THE WORDS 'POOR PROGNOSIS, NOT EXPECTED TO LIVE' are only just legible through my tears. This couldn't be happening. Not to my James, not this way.
He is led through the door. We are so relieved to see one another. 'We'll confront this illness together, alone - away from this place', I tell him with my mind. 'He smells a bit,' the nurse says handing me the leash. A veterinary nurse, she hands him back to me with his backside coated in orange diarrhoea. We must get away from this place they call a hospital.
We are on the outside lawn with our friend, Hilary, who drove me here. She is sad, but encouraging. She doesn't say a word, but feels disgust. 'Have to get away from this place and that nurse', she thinks.
We are in the back seat of Hilary's car. James has his head on my leg. He is so exhausted, so completely exhausted. He feels like death, but he wants to stay. He told me the night before that somehow, he will stay. He tells me again that he is staying, he doesn't know how, but he is staying, he tells me. I affirm his belief with loving strokes. I tell him that I will find a way. I wonder how. But I believe.
I believe in him.
IT TAKES A BIT OF CONVINCING to get her to see us. 'Look,' I plead, 'I'm not asking you for a miracle, just quality-of-life and comfort while he is here.'
We arrive. There is no waiting room. No woman in a crisp white uniform. It's a suburban backyard with a glorious Japanese red maple. There is a woman, Gabby, who potters around. She welcomes us. She does not pity us. She cares.
'Hello, he's a wild one. What is wrong?'
I am so nervous. So anxious. I am surprised that I speak. I only sound I expect to make are cries. 'This is my Jamie. He has liver cancer.'
Jamie looks at her and tries to introduce himself. He vomits.
Her gentle, confident manner gives us hope. 'Margaret looks after many pets with cancer, and other chronic conditions. See her. There are ways. He's a wild one, that one, he is. A free spirit, a fighter.'
I lead Jamie into Margaret's room. There is no cold, sterile, silver table. There is a lady with a thick Irish accent. James is calm. He feels confident. I feel delivered.
She asks weird questions. No-one at that hospital asked us anything. They just told us.
When did he first vomit? What was it like? When did he first have diarrhoea? What was it like?
What do you mean, 'What was it like? - like diarrhoea.'
'Well, was it pasty or runny or pasty and then runny, or runny and then pasty? Hard to get out, easy to get out? What time of day? After a meal, before a meal, during a meal?'
I give her every detail I can think of. I tell her of his medical history - his diet over the last few years, likes and dislikes. His personality. His character. Everything about my Jamie. I don't know why she asks, what it means, I just want to be able to talk about my Jamie and tell her all the reasons why he has decided to stay, and all the reasons why I believe in him.
She asks for the hospital report. I give it to her. 'Poor prognosis, not expected to live.' I expect her to shake her head in despair and send us on our way.
She surprises me. 'There are things we can do.'
Jamie has acupuncture for the first time in his life. He doesn't think much of my solution to his illness. He tolerates it because he believes in me. He is exhausted but does react.
Margaret is positive. 'He has a strong will.' We know, but are delighted that she sees his will and not just a 16-year-old dog pronounced dead.
She gives us homoeopathic remedies for liver cancer, for vomiting and diarrhoea, and for pain. She gives us enough for six months and I am happy. That hospital thrust four morphine pills in my hand - one pill for every day he had left. I ask if I should add beetroot juice, an excellent liver tonic, to his diet. 'Beetroot juice is much too strong,' she says. She says beetroot juice is way too strong and yet that hospital gave us morphine.
We are home. Jamie is exhausted. My brother, Adam, is waiting. I am relieved that someone is here waiting for us. 'She says there are things we can do.' Adam is positive for my benefit, but he doesn't hold out much hope. He will help us try though. He knows that we won't give up. He is right.
Jamie eats. He is hungry. That's good. He eats pureed chicken and vegetables. He looks at me, 'You call this food?', he says. But he accepts that this may be part of the way. He sleeps soundly. I watch over him. Adam goes to bed. I do not know what he thinks (except that he, too, was as unimpressed with Jamie's dinner as was Jamie). I do not know what anyone thinks. Don't care. My job is to care for Jamie.
HILARY CALLS. I TELL HER ABOUT MARGARET, THE HOMOEOPATH. She listens. She is encouraging and positive for my benefit. Her mother died of cancer, so it is hard for her. 'He might go on for another two years, everyone is different.' I know she doesn't really believe that. But I agree with her, because I know Jamie. He is 16 and a half with a will of iron.
