I thought living in Davis for a month would seem like a lifetime, but instead it was over before I was ready to go back to the fulltime hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Jazzy and I developed a nice routine, rising early in the morning and going for a walk along the creek-side trail not far from our motel that zigzagged under the cooling canopies of the eucalyptus trees. The awful stench, I found out from a park ranger, was from the turkey vultures. Their primary diet consists of carrion (a nice word for road kill), which they also regurgitate to feed their young. “I’ve never smelled anything so awful, and they’re not too pretty either,” the ranger said, and we both laughed. But those ugly birds, with their 6-foot wingspans, were magnificently beautiful in their own way.
Today was a milestone – the last of Jazzy’s 16 radiation treatments for the fibrosarcoma tumor on her left muzzle. The side effects were starting to show – her lips were burned and irritated, and near the tumor, just under her beautiful blue eye, the fur was falling out and the skin underneath was raw and tender. And at the site of the radiation, that once-alluring brown patch was turning white.
While the side effects couldn’t have been comfortable, Jazzy’s spirits were high as always as she dragged me into the waiting room in search of her beloved techs. Paul came out to get her and Jazzy ran to him, butt in full wiggle mode and that huge pittie grin splashed across her face. “Last day, huh girl?” he said, giving Jazzy that customary scratch behind the ear that caused her to sit still and close her eyes in ecstasy. “Dr. Kent will want to talk to you later today,” Paul told me. “Just to go over some things, like what you can expect from the side effects.”
Later that afternoon when I returned to pick up Jazzy, the receptionist asked if I could come back around 6 p.m. to meet with Dr. Kent after his rounds. That gave us plenty of time for one more ground squirrel and lizard hunting expedition in the arboretum and, of course, a chance to say goodbye to Jazzy’s new best horse friend, Chestnut. As always, the other horses ignored our visit, but Chestnut slowly made her way over to the fence and lowered her head to sniff Jazzy. She nuzzled at the radiated area as if she knew something was wrong, and Jazzy stood perfectly still as long as she could stand it and then gave Chestnut a huge, sloppy kiss. Chestnut shook her head (I don’t think she cared much for the kiss), and Jazzy did a happy dance around my legs, unable to suppress her glee.
After a long walk in the arboretum, we headed back to the clinic and sat in one of the waiting areas. Dr. Kent soon arrived with a list of instructions for aftercare and prescriptions for antibiotics, painkillers, and a steroid to counteract the inflammation. “The side effects are a normal part of recovery,” he explained. “But it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Worse? It already looked pretty horrible to me. “How much worse?” I asked. “The inside of her mouth will be tender so eating may be difficult. The steroids will help with her appetite, but you may have to hand feed her if it’s uncomfortable for her,” Dr. Kent said. “And the burning around her lips and face will wax and wane – it will start to improve and then look worse for a while and then improve again.”
I was certain Dr. Kent had a very long day and wanted to get home, but an hour later he was still sitting with us, something I appreciated more than he could know. “I’m sure you need to get home,” I finally said, not wanting to keep him any longer. As he walked me to the door, the one thing looming was the question I feared asking. “How long?” I blurted out. Dr. Kent took a moment, looked up at the ceiling, and then down at Jazzy and then back at me. “That’s not something I can answer, and even if I tried, I could be totally wrong. We just don’t have enough research on this cancer, especially in dogs this young.” But he could tell that I still needed something – anything – before I left Davis.
“I recently got a card from one of my patients, a dog named Lily. Her mom sent it on her birthday,” he said. “Lily had the same tumor as Jazzy, and she got it when she was about Jazzy’s age.” There was a brief pause, and then he smiled. “She just turned 10.”
We both knew that might not be the case for Jazzy, but just the chance was what I needed to hear as we left Davis behind.
On the way back to the motel, I took Jazzy for a celebratory dinner. At 7:15 p.m. it was still a bazillion degrees, so we opted for the drive-through at In-N-Out. I ordered a cheeseburger for me, and a patty – hold everything – for Jazzy, then we pulled into a shady space in the parking lot and ate our burgers in the air-conditioned car.
I know, not very green, but this was a special occasion. It was the best burger I ever had.