Life With Canine Cancer – The New Normal


It’s nine o’clock on Tuesday evening. I don’t know what to do with myself. The dishes are done, the dogs are fed. They are quite relaxed for Border Collies; they romped for hours in the warm spring air.

I don’t want to sleep. Tomorrow everything will change. But right now my two B&W companions are snoozing happily next me on the bed. I want to hold this moment still for as long as possible. I want it to stretch out and wrap its memories around me forever. Right now, this moment, all is right with the world.

Tomorrow at 8AM, I drop Daisy off for her chemotherapy treatment. This is our “normal.” She has cancer; we live with it. We treat it; we won’t be able to cure it. We play a lot of Frisbee and are still amazed at how much weight we are both gaining.

Tomorrow at 11AM, I take Daisy’s sibling Duncan in to see her internist/oncologist. We have him checked yearly for signs of the same type of cancer that Daisy has as it can be genetic. But that’s not the reason for this visit.

Duncan, aka Lad of the Lumps, has nine lipomas. When I found out that one in ten lipomas are malignant, I joked with his veterinarian that he has one more to go. I know it doesn’t work that way, but when you’re dealing with cancer on a regular basis, sometimes a warped sense of humor seeps out.

This past Sunday, I found the tenth growth. It is huge, almost baseball-sized, and located in an area that doesn’t seem typical for lipomas. I can’t believe that I’ve somehow missed this growth. I had just checked him on Saturday as he has an upcoming visit with his holistic veterinarian and I was searching for new lumps so they could be checked and aspirated during the visit.

I didn’t feel the growth on his shoulder then. How did I miss it? How long have I missed it?

About six months ago Duncan had his regular check up with the chiropractor. He’s a wild boy and has of late been getting a little creaky. His chiropractor examined him thoroughly, made a few minor adjustments and proclaimed him good to go for another six months or so.

Since then, I’ve noticed him limping slightly on his right front leg. Not enough to inhibit his all-out ball chasing, but just enough that I could see it ever so slightly. And then there was the overall stiffness during the evenings after these rambunctious games of fetch. It wasn’t consistent; it would come and go. But something about it kept nagging at me. So I made an appointment with his holistic vet to start the diagnostic process. That appointment is scheduled for this coming Saturday.

I’ve gotten really good over the past year at not anticipating diagnostics. Long-term cancer treatment has that effect I guess. Besides, the clinical reality and the dog reality can be two different things. I look to my girl to tell me how she is doing. I watch her play chase and inhale her food. I watch her snarfle in the pillows and wrestle with her brother. All is good.

It’s not that I forget she has cancer. It’s just that sometimes I don’t remember. And in between chemo treatments and ultrasounds and blood tests, I’ve learned not to worry about the next set of results. There’s nothing I can do about it. Besides, I think she’ll tell me long before a test will.

In this moment, everything is still okay. I cherish it. I want to drench myself in it like a favorite perfume with the scent lingering for days. I watch their deep synchronized breaths, their occasional sighs and stretches. They are happy, content, relaxed. They are not thinking about tomorrow. I really wish I could say the same.  — Barbara Dobbins

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Barbara Dobbins has been writing for WDJ since 2011 with a focus on veterinary and canine health topics. Her lifelong fascination with dogs has led her in many directions. As a youngster she would round up her dogs and horse for a day of adventure exploring and searching for buried treasure in the California hills. Inspired by Margaret Mead with a nod to Indiana Jones, she went on to study anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies and obtained a masters degree in art history. Then two new puppies bounced into her life, and Barbara launched into studying animal behavior and training and spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the behavior department at her local shelter. When her beloved Border Collie Daisy was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she dug deep to research all she could about the disease, and has written extensively about all sorts of canine cancer for Whole Dog Journal. Liaising between pet owners and veterinary practice, science, and research, she synthesizes these complex and data-driven subjects into accessible information. She continues to take inspiration from her two research assistants, mixed-breed Tico and Border Collie Parker.


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