Hilary calls. She expects bad news. But Jamie is drinking his soup, his fifth meal for the day. Adam thinks that Jamie will have to drink soup for the rest of his life and feels sorry for him. I think we should take it day-by-day, bowl-by-bowl. Adam watches Jamie and watches me watch Jamie. Adam loves Jamie. James is a legend.
Hilary calls on the fourth day after our hospital visit. Jamie is sick. He is wobbly and shaky. He vomits and I hang up. I call Margaret. 'We have to come over,' I say.
'No anti-oxidants or vitamin E - too much fat. No echinacea - too strong.' He has acupuncture. We are home now, and he eats. I sit with him while he sleeps and I stroke his perfect head. He is putting all of his energy into getting well. He puts all his energy into helping me help Margaret help him.
Hilary calls and Jamie is good. Adam, who is staying for a while, sees that Jamie is improving every hour of every day. My friend in Sydney, MG, sends an email to ask how Jamie is going. She sets up a website for us to update his progress. Mum calls - she is glad that Jamie is good but thinks I am in denial. She checks the website and calls everyday.
But everyone else stays well away, which I don't understand. Do they disapprove of our commitment to try? Are they scared that if they call, James will be dead and they won't know what to say? I think they want to wait for three months - then it'll be safe to call. I am hurt, but I shouldn't dwell on it. I want no negativity in the house. We have more important things to think about than what people think and what they can or can't cope with. In the overall scheme of things, it's not important.
Every night there is another who looks in on us. He watches over Jamie while I get some sleep. It is my Pappa, James McInnes. He died on the day I bought Jamie, nearly 17 years ago. Pappa died of cancer, all those years ago. He has been around me for a while - I didn't know why, because it seemed that others had needs greater than I. Now I know why he is here. To look after Jamie.
Pappa gives me confidence and hope. While I was waiting for Jamie's biopsy results, Pappa reassured me that Jamie would be OK. I thought that meant it would be little more than gastro. When it was terminal liver cancer, I was confused. What did you mean, Pappa? How could Jamie be OK? But he told me that he would be OK. So I take a leap of faith because I believe in him.
WATCH MY LITTLE CATS WITH JAMIE. Thandi suckles from him. Jena, too, grabs a hunk of his long, red hair and slurps away. They love him. They give him youth. They give him family. They give him reason to want to stay.
When he was first sick - dying, in fact - they gave him space. Now, two weeks later, they have come back to nestle. It's a good sign. He is recovering. He's much stronger. He no longer has soup. It's bio-dynamic chicken and organic rice and vegetables. He is very happy about this. I think that Adam feels happier about that too.
WE GO TO MARGARET'S. We go two-times a week. Jamie relaxes, except when it's time for acupuncture.
'Oh, now you stop all that fighting,' she says to him. But it's hard to ask him to stop fighting when we know that it is his will that has fought off death.
'Very cunning. Very athletic,' she says.
I laugh and Jamie wriggles again. 'Athletic - people would be surprised to hear you say that.' Nearly 17, he hardly sprints around the block.
'Yeah - but he has worked out exactly the right time to move so that I can't get the needle in, or put it in the wrong spot, or bend the blinkin' thing.' I laugh, as I often do now at Margaret's. I am so proud.
'He is responding so well to the Chelidonium, we'll leave him on that for a while,' she says. 'Arsenicum 30C only as needed, for vomiting and diarrhoea.'
'He hasn't vomited since the first couple of days. A little bit of diarrhoea, but it's just soft really, not diarrhoea. And the colour has changed, too. It's brown, not that scary orange colour it was at first.'
'Good. Nux Vom, to clear the liver, in the mornings, and the Chelidonium at night. Not too many remedies. Righto then. Good. We'll keep it simple.'
'And the Bach flowers? He has been having Olive, Hornbeam and Walnut in his water (purified water). Oh, well, first he had the Rescue Remedy, then went on to the Olive, Hornbeam and Walnut after a couple of days.'
'I think he's moved beyond that - that was for what?'
'Peace of mind, transition and will-to-live.'
'Yes, he's moved beyond that.'
'What then - cut it out?'
'Yeah, just the homoeopathy, acupuncture …'
'I have been massaging him every day, apricot oil, ylang ylang and rosemary …'
She smiles. 'He's not going anywhere.'
'What about diet?'
'I think you might need to give him more protein and calcium - he's not getting any bones now. Does he like tofu?'
'Jamie eats everything.'
'OK, good, add tofu, and some calcium - a teaspoon every day. Righto then. Good.'
James sleeps in the car. He is always tired after acupuncture. And hungry. At home, he eats everything. For Jamie, illness and old age bring five meals a day. Every cloud has a silver lining.
