Coming closer to the edge

When I am out walking I have lots of ideas for things to write here but once I sit down in front of the computer my mind goes blank. It is a strange and unusual symptom for me, usually so verbal.

If you have been visiting this blog for any length of time you will know that I have a dog, Bonnie, and that she has cancer. Sometimes I write about this and sometimes I leave it alone – this blog is supposed to be about Catalan life and not to be a record of my dogs illness.

And yet.

I am here in Catalunya. And this is my life. Some of it would be pretty much the same if I was still in Cornwall and some of it is particular to here and now and this place I am calling home.

The photos that follow were taken on the hill above Granollers a few days ago and today on our trip to the beach at Premia. Bonnie is wearing the fluffy coat because it was raining and she is rather thin now and vulnerable to cold and damp.

 Why I am glad I am in Catalunya while my dog is ill

  • The weather is good. We can go out and sit in the sunshine in what might be her last days
  • The vets I use are wonderful. They are a 24 hour hospital so I can relax around the idea that Bonnie could take a turn for the worse in the middle of the night or at the weekend. If we bundle into the car we can be at the clinic in five minutes, no problem parking, open night and day.  It is also the first time in many years that I have felt welcome and cared for by all the staff at a vets clinic. Everyone knows Bonnie and greets us when we arrive. It makes all the difference.
  • We have been going regularly to Sant Nicolau for rest and respite from city life and the walks there are better than any I had near home in Cornwall. The place is reached by small quiet rough lanes and you can walk straight from the house without having to see a car.
  • The weather – no excuses for putting it twice as it is so important. Sunshine and warmth mean we can be outside where Bonnie is happy.

Why it is hard being in Catalunya while my dog is ill

  • It can be hard  explaining things in another language
  • I had to order all herbs and supplements from the UK and US and it took ages!
  • I wish I had a wider circle of friends here to keep me company on walks, vet visits. I am used to spending a lot of time alone here but right now I do miss so many friends from home.
  • It is hard being in Granollers because of having no garden. Poor Bonnie has to race across the road to the square for her toilet needs – no fun when you are poorly.

I think guilt is part of the process when someone is dying. It almost can’t be avoided no matter how much we try to talk ourselves out of it. These last days I have been trying to get past my guilt about so many things.  I left Bonnie in the UK for two years when I first came over here. I hated leaving her – and Blue my other collie – but I didn’t want to bring them over until I knew I would be staying.  When I did bring them, I slid smoothly into guilt about that!  One friend from Cornwall even voiced it to me “How can you take them over to Spain, where it is hot and different and they won’t have a garden and all the sounds and smells will be alien?”  She didn’t even mention the tick borne diseases which exist here and got Bonnie last spring, almost killing her.  Or the need for rabies jabs…

Decisions we make have their consequences but I know guilt is not useful. Except that sometimes it makes us behave better in the present.

 So I feel I have done my best since Bonnie got sick. I look after her as well as I can.  I have researched and read and learnt about canine cancer and treatments. I take her to the countryside when possible. I feed her the best diet possible. I sit with her at home. I manage a whole array of bottles of pills and powders that all need to be given in different ways.  In far too short a time all this will be a memory. As will be the feel of her soft silky coat slipping through my fingers. I love this dog with all my heart – too much perhaps – and I fear what will come after she goes. There will be change I am sure and it will be OK and so will I. But for now, I feel I am dangling my feet over a precipice and hoping that when I leap, or fall, or am pushed…. I will find wings and fly.

“Come to the edge, he said.
We are afraid, they said.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came to the edge,
He pushed them and they flew.

Guilliame Apollinaire

Extra Time

It is almost 10 weeks since we had the bad news about Bonnie’s health. The cancer she has is fast growing and aggressive and the statistics say that without chemotherapy treatment a dog would not normally live for more than 4-6 weeks.

But here we still are, in a strange state of limbo, celebrating the extra time we have been given and trying not to just spend the days waiting for something bad to happen.

For the last two months we have been to-ing and fro-ing between town and country. It is much easier making a sick dog happy when you live in a beautiful cottage surrounded by woods and green fields. Granollers is a not a bad place – I love it in many ways and write my other blog to celebrate its many interesting features. But in the end it is an industrial town, with traffic, pollution, people milling around on the streets and even the river side is dirty and litter strewn.

