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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Pets 'n' Stuff | The Big C

"A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won't be too bad."
Robert Wagner

Howdy and welcome to today's post. It's going to be one of those ones that I don't know how to begin. I struggle with how to start posts at the best of times but today's is especially hard. It's a post nobody wants to write and something I didn't think I'd have to face any time soon. Still, it's not as bad as I thought it might be just a few days ago and I'm grateful for that small mercy. Today's post is about Baby, my chocolate Labrador. The dog that made me a doggy mama and my oldest furry kid.

The story really begins ten years ago when Baby broke her leg at just six months old. I was in my kitchen with her, the very same place I'm sitting as I write this, and she was watching my dad through the patio doors as he worked in the garden. From day one she loved my dad. Always wanted to be with him. So she was whining, wanting out to him. However, he was in and out the gate and the last thing he wanted was her to escape. One of the times he passed the window at the side of the house and Baby was so desperate to get to him, she attempted to jump on to the kitchen counter. It all happened so fast but I watched as she awkwardly fell back and yelp, running over to me after. It became apparent that she'd hurt her leg and we took her to the vet. This is a long story in itself that involves the vet messing up and issues with healing but in short, the fracture couldn't heal properly and they ended up having to put a pin in her leg to hold it together. I wish I had photos from that time but it was 2007. I wasn't accustomed to photographing and backing everything up yet. 

Throughout the years Baby managed fine. She always had a bit of a limp on what we came to call her 'bad leg' but she did everything a Labrador loves to do. In the last year or so we've been extra careful with her leg as her limp became more pronounced. We shortened her walks some, being more careful about walking her on concrete etc. 

Then at the end of August, while I was with my parents at our caravan, my sister took Baby on a long walk. It was a bit longer than any she'd been on in a while but usually she was fine if it was just once in a blue moon.

However, she didn't bounce back as fast as she usually would. That evening Eva had to carry her in from the back garden when she went to the bathroom. We rested her for the next few days and gave her Metacam, a painkiller that we already had. It seemed to help some but we still took her to the vet when I got back. The vet thought it was her arthritis, so prescribed rest and to continue with Metacam. However, during the week starting the 18th of September, we decided to take her back to the vet because she was still struggling. He decided to do some X-rays because he thought she may have ruptured her knee and may need an operation. 

On Thursday 21st of September, they put her out and took some X-rays of her leg. It turned out she hadn't ruptured her knee but at the site of her original break, bone had grown and thickened from what he believed to be a reaction to the metal and he thought that was causing her lameness. He mentioned that they had considered cancer but had ruled it out because there weren't holes in the bone like you'd associate with cancer. Once again he prescribed rest and Metacam, but with this time with Tramadol added too. We were to take her back a week later.

Oh Friday the 29th of September, my dad and I set off with Baby to go to the vet. I hadn't gone to the original appointment because it tends to be easier if I don't go, especially with Baby because the vet office is so small there's barely enough room but I went along for the next one.

This time Baby was seeing a vet called Craig, who was a specialist in this kind of area and who had actually done her original operation all those years ago. He wasn't the one that messed up but was the one who had to correct the mess up. When we went into the examination room, he felt her leg and he could tell it was still in pain despite the Metacam and Tramadol she was on.. I told him that during the week, since the X-rays, that she'd stopped using the leg almost entirely. Instead, unlike before, she favoured hopping around on three legs and lifting the one causing her pain. Craig explained how she had chronic arthritis in the hip of her 'good leg' and that considering how bad it was, the painkillers were still doing a good job of managing the pain but that meant we had to question why it wasn't doing such a good job in regards to the other leg.

Craig then proceeded to pull up the X-rays from the week before and his whole demeanour changed. I could tell immediately that whatever he saw, it wasn't good. He was quite for a moment, really looking at the X-ray. It felt like forever and then he explained how it was the first time he'd seen the X-ray. He called us over to look at the screen, so he could better explain what he felt he was looking at.

