Maggie May (aka Magnet, Magfees, Magmags, Magnificent, Bad Dog, Big Dog, and [of course] Houuuund Doggie!)

Wow. It’s been a bad year for pets. First our second rabbit, Jinx died mysteriously after a week, in my hands, as we sped off to the vet. Then… Ollie got a little too rough with my darling Trix Rabbit.

But these seem like small ordeals compared to more recent events. For all the exciting and exotic adventures one gets to experience in this lifestyle, there’s a definite tradeoff. You’re forced to miss out on special times, good and bad, back home. I’ve missed birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings… each tugging at my heart and leaving me feeling a bit of sadness and, at times, guilt at being absent during times of general togetherness.

When my brother Ryan informed me in January that our “Big Dog,” Maggie, had been diagnosed with lymphoma I felt this especially strongly. As an Army family we moved around a lot when I was younger so pets (or, at least pets without exoskeletons or gills) were never really practical. Our move to Virginia in 2002 had a greater sense of permanence to it; my decision (and brothers’ subsequent decisions) to study at the University of Virginia and my dad’s almost simultaneous retirement from the military in 2005 kind of solidified that. Still, imagine my surprise when, just a month before I set off to Charlottesville, I came home from work to find this little scamp snoozing amongst my family’s feet as they watched TV.

An underweight, 6-month-old pup originally named “Brandy” quickly grew into a big 80 pound hooooound doggie! She was a bit insane, always barreling up and down the stairs and threatening to topple over any visitor who came to the door. I loved to refer to her as “Bad Maggie,” and she seemed like the wiliest, rascalliest thing– until my family got Moose two years later (conveniently coinciding with Ryan’s departure for college, I should add) when, by comparison, she almost instantly became the ‘big sister’– more mature and reserved. (Don’t be fooled… she was still plenty naughty when she wanted to be.)

I’d grown to love Maggie as much as anyone, though admittedly the timing of her arrival and all my travels made it so that I spent far less time with her than the rest of the family. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, things took a quick turn for the better. She was put on seemingly instantly effective chemotherapy, I helped my mom research some dietary changes to be made, and until about two weeks ago all the reports I got back from my parents were very positive in nature. I allowed myself to feel confident she’d tough it out until my return home this fall.

She had a recent relapse which was also seemingly reversed fairly quickly, though it reminded us all that it might be a bit foolish to get our hopes up too high when dealing with this kind of illness. Apparently all last week she was in noticeable pain and yesterday my family had to make the difficult but appropriate decision to end her suffering. It’s been hard to be far from my family as they’ve gone through this painful time, especially these final moments, but I’m so blessed with their support and understanding, and to know that they know my thoughts have been with them through it all. I’m sad that Maggie won’t be waiting at the door to dig her claws into my stomach when I make it home in September, but relieved to know she’s no longer in pain. Having spoken to my mom and my brother, I know this is a time of relief as much as anything for my whole family. Goodbye Magfees (my idiotic pet name of choice for the ol’ girl), thanks for seven excellent years.

a song collaboration between my brother and me. lyrics included on the actual youtube page.

And I suppose I’ll take this opportunity to offer a few words on my thoughts about nutrition and cancer (and nutrition and illness in general), in animals and in humans. Though I realize this isn’t the shiningest example, I believe very strongly that nutrition can play a significant role in both preventing and combatting even the most serious illnesses. I’ll even be trite and use the quote from Hippocrates listed on any site offering similar claims, “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I don’t look down on modern medicine by any means, I just encourage everyone to be mindful of more natural options to consider first (time provided) or in addition to other treatments. The body’s own healing potential is incredible– you just have to know how to assist it!

Here are some of the pages we looked to primarily concerning alternative lymphoma treatments in dogs (though, again, Maggie was being treated with chemotherapy as well). Some of the stories are quite inspiring:

Natural Dog Health Remedies: Dog Cancer Diet
Holistic/Alternative/Complementary Therapies for Dogs with Cancer (you’ll want to scroll down to “Buddy’s Protocol”)
K9 Immunity: Hope for Dogs with Cancer; Canine Lymphoma

As for nutrition for humans with cancer, one of the food blogs in my blog roll (Food to Glow) is geared to specifically that. The author works at a cancer center in the UK (coincidentally named Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre), hosting nutrition workshops, and offers an informative Nutrition and Cancer page on her blog (note there’s a drop-down menu on the actual tab with loads more information than what’s available on that page itself). In today’s world where the seemingly most innocuous things allegedly can be cancer-causing I think it’s important that everyone stay informed about how eating right can help them stay healthy.