Here at Sant Nicolau we can open the door and hear birdsong. Our morning walk is along a dusty lane which winds through the woods and then opens out onto a wide plane with the mountains rising in the distance. I never get tired of this view of Canigo

We are happy here – Bonnie plays with the other dogs, enjoys the smells of the forest – wild boar I expect – and has no reason to be startled by sirens or horns or people shouting or dogs rushing at her snapping and barking. I am writing and painting, reading and meditating, trying to find a rhythm to my days so that they don’t just feel like an extended holiday

But of course it does also feel strange.
Watching Bonnie so closely makes me tense.   I am alone a lot of the time which I enjoy but there is so much time to think and worry.  I distract myself with Trollope and Downton Abbey.
She has a shelf of bottles containing various anti-cancer supplements and I need to balance giving her as much of these as possible, while not over-loading her weak digestion

Sometimes I forget about the cancer . Of course Bonnie never gives it a thought!
We play or walk and breath each other in each second.
Then I remember with a jolt, asking myself if I am doing it all right?
There is a dog cancer forum which I belong to and the people are immensely generous with their support and knowledge. Which supplements, when to give them, how much, what to expect, and then caring messages when it seems the fight is over and finally, support when the dog has died.

Last weekend I got very anxious about Bonnie’s diarrhoea.  I have tried so many things and yet it continues. It is a possible sign of the disease gripping faster onto her system. Or it could be a reaction to all the supplements. I wrote to the group in the morning and within an hour there were five responses with suggestions and recipes and more information about intestinal lymphoma.

Thank you, internet, for making all this possible!

Support, information, connection and being able to buy stuff from abroad online – I am so thankful for it.  None of the supplements were to be found here in Catalunya or Spain – I have had packets arriving every week from the UK and the USA. If people here needed similar information I wonder where they would find it if they didn’t speak English.  Perhaps it is something to think of in the future – a Spanish/Catalan web site with all the basic information. It all started for me with Dr Dresslers book which I found by chance online and after that the research has never stopped and I am sure what I learned brought us these extra weeks together.

Collecting water from Montseny

We are muddling along.

Bonnie has good and bad days. In general she is happy and full of energy but her digestion is very unstable and this tires her (and me) out.
There is no way of knowing what will happen next.
Or when it will happen.
That is just a fact of life that I must accept.

Our new kitten Phoenix (Fenix in Catalan) has settled into Granollers fairly well. We keep her in one room until she feels more confident and also to avoid her running out of the front door onto the busy street. Once she is calm and comfortable with us all then we will have to trust her not to be foolish. She is still nervous when we make loud or sudden noises but trusts Bonnie totally

Yesterday we went up to Sant Fe in the mountains of Montseny. There is a natural spring there where we fill up our water bottles.  Sometimes when I am writing English I can’t remember which is the correct way to express something. I reverse translate and end up with funny expressions like ‘gather water’ or ‘collect water’. What is the right way to say this in English? Is it just ‘get water’?

 It was Sunday and many other people had the same idea. When we arrived there was a group of neighbours from Sabadell who were just beginning to fill up about 60 eight litre bottles of water. I timed them for a while and realised it takes about one minute each bottle. The stream coming out of the rock was steady but rather slow. The water is delicious and so cold

As we waited three more couples arrived armed with large plastic bottles. It was a bit of a party

The woods around the fountain are mostly beech and the ground was inches deep in reddy brown leaves which perfectly matched Bonnie’s coat

We filled up 30 bottles which should last us a few months. It is one of my great pleasures here – going to collect, or fetch, or catch, or get fresh mountain spring water.

How is Bonnie?

It’s been a long time since I wrote about Bonnie.
How is she getting on?  What are we doing for her?   How am I coping?

