Sunday, March 04, 2012

Mainly Mol

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.


the polish chick said...

lucy, i am very sorry about molly's diagnosis, but glad at the path you have chosen to take. a lovely and thoughtful post.

herhimnbryn said...

Mol and Lucy and Tom,
Love from Susan, Alchemist and Bryn xxx

Catalyst said...

There will be some who scoff at this post. I am not among them. I, we, understand the bond one forms with a pet. A member of the family, really. Your path with Mol seems very wise.

marja-leena said...

So many happy things, so many sad, so beautifully written... it is all about life lived well as best as we know how and you are doing it. Hugs to the three of you.

Unknown said...

Much worse for you and Tom than for Moll. Meanwhile impossible to read this post dry-eyed.

The Crow said...

This is a beautiful portrait, in words and image, of Grand Dame Molly.

We lost our dog to an aggressive, wasting cancer in 1995, in the space of a weekend (from diagnosis to euthanization). We were spared, if that is the correct word in such an event, the long wait you and Tom will endure, Lucy.

Mol is so fortunate to have such loving, conscientious human companions - no, parents - as you and Tom. My heart goes out to you both.

Roderick Robinson said...

One of those ineluctable laws: the more the pleasure the greater the loss. As if pleasure arrived on the never-never and must then be repaid at an inflated interest rate.

Reflection rather mere mourning brought about your most important conclusion: Molly herself, however, only knows how to live in the now. Along with the fact that invasive treatment would certainly be misunderstood. And if I were in any doubt about your affection for Mol the pre-flight rationale (and later Tom's affectionate joke) would have set me straight.

I can see the need for spoiling and deciding on the greatest treat. Walks last longer than goodies in the bowl. They're a pleasure sustained without the taint of apprehension. Walks are also a pleasure shared, whereas goodies disappear in a flash.

I'm glad I met her. She greeted me formally in her automobile ante-chamber and then, as it were, escorted me to the rear to show me the full extent of her apartment. Proof, I thought, that the car was a familiar place and not an instrument of exclusion. Feed her on long, long sandy beaches; get her fully knackered (your own knackerment being your own tribute) so that then she will sleep. Sleep and walk, sleep and walk. Cheers.

rr said...

I am so sorry. The particularly human torture of the knowledge of knowledge. It sounds as though you are dealing with, and building on, the situation in a wonderfully open way. It is the price - and the bravery - of all love, I imagine, the pain of the losing of it.

Zhoen said...

Live in Mol's eternal moments, happy now is happy now.

Gardeners don't think that way easily, do they?

Fire Bird said...


zephyr said...

Oh golly...
i am so sorry.
Yes...lots of pictures and being aware will give you the gift of treasuring--even more--every Molly moment.
Spike, Kirby's sibling, is now 18...and every night when he comes and lies on my chest before i turn out the light, i give thanks.

Rouchswalwe said...

There's a soft spot in my heart for beautiful Molly, partly because my grandparents' dog, whom I grew up with, was a cocker spaniel. But mostly because Molly knows how to live and enjoy all of those things you tell us about here and on Molly's walking bloglet. Oh, please give her a special fur ruffle from me and Cat.

marly youmans said...

Reminds me of Clive talking about his Pantalaimon connection with his little dog...

Enjoy your now, which is always dog time--no looking back, no seeking forward farther than a thrown ball.

Julia said...

I'm so sorry to hear, but am glad that in the now she is happy (and I'm also glad to have met her).

Take care of yourself too.

Avus said...

Your quote from Kipling says it all, Lucy. We know when they join us that there will come a day when they will leave and that is the price we pay for the years of love and companionship they give us.
Moll does not know any of this and she is not in pain. When that day comes I know, as a fellow dog owner, that you will help her with that final act of love. Meanwhile continue to enjoy your mutual companionship.

Lucas said...

It is good that you know about Moll's condition and that the present time is here now. A beautiful post!

Lucy said...

Thanks all, you are all lovely; I knew your kindness would be the thing which would undo me.

Hard though it is, I think it is better to know; we can do everything we can to make her happy and comfortable for as long as we can.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear your news about Molly. I've got my fingers (and Rommy my spaniel (11) has his paws) crossed that the vet is wrong. P

HKatz said...

Cherishing her and giving her lots of love and comfort is the only way to go about it, yes. I'm sorry to hear this news.

Jean said...

I guess I've found it painfully hard to know what to say here, and therefore not said anything... Moved by how much you love her. Still miss my dead cat. A colleague told me the other day she's dog-phobic - I found this so hard to conceive of, so much sadder than loving a pet and then losing them. xx to all

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Work has kept me away from here for too long, and I am not quite up to speed with everything. I left Peter still sleeping an hour ago, spooned around our terrier Jack who opened one eye as I vacated the bed. I could hear contented little dog comfort sounds as I closed the door, jack settling in happily for a long Saturday morning snooze, warm and cosy, blissfully happy. Sometimes it's the small things in life that give the most pleasure, and those contented mutterings and shiftings closer into Peter's chest, please all the more because I know that's Jack's way of sharing with me just how good a Saturday morning can get.

You've written about Mol, her condition and the unknown future with such compassion and insight in this post, that there's little to add other than to send heartfelt empathy. They wrap themselves around our hearts, these four-legged companions of ours, and we are completely lost.

But also, found.

Love from Clive.

Lucy said...

Thanks again, I treasure all your lovely words and thoughts.

Rosie said...

better to have loved and lost...

christopher said...

Even For The Dogs And Cats

I would take away
the cup if I had a choice
and wishes could fly.
I wish that tantrums
would work but they didn't, they
don't, not even once.
Untidy heart break
is beautiful in it's own
time, me wishing on
a star for grace, for blessings
and for dignity.

March 10, 2012 4:57 PM

anna tambour said...

Rosie had the type of cancer, and I'm certain it wasn't painful, though it did slow her down for the last couple of months. It worried her when I cried, too, so like you, I couldn't let her see it. Whatever the time left that you have with Mol at your physical side, it has now vastly expanded, as now you make the most of moments that would slide by unnoticed before. May the sad knowledge be overshadowed by all the joy you share together. And the dog's life that Mol has with you should refine the definition.


anna tambour said...

er, I meant to say that Rosie had the same type of cancer.