This is the text message I sent to my family and some friends who knew what was going on last Tuesday. I couldn’t bear to say more. My heart was broken, my best friend was gone. She’s gone, my Molly.
I still think I see her in the house. Out of the corner of my eye, sitting on her spot on the couch, waiting by my feet in the kitchen, hoping for a dropped carrot or piece of cucumber. The sound of the side door unlocking makes my chest hurt. This was the sound of letting Molly out in the morning. I had to choke back sobs last week when I dropped a bowl of chopped cauliflower on the floor. No one would be there to to pick up my dropped messes in the kitchen again.
I still can’t believe it. In September I took her to the vet because she was showing signs of a bladder infection. She did have one, a raging infection, as the vet told me, so antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were prescribed and it looked like things were getting back to normal. And then they weren’t. She was peeing in the house again, straining to pee outside. Something wasn’t right. The tests showed that she didn’t have another infection so she had more exams, another ultrasound. Nothing looked out of place. We got another round of anti-inflammatory drugs which seemed to help again for some reason, and then we were back to the beginning. She was straining again, needing to go out constantly but not really peeing.
A week ago today I tried to get a urine sample from her first thing in the morning, but nothing came out. The poor pup was not peeing. I called the vet and got an emergency appointment that night. The doctor wanted to keep her overnight to knock her out and attempt to insert a catheter to drain her bladder. He thought that maybe if something, like a stone, was blocking her urethra, the catheter might knock it out. The crying started that night. Suddenly this was more serious than an infection. I had to leave my pup overnight. She had to sleep in a crate. I cried into her curly head and tried to inhale as much of her as I could. I left the vet and drove home in a worried fog. He called me late that night to say that he couldn’t get the catheter in. A mass was blocking her urethra. They drained her bladder with a needle while she was under anesthesia and referred me to a specialist.
The next morning I spoke with the non-emergency vet who had been working with us since September and she made arrangements for us to go to a veterinary specialist in Middletown to either have a urethral scope or MRI to see what the mass was, and then hopefully surgery to remove it. Before I picked her up, the vet took an X-ray of Molly’s chest to see, if this mysterious mass was cancer—which everyone suspected—was there cancer anywhere else? The X-ray showed a mass in her lung.
Luke took the night off from work and we picked her up at the vet on Tuesday afternoon. She looked defeated. On top of generally feeling bad because she had to pee but couldn’t, she’d been squeezed and poked, had rectal exams, a vaginal exam, and she’d been put under anesthesia and not eaten a thing in almost 24 hours. She climbed into my arms and fell asleep in the sunshine on the car ride to Middletown. I never wanted to let go of her.
The vet in Middletown looked at her records, her X-rays, and her month-old ultrasound and said that they’d put her under anesthesia again and try to insert a scope and catheter into her urethra. The scope would give them a better idea of what the mass was, and then they’d perform a biopsy. She’d have to wait at least three days in the hospital while they confirmed that the mass was cancer, and then they’d try to insert a catheter, but that was only a temporary measure. Removal was not an option based on the location. She had a mass in her lung, which indicated that she had cancer that had spread. We would need to take her to a specialist. Wait, we thought we were at a specialist.
We went there with hope in our hearts, expecting she could have surgery to remove the mass and then come home and see what the future brought us. We were hearing that there wasn’t much of a future to hope for. Either way, we felt like we couldn’t give up. We had to try something. We can’t go from happy, pesky pup one day, to incurably broken, fatally ill pup the next. But we did.
We left there there to wait for her catheterization and went home to rest. I had been crying for a day and wanted to take a nap and wait for the vet to call. We had barely been home 30 minutes when she called. They decided to perform another ultrasound before they put her under anesthesia since her last one was 20 days old. The new ultrasound clearly showed a mass at the point where her urethra and bladder meet. 20 days ago it didn’t show up at all. Today it was clear as a bell. My Molly had inoperable cancer that was preventing her from peeing. One can’t live without peeing.
