Friday this spring on one of her more active days, hoping I will throw her toy for her.

Cancer is a funny thing.  No one wants to mention it, and everyone wants to know.  As many of you know if you have been following my blog, a few months ago, John’s dog Friday was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Technically it is a CarcinoSarcoma in the mammary tissue.  To treat this, she had 3 of 5 of the mammary glands on one side removed, and then underwent chemotherapy.  The day that the vet gave us the bad news, he told us that the average life expectancy was about 4 months for a dog with Friday’s diagnosis.  That didn’t mean a lot of time for her!  Our best hope to help her out was chemotherapy, and rest and lots of love.  Luckily, Friday is well loved.

The day we got her diagnosis, we started the chemo.  John and I went out to a restaurant, had lunch and worked on our laptops.  John was very sad and distracted.  I was annoyed and intense.  That is just how we dealt with that particular stress.  A few hours later we went back to the Ontario Veterinary College and picked Friday up.  The staff were wonderful and complimented us on how well trained Friday was, and how easy she was to handle and treat.  Her sound genetics, early socialization, and great training made what could have been a rodeo a very easy time for her. If for no other reason, train your dog so that medical procedures are easier.

On the day she came home from surgery, Friday wore a Jafco muzzle to keep her from licking her incision. Generally we find our dogs to be much more comfortable in a muzzle than a cone. We had to teach Friday to be comfortable in a muzzle, but this works so much better for most dogs that we teach all our dogs to wear a muzzle when they are young so that we can use one if we need.

We came home to some hard realities.  No class for a week.  No long walks.  Keep her quiet.  She could die.  We handled this the way we often do; with some humour.  Friday is not usually allowed in bed with us, but now, when she looked to John to see if she could come up, and John looked at me, I took her voice and said “I’m dying you know.  If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.”  John laughed and thus began a joke between the three of us anytime that Friday looked at us and obviously asked for something.  “I’m dying you know.  If you really loved me, you would take me to get the mail with you.  If you really loved me you would share your venison with me.  If you really loved me you would stuff a kong for me.  If you really loved me, you would take me for a drive in the car.”  The thing about cancer is that in some ways it can be very freeing.  You can absolutely justify any fun thing at all.  And we did.

“I am dying you know. If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.” We really love you Friday. Notice that John wrapped her in the duvet.!

Friday had chemo every three weeks, which really gave us a rhythm to follow.  Right after chemo, there was really no difference in her behaviour for about 24 hours.  Sometimes she would develop a bit of nausea, but we had good medication to control that so she was quite comfortable most of the time in that regard.  She did lose some weight, but generally she ate normally post chemo; it was just that chemo takes a lot out of the dog, so she got a little thin.  During that first week, she would be very tired and she would sleep a lot. 

Friday became a prodigious sleeper in the week following chemo!

In the second week, she would recover quite a bit, and slowly, by the third week she would begin to bounce back to near normal energy levels.  What she really lost was stamina though.  Although she enjoyed going to classes in her second and third weeks, she would tire quickly and about half way through a class she just wanted to sleep.  Life as a demo dog in a school means that she has a crate of her own with her own bed and water in it, and she is really accustomed to being there, so once she had enough, she would just go to her bed.  She also lost some strength and oomph.  Throughout her chemo, we used a ramp to help her in and out of the dog training truck.  Again, her training really helped her because we were able to teach her how to use the ramp in one 60 second training session.

In the canoe! Dogs with cancer still like adventures, and it was important to us to keep looking for adventures that Friday could do, so we taught her to lie in the bottom of the canoe and go for short trips on our farm pond.

Friday was shedding her winter coat when she had chemo, and so she didn’t grow any normal undercoat this summer.  That makes her feel kind of funny when you pet her!  The veterinary oncologist, Dr. Hocker, assures us it will grow in normally during her next shed this fall.  Otherwise, we don’t notice any real physical changes with her. 

At the end of five rounds of chemo, Friday was discharged from treatment.  We could have anesthetized her and done radiographs and an ultrasound to find out if there is any more cancer left in her, however, we really didn’t want to put her through more stress when the diagnostics would not direct her next step in treatment.  In veterinary medicine we learned, chemo is not intended to cure cancer, but rather to make an animal more comfortable.  Friday is not considered cured, but we don’t have to go back for more treatment either.  If she gets sick and we think she has more cancer, we will do the minimum amount of diagnostics to find out what is going on and then we will make her comfortable and allow her to have the best quality of life until the end. 

