The Cancer Diagnosis
It was just two days before Thanksgiving when Schroeder was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He had undergone surgery for hyperparathyroidism when the doctors discovered a mass that was attached to his vocal cords. We were crushed by the unexpected news. The only good part of this news, was that we caught it before any cancer had started to spread. The doctors estimated that he had 6 months to a year left with us. He had to stay at the surgical center overnight, for observation, so we went to visit him.
It was so difficult to see him in this state. His little neck was all shaved and stitched up, he looked so frail and weak. Michael and I spoke to him softly, telling him that we loved him and that he will be back home with us very soon. That very same week my husband had been laid off from his job, needless to say, it wasn’t an easy week.
We decided to make the very best of the holiday and have Schroeder join us at the table for Thanksgiving dinner. He sat on his favorite purple chaise lounge, the three of us hovered over our small glass coffee table. We didn’t care. We were just thankful to have our friend back home with us, sharing this moment together. Schroeder let out a scratchy woof of excitement right before we dug in. He was such a gentleman, showing his best table manners. He partook in everything, from the organic turkey, to the mashed potatoes, to the pumpkin pie.
That evening Schroeder chewed off the bandage that was covering up a small incision, where the IV was inserted. It was almost as if he had made up his mind that he wasn’t going to be seen as sick. Over the next couple weeks as Schroeder was healing from surgery, we were busy packing up our apartment and trying to decide whether we were to move back home to Chicago, or back to Seattle where we had been living for the past 4 years.
Our Time off the Washington Coast
As difficult as the past couple years had been, I wasn’t ready to leave the beauty of the Pacific Northwest yet. Especially after receiving the news that Schroeder has cancer. I wanted to give him the very best life I could, in the amount of time he had left. I started contacting vacation home owners off the coast of Oregon and Washington, and found a couple who cut me a deal since it was slow season. My husband decided to fly back to Chicago for a couple weeks, to visit family and clients, while Schroeder and I headed to our cabin, off the coast. Despite the cold, each morning we would set out for a long beach stroll. Some days we would go back to the cabin to warm up and then head back out around sunset, to catch the magic hour. For two weeks we romped the beaches, exploring tide pools, climbing sea stacks and hiking along the edge of the Olympic National Park. Tears ran down my cheeks watching him run free on those barren beaches. This was such a gift!
One evening, while strolling the beach at sunset, an otter darted out from the shore, into the choppy waves. Right at that moment, Schroeder charged after him, my heart dropped as I screamed for Schroeder. He came to a jolting stop, just before the next wave hit the shore and stood and watched the otter get carried away by the raging waters. I ran to catch up to Schroeder, immediately leashing him as my heart was racing. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again! I exclaimed. It’s time to head home.”
The next morning, we made our way to another beach, the air was crisp and the sound of the waves soothing. We almost always had the place to ourselves, which made it even more dream-like. I took pictures of Schroeder’s little paw prints in the sand and video of him running the shoreline. He looked so happy. I captured so many beautiful images of him and our time off the coast together. After our beach excursion that morning, we curled up on the couch together for a mid-day nap. Schroeder slowly crawled on top of me, covering me with kisses; as if to say ’Thank you for this’. I fell asleep holding him in my arms. A few days later, Michael flew in to join us and we spent Christmas together, all tucked in around a wood burning fire.
Eighteen months later and back living in Chicago, Schroeder was nearing the end of his battle with cancer. He had surpassed everyone’s expectations and we were able to spend another Thanksgiving and Christmas together. On the day we had to say goodbye, Michael and I drove an hour to the nearest beach for a final time. Schroeder laid in our laps while we pet him, the entire way there and back. We gave him a small chocolate cake before the vet arrived. I held him in my arms for the last time. It was agony. The pain of losing him took a piece of me. I barely slept and woke up very early the following morning and went for a walk. I stared at the sunrise, thinking about our time off the coast together. Just then my favorite bird, a blue heron flew into the horizon. “Thank you, I whispered. Thank you for being the best possible friend this girl could ever have and for showing me how to completely open my heart and soul to an animal. Until we meet again, you will live everyday in my heart. Now, go run those beaches buddy.”