Sunday, September 19, 2010

Living with Lymphoma - a Guest Post by Spot the Dog

On Erev Rosh Hashanah it was suspected, and just before Erev Yom Kippur it was confirmed - I have lymphoma. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes. Untreated it usually results in death in dogs within two months. With chemotherapy, I could live another 12-18 months.

I went to Dr. Marganit at the Beer-Sheva Animal Hospital, feeling very sick. I had been sleeping most of the day for almost a month, lost my appetite, and as it turned out had a high fever.  She found that my eyes had started to get cataracts, and my lymph nodes were terribly swollen all over my body. She said that the inflammation from fighting the disease can give dogs cataracts, and all my symptoms were classic for lymphoma. She took needle biopsies of my lymph nodes and sent them off to the pathologist. She confirmed the diagnosis.

There was alot of crying in the vet's office and at home afterward. But I don't hold any truck with such sentimentality and move away from the crying people as soon as I can. One of my favorite movies is The Barefoot Contessa, and I have adopted Maria Vargas' (Ava Gardner) family motto as my own: "Que sera, sera." "Whatever will be, will be." Stoicism befits a dog's life.

There is chemotherapy available to prolong the life of a dog with lymphoma. Now don't mock. I know that almost every treatment available for humans is available for a dog, from brain surgery to ligament surgery. Heck, I just had my gall bladder removed a few months ago. But a fatal disease, that is a different matter. Dog chemo is just meant to comfortably prolong the life of a dog. It doesn't aim for remission. That would make me too sick, and I do know that in the Great Chain of Being I am just an instrumentality, a means to an end, not an end-in-itself, having the dignity of man, as my favorite philosopher Immanuel Kant put it. It would not do to make me terribly sick to seek a cure.

But I do have a certain animal dignity, and the Torah prohibits causing T'sar Ba'alei Chaim, unnecessary pain to living creatures. But there is an expense to chemo, although much less in Israel than in the US, and a commitment to a long round trip from Mitzpe Ramon to Beer-Sheva every week for many weeks. And the chance of side-effects.

I knew these thoughts were going through master's mind. Would he be keeping me alive selfishly for himself, or would it also benefit me? Or perhaps he just wants to be done with an old dog?

I looked him in the eye during Rosh Hashanah and pleaded silently, "I want to live." This was my silent Shofar sounding for the Holiday, too sick as I was to blow with him as usual during Elul. Is this not the cry that every Jewish heart utters silently on Rosh Hashanah. We look to our Master as the Shofar, inarticulate as a dog's beseeching eye cries, "I want to live", in answer to "Who shall live and who shall die".

He heeded my look, and my chemotherapy began on the Tuesday before Yom Kippur. And as we read yesterday on Yom Kippur, "The preeminence of man over beast is naught, for all is vanity." (Ecclesiastes, 3:19).

That's my point of view, and you are welcome to it.

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