At first, it was just a limp. I had friends over and Radley, my boxer, ever the social butterfly, was bouncing back and forth between guests. She would sneak a lick as much as she can, because that dog loves to lick anything. But mostly, she loves people. And as she flitted about amongst the guests at my house, she began to avoid using her back right leg. I searched for a wound, something, but there was no indication of an injury. She also didn’t make a sound as I mangled her leg around trying to find something. Nothing.
I took her to the vet the next day. They thought it was merely a sprain in her hip, but after some xrays, I got the news. Cancer. In her hip. I knew that boxers were prone to such things, Radley was about the twenty-fifth boxer to be a part of my extended family, but I still wasn’t expecting to hear it at that point. She was not even eight years old. She’s too young. I knew when I got her that I would have to be an adult at some point, but I didn’t expect it already. She had just started to grow out of her puppy phase.
The news started worse and got progressively better. I went in that first weekend not entirely sure she would make it through to Monday. Still, after several visits, diagnoses, meds, and consults with surgeons the next step was clear – she was going to have to have surgery to remove the cancer, and this surgery would result in the loss of her leg.
I’ve known three-legged dogs in my day. I was never quite worried about that. Radley has always been a trooper and I expected she would adjust fine, I was more worried about the prognosis after. What would her life be like down a leg and battling cancer? I still need to figure that out.
Her surgery was last week. It went well. They removed everything and they were able to get the cancer. Visiting her after surgery was one of the hardest/saddest things I’ve ever had to do. I went in to the animal hospital and sat on the ground, while this three-limbed dog, who kind of looked like my dog but had her face mangled in pain, and seemed completely unaware that I was there. Or at least, no connection to who I was. It felt perfunctory. I was there to help her feel better, but it was clear, I was the only one who knew I was there. As I sat on the cold ground next to her cage, stroking her floppy ears, listening to the wails of other animals in pain around, I think it was the saddest I’ve been in a long time. I left after about fifteen minutes. She wasn’t getting anything out of it, and I certainly wasn’t. The only reason I remained so the doctors and nurses would think I was a decent parent.
She was much more herself when she came home a couple days later. There were scars, bruises, and stitches where her leg should be, but other than the horror of looking at it, she didn’t seem too fussed by it. She was spacey from the drugs, but I could see herself in her sweet dark eyes, something that I couldn’t the days before. Now, a few days in, she’s moving around like a champ, moving up and down the stairs with little help from me, and taking care of her lady business as well as can be expected. She seems to resent me, I’m likely projecting here, but I feel like she blames me for her leg, or for her pain, for having to wear that stupid pillow around her head. Or all of the above. She hasn’t shown much excitement to see me, but at the same time she’s been extra clingy, needing to be close to me at all times. It’s sweet.
I can be selfish. It happens when you reach forty without getting married. I have disposable income. I get to do what I want.
They say you get the kids you deserve. I think they say that, or maybe it was a wish from my parents. I may still have kids one day, and I guarantee I will be a better parent because of Radley. Without a doubt, she was the first thing in my life that I really prioritized over myself. I wouldn’t go out in order to make sure she wasn’t home alone. I always made sure her needs were met if I had to go out of town. And when they handed me the bill for removing her leg, I didn’t question if it was feasible. I simply handed over my credit card. But she could also be an obstinate little shit (something that I guarantee you was said about me ad nauseum when I was kid). She never minded well, partially due to my poor training, and partially because she always had a mind of her own, much more so than other dogs I’ve known. She’s the obstinate little shit I deserve.
I love this dog. It’s not a word I throw around a lot, love. My friends, exes, family are all aware of this quirk of mine. But I love her. And even though I’ve felt love before and acknowledged it with my parents, my nephews, ex-girlfriends, it’s never been something I say a lot. It’s gotten easier because of her though.
I know I’ll have to say goodbye to her at some point. I know I’ll have to be her friend when she needs it, and I’ll have to be an adult about it, and I’m supremely grateful that time is not now. It’s been a rough couple of weeks, just seeing her in pain and trying to make it better. It hasn’t been easy, carrying her up and down stairs, cleaning the mess she makes as she adjusts to her body, keeping her medicated enough to deal with the pain, but not so much she’s zoned out. Sometimes it sucks beyond the telling of it, but I love her, and I’m grateful for every second I get.