My mother thinks that this will be Jamie's last Christmas. I don't think about that. I am just glad that he is here, now. I am horrified that he eats a kilo of sugared cashews that Adam has left on the floor.
'It could have killed him', I say. But it didn't - didn't even make him sick, and I think how well he is going.
We have a great time at Christmas. Mum is here, Adam, my Jamie, Thandi and Jena. I cry, though, because it is my first Christmas without my Nanna. Jamie comes into the bedroom and flops in front of me. I stop crying because he calms me down and makes me happy. He's always by my side.
I WALK INTO THE LOUNGE ROOM AND JAMIE IS ASLEEP ON THE CHAIR. His chair. No-one else sits there, because they know it's his chair. Adam says that Margaret had rung.
'I couldn't really understand her - she's hard to understand on the phone, isn't she?'
'She's Irish', I say.
'No, she was really excited - she talks really fast.'
I freeze. What did she say? I wonder. But I don't ask. I have become too accustomed to telepathic communication. I wait for Adam to tell me.
'She says that his blood tests were clear, his liver function is normal - I think that's what she said. She asked for you to ring her.'
I drop the glass I am holding and spin around to face him. 'Clear? His liver function is normal?' I scream. I can't stop smiling. I look at Jamie - cool as a cucumber, asleep on the chair. 'Told you', he says. 'I believe in you.'
I call Margaret and it's true.
'I thought that when you went to see her that the only thing that we could hope for was comfort. Not this,' says Adam, 'not this.'
'This is my best birthday, ever', I say. 'What better birthday present can I have than Jamie's health? Than Jamie's life? Than Jamie?' I giggle for a whole week. Jamie humours me.
FRIENDS VISIT. Three months after Jamie was first sick. I don't really understand them. I guess I still feel hurt. But, I muse, it's like any hair-pin bend in your life - you lose friends and gain others. You get awful surprises, but good ones too. It's weird, though, and I wonder who is hitch-hiking on the road ahead.
We walk in the park, James and I. Often we sit and watch the younger dogs chase balls, jump on each other's heads and pull at one another's floppy jaws. Jamie is content to watch and pee on the trees. To smell the grass. Most of all he is just happy to sit beside me and talk, as we do. To watch, listen and hang out. I often think, when we are sitting still in the park, that if time stopped right then, at that moment, I would be perfectly happy. Perfectly content. It's always perfect, with Jamie.
Home is pretty perfect too. We burn essential oils - ylang ylang and rosemary are our time-honoured favourites because that synergy is recommended for liver cancer. But we also delight in lavender, rose and ylang ylang, sandalwood, jasmine and neroli, grapefruit, ginger and lime. Over the past few months we have spent more time at home. It's another one of our hang-outs. We watch our fish nibble at duck-weed roots. Listen to the wind-chimes hanging in the trees. Admire Thandi and Jena jumping fences, climbing trees and leaping over the pond. We sit still, Jamie and I.
THANDI JUMPS AND SO DO I. Out of bed to be beside Jamie. I am terrified. Is he dying?
I tell him that he's not, and to hang on - that he will be OK. He is convulsing. He's having some sort of fit. I clear the area, but rest my hand on his head. His legs are in spasm. Now, he is limp. Oh God, oh God. He is breathing, but not moving. I reassure him. I love you, Jamie, love you, love you, love you.
He's frantic. He runs to the kitchen. Runs outside. He runs. Runs. Runs. He is 17 years old, blind, and doesn't run. But it's 5am and he is running. I give him Vervain. I baste his head and temples with lavender oil. More Vervain. And more.
I am frantic. I take Rescue Remedy. Helps me think. I stay calm.
He's starving, so I feed him. I don't know what I am supposed to do because I don't know what has happened. If he's hungry, though, I don't think it's a fit caused by liver dysfunction. He's not in pain. But I don't know. He's my dog and I don't know.
He is a little calmer - a little, and we go to Margaret's. I call her and tell her to expect us on her doorstep by 7.00am. No option, poor Margaret, we're coming.
We arrive, and he's normal. I tell Margaret everything. I have learnt that no amount of detail bores a homoeopath.
'Hunger and the quick recovery indicates that it is an epileptic fit, not to do with the liver,' she confirmed.
'What caused it?'
'I don't know - could be a few things.' Margaret was worried. It was an added complication. She wipes her face. She gives us Belladonna 30C to prevent the fits. She says to give it to him every day for three days, then three-times a week.
James sleeps with me so that I can watch him. I try to work out the puzzle. It's a cold July. I keep him warm. He has a couple of fleas and is scratching. Maybe he has an allergy to fleas and that set him off? Margaret thinks that unlikely, but is not dismissive. I make some aromatherapy flea repellent and some skin lotion. Nothing chemical - we are trying to boost his immune system, not bombard or deplete it.
