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It started out a Saturday like any other. I got out of bed, fed the horses, and doled out food to the cats. But when I put Nigel’s food bowl in front of him, he walked away. My 12-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi had never turned down food in his life. I know this for sure — Nigel had been with my husband, Randy, and me since he was 9 weeks old.
Lack of appetite can be caused by many ailments, so I didn’t assume the worst. I knew he had to be seen right away, but I wasn’t in a panic. My sister was Nigel’s regular vet, but she wasn’t working that day, so I brought him to a local vet clinic.
The vet wanted to draw blood and take an X-ray. I agreed and left Nigel at the hospital. An hour later, I got a call.
“There appears to be a mass on his spleen,” the vet told me.
Then I was scared. I called my sister, and she told me to rush Nigel to the specialty referral hospital, about 25 miles away. She called ahead for me while I drove Nigel there, picking Randy up at a friend’s house along the way.
The vet at the specialty hospital looked at the X-rays and said she wanted to do surgery right away. It was all moving so fast, I didn’t even have time to comprehend what was going on. Nigel was fine yesterday, and less than 24 hours later, he was having emergency surgery. What was happening?
Randy and I went to my sister’s house to wait for the results of the surgery. Waiting for the call was torturous. What was wrong with my boy?
The phone finally rang, and the next two minutes were the most agonizing of my life. I remembering hearing, “We removed his spleen.” I remember hearing the words “cancer” and “hemangiosarcoma.” But mostly I remember the vet saying, “He’s got four months to live.”
The shock, the fear, and the pain felt like too much to bear. My sweet boy — who we’d raised since he was a little baby, who had traveled all over the west with us, who had earned two agility titles with me at his side, who kept Randy company in the hospital when he had brain surgery, who was the child we never had — had cancer. And he only had four months to live.
My sister didn’t recommend chemotherapy. While it might add another two months to his life, it might make him sick. No. I wanted the time he had left to be the best it could be.
After recovering from surgery, Nigel came home. We spent the next months feeding him a special cancer diet created by a canine nutritionist. We gave him cancer-fighting herbs and essential oils. We took him to the beach, to visit my parents — all the things he liked to do. His energy was never quite the same after the surgery, but he still wanted to play and loved to eat.
Because he was doing so well, I slipped into denial. Maybe the vets were wrong. Maybe he would be the one to beat this aggressive blood cancer. Maybe all the love and natural treatments we were giving him would wipe the cancer away.
But one Tuesday morning, five months after his diagnosis, I noticed something different about him. He wasn’t interested in his toys, and he didn’t eat all of his breakfast. I went to work, and when I came home that night, he seemed uncomfortable. He kept getting up and lying down in different places. He was restless. Something was wrong.
It was 11 p.m. when I decided he needed to go to the emergency hospital. We were the only ones there when we walked in. The vet examined Nigel and said he had a high fever and took him in the back for an X-ray. When the vet came back into the room with the results, my denial vanished. Nigel had a massive tumor in the place where his spleen used to be.
“Is there something we can do to make him comfortable?” I asked in desperation.
“No,” the vet said. “I recommend euthanasia.”
The rest of that night is a blur. I remember lying on the floor of the exam room with Nigel, sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe. I remember telling Randy I couldn’t watch, and leaving him and Nigel alone in the room, waiting for the vet to come back with the euthanasia drugs. I remember sitting in a chair in the lobby doubled over, sobbing in my hands.
It’s been two years since that night. Pictures of Nigel are everywhere in our house. Every so often, I think about something funny he did, and I laugh. Or I start missing him so much, I cry.
Late last year, we adopted an Australian Cattle Dog mix named Candy from our local shelter, in large part because I thought it would help with the pain. While it’s good to have a dog in the house again, I still grieve for Nigel. I have a feeling I always will.
Audrey Pavia shares helpful information about canine cancer treatment and more in What You Need to Know If Your Dog Gets Diagnosed With Cancer.
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About the author: An award-winning professional writer and editor, Audrey Pavia is a former managing editor of DOG FANCY magazine and former senior editor of the AKC Gazette. She is the author of The Labrador Retriever Handbook (Barrons) and has also written extensively on horses as well as other pets. She shares her home in Norco, California, with a rescue dog named Candy.