter) is gone, a different grief will ensue and that is okay with me – it is natural. At the same time, it may not be all that foolish as this whole situation with Trace has taught me a lot.
And speaking of natural, I think sometimes the title of this website evolves in meaning for me. Initially, this began as a following of Kevin Behan’s Natural Dog Training, but as time has gone the word ‘Natural’ has formed into a broader perspective. I am by no means a purist when it comes to the way I live my life, nor the way I raise and train my dogs, but the overall purpose of the life we/our dogs live is what I am aiming for. I think to assume a ‘natural’ perspective, you look at the core of something. Whether you would call it soul, spirit, drive, emotion, consciousness, center, etc., doesn’t matter – it’s essentially all the same. If your methods or philosophy or lifestyle, orbit the flow and direction of that core then I think there is a certain ‘natural’ essence to it. I know that sounds very vague, and for good reason. I think to be natural means to be flexible, to expand, to be interconnected, but its not always cut and dry, obvious, or specifically defined.
And speaking of purpose, I am reminded of my training in aikido. We practice, in part, from a philosophy that focuses on purpose and not panic. When an attacker affronts us, we have two choices: move with a mind of purpose or move with a mind of panic. When there is purpose, you are focused and yet fully aware. When there is panic we lose focus, and do not see with perspective. As a colleague has assured me, I am doing what is best for Trace within the limited control I have. I am starting to see from a perspective. Kevin told me a couple years ago, if Trace were a wolf in the pack on a hunt, he would be in the high point position, up on a ledge, scanning the horizon. Therefore, I can see that Trace, in response, has rubbed a little bit of that steadiness, that sense of purpose and outlook, back on to me – and I’m grateful to him for that.
And then there’s Bella. If you study Kevin’s NDT, you may be a bit familiar with his comments about households with two dogs. They tend to be the equal opposite of each other. I know Bella has been absorbing and deflecting some of the energy swirling about and in between. She’s sort of a mediator in a metaphorical way, but every dog needs their outlet from time to time. So she and I went out back earlier today and we had some rough-and-tumble play. It was great for both of us. I had some really thick gloves on so she had some nice, solid play-bite opportunities. As for me, it put a smile on my face as those beaming brown eyes caught my center. Trace was out there too, standing off from us, but nonetheless had perked up ears and a smooth-waving tail.
All is well and will be okay – truly!
One and a half more days!
January 29, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART V
Well, it is surgery day. A lot has happened and that’s why I’m late getting to this. This has been one of the shittiest days to say the least! I don’t think I’ve cried and laughed altogether in one day as much as today.
Long story short, I took Trace in to the surgeon and they did the initial consult with us. Of course, they asked the long list of questions and then the surgeon took him out briefly for an initial inspection. He came back to inform me that the tumor needed to come out because it was big enough that it concerned him if we left it in. He also said that there was no other way to take it out surgically unless they castrated him as well. Sooooooo, it looks like I will officially be the only man in the house!
Then the scarier news came. He was concerned about it spreading and there was no way to tell unless they did some x-rays, blood work, and an ultrasound. If it had spread, we would be looking at a terminal illness which he predicted would not have a good prognosis. That put a damper on the situation. I ran through waves of emotion, thinking there’s hope one minute to thinking I’d have to put him down the next minute, back to thinking again maybe there was hope. Not mention, the cost. Crap.
So I had some time to sit there and process all of this. The tumor is huge and it irritates the hell out of him. On top of that, he’s gonna have to lose his manhood – which apparently they do surgeries like that all the time and 99% of the male dogs adjust to it very quickly. It is merely a “rechanneling” of his urethra. Nonetheless, there was still this gut-wrenching feeling: there’s a chance the cancer has spread. What to do? What to do? What to do?
I came to the conclusion that I had to do what was best for Trace, regardless of what was going on in my heart and head. I began to sob. At that point, I needed it because I needed a release. So I opted to have them do the screening first to see if it had spread because that would be a determining factor, as least, at that point in time. The surgeon agreed to do that and would call me with the test results before we proceeded with surgery. He left he room and I placed hands on Trace and prayed for a miracle.
