Lina’s Tale

Reprinted with permission from a client…

From the Blog: Times I Remembered to Write. Last night I was looking at random videos on my computer, most of them shared a common subject- Lina, our extra-special basenji. I found a very personal one I’d taken with my old phone where I could be heard talking behind the camera filming Lina on the sofa. It was January 2009, a time when we were dealing with sadness and navigating options a few weeks after her cancer diagnosis. I’m telling Lina not to worry, that we are going to have a great year and that I would just follow her lead. She is seen confirming with her eyes and nodding in agreement. Lina nods and blinks and wrinkles her forehead in the most understanding ways when she is listening. I tell her I think she is very wise, and in watching her response, there is little room for doubt. All we really had to do was follow her lead.

Lina has impressed everyone with her continuing good health. She’s been a living miracle for years now. Generally, vets and professionals say they’ve never seen a dog do this well with her type of cancer. Dr. Margo Roman, Lina’s holistic vet told me she believes Lina’s story should be shared- people should know about this and benefit from it. She asked me to write, and I recognized that I had been waiting for her to ask.
I want to share something amazing here, the thing is, every time I start to write about Lina, I’m reminded that I thought she was amazing long before she became a medical miracle. It’s so easy to blurt out her status, she remains strong and happy and healthy, even though over 3 years ago, several vets and Tufts Veterinary Hospital gave her 3 months to live after they did a biopsy on her nasty cancer- TCC. We figured we’d do our best to beat it and figured out how to beat canine cancer by being so smart, etc., blah blah blah. It’s harder to actually know that what we’ve done is so right. Besides I only take credit for being the one to give Lina all the credit. Through the seeking of professional help and finding ourselves offered terrible options, I was empowered to find something else to do. By following my instincts and taking the lead in Lina’s care, I thought, well at least I would be trying something. I wanted our efforts to be a success, but I’ll get to that later. The thing is, the story I really want to tell about Lina is the love story. 

Two times in my life, I hugged someone when we first met and recognized a feeling of destiny. I will always remember that night Lina gave me a hug, back before she was even our dog. The only other “first hug” I hold a memory of was when I met Chris, my husband, Lina’s other daddy back in 1995. By the night we met Lina in 2003, Chris and I had just bought a house so we could get a dog. Our first project after moving in was fencing in the backyard so we’d be ready when the right one came along. We scanned the listings on a basenji rescue website. One contact led us to Lina. She was four years old. I saw her and I knew, but Lina wasn’t even the dog that her owner, Angel Smith wanted to give up for adoption that night. She had two female basenjis and had to let one go. They were feuding such that there would be physical violence if one or the other dog wasn’t crated. The dog up for adoption was the black and white basenji -another female… We’d already heard their story on the phone. On sight, I knew the red and white one with the sensitive expression- Lina, was our dog.

Angel said that someone would have to offer a really perfect home for her to give Lina up again. You see, Angel had already given her up a few months earlier to a woman who changed her mind after keeping her a month and didn’t like Lina and returned her (which I will never understand, but am forever grateful.) Lina had been given back. I told Angel with no hesitation that we could offer Lina the perfect home, I agreed to every stipulation, including keeping ours a one-dog house.

We were granted the privilege of taking Lina out for our first date that night. As we drove away from Angel’s house for our ice cream date, Lina wrapped her head and arm around my shoulder and sighed the sweetest sigh in my ear. I will never forget that hug. It was a rare moment of expression. We went on with the evening and afterward we all agreed on our return at the end of the week to bring her home with us for a trial weekend.

Over the next few days I thought how funny that Chris and I had been having an ongoing discussion of dog names all summer and one of our female name favorites was “Angelina”- I was having thoughts of destiny…

Lina came for the weekend, it went well and I called Angel that Sunday and told her I really didn’t see the point in returning Lina only to begin the transition later. We were ready to offer Lina a “forever home”. Instead of returning her, we agreed that Angel would visit our house the following week and we could work out all the details for Lina. That’s how she became our girl.

Since then, Lina is central to our family, including our holidays- especially Christmas, vacations- especially going to Provincetown. She is comically well behaved dining out at patio restaurants. She loves the sun and sand on the beach. She relishes the change of pace and togetherness of vacationing together- truly a shining example of openness to the blessings of a good vacation. We’ve already booked our rental for June 2012. We always enjoy sharing the anticipation of holidays with her. Lina knows that we are grateful to have her, thankful for presence, and appreciate her specialness. There are many details to share about our life together and the role she fills in our lives, but I want to be clear about Lina’s confidence and sense of importance in our family. She is loved and appreciated and she knows it. January 2009, the shattering news came from the Oncologist at Tufts Veterinary Hospital confirming Lina’s diagnosis of TCC- transitional cell carcinoma. The biopsy results left no question about it she had inoperable cancer in the bladder and it was likely to spread. They gave her 3 to 5 months to live- without chemotherapy, or with chemotherapy- best case scenario, 5 to 7 months. Possible treatment options were unpromising and risky with inevitable side-effects.