He told us there was catastrophic damage to both legs. The hip of the leg she'd been favouring was completely mashed. The arthritis was so bad that a fragment of bone was floating around. I knew she had arthritis but I wasn't expecting it to look like it did. Still, the painkillers were managing it. What he wanted to show us was her 'bad leg'. He showed us the arthritis in that leg, the site of the original fracture and the healthy bone. He then pointed out the abnormal bone growth and told us the reality and the words I hadn't really been prepared for.

The vet told us that he suspected Baby had bone cancer. I thought I had gone in, prepared for the worst. The worst being that they couldn't salvageable her leg. However, after the week before and the other vet basically ruling it out, I hadn't let myself think too much more about cancer. Craig said that the painkiller she was on is the best for arthritis, because it's a strong painkiller that eases pain and inflammation but that the only type of pain it couldn't touch was a bad infection and cancer. Although infection was a possibility, he was leaning more towards cancer because there was no sign of the pus you'd associate with infection. Although there weren't obvious holes through the bone, unlike the other vet, Craig pointed out lines he could see through it. Another marker for bone cancer.

So Craig gave us the options and his recommendations. He said if she was his dog, he would have her chest X-rayed as soon as possible and if there was no sign the cancer had spread to her chest, he would recommend amputating her leg. He said there was the option to take a biopsy and test to see if it was cancer, so we'd be 100% sure before deciding to amputate but he didn't recommend that because it would take at least two weeks to get the results back and by then it could be too late. He said they would still send the bone away to see if it was cancer and if he took her leg and it ended up not being cancer, he wouldn't want us coming and holding him responsible. So he wanted us to be sure of the risk but that her leg wasn't salvageable anyway. We understood that she'd do better having it removed, regardless if it was cancer or not. So we agreed to give her the best chance, we would have her chest X-rayed and if her lungs were clear, we would amputate.

Honestly, I don't think it sank in until I got home. Until I was in the sanctuary of my own house. I phoned my mum to tell her what results and burst into tears. My dad went into another room and I'm pretty sure he cried too. His worst case scenario was that the vet would say he wouldn't be able to take her on the walks they enjoyed together, he hadn't imagined cancer.

Then began the longest weekend of my life. I know one should stay away from Google in situations like this but I wanted to arm myself with information. So naturally I ended up looking bone cancer and while I had felt a little optimistic after speaking with the vet. Well, as optimistic a person can be after that kind of diagnosis, I didn't feel at all optimistic after I did some reading. I found out that bone cancer was one of the most aggressive and that by the time the dog starts showing signs, like becoming lame, it has usually spread. Most people said they'd had their dog put down while under for the X-rays. My heart broke a little more.

On Sunday morning, I got a phone call from my aunt saying that she and my granda had put some money into my account to help cover the costs of Baby's vet bill. I was so grateful but I couldn't have imagined just how much money she meant. She told me they'd put £1000 in my account! I burst into tears when she told me, I was so overwhelmed and grateful. She ended up crying too. I honestly can't put into words how much it means to me and how helpful its going to be. It won't pay for the entirety of the bill but hopefully it'll be at least half.

That evening we decided to do something special with Baby. We had unanimously agreed that regardless of the results, we wouldn't let her go while under aesthetic. It may have been somewhat selfish, wanting a few more days with her. Wanting be with her when she slipped away, being the last faces she saw, surrounding her with love rather than medical staff. But it felt important. Still, we wanted to do something special with her. Give her some real meat, take her to her favourite spot to walk. So that's what we did, me, Eva and my dad. My mum was in England.

We took her down to her favourite spot on the coast and tossed some stones in the water for her. One of her favourite thing is when you toss a stone, instead of attempting to find the stone you threw, she just picks up the biggest she can manage. Sometimes I wonder if she's part seal, considering how long she stays under. We then took her on an extremely short walk and it'd been so long since she'd been out for a scenic walk, she enjoyed it so much. We actually bumped into Craig, the vet, and he commented that despite all she still enjoyed her walks. It's hard to believe how much pain she was likely in while seemingly enjoying herself. 

