“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 79: The Lady and the Dog Enter New Territory, Part One

This morning Zoe and I are heading back up to Alta Vista Animal Hospital in Ottawa to begin a new chapter in her treatment.

Zoe has completed seven sessions of chemotherapy since September 15, at intervals of roughly three weeks, and has held up beautifully.  She has not complained once about those early morning wake-ups, those quick little pre-dawn walks across the bridge without her usual buddies, and those long days of fasting while she submits to having her blood drawn, her lungs X-rayed, and her veins injected with doxorubicin while she lies completely still.  She has endured all these disruptions to her routine and invasions of her body with patience and grace, and has earned the purple heart the oncology staff has given her.

She objects more to taking a bath.  Last night my husband and I got talking about the mud on her paws and she knew exactly what we were plotting.  Before I could coax her to follow me, she ran upstairs into her crate, wisely choosing to hunker down in a dog-only zone.  We had to applaud her for her ingenuity and excellent human language interpretation skills; it really was a remarkable feat.  But then we offered her a treat to come back downstairs, and she walked stoically into the bathroom and stepped right into the tub.  We didn't even have to lift her up.

Tomorrow I'll post on what we find out today.  She'll be starting some oral drugs, one of which, palladia, has only been on the market for about a year and a half, so we're really entering unknown territory.

We've been enormously lucky.  Since September, Zoe has only had two days when she lost her appetite and her energy, but even on those days she was eager for her walks and was begging for treats by the end of them.  She has been completely herself, happy and well.

photo by Tara Freeman
The night before last when she went up to bed--she has now taken over Scientist Son's room--I lay down beside her and held her close and tried to prepare her for a whole new deal.  We really don't know how she'll react to these drugs.  Some dogs have acute gastrointestinal distress.  I massaged her back and her legs, and soon she was rolling on her back, wanting her tummy rubbed.  A friend suggested I also rub the site where she lost her leg, in case there's scar tissue there, and I've discovered she loves this.  She has a furry fin where the leg would be, and it seems to sooth her to have that area massaged.  I was reluctant to do this at first as I thought it might hurt her, or remind her of what she had lost, but of course that's not the way dogs think.  They move on.  They find a new normal.  She now sits in a triangular formation and stands with her two front paws further apart than they were before, while her right hind leg has moved a little towards the center and her tail bends left, like a cane.  My friend Mary had told me this might happen; she'd had a tripod cat who reconfigured its body in this way.

It's been eight months since we first noticed the limp.  The survival rates for canine osteosarcoma are grim.  Half of all dogs don't make it to the year anniversary of the diagnosis. But these statistics don't include dogs that are taking the cocktail of oral drugs she'll be on soon.  The treatment course she will be following is new; there are many trials going on right now about the effectiveness of this next protocol, but nothing definitive has been published yet.

I read on the internet that for the protocol we just finished, only 10% of dogs are still alive two years after the diagnosis.  But also I've read that when some of the other drugs she's soon going to be taking are in the mix, the survival rate goes up.  In one study, 16% were alive three years out. 

In addition, I have read about an herb that began its life as a treatment for malaria, artemisin, that seems to also kill cancer cells, and is being used in some trials for canine osteosarcoma.  I just bought some.

Zoe and I are pioneers now.  Every time we cross the border into Canada I am reminded that the new country we are inhabiting together is a mysterious place with too many unknowns for us to make a map.  Every day I remind myself how lucky we are that she is alive and her life is so rich and exuberant and sweet.  But she will have to tell us when she is tired of traveling so far from the familiar.

The story continues tomorrow.

photo by Tara Freeman
photo by Tara Freeman


  1. another heartbreaker of a post. Love you two very much.
    xoxox Mirabee

    1. Love you so much! Thank you so much for your support! We also got the card just before we left. xx

  2. There are no companions quite like our four-legged ones. And your Zoe is clearly friend extraordinaire.
    Wishing her many more years...
    And BTW, Natalia, clearly you share Mira's gift. You are both such beautiful writers.
    All My Best, Anne

    1. Dear Anne,
      Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. They mean a lot to me.
      All the best,

    2. Your Zoe has floated across my mind every day since I first read your post.That image of her getting into the bathtub with all her trust and her sheer sweetness and goodness....I so hope things are looking up. We lost our dog Kelly a year ago- an abrupt, terrible illness and so I, like so many, know where you are. Just hoping Zoe has many many more years. All My Best, Anne