© Julie Boyd
My dog and I have matching tumours.
We first met ten years ago, just after one of my closest friends had died. She had been dealing with an unusual abdominal tumour which was growing daily, looked like a pregnancy, and was inoperable. At the time, I had several tumours in various female bits of my anatomy, and a dodgy heart that had caused a three attacks, several minor strokes, and a couple of close encounters with the afterlife. So the two of us had been making wagers about who would go first. I was not at all fussed about a funeral for myself. Another friend and I had, on another occasion, over a couple of bottles of red, discussed being cremated and packed into a firework rocket, then shot up over our favourite spots on respective beaches. This mate, however, was lamenting the fact that she wouldn’t be around for her funeral. She wanted a big bash with all her friends there. As things were getting progressively pretty serious at that time, her being on the slow, progressive deterioration route while I was likely to pop off unannounced any time, we decided that I would organise a party for her. We spent a wonderful few hours planning what we called a death party together as we took our final walks along the beach, but found later we had to reframe it to a ‘Celebration of her life’ party, to save the sensibilities of others. They weren’t the ones dying, we mused, why were they so upset about it?
We had travelled and worked together a lot, and the last trip we took together was to Queensland. I’d been saying for some time that if I survived, I wanted to move from my lovely old, very large, home compound in Tasmania. The maintenance of the huge house, stables and separate cottage, built in 1930 as one of the original Tassie homesteads, with 22 foot ceilings, was getting too much. So together with my daughter and one of her mates to keep an eye on us, we all embarked on a trip, which took us from Noosa to Byron Bay, looking for the perfect place for me to move to.
My mate, unfortunately won the wager and died just weeks later, surrounded by her friends and her gorgeous sons. I tried desperately to fly in from Tasmania, to reach her before she went, but I was an hour too late. Just before I flew out, my own Doctor had given me six months. I never told anyone.
A month later I was spending some recovery time with a mutual friend. I’d only met her at the funeral, but it was one of those precious instant friendships that clicked immediately. She arrived home one day with a tiny bundle of white fluff, a puppy called Trev who took up residence on my lap and stayed there to lick the unexpected tears from my face. Several days later my mate arrived home with a second bundle – this time a black and white one who decided to come home with me. He was promptly named Jorge, after one of the spirit guides who had helped me through my recent near death experiences.
Jorge and I went home to Tassie, where he spent every available moment cuddled up close, often lying on various parts of my body – he seemed to know where the tumours were, and making me laugh with his puppy way antics. He was so quiet, I didn’t even know he could bark until much later when he wuffed one day and gave himself the biggest fright. His persistence as my little healer paid off, I gradually started to improve and together we prepared to move to the NSW north Coast.
We arrived at our new home just before Christmas and both my kids and my dead friend’s kids all joined us. It was a perfect day. I was finally walking again, well kind of, with the help of two sticks, and even though we lived right on the beach, it was impossible for me to walk far enough to be able to manage the 100metres down the street to the edge of the sand, let alone the ten metres across the sand to the water.
But every day we’d make it a little further, me with my two sticks and Jorge with his little collar and leash. It took two years for us to make it to the edge of the sand, and another one to make it to the water, but we finally did. Jorge was ecstatic. His world was complete, with crabs to dig for and waves to chase. The local surfers did their best to teach him to ride a board, but he was always reluctant to get too far away. My tumours shifted and shrank and my heart attacks became further and further apart. Over the next few years, the six months the Doctors had talked to me about, faded into memory.
Then three months ago tragedy struck. One weekend Jorge became totally constipated. It didn’t matter how much he strained, nothing would come out. He’d had this happen about a year before, but then, feeding him paraffin oil and cat-food had fixed it. This time, nothing. By the time we got to the vet he was so miserable, and I was frantic with worry. She took him off for an x-ray to check whether he’d swallowed a fish hook or a crab that may have blocked his bowel. Half an hour later she came out with the strangest look on her face. ‘It’s not just a bowel blockage. He has a massive tumour about the size of a grapefruit pressing on his internal organs. It seems to be attached to both his kidneys. I’m not sure we can do too much to help. ‘
I wasn’t ready to lose him. He’d healed me over so many years, I owed it to him to fight as much as I could to save him – for me. An extended conversation, shared examination of the x-rays and ultrasounds, and several calls to vetinary surgeons and university professors, and a plan was hatched. There was some fluid surrounding the tumour contained in a cyst. Surely if the fluid could be aspirated (taken out), that might stop the pressure on his poor little squashed insides and let them function again. So that’s what we did.
Jorge and I headed off on a road trip down south to see the rest of our family, and across to visit his little white fluffy mate, Trev, on what we called his farewell tour. We had a ball. Jorge had heaps of cuddles and lamb roasts and we came home again happy.
A week later the same thing happened. Another blockage and more bad news. The cyst had filled again, but this time instead of clear fluid it was filled with blood. One of his kidneys had ruptured and all the time we thought he was doing well during our big trip, he’d been dealing with a collapsed kidney, but with no outer signs of distress or discomfort, and no symptoms. Aspiration wasn’t an option this time so another set of decisions had to be made. Open him up, see if the tumour could be isolated from the second kidney, and if so, the tumour and the dodgy kidney would come out.
We almost lost him – twice. Watching that little body lying on the operating table was one of the hardest moments of my life. The vet knew his role in healing me and she was determined to do her best surgery, against all odds. She’s been told by the Professors and specialists she had consulted that they all thought there was nothing she, as just an ordinary surgeon, could do and advised her to send us off to them. I’d decided that her love of dogs would pull him through, and if he wasn’t going to make it, I wanted her to be the one to tell me, not some stranger.
That was three months ago today. It took him a week to recover from the anaesthetic as he’s allergic to them. Feeding him on slivers of frozen chicken breast kept him nourished as it’s hot at the beach. He ended up with 42 stitches in that tiny body. His first visits to the beach after his stitches healed meant he had to be carried.
Today, we’re just home from a morning of digging for crabs, his favourite pastime. A passerby asked if he was going to China as the hole he’d made in the sand was so deep his whole body was below ground level. He found one, his first in months, and chased it in circles before the crab stopped and conceded defeat. Then, instead of eating it as had been his previous practice, he picked it up in his mouth and carried it into the waves.
Memories of him carrying me to the beach all those years ago didn’t seem that far away.