It had been coming for months. Back at the turn of the year, we’d had a growth removed from his toe, and a biopsy confirmed the worst fears. Melanoma. The surgeon, who is awesome in every way (and reminds us so much of Bob Burg that it’s almost eerie), told us he was quite sure he got it all. Still, he said, the odds were heavily slanted toward the disease recurring, in a more insidious and systemic form, within six months.
We were told we should expect the worst.
So we immediately began expecting the best.
One of our secret weapons is our dog food. It took Ana and I years to work out the formula (and by “Ana and I,” I mean Ana), but man, have we worked it out. For our two four-legged guys we cook what has to be some of the healthiest dog food on the planet. Grass-fed lamb roast, pressure-cooked with a prodigious amount of seaweed (dulse and kombu), then ground and mixed with a great pile of our own patented steamed doggie-mirepoix: organic heirloom carrots, celery, green beans, yams. Plus, the finishing touch, finely chopped parsley (superiorly beneficial for the kidneys).
Most black poodles we know have hair that’s gone mostly white by the time they reach our guys’ age. Ben and Toby are still 90–95% black-haired. (The seaweed. Gotta be the seaweed.)
Great food. Tender care. A lot of love.
All was good.
Then one day Ben started acting odd. He would go off and sit in the closet, or in the bathroom. Just sit, like he didn’t want to be disturbed. And he started being less and less inclined to eat.
In July, Ana and I took a few weeks at a beautiful little getaway casita in New Mexico. We brought Ben. He was still doing his sitting-in-the-closet thing. Then he started having a hard time sleeping at night. Instead of lying down, he would sit up. For hours. Wouldn’t eat. We grew worried.
I took off to Houston for a few days to shoot video footage with my buddy Chef Charles Carroll (for promotion for our new book, The Recipe). My first evening there, I got a call from a fairly frantic Ana.
Ben had gotten a lot worse. She had found something inside his mouth that she was pretty sure was a tumor. He wasn’t eating at all now. The vet she got on the phone was saying it was over, that she should have him put down and not prolong his suffering. She didn’t know, she told me, if he’d still be with us but the time I got home from my trip.
That night Ana went to bed in New Mexico in tears, and I drifted off, quietly weeping, in Houston.
And then, the next day, something amazing happened.
A different vet encouraged Ana to find an animal hospital there in the New Mexico city where we were staying and get Ben over there right away to get examined. She did. The vet at the hospital had an unexpected diagnosis. That wasn’t a tumor in his mouth. It was an abscessed tooth.
They X-rayed him.
He had really, really bad arthritis in his spine.
So that was why he was sitting in the closets. He hurt. Bad tooth; inflamed spine.
And not a trace of melanoma.
It took a few days and a few false starts to find the regimen of medications that worked: an anti-inflam that didn’t upset his stomach (for his back), an antibiotic he could tolerate (for his tooth), and a pain med he could manage.
He started eating. He started sleeping. He stopped hiding in the closet.
And I thought about the novelist, Stephen King.
On June 19, 1999, King was out taking a walk in his Maine neighborhood when he was slammed into by a van driven by a gentleman who happily confessed that he wasn’t even vaguely watching where he was going. King was smashed to pieces, and recovery looked as hopeless as hopeless can look. Yet recover he did, and here we are, eighteen years (and many, many Stephen King novels) later.
King says he and his wife, Tabitha, call these years their “bonus round.”
That’s what Ana and I are having right now with Benny. Our bonus round.
We couldn’t be happier.
When we returned to the East Coast, our vet here in Florida suggested a little laser therapy to ease the inflammation in his spine. We’ve been doing it ever since, every few days. It has been remarkable.
That first day of laser work, they put goggles on him to protect his eyes, and we got a few snapshots. (At top, posing as Neil Gaiman; above, channeling Hunter S. Thompson.)
Looking at the pictures, you can get the sense he’s pretty happy about his bonus round, too.
How long will this blessed epilogue last? We don’t know.
How long does any of it last?
For that matter, how is it that we’re here in the first place, alive, breathing in this air, walking through this amazing existence? The longer I live, the more a miracle it seems.
When you stop to look, savor, and marvel, isn’t it all a bonus round?