I drove away from the hospital wondering if this would be a “bad day.” I got home around noon and called my wife and explained the situation. We both agreed surgery was critical. About an hour later my phone rings and its the surgeon. He tells me that we have moved the momentum back in the other direction: Trace’s screening came back clean and clear – no spread! So I went over some options with him about post-surgery biopsy: we want to kick this tumor in the ass and make sure we do what we can by making sure the best in the business do it. So, I called, of all places, Michigan State University (I’m a die-hard University of Michigan fan) to their Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (a friend referred me). At MSU, they have one of the leading diagnostic centers in the country (if not, the world), in particular with doing analyses on mast cell tumors. So, I forwarded the surgeons the information to have the tumor sent there.
Trace was being prepped for surgery about 30 minutes ago. Poor guy is gonna have a recovery. But I have faith. One step at a time.
Oh, and that whole thing on acceptance and being at peace with situations: it comes in chunks. I’m hoping for the best and prepared for the worst. We’ll see how it turns out…
January 29, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART VI
A short, quick update: Trace made it through the surgery very well and is in recovery overnight. If you are of the praying kind, first and foremost pray for no more recurrence of tumors or cancer as well as a speedy recovery. We also want the biopsy to come back with clean margins and a clear prognosis that is good and long-term.
We may be able to bring him home tomorrow but I’m not going to push that unless they say he is good to go.
Thanks for your prayers…much more processing tomorrow.
January 30, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART VII
Well, Trace continues to stay at the hospital. Apparently, he was not a happy camper last night, hates the e-collar, and did not eat at all. Of course, he has no clue what is going on or what happened. The hospital has been absolutely wonderful in the quality of care, their customer service, and flexibility. They are truly state of the art and I would recommend anyone to go there. They offered me to come visit him if I wanted but I opted not to because I know his temperament and it would probably stress him out if I came and left.
Later on today they called me back and said that he was taking his meds well, and was scarfing down on some food. Poor guy hasn’t eaten dry kibble in years but I’m sure he was starving so was willing to eat anything. Readjusting him to his raw diet is going to be interesting when we bring him home.
I’m sure he will be very excited to see me when I go to bring him home. I’m also sure he will “ask” a number of questions:
“What the hell happened?”
“Where have you been?”
“How long have I’ve been here?”
“Are we going home?”
“Where is my penis?”
Sorry, couldn’t resist – I need some comic relief. All of those questions will probably come in the form of pinned back ears and a ferociously wagging tail – I can see it now. I expect him to be very cautious. Apparently, his continence still needs to kick in but that is normal for this kind of surgery. The surgeon explained to me that in a urethrostomy they basically redo some ‘plumbing’ and a suture is made so that the ‘male’ dog can still urinate. Poor boy. Again, this was the only option so the tumor could come out.
I miss him but I’m also a little nervous to bring him home. I’ve spent days researching cancer diets, including the Budwig diet (cottage cheese and flax seed oil), coconut oil, various herbal remedies, among others. I’ve learned way more than I wanted to about it – but I’ve also learned a lot about the evils of Big Pharma, especially as it pertains to treating cancer. Save that for your free time to do your own research on it.
I suppose I’m not real clear if Trace officially has cancer, per se, but we will know much more after diagnostic analysis of the biopsy. Nonetheless, these tumors can often come back so I want to take as much precaution I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
At home, it feels weird. There’s an oddness to having just one dog in the house. I definitely noticed there was no giant Siberian Husky I had to step over in order to get into my side of the bed (he always sleeps on the floor next to me). It feels like Bella is ‘waiting’ and ‘looking’ for him. I’m not saddened by that – more anticipatory. Maggie (my almost 3 year-old daughter) hasn’t asked for him, which isn’t to imply she hasn’t noticed her ‘Tracer Boy’ isn’t around. The night before we took him to the surgery, Maggie laid her head on his side – something she doesn’t do too often. It was a little bitter-sweet. But no fret, her dog will be home soon.
