Today I'm in a hair salon. Sue is touching up the gray in my temples, even though my husband likes my hair as is and says it's sexy: bless this sweet man. Strange how hair salons have always featured in my battles against mortality. The day after my mother died I kept my appointment to go to the Aveda salon in Cleveland. I was operating on some kind of weird principle, like, I must carry on, follow through with plans that were made before, even in the face of crisis and loss. It was such a bad decision. For one, it left fewer hours in the day for us to get everything done we needed to do. And then the stylist gave me goth-black hair. I made a dumb joke later that my hair was in mourning too. I suppose I was partly looking for comfort and ablution and mothering in that act of surrender, of leaning back into the sink and letting someone hold my head up and wash my hair clean. Anyway, that's what we are about to do, Sue and I, when I get the phone call.
So here it is: Zoe's lung tumors are getting big. There are four of them now, not three. The biggest one went from 1.75 centimeters to 4.86 in a month. This is shocking news. It makes me wonder if we made the wrong decision when we decided to go back to Doxorubicin in April, the chemotherapy drug that had done wonders all winter. On Palladia the biggest tumor had grown from 1.25 to 1.75 over a period of seven weeks. We thought then that the drug was ineffective, but we also thought maybe it was just making the inevitable acceleration happen with brakes on. Nothing to do now, though, but digest this news and try to make good decisions from now on. If we got these grim numbers after another four weeks of Palladia we would second-guess that decision too and wish we'd gone back to Duxorubicin. This disease always wins.
If the cancer doesn't slow down its attack with the drug we're piloting now, we will only have a month to three months left with our Zoe. This is most likely going to be our last season together.
I'm not going to write today, in this post, about the tears.
The new drug is called, alternately, Masitnib and Masivet and Kinavet. It's an anti-cancer drug that has been on the market in Europe since 2009 and Alta Vista just started using it. Dr. Bravo gave us a two-week supply and she's going to read up now on whether it's better to use it alone or in conjunction with another chemotherapy drug. The drug is designed for inoperable mast cell cancer, which is not what she has, but there is a feeling that it has potential when combined with cytoxic chemotherapy. Readers, if any of you have heard anything about this drug, I hope you'll write in.
|photo by Tara Freeman|
Whenever anyone asks me how Zoe is doing, I always say "really great, amazing, considering what she's up against," because she is. By every external marker, she's thriving. Coat healthy, appetite keen, she's full of energy and vigor. She runs and swims and walks five miles a day. And she's our happy girl. Alive, content, and aware every moment that this is her yard, this is her grass, this is her river, those are her bunnies over there even though she can't get to them from here because of that stupid fence.
When my husband and Zoe pulled up at 5 o'clock, I was outside waiting for them. Like a dog who senses when her people are driving home, I had that tingling feeling in my legs to bound out of the house right then, the moment of their arrival in the stealthy-quiet Prius. Zoe wagged her tail at the sight of me. She hopped out and we ran together through the yard. My husband came to join us. We tried to play a game of Bocce, but when Zoe charged over with that delighted, open-mouthed face to pounce on the balls, I didn't want to be in a game where only humans played each other. She chased balls, a stick, then one of her old bones, and then for a long time my husband and I sat together on a flat rock on the river and watched Zoe poke around in the brush looking for things to sniff.
Later, we watched Zoe claim a spot in the grass to lounge in her queenly way. She spread out and set her head on her paws, sphinx-like, as mellow as ever. We joined her there. My husband lay down forming a kind of protective C-shape around her, and I did the same around him, bringing my head over his body to give our girl a massage. We formed a tableau of some kind, we three creatures lying around one another in the grass. I didn't want to move from this spot, ever. If I could just relive a moment of my life forever and ever this one would be near the top of the list.
When it was time to go in for dinner, Zoe bounded up the deck stairs. She ate like a farm hand. I topped up her bowl with more raw meat.
Then she pointed to the door again. "Want to play?" I said, and the idea thrilled her. It was as though I were proposing a rare and treasured activity, not something we'd been doing less than an hour before.
We ran back into the yard and she climbed down into some growth that reminded me of when my sister and I used to sit inside bushes as children and imagine we lived in log cabins in the Wild West. I crawled in there with her and made my body get dog-tall. Crouched beside her, I put my arm around her and listened to her panting happily. We sat like this for a very long time, until the mosquitoes came out and all sunlight was bleached from the sky. She looked as happy and content as I ever known her to be and I tried not to hold onto her too tightly. Then, in pinkish twilight, we walked back up the hill, through the grass, into the house where the three of us live.