When Maximus was first diagnosed back in July, the vet warned me it was a very aggressive form of cancer and that his chances of survival were small. Still, when I discovered that I was only a 90 minute drive away from one of the country’s best animal oncology clinics, I didn’t hesitate to make the drive down for the initial consult – and then, for several week after, make the subsequent trips for Max’s radiation treatments and anti-cancer vaccines. Even before the treatments, I’d seen the change in him, my normally upbeat, forever-famished dog suddenly slow and no longer all that interested in food. His mood had changed but, every time we would pick him up after a radiation session, I’d see flashes of his old self: bright-eyed, tail wagging, happy to see us (but, most importantly, happy). When we first started those sessions, I was informed that his life expectancy would, in all probability, be at best three months. I should be prepared to say goodbye to him in November.
While the initial radiation therapy had positive results, resulting in a slight shrinkage of the tumor in his mouth, subsequent treatments proved ineffective and, before long, the tumor had returned to its original size. The anti-cancer vaccine was Maximus’s last hope and the oncologist cautioned me that, if we didn’t see results soon, then I should be prepared for the worst. I didn’t. And I started to prepare myself for November.
Eventually, Maximus seemed to regain his appetite. He wasn’t the same ravenous eater he used to be, finishing up his portion in half the time it took the other dogs to finish theirs, but with patience – and a little hand-feeding – he started eating again. Then, in late September, he suddenly stopped eating and despite my best efforts, simply refused to take anything. This was two days before our scheduled return to Vancouver and, in my mind, I thought it was his way of telling me that he was ready to give up. At the time, I simply hoped he’d make the trip back home where he could pass away in familiar surroundings.
Well, he made the trip back and, upon his return home to Vancouver, things changed. He started eating again. He seemed happier. He was a long way from better, but it was as if he’d been granted a second wind. That November deadline came and went, but he was still with us.
Then, in early December, he stopped eating. Again. As the days ticked down, I imagined it wouldn’t be long before he finally surrendered to the disease. But he was tough. He didn’t eat for over a week, his weight dropped, he was increasingly lethargic but, still, there were flashes of that happy Maximus I used to know – especially when some friends paid us a visit with their children. Max always loved kids and, when those two walked in the door that day, he was up and at ’em, tailing wagging. I hadn’t seen him so excited in months!
That gave me hope and a subsequent visit to the vet resulted in a change in meds. Rather than leave him behind for the Christmas holidays, I elected to bring him with me to Montreal. Thanks to the medication, his appetite returned (partially) and he was up and around – whenever he wasn’t lying around.
We returned to Vancouver once again yet there was no miracle third wind this time. His condition seemed to gradually worsen. He could no longer climb up the porch steps. I would have to carry him. And still, there were moments – like the day we took him down to Yaletown. He walked more that afternoon than he had walked in recent memory and, the following day, he was exhausted. And the day after that. And the day after that. It was as if, in that one afternoon, he’d packed in all that walking he’d been meaning to get around and, finally, gotten it out of his system.
As my scheduled trip to Tokyo approached, I began to reconsider going. I could cancel my flight and receive a refund for my flight and, while I’d probably have to eat the cost of the hotel, the price would have been a pittance compared to the time, effort, and money I’d already spent on Max. Ultimately, if my staying behind could have helped improve his condition, I wouldn’t have hesitated to do so – but, the fact was, his condition wasn’t going to improve. At best, it would remain steady.
Which it didn’t. A week ago, he stopped eating. Again. And I was out of options. Despite my success in hand-feeding him a little food the other day, he has refused to take anymore since. He no longer walked around, preferring to lie in his bed, eyes open, and rest.
As I said in yesterday’s blog, it’s not a decision I can avoid. I either make it sooner or later. Yesterday, I made an appointment to bring Maximus in this morning – just in case. I wanted to sleep on it. Our dog-sitter, Christine, came by to visit and the dogs were, as always, excited to see her. Even Max managed to climb out of his bed to say a quick hello before returning to his spot. I trust Christine. The dogs love her, she’s had vet training, and she assured me she’d have no problem taking care of Maximus. In the event of downturn, she would take him to my vet who had already offered to care for him while I was away. And that gave me hope. So, hoping for some sign from Maximus, I set him down on the pillow next to me and went to sleep.
Well, I’d like to say a good night’s sleep cleared my mind and helped me make a decision but the truth is I didn’t sleep well, my mind was far from clear, and I had yet to decide this morning. Maximus’s condition hadn’t changed. He was neither noticeably better nor worse than he’d been the previous day.
I suppose that I would have erred on the side of caution. Like I said in yesterday’s blog, this is a decision you can’t undo and I’d rather leave room for reconsideration. Best case scenario – he would hang on until I got back at which point I would have to make the call. But, at least, he would have a week with the other dogs.
And so, almost decided, I brought the dogs out for their morning business. I’d just carried Jelly out. Maximus was right behind me when his legs suddenly gave way beneath him and he collapsed, sprawled out on his belly atop the porch. I set Jelly down and called for Max, expecting him to get up. He seemed to consider it, even made a bit of an effort, then finally gave up and lay his chin down. He was waiting for my help.
And that was when I decided.
Of all my dogs, he was the gentlest, the most well-behaved – the handsome one who charmed children and grown-ups alike. He was stubborn but strong, the most independent of the bunch, and yet, still, surprisingly needy and always appreciative of a little food and a lot of affection. And vice-versa.
I’ll miss him.