One month ago today, I wrote about receiving word that my dog had been diagnosed with cancer. Since then, Rocket began chemotherapy treatment. With the exception of a few bad days, all was going well. Until Friday, that is. To make a long story short, if there wasn't marked improvement within 24 hours (by noon yesterday), we should probably put Rocket to sleep.
Fluid began to build around Rocket's lungs. This would be a real catch-22. The fluid was secondary to the cancer. The cancer was the culprit, but the drug had not had time to take effect. The chemotherapy treatment that Rocket received on Friday needs five days to take effect. Maddeningly frustrating because an elevated heart rate and labored breathing may prevent us from waiting out those five days. My husband and I are not making decisions based on the fact that WE want Rocket around as long as possible, we're making decisions based on what's best for him.
Last night, I slept on the floor beside Rocket. I didn't really sleep; I rubbed him, listened to him breathe and sobbed more than I have in years. Rocket would have been a great companion for any family, but he was a perfect fit for a military family. I thought about the months and months of deployment and unaccompanied tours in which Rocket filled a gigantic void for me. What a source of comfort he was, and always has been.
I was also reminded of those more-upbeat-than-usual emails from my husband when he was in Afghanistan. The ones that included photos of "Maxie," a cat which had wormed her way on to the compound and embedded herself deep in the hearts of the soldiers who had left their families, and their pets, far behind. Maxie was a taste of home. It was clear that Maxie brought some much-needed joy to my husband and for that, I too had grown to love Maxie.
Airforcewife had a similar story not long ago, when she wrote of the "Free Cherry" movement. Pets have a unique way of providing comfort to both the deployed service member, and the families they leave behind. There are many stories of the connection between dogs and our deployed troops. Each of them heartwarming.
Yesterday morning, it was clear that we could no longer allow our dog to live. Rocket was struggling to breathe, and neither of us want to see him suffer. However, we had to wait two hours for the doctor to call, and she would advise on how to implement the next, fatal step. An excruciating, gut-wrenching and painful two hours.
Miraculously, as the morning progressed, Rocket began to breathe more easily. This gave us hope. It meant that maybe, just maybe, our little guy could hold on until the treatment zapped the cancer, then all would be well. While this progress was met with joy at my house, quietly I reminded myself that this would only be temporary. Sometime in the future, we'd be right back where we were only hours ago. Hours ago, my husband and I were sitting on either side of Rocket watching his chest expand and contract. My tear-filled eyes met my husband's gaze and I finally said what needed to be said, "We have to put him to sleep today, don't we?" He nodded.
How appropriate that there have been recent discussions at SpouseBUZZ about mentally preparing for one thing, only to be forced to adjust to something else. Yesterday, I was prepared to let go. I was distraught, but I knew that it had to be done. Somehow, someone had another plan. If Rocket is comfortable, I'm grateful for the additional time, but I also know that this means that sometime in the near future, I will have to find the courage to let go, once again. Just like military life in general, this episode has been an emotional roller coaster.
Rocket is clearly fighting. We measure his breathing each hour. He is improving. If he can overcome the next few days, the chemotherapy will have a chance to work, and Rocket will buy as much time as (possibly) a year. It's his fight right now, and we're cheering him on. It's hard to do from the sidelines, I really want to be on the field. Whatever happens, I can honestly say I've cherished every moment with my beloved dog. The most painful part is not being able to convey to Rocket just how much he saved my sanity when his daddy was half a world away. I pray that somehow he knows.
We need to embrace solace in whatever format it presents itself. I'm pretty certain that there are thousands of Rockets (canine, feline and other) who have helped thousands of military families cope during the tough times. For that, I am most grateful.