We await a progress report tomorrow…maybe he will come home tomorrow night, we’ll see?
Thanks for all the positive support!
February 4, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART VIII
After a long weekend, I finally got to bring Trace home yesterday. I was excited and nervous at the same time. When the surgeon brought me back she did a thorough consultation with a treatment plan for Trace. Then they brought him in to see me. People ask how he responded and I’d have to say, in one word, agitated. I suppose after a major surgery and constant post-op sedation, the dog has all the room to feel whatever he feels. I’d say he certainly ‘recognized’ me, you know, the one who left him in a hospital only to wake up the next day with some ‘parts’ missing. Yeah, I was that guy to Trace. Otherwise, I’d say he was happy to see me.
Of course, wearing the e-collar, that infamous, shameful cone around his head, annoys the heck out of him. I find myself feeling very anxious on behalf of Trace: I’m wanting to ‘fix’ it for him, realizing there’s nothing really to fix about it. It’s just an awkward, flimsy device and that’s it. And he’s got to live with that until next Wednesday, so another week. At that time he’ll get his staples out. Plus, we’ve got him on a sedative and antacid.
On a good note, I fed him some fresh venison last night and he LOVED it! Glad to see him back on his regular diet. I plan to use the Budwig formula as well once his recovery progresses. I will actually start Bella on it as well – it can’t hurt.
We should find out later this week or early next week about biopsy reports from MSU. Obviously, we are hoping there is no cancer and this was a one-and-done operation, but we’ll take it one step at a time.
You know, as I sat there in the waiting room yesterday, before the consult, I just sat and observed people coming in and out with their pets. I recognized the looks on their faces. They knew something about their beloved pet in the same way I knew my thoughts and emotions about Trace. This ‘knowing’ is something we as humans can pick up on in a split second without any use of words. Its a deep connection we all have with each other – this sense of mirroring each others’ emotions by just a look of the face or posture of the body. And the ones who were in fear or deeply saddened, you could feel it as they walked through the door. There’s a paradoxical sense of relief in that. You know you’re not alone even when you might be convinced that you are. We are never really alone.
As for us going forward, I’m hoping and praying for the best. From a standpoint of doing what is best for the animal and not yourself. That can be a hard one to swallow for most people. Having said that, I do have a secret dream for Trace, a specific one. We’ll have to wait and see if that plays out.
I’ll keep you posted as the week progresses…
February 8, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART IX
To take care of a dog after surgery is quite a task. Although, there is a routine you get used to:
-Wake up, take out the healthy dog
-Take out the recovering dog
-Clean up the blood that has drained
-Take him back to his recovery room
-Give him the cheese that has his sedative in it
-Go get the other dog from out back and bring her in
-Repeat three more times (except he only gets the sedative one other time at night)
Oh, and feed them both at night – the healthy dog gets to eat out back as usual while the dog in recovery has ‘fun’ trying to eat with the head cone on
I am looking forward to next Wednesday to get Trace’s staples out. My only concern is that he is still going to be bleeding from his scrotal urethrostomy incision, which might mean keeping the e-collar on a bit longer. I’ve read some studies that suggest bleeding from the site can actually last up to 10 days or more. I hope he stops before next Wednesday.
I’ve read dozens of articles on ‘natural’ cancer-fighting diets. In particular, the Budwig protocol has me intrigued. While we feed a raw diet based on the prey model (i.e. raw meaty bones with organ), I am willing to make a rule-breaker with the cottage cheese-flaxseed oil mixture. I say rule breaking because the philosophy behind the prey model raw diet is based on a species appropriate ‘natural’ diet, so canine’s do not eat/drink dairy naturally. We’ll see how it works. I am also going to be using Nzymes digestive enzymes. I will probably start Bella on this as well. Will this work? I can’t say for sure but it is worth a shot. There are thousands of anecdotal accounts suggesting Dr. Budwig’s simple protocol works. If nothing else, they both will have the healthiest coats in town!
