I can’t get this image out of my head. It was just before 7am and still dark out here in Bordeaux. Not even the morning going to work traffic had started yet. I stood with Emma on the street in front of my apartment building as Tim got his GPS situated for his drive back to England. He’d just brought Emma home a few days before and we’d had a nice weekend all together visiting wine châteaux during the Graves open doors weekend. Tim pulled out and wiped a tear away as he waved goodbye to me and Emma. She walked down the street a bit after his car, wondering where her daddy was driving off to and why she wasn’t going for a ride.
That was October 24.
In my pajamas still, we walked down the street just a bit so Emma could do her business and then we went back to bed. I was blithely unaware that my entire world would change a mere five days later.
October 29 started out as any other normal Sunday. A bit chilly and rainy, I skipped my Sunday morning visit to the Marché des Chartrons. I hadn’t been there since sometime in August, before Tim had picked me and Emma up for her two month stay in England. Emma and I often went to the market, where I’d pick up some fruits and veggies from the vendor and treat myself to an empanada. Emma had been a pretty strict diet since we discovered her liver cancer last September, but a bite of empanada usually “fell off” my plate for her. We’d just go the following week.
We went for a couple of walks that day. Absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. In between, Emma played with her toys and chased her favorite stuffed soccer ball through the apartment.
And then everything changed in the blink of an eye.
Emma was fine one minute, and then she wasn’t. She threw up all her food she’d eaten about an hour earlier. It wasn’t totally unusual, since dogs do throw up and she’d continued to throw up every so often since she had her surgery the previous October. But when she got sick a second, then third time and was extremely restless, I knew something wasn’t right.
Her regular vet isn’t open at 10:30pm on a Sunday night, so I called for the emergency vet that makes house calls. I still figured that the cucumbers she’d eaten with her dinner hadn’t agreed with her or that thing she nabbed right off the street and I’d tried to unsuccessfully wrestle out of her mouth on our last walk had upset her stomach. But there were so many other sick dogs that night, no vets were available to come to the house.
I was just getting ready to go to the taxi stand down the street when a friend with a car called me back. A few minutes later we were on the way to another emergency clinic.
At the clinic, her vitals were mostly good. Her temperature was just slightly abnormal, but everything else looked fine. The emergency vet didn’t seem to think Emma had any pain or discomfort. She was given a shot to help her stop vomiting, since Emma had thrown up a fourth time after we arrived at the clinic. They also did her blood work, and her liver enzyme levels were five times over the normal. Still, we weren’t sent home with some medication and a suggestion to follow up with Emma’s regular vet within a few days.
When we initially got home, Emma was finally relaxed. She laid down and I was still convinced something had just really upset her stomach. I drifted off to sleep myself.
I shot up when I heard Emma restlessly moving from spot to spot every couple of minutes. She was also panting like she was hot, though the wee hours of the morning were chilly since I hadn’t turned on the heat yet. The next few hours while I waited for Emma’s regular vet office to open up seemed to drag on forever.
Her regular vet got us in immediately. Emma’s temperature had gone back to normal and she wasn’t panting anymore, but her liver enzymes were now six times over the normal and she did seem to have some discomfort when her abdomen was touched. An ultrasound revealed she had fluid in her abdomen, so we were sent to Emma’s former specialist clinic for further tests. The appointment wasn’t for a few hours, so we came back home and I cuddled with her until it was time to go.
Unfortunately, at the clinic they found a tumor that was hiding quite well but was pretty large at 10 centimeters in size. The position made it difficult to tell whether this new tumor was on her liver again or her spleen. My heart fell.
With the aggressive liver cancer she had battled a mere year ago, I knew the tumor was on the liver. But I held out hope that it was something different and on the spleen, and agreed to have her hospitalized and go under anesthesia the following day for a full body CT scan.
The days that followed were some of the worst of my life. We learned that the tumor was on Emma’s liver and it was likely the same type of cancer she had before. She also had a lot of lymph nodes that had show up on the CT scan and while we had to wait for the lab results to be sure, it looked as though the cancer had spread and the tumor had partially ruptured, creating the fluid in her abdomen.
I was given the option to take Emma home or leave her hospitalized while we waited for the results. There was no question – she would be happier at home and I wanted her there with me. And as the taxi turned onto a familiar street, Emma perked right up and wagged her tail. She jumped out of the taxi and went right to her door. I knew I made the right decision to bring her home with me.
But as the night wore on and became the next morning, I could see Emma was weak. She would rest comfortably, but she was having trouble with the stairs to go out and go potty. I carried her down and back up. I knew in my heart where we were headed and I told Tim I thought he should come to Bordeaux that evening.
Two hours later he was on a plane.
We never got the lab results, and really it didn’t matter what they said. We could see that even if surgery was an option, Emma was too weak to make it through it again. We made the appointment no pet parent ever wants to have to make.
Emma passed away on Friday, November 3. She was just 22 days shy of her 13th birthday and her surgery had been exactly 13 months before to the day.
Oddly, that day was a sunny day but it started pouring rain during Emma’s final appointment. It was like God was crying just for her and once we could finally collect ourselves to leave that room, the rain stopped too.
A year ago, surgery was the right decision. Emma had a really good year. She visited three new countries: Andorra, England and Wales. She had two holidays at the beach and I took her for the day as frequently as I could, since she loved to be in the water more than anything. And Tim got to spend two whole months with her after he had finally returned from South Korea.
She also went regularly for check-ups throughout the year, and this cancer just came back very aggressively and quickly. Those lab results did finally come in a few days after Emma passed away. The fluid in her abdomen was blood, which confirmed the suspicion that the tumor had partially ruptured. There was nothing that could be done and she was in pain once that happened. Her vet assured me that Tim and I had made the right decision and he was glad that we got there on our own without needing his push.
But it doesn’t make our hearts hurt any less.