Sunday, November 17 – a day like any other day with an ending like no other. Cassie lay next to me, her head on the pillow, waiting for her evening belly rub. As I turned toward her, I noticed the soft pink color of a cocker spaniel tongue peeking through her little black lips. I always tease her about her little tongue escaping and then tickle her lower lip so she will pull it back inside her mouth. This time, though, as I gently touched her lip, a mass appeared inside her front lower lip, the size and location of which was simply unbelievable. I knew that it hadn’t be there for very long as I am always loving on her, and the position of the mass in the front of her mouth would have made it an easy find on any given day. I thought back to how she had spent her day, playing with a plastic treat toy that she pushed around and tossed into the air. I thought, “She must have irritated her lip.”
First visit to the vet – inconclusive results from the fine needle aspirate – perhaps a pre-cancerous condition, then a recommendation for a biopsy. An emotional mixture of relief and fear. Biopsy results came back indicating that the sample showed “markers” for cancer, but no actual cancer. Cassie was referred to a second vet for evaluation. Lump removal and a second pathology report. Cassie healed quickly from her surgery, and her vet and I were quite hopeful that the lump was only inflammation.
Tuesday, December 10 – Cassie was spending her days at the vet clinic during the week while I was at work to ensure that she didn’t rip out her stitches. When I went to pick her up on Tuesday, the vet wanted to speak to me. I knew that the results from the second pathology report had arrived. I walked back to the exam room and knew… The vet reviewed the report. Everything from that evening is a blur except for, “Fibrosarcoma.” I vaguely remember the vet saying that she was shocked and confused by the report, and also that the only thing she can recommend is a referral to an oncologist in Albuquerque. Reflecting on the past weeks, I am struck by how quickly life changed after a simple kiss good night.
I am heartbroken, not only because she’s my little girl, but also because Cassie has been through so much in her life, yet she has always made it her daily mission to bring warmth and love to everyone she meets. Within the first three months of her life, Cassie endured abuse and neglect that left her malnourished and missing an eye that was poked out by her abuser. In the first photos I saw of her, she looked like she had gone ten rounds with a professional boxer. Despite this beginning to her life, though, she was a trusting little puppy that expressed joy at every moment.
When I adopted Cassie, I worked for a non-profit agency in southern New Mexico serving the HIV+ population. Cassie was still healing from her eye surgery, so she came to work with me. As a mischievous cocker spaniel, she would sneak into people’s offices and steal their socks or nibble on their lunches when they weren’t around. While these antics brought laughter, what was truly incredible was how she interacted with those living with HIV. People who lived constantly in isolation emotionally and physically suddenly found themselves being enthusiastically lavished with kisses, joy and love from an adorable little one-eyed cocker spaniel. For many, this was the only physical contact they had in their lives, as the stigma of HIV still exists in many places.
Cassie continues to touch the hearts of those who need it most. Although she happily greets everyone, those who seem to be lonely, angry and sad get an extra dose of wiggle-butt attention. Frowns and tears are transformed into joy and smiles. She is not only my angel, but she is also an angel for so many others.
I ask that everyone keep this little girl in your prayers, not only because she has touched my life, but because she has touched so many others, and she still has so many more lives to touch.
This experience has also jolted my priorities into perspective. Over the past year much of my focus with my photography has been marketing and trying to build a reputation for my photography business. Cassie, though, has been a huge inspiration to me and she is a part of every photograph. She has ridden with me on every trip, chased butterflies and relished the aroma of the soil and brush as I have and sat next to me watching the setting sun on the horizon. She has snuggled next to me as the monsoon rains began to fall and delighted in the mountain streams that rush by at her feet. It is only fitting that any sales that come from those precious moments benefit her healthcare. If you are considering purchasing any of my prints or if you would simply like to contribute to Cassie’s journey, please use discount code CASSIE20 when ordering. Any profits from sales using the code will be set aside in a healthcare account for Cassie. In the coming week, I will also be setting up an account for donations to Cassie’s care on GiveForward.
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