Cancer, Amputation, and How to Keep Going When Difficulties Arise

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The last two weeks have been hard. Hard is an understatement, actually. They’ve been grueling. I’ve felt beyond capacity and empty.

They have been the hardest weeks of the past few years of my life.

A few months ago, my ever-present seven year old red heeler mix companion and side-kick, Lina, started limping.

We rescued Lina from a shelter 6 years ago. I wasn’t sure that I was ready for a dog, but Stacia knew this was the one. She couldn’t have been more right.

Lina has been with us through thick and thin. She’s road tripped across most of the US multiple times, moved three times, and always helps us remember to stay in the moment, to get outside, and (of course) to play more.

The limp wouldn’t go away, so we took her to the vet. That appointment turned into a series of appointments and eventually a biopsy.

That biopsy came back with worse news than we could have expected— cancer.

And further lab work proved it to be a highly aggressive cancer— hemangiosarcoma.

A week and a half ago, we had our first meeting with an animal oncologist. One thing lead to another and we found ourselves faced with hard and expensive choices: radiation, amputation, and/or chemo.

The vet encouraged us to amputate her leg, where the limp inducing mass had grown, in order to slow the spread. The good news was that the cancer had only gathered in her leg. The bad news was that this kind of cancer will haunt her for the rest of her life.

There was no good decision and yet we had to make a choice.

Amputate the leg of a highly active dog who loves to play frisbee and hike? You can’t explain this to her. You can’t tell her what you’re doing and why. How could we choose that?

Choose radiation and risk the cancer spreading before it takes effect? If it doesn’t work, there’s nothing left to do.

Do nothing and wait for the cancer to take her life? Another impossible choice.

On top of all of this is the question of how do we keep going in the midst of difficulties?

How do I keep getting my work done? How do I push forward and take initiative on difficult projects when my capacity for difficult things was already exhausted?

I couldn’t.

Though I get to do my life’s work here with the Meaning Movement, I found myself without energy to write, work on projects, or connect with people. Though a few days prior, this was the most important project for me to work on, in the midst of a battle with cancer it seemed to matter so little.

When difficulties comes, survival may be all you can do. [tweet that]

My thoughts were far away from questions of purpose and meaning. They were about me, Stacia, and brave Lina. I had to let myself off the hook for the rest.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a part of this conversation. The highest level is “self-actualization,” which includes things like pursuing desires and bettering oneself. It is difficult to think about this kind of desire and pursuit when there are more basic needs that are threatened— the levels of safety, love, and belonging. Or the health, wellbeing, and life of your best furry friend.

You can’t entertain questions of meaning when questions of immediate needs are more pressing.[tweet that]

I’ve told this to potential clients before. The time to start working on the big question of what you’re going to do with your life is not when you are without stability and a source of income. You have to start by finding a way to meet life’s basic needs and to create space for the deeper questions.

If you need a job, now is not the time to find the most meaningful job possible. Now is time to find a job. Your next job after that one can be meaningful.

Finding meaning and purpose begins with making space for yourself.

Nine days ago we made the hardest decision and chose to amputate Lina’s leg. She went in for surgery on Tuesday and came home last Wednesday. She’s a trooper and is adjusting to life with only three paws. It’s heart breaking to have to have made that choice, yet it was the right choice.

lina

Lina in recovery (click for her story)

We’re not sure how long we have with her. We’re not sure what will happen next. But we know that she’s an amazing animal and we’re going to squeeze the most out of life together. We’ve set up a Go Fund Me to help with the heavy financial burden. Whether or not you’d like to contribute, I’d like to invite you to follow along with our battle with Lina’s cancer (I won’t be posting updates here), and share with anyone who may want to participate with us. Click here to visit the page.

Purpose and meaning only come through hope.[tweet that]

In the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts and any shout outs to the furry friends in your life.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 10 Comments On This Post.

  1. Dean

    It’s not fair, and sometimes there are no silver linings.
    “Pain demands to be felt”
    -The Fault in Our Stars
    Thinking of you and your beautiful family of 3 during these dark and difficult times.

  2. Emily

    I am sort of a closet meaning movement reader. So many times I have read your posts and they have brought me to tears. Sadly, so many times I have wanted to thank you for your words and I just never manage to get to a computer to put my thoughts in order as a comment. I grapple with so many of the things you write and pour your intentional thoughts into, but I struggle putting it all together in my head because now I am and mom and don’t have the head space for it all when the needs of kids and home pull harder and distract me Point is, you help me with that. Thank you.

    My heart has been breaking for the three of you. I have said many prayers and will continue as you all adjust and face the unknown ahead. I got my Georgia about three years ago as an intentional part of brining myself back from a dark place that nobody seemed to understand I was in at the time. She healed me in ways I never knew possible, and brings me so much joy and laughter everyday. We are alone together most everyday now that both my kids are in school, I have no idea what I would do without her. Like Lina, Georgia is my constant companion and silent presence that makes an enormous difference in not feeling so isolated on a daily basis.

    Prayers and all my love to you three. I may not be commenting, but I am certainly reading! Thank you!

    • Thanks for this kind and wonderful note, Emily. I’m so glad you outed yourself! I’m grateful to be a part of your process and processing. I’m glad you have Georgia with you. You sound like a good team!

      Thanks for your thoughts and prayers. I hope to see you in the comments again soon!

  3. Leighton

    You guys are a brave family. Thankful for your hearts and am with you guys in this.

  4. Tally Talaso

    Its so encouraging to see family so strong in this difficult times..quick recovery to Lina!! Your family is in my prayer in this hard time.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  5. Lavanya

    Dear Dan
    Reading your posts has been like listening to a wise and kind friend. Thank you for being there and God bless.
    Wishing you and your family love and kindness on your journey.

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