I had to say goodbye to my sweet Luca on Wednesday. He was such a trooper! Together we used our wills to fight the cancer that had invaded his throat. The tumor was discovered back in September when he had a breathing emergency. It was in a spot that wouldn’t allow for surgical removal so the specialist surgeon did a tracheostomy. He came out of that surgery with flying colors. Next we saw an oncologist and the biopsies showed he had squamous cell carcinoma. When that cancer is in the tonsil it’s extremely aggressive so the prognosis wasn’t great. He started chemotherapy in early October and to the oncologist’s amazement, Luca quickly entered into remission. She said she had never seen chemotherapy work so fast in shrinking a tumor.
Luca stayed in remission for several months. And he just went back to being the same ol’ goofy boy that I loved so much. Over the months he continued to squeak his toys almost endlessly and run in the yard with our guest dogs. He was such a lovey-dovey dude, as anyone who met him can attest, and he gave freely his sweet kisses. And his tail! That white-tipped tail of his was constantly wagging. Always! Even if he was just lying on the couch chilling out or had gone off by himself for some quiet time to snooze in my bed: whenever I’d enter the room he would wag that tail, and I’d hear the thump-thump-thump as it whacked against the couch cushion or the mattress. That always made me smile big and I’d call him the nickname he quickly earned, “Thumper.”
Sadly, after being in remission for 7 months, that awful cancer came back. And not only had the cancer come back, he had also developed a stomach ulcer and anemia from the NSAID anti-inflammatory drug. The cancer came back because it often builds up a resistance to the chemo, rendering it useless in fighting off the C-monster. His oncologist changed his chemo drug, took him off the anti-inflammatories and started him on a medication to heal the ulcer. In his next monthly check-up, the bloodwork showed that his red blood cell count had come all the way up to normal, the tumor was smaller and his swollen lymph nodes had significantly decreased in size.
With a sigh of relief, we went back home, only to have to turn around that evening and head back to the emergency hospital. He was having a hard time breathing and they put him on oxygen right away, did x-rays and an ultrasound to determine what was happening inside him. His lungs showed that he had aspiration pneumonia so he was admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for 3 nights. He gave the vets a scare that first night, as the emergency doctor told me she thought she would be calling to tell me that my dog wasn’t going to make it. But crisis was averted and they took tremendous care of my boy.
On his second night there the oncologist called with concern because Luca developed swelling in his neck and throat area, his tracheostomy hole was closing and the swelling could block it entirely. He also wasn’t able to be out of the oxygen for more than 10 minutes before he started struggling. She said his recovery wasn’t progressing into a positive arena and that he couldn’t stay in oxygen forever. She then said, with hesitation, “We’re pretty much out of options.”
I told her to please give him one more night and see if adding an anti-inflammatory with less side effects and one that doesn’t so negatively impact the stomach would make a difference. She agreed. And that’s when my praying and pleading started in earnest. A few of my friends have already heard what I’m about to tell you but I was so moved by it I have to share. That night I was sitting on the edge of my bed, crying and praying. And I started thinking about the time my Dad was in the hospital with pneumonia for the third time. One evening my Dad’s hospital nurse called and told us that he was in bad shape and they needed to move him into Hospice. She scheduled us an appointment with the Hospice Coordinator to discuss the details of the process. The next morning when we arrived at the hospital the nurse ushered us to an office, closed the door and waited for us to be seated. She then said that my Dad had made a major turnaround and that he had done a “complete 180.” When we went into my Dad’s room, he was sitting up, eating (no surprise to anyone who knows him!) and he gave us a big smile. For the next few hours the nurses and respiratory therapists and doctors were in and out of his room, and all of them commented about how shocked they all were at his turnaround.
Well, as I’m sitting on the edge of my bed crying, I looked up and said,
“Daddy, you gotta help Luca! Please help him get better. Give him some of your 180-ness so he can have a turnaround like you did…”
The next morning, Luca’s oncologist called and immediately said, “Your boy is a rollercoaster!” He had been out of oxygen for 90 minutes at that point and was breathing normally on his own. The swelling had gone down to almost nothing. She wanted to keep him there for the rest of the day to make sure he could really breathe on his own without oxygen boosts. She called me in the afternoon, said that Luca had been out of the oxygen for over six hours and that I could pick him up and bring him home. Wow! My Dad heard me. I’m convinced that “Big Ed” definitely had a hand in Luca’s 180.
That was Wednesday April 22nd. It was awesome bringing Luca home. And he was really doing great! We had a good solid ten to twelve days together in which his demeanor was very upbeat and he was all about the love. He was playful again, enjoying his squeaky toys; he’d grab one in his mouth on his way out the door and each time he’d leave it out in the yard so when he came back in, he’d run over and slide on the tile to grab him another one. He was eating like crazy too! I kept telling my friends he hadn’t eaten so robustly in quite a while.
He was on a ton of medications and I had my alarm set every day with six different Medication Time alerts. But within the last week he started feeling not so good. After tweaking some of his medications (in terms of giving it or not giving it, changing the dosing amounts, rearranging the administration times), I was seeing both improvements and declines. But I thought I had final stumbled onto the “magic potion” with the medication regimen alterations and I told him so the other night. I called his primary care vet and filled her in on what I was doing and we implemented a plan to adjust his meds on a day by day basis depending on how he felt.
On Monday I knew the end was near, the swelling in his neck was present, his breathing started sounding a little “wet” again, his tracheostomy hole was getting smaller and he just seemed sad. Like he had no energy at all. I contacted the vet and told her I wanted to wait a few days to see if stopping one of the medications would get him to feeling better but that we should plan for Friday for her to come to the house to do the euthanasia. However, Wednesday morning when we got up, Luca had gotten way worse overnight. I texted Dr. Willis and told her that we couldn’t wait until Friday. I knew there was no coming back from where he was at that moment. The Cancer Monster had won.
So the evening before last, at 6:00pm, Luca was released and took flight with the angels. I told him that Picasso (who passed in December) and ‘Grandma’ (my Mom, who passed in June of last year) and my Dad would be there to greet him. I told him they would bring him into the “pack up there” and he’d meet all my greyhounds who came and went before he came to be such a vital member of our family back in 2012.
The house is so quiet. Just a few minutes ago, something caught my eye and I looked over at the couch and expected to see him there. And then the crushing reality hit me. My heart is broken once again. That last eleven months have been absolutely horrible; I’ve had so much loss, first with my Mom passing in June and Picasso passing in December, two days before Christmas, and now my precious Luca is gone. I’m really all alone now. The silence is deafening.
Godspeed My Bubba.
I so miss you already. I love you so much. You will always live on in my heart. And I will hold dear all the memories of how much and how often you made me laugh with your silly personality and your outrageously hilarious antics.
Thank you for all your kisses! I cherish each and every one of them. It crushes me that I won’t ever get another.
Thank you for filling my life and my heart with your amazing presence.
Sweet Luca, I pray you visit me often in my dreams. Bring the rest of the family with you when you do…
I LOVE YOU ALWAYS SWEET BOY!