As for Trace himself, I feel like he’s groggy most of time when he is on his sedative, but when its been 12 hours since his last dose, I can see the puppy in him coming to the surface. Those gremlin ears perked up straight to the sky with the tips of them flapped a bit forward from the e-collar. He IS recovering. I don’t know if this is a false hope or I’m really seeing Trace begin to bloom forward a bit.
I can’t help but wonder what this is like for a dog. As a follower of NDT, we believe that dogs are immediate moment beings, as in, they have no sense of distinguishing one moment from the next. Life is all one stream of consciousness. Birth and death are inseparable moments of the same lifespan spectrum. Nonetheless, Trace has gone through a physical trauma. This dog is a champ and I love him to death!
March 1, 2014
THE ‘TRACE’ OF MY HEART: PART X
This will be the final part of this series as we embark on an unknown journey after Trace has gone through surgery and we face the difficult news about his biopsy.
I took him back to the surgeon two weeks ago to get his staples out. He’s been home with us since then and has been doing pretty well. He sleeps a lot which is normal for him but otherwise he is a happy-go-lucky dog. You wouldn’t think he had cancer as he is playful and energetic.
The biopsy news we got wasn’t great, although I wasn’t surprised as I expected to hear the gloomy information. Basically, it is likely that the tumor had spread mast cells on a microscopic level. Pretty disappointing. We don’t know what is going to happen quite yet. There’s still a piece of information we are waiting on from Michigan State which will indicate the results of the c-kit analysis. This will give us a good idea of the treatment recommended.
But I find myself reflecting on this whole process that began when we found the tumor over a month ago. I come to a point where I leave this with a reference to the title of this series: the ‘Trace’ of my heart. When we adopted Trace in 2009, that was the name they had given him when he first arrived at the rescue. We decided to keep it. It’s a unique name and we figured, why give him yet another name to go by?
The word, trace, can be defined in a number of ways:
- a course or path that one follows
- a mark or line left by something that has passed
- a path, trail, or road made by the passage of animals, people, or vehicles
- a sign or evidence of some past thing
Trace (the dog) is all of these to me. While we do not know what will happen, I do know in this moment that he has taught me so much. And I don’t say any of this as a ‘saying goodbye’ or a ‘bidding farewell’. What I am saying is that the beings and places we come in contact with will always leave a mark, a trace, in our minds and hearts. I often reflect on my family: grandparents who have passed, my parents, my brothers, my in-laws, my friends, my mentors, my wife and child, and so on: they all, whether alive or passed, near or far, can be traced back to my heart by the connection I have/had with them. The same goes for the dogs of my past and the dogs we have now: these sacred, sentient beings with four legs and wagging tails, will eternally live within and without.
One day, whether its tomorrow or weeks or months or years (God willing) from now, Trace’s body will go back to the earth and some where, some time a new living being will be formed. Whether that be the grass or a leaf on a tree or a particle in the air floating off. I’d like to say that spiritually he will also exist infinitely, just as every dog I’ve ever had still lives within the heart. Why? Because we paid attention to each other. And if you think about the body, it comes from the ‘dirt,’ takes form and evolves only to turn back to dirt. In that sense we call that process birth, life, and then death. But I tend to believe that consciousness sneaks away somehow and takes on new form. It’s like there’s a sense of the beingness we share with others (humans and animals) that always leaves a trace. It shows up in our thoughts and feelings and behaviors and actions. And even in the sense of forming a path on which to travel – the people (and dogs) of our lives take part in the forging of a way on which to venture.
When some one or animal we love passes on, we tend to lean on the notion of spirit. I know we could easily get into a debate on this topic but I say this: I believe the dog does have a spirit. Whether you want to call that a ‘soul’ or ‘energy’ and whether you want to believe it comes from God or nature, doesn’t matter to me. There is something very fascinating, even in the midst of mourning the loss of one we love, about the sweet experience of just living; of being part of this grand stage we call the universe. Many of us can probably attest to the notion that even though a loved one is ‘gone,’ in a very real sense we KNOW that being is still very much here, within and without.