We know that Friday likely has less than another year to live; the record for a dog with her type of cancer was one full year post diagnosis to death.  This is a bit hard, but living with a dog whose days are numbered actually has an upside.  When we start to forget to have fun with her, to spoil her a bit, or to bend the rules “just because”, one of us will look at the other and say “I am dying you know.  You should throw the frisbee.”  For the most part, Friday is bright, active and alert as they like to say, and she is very engaged again in going for walks, meditating every day with John (he meditates; she lays her head on his lap, and if it is cold he wraps her in his meditation shall with him), going to training classes and being the awesome demo dog she has been for the school for the past 7 years.  She behaves a little older now than her actual age, but in general she is herself and that is wonderful.

John meditates every day, and Friday joins him. Our farmhouse is over 160 years old, and it is quite cold, so often Friday and John would wrap themselves up before they started the meditation. This was an important part of how John and Friday continued to do things that were very normal for them, which is important for anyone living with cancer.

So Friday is done with cancer treatment for the time being, and she and John are beginning to get fit for their annual fall trip to Algonquin.  Now you know, but please, ask!  We love telling people about Friday’s journey with cancer and even when it is hard, we appreciate knowing that she is in your thoughts! 

Friday is still completely herself, and we are treasuring every day with her. Every morning she greets the world with enthusiasm and drive, and reminds us that even when you are dying, you can still do the things you love!

If you would like to know about the beginning of this journey, please read .






This is a special blog I wrote in 2013, when D’fer was misdiagnosed with osteosarcoma.  We were fortunate that time; he did not have cancer.  Now though, I am re-posting this, in honour of Friday, John’s special partner.  She has been diagnosed with carcinosarcoma and she is not expected to live long; hopefully for another 4 months or so.  Right now, John and I are both struggling, but especially John, because Friday is his partner.  They snuggle in bed together, they share a tent at camp and most importantly of all, they hike remotely in Algonquin together.  Friday is a very special friend to my very special man.  It doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but it is going to be okay.  Friday has taught us to love better and to count the love, not the minutes.  Please be patient with us.  We are working on helping Friday to have the best time left and we may not be as on the ball as we would like to be.  Never the less…it will be alright.

Friday, just having fun this fall on the farm, before we found the lumps in her breast tissue that have been diagnosed as cancerous.


Yesterday was a very hard day.  D’fer, my service dog, my best friend, my best and most favourite dog ever, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.  This means that he will soon die, and likely he will, between now and then, suffer some terrible pain.  This means that my heart will break again and again and again as I face the reality of life without the dog who has meant more to me than nearly any being that I have ever encountered.    The sarcoma is located in the head of his femur, it is fairly advanced, and it is quite possible that there is involvement in the pelvis.  This is a fast growing cancer, and it will likely progress to his lungs within months at the outside.  D’fer has an unassociated heart issue, which means that he is not a terrific candidate for surgery, and the only available treatment would be amputation and chemo, and honestly, the results are not favourable even if we were to do this. Never the less, it will be alright.

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D’fer in his prime with the expression I love best.

I am not going to tell you that some spiritual being will save him for me, or that I will see him at the bridge.  I will not tell you what I do or don’t believe about the afterlife.  I am going to talk instead about love and leaving and loss and why it will be alright in the end.

Over the years, I have held many special dogs close to my heart.  I didn’t think there would be a dog after Buddy who would mean as much to me as he did.  Buddy, majestic and beautiful, smart and strong, taught me about love and caring and change and accepting and working hard and being real with myself.  He accompanied me on endless adventures and trips through learning and things I could not have ever expected.  Buddy sure was special and he carried me through things I did not think I could survive.  And then one day, he could not get up and he lost control of his bladder while I was out.  He was very elderly then.  He had to lie in his own urine and wait till I came to rescue him.  He was too big to lift into the bathtub and he was too sore to get in of his own accord.  The next day I helped him to die, in my living room.  That last day, I double dosed him on pain meds and played ball with him.  I read him poetry.  I napped with him.  And when he died, I thought my heart would break forever.

I thought there would be nothing that could ever come close to touching my heart the way that Buddy did.  I grieved deeply and long and hard and publicly for Buddy.  I still have pictures of him around the house, and at first every time I looked at them, I would cry.  Now I can look and I smile when I remember the walks, the journeys, and the learning.  I just didn’t think then that there would or even could be anything remotely close to the love I felt for Buddy.

