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Diagnosis

It happened very quickly.

Last Sunday evening I was in Toronto, boarding the train from downtown to the airport, when my friend Alexis called from a veterinarian's office in Vancouver.

At the urging of a local Facebook group for bully breed dogs, she'd taken Lucy in to have a mass on her belly checked out.

Now, across three time zones and thousands of miles, she conveyed the results:

Further tests required, but it was probably cancer.

I'll be the first to admit I didn't take Alexis's concern over the mass on Lucy's belly as seriously as I should have.

Alexis is Lucy's Auntie and the second-most important person in her life. She's very fond of the dog, and vice versa.

But when she first noticed the mass, about a month ago, my thinking was that Lucy is an active dog, and active dogs get scrapes and cuts all the time. Lucy in particular has had her share of skin irritations, fatty cysts and allergic reactions.

She's only five years old, happy and healthy, and I couldn't conceive that the mass could be anything more serious.

On Tuesday, the test results came back. Alexis took the call from the vet; apparently my default response to adversity is denial.

According to the test results, the mass on Lucy's belly was a mastocytoma or mast cell tumour. It was malignant, and would require surgery immediately.

On Wednesday afternoon, I took Lucy to the vet's office. Alexis met us there on her lunch break, and the vets did some necessary pre-surgery blood work.

When it was done, I took Lucy home with a supply of Benadryl and instructions to prepare for surgery on Friday.

It was an absolutely lovely week in Vancouver this week. Temperatures rose to the high teens, the sun stayed out, and Lucy and I both enjoyed our daily walks through the city immensely.

As we walked, I watched Lucy, and I couldn't see any sign whatsoever that she was sick. She ran in the park and chased sticks and seemed to be both in good spirits and good health.

It made for such a profound disconnect between the reality I was seeing and the reality in the test results.

I wasn't sure how I should be feeling, as Friday approached. Cancer is a scary word, and I know full well that it can strike the healthy and the young.

Moreover, what shook me most was the absolute certainty that whatever happened on Friday, Lucy will, eventually, die. Like the rest of us.

I had hoped to avoid a deep contemplation of my pet's mortality for at least a few more years, but on that flight home from Toronto I faced it head-on.

I wish I could say I came to any conclusion beyond that I'm not ready for Lucy to leave just yet, but that's all I've got.

On Thursday evening, Alexis came over with our friend Andrea and we hung out and watched movies and ate ice cream and smothered Lucy with love.

On Friday morning, early, Alexis and I dragged ourselves out, leashed up Lucy and took her to the vet, where a technician named Amy outlined the procedure and asked if I wanted them to resuscitate Lucy if anything happened on the operating table.

Duh.

We left Lucy at the doctor's, and went home to wait.

Nine hours later, we returned to pick Lucy up. Another tech gave us a detailed preamble about how to care for her and what to expect, and then they led Lucy into the room.

She looked fragile, scared, and disoriented. She was whining, which she never does, labouring to walk, and was clearly distressed by the cone she was wearing.

She hardly seemed to recognize me.

I knew the operation was necessary but it struck me as cruel or funny or something that the sturdy, happy dog we'd dropped off this morning had been reduced to this poor creature in the name of her health.

The scar on her belly was enormous, and angry.

I'd been more or less stoic about the whole experience, whether from denial or just a sense that there was no sense in really worrying until I knew the full story, but on the drive home I was hit with a wave of relief so powerful it nearly overwhelmed me.

It was as if, now that Lucy was safe, my subconscious was finally allowing me to feel all of the worry and anxiety I'd suppressed all week.

We coaxed Lucy back to my apartment. We lay with her as, gradually, her whining stopped and she seemed to calm down.

By the time we turned in, she was able to go outside to pee, was accepting treats again, and she slept more or less comfortably on my bed overnight.

She is a young and healthy dog and the vet is optimistic about her recovery.

We had x-rays done before the operation and they found nothing out of sorts, no additional growths in Lucy's lungs or anywhere else.

The prognosis for a full recovery is good.

I'm very grateful to the folks at Yaletown Pet Hospital for treating Lucy quickly and with evident compassion.

I'm also super grateful to everyone who reached out with kind words and good wishes and expressions of love for Lucy, and for me.

Most of all, I'm grateful to Alexis, who not only spotted the mass and ensured it was treated, but who took the point with the vet's office when I was too afraid to confront reality.

As with so many aspects of my life, my bestie was a lifesaver. I couldn't have done this without her, and neither could have Lucy.

We'll see what today brings, but Lucy should recover pretty quickly, I'm told. She'll be wearing her Cone of Shame for ten days, which she'll hate, but I'll be able to take her out for our daily walks pretty quickly.

Within a couple of weeks, she should be good as new.

I hope she stays that way for a good long time.

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