  • Sometimes it is hard to believe she is sick and has cancer.  She looks great, her coat is soft and thick, her eyes are bright and she has all her usual energy when she sees you have brought a ball to chase. We went for a walk today for example and when she realised I had not brought the all important ball, she raced off and found a pine cone and dropped it at my feet, teasing me with her eyes, inviting me to play.
  • Sometimes she looks worn out and tired. One of her eyes is weepy and irritated. Her body can feel hot and she drinks a lot.  There are nights when her tummy is gurgling and rumbling for hours and she can’t get comfortable in her bed. She gets up and plonks herself noisily on the floor, only to return to her bed a few minutes later.
  • So as you see, it is up and down. But right now it is more up.  Last week for about 4 days she had terrible diarrhoea.  The kind that you don’t want to happen in the middle of a busy street. She was drinking lots of water and seemed uncomfortable. We travelled back to Granollers and I took her straight to the vets at Veterinari Lauro. They are very nice there and all our checkup visits are free.  After taking antibiotics, a white gooey medicine to coat her stomach and some special digestive tinned food, the next day she was almost totally recovered.
  • I have joined three dog cancer groups on the internet and spend a lot of time trying to sort out which dog lives with who and what kind of cancer they have. There is so much information out there and so many people devoting themselves to caring for their sick dogs.  If not for these sites I wouldn’t know what to do for Bonnie now as the vets here, wonderful though they are, don’t know anything about alternative treatments.
  • Chinese mushrooms, parley, tumeric, wheat germ extract, Krill fish oil, artemesia, broccoli and brussel sprouts, sunshine, lots of hours of sleep in total darkness, learning new tricks, love, happy times, more love……..these are her medicines.
  • It is almost 7 weeks since the diagnosis. I find it impossible not to count the weeks even though I know that there are no accurate survival times. It was good to get past the 4 week mark, then the 6 week and now I am looking at the 8.  The vet said that she probably wouldn’t still be here in three months but who knows?  There are stories of great survivors and these herbal pills are strong allies in the fight to slow down the growth.
  • The major change for us is that we now spend a lot of time at Sant Nicolau. I booked one of the cottages for a month and now will take it for January too.   It is really wonderful to have it as a haven of peace and healing.  We came back to Granollers for Christmas.  I wouldn’t want to wish away any of Bonnie’s precious days but I have to say I am glad those ones are over.  There was nothing bad but I just wasn’t in the mood and had to go through the motions.  Now we can go back to the countryside and I am looking forward to seeing the mountains again and to watch how happily Bonnie races through the woods chasing scents, and rolls in the grass in a doggy ecstasy. Here she is peacefully watching the birds beside Blue.
    The skies were amazing on our morning walks. Would you ever tire of this?

The view to Canigó

We are now at Sant Nicolau.  Bonnie is happy and well.

Our morning walk is down the lane which leads winds through the woods and emerges at what must be one of my favourite views. Across the fields lie the mountains.  On the left I see the dark shape of Mare del Deu del Mont which is actually not far from here

Beside it to the right, or so it appears, is Canigó now covered in snow

This beautiful mountain is in the Pyranees, in the region of Rossello´ in France. But ask any Catalan and they will tell you it is in Catalunya Nord, that part of the country which was ceded to France by Spain by the Treaty of the Pyranees in 1659

Canigó is deeply symbolic for Catalan people. There is a famous poem about its legends by Jacint Verdaguer.  And a beautiful song called Muntanyes del Canigó. I am trying to learn it while I am here and practise singing every day on our early walk as well as in the little church.

I am not always moved by mountains, I am more of a sea person. But I love this view.  A few years ago we went to Prades and climbed Canigó. Just short of the top there was thick mist so we turned back but it is something we will do again sometime soon.

Every year at the feast of Sant Joan, close to the summer solstice, a group of young people from Perpignon take a flame which is kept lit all year round and climb with it to the top of Canigo´. There a large bonfire is lit and more torches are taken from this mother flame and carried far and wide across Catalunya to light the Sant Joan fires. Crowds of people climb the mountain to be part of this ancient ritual. After the descent the torches are taken away by foot, on bicycle and in cars. they say that over 3000 bonfires are lit from the one at the top of Canigo´.

The flame is symbolic of the life and vitality of the Catalan culture. The mountain, although it lies outside the borders of the present Catalunya, exists outside the world of treaties and countries and frontiers. It is very powerful and as I look at it each morning it is clearly part of this landscape

Here is Marina Rossell singing Muntanyes de Canigó.  I searched through several versions and this is the one that I like best. It is a beautiful song but so often these culturally significant songs are sung too sentimentally as I know from a similar tradition in Scotland.
This one is lovely and listen to how she rolls her rrrrr’s!    I need to practise that more.

Muntanyes de Canigó
fresques son i regalades
sobre tot ara a l’estiu
que les aigues son gelades
que les aigues son gelades