Updated: Jun 22
While my title is a dub of how Elyse Myers starts her hysterical stories, this one likely won't be as light hearted or funny. Before I dive in, I want to start this blog post by saying that everyone's experience with canine cancer is different. If you've landed here because your dog was recently diagnosed with cancer first and foremost, I'm so incredibly sorry. However, know that this is our experience and it may not necessarily be yours. If you're reading this because you know me or know of me (or Gracie), thank you for taking the time to read what will undoubtedly be an outpouring of my soul.
This post has been on my mind since early May and while I am writing this because I hope our journey will help others, there will be moments that are heavy and so I've been avoiding it a little bit. You see in early June, we hit our 1 year anniversary of Gracie's cancer diagnosis and 1 year anniversary of her being on oral chemotherapy this upcoming Saturday. Despite having it on my mind for so long, I still am struggling with where to start. I think to truly understand our experience you first have to learn a little about Gracie and what she has meant in me and my partner's life.
My husband (then boyfriend) and I adopted Gracie in my sophomore year of college after 2 weeks of living together. I always wanted another dog in my life after my childhood dogs had passed, so we started to research. I happened upon Gracie's profile on Petfinder.com and there was just something about her I couldn't shake. There was no description other than her age (1 year) and what they guessed her breed was (Rat Terrier), but there were some pictures and a video of Gracie with a wiggly tail and a grin that was likely stress related though I didn't realized that at the time. In the video, Gracie was playing with a tennis ball (still her first true love) and she was so incredibly optimistic despite her conditions. I did some research about the breed and we decided to meet her. When we went to meet her, to say she was full of energy would be an understatement. Despite being emaciated, she nearly pulled my shoulder out of the socket as she bounded with joy and probably some anxiety, zigging and zagging to check out sticks and feral cats from the colony that hung around the shelter she was at. She engaged with us a bit but was very distracted by her surroundings. Feeling it would be rash to make a decision on the spot, I resolved myself to sleep on it. The next morning we called first thing because I couldn't leave her. I'll never forget when she got in the car, she laid on the blanket in my lap and fell asleep - I like to think she was relieved, knowing she was safe.
Our first weeks together, were anything but easy. When I adopted Gracie, I went into it wanting to make her life as full as she would undoubtedly make mine and there was definitely a learning curve. As a young terrier, Gracie was full of energy and it was clear she had not lived in a house before. She was very sick when we brought her home and it took us an entire year to rid her of parasites (roundworms, tapeworms, and who knows what else). It also took quite a lot of time to get her stomach right. She also struggled with what I now recognize was separation anxiety. Unfortunately, I didn't know then what I know now. There were a lot of growing pains on both ends as I adjusted to someone needing me the way she did and she adjusted to an entirely new life. We really found our groove when we started to learn about positive reinforcement training from Victoria Stilwell on TV - yep, that's how I started learning! Thanks Victoria! I started to teach Gracie tricks via positive reinforcement training and she THRIVED getting all that mental enrichment on top of all the things I was doing to meet her physical needs like walks, play, fetch, and more. I made a lot of mistakes and was far from perfect, but my love for her grew quickly and easily. She was a bit of social unicorn dog at the beginning - she loved everyone and everything with very little fear of new things and has always been smart, picking up things extraordinarily quickly. In the first few years after Gracie came home with us, she was attacked by an off leash dog and developed leash reactivity, so I started to learn about behavior out of necessity to help her, which is an entirely different story but is how I came to develop a passion for dog behavior and training that has now turned into my career.
Over the past 12 years, Gracie has been with me through graduating college, multiple moves, starting my first career, getting married, changing careers, and so much more in between. Not only that, but Gracie saved me. I have always struggled with anxiety and depression, though I didn't know it by those names at the time. When I struggled, she was there and I've struggled a lot. When I was anxious, she would lay with me and be a reminder for me to find silver linings and be present while I stroked her fur. When I was depressed, her happy go lucky attitude made me laugh and her existence gave me reasons to get out of bed. When I was ill for 10 months with significantly lower quality of life without end in sight and started to question my will to live, she was my one of my reasons for living. I know those are uncomfortable things to read and they are equally uncomfortable for me to admit publicly, but I really want you to understand that she was never just a dog - I don't think any dogs are, but Gracie and I are connected in a way I can't truly explain, as if our souls are tied by an invisible thread that only we can feel. Gracie has taught me and given me so many things throughout the time we have shared and one of those things is that optimism she has always had - I will forever be grateful for that.
Fast forward to about 2 years ago, Gracie started having some more consistent stomach issues. She had a strange neurologic reaction to the same flea and tick medication she had been on her entire life. The same heartworm medication she was on for years started to make her very sick. Her bloodwork started to be slightly off. She started to smack her lips a lot at night, vomit in the mornings, and struggle to sleep. She started to stand at the back door staring out the window the entire time we were gone if she was left alone in the early afternoon and evening instead of sleeping peacefully on the couch as she had done for many years. She had strange bumps on her ears. Her lymph nodes in her neck felt larger to me. And finally, she started to refuse to eat.
Over that year, I took her to multiple vets and specialists, had more bloodwork run that I can care to recount, and had an ultrasound done. Aside from being placed on an hydrolyzed diet for IBD which did relieve some of her issues for a bit of time, there was nothing off enough to warrant further concern and many of her symptoms matched that of her IBD. That is until her bloodwork was off enough that I insisted (for a second time) that they could do a cytology to look at her blood cells and see if anything was off. It was finally then that they found intermediate cells that indicated she had some kind of lymphoma. Further testing confirmed it. For the entire year before her diagnosis, I knew in my gut something was wrong. I was worried constantly about her potentially having cancer. And for the first time in mid-May of 2022, that fear was realized and confirmed in early June of 2022 with a diagnosis of t-zone lymphoma/leukemia. To say my world shattered doesn't begin to cover it, but I'll discuss that in the next part of our story...