It started in July with a limp.
Well, a limp is nothing new to Malcolm and I. Between Amore and a Dolce and all their combined surgeries, a limp is nothing. When it comes to the girls, a limp can be caused by a multitude of things. A bad landing when jumping out of the SUV. An embedded cacti spine. Arthritis.
It was a slight limp, no biggie. Dolce still loved her walks, was still jumping up on the couch and scrambling off the bed. Dolce still ran after Amore and ran in for dinner. Her eyes still bright and full of life, it was nothing to be concerned over. It was just a little noticeable. Really, it was nothing.
It was a persistent limp. Like a lingering cough, it just wouldn’t go away. A vet visit determined it was macro-degerative joint disease or in common language, arthritis. Not an unexpected diagnosis. Dolce was a month shy of nine years and in Berner years, this is old. After shoulder and leg surgeries in her puppy days, arthritis seemed not only plausible but a reasonable conclusion. Nine years of over compensating on her driver’s side had created complications down the road. Pain meds were prescribed, exercise was ordered, weight loss recommended. All geared to help with her arthritis. We were all over it.
But the limp didn’t go away and by the end of August the limp had worsened. To the point where Dolce wasn’t putting any weight on her left paw. Her load-bearing front leg was hitched up and held up, she refused to use it. Her walks were shortened, her running subdued and awkward. Dolce was hopping, not walking. She was panting, not breathing normal. Her eyes dull, not shiny. She was in pain. Terrible pain. Worried, Malcolm and I made an appointment for a Canine Physical Therapist. A rehab specialist for dogs. We knew how important it was for Dolce to use her leg, and it was obvious the arthritis had advanced.
One look at Dolce’s front paw and we were told to head straight to our vet. Something wasn’t right. Our worry turned into panic. Another set of x-rays showed the bone configuration had changed. It was time for a biopsy.
Biopsies are never fun. For neither the patient nor the parent. Dolce needed to spend time in the vet hospital, Malcolm and I needed to wait for the results. We had an unknown. Arthritis is much easier to understand and comprehend. Humans have arthritis. Berners have bad hips, e.g., Hip Dysplasia. We could deal with arthritis – but this new unknown threw us off kilter. We were unprepared. The “what if’s” and “if so’s” and “how do we’s” swirled in our heads. Our discussions were geared around quality of life, and costs, and the unacceptable that neither one of us were willing to say out loud, but it stood out there like the ugly pink elephant in the room. The only one not affected was Amore. She was soaking up the attention, having us all to herself. With one less child in the house, Amore was loving the extra love. No sharing us, the couch and bed just for her.
It was the end of September when Malcolm called me at work. I remember it was mid-afternoon and I had worked through lunch. “Hon, you need to come over to Dr. Gruda’s.” No hello. Tersely spoken. “Let me finish up what I’m working on and I’ll meet you over there.” “No, honey, now! I’m already there.” Click. Dr. Gruda has been the girls’ vet since he removed their dew claws at two days old. He has been through every surgery, every sickness, every shot Dolce and Amore has had. I headed his way.
Our waiting was over. The biopsy confirmed Dolce had a cancerous tumor entwined between the bones of her left front paw. On the driver’s side. Our sweet, sweet Dolce had cancer. The dreaded big “C”. Our worse fears confirmed. We were devastated. “Has it spread?” “What does Dr. Gruda say?” “What are our options?”
“Honey, we either amputate in the morning and start chemo ASAP, or Dr. Gruda needs to put her down this afternoon. We have to make a decision. Now.” There was no question in my heart as to what we should do, but there were so many more concerns to discuss. Monetary issues being one of them. Surgery and chemo wasn’t going to be cheap. Less than college but a whole lot more than braces would cost if we had kids. Does anyone want to put a price on a life? When does it become too much? Chemo treatments might only extend her life by 18 months or so. Was it worth the expense? Dolce had just turned nine. With a life expectancy of 7 to 10 years, we were in her bonus years as it were. What if her hips go out. Or her other paw? What if the cancer had spread? What if? What if? What if? I was a wreck. Malcolm was my rock.
With a deep breath and a choking gulp, I told Malcolm I wanted to amputate. I wasn’t ready to let Dolce go. I just couldn’t do it. My sweet, sweet baby was still good everywhere else. She still had heart. She still had three mostly good legs. We walked inside the vet’s office and signed the release. I am thankful Malcolm felt the same. Surgery was scheduled for early the next morning.
And just like that Dolce is now a three-legged canine. Her limp turned into gimp. Although in pain from the surgery, Dolce’s breathing evened out, her eyes went back to bright. Dolce no longer suffered with pain. My little trooper was a bit unsteady, wrapped in bandages and gauzes, and wobbling on three legs, but was able to come home a week later.
It’s been ten weeks since surgery. We are on the last leg of chemo treatments and slowly building up Dolce’s stamina. She is gaining her confidence back, growing stronger, and learning a new kind of balance. Her walks are longer and just this Thanksgiving weekend, she ran past us while out on the trail. A first. She struggles with stairs with over two steps, and with positioning her back legs. She still needs assistance getting up on the bed but can jump on the couch like an old pro.
All in all, she’s a healthy canine and is accepting of the circumstance. We tease her and call her Peggy, Gimpy and Tripod. She jokes back with a push between our legs.
Its a new life. For all of us. But we have our baby.