They suggested that we not perform the procedure. They said that our only choices were taking her to Tuffts to have an experimental stent placed in her urethra, or to have a cystectomy, which essentially would bypass her urethra and drain her bladder externally. Potentially painful, prone to infection, and based on the aggressive growth of her tumor, a temporary, selfish means of bringing our pup home for a little more time with us.
Of course there was always that other choice. The one that even the vet didn’t really talk about, she just hinted. “We could end now.” “Let her go.” Various other phrases that all meant what I didn’t want to accept.
We had the choice of painful, life-altering surgery that could prolong Molly’s life for only a few months while the cancer grew, or we could choose to end the life of our pup who, other than the inability to pee, was otherwise outwardly healthy, lively, and fine.
I can accept the fact that she had cancer. I can accept the fact that cancer would kill her, but I am mad as hell at the fact that we had to be involved. When you have cancer, you try to fight it, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but that isn’t your choice. This time it had to be our choice. We had to decide that Molly was not coming home that night curled up in my lap. She was coming home in a puppy-sized cardboard casket in the back of my car while I sobbed and texted my family.
Every time I tried to stand up I thought I might pass out. I pulled my chair over close to the cold, metal exam table while we waited for them to bring her to us. I wasn’t sure I could do it. Luke told me that I was her world, I was her comfort, and I knew I had to be there. We kissed her and told her how wonderful she was. I said I was sorry and inhaled the warm smell of her soft curly head. I kissed her some more and sobbed. The vet came in, injections were given, someone beat my chest with an icy sledgehammer, or at least that’s what it felt like.
Luke took over from there. I don’t know what I would have done without him. He got me out to the car. He collected Molly in her box. He had our neighbor meet us at the house with his backhoe to dig a hole under the pine tree in the front yard. He took her out of the vet’s sheet and wrapped her in the fleece blanket she liked to sleep on. He put her yellow squeaky toy between her paws. He kissed her good-bye for us and filled in the hole by hand. I stood in the kitchen, still wearing my coat, unable function, not wanting to look outside at the spot they were burying her. I sobbed.
She was a part of me. She was like an extra limb, she followed me everywhere. Only it doesn’t feel like someone amputated my extra limb. It feels like they clawed open my chest and tore a giant, empty space around my heart. I feel lost, out of sync. Purposeless.
On Wednesday, we stayed in bed until 3pm. We cried and slept and cried. We finally convinced each other to get up. We tried to eat, even though food felt like pebbles in my mouth. It was such a beautiful day and we needed to get away from the house. Away from the memories for a little while, so we went for a walk. Molly would have loved it. We walked the the Rails to Trails path in Bolton and cut through the woods to the Heritage Farm. We talked about Molly, we talked about the horrors of the night before, we talked about getting another dog, if that was something we thought we could ever do. It was good. A man with two fat labs came by us on the path and I didn’t cry. I was happy for him. Progress.
Before we left on our walk, I was mindlessly watching a woman on a TV talk show speaking about a vicious attack she suffered many years ago and how afterward she learned what not to say to people who are grieving or healing from an attack. “At least.” She said that this phrase made her incredibly angry. “At least you’re alive.” People would tell her. I get what she’s talking about now.
“At least she didn’t have to suffer.” “At least she wasn’t in pain.” Please don’t try to make this situation any better for me. A week ago I signed a paper telling a stranger that she could give my Molly an injection that would stop her brain from functioning. At least you could let me grieve. I think that this is the anger step in the grieving process. Is there one of those? I almost told my neighbor to shut up when she told me she had such a bad week because she didn’t realize that she’d miss Molly so much. This isn’t your loss to grieve, I wanted to shout. She was MINE.
I just miss her so much. But every day gets a little easier. I can look at her picture now, briefly. I had to the other day. I missed her curly head so much, I just had to see her. My jaw hurts from trying not to cry. Friends and family have been so wonderful and supportive. As much as I want this loss to be mine and Luke’s only, I know that so many people loved Molly, and she loved them back. She was everyone’s dog and she will be missed by all. A friend wrote a tribute to her on Facebook that I haven’t been able to read yet. Maybe I’ll try this week. Baby steps.
Thank you all for your kindness and love. Now go kiss your pups on the head and give them all a hug for me.