I’ve barely begun to blog, and already I’m about to divulge very personal information about myself. Please know that I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t pertinent to the subject at hand.
I have cancer and kidney disease. While serious, I don’t yet have an expiration date estimate. The course of my treatment follows what one medical provider refers to as a “Cinderella” principle; do those things that will move the minute hand backwards, delaying midnight (when all the magic comes to an end). My philosophy, as it pertains to my medical condition, is that quality (of life) far outweighs quantity (of time), with one specific qualification. That qualification is the topic of this post.
Next to my lovely and wonderful wife, my life these days is mostly defined by the care of two elderly dogs. Jessie, the elder, is a few months shy of 13 years of age. Maxx will soon be 11 years old. Both are mixtures of big dogs, German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever in Jessie’s case, German Shepherd and (probably) Doberman Pincher for Maxx. Both are within sight of their average life expectancy. Jessie is showing her age.
Not only is Jessie showing her age, but she is also showing evidence of neuromuscular ailments common among German Shepherds. Her Doc says that either disease would typically cause rapid degeneration, but Jessie has been hanging in there for a little more than a year since the condition became evident. Maybe her Lab side is holding things together. Complicating matters further for Jessie is her history of beginning life as a stray, completely missing the socialization window. She is skittish, easily frightened, and completely attached to me. Maxx, though a bit gimpy from ACL surgery about a year ago, is still a big bruiser, and an independent soul. He’s entirely devoted to my wife, but he’d follow anyone with a cookie in their hand. I don’t worry about him quite so much. Yet, anyway.
The juncture of my medical condition and the care of my dogs occurs at the point where one of my doctors is persistently urging me to undertake an ongoing, invasive, preventative treatment plan that will significantly complicate my ability to provide continuous care for Jessie and Maxx.
I have found that there is a spectrum of thought regarding pet care. At one end are those who think of companion animals as entertainment and decorative devices, ranked a little above houseplants. At my end are people who don’t differentiate much between their pets and offspring. I’ll state it plainly: my dogs are my kids. I have also found that when medical care is in conflict with pet care, few doctors respect such a distinction.
This is not the first time I’ve been in this situation. A little more than a year ago the specialist team treating my cancer (which is 1,200 miles distant) strongly recommended major surgery to rid me of some dangerous tumors. I told the lead Doc that I would prefer to postpone such an invasive procedure for at least several years. I explained that I was committed to caring for my elderly dogs, and would feel more free to undertake such treatment after I had seen Jessie and Maxx through to the happiest extent of their lives. It was not well received. Clearly angered, he opined that it was more likely that I would die before my dogs would, and that, if he were in a similar circumstance, as much as he loved his dog, he would put his own health first. A lower-on-the-spectrum point of view. My wonderful wife solved the issue by finding a long-term “Home Away” lodging, and we brought Jessie and Maxx with us to that far-distant city so that they could be with me while I recuperated (and while she picked up the considerable slack). I’ll take this opportunity to publicly thank her, once again, for that loving sacrifice.
This current situation is quite different, though. It would require invasive treatments every few months. Jessie is probably no longer able to tolerate such frequent, distant travel, and the expense would drain reserves we will likely need to see to the dogs’ increasing care needs. More important to me, I am insistent on being a comfort to both dogs, especially Jessie, in this stage of their lives. And if the time comes when either of them needs ultimate help to relieve suffering, as hard as it will be, I must be there to hold and comfort them.
So, later this morning I have an appointed meeting with the doctor, where I will tell him that I will not undertake the recommended treatment plan. I’m betting he won’t understand. I won’t be surprised if I’ll need to find another Doc once I walk out of there. But one thing of which I’m certain; no matter what course of medical treatment I follow, the time will come when I will die, and I’ll likely have some time to contemplate choices I’ve made. Even if foregoing this particular treatment leaves me with fewer years, I will not regret choosing in favor of Jessie and Maxx today.
EDIT (2/27/18 11:40 AM ET): Recent testing indicated that I have moved, at least temporarily, into a lower-risk level, and so I was able to avoid the confrontation I predicted. This time.