dogs, lovers, and lumps


Stingray close upYou have to listen real hard to hear anything at all: the sound of tippy-toes on wood stairs, the soft tap of a paw on the bedroom door, the digging around in her bed to find a perfect spot for the night, the shuffling of cards as she shakes off excess water, and the gentle click from the flap on her dog door.

We bought a Bedlington terrier on Memorial Day, 2013. We were spending the weekend on my boyfriend’s sail boat in Harbor Island when we scheduled a meeting with a breeder.

We had talked for months about getting a dog. We’d search the Internet to look at dogs late at night. We called it Internet dog-dating, but just like any kind of Internet dating, we are reduced to making judgments based on physical appearances, and as anyone who’s hoping for a lifetime of companionship knows, looks are the least of it.

We met her for the first time outside of a Subway restaurant when a woman standing in a shaded area appeared holding a nine-week-old dog in the palm of her hand. It’s difficult not to fall in love with a puppy that fits perfectly in your arms and whose hair is softer than a favorite stuffed animal, but I didn’t let myself get taken with the ‘Ah, she’s so cute’ routine. I told myself, “It’s just another puppy and along with raising a dog comes extra work.”

The holiday weekend fell five days after I found a lump on my right breast. Not sure if I should use “on” or “in” because both words define the characteristics of this lump. I hadn’t told my boyfriend about my discovery, partly out of fear that it might somehow change our direction, and because there was so much about this lump that I didn’t know yet.

My hesitation included our relationship as a couple. We had been living together for five months and I seemed to be stuck in the “dating” mode, not wanting to give up the newness of our romance for daily routines. There is something to be said for the beginning of a relationship: it’s fresh, sexy, romantic, and exciting. I wasn’t prepared to give that up.

We returned to the boat to think things over. My boyfriend seemed excited to bring her home. He kept asking me if I wanted her. I’d reply, “She’s cute and so sweet.” I left out the rest of my thoughts: Not at this time.  

I couldn’t say what I felt to him because I knew he had already fallen for her. Gracie, we named her the day we picked her up, stayed curled in my lap for the entire ride home to Phoenix.

When we arrived home, I didn’t let myself get attached. He was the one who set his alarm to go off at 3 AM and 6 AM to feed her and take her for walks. He taught her to use the dog door and trained her to sit and stay. I kept our relationship at a distance.

I lived with Gracie and my lump for the same amount of time before having surgery. After an Ultrasound in June, the radiologist told me that it was “probably benign.” That seemed to appease me for a while, but I still needed more scientific proof to ease my mind.

During the weeks leading up to surgery, Gracie greeted me each day after work. She was my daily yoga, my meditation, and my personal therapy dog. She seemed to know when I needed her to comfort me—the way she rested her long face against my neck.

Gracie and my boyfriend stuck by me through the initial surgery, which diagnosed the cancer, and the lymph node biopsy that followed. She allowed me to snatch her up in my arms and tickle her underside after each of my brachytherapy sessions.

The bonding between us happened despite my efforts to stay unattached. Even when she ate my favorite pair of underwear, had an accident on the carpet, bit my best friend (very lightly without consequence), I took her side.

Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, which I try not to think about, will sometimes break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for.

OK, say goodnight Gracie.

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