Then along came D’fer.  Deef was supposed to be John’s dog.  He had other ideas.  He was an annoying and frustrating puppy and adolescent.  He was an accidental service dog.  And over the years, over time, he and I developed a dance together that is unique, that is special.  The dance has etched itself onto my heart and into my head until I cannot think about what is next.  In some ways, D’fer taught me to remember Buddy not with grief but with joy.  Surely, there cannot be anything better than the love that D’fer and I share?  Maybe there isn’t.  But maybe there is something else.  Maybe what Buddy did and what D’fer is still doing is not teaching me to be a better trainer, not teaching me to be a better person.  Maybe what they have done is teach me to love better.  While D’fer did not replace Buddy in my heart, he taught me something I have told others in a very profound way.  True love doesn’t divide; it multiplies.  Buddy prepared me to love D’fer.  D’fer has prepared me to love other dogs, and maybe, if I am lucky, he will have prepared me to love another dog as deeply as I love him.  Once again, it was alright.

Five or six years ago, I lost my Dad.  He was unexpectedly hospitalized due to a collapsed lung and suddenly without warning we were faced with a diagnosis of bullous emphysema.  Essentially, his lungs had large holes in them, making it impossible for his body to take in enough oxygen to live unassisted.  Over the weeks he was in hospital, I wanted the minutes.  I hoped for the time minutes.  I wanted just a few minutes to talk to my father.  Those minutes were not possible.  Over the weeks he was in the intensive care unit, D’fer took me to visit him.  In one of my dad’s few lucid periods he asked who I was.  I told him I was his daughter, Sue, and he looked right at me and said “no you aren’t…where is your dog?”  When I showed him D’fer, he relaxed.  He knew me, because he recognized Deef.  D’fer facilitated that last minute with my father, a gift so precious.   That last minute was a gift that D’fer made possible for me.  In his patient way, he showed me that the minutes that counted were the minutes in the moment.  Love is the minute we get.

I don’t believe that D’fer is afraid of death.  I know he doesn’t like the pain, but we have good chemical control over the pain.  I know that when we take the pain away, the joy and curiosity and intelligence and wonder that make D’fer special are still there.  Last night, after we gave him his first dose of gabapentin, he started to dance around the kitchen where my desk is.  He wanted me to play.  In my grief, I didn’t want to play, I wanted him to lie down and rest and not tax his body.  I was thinking about the one more minute attitude; I just want every precious minute with my special boy, and I was crying because I know that there aren’t a lot of minutes left.  D’fer is wiser than I am.  He always has been.  He doesn’t want one more minute.  He wants to play frisbee.  He wants to go search for things.  He wants to run around.  And really, his minutes are love.  He loves me, he loves life, he loves his frisbee and his friends.  When he is pain free he just wants to be himself, much more than he wants one more minute of time.  His minutes are written in love.

I would give a lot to have one more year, or one more lifetime, but in the coming days, weeks and months, I will work to let go of wanting one more minute of time.  I will work learn and relearn that minutes with D’fer are measured in love.  Living carefully, feeding him only cancer reducing foods, and maybe putting him through very painful treatment  will buy us time minutes, but will not give us even one more minute of love.  Instead, I have to give up looking for minutes and instead, look for love.  This is why I won’t be even considering radical treatments, or herbs or a magic wands or crystal balls to address this.  I am going to treat cancer with Frisbees and banana bread corners and his own pieces of pizza and little house searches and visits from friends.

Knowing that I won’t have the years, months or days doesn’t make this easier or fun.  This is hard, and depressing and sad and terrible and something I don’t feel ready to face, but I know it will be alright in the long run.  I know this because I have been through this, as a part of an unbroken chain of the experience of thoughtful beings.  I have faced loss, and in my turn, there are those who will face my loss.  I grieved deeply for my father who grieved for his own father, and presumably, his father grieved for those who were important him when they passed in their turn.  Grief is hard, and knowing that the end is near highlights coming loss, but then I come back to being a part of an endless cycle of gain and loss, of birth and death, and of love for those being who walk beside and before and after me.  I know that right now, this time is an important time not to borrow grief ahead of time, but to cherish what we have together now; not to cherish what we have left, but what we have.

Now that I am facing the minutes, the hours, the days and hopefully the weeks or months that make up the end of D’fer’s life, he is teaching me again that when pain is under control, the minutes we have are love.  I will cry often and smile and throw the Frisbee and hide toys, and make sure that my special friend gets time with the people he loves.  The support from my community, my friends and my students are the minutes of love that we get.  And a Frisbee tucked in the bookshelf to find is one of those special minutes, when you cannot make the illness go away.  In the end, when I lose him, I will grieve, and I will cry and then I will probably find his Frisbee and a minute of his love.  It will be alright.

D’fer has told me over and over again throughout his service career that I will be alright.  He is right.  In the long run, it will be alright.

For those who follow my blog, please be patient.  I may not be posting very regularly while I work through these last minutes with my very talented and special Chesapeake, D’fer.  I will be back when I can.