I Am So Sorry

I am sorry to have to tell you that Willie, my Silly Billie Willie Boy, has metatastic pulmonary adenocarcinoma. Lung cancer. Chemo might slow its progression, but can’t cure it. Surgery isn’t an option.

I thought you would want to know. So many of us here have become a close village of dog lovers, and have followed each other’s dogs for years. Many of you have read about Willie’s challenges in The Education of Will. I didn’t want to blindside you with the end of his life, which is predicted to come in two to six months. In my experience, people don’t want to be protected, they want to be informed.

This chapter began with a quiet cough, a little mouse of a thing, a single solitary huff after he got up from resting. By the end of January it became 3-4 coughs in a row, as if he were clearing his throat, so I took him to our regular vet. As often happens, that day his cough seemed much better, so we speculated that he had come down with kennel cough. Not unreasonable since Willie and Maggie had been going to a series of winter sheep dog trials—a perfect place too spread that kind of disease. In many adult dogs it clears up on its own, so we turned our attention to Jim’s dying mother and our trip to Costa Rica.

When we got home his cough was worse. I took him to Veterinary Specialties for Xrays and an ultrasound. They found he had a ‘consolidated area” in one lobe of his lung, which looked like a classic case of pneumonia. And then there were two tiny “nodules” in another area of his lung. So small they could have been meaningless. Or not. The story gets convoluted after this—two rounds of different antibiotics, tests for Blastomycosis (fungus) and Aspergillus (mold), more Xrays, ultrasounds, CT scans and needle aspirates.

Meanwhile, his coughing got worse. Finally, the news came that the “consolidated area” was a tumor, primary adenocarcinoma, and the next CT scan, done last Friday, showed his lungs riddled with baby tumors.

The prognosis is two to four months without chemo, three to six months with it, if chemo helps to slow the progression. It may or may not. Only way to tell is by sedating Willie, yet again, and doing another CT scan. We’re deciding our next steps day by day, all dependent on Willie and how he is doing.

Jim and I are 100% on the same page that what’s important is Willie’s quality of life, not the quantity. Giving him a few more months of life if the chemo makes him sick is a not an option. We opted to try it because 80% of dogs have few side effects. He had his first treatment last Friday. He had also been sedated that day, and so we are dismissing his nausea that night as not necessarily related to chemo. His oncologist said the side effects of chemo are most common days 3-5; we’re on day 4 and he seems fine once he recovered from the sedation. We’ll try again this week and see.

I know that many of you have been on this roller coaster. There have been some dark moments lately—those gut-wrenching, belly-sobbing, snot-faced crying moments in which you think your heart is broken. And my heart was broken, and it will be again. But right now, Willie seems truly okay. He doesn’t know anything about his prognosis. His cough is actually a bit better, even before the chemo, perhaps due to pain medication, some alternative therapies and the addition of air purifiers and humidifiers. Willie still plays tug games with Maggie, gets all shiny-eyed on walks in the woods, and adores food and belly rubs and necks massages. So there is a lot good here. Willie is 12 and 3/4 years old. He’s lived 13 months after almost dying of a disastrously inflamed gall bladder, a large amount of necrotic tissue on one liver lobe and liver cancer in another.

We feel exceptionally lucky to live in a place with first class veterinary care. Willie has two topnotch oncologists (one who lives in Colorado, has working Border Collies and sheep—I’m talking to you, Dr. B!), a dedicated and generous GP and an equally invaluable acupuncturist and adjunctive medicine veterinarian. We are lucky to have the resources to do all we can to support Willie.

And we are especially lucky to have a village of dog loving friends, including many of you on this blog, who get it. Who get that we can love our dogs deeply and profoundly, and are overwhelmed with gratitude for how much they give us.

Many of us want to help in some way when we get sad news about friends. If you are one of those, one way to help Willie is to donate to Czar’s Promise to help fund research on cancer in both dogs and children, and support those whose loved ones are fighting it. I always feel awkward when talking about fundraising, so please don’t feel any need to contribute if that’s not what feels like what you want to do.

If you are so inclined, here’s info from Czar’s Promise’s website, and here’s a photo of Czar and my friend Beth Viney, a force of nature who started it all:

Czar’s Promise mission focuses on three key areas that will be cared for with a dedicated commitment to integrity and ethics. 

  • Grant funding for canine cancer research
  • Grant funding for pediatric cancer research
  • Financial support, education and awareness for families whose canines have been diagnosed with cancer

Czar’s Promise will have a fund-raising dog walk on May 11th in Monona, WI. Jim and I will be there, although Willie wouldn’t enjoy it. We’ve been on other dog walks to raise money for cancer research, and I can tell you it’s one very special and touching way to spend part of your day.

There are lots of other ways to help Willie and all of us whose dogs are in crisis without spending any money. Tell us stories about your own special dogs, we’d love to hear them. Tell us if Willie’s story helped you as much as it helped me, that would make my day. Give your own dog(s) extra belly rubs and butt scratches. And last but never least, raise a glass of wine/beer/soda/water/juice/gin to Willie, my Willie, the dog whose bat shit crazy behavior as a puppy forced me to confront my own demons. I owe Willie boy, I owe you everything.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Here’s from the barn this morning. Snow White has two lovely newborn lambs, one is hidden. I didn’t want to bother Snow White to get a better picture, both her lambs had nursed, she’d eaten some hay and lay down to rest. Sadly, she also had a third large beautiful lamb that died in birth.

Ah Life. And Death. The full catastrophe.

(Two quiet caveats to today’s post: First, Willie is receiving a plethora of western and eastern medicine, herbal supplements and special diets. I honestly don’t have it in me to receive any more information about treatment/cures/diets, although I understand the desire to help. Please join me in doing all we can to prevent and treat cancer, and to elect politicians who get that we are surrounded by environmental toxins and pollution, and need to fund research on cancer prevention and keeping our environment as clean as possible.

Second, I need to focus more on Willie and less on business, so I’m going to suspend the sales and promotions we usually do once a month through Join the Pack. Being on the list will still be a great way to stay in touch, especially when my speaking schedule heats up in late summer/fall, but for now any sales will be done by our good friends at Dogwise.)