Wednesday, April 10, 2013

love and marriage: our trials

I am linking up with five lovely bloggers for their marriage series this month. It was so interesting last week to see how so many couples got together in the strangest ways and I can't wait to read more about this week's topic - tough times in a marriage.

I had a whole post written about how Andrew's appendix burst three months into our marriage and how hard it was to worry about him and then care for him. But that doesn't show much about our relationship. The way we cared for our sick dog, Jake, does. (I also don't have photos on my work computer to post so I apologize.)

{Spoiler alert: y'all, he didn't make it, so this could make you very sad, but it's what really happened.}

Let's first rewind back to 2003, before Andrew and I met. He was only 21 and had just lost his mom to a long battle with cancer. His dad started working overseas, and Andrew was living in the family home with a roommate until it sold. He needed a new companion, so he did what anyone else would do: he got a dog. He loved Jake from first sight, and though I wasn't there, I am sure it really helped him cope with his loss.

In the summer of 2011, we were celebrating our first year of marriage with a trip to the Texas Hill Country. We had a pet sitter to come watch Bauer (the cat, if you're new here) and our dogs, Jake and Duncan. A few days before we left, I noticed that one of Jake's gums looked inflamed. I thought maybe he had a piece of food stuck in his teeth, or suffered a bee sting or something pretty innocent, so I told Andrew we should take him to the vet if he wasn't looking better when we returned after our long weekend trip. He was still eating, playing with his brother, and acting fine, so I wasn't worried.

We came back and Jake's gums were still red on one side - and possibly even more swollen. We both took him to his vet appointment and could tell immediately that it wasn't a simple issue like we hoped. The vet couldn't be sure without a biopsy, but his first guess was cancer.

Cancer. What cruel irony. This dog was brought into Andrew's life to help him cope with one loss from cancer, only to also be taken by it?

We took Jake home to wait for surgery day with some pain meds as the perceived swelling was actually a tumor that was loosening his teeth. We started to see changes in his energy levels and appetite, so we started feeding him wet food for every meal. We took him in for surgery and hoped for good news - maybe the doctor was wrong, or if not that, maybe the cancer hadn't spread.

The vet called Andrew post-surgery. His suspicions were confirmed without biopsy (though we still got one to be sure). It was an aggressive tumor entering his jawbone. Once removed, it would still return in his mouth and start spreading through his body. We could keep bringing him in to have it removed, but that could mean surgery every few weeks or months. We could get him doggy chemo, but that would be very expensive, decrease his quality of life, possibly require removing his jawbone, and might not even work. Or, the third choice: we could take this surgical removal for as long as it would last, keep him out of pain, and love him as long as we could. Surgery upon surgery would be miserable for him and expensive for us. A jaw-less existence is no way to live. After lots of thought, we knew our days were numbered. I wanted to cry at the thought, but I tried to stay strong - after all, this was Andrew's dog, and I needed to be the strong one. But it was hard...

We brought Jakey home, sans tumor and a few teeth. He still wagged his tail and went right to his dad at every opportunity, but he wasn't himself. He was spoiled by his twice-daily canned food feedings, until we noticed the food would just sit there. We took turns sitting with him and coaxing him to eat. When that stopped working, we started taking turns spoon feeding him with a plastic spoon. We would coat the back of the spoon with food and put it on this good side of his mouth in hopes that he would lick it off his face. It took half an hour to get him to eat half a can. Lots of time was spent in the dog food aisle, analyzing the pictures on the cans for what looked softest. When that didn't work, we got high-protein food from the vet. The tumor looked to be at bay, but we knew he didn't have long.

We leaned on each other through each feeding every day. I was the coaxer and the petter while Andrew tried to feed him. The love, care, and the patience we both had for this animal was unlike anything either of us has ever really had to demonstrate to each other. We were exhausted after each round was over. And we knew that one of our biggest trials as a couple was coming: losing a member of our little family unit.

Jake, pre-illness. The only photo I can access as I write this.

The tumor grew, Jake's face shape changed, and we knew it was time. We made one last vet appointment for an exam, just in case the tumor looked operable. It wasn't. We both knew in our hearts, but we had held on to hope. Our kind vet and his staff allowed us time to say our goodbyes and encouraged us to stay until Jake was asleep. We kept him in his red collar, the color he had worn since he was a puppy, and told him one last goodbye.

On the way home, I told Andrew through my tears that Jake's doggie Heaven is a field of yellow flowers. I still think of him every time I see one.

I know others have faced far worse, and I know we are fortunate that this has been our biggest struggle so far. The emotions that I knew Andrew must have in losing this dog. The way I wanted to fix things. Leaning on each other. Doing things out of our comfort zones (there was kind of an icky side effect that I won't go into). We made it through. We handled it. We're stronger for it. I'm sure that this is a mini-trial compared to what the rest of our lives could offer, or "practice" if you will, but that didn't make it any less difficult.

I need to go reapply my mascara now. Leave me some fun pet stories in the comments!


  1. Aw, so sad! It's so good that you had each other to lean on and it made your relationship stronger.

  2. Sending hugs! I was just about tearing up at this story and can only imagine how hard it was to watch Jake struggle like that.

  3. Wow. I just teared up while reading this at my desk. Sending you hugs from Kansas!

    It's so hard to lose a dog. I will be an absolute wreck when Dexter dies. My childhood dog (Maggie, a golden retriever) passed away from cancer, too. She had liver cancer I think, because her eyes had a yellow-ish tinge to them. :( I remember the day my dad went with her to the vet to put her down. I remember crying into her fur before I left for school -- knowing it was the last time I would see her.

    In other words, I understand what you all went through! Thank you for sharing your story!

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