Sunday, August 09, 2009

The dog days of August

Anyone who has Googled "chronic lymphocytic leukemia" has run across references to the disease in dogs and, more rarely, cats. If you give Fido some chlorambucil, he goes on merrily chasing his tail, usually for a normal life span.

Recently I received a phone call from someone who read my letter to the local paper in which I explained that I have CLL and that I support
health care reform. The caller left a message on my answering machine. She said she supports reform also, and then began to talk about her dog, which was recently diagnosed with CLL. If it would not be a bother, she asked, would I mind calling her back and telling her a little bit about the disease and what might be done to treat her dog?

When Marilyn and I heard the message, our reaction was the same: laughter, of the disbelieving kind. I don't mind talking about CLL to fellow patients, or to my neighbors, or to a complete stranger who has some interest in the disease. But I'm not a veterinarian.

My gut level response, to my surprise, was anger. I love animals, and I like dogs, but I have seen too many friends and acquaintances die of this disease. I have seen too many struggle with impossibly difficult choices. For every great remission I have seen great disappointment. I have spent almost six years struggling with CLL, not always successfully. If I thought the last six years were bad, the next six promise to be worse. So pardon me if I don't have a lot of energy left over to counsel people whose dogs have leukemia.

Sometimes I think I'm being a little hard-hearted about this, but I cannot bring myself to call her back. I know she means nothing by it, that she's probably not aware that a CLL patient might develop some emotional baggage after awhile. Is she being a little insensitive? Or am I being oversensitive?

I empathize with her and her dog, but all I want t
o say to her is "Use your freakin' Google."

Am I right or am I wrong?


Anonymous said...

When I was first diagnosed, I scoured the web for info on CLL/SLL. I bookmarked one site which, after a quick scan, seemed to discuss the diagnosis of the disease including CD markers in great detail. When I read it more carefully I realized it was a veterinary oncology site, discussing CLL in dogs. My impression is that our canine friends share this malady with us humans.

I would call her back. Every person who becomes aware of CLL is a potential ally, no matter how they became interested. And people do consider their dogs to be their children, so she may be very concerned and sincere. (And I think it would be interesting to compare notes just for kicks to see how her vet is treating her dog, but that might be going too far). My 2 cents.


Anonymous said...


You are neither right nor wrong and neither is this lady for contacting you. From her point of view, maybe her dog is her "child" and closest companion. I don't see her as being insensitive, neither are you being oversensitive. We all have our own worlds and our own perceptions - none of us have the same "reality". Don't feel pressured to contact her if you do not wish to, you have enough on your plate already but if you do decide to contact her then I am sure you'll have such a positive impact, however small. Keep up the writings David, they are so valuable. Jeda, Australia.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all you posts filled with wisdom, wit and direction. I have gained so much and I have been so steeled by them as I journey with my mostly in denial CLL husband through this undeniable pickle aka CLL. As for the dog, woof. I am with you. As author Temple Grandin says, dogs, among other animals, make us human. . . so, maybe ask the dog. . . ? We have two senior dogs with multiple health impacts and they are always and ever positive and in the moment--except for a dreaded trip to the vet. That is not for them.
Please, keep on sharing with all of us out here. I, for one, am deeply grateful.

Lynn M. said...

How will you feel down the road if you don't call her back? If you don't call, will your conscience be bothering you a year from now?

As the owner of a dog I think of as my child, I say call her, even to say you don't know anything about CLL in dogs. She is probably in despair, and waiting for a phone call that never comes doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

Your callousness doesn't surprise me. You liberals are all the same; charity towards yourself and no one else.

I'm a proud conservative who is opposed to a government take over of health care, destroying the best health care system in the world.

I know I have a limited life on this earth (unlike you liberals who think they will live forever), and I feel good about giving of myself, especially to innocent animals. I am making a difference on earth, as best I can.

This anti-socialist would be happy to answer this lady's questions. Steer her to a conservative, since you liberals are too busy being victims than seeing the big picture.

Thanks for showing your true self! It's illuminating!


Anonymous said...

"I don't mind talking about CLL to fellow patients, or to my neighbors, or to a complete stranger who has some interest in the disease. But I'm not a veterinarian."

Well, if I'm not mistaken, you ain't a medical doctor either, are you?

Anonymous said...

My husband has been living will CLL for 8 years. As we try to "live" and not dwell on the reality, I do have days of being oversensitive. I myself would not return the phone call because I'd not be able to speak, my oversensitve tounge would be bleeding from the biting it was taking.
The difference some choose on earth? Be kind to an animal, that's a very good thing, but do you have to be so unkind to the human?

David Arenson said...

Random responses to statements:

I don't understand the invective from our conservative friend, but I am glad he finally signed a name to one of his posts. (I had suspected that his name was Scott for quite some time.) I think his comments speak volumes about his "compassionate conservatism." I'm glad he likes dogs. Too bad he doesn't like people enough to want to guarantee health care for all of them.

True, I'm not a doctor or anything close. What I was trying to say is that I have a layman's knowledge of CLL, less than a layman's knowledge of dog CLL, so I don't really feel qualified to hold a conversation about the latter.

Thanks to those who left positive comments, even if you disagree with me.

