The night of Dec. 20, I was tickling Rawley's tummy. I did this all the time; I'd definitely done it before I'd left on a week-long business trip the week before, and hadn't noticed anything wrong.
This time, I found some kind of growth at the base of his penis. I took him to the vet ER at Michigan State University the next morning, where they did a fine needle aspirate and found it was malignant.
They couldn't tell what kind of tumor it was, and I okayed a tru-cut biopsy, another kind of needle biopsy. They tried to schedule an appointment with the surgeon on Jan. 25, but I insisted it be dealt with sooner, holidays or no holidays -- it was huge, and hadn't been there the week before. I couldn't even imagine how big it would be in more than a month.
I went home and was paralyzed with worry and grief. I got Rawley after my mother's horrible death from cancer, and this seemed to unlock all those dark memories and emotions. I got myself mobilized just enough to enlist Rawley's wonderful internal medicine vet, Dr. Stacey Wylie there at MSU, to try and get them to schedule his surgical appointment sooner. She got him an appointment with the chief of soft tissue surgery, Dr. Bryden Stanley, on Jan. 4.
On Dec. 26, they called and told me the tru-cut biopsy was also inconclusive, but there was a possibility it was an atypical osteosarcoma. They suggested doing some sort of stains to diagnose it further; the minute I heard the word "osteosarcoma," my brain pretty much shut off and I couldn't really think.
Dec. 30 was Rawley's sixth birthday.
Up until Jan. 2, he had been totally unaware anything was wrong. That night, however, he seemed uncomfortable, and kept licking at the tumor that now mostly covered his penis and a substantial area of his groin on either side. The growth had doubled in size since Dec. 20.
On Jan. 4, we went in for his appointment. The results of the stains still weren't back, but he had x-rays and a CT scan, which found no metastases. Dr. Stanley was very positive about surgical removal.
I felt, for the first time, like I could breathe. Like there was hope.
The next morning, his surgery was scheduled for 11 AM, but he didn't go in until around 3 PM. I was able to stay with him all day in the private room they have for people who have lost a pet. Despite that sad association, it was carpeted, had two sofas, and was quiet and comfortable. I brought in a big dog bed for him, and lay down next to him on it and talked to him for hours while he dozed. It was incredibly peaceful.
They finally came for him. The surgery took over 5 hours. They had to amputate his penis and rebuild his urethra. They weren't sure there was enough skin to close the wound, so they told me they'd have to hobble his rear legs so he wouldn't put any pressure on the incision. Since no dog would tolerate that willingly, they said he would have to be kept heavily sedated.
I finally went home at around midnight the night of the 5th. I went back the next day to visit him, and while very sedated, he seemed comfortable.
The next morning, Jan. 7, at around 11 AM they called and told me they were going to let the sedation wear off and see if he could stand and walk, as the incision seemed okay. They said he might be able to go home Sunday. I said I was planning on coming that afternoon to see him, which they said was fine.
I was on a work call a little later, planning on going to see him the minute it was over. My call waiting showed a call from the hospital. I answered it, and they told me he was in respiratory failure and I needed to come immediately. It was an hour and 10 minute drive, and during it they called me twice to ask if I wanted him on a ventilator and if his heart stopped, did I want them to resuscitate him if it meant opening his chest.
I begged them to keep him alive until I got there if there was any way to do it without torturing him.
The rest is still really hard for me to talk about. I came into the reception area, and just pushed ahead of everyone and told them the surgical resident, Dr. Marturello, called and my dog was dying in the ICU. The receptionist got a strange look on her face and I said, "Did he die?" and started to sob. She said she didn't know, and then the resident was there, pulling me down the hall.
She had tears running down her face.
So did the whole ICU team, the anesthesiologist and the technicians, the veterinary student, everyone. They had Rawley on a table, intubated, sedated, and they were all standing around him, in tears.
For a few minutes I didn't know what I should do. I wanted to tell them to save him, to wait until we at least knew what kind of tumor we were dealing with. I wanted so desperately to bring him home somehow, even for one day, and let him die there, not in that hospital.
"Whatever the tumor is, it's very aggressive," Dr. Marturello said through her tears.
I had one of those proverbial moments of clarity, and felt sure that we were done. They helped ease him out of life while I held him and said the things to him I'd always said to him: That he was the best, most handsome man in all the land, my tiny man, my sweet boy.
Then I thanked them all and went and sat in the lobby on a bench for two hours, because I couldn't even walk to the car.
I didn't have a post-mortem exam done. We did get the biopsy results: not osteo. It was something called a carcinosarcoma, a rare malignant tumor made up of two kinds of cells. They think what actually sent him into respiratory failure was a blood clot going to his lungs. I think they're right.
The only thing left to say is that I wish I hadn't done the surgery, just brought him home for a few more days until he was too uncomfortable. I wish I had known how it would end before I had to make so many decisions. But I didn't, and I made the best decisions I could.
I love you, Rawley. Always.