You might have noticed my posts have slowed down and even stopped as of recent. No, I did not give up on our crusade for speaking the truth about celiac disease and my endless quest to make delicious nutritious gluten free foods to share with you. Sadly, one of MY TROOPS unfortunately has become quite ill. It has been a hell of a time to say the very least but I MUST believe that with every dark spot there has to be some light. RIGHT? Well I was in the dark and having a rough time finding it. I knew my pup would pass one day, I just wasn’t ready for it now. Until my beloved 65lb Bernese Mountain dog, Betty Boop, showed me a valuable lesson one day. One I will never forget and I wanted to share it with you, especially at this time of year – of new beginnings. I hope this story inspires you to look at each moment differently.
About a month ago I was working on a yummy biscuit recipe in my kitchen for an upcoming post when Betty Boop came over to me, nestled up beside me and dropped to the floor. I had just taken her to the vet a month prior for a full check up and she received a clean bill of health (doesn’t that sound familiar) but I knew something was not right so I rushed her to the ER. A long 4 hours later, I was told that the best thing to do is put her down. The doctor said she had about 4 tumors in her liver and one had burst and she was bleeding internally. Devastation is not the word. I can not remember crying that hard in years, possibly ever. I lay next to her on the cold hospital floor trying to wrap my head around what was happening. She was weak but still happily wagged her tail at the slight suggestion of a belly rub. With every friend that came to visit us that night she looked at them as if to thank them for coming. She seemed so happy to be surrounded by the people she loved most.
A wonderful surgeon at the hospital, Amy Canter, sat down on the floor with us and offered her advice. She said that if it was her dog she would operate to stop the bleeding first and most important but at the same time she would really be able to see what was going on inside her. It was a risky surgery but the thought of possibly having more time with her was what I needed to hear. If you have read any of my blogs at all you will already know that I am a fighter and I was ready to take this on for her. But was she up for it? I did not want to be selfish and keep Betty Boop in any pain but when I looked into my furry friend’s eyes she still had life in her! She looked back at me with all the trust in the world and laid her life in my hands with peace. After talking with loved ones and the surgeon I decided to push forward, proceed with the surgery, and pray for the best. I kissed her on her head, told her I would see her again and they wheeled my friend off to surgery. Happily, two hours later she came out of surgery and she was doing well. Just 3 days later I took her home from the hospital along with a diagnosis of a rare aggressive cancer that would probably take her within months with no hope of remedies offered.
Now at home, with that wonderful bit of information and no doctors to guide me or answer my many questions, she is dressed in one of my t-shirts so I didn’t have to see her shaved scarred belly. “Now what?” I thought. What did I just do? Am I suppose to just sit by and watch her die?!! There had to be something or someone I could call that could help!!! I must DO something!!! I scoured the internet researching her cancer. Researched the best doctors, herbal remedies, advice on diets and read tons of recommendations from others who dealt with this before me. My mission was underway! The next couple of days were filled with doctor appointments, lengthy conversations with holistic professionals, more researching, reading and lots and lots of crying. It seemed every time I looked at her I would break down. Sleeping for me was little to none. Every time I heard her move I would get up to check on her and make sure he wasn’t in any pain.
One of the best doctors I found offered some experimental chemo but that promised nothing. The worst part was I had to administer it to her! Poison! Poison that would most likely make her sick to her stomach. Something I didn’t even know if I could do, especially with no real hope offered. What I WAS doing though was what I knew best, helping her through food! I had found a cancer diet on line and was up at 6 am to prepare fresh cooked meals for her. Meals that consisted of exact proportions of protein, vegetables and good fats. There was also a cottage cheese flax seed mixture that I was whipping up. I had become a mad scientist! And Betty Boop laid in the kitchen with me watching me as she always did. She would look at me with her big brown eyes apologizing for not eating what I just worked so hard to make. I even started to puree her food and administer it through a turkey baster along with herbs that she was now on. Anything to help her get stronger for some more time with her or who knows… maybe cure her. This may all sound crazy to some but I needed to give her as much love and care as she has given me through the years. And although I was exhausted from this undertaking and so extremely broken hearted, I was just NOT ready to let her go.
That next weekend I planned a trip to her favorite beach spot. Anything that would make her happy and my dogs love the beach! What dog doesn’t?! Last summer when we found a very special and quaint place in the Hamptons that they just adore. When we arrived at our beloved spot it was an early gorgeous and sunny morning yet quite windy, so the beach was empty and just SO beautiful that describing what we saw would not do it justice. Betty Boop and her counterpart Frankie Beans howled as we pulled up and as soon as we got out of the car we made immediate contact with the sand.
I had never let them just run freely though. Due to too many people on the beach or me just being flat out scared of them getting washed out to sea by a giant wave. So I ran with them up and down as many times as I could… 2 to 3 times tops. We sat on the sand for a moment catching our breath. I looked over at her catching her breath and of course started to cry, I thought maybe I had made a mistake, maybe this was too much for her. I got up and started for the car but she pulled back as if to say “no way lady, I want to stay!” I pulled her leash again, and again she resisted. This was one strong terminally ill dog! I called her name and went to lift her now 65lb rump in efforts to get her to the car, yet she stood her ground. I finally gave in and started a SLOW walk back down the beach but that was not good enough, she wanted to run! She pulled and pulled on her leash. Still worrying about her being too tired, getting caught in a wave, her fate, worrying about EVERYTHING, I turned again for the the car. But Betty, as goofy as she is, always has a way of starring right through you. Well she was starring in that moment and NOT budging, begging me to undo her leash and be free. Without another thought I swallowed my fears, reached down and unhooked her leash. She took off like a bird let out of a cage!
There was so much excitement in her, so much energy, so much LIFE. It was in that moment that I realized that I had been looking at my dog and focusing on the fact that she was dying instead of appreciating the life she still very much had and wanted. She ran in and out of waves and up and down the beach. Barked at birds that flew by, she was having a ball. She was so very joyous! Dancing around carelessly with such grace, all with her 4 tumors in her belly and not giving a damn about any of it, she was alive and happy IN THAT VERY MOMENT! Thoughts of tomorrow did not even exist. Fears of the future were something she didn’t even know. I watched her and felt my whole body go calm. It was the first time in weeks my shoulders weren’t up around my ears. It was in that moment that I surrendered to the reality of life and let her go, in my heart. I had sense of grace that I don’t recall ever feeling. Witnessing this beautiful creature carelessly, freely moving through the sand. I needed to thank her for the many smiles she brought to my life, all the love she gives me that will never be forgotten and just accept that her time with me is almost done. I decided am going to let life BE, exactly the way it is, not the way I want it to be. It was a true lesson in life from a soaking wet pup that was now plopped at my feet covered in sand and happily wagging her tail.
Since that day on the beach we have continued to enjoy every single moment together and I take mental snap shots of her in my mind to keep always. When I leave her for a few hours I make sure to hug her tight before I go. She no longer gets forced to eat what she doesn’t want to and those chemo drugs have been in the garbage for weeks. These days her meal of choice is filet mignon and she is down to one great herbal vitamin. How long she has I do not know. It is not for me to know. That burden does not lie at my feet. My job is to make every moment count and cherish it as though it is the last. A lesson I think we all can learn.