Decker and I work long hours. We added ‘get a dog’ to our retirement goals. 2 August 2010, the doctor said, “Bad news, you have a really bad breast cancer and you’re in for a very tough year.”
I said, ‘Puppy time!”
Decker had to be convinced I could handle it. Cripes, women handle cancer with young families, aging parents and no money or partners. What kind of princess status was I aiming for?
A 10-week old White Westhighland Terrier, joined our family 20 August. I wanted a mutt; Decker would only have a Westie. The trade-off was I got to pick his name.
As we drove to collect him from his birth family, I announced his name was to be Saith, Welsh for 7. Since I was proud of the originality, I didn’t expect Decker’s mirth. Decker said, “Say ‘Saith sit’ really fast”. 10 minutes later we got to the breeder’s and his name was Trail. We wanted a happy dog (as in Dale Evans’ song Happy Trails to You sung with Roy Rogers). We wanted a hiking companion. I was born in the town of Trail (so it would’ve been silly to call him, say, Paris or London). We had a week to get used to each other before the first mastectomy disrupted our lives.
Surgery prep started 28 August, at 6:00 AM. As I was wheeled to the operating room at 7:30 AM, Decker dashed through rush hour traffic to feed and walk Trail, and be back for 9:30 AM when I was wheeled out, one breast and a dozen lymph nodes lighter.
Whoever thought laughter’s the best medicine didn’t have tubes sewn into their armpits ending in bulbous drains full of sloshing lymph fluid while trying to train an opinionated, stubborn, independent Westie pup. It hurt to laugh. It hurt to breathe. It hurt when Trail jumped on my chest. When the clumsy puppy pulled on a tube sewn into my axilla (that’s fancy-ass talk for armpit) I thought I’d pass out. Then Trail fell asleep on Decker and it hurt not to laugh. A day later it didn’t hurt at all and he’s still making us laugh.
Trail, at 11 weeks had 5 pounds of heft in him. Decker and I, two days post-chemo treatment, took him on a mountain hike. The first log lying on the path was easy to step over for legs longer than 3 inches. Trail ran at the log head-first and full tilt. He somersaulted backwards with four paws flailing air, tongue hanging from his mouth, and stars circling overhead like Wiley Coyote after hitting the tunnel Roadrunner painted on the cliff. Trail learned and the second log he tried to jump over. He high centered, two 3-inch legs on each side of the log still motoring above the ground. The third log he walked around. We were so proud. He summited the mountain, puked, fell asleep, and I carried him down.
Trail mastered climbing up stairs but not down. We barricaded him in the kitchen and went to our appointments. The munchkin wiggled out and went looking for us – upstairs, where he pulled over the phone, peed, and chewed a shoe. When I got home from the hospital, he was stranded on the landing looking pitiful. He denied doing the damage.
Decker said it’s a close contest which of us is cuter, Trail or me. I said, “I have only one boob, which gives Trail a slight advantage, but he’ll soon have no balls and then we’ll be evenly matched until the second mastectomy when it’s advantage Trail again.”
Pets bring out the best in most people and bring people together. Pet owners can spend as much time discussing their fur-bearing critters as parents do their kids. Friends admired Trail and related the story of the pet they’d loved and broken-heartedly had to ‘put down’ when it got cancer. I rested my hand on Decker’s shoulder, looked into his eyes and said, “Don’t get any ideas.”
Conflict managers do a lot of reframing. I’m aiming for the title of Reframe Queen with this one: If not for a deadly cancer, we wouldn’t have Trail.