Tom came back all spruced up and bright and rejuvenated, new glasses givng his face that slightly unfamiliar interesting look they often do, and the light, sleek hearing aids, affording him an exciting though sometimes uncomfortable new connection with the world, including me. Most of all though, he has the fresh energy of being out and about, doing things for himself, and reaching out and reacquainting himself well with places and people which had become too tenuously, saddeningly, far away. I had profited from and largely enjoyed my solitude for perhaps a week, then I just looked forward to getting him back.
It had been at the back of my mind that I had booked a haircut for Molly in March, back in about November when she last had one. I dug out the card, and found it was on the 1st, Thursday, the day after Tom got back. Her coat was very matted - had become so within a month or so of the last cut, so she had to be clipped quite close, the fur coming away in places like little black toupées. I happened to mention to Cécile, the groomer, about her finding the lump in Mol's mammary gland that Emy, the vet next door, had removed last year. Running her hand over the place she observed there was another lump there, higher up in the groin, perhaps just scar tissue, she said, but...
I took Mol next door to Emy straight after, who was free at the time and offered to look straight away. Immediately she felt the place she said, 'Not good.'
Oddly, for people who worry quite a lot and often meet trouble half-way, we had given very little thought to the matter once the operation, eight months ago, was done. She had recovered so quickly, has been and still is, so well - even the last ear abscess had been got over relatively quickly and without trouble. Emy had been quite confident that she had removed the tumour satisfactorily and it had not looked too bad, that we all just put it behind us.
What to do? I asked.
Enjoy your dog while you have her, was Emy's reply. And how long would that be? was my inevitable next question. Understandably, she was reluctant to commit herself on this, but when pushed, hazarded perhaps a year. It is clear that the cancer is still in the lymph system; that the first tumour came up quite quickly, and that this one has appeared in a space of eight months, would indicate it is quite an aggressive form. But, Emy added, I can be wrong.
There's no question of further invasive treatments or investigations, though if she later suffers from oedema, as she might, this can be relieved by cortico-steroids. If she were human she'd have gone for chemo and other therapies, but while these do exist in some places for animals, neither Emy nor we consider them an option. A human being can tell themselves why this horrible thing is happening to them, and look hopefully towards a time when, they will be free both of the procedure and the reason for it, an animal can't. Even so, I have known people who have had chemo, who say they would not put themselves through it again, but would rather enjoy the life they have left while they have it.
Molly is twelve years old. She has had more than her fair share of unpleasant, painful vet's treatments in her life (a fact which would lead us to join in the condemnation of the careless breeding of purebred dogs, which increases the risk of breed faults which lead to suffering). Giving your heart to a dog to tear is just that, you know what's going to happen, some time; we reckoned on a good 14 years with her, hoped for 16, then to wake up one morning and find her gone, if perhaps 13 is all we're going to get, then we would prefer the last one to be as happy and peaceful and pain- and fear-free as possible.
We are resolved, and inclined, to lavish as much love and care and indulgence on her as possible: good walks, the three of us together (Tom also came back resolved to exercise more and lose some weight); plenty of all-in cuddles on the sofa; extra meat with her dinner and healthy treats (without overfeeding her); strokes and kisses and games in abundance. She is lapping it up, and we find that attention, patience and loving kindness are extending to how we are with each other too. We cried at first but haven't been going around tear-stained, (though so far there's not been a night when I haven't woken in the small hours thinking about the worst of it). Without getting stuck in morbid despondency, we are able to talk about difficult and painful aspects of the matter more easily than I expected, and there is a relief in admitting and voicing doubts and fears that we have both been nursing, even from before we had the news, but hadn't dared speak about. I hated coming home to Tom with bad news when he was so cheerful after his trip, but I'm also thankful that his raised spirits have given him the fortitude and clarity to cope with this better than he might have, which helps me too. We had a lurking fear (non-animal owners, or those less sentimental and co-dependent on their animals than ourselves, may well find this incomprehensible and pathetic) that when she was no more, we would lose a bond between ourselves as a couple, which loss we might not decently survive, but that fear has vanished.
According to Emy, cancers such as this in dogs cause little pain, and so often aren't diagnosed until late. It isn't visible or in a place where one would normally perceive it, so we learned before we might have done. If I hadn't mentioned the matter to Cécile, she might not have felt the area so attentively, or if I'd gone at another time it might not have been evident at all. If Damocles hadn't been able to see the sword he wouldn't have been in torment. Because we do know, there is a shadow and an weight over us.
Apprehending past and future makes us human. 'Living in the now', as the glib New Age gurus are always counselling us, is all well and good, but the now always contains a significant measure of remembering and of looking forward to things, with pleasure or its opposite. I find I am no longer able to browse and daydream over the holiday brochures and maps as I did before, safe in the knowledge that we were in no position to think about going anywhere or doing anything much without Mol; to do so now would be tainted with guilt and sorrow. We should be OK for the trip down to the Pyrenees with her next month, to meet up with two of my brothers, my sister and three of my nieces, seeing selected members of the party off on foot on the St James pilgrimage route... I hope the weekend I was planning to spend in the UK in June to coincide with my youngest niece's visit, who I haven't seen since long before her mother, my sister, died, won't mean abandoning a crisis... Even the matter of cultivating my garden, that famous exhortation to pragmatism and immediacy, is now overshadowed: if I plant peas now, and pumpkins shortly, how will things be when I come to pick them? What will be happening with her when the winter salads are growing?
Molly herself, however, only knows how to live in the now. She seems as well as she's ever been, better even: enjoying her food, galloping up the stairs to jump on the bed in the morning; barking madly and seizing her lead and racing out of the door when we go out; 'mad-dogging' - rolling and growling and wagging her tail for no particular reason - on the rug; grappling and tussling with her towel when she comes in wet. It is the disconnect between the knowledge that we now have and the actuality of the little body filled with warmth and vitality and fun that gives a sense of unreality, disbelief, and indeed a degree of outrage, to the situation. As Tom says, presumably there will, some time, be a tipping point, after which she will no longer be well; how and when this will be we can't know, but it isn't today.
Future plans still need to be made, though contingency measures and warnings to others involved are perhaps wise. Resources kept back and nurtured aside need not be a cynical mockery or denial of grief and loss, but a necessary comfort and survival mechanism. I suppose I have to enjoy the planting and the growing and tending, and let the harvest look after itself. I must continue to live well, to love life and practise gratitude. I'm determined to keep up my 'Out with Mol' blog more regularly, to take photos of her, and to try to stay as creative and cheerful and positive as I can, not to give in to despair and waste precious time. An older student of mine once said: 'Happiness is not a right, it's a responsibility'. Mol does happiness very well, and she hates it when I cry.
Which all sounds fine. But it's still going to hurt like hell, it always was.