19 Sep Adventure ‘Til The End
by Jen Sotolongo
Sora and I based the six short years of our lives together around adventure. From the first week I knew her, I stole her from who was then my new boyfriend and took her for an 11-mile run in Portland’s Forest Park.
She dazzled me with her athleticism and shared the same love for the trail as I did. I knew immediately that I had found my ultimate adventure buddy.
Together, we ran hundreds of miles, completed a 20-mile trail race, roadtripped around the US and Canada, and the ultimate adventure took all of us on a two-year bicycle journey across Europe and South America.
Just weeks into the bicycle trip, we found what would be the first of four cancer diagnoses in her right paw. The biopsy indicated a nerve sheath tumor with a very high likelihood of returning. We were faced with the option of amputating her leg or removing the tumor and hoping it wouldn’t return for a long time.
We took our chances with the removal.
Over the span of three years, she would be diagnosed three more times. After her fourth cancer diagnosis, I went into a frenzy, trying to learn everything I could about nerve sheath tumors. What treatments would help? Could I change her diet? Was there some cancer-blasting supplement I could give her?
Cancer is a complex and evolving beast and my Google searches mostly sent me down the rabbit hole, more confused than before.
Some friends gently pointed out that perhaps my time would be better spent with Sora rather than on my computer trying to fix the impossible.
My friends were right.
Even if I learned all there was to know about the recurring nerve sheath tumor in her leg, I couldn’t cure it. I couldn’t take it out myself. I couldn’t give her the cleanest, healthiest meal and magically reduce it to nothing.
I knew that there would be no fifth diagnosis. I wouldn’t let it happen. I had promised Sora after this fourth surgery and intense round of radiation therapy treatments that I would never put her through that again. This would be the last time.
My job was to match her bravery, celebrate her, and continue our adventures together every day until her last day.
I learned to change my definition of adventure as Sora’s physical capabilities changed.
Rather than a 20-mile run, we might go for an easy two-mile hike. I allowed her to sniff as much as she wanted on neighborhood walks, rather than pull her away with annoyance for the delay. We sought out new places to visit that were more accessible for her. We car camped instead of backpacked.
After a two-month summer road trip across Europe, Sora stopped eating. We knew that her final days were near and when her oncologist told us we could either operate on her or do nothing. It was both an easy decision, and yet the most difficult of our lives.
I kept my promise to never put her through surgery again.
So we went home, packed up the car and went for one final adventure to the coast. We rented a beach house and awoke early for short sunrise walks. We sat on the patio and listened to the waves. We rented a paddle board for one final adventure. We worked with Sora’s limitations to give her the best last weekend of her life.
Reflecting, my husband pointed out with sadness in his voice how Sora never had a retirement period.
I told him that she never would have wanted one. That she was determined to have an adventure right until the very end.