So, I guess what I am saying is that Trace will always be here, always be everywhere, in some form, and in some way. What he has taught me is that while the joy and sorrow of life and death can be overwhelming, there is truly something to appreciate about giving all you can to the ones you love.
But there’s still something left to do and that’s to give back to Trace what he was born to do; what his ancestors thrived on (an even saved lives because of it); to give back to Trace what fulfills his spirit and makes him free. That’s right: we’re gonna run! We’re gonna run our asses off. Before we found out about his tumor in January, I had ordered him a running harness from Alpine Outfitters, along with some Cani-Cross equipment for me. Ironically, the harness came in the mail the day he had surgery a month ago. We’re going to run and he’s going to pull me along. That’s my only wish for him at this point, to get him running again. To let him feel free. And in some way this brings back one of my pastimes of being a cross country runner. I figure I need to stay in shape anyway, take care of myself, and in my core my body knows it was always running that set me loose.
All is not lost. Right here and right now is all we have – it is all we will ever have. It’s time to be free – let’s run.
March 9, 2014
THE SPIRIT OF TRACE IS FREE
It is with the heaviest of heart I announce that my beloved Trace has passed. Yesterday we found that his incision from his surgery had split open and we thought maybe he could get stitched back up. We woke up this morning and he had bled everywhere. So I took him to the vet hospital and found that he had developed a new tumor underneath his scar. It was about three times the size of the one that was removed a month ago. There was no surgery to be done and there was no stitching that could help him.
I am devastated. I’ve balled my eyes out all day. It hurts knowing he is ‘gone’. And we know there was nothing else we could do for him. Fortunately, he was in a place where he wasn’t in so much pain as later stage cancer can be. But, by the looks of things, he wasn’t too far away from being in dire straights.
There’s no way to express how much I love him and miss him so much. And I don’t speak in past tense because I know he is still near. On the way to the hospital, I prayed about what to do because for the past few months I’ve been praying for the cancer to vanish. I realize now it was not in my control – it was not up to me. So this morning as Trace and I drove, I asked for a sign to show us what to do. It was when we were in the hospital and the surgeon inspected the bloodied area of his abdomen – I saw the look on the surgeon’s face and without saying any words, I knew it was time. I broke down. I sobbed. And there was Trace. He looked at me. It felt like he knew it was time.
The sinking feeling. The weighed down sensation. It all happened so quickly. But I finally had to stop thinking about what I wanted for me and I made a choice for Trace that set him free from his discomfort. As painful at it was, I found peace in holding his body next to mine, his head resting on my lap. His piercing blue eyes – I knew I would never see them again but they will forever be burned into my eyes. But in my heart I knew this was one of the painfully richest moments of my life.
As the surgeon injected the sedative, Trace began to relax and rest with me, my tears falling on his face. He was at ease. I can’t make this stuff up – right before the final injection was made, Trace raised his head and licked my chin – a kiss farewell. I held him in my arms. He wasn’t alone. He was safe. He is safe. I don’t know how many times I told him “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” but I’d like to believe he sent a message to my heart that “it was okay”. And so I told him to “run, run as fast as you can, as far as you’d like”.
In the saddest moment, I found a sweet feeling just resting with him. No more worry. No more pain for him. It was purely honorable. Full of dignity.
So, I call out to you Trace, my precious boy. I will always remember running with you and your beautiful gallop. I will always remember the first day we got you: you were the only dog that got along with Bella. I’ll always remember your ears pinned back when you’d be excited to see me. I’ll always remember your sweet face as I massaged you behind the ears. I’ll always remember your resonate voice as it echoed throughout the area. I know wherever I go, you will be with me Trace. We used to call you by so many names: Mr. Brown, Mr. Dinosaur, Tracer Boy, Buddy Boy. You always be all of those to me for eternity.