'It may be the chelidonium - you know, because homoeopathy treats by similars, the same remedy that has helped may then start to aggravate.'
'So is that a good sign?'
'It could be, or maybe not. It may be that his system has sufficiently recovered and no longer needs it, or is reacting to it. Or, it may be that his system is gradually weakening - he is 17 years old - and that he can no longer take the stimulation. Anyway, we have to change. We will try remedies with the same base, but not as strong.'
Lycopodium 6X, Ptelia 30C and other dilutions of chelidonium - aggravates, then improves. But the aggravation is too risky. Belladonna keeps fits at bay. I see that Margaret is frustrated. She is positive and says she will find alternatives. I know that she feels we are running out of options. I do not speak, but I ask her not to give up on us. I will not give up on Jamie, he will not give up on me and we will not give up on her. She gets it.
Jamie is good. He is peaceful, and I am glad I have taken time off night-work to sit with him on the couch. He lies outstretched, his head on my lap. Thandi and Jena curl across his belly. They suck his hair. They do their 'cat-grooming thing'. It's a perfect place to hang out. A perfect point for time to stop.
But it doesn't and never has. We are always in eternity. We are there now. That means, I mused, that a soul mate, someone who is with you for eternity, doesn't wait at the end of the rainbow - they are always with you.
I TAKE JAMIE TO THE TOILET at three in the morning. Walking back, I see myself as an old, old lady - a South American woman walking through the Amazon rainforest. A wolf walks lazily beside me. I carry a bag across my shoulder, full of herbs. It scares me, a bit. I look down and Jamie is walking lazily beside me and I don't worry. 'Always', he says.
It's Jamie's 18th birthday and I am so proud. We go to the park with the rose garden. I remember sitting there with my Nanna, before she went to the nursing home. She said, 'When I die, come and meet me here.' I will, Nanna.
English lavender borders the rose garden and it smells like home. Jamie and I sit together. Every birthday, we come here. There is an old fig tree, an 80-year-old fig tree, where people go to remember loved ones. Many ashes have been strewn over its protruding roots. We rest against that fig tree and remember those people, and Nanna, and all of the birthdays, and Christmases that we have spent together at that fig tree, at that park. Time spent together, we'll always remember.
Jamie is very tired. He is good, but very tired. We sit on the couch and he tells me something.
I DECIDE TO BUY JAMIE AN AIR-CONDITIONER as an early Christmas present, to ward off the heat wave. Thirty-five degrees is too much for an 18-year-old dog and I worry. Of course, Jamie is cool, but I worry.
The temperature is 15 degrees today, and I wonder why I bothered with an air- conditioner. Probably because we live in Melbourne and some things, you just can't control. Jamie is asleep. I wonder if I should wake him because we are due at Margaret's for acupuncture and a check-up. He saunters down the hall. He goes outside for a wee but doesn't come back. I get him - it's cold and raining - a sudden drop in temperature. Some things you just can't control.
I carry him into Margaret's. 'He's been fine, Margaret, until this morning. He's got no energy. No other symptoms. Maybe it's just the sudden change in weather?'
Margaret doesn't say anything. His gums are a pale, pale pink. His spirit is calm. He does not resist acupuncture today. We are silent.
'Maybe it's just the weather,' I repeat.
Margaret gives him Rescue Remedy, the concentrated version. She gives me Carbo Veg for the pallor and low temperature. 'Give it to him every hour - or if he worsens, every 15 minutes. Yes,' she says, 'probably just the weather.'
I smile and hand her The Little Prince. 'It is Jamie's 12-month anniversary of recovery. A year ago, we were handed a death sentence. Thank you, for everything.'
I wrap Jamie in a blanket and rest him in the warm cosy study. I check his temperature - he is cold; I check his breathing - it is laboured. He sleeps.
He rises and looks for me. I follow him outside. I catch him as he collapses. He is convulsing and I am terrified. It is a shock - get anything to help - Rescue Remedy, Vervain, lavender oil, Belladonna and Carbo Veg. I can't control it. Can't control it. I am losing him. He is in pain - pain because he is hanging on and can hang on no longer. 'Jamie, if you need to go, then go you must. I'll never leave you. It's OK, my James, I'll be OK. We'll be OK.'
He stops breathing. I do not stop holding him. I never stop loving him.
There is a feeling like no other. I hear him in my mind. I feel him through emotion. I see him in a warm, yellow light that has encased me. His spirit radiates love and devotion. It can only be his soul. He repeats what he had told me on the couch. 'I cannot hold on for much longer, but I am always with you. Always.'