“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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 105: A Birthday, A Check-up, and a Milestone

Dear reader,
Today is a big day.  My dog, Zoe, is celebrating her ninth birthday.  In all the years we have lived together, I have never done anything special to honor her birthday.  I am heading out with Zoe to Ottawa for the day, and my husband is afraid I will return with party hats for the dogs (there will be four, counting Zoe) but not for the humans also celebrating their Aries birthdays at our house this evening (two) or for the rest of us cheering the two others on (three more humans, counting myself) but I assure you, I don't have plans to give out hats or streamers, and no one will jump out of a cake.  I know people who buy their dogs special gifts on their birthdays, or who make them special meals, but my big plan for the extravaganza is just to make dinner for a few dear friends, and to enjoy having their dogs running around us as we eat.  And I will probably take way too many pictures.

For Zoe to make it to nine is in itself a very big deal--the biggest gift.

When she was diagnosed in August with osteosarcoma, I learned that if we were to let nature take its course and didn't amputate the left hind leg with the cancerous tumors, she would probably not live to see 2012.  And if we hadn't elected to do chemotherapy as well, if she had become a tripod but not fought this aggressive cancer's spread to her lungs with the drugs, she wouldn't have made it to this birthday that coincides with the start of spring.

"Chemotherapy" and "dog" are not words I ever expected to use in the same sentence, ever.  (Maybe that's why it never occurred to me to buy pet insurance . . . )  I know it's a luxury to be able to follow this course, and the majority of the people in the world would not be able to buy their dogs time in this way.  I spend a lot of my time thinking about inequality at the national and global levels, and I am aware that there are currently 49 million human beings in this country alone who don't have health insurance, and who therefore are not doing what they can to extend their own precious, irreplaceable lives through conventional medicine.  And in my travels in India and in Senegal my heart broke at the sight of street children and homeless dogs everywhere.  So I know how lucky I am to have the power to make a decision (with a husband who is splitting the bills) that never really was a decision for me/us.

Adding on a bit more credit card debt and putting off opening a savings account and a supplemental retirement account are simply worth it to me; maybe I'm just a romantic at heart, but when I think of what Zoe brings to my life, the lessons in mindfulness and joy, I can't imagine another way.   Plus, our kids are grown, and my husband and I are both orphans now, so we're really only paying for our own upkeep.  But really, the issue has been, is this course of action we are taking for Zoe, or for me/us?  What I'm really asking day after day: Is this dog happy?  Does she like her life?  Does she eat with gusto?  Does she love her daily walks?  Does she wake up every morning excited to greet the day?  As long as the answer to these questions is yes more than 95% of the time, then there's no question what our path will be.

One morning when Zoe was a puppy, I took her on a walk near our house on a 3.2 mile paved loop called Partridge Run.  Here dogs really should stay on leads because it's a popular bike path and place for roller bladers, and Zoe almost ran into one of those kids on blades, the elder daughter of B., one of my colleagues, an environmental philosopher/ethicist.  Do you want to know what this smart little girl said when my puppy almost made her fall?  "That's okay.  Zoe means 'bringer of life' in Greek, so that's what she's doing today. Adding more life to our day."

Zoe, bringer of life.  I hadn't known the meaning of her name.  The smart twelve-year-old daughter of the philosopher had to tell me that.  And here's the thing.  As she fights for her life on the cellular level, there is no evidence on the surface that anything is amiss.  Her eyes gleam, her coat shines, and she runs with her pack with the same sass and bravado.

Just now, I looked for a fuller definition of the name on google, and some web site or other gave me this:
I took this picture yesterday.  She's under the deck.

zoe { dzo-ay’}
Strong's Lexicon: Greek Origin
- the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate
- every living soul
- of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through Him
- life real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, blessed, in the portion even in this world of those who put their trust in Christ, and to last for ever.
 Okay, I don't go in for all the God talk.  As some of you who have been reading my posts know, my religion is this:  God = dog = love.  Mine is a secular spirituality:  I believe in the force of love, animals, and nature, in social justice and peace.  But still, I love the idea that this name I picked just because I liked it and thought it was kind of spunky is a name that connotes vitality, the force of life, and goodness.

I will say this: bringing this animal into my family has made me a better human.  A more loving, compassionate, in-the-moment human, and a less self-centered, distracted, petty, solipsistic, head-up-my-heiny one (although as I wrote this, Zoe woke up from her nap and started licking her butt.)

So today's a big day.  Not only is she alive, but she's going to Alta Vista Animal Hospital again for a lung x-ray and blood work.  We'll see what's really going on inside, and if the new drugs she is on--palladia and cyclophosphamide--are helping.  If they are, if the nodules in her lungs are shrinking or at least staying the same size, then this dog will be able to bring more life into my life for many more months.  If not, I will love every day we have together.

I really hope, dear reader, that you will consider sharing the story of Zoe with anyone you know whose dog has cancer--especially people who just got the heartbreaking diagnosis and are deciding what to do.  I can tell you this much: the seven months we have had together since her diagnosis have been among the happiest days--and I now measure time in days--of my life, because of what I have learned about investing more of myself to every moment.  Zoe has taught me this.  And so has writing this blog.  Having to glean a lesson from every day, something vaguely essay-worthy, has been a tough assignment, but it has helped me find the sacred in the quotidian.

And I hope you will spread the word to your dog and cat friends that getting pet insurance might be a good idea.  We can't get it now, but we're committed to this course, and luckily, my husband and I both have secure jobs.  I haven't looked into how much of her treatment would have been covered if we did have insurance, but I'll find out and let you know.

In the meantime, thank you so much for reading.  I plan to continue this blog after we reach the milestone of 108 days.  (And if you are new to this blog, and are curious, just go to the home page and read more about the significance of doing something you want to turn into a reflexive habit--in this case, meditating and posting for 108 straight days, or look here, as to the method to my madness in "Winter with Zoe."  The post will have a new subtitle, but I'm hooked on it now, so I'll continue. We will let Winter persist in Bloglandia, but not its weather!  I'll have more to say about this plan soon.)

Tomorrow I'll have news about how it went today at Alta Vista, and I'll probably have something embarrassing to report about my behavior at this milestone birthday.

But until then, thank you so much for reading.  And may you all have a lovely first full day of spring.  May this spring bring you new life too--a lot of what the Greeks described as Zoe.

With gratitude,


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