You were taken from us too soon but I know you’ll be with me even though your body won’t lie next to my side of the bed. I know you’ll be with me when I hike in the snow – oh, how you loved the snow like a true husky. I know you’ll be with me when I run around the yard with my children. And I know you’ll always be on my left side when Bella and I go for walks.
You are my sweet boy and I honor you and I honor your spirit. You were a noble dog, full of life. And while I did not get to fulfill my final wish for you, I’m still going to run – FOR YOU – and I know you will run with me, full stride and all. I rejoice in my faith that some day, when my life transforms beyond this one, you will be there, wagging your tail, ready to run and play. Until then, I want to say that I love you and every dog that comes after you will know that your were here…that your ARE here. I love you, Trace.
March 10, 2014
THE AFTERMATH: UNSHAKABLE PEACE
Many people are uncomfortable with publicly sharing the experience we have been through – that it somehow cheapens the meaning of it. I disagree because there’s something very divine, something very creative about this experience of sharing what is sacred to me, sacred to all of us. Holding Trace in that moment in the hospital was one of the most sacred experiences I have ever had. So, I suppose, I feel a freedom that comes in expression and I don’t do it for anybody else but me. And if it just so happens that others can learn from my own experience then that’s great.
You see, to be sacred means to imply dedication, setting something or someone apart, devotion, reverence, respect, and most of all connection. It was and is the memory and experience of Trace being with us that was/is sacred. Just the capacity to be conscious with another being is holy.
A redwood box filled with Trace’s ashes will be a symbol of his sacredness. And the origin of of what makes him sacred and free is his heart, his sheer center of being. We don’t need murals and statues to find the divine; it lives within us, only if we open ourselves up to invite it in. And so, his ashes will only be a reflection of what is really truly already in my heart.
In the aftermath of Trace’s passing, or transformation as I like to call it, I have found an intriguing, eye-opening peace about him. If there’s a powerful energy about the last 24 hours, it is that for the first time in a long time, I have seen and felt his energy in the strangest of ways. As I mentioned yesterday, on the way to the hospital I asked for guidance and that came through the eyes of the surgeon who tended to us. In a single moment, no words were said but a powerful look through the eyes of another human shook my soul, as if the entire universe saw through him right back at me, showing me, “it is time.”
People ask about Bella, our other dog. When I got Trace ready to go, I told Bella to “say goodbye” – even in that moment, whether I wanted to admit it or not, I had a feeling this was it. It seemed Bella wasn’t quite sure what was going in that moment. She timidly approached and of course Trace wanted nothing to do with her. It was when I got home from the hospital that Bella sank with me. I walked into the empty house and I sat on the floor and just sobbed. And there she was, the dog who came before Trace, that came and laid down by my side. It was in that moment Bella knew, she felt it. She and I are going to heal together these next few months. It’s a new dynamic in the home now and Bella and I are gonna have to figure this out together.
My other eye-opening moment came when I put my daughter to bed last night. We do the usual nighttime books and then we say a prayer and sing a little song while we both lay in bed. By the time I got to prayer she was pretty much asleep. I laid there and I closed my eyes and I began to pray. And I asked for a sign, something to show me that Trace was safe. Not a minute later, I felt this little hand (from my sleeping daughter) caress my face and I felt a rush of joy, a blanket of peace. It was then I knew that Trace was safe and he was alright. And in the next moment, my daughter – mind you she is still asleep at this point – takes my hand and places it on her little stuffed animal she is snuggling with: a husky, whose name of course is, Trace. I melted with tears of joy.
And then finally this morning, I got in to work and I was the on call counselor at the time. I get a call from our front office manager who tells me that a student walked in asking to see me because she knows I run the PAWS outreach program at the University (basically, I’m the dog person on campus). This student wanted to talk to me about a puppy they found outside their dorm last night. So I scratched my head in irony. The student sat in my office and explained to me that this very young puppy had a collar but no tags and there was no way they could keep it. And for the record, NO, we are not getting another dog and NO, I did NOT offer to take this puppy. But in the moments of talking with this student I found myself thinking of Trace and in my heart he reminded me of this wonderful life we have. No matter how short or long it is, there’s no better way to live than to live with love and compassion. So I guided the student to some resources to help find this dog a home – a home, I hope could provide the kind of grace and love we gave to Trace. It felt good to do that.
