“It’s cancer.” My vet said to me over the phone, and everything else muddled deep into the distance. My head was swirling, I was alone and couldn’t feel my fingers. My breath, halted in the exact place I left it before the phone call. The wooshing sounds of underwater submergence filled my headspace. I didn’t hear anything the vet said, but after I regained control of my awareness, my only words were “Get it off him now.”
And I have regretted that statement every single day of my life. Because it was more than a statement, it was a decision. It was a committed verdict on the future of my dog. With little consideration I might add.
We scheduled his surgery for the next available time, two days from that day… Friday January 8th. Two days of agonizing over his prognosis, but not agonizing over my options. I didn’t know I had any.
The not-so-Harry Potter Scar
We dropped him off and I cried. That was the last time I would ever see his face the way he was born again. I had no idea how severe his scar would be. I imagined it a thin line like a human who had stitches. I cried for eight hours, doing my best to keep it together for the newest member of my pack, Nama. A full day of observation by the vet painstakingly went by like muddy boots in a thunderstorm. When the vet called to say he was ready, he liken his scar to that of Harry Potter, and I imagined the cute stories we could tell with that. I saw him for the first time when we picked him up. His face bloodied and swollen and looked nothing like the petite zig-zag scar I imagined. It was thick, deep and inhibiting. He had been permanently damaged. And that permanence is a very hard thing to accept when you are a fixer. I couldn’t fix this one, not ever.
“Unfortunately due to the proximity of his eye, we had to go very deep. The tumor was wrapped around his main facial nerve. We had to take most of his surrounding eye muscles and a piece of the nerve with the tumor. He may never have function in his face again. He may never growl, he’ll bite his lip and yawning will be a problem. Constant drooling, numbness and also, his eye lids may never work again. But we think we got it.”
This was the saddest, scariest, but happiest day of my life.
Six months later, he could growl (not like he ever does), he does bite down on his lip hard when he yawns and his eye does not close all the way. He has some drainage issues and dry eye, but other than that, he is a healthy and high functioning cancer survivor. And I am trying to not live in fear that cancer will return.
I hate that scar with all I have. I hate myself for not seeking a second opinion. I hate that I didn’t look for an oncologist and a surgeon. I hate that I knew it wasn’t okay to do surgery in the vet’s examining room, but thought it was our only option because he is a dog. I hate that you have to overshoot the margins to make sure you got the cancer. I hate that I didn’t clean with all natural products. I hate that I probably caused this. So. Much. Hate.
And not a whole lot of forgiveness. For myself.
His scar is now a part of him, and I needed to accept that.
But I couldn’t.
I was embarrassed of it. He was so beautiful before, and now there is this very evident flaw that stared at me square in the face every single day. I was remorseful that his face would never look the same again, I was sad that I couldn’t undo the mess I felt I made. “I did this to him.”, I thought.
I struggled with this every day. It never left me. It hurt to look my own soul dog in the eyes. After all, his scar is largly distracting because its on his eye, and you couldn’t not see it even during those tender moments seem to make you two the only ones in the room. I was mad other dogs got their cancer elsewhere, and that their scars didn’t inhibit their facial function. Can you image the face he was looking back into? Somebody who seemed concerned, full of pity, guilt and shame. That wasn’t fair to Laker. I had to stop, but I just couldn’t let it go.
Until one day…
I received a message that my friend CJ at Rescue Strong Supply Co. was featuring a line drawing of Laker on their newest design called “All My Best Friends Are Dogs”. He was going to be among 11 other rescue friends printed to benefit rescues across the nation.
“What an honor!” Was my first thought. And close behind that thought was, “Maybe we should show him without his scar…”.
But CJ and others insisted that his scar is badass and should always be shown. They told me it was a great opportunity to help other pups who have faced cancer. That scars tell a story. Although I wish this story never happened, it was a nice way to think about it, so I went along with it in hope this helps me heal my own rotten thoughts of guilt and shame.
The result of CJ’s drawing of Laker rendered me speechless (image that!). After CJ sent me his rendition of Laker, I curled up into a little ball and cried my eyes out for what seemed to be the rest of the evening. I couldn’t handle how beautiful it was showing his scar. It showed his scar to me for the first time, in a way everyone else was seeing it. The beautiful, innocent mess that was his story. It shifted my thoughts from feeling incomplete to feeling proud of my brave dog. It pointed out the lesson I was missing because I was clouded in all my guilt. That bravery wins in the face of even the poorest decision.
This scar has taught me that the meaning of most things is in our perception of the situation. That we get to choose what meaning things hold over us. I have now changed the meaning from guilt to positive action. That it is a badge of honor he wears that helps us tell our story and to educate others on the importance of the wellness of our companions.
As the late, great, look-up-to-like-a-father and mentor of mine, Wayne Dyer, would always say…
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
And until that night, until that drawing… I never thought I could see more than a nasty representation of torment. That I can change the meaning of a traumatic situation purely by redirecting the meaning of my thoughts.
My new meaning sparked by the drawing: perseverance, strength and positive change.
This drawing reminds me that highlighting our past lights our way towards our future. Without this scar and all the fear, pain and desperation that came with it, I would not know true fulfillment. Without Laker’s cancer, I would never ever know my one true passion of healing and helping animals and people through educating on natural wellness.
I owe CJ a lot for pointing this out to me in a way only he could. His interpretation of Laker and his scar has now made me grateful for what I used to be regretful for. Now we flaunt our scars (mine internal, his external), as teaching tools for others.
Prevention is always the key, but if you or anyone you know is in need of proper facilitation for healing surgical scars, please see the recipe below to help the body facilitate quick and natural healing.
RECIPE FOR SCAR CREAM
- 10 drops Helichrysum Essential Oil (to become a member and gain access to your own essential oils discount, click here)
- 8 drops Frankincense Essential Oil
- 8 drops Lavender Essential Oil
- 5 drops Tea tree (or Melrose) Essential Oil
- 3 tbs Manuka honey
- 3 drops Manuka Essential Oil
- 1 Fresh Aloe leaf (aloe extracted)
- 1/4 C Coconut oil (solid)
- 1/2 C Shea butter
- 6 drops Pure food grade vitamin E (do not buy poor quality vitamin E, it will do more harm than good. Leave this out if you can’t find it)
- Small Glass jar/container
Melt shea butter and coconut oil over low flame in stainless steel pans or in a double broiler. Pour into a bowl. When cooled or to room temperature before it hardens, add everything else (the point is to not let the oils, honey or aloe get heated). Transfer into glass containers. After the scar is 2-3 days old and no longer an open wound, you can place this cream on the scar several times a day to keep it moisturized and healthy. If you like a creamy consistency when you’re done, beat with a hand mixer for 10-15 minutes. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.