I think the caller caught me at a bad time. A person only has so much mental and emotional energy to deal with crises, including the ongoing slow bleed (no pun intended) that CLL can become. I have been grappling with some difficult issues in that regard. This has also been a tumultuous year in other ways. The net effect is that I barely have enough mental and emotional energy for the essentials that I must deal with. There's not a lot left over.

Earlier on in my CLL career I wouldn't have hesitated to call her back. I have since accepted that I cannot be everything to everyone. I have withdrawn to a great extent from online CLL activities because I don't have the time and energy available for them. CLL has also become more personal to me as I get ready to face bigger battles with it, and as I lose people I care about or watch them suffer. This takes more out of me than it used to. In order to be able to best cope with my own CLL journey, I need to conserve my energy. Selfish? Yes. Essential? Yes.

The larger message here, as I see it, is that cancer patients need to keep some precious time and energy for themselves. Indeed, the typical "cancer personality" is one who is always giving to others, ultimately at great personal expense.

Helene said...

I totally get the narrowing of emotional energy to spare when faced with our own crises. To you, it is your CLL. To the woman who called, her dog's leukemia may be as emotionally devastating to her. Does that make a dog as important as you..a human? No, but it shows we are each operating with our own inner worlds of what is our life.
I think if you can handle it, you should call her. You would be glad later on for pushing yourself to it, as an act of charity. You can only tell her what you know, but it might give her a moment of reassurance, or courage, to get treatment for her dog.
I know that my own inability to relate to much else once my husband was diagnosed, and the lack of emotional energy I have for anything except him and our now ill cat, is not the highpoint of my life or my if you can break out a tiny bit and so.
My two cents.

As to the Scott's of the world, who think they are "good" people (or say so) while all they want is to help themselves at other's expense, one wonders where his compassionate conservatism will be when his insurance denies his next treatment. Probably blame it on Obama instead of the health insurance, profit-driven industry.


Anonymous said...

There is nothing "wrong" with either conservatism or liberalism. The ideal society would exhibit characteristics of both. Only people who cannot think for themselves believe that the two philosophies are mutually exclusive, and use the labels as pejoratives.


Anonymous said...

Amen Denny!

Julie said...

David, I agree with you. I wouldn't have called her back either. Between all of our treatments and doctor's appointments we barely have time to call our family and friends.
Be well.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I feel it is the mark of a good and decent human being if he has compassion for all, human and animal.

I help both two legged and four legged friends. Animals tug at my heartstrings because they are at a disadvantage in this human-centric world. They are also innocent and are frequently abused by humans.

I do applaud your telling people more about yourself and your curtness when it comes to others (after all, it was a human who asked you for help, and you shut her down, as well as her animal.)

And I've NEVER been tired enough, or cranky enough, or liberal enough to not help as much as I can, both human and animal.

I get contacted all the time by people asking for advice or help. I have NEVER not answered them, if only to tell them I don't know. I'm not a doctor either, and I only point to medical articles that bear on their question, and provide my opinion based on my own experience.

I'm surprised you were so honest, but it does give one insight into your soul.

Heidi said...

Let me get this're dealing with a life-threatening, emotionally-draining, frightening disease, and because an anonymous person called you asking for advice about her dog, that you don't feel like calling her back gives "insight into your soul?" For goodness sakes, people, give the guy a break. What's the saying about not judging another man until you've walked in his shoes? My husband was diagnosed last year and we can barely bring ourselves to talk about it with anyone because we've been so disappointed in the lack of empathy and support we've received from family. The last thing I could do, and it's my spouse that has CLL, is call this woman back and hear about her poor dog. I am sorry about the dog. But you've got your own fish to fry.

And no, you're not an MD. Neither is Chaya. She is the sole reason my husband got into a trial at NIH. There is a very limited amount of information a layperson can get one's hands on out there, and we rely very much on people like you who are brave enough to share your experiences. You also provide a perspective not available from an MD. I am grateful to you.

I understand and agree with you David. Impressed that you asked for comments and at your candor.

"You liberals..." Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

It is a measure of a man what he gives to others, even at a cost of himself. Jesus gave his life to save all who believe in him.

We will all die one day. Having CLL doesn't change that.

I feel sad for someone like David and others who write that they 'have no time for others'. Thank God these people are in the minority!

As for that person who wrote that they are consumed by the struggle against CLL, gee, think about others instead of yourself.

Anonymous said...

The problem with humans is that they think too much about themselves. If we would just get over the fact that this plane of existence is a finite affair and live in the moment the way our K9 companions do, we'd probably be much better for it. I think ALL Americans need to start being aware of the COST of health care. Can those of you with insurance tell me what your physician or pharmacy would charge if you weren't insured? Or can you just tell me what your co-pay is? All of us need to start acting like the CONSUMERS of medical services that we are. Medicine is a SERVICE driven industry. Even if you don't feel you received good service, if you're insured, you just turn in the claim to your insurer and don't think too much else about it and those that aren't good at what they do, or charge too much for it, get paid anyway. How about finding out how much that blood work, x-ray, cat scan, surgery, medication, etc., etc., etc., COST and shop around for the best deal? We, the PEOPLE, should control the health care industry and its cost, NOT the insurance companies OR the government. And if you can't afford something, that's life, no one gets out of it alive.