As I sat with Trace yesterday in those finals moments, it has hit me square up front how poetic that was for the both of us. I value my independence – there are just many things in my life I enjoy doing on my own and its always been part of my temperament. Trace was the same way – he was independent, just a strong dog on his own. So it was only fitting, that he and I got to share that moment, just to the two of us. It was pure, abiding, selfless love. It reminds me of an adapted saying from psychologist, Steven Hayes: “love isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” And I find peace in that…unshakable peace.
March 11, 2014
THE POWER OF SPIRIT
Every Tuesday I lead a faculty/staff meditation session as part of my outreach work for my job. With my aikido experience, personal meditative practice, and clinical specialty in mindfulness-based approaches, I get just as much out of it as the other faculty and staff who attend. We do all sorts of meditation: metta (loving-kindness meditation), zazen (Zen meditation), guided meditation, nature meditation, contemplative meditation, forgiveness meditation and many more. Today’s session was as powerful as I’ve ever meditated and particularly spiritual.
The group knew what happened to Trace and I am so lucky to be surrounded by such supportive people – they are a wonderful group. At a place of readiness to clear the mind, I asked the group what they wanted for meditation today. Someone said, “something low-key”. The first thing that came to mind was the pull to ‘visit’ a place we were fond of – a place maybe we’ve been before, maybe a place we have never been, or even a place we could imagine up ourselves. So I gave them the task, upon my cue to go to that place and rest. Just to rest in the center of the place of peace and simply visualize standing, sitting or laying down. To just watch. We could choose to be alone or be with family or friends or animals – whatever showed up, see what happened.
We began with a lead-in mindfulness practice, noticing the connection with everything in and around us as we sat on our cushions. And then it began, the release of our hearts and minds to travel to that place of rest. I instantly saw myself sitting in an open field, fresh green grass on a gradual hill, clear blue skies, a mountain range as the backdrop, and the warm glow of the sun above. It was a culmination of images that represented the many nature scenes I have witnessed prior. And instantly, there was Trace, who suddenly appeared with all smiles and wagging tail as he trotted over to me. We played and we ran around. He rolled on the ground and I rubbed his belly as he just melted in the bliss of being there with me. We sat for a while together and just watched the trees and the sky and the mountains. I was with my boy again and it was good. As I had this meditative vision, I literally smiled as my eyes were closed, my mind off in the distant place. It was beautiful. He was full of life as we interacted. His body restored. He was renewed, pure, and full of light. What seemed like an hour of meditation was only about ten minutes.
At the end of this segment of the mediation we envisioned saying a “farewell, see you again soon” to our places we visited. So, I gave Trace a good rub-a-dub, a pat on the head and kiss between his eyes. He let out a resonant bark, as if to say, “thank you” – at least that’s how it felt. And as the image dissolved he trotted back off into the freedom of that beautiful scene. I opened my eyes as we closed the meditation session and just couldn’t stop smiling. It was such a powerful moment.
Now, some may read this and think it is merely a delusion or some hocus pocus vision. Well, maybe so. But I “saw” what I saw and I felt what I felt and it was a sensual experience to me. In my years of clinical training and in my years of personal practice of mindfulness and mediation, I understand the power of spirit. It is transcendent, beyond the monkey mind that clouds our awareness. I am convinced that we have access to something spiritually deeper than our chattering perceptions. And I think we all can find it if we simply stop trying so hard to change/control everything – really, if we just sit and still the mind and just watch and listen. The evolution of this consciousness is fascinating. And we don’t necessarily have to sit and meditate; it really can be as simple as conscious appreciation for what is, like watching a sunset, jaw-dropped without any comment.
What started out as a devastating experience has now evolved into appreciating what was already within me. Spirit never dies and its pretty damn cool when you catch glimpses of it in your daily life. What an ironic process this has been and will continue to be…
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