Yesterday, when Roo rolled around in some nice green grass, I noticed a terrible swelling of her vagina. She’s swollen up there before, but never as badly. It happens when she itches herself by dragging her butt on something she might be allergic to. Usually, a dab of a special antibiotic ointment that Dr. Stokes gave me takes care of it.
Last night, when I was saying goodnight to Roo and telling her the same silly things I always do, I felt a swollen lymph gland in her throat. It was around 1 AM, and though I’m never ready to go to bed that early, I was going to try to because she hand’t been feeling good. I was chalking it up to the heat and the long drives.
Orville died from lymphoma, so feeling a swollen lymph glad gave me a shock. I spent the next half hour online, where all sorts of veterinary sites reminded me that swollen lymph glands could just be infection-related, and what with her being swollen down under, I hoped that was what it was.
We had to leave the campground where we were, north of Nashville, because it’s Memorial Day weekend and every last spot was taken. The coppers over there had been unnecessarily pushy about it, so I was glad to leave anyway, though I tried to extend through the weekend in the hopes it would give Roo a little time to get back on her feet.
To our rescue through Facebook came Pamela, who responded to a desperate feeler I posted on Facebook for a place to camp in the Nashville area. It was a short drive to her place. Pamela is new to the area herself, but as a Golden parent — she has two sweet, beautiful Goldens named Taylor and Chulo, and has had several others over the years — she already has the line on veterinarians. She found out where Roo could go to be seen as soon as we arrived and parked the trailer.
Twenty years ago, my Labrador Orville and I were in Germany. Any time I walked Orville, he would come and sit under my legs whenever I stopped walking and I would scratch his chest. That happened many times every day. At five o’clock that afternoon there was something that had appeared suddenly on his chest. It was hard and the size of a golf ball. I didn’t know what it was, but I had a feeling it was bad. I found a country vet nearby. The waiting room was filled with patients. Dogs, cats, birds.
When our turn came, the vet, who was a stark, grey woman of about 65 wearing steel-rimmed spectacles, worked with cold German efficiency. No pleasantries, no greeting, just, “Wass ist löss mit ihm?” What’s wrong with him?
I showed her the gold ball on Orville’s chest and she felt it and said, “Lymphoma. He’ll be dead in six months,” and called for the next patient. I walked out in a daze.
We returned to the States right away and Orville got the best care possible. At one point, at the University of Colorado’s oncology department, a vet told me that only one dog had been cured of lymphoma, and she chalked that up to the fact that never once was the disease discussed in front of the dog. I had already blown that. Orville’s dying was killing me, and I had discussed it with his vets in front of him. I’m not saying that killed him.
The German vet was right. Despite the chemo and all the other treatment, Orville died six months, more or less to the day, after the German veterinarian said he would.
The vet was near Nashville, a half-hour drive from Pamela’s house, and Pamela kindly accompanied us. The vet felt Roo’s glands and said that it was more than the mandibular glands in her throat that were swollen. All her lymph glands were swollen. I hadn’t known where they were, but she showed me, and I could feel them.
The next step was to aspirate the glands so the fluid could be examined. Roo was such a good, brave girl as two syringes were placed in her throat, one at each of the glands, and tiny amounts withdrawn.
When the vet came back, she said that a colleague more versed in these diseases said that additional fluid should be drawn from the glands in her back legs. By this time, Roo was tired and preferred to stay on the cool floor, but again she cooperated and stood stock still for the needles. I tell her several times each day that she’s the best bear in the world, and she showed it again.
Without a lab report, the vets weren’t in a position to make a specific diagnosis. But they said it’s all but certain that Roo has lymphoma. It’s the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, so they said though there was chance of getting a result tomorrow, the chances were that it would come on Tuesday. They didn’t have a microscope with a built-in camera, but one of them took some surprisingly good cell phone photos of Roo’s smears and sent them to a pathologist colleague. Once again, they didn’t pronounce outright that Roo has lymphoma, they just all but said she did:
These images are highly suspect for lymphoma due to there being a majority of intermediate and large lymphocytes, presence of nucleoli, and mitotic figures present in some of the images. We will let you know as soon as we have the report back from Antech lab where they can evaluate the entirety of the slides. Thank you for entrusting us with sweet Roo's care - we all loved meeting her today.
Roo is not in pain, but she’s uncomfortable. The driving is hard on her and the heat has always been hard for her to take. I don’t know where to take her, where to go. She needs to be in cooler weather, but cooler weather is far away. But it won’t get any easier on her as time goes by,
Towards the end of Orville’s life, when we came back from Germany for his treatment, we had no house, only an airplane hangar in Longmont, Colorado. Orville didn’t mind, really. It was a pretty good place with lots of space. The only thing it didn’t have were windows.
But when Orville started to slow down, especially on the few days when his chemo laid him low, I began to feel that the windowless hangar was no place for a dying dog. It seemed that depriving him of the simple ability to at least look outside was wrong. A friend found us a little farm house nearby.
When Orville and I went to see it, I said to him, “Hey, Orv, do you want to live here? Should we live in this house?” and he answered the way he always did to let me know he understood or agreed with something. He hopped up to give me click on the nose. Not long after, he lay on the crabgrass in the little yard, more and more by himself in the last two days until he died. It was awful watching him out there. I had the feeling that he knew he was dying as he lay there looking at the mountains far away.
Now it is Roo’s turn for me to get her out of another aluminum box. I don’t know where, though. It’s been a problem. It’s a bigger one now.
Until Roo has a firm diagnosis there is nothing to do. The vet said that getting the swelling down with prednisone would make her feel better right away but would “close doors” on chemo treatment. So, in the meantime, she has to suffer through it.
She’s lying on the floor, panting, as she has these past few days. She gets up for a brief walk and seems okay. But she’s not. Barring any miracle from the lab, my poor, sweet Bearface is dying. She’ only seven-and-a-half. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.
It’s hard to see the letters now as I type those last words. At least I’m only typing them, because I’ll be damned if her cancer is ever discussed around Roo. I stopped the vet from discussing it more in front of Roo today. I suppose it’s insane to hope that will really do any good. I can’t imagine that hearing people discuss your upcoming death can do much good, either.