As usual she stuck my dad's side the entire time and he remarked how many memories they had together on that coastal path. My dad mentioned a couple of days before that if the worst was to happen, he wanted to spread her ashes there and then wanted us to spread his with her. Sounds very morbid but I think it was helping him process things.

I was really thankful we got a nice enough evening to take her, even if it was a little cloudy. At least it was dry and not too cold. Not exactly warm but definitely not too cold. 

We were probably only out for around fifteen minutes, being mindful of Baby's leg and pain. Before we got into the car we all got a photograph with her. This wasn't a goodbye, we knew that but we just wanted to create some memories because come tomorrow life would be changing one way or another.

Excuse the bad lighting.

When we got home we gave Baby her dinner as she had to fast from around 8pm. We gave her her normal dog food but also some raw mince, which came in very handy when getting down her tablets too. Then later on my aunt Karen came to visit her, bringing her dogs too, Lily and Maisy. Lily is definitely Baby's favourite cousin and she spent some time giving her kisses.

Not long after my aunt left, it was time to head to bed. My dad had decided that he was going to go into work late and he'd go with me and Eva, to leave Baby into the vet. It felt wrong handing her over but all we could do was hold on to hope for the best outcome. Then we had to wait. We were told if the vet hadn't gotten back to us by noon, that we should call them. Around half ten or eleven, we got the phone call. My sister answered.

Craig, the vet, told us that they had completed the X-rays and that her chest was in fact clear. Once I heard that, I prepared for a long two weeks to find out weather or not she had cancer. However, when Craig continued it became apparent we wouldn't be waiting for answers. My hope was that if it hadn't spread, they would take her leg and we would find out that she didn't have cancer all along. But sadly, although the cancer hadn't spread to her lungs, in the last ten days it had significantly gotten worse in her leg and Craig believed that if we'd waited much longer it would have been too late. It was definitely cancer.

We gave him permission to remove her leg and he carried out the operation. The house felt empty without her and I hated the idea of her being at the vet, alone, not understanding what she was being put through. But when we got a call later that evening, they said she was doing well. However, they said they'd be keeping her over night and potentially the next night too, depending on how she was doing. That evening we went to Pets At Home and got her a new bed since she couldn't sleep on the couch like she used to. The next morning we found out she could come home that evening. Luckily we had quite a busy day on Tuesday, so it wasn't long rolling round. I stayed at home while my sister and dad went to collect her. I was anxious about how she might seem, if she would be herself, what the site of the amputation might look like. Then my big, Baby girl walked in.

The same big Baby girl that had left on Monday morning, tail wagging and hopping along. She seemed so happy to be home and I couldn't believe how well she was walking on three legs. The thing she's finding most difficult is managing the giant cone. I'm so proud of her and after seeing her, I know we made the right decision. I really believe animals tell you when it's time to let go and I know it wasn't Baby's time. This doesn't mean we won't have to deal with the cancer again in the future, this wasn't a cure, but hopefully we've slowed it down and reduced her pain significantly. She seems happier already, regardless of what her face says in the photo. She's always had that sad Lab look, you only know the difference if you know her.

She has two weeks of healing and then she gets the staples and stitches out. She's on antibiotics and Metacam also. After the two weeks of healing, we'll then a potential non-invasive laser treatment for her arthritis and the prognosis of her cancer. In the mean time I'm just going to treasure her even more. Every. Single. Moment.


  1. This is the first Blog that ever made me honestly tear-up. I don't know how you're (+family) coping with the shocking Big C. I know how special Baby is to you, such a difficult choice to make. I'm glad she's back home now with loved ones. I wish her the best health & a bright future. x

    1. Thank you, Vivek. Honestly, it's been hard to process because it all happened so fast. I'm just holding on to hope and the fact we still have her. I'm honestly amazed by how well she's coped and it's amazing the ability and resilience animals have when it comes to adapting. Thank you for the well wishes. Hope you're well too! :) x


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