I’ve talked about how I am not fearless, and how I think being brave has more to do with facing your fears than not being afraid. I know there are areas of my life that are limited by fear, and I’m struggling with that. It’s usually cycling that instills such a visceral reaction–butterflies in my stomach, a racing heart rate, even tears–but these days there is something else that has me afraid of what lies ahead.
Our sweet Tiger Lilly has been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, also known as DM.
DM is a disease of the spinal cord that is progressive and untreatable. While it does not cause pain itself, affected dogs will lose coordination and strength in their hind legs, eventually becoming paraplegic as the disease progresses. After that point–which can take 6-12 months from diagnosis–owners are usually encouraged to make “the humane choice” as dogs lose their quality of life.
Tiger Lilly’s first symptoms mimicked arthritis–we noticed that her hind legs sometimes would slip on our bare floors. At our vet’s recommendation we started giving her glucosamine. Although she loved the cheese-flavored tablets, she still fell from time to time.
It was a Saturday in February when I saw her walk up a carpeted step with her paw upside down. I later learned that was a sign of propioceptive ataxia–loss of awareness of the position of her joints/body parts. A visit to a veterinary neurologist for a full exam, MRI and spinal tap ruled out other causes, and a DNA test confirmed that she carries two copies of the mutation associated with degenerative myelopathy.
So, what lies ahead is months of watching Tiger Lilly lose her strength bit by bit, each day drawing us nearer to the day when we will have to make that terrible, loving decision. For now, she still enjoys her walks, but I can see a wobble in her hind legs when she stops to sniff out a particularly interesting spot. For now, she still has the run of the house, but we have covered most of floors with area rugs and try not to let use the stairs unescorted. For now, I’ve convinced my husband that letting her climb up on the sofa is good exercise for her, because I know snuggling with her is good therapy for me.
I know others face harder struggles. I know others are called on to be brave in the face of much worse fears when parents, spouses, siblings, or children have grave diagnoses. But for me, for now, this is my hard. I am not facing it fearlessly, but I will be brave when I need to be, although I guarantee there will be buckets of Boxer-sized tears.
Today’s Wednesday Word is fearless.
Is your dog allowed on the furniture? In your bed?