The vets at Tufts left little room for hope. It was going to be terrible. I told them I just couldn’t believe it. She was so healthy- the only indication was a slight change in pattern when she urinates. She didn’t seem sick in any way. She was 9 years old at the time and energetic and had never been sick a day in her life. The vet said, “I know it’s hard to believe, she does seem strong and healthy, we’ve seen this many times. She’ll live for as long as she can pee- for as long as she can get her urine out. Then, at some point the tumors will grow too large, block the flow and she won’t be able to pee. Then she dies in 3 days. As cancer’s go, this is a really terrible one.”

What could I say but no? No all around- no to everything they offered, no to 3 months, and no to this being everything we could do. I accepted a prescription for meloxicam, an anti-inflamatory medication. After adjusting the dosage down, it didn’t seem to hurt anything. Chris and I went over and over all their treatment options for months, sometimes agreeing about what to do, sometimes not. We considered everything that Western Veterinary medicine had to offer and nothing ever sounded right to me for Lina? How could I opt to make a choice like chemotherapy or radiation or inserting a urethra tube that would have risks and side-effects and immediately weaken her when she was strong and healthy and seemed fine? I just wanted to keep her that way. No matter what I did, it sounded like it was to be the end of a lot of things for us (-but it wasn’t.) How could it be that we weren’t going to have a great summer together? (-but we did.) Chris and I were stunned and hurt by the news. We left in tears. The vets at Tufts were very convincing. Do I wish I’d covered my ears? -Maybe it was the harshness of the news that sprung us into action to find a better way to give Lina every advantage. Could we have done as well without fear?

I was going to ensure her the perfect diet and exercise- walks 2x a day. One thing was clear. Lina hated going to the vet, she was going to tremble and show her misery every time we took her to an appointment. All along I was gaining a wealth of information and advice online. Different things had worked for different dogs. It was clear that Lina would benefit from a mostly grain-free diet. Beyond that, I wanted to follow my instincts but I didn’t know where to start. I scheduled a consult at MASH with a holistic/homeopathic veterinarian to point us in the right direction. I was hoping Lina would show her wisdom and appear more relaxed through the appointment, but no such luck. She shook and trembled in horror as we entered the door.

However, we left with renewed confidence along with Lina’s first bottles of natural supplements and began adding them to her every meal. We also learned about some alternative optional therapies for Lina. I knew that I needed to do something. Doing nothing would have felt terribly wrong to me.

I don’t know why I asked Dr. Kabler at that visit about the little figure on the wall shelf marked with acupuncture points. It was for tong ren she told me- “really out there”- an energetic form of acupuncture. It sounded very strange to me, but in the coming days I found that I kept thinking about it. I was glad that I had grabbed a business card for it on the way out. I was intrigued at the possibility of tong ren as part of the spiritual piece of helping Lina face cancer. Not only did it fit the criteria of treating Lina at home, but I read some remarkable testimonials about successful results in treatment. So we contacted the name on the card- Marcia Zais. I could tell Lina responded to tong ren from the very first treatment. We started with one or two times a week. About a year later the tools for tong ren fell into my hands and I learned enough to participate in the practice. It’s so normal for us now that I tend to forget that it’s “really out there”. We have a relaxing routine doing her therapy while listening to animal healing music.

So, over three years of all of this now, it’s hard to call to mind all aspects of the journey. I’ve learned invaluable lessons about fear and dealing with fear and working through fear. Lina’s symptoms have varied from little or nothing and to very concerning at times. For much of the second year she appeared to drip blood in her urine, but she never acted sick or uncomfortable or weak. I often say that we are doing what we can but when it comes right down to it, Lina gets the credit. Whatever it is she has to deal with, she is dealing with it.

Then one day last fall, Lina was sick. She appeared swollen and weak after we’d left her home with a babysitter for a two-night getaway. I could see that she wasn’t doing so well on our return and she worsened through a sleepless night. Chris wanted to take her to Tufts in the middle of the night, which I just couldn’t see as productive or helpful for her. I wanted to hold her through the night and call Marcia Zais (animal communicator) in the morning. My plan worked out well for Lina, Marcia identified Lina’s discomfort as not being the cancer, but an infection. We got her in to see Dr. Roman (holistic vet) later that morning and it took little convincing to start her on antibiotics. Lina responded almost immediately and hasn’t been sick since.

As for the specifics with changing up treatments and supplements over time- I leave it to instinct. One supplement with multiple types of algae in it that was effective in treating survivors of the Chernobyl disaster, as well as cancer survivors was central for a long time. Now we’re doing cranberry extract with a couple of nutritional ones and regular drops of “Tinkle Tonic”, before that it was an essiac tincture. Certain recommended healthy options appealed to me as they sounded like they would taste good for her. Her after-walkies snack every morning consists of 2% yogurt with fish oil. Lina has always loved to eat a variety of healthy foods including fruits and vegetables and I didn’t want to get to adding so much stuff to her food to compromise her pleasure of eating. She loves real food and she gets it. Meat, fish, eggs and vegetables (although we also use high-quality canned sometimes), fresh vegetables (raw green beans are her favorite) combined with rotating supplements, two walks per day along with regular tong ren treatments.

I’ve learned a lot about love and energy, visualization and anticipation, and faith and belief too. Every event becomes a milestone. Birthdays. Holidays. Christmas. Summer Vacation. I’d never have guessed it, but these really were to be the best years. Lina has blown away her odds for survival and continues to live a very happy life. I will forever be inspired by her success and her energy.

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