“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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 82: On Grappling with Fear and the Nature of Impermanence

Today I woke up at 3 in the morning and couldn't get back to sleep.

That's because today is the first day that Zoe will be taking a new drug for her cancer, Palladia.  The information sheet that went with it is not reassuring.  It says, on the one hand, that Palladia "may shrink your dog's tumors."  Well, duh, that's the point. But then it goes on to list possible side-effects, which include loss of appetite, diarrhea, blood in the stool, and in rare cases, death.

This begs the question once again: Why are we doing this?

Of course, if Zoe can't tolerate the drug, we'll pull her off it at once.  And then we'll just give her the best life possible for however long she has.

But that reasoning doesn't help at 3 in the morning, when I am picturing the pill divider on the counter that awaits us--Kerry and I divvied up all the AM and PM doses of this and that last night.  With the Palladia, to fight against the bad side effects above, she will be on an anti-nausea drug, a form of Imodium, and an antacid.   She'll be taking all these on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

And as for Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the other anti-cancer drug that Alta Vista Animal Hospital was out of that we now have to arrange to buy ourselves--Cyclophosphamide: the list on-line of those side effects is even longer.

At least Sunday, which is our day of rest in this house, will be a day of rest for Zoe as well.  A retreat from the world of pharmaceuticals.

It's a lot.  At one time, before I had read anything, I had thought being able to administer her drugs orally would be so much less painful for her than the intravenous treatments she has had for the past five and a half months.

Now, not so much.  For the first time in a long time, I find myself questioning the path we're on.

Up until now, Zoe has responded so well to every single thing we've done to fight the cancer and prolong her life that it's been difficult at times to really grapple with the seriousness of what she's facing.

Yesterday we walked for 90 minutes at Indian Creek Nature Preserve with her pal, Cooper, and his person, Pat, and the radiant sky, that deep bowl of blue, and the sparkling new snow brought out the sheen in our dogs' eyes and their lovely coats.

Zoe is so strong and steady.  This picture of her, at the top of the post, captures her nature so well.

When it comes to epic things, like fighting cancer and getting home in a snow storm, she is a tree with deep roots.

She's a big baby about other things.  Whenever anyone leaves the house, she cries.  Thunder storms and heavy wind: they terrify her.
But as my husband and I fight to extend her life, I know that we are drawing much of our strength from her.

And yet, and yet: These past eight months since we noticed Zoe's limp and entered the realm of pet oncology, a place we never thought we'd go, have been, oddly, among the richest and moving and lovely of my life.

I have learned, first of all, how to be here.  In this place.  Where I stand.  Not just rooted to the North Country, reluctant to make any plans in the near future that might take me away from my dog, but rooted in my feelings, including this fear that woke me up today.

When I meditate now, I take to heart the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, below:
This is your own time.   This spot where you sit is your own spot.  It is on this spot at this very moment that you can become enlightened.  You don't have to sit beneath a special tree in a distant land.  Practice like this for a few months, and you will begin to know a profound and renewing delight.
Your True Home, The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh

I understand this teaching not just in the fifteen or twenty minutes I spend sitting down in my corner and counting my breaths.  When I remember this wisdom, I understand that whatever I am doing--working on my novel, talking to a friend, going to a meeting, cooking dinner, and especially, perhaps above all, walking with Zoe in the woods near our house, is my/our time in my/our spot.  I forget this all the time too, when I'm rushed or distracted, but I do come back to this understanding.

And what I have learned about impermanence is this.  Nothing lasts forever, but that doesn't mean we have to be detached from our lives in a way that makes us feel less.  The nature of impermanence has taught me to love and live more deeply than I ever have.  We don't have a minute to waste.

But what I used to think was "wasting time" has turned completely on its head.


I'll end with some pictures of what my dog has taught me about ordinary happiness.  Let's call this photo-series the canine understanding of the six stages of Nirvana:

Do try this at home, alone, or with a good friend.

Namaste, gentle reader, and thank you for reading.

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