This has been a difficult 14 days for Joe and me. In the past few months I’d begun to notice too many micro-signals that something was ‘off’ with Bryn- the set of her tail, her walk, a slight energy decline...signs not obvious to anyone else were, for me, potential red flags. Maybe that little ‘thing’ on her neck needed more careful scrutiny, too.
On Monday, July 15, Dr. Jossens, a surgeon at Grand Traverse Veterinary Hospital, examined a nickel-sized, minimally inflated pink ‘balloon’ on her neck, about to go flat and become tricky to find again. (The little oddity had been shown to another doc in a Saginaw clinic some months ago, but he’d decided it was probably an injury from rough play at the dog park...And I’d agreed.)
Dr. Jossens was suspicious, though, and immediately did a biopsy; twenty minutes later she told me Bryn has Mast Cell tumor, a blood cancer. We scheduled its surgical removal for early the next morning.
She excised a large area – a long incision showed the extent of her work- and also removed deeper dermal layers in the area around and under the tumor. Sleepy Bryn came home that evening to begin her recovery, and the big specimen was immediately sent off to a canine pathology lab for micro-examination. My husband, a physician, reviewed the pathology report a few days later; it showed a low-grade tumor with a good prognosis (Kiupel system) and indicates we can hope for a normal lifespan. In addition, the far edges of the tissue excision showed only healthy tissue.
Bryn’s not in pain now, and is managing her wound intelligently. Put simply, I told her that touching/scratching that long surgical scar was forbidden: She was never to scratch it. She looked at me, cocked her head, thought it out, and never has.
Not once since the surgery.
There is no bandage, no cone, due to the location and length of the wound.
Fresh air is a great healer.
That long stitch line has remained infection-free. Which means the hidden, dissolvable stitch line layers underneath the skin are mending well, too. I clean the visible one four times a day.
Two days ago Joe and Dr. Jossens chatted by phone about Bryn’s situation in greater depth, and he subsequently explained, in great detail, the printed out lab results he’d received from her. I’m able to absorb data more fully, now that the first terrible shock has worn off. I can think again, and take a deep breath.
Bryn has coping skills. She uses her left paw to scratch the left side of her neck, which seems to relieve stitch-itch on the right side. She looks at me as she does this, letting me know that she knows what she’s doing. At night, though, I put one of my socks on her right hind paw to cover her claws there, in case she wakes and sleepily tries to scratch the wound.
But she never has. (I’d know immediately, just by looking at it.)
Some might think this sort of communication represents a fantasy on my part. I can only say this: she understands what is necessary to protect the wound. Bryn has a huge vocabulary. I watch how she copes; those intelligent eyes, which meet mine directly, reassure me.
No problem, Boss. I’ve got this.
When I grab a sofa pillow and lie next to her for an afternoon nap she’ll rest her paw on my arm for comfort as we snooze together.
I sleep on the couch every night; she is inches away. We are each other’s support. If she needs anything she’ll nudge me gently and explain with her eyes.
We have hopes now that she can enjoy a good quality of life. My expectations are not high, or low. I expect nothing. We three are together now. We live for and in the moment, loving our walks, our quiet hours in favorite beauty spots during this splendid summer. She quietly asks for what she needs, and loves us overtly. We are so lucky.
Grooming Bryn has always been part of her daily life. She stands, sits or lies quietly, as per my requests. This familiar routine makes it easy for me to hunt for new lethal ‘bubbles’.
The doctor may decide to biopsy some lymph nodes down the road, to more deeply check the lie of the land...
Some additional info:
- Should you encounter us in the garden, please don’t touch Bryn. She is polite, but her body is sensitive these days.
- We slowly walk the shady parts of our neighborhood, as well as Grand Traverse Bay, with an adapted leash arrangement: her expanded collar is belted around her hips. The attached lead is never pulled. Rather, I guide with my voice (“Turn right, straight ahead, turn left, slow down, wait...”). The collar-leash set-up serves only as a safety line.
It looks a bit peculiar, though.
- At her favorite beach yesterday she chased her rubber bone a few times, tiring quickly, but looking relaxed and happy.
We’ve won this first battle, but I won’t relax until we’ve won the war.