I was sitting on the floor in the lobby of the veterinarian’s office, blowing soap bubbles for my five-year-old Border Collie, Scout, while we waited for our medications after our consultation with a holistic veterinarian.
A woman sitting near us was watching as Scout happily pounced on the bubbles and then stared intently into my eyes as he waited for the next wave of the bubble wand. Chasing soap bubbles is one of Scout’s favorite things to do in life. (In fact, I just typed the word and he must have read it, because he popped up from his nap and he’s staring at me, waiting to see if we’re headed outside.)
“He’s so smart,” the woman said. Smart, beautiful, well behaved, lovely, she said. I know this, of course, know that this dog is one in a million with his gentle spirit and simple needs. I also know that by the end of summer, he may be gone.
That’s because a few weeks ago, Scout was diagnosed with canine lymphoma.
It was a total shock to not only us but to the vet. We’d been treating Scout for some intestinal problems, and thought we had narrowed it down to inflammatory bowel disease. And while he got better, things were still a little off. So our vet sent us for an ultrasound, just to rule out … well, cancer.
But there it was. In his spleen, the lymph nodes in his neck, and probably in his intestinal tract.
We opted out of chemo. The prognosis for this when the intestinal tract is involved is very dim. Even in the best of circumstances, chemo might give us a few months in remission – and that’s after six months of treatment.
We opted for steroids and some holistic treatments to boost his immune system and keep him as comfortable and healthy for as long as possible. So there he was, playing like a puppy in the waiting room at the vet’s, drawing the attention and admiration of the woman next to us.
I didn’t know how to reply to her comments, but I also didn’t expect what came out of my mouth: “He’s dying,” I said.
Her eyes welled up. “Oh my God,” she said. “That’s terrible!”
We both looked at Scout, who was standing still, eyes locked on the bottle of bubble fluid in my hands.
“I’m in denial,” I said to the woman, “and he clearly has no idea what’s going on right now. So we just act like nothing’s wrong.” We both smiled. She’d been there, too. It’s easier to just pretend like everyone is fine, because the alternative is much too difficult to think about.
But looking at Scout, I wonder if maybe he’s on to something. He may or may not know he’s dying. But he gets up every day like he has for his whole life. He plays, he naps, he eats, he romps with our other dogs, Bandit and Bailey. Occasionally, he chews up a dish towel or sneaks a lick of my dinner plate.
It’s been said to “live like you were dying.” But I think Scout’s way is better: “Die like you were living.”