Cherishing Borrowed Time

XenaIt can be challenging to remember the things for which we are grateful, but if we take a few minutes, we can ground ourselves and get some perspective. A recent visit to our local vet reminded us of something we knew in the back of our minds, but didn’t consciously think of each day: how lucky we are to still enjoy the company of our dog, Xena.

Xena is a lab/shar pei mix. She’s going to be 13 next month. She’s lived in three different states, with two different dogs and six different cats during her lifetime. She almost died of a severe coccidia infection right after we adopted her from a shelter, and she’s had 2 TPLO surgeries. Otherwise, she’s been a generally healthy dog, usually “bright eyed and bushy tailed”, and just a little crabby with cats.

We noticed a lump on her neck last year that seemed to be growing. Lumps in older dogs can signify many things, including benign cysts. Strangely, she was also coughing like something was tickling her throat, so we took her to the vet to get it checked out. Tests revealed that she had thyroid cancer.

Our intrepid vet performed the surgery. The mass turned out to be larger and more difficult to remove than expected. It was a shock to see the size of the actual mass, which was eyeball-sized – much of it was hidden by the structure of her throat.

The next step was to see a veterinary oncologist. The specialist advised that this type of cancer would usually metastasize to the lungs, though 2 sets of x-rays showed that Xena’s lungs were clear. The specialist offered chemotherapy with a “guarded” prognosis…on the long end, she might live a year after the chemo.

After discussing the options with our vet, we opted to forego chemo and treat conservatively. Xena hates going to any vet’s office – chemo would likely have been too stressful for her. We wanted to keep her happy and healthy, preserving her quality of life. Our vet understood our rationale. We knew there was a chance we might regret the decision in the future, but felt it was the right decision at the time.

It’s been nearly a year now, and aside from a slightly underactive thyroid (the remaining half) that we’re treating with medication, Xena is enjoying her golden years with good food, good company (she has one canine sister, Freya, and a trio of feline brothers), and good times (lots of naps and occasional roughhousing with her much-younger sister). Xena_Freya_PorchOur vet calls her the “miracle dog”. We’re thankful for the time we have with her, especially precious because we don’t know how much more time we’ll have. When we see her running in the grass with her sister (who slows down for her) or paddling her feet in a really good dream, it’s validation that she has a good quality of life. And that’s what matters – that she live a life with dignity that she enjoys. We just hope she has many more good days to come.