"Caring for a loved one with a disease/illness and the toll that it takes on the caregiver and the recipient!!!" (It isn’t all peaches and cream but this needs to be shared to help others as they take this journey.)
Warning, this is a very long post. :-)
This is not my normal kind of post but I thought that it was important to share with you the journey of Zeus and I and the impact that it has had on both of us, as well as the rest of The Boxer Gang.
A little background for those of you that are new to this page and a recap for those that have followed our journey from the beginning. Our journey started on March 12, 2015 at 7:15 pm when Zeus had his first large seizure. I had just walked in from the garage after having been gone for about 30 minutes and I could hear Zeus crashing around. At first I thought that he must be playing, something that he loves to do when I come home or any other time for that matter, lol. He is a playing machine. :-)
However, when I came around the corner to look for him at the front door, I immediately knew that something was very wrong. Zeus was wobbly and falling over. Drool and slobber covered his face and he had a glazed look in his eyes. It was the first sign that something was terribly wrong with him. He walked around the house and could barely keep his balance. He walked into the trash can and barked at it. He was startled and lost. I knew right away that he had just had a large seizure.
Zeus was one month away from turning 9 years old so I knew right away it was trouble. Seizures don’t typically begin at that age unless it is brain lesions or a brain tumor. It is very rare for Epilepsy to present itself after the age of five in dogs. Zeus had another large seizure three hours later and off to the ER we went. The next morning he had one more large seizure and from there we went immediately to our fabulous veterinarian Dr. Unger. She immediately took him back and put him on an IV of Phenobarbital. I sat with him for about five hours and tried to keep myself from crying…it didn’t work.
On Monday, March 16, 2015 I spoke with Dr. Unger and we made our first appointment for the following week with Dr. Jennifer Rich, a Neurologist. We took Zeus in for a Neurology consult and an MRI. My suspicions were confirmed through the MRI. Zeus had a large tumor that took up just over 20% of his brain cavity. We were 95% sure that it was a Glioma. I was devastated, in shock, and at a loss for words. All I could do was cry and sit there in disbelief, even though I knew that a tumor was the most likely outcome. It is called denial and hope. I was hoping that the result would show something simple even though I knew that it wouldn’t.
Now came the hard part, our true journey together began. Zeus was on Phenobarbital for the seizures and Prednisone, a steroid to help with the swelling in his brain. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I dove into the research and the literature and the prognosis was not a good one. I decided to share our story on The Boxer Gang’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheBoxerGang/ and that was really the beginning of something special. Several Facebook fans reached out that had experienced a similar situation and they shared their stories and their protocol that we would soon adopt.
This is where the hard part begins. Zeus had to get up several times in the middle of every night to go outside to go pee. The Prednisone and the Phenobarbital made him very thirsty. As a result, he drank a ton of water and he couldn’t hold it for long. We were up every two to three hours and even more often on some nights. I was averaging less than 2 hours of total sleep every night. I am a very light sleeper to begin with and I was constantly monitoring him to make sure that he was not having a seizure and to see if he needed to go outside to pee.
Exhaustion is not a good thing and I was not able to sleep much while all of this was going on. Additionally, on March 30, 2015 I started getting up at 5 am every day for 30 days to take him to Radiation treatment. I would drop him off at 7 am and pick him back up around 1pm. I was driving over 110 miles on a daily basis to drop him off and pick him up from treatment. Plus I was working my normal 10 to 12 hour management job. Thank God I work from home!!!
Adrenaline, fear, and compassion kept me focused for the first 45 days or so. After that I started to feel exhaustion take over. The high stress and lack of sleep led to less patience, anger, fear, sadness, lashing out, depression, and an overall sense of being totally out of control. I was on edge and spiraling out of control. I was praying on a daily basis when all of this started. However, when I reached the breaking point, I began to pray many times a day. I asked for guidance, patience, and the ability to manage the stress of the situation. I suspect that Zeus was experiencing similar feelings as most patients in this situation do. They are scared and don’t know what is going on or worse they know what is going on and they are scared to death.
Why do I share all of this with you? I share it because these symptoms, feelings, and behaviors are very common for people in a caregiver and or patient situation. They happen whether you are caring for a human or a pet. I want everyone to know that it is normal and that you need to get help where ever you can. Don’t wait until you are so deep in the stress of the situation that you snap.
To be 100% honest, I felt tremendous anger toward the situation and toward Zeus at times. I was scared, frustrated, angry, fearful of the outcome, lost, confused, and most of all I felt helpless and powerless to help my baby.
Zeus and I have always had a very playful and interactive relationship before this situation occurred. He loved to play and push me and I enjoyed him doing that. This permanently altered our relationship. I wouldn’t change a thing and I am glad that I have the ability to care for him.
However, it has created a lot of change that I wasn’t prepared for at the time and I still struggle with to this day. We don’t get to play together much, if at all. He still loves to play but he does most of it by himself. He is fearful of me at times because I have to take him to endure things that he doesn’t enjoy and often times he doesn’t understand what is happening to him. When you add the drugs, the damage that the tumor did to his brain and his neural pathways, you get a person/pet that isn’t who they used to be and they act much differently, through no fault of their own. The dynamics of the relationship are changed forever. The tumor has also caused Zeus to lose sight in his right eye and most of his hearing. This has added to the dynamics and caused him extra fear as he has had to adjust to this change and doesn’t understand it. I have had to learn to help him regain his direction and deal with his physical challenges.
I have lost my temper with him at times out of frustration with the situation and I have made many mistakes when that has happened. I have lost my temper with myself and have gotten extremely angry with my actions and lack of control. I have even smacked him on the butt when he doesn’t listen because I was so angry at the time about the situation, his behavior and mine for that matter. I have punched a hole in the drywall because I was at my wits end and it made more sense to hit the wall than him or the rest of the kids. I share this not because I am proud of it but because it happens to many people in situations like this.
If you don’t get help it will escalate to a point that is not recoverable from. There are resources out there for you to access, such as, books, Doctors, family, friends, counseling, etc. Please reach out and get help. Do not take this journey alone or you will find yourself in a very dark place that you may never recover from and it can lead to a bad spiral of emotions, behaviors, and a multitude of other challenges.
Fortunately he and I are not alone and I have great resources to access. Plus, sharing him on The Boxer Gang page, our journey, his funny antics, and everything else along the way, helps keep things going in the right direction. It is one that takes constant monitoring and focus. It is not a journey for everyone. It takes massive amounts of patience with the patient and yourself. It takes a caregiver attitude, compassion, love, a drive to learn more and it also takes the ability to step back and assess where you are failing so that you can make changes and improve. If you are not helping and you are causing more harm than good, then you need to step away and let someone else take over.
I will continue to make mistakes and I will continue to learn from them. This journey does not have an end but only a continuation. Our relationship will continue to evolve until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge and I get to apologize for my shortcomings and my mistakes. He will look at me, smack me around a bit and then cover me in slobber and kisses like he did before all of this took place.
I Love you Zeus, always and forever!!!