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.

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?

Falling into the Moment

Do we always have to search for the upbeat?
Is it ok sometimes to write about how bloodly unfair life is and how painful and how it is a struggle just to get through the next moment?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about cancer and dogs. There is a lot of information to plough through and it is good to get informed. I am now almost an expert.
I know about the survival rates with and without chemotherapy for the different cancers but especially lymphoma which is what Bonnie has.  I know that without chemotherapy the average dog dies in 4-6 weeks.  I know all the commonly used supplements and what is the best cancer diet.
In the process of reading this information you also find hundreds of stories about people and their dogs.  Dogs are getting cancer in their thousands. Perhaps it is millions. People are making decisions, trying their best, agonising over side effects and when to call a halt and let their dogs go. There is a mountain of pain there.   And a mountain of love.  It is interesting that we know so much about cruelty and abandonment of dogs but what is invisible until you start searching is the incredible love.
I have cried and sobbed my way through so many blogs and emails and yahoo group stories about dogs and their owners dealing with cancer and dealing with death.
And in a funny way it helps me to feel these other peoples pain. I don’t need them to find the positive or end their stories with what they have learned from the experience. It is just something horrible that happens and we try to deal with it and if we can reach out to others in the same place then it sort of eases the pain.
Sort of.  In the end there is one day after another and I have been really struggling to find my way through. I feel I am being squashed beneath a gigantic roller. It wants to squeeze out my stuffing.
I want to accept and be strong and keep cheerful and stay calm. For Bonnie. For everyone around me. For myself for Gods sake.
I keep asking ‘How do people deal with awful things?’  Human beings have had plenty of practice.  Illness, cruelty, war, torture, loss. What are the ways and means of putting one foot after another? You never know which experience will push you to your edge.  I’ve been through bad times before of course but there is something about this experience that is threatening to flatten me. Being in this ‘other’ country, not having my friends call round to the house to chat or give me a hug, Bonnie having a death sentence but being at the same time weirdly healthy, wondering if I somehow caused the cancer, wanting to get out into nature but not wanting to be alone there, still having this bloody ankle problem which makes walking so difficult. Oh you know what I mean!  I am not trying to say this is the worst life can throw at a person but for some reason it has exactly the ingredients that give me meltdown.
Anyway, having said I don’t need to end on a positive note I just want to say that today I did catch a glimpse of something that helps.  We walked back from town through the park. Bonnie had her first attack of diarrhoea which I instantly decided was ‘The Beginning of the End’. We found a bench and sat in the sunshine and I tried to breathe slowly and calm my racing thoughts. Bonnie jumped up beside me and as I watched her, trying to memorise her every curve and the exact colour of her hair, wanting to stretch time so it would never move on, she was just watching the birds
Her nose was in constant movement. She was receiving smells at the rate of a hundred a second. She was not the slightest bit concerned about her health. She wasn’t worried or sad. She just watched the people, the children playing football, the pigeons and sometimes turned and looked at me.

I tried to tune in to her.  To tune out of me. I felt myself almost falling into the present moment. Each time I managed to just be there with her, there was at last a sense of peace, of something eternal. Then my mind would try to analyse and it would be gone.

Over and over I let myself fall into the moment.

Just Bonnie and Me.

Sitting in the sunshine.

Nothing more

And My News

I wrote that last post as it was something I had been thinking about. And as a way to distract myself from what is going on right here. 
In case you are waiting to hear about Bonnie, here is the news.
Yesterday the results arrived from the biopsy and it was confirmed she has an aggressive cancer, a lymphoma. The traditional treatment would be chemotherapy to slow down the growth of the tumour and possibly buy her more time, up to 9 months. 
There are several treatment options, all of them causing possible side effects with the most powerful being the worst and the single drug option being perhaps too weak to make a difference.
We also have to keep in mind that Border Collies have a special sensitivity to chemotherapy. They don’t always deal with it well.
Now it is decision time. Not just about that but about diet and chosing between the vast array of natural supplements which are  known to be possibly tumour reducing.  And where do I spend these last months with her?  Here in the city with no garden?  On the Costa Brava at Sant Nicolau in a beautiful and much loved environment but far away from my normal life?  Or do I even consider a mad dash up through France to get her ‘home’ to Cornwall?
November always has this shady side.  A month when fears and shadows can loom large. 
The desire to bury my head under the duvet threatens to overwhelm me.
But I must be Bonnies decision-maker and primary carer even though I feel totally inadequate for the task.
I am not ready. I wasn’t expecting this to happen, not yet. 
She meanwhile seems well, or so I think. She is eating and sleeping and playing ball as usual.  I try not to look at her with a mournful gaze.  I am stroking her head with fast soft repetitive caresses as recommended by the Dog Cancer Vet. It is supposed to remind her of her mother licking her face when she was a puppy and it’s true that she always ends up falling gently asleep