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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Waiting Room

On Tuesday, my dog, Pepper, has an appointment with her oncologist. My neurotic, 25-pound "spaniel mix" ( I call her a Fox terror) has been diagnosed with lymphoma: a fast-moving, tenacious cancer that can be ameliorated but not cured. In a few days, I will learn whether our remaining time together will be measured in weeks or months. Either option is hopeful. Last Saturday, as I sat in the waiting room of Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, I was frantically praying for days. Even one more day.

That morning, the wait was interminable. Now, our appointment with the oncologist is still two days away, and it could never get here, as far as I am concerned. I should not have to be dealing with this, with her, yet. After all, Pepper is only 5 years old (Well, maybe 6. She's a shelter dog of indeterminate age). She is in the prime of her life. As I wait and try not to think about outcomes, as I wait and try to hope for the best prognosis possible, I think about waiting, itself.

I am not a patient person. Drawbridges, railroad crossings, the Schuylkill Expressway all vex me. For most of my life, I did anything to avoid standing still. Just give me an inch, a minute, a break in the log jam. Keep it moving, would you! I always had to be somewhere, and I was usually running late.

As I sat in the veterinary hospital waiting room, though, every minute meant I might get a couple of minutes more. Other people came and went: the insurance salesman and his chihuahua with her persistent cough, the chic young woman fretting over her children's bunny. The family who left without their golden retriever and hugging one another for comfort and solace evoked a peculiar mix of empathy and selfishness: that might be me, please don't let that be me. I sat looking at beautiful portraits of pets and their people and asked God for enough time to get at least one good picture of Pepper and me together. I read testimonials to the hospital that celebrated the animal-human bond. I took the phone number of a pet bereavement group...just in case.

The good news: the first chemotherapy treatment she received at Penn Vet's emergency room may have bought her a little more time. Time that has suddenly become a precious commodity to us both. Pepper's tumors have shrunk to less than half of their size last week. She is bright, alert, responsive. If this nasty disease has not spread to her liver or her lungs, she could have almost twelve months. If the disease has metastasized in some other organ, well, we're back to a matter of weeks, again. Maybe.

Now, I am praying for time to stand still. I am in no hurry. I have room to wait.


  1. Chris BradyJanuary 23, 2012


    Amazing ending to this story with the tumors shrinking so much. I hope you have a miracle in your future and more than a year to spend with Pepper.

  2. Mary, it sounds like in spite of the storm, you found a silver lining in resetting your perception about waiting as a chance to appreciate time and live in the moment

  3. Oh Mary, my heart broke as I read this. Having lost a dog when I was young, and being completely in love with my little puggy, I can imagine the pain of going through this with your beloved Pepper. Last April, we sat in the waiting room of an emergency animal hospital, and it was one of the most heartbreaking places I've been. My girl pulled through just fine, thank God. I hope yours will too. Thanks for the reminder to cherish every day with her. I think that's one of the things animals can teach us. If we remember that we only have them for a short time, they can help keep us focused on the joyful present.

  4. Mary F.,

    I am so very sorry to read this. Your heartbreak is so real, and shared by all of us who love our animals and inevitably have to let them go. In this case, it really is much too soon, totally a cosmic injustice. This particular type of loss is a pain that goes way beyond words, but you surely touched it in your post.

  5. Beautiful, painful but beautiful. Pets make us realize, however unwillingly, that everything in life has an end and that the only way to cope is to live fully in the moment. When I got Brodie people warned me that the pain of losing him eventually would be more than I could bear. I went ahead anyway. I am willing to trade that for the joy of being with him every day. I haven't regretted a single minute of it. Give Pepper a scratch for me.

  6. Thanks for the well wishes. Pepper and I really appreciate all the good vibes!

    We will get Pepper an ultrasound and a PARR test (cancer cells) and echocardiogram and then, maybe, chemo. We will also try alternative medicine to ease Pepper's symptoms and perhaps supplement the chemo.

    So, now 2/2 (Groundhog Day!) is the deciding day.

    I'll let you all know how we make out!

    Again, thanks!

  7. Well, it's been two months. Pepper will have her fourth chemo treatment tomorrow (Monday, 4/2). We have been making the trip to Penn Vet about every other week...bloodwork, bloodwork, chemo...bloodwork, bloodwork, chemo... I know I've gone beyond the estimate the vet gave me for her treatments, but I don't think about that. I just pay one bill at a time. I know I will have to rethink my new kitchen floor, but I don't think I could bear looking at a new floor if Pepper weren't here.

    Meanwhile, Pepper is her usual recalcitrant self. Now, I just laugh at the behaviors I foolishly thought I could train her "out of." And rejoice in the quirks of her personality. She LOVES going to the hospital. By the time we get to 30th Street, she is shaking herself awake. When we turn onto Spruce Street, she is barking to get out of the car. Once we arrive, she leaps from the car and tears up the sidewalk...well, with a few stops to check the scents of other outpatients! Last week, she actually tried to push the glass door open with her nose. She knows the voice of Jackie, the nurse who takes her back and brings her out, and will bark to get her attention if, God forbid!, Jackie is talking to another patient. She feigns a little reluctance when Jackie takes her leash, but once she is behind the swinging metal doors, she has forgotten about me and has embraced her adventure. I've volunteered Pepper for any clinical trials that may come along: Pepper loves the hospital that much.

    Even the best results only offer us maybe 6-8 months. I am hoping Pepper's mongrel ancestry helps her beat those odds. The cancer in her liver and spleen is what worries me the most; her lymph nodes show minimal evidence of cancer.

    So, we will continue our adventure together. Pepper's upbeat spirit keeps me going. I may have to bring her to the hospital every couple of weeks even after her treatments are through (she will have a total of 5)!