I hope everyone had a lovely weekend 🙂
Here in Phoenix it was quite rainy and foggy which is weird for our neck of the woods. My little dog, Jovie, hates getting her paws wet and prefers not to peepeepoopoo outdoors when the weather is soggy, so most of our time was spent keeping a wary eye out for accidents.
And, of course, most of my personal time was spent inwardly worrying about Mark. Although he has been good about keeping a list of his calorie intake for the past week, and has been ingesting 2,500 calories a day, he is still painfully thin. He is also having terrible pain in his shoulder, and his side has been sore. He has woken up with sharp pains to the left of his chest and is having random night sweats. His cough is ever-present (the new meds Dr Yip prescribed are not helping at all) so the poor guy is just constantly miserable in one way or another.
For today’s blog I was going to chat about how we came to adopt Jovie, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I have discussed Mark’s cancer journey over the past few weeks but I’ve never really addressed it’s origins. Strangely enough, the two subjects are synchronistically intertwined- you see, Jovie showed up in my life the same month that cancer did.
It was four years ago, right before Christmas. My dear friend, Marie, asked if I could take in a four week old puppy. I wanted to scream YES YES YES, but I knew Mark would kill me if I adopted another dog. I asked Marie if I could foster until I found a home for the baby and she said yes.
Marie had rescued two puppies from what we jokingly refer to now as “the meth house”. A woman (I never met her but she apparently had ginormous Aqua Net hair and copious amounts of 1980’s makeup) said her dog had had babies in her closet and the mother’s milk dried up. Marie immediately offered to take the puppies in and get them healthy. She was keeping one (she named her Gladys) and the other one was my Jovie. The girls weighed in at just under two pounds each and they were the cutest little things!
In the meantime, Mark had a scheduled biopsy with his ENT surgeon. Over the years of Mark and I being together this was a fairly normal occurrence. For some reason Mark’s tongue had problem areas and he had to get them checked out every year. Most of the time there were no issues but sometimes the ENT wanted to take a few cells for testing. The results always came back ok, so it was never overly concerning for me. I just thought of his strange tongue as one of his quirks. He was the healthiest person I knew.
So that December, in 2018, while I was happily caring for a foster puppy, Mark’s surgeon casually mentioned cancer during a routine biopsy. This was alarming. Scary. No one had ever said the C word. I mean, after all these years… why NOW? The doctor had to be wrong. But he wasn’t. The results showed cancerous cells in Mark’s tongue.
I am going to stop here and just say this ENT was SO wrong about SO many things on SO many levels. We were sent to a radiation oncologist and he was also very wrong on many levels. Between the two medical professionals in charge of Mark’s cancer care (I’ll call them Dr Lloyd and Dr Harry) tons of mistakes were made. They told us the cancer was slow-growing. It was not. They told us it was non-aggressive. That was untrue. They told us IF the cancer came back it wouldn’t be for at least ten years. As we all know now that was also rubbish. And, the coup de grâce, Dr Harry looked in Mark’s mouth for two seconds and proclaimed what “type” of cancer it was. Which was also astronomically incorrect. According to Dr Wang and his testing, Mark’s cancer is genetic, the rarest of head and neck cancers, an aggressive form that should have entailed much different treatment than what Dr Lloyd and Dr Harry had pursued.
Of course at the time we didn’t know any better and we followed their advice.
Oh how I wish I could go back! I have a lot, and I mean A LOT of regrets in my life, but trusting Dr Lloyd and Dr Harry takes the cake. If only I had found Dr Wang four years ago.
While Mark was going through those first radiation treatments I had a tiny furball at home to take care of. Jovie demanded a lot of attention. I was so worried about Mark that she was a wonderful distraction. Adorable, cuddly, silly and loving… I escaped sadness by pouring myself into her. And, as it turned out, that was something she needed. I started noticing small things that didn’t make sense. For example, when I spoke to her she didn’t look up at me, she looked at my feet. She couldn’t seem to understand eye connection. And while most puppies can’t wait to feed on their own Jovie could never seem to grasp eating from her dish. I hand-fed her for four months before she finally figured out I didn’t need to be the middle man. One day I asked Marie if Jovie was… “slow” and Marie was like, “Yeah, she came from a meth house, remember?” We giggled and Marie said Gladys wasn’t a real bright lightbulb either. Our girls were about as smart as a box of crayons, but oh the color they brought to our lives!
I knew I would have no problem adopting Jovie out because she was so cute. But no one came forward which was really weird. Then one day I was out shopping and I had Jovie in her purse. A sales clerk asked if she could hold Jovie and I handed her over with a smile. The lady held her close and went to the other side of the store where several people surrounded her. They were all cooing at Jovie and trying to pet her and I started to panic. MY BABY! These strangers were all trying to touch her and the sales clerk- WHY WAS SHE SO FAR AWAY!? And that’s when I knew giving Jovie up wasn’t an option. We had bonded- both needing something from the other.
It’s kind of funny because right after this happened, five different families came forward wanting to adopt her. And they were all people I would have 100% trusted. Jovie would have had an AMAZING life with all of them. In fact, sometimes I feel guilty that she didn’t get to travel the United States or have her own plane or spend her summers eating fresh Alaskan salmon. Instead, she became The Cancer Dog. Because over the last four years she has never left my side… she comforts and cuddles me when I feel alone and fearful. And she brings light and laughter to Mark when they wrestle or when he chases her. She yips with excitement and rushes over to him all happy and wiggly when he comes downstairs in the mornings.
We have another doggie, Murphy, who is just the BEST boy. He is extremely independent and not very affectionate. In fact, sometimes when people are over he just goes upstairs by himself. One time we found him in a dark hallway, alone and staring into space. While he is a wonderful dude, he is not comforting. Murf is just… Murf.
And Mark… well, Mark is hanging in there. After the treatments with Dr Lloyd and Dr Harry, Mark’s cancer travelled to his neck and into his lymph nodes. Then after a few years it returned to his tongue. While this journey has been heartrending and awful, we are blessed to be in the care of Dr Wang now and Mark is receiving the best possible medical treatments.
And Dr Jovie is always close by with a dose of unconditional puppy love.