This past Monday I blithely walked into a new vets office with my boy Baxter. I expected to be told that he needed to have his teeth cleaned or even maybe one or two pulled. Worst case scenario in my mind was that he had an abscess or something affecting his jaw.
However I left in tears with the news that we would not have Baxter much longer.
I feel like I should tell you all about Baxter but that will have to wait for another time as I’m already nearly in tears just writing about what is going on. He deserves his story to be told.
We knew he had bad teeth so when he started doing a weird tremble with his jaw we were concerned. When we adopted him the vet told us the best guess on his age was between 5 and 7, we gave him the benefit of the doubt and said he was 5, but we just don’t know. On top of that he was not properly cared for before us (BU). When he came to us he was dying of heartworm and had to go through painful arsenic treatment to get a clean bill of health. His teeth were the icing on the neglected cake… they were broken, worn down and grey.
When we first adopted him we did what we could and tried to buy him teeth cleaning toys (which he had no idea how to play with) and to brush his teeth which he hated.
Just before LA was born we had both Baxter and his “sister”, Cera, at the vet for full check ups. We asked about a swelling behind his right eye and a bulge there. They told us it could be anything from an eye tumor to an infection, if it was an infection it would go away. They advised us to take him to his regular vet.
A month or two later Steve took him in. Our vet said his eye had been scratched and gotten infected. She gave us an ointment and an oral antibiotic and that was it. It cleared up but the swelling behind the eye itself was still there.
6 months ago I took him to the vet again because his eye seemed to be having problems controlling the “inner lid” and the swelling behind the eye was still there. Again they gave me ointments. I asked about the swelling and they just shrugged it off as part of his age.
But the jaw thing was new. Unique to the past month or so I would say. Besides his lower jaw tremble he was occasionally yelping when he yawned and his appetite was lower. We weren’t sure if that was part of the problem as he has always been a notoriously picky eater.
In short, I suspected teeth problems. Our regular vet gave me an estimate over the phone of 450 dollars, more if there was more involved. So I called another local vet I had heard good things about. The woman spent a lot of time on the phone with me and gave me an estimate of 199 dollars. So I made him an appointment for Monday.
Baxter was afraid in the office. He always seems certain I’m going to leave him behind and stays glued to me.
The vet took us back and began his exam. It took him 30 second to inspect his teeth and look down his throat. He immediately said, “There’s a tumor.”
He showed me. It was huge… the far back right roof of his mouth. It extends nearly past the halfway point of his throat. He then inspected his head and showed me the swelling that I have been concerned about the past few years behind his eye…. it is the tumor that has grown out from there.
The tremor in his jaw is the tumor either making it uncomfortable to close his mouth or the tumor effecting his jaw closing.
My brain really struggled as to what this would mean. I asked the obvious, “Can it be removed?” And saw the answer in his eyes even as my brain told me it couldn’t. Because it is on the rof of his mouth and through his skull they would have to remove most of his mouth, eye, eye socket. The vet didn’t say it was impossible, just very invasive. I can’t even imagine how he would ever eat or what would be left of his jaw if we tried to do that.
He explained gently that we would have to start with a biopsy, which because of location would have to be done while he was under anesthetic (which is increasingly dangerous for dogs as they age). Then they could decide how to proceed. Chemotherapy would be the only other real option.
I knew I did not want to put him through pain, sickness and endless vet visits for just a few weeks or months. I knew that if his time was limited I did not want it to involve all of that. The vet agreed and said that there was only a slim chance that it would cure him, mostly just buy very limited time. He agreed that if he was his dog he would take him home, buy his favorite foods, pamper him and wait until the pain was bad.
By this time I was struggling to speak. I asked a few more questions I’m sure. He explained that it appeared to be a slow growing tumor. I could tell that behind my grief there was anger at the two vets who never looked in his throat. Three visits in two years! Why was this not noticed if it was slow growing?
I struggled to ask him if it had been caught earlier could we have done more? He said it was hard to tell but most likely not. This made me feel a bit better (although now I’ve done internet research and there are several sites that say the opposite. I wonder if he was just trying to save my previous vet from an angry phone call or visit. Which still may happen, but first I have to get to the place where I could talk about it without crying.)
He said he would prescribe pain medicine and we would take it from there. I asked when he’d need it. He said when he was rubbing his mouth, eating less or yelping when yawning. I said that he was already doing that on occasion. The vets eyes told me this was not good news.
I asked if this was hurting him… he answered that it was hard to say. It probably would eventually but at this point it may just be making his jaw uncomfortable.
Then he sent me home.
I called Steve and could barely get out the words. My mother told me not to pick up LA until I’d pulled myself together. I really tried but as soon as Steve got home I dissolved into tears.
My wonderful husband had stopped at the store and gotten the ingredients to make natural dog food. We used to make homemade but when LA was about 6 months we tried other things because it was too much for me to feed two 65 pound dogs twice a day and keep up. He said that he’d help take over it but both dogs seemed healthier on it and maybe the natural food would help slow the growth of the tumor (there are lots of studies that regular kibble is contributing to cancer in dogs). And at the very least he loved it, so that made it worth it.
Steve and I both struggled with our emotions all evening. We didn’t want to frighten LA. It is both a blessing and a curse that she doesn’t understand this yet. A blessing because she doesn’t understand the concept of death and a curse because one day her best friend will just be gone.
And that is something I am struggling with… besides being my baby boy he is LA’s best friend. They cuddle watching TV. She feeds him her food. She lounges all over him and showers him with kisses. He sleeps by her crib. She feels she must say good night to both dogs every night but Baxter is her best friend.
While I’m relieved I don’t have to have that talk about death yet with her really. One day he just won’t be here for her and she won’t really understand why. I thought we would have him to an age where she could remember him… at least a bit.
And my other girl, Cera. To her he is her best friend, brother, partner, everything. They are a set. On dark nights she doesn’t want to go outside without him. I do not know how she will react to his “disappearance.”
We tried to have conversations (mostly over IM because it was a little less emotional) about how we want to proceed. We decided that we are willing to pay whatever fee to a vet to come to the house when the time comes, because he is so afraid of the office we don’t want his last moments there. We agreed that we should try to process this as quickly as we can and then focus on the fact that we do still have him and we can make his last time as lovely and comfortable as we can. We are having pictures taken of Baxter with LA and we hope to get a family picture as well with us all. We will up walks to his favorite bush/tree so he can mark it. More car rides. But when we got to the point of discussing burial we couldn’t get any further.
Steve is afraid of me having false hope because two friends have told me of tumors that mysteriously disappeared. One friend was giving her dog an anti cancer natural diet that is very close to what we were already planning on feeding him. So we are tweaking his food to match the cancer diet. I’ve read of herbs that slow the growth and sometimes even help shrink. I’m trying not to have false hope, but I can try.
Steve feels he can already see him getting worse… I think it’s just because we are more aware of the problem. Last night I tried to give him a pupperoni stick he was asking for. His jaw was too weak to bite down and take it. I hate to hold it for him as he gnawed off pieces using his back teeth. I cannot even tell you how this broke my heart.
We are a sad set of parents trying to pull it together for the kids, the human one and the fuzzy ones too.
I just pray we have months and months rather than weeks and weeks. We are hoping he makes it to the fall because Baxter truly loves to go camping in the fall and we are planning a trip to Ft. DeSoto just for him as the weather cools. I just hope he will be there.