Standing at the intersection of hope, fear and gratitude

September 1, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

(Saturday, Sept. 1) In less than 72 hours, at 8:30am on Tuesday, Sept 4, I will drop Shayna off at Virgina Veterinary Specialists for the operation to remove the tumor from her liver.   Although I originally intended to not work at all during these lead-up days, so I could spend extended, uninterrupted time with Shayna, when I attempted to do this for even a brief stretch of time, she became quite suspicious.

Those who are familiar with Shayna know that this is no exaggeration, or wishful thinking; she is extremely sensitive, and wickedly smart, and can readily detect what, in Star Wars terminology, would be termed a “disruption in the Force.”  Anyone who doubts this need only see this video, and particular, about the 8:00 mark. So although we will be taking a little road trip to the beach either tomorrow or Monday, for now, the best thing is for me — for us — to keep as normal of a schedule as possible.

This has given me time to think, about the position in which I find myself.  And the best way to describe it is being at the intersection of hope, fear and gratitude:


Shayna’s surgeon, Dr. Kevin Stiffler, examined Shayna, explained his assessment of her diagnostic data, and his extensive experience in this sort of surgery. He said that based on everything he’s seen regarding her, and all his experience, barring any unforeseen complications, he predicts a 90-95% chance of success, defined as removing all or the vast majority of it, her making a full recovery, in part with the aid of Dr. Raab’s holistic therapy. That is not to say that whatever it is won’t come back, but hopefully, he will get it all. He said that she should be in and out of the hospital in 24 hours.

So I clearly have a lot of reason to be hopeful.

Note of nostalgia: This will be the first night in over ten years, since Shayna’s spay surgery, that we’ve spent apart.  We’ve traveled throughout the U.S. together, and as I work out of my home, we spend most of our time together.  


It’s easy to understand why I would feel fear at a time like this.  But something over the past few weeks has been nagging at me, and about five days ago, i finally figured out what it was: that as a first-time dog “dad,” I have to train myself to surgically separate my fear for Shayna, from my fear for myself.  Because while they would seem to be one in the same, they are not.

Of course, I can fear something going wrong with the surgery.  But what was gnawing at me was, in large part, selfish fear – meaning, fear of the kind of pain that I would feel, dictated by the degree of the negative outcome.  And in turn, I’ve had to train myself to focus completely on allaying my fear for Shayna, by doing everything I can to keep everything in her life as normal and predictably enjoyable as ever, and maybe just a little bit sweeter.

To accomplish this mission, I am retreating to my office, and closing the door, whenever I feel the emotional pressure is getting to be too much, and the tears start coming.  As noted in this video, I don’t think Shayna had ever seen me cry, prior to July 29, 2012.  She’d seen me angry, frustrated, and sad, but never openly crying.  Yet she instantly knew that this is something very serious, and very unusual, that would benefit from her loving kindness – which this very-unaffectionate dog showered on me, in that instant.


As hope and fear are tossed about in my spirit like a tiny boat upon a violent ocean, I force my mind to gravitate to, and wrap its arms around one additional feeling: gratitude.  Because no matter what happens on Tuesday, or the next day, or the day after that, or years from now, as I describe in the fundraising video I recently created for Shayna’s surgery, since I adopted her more than ten years ago, every day has made me feel like I was given the dog that was custom-made for me, who was uniquely suited to help heal me, and that I enjoy the canine-human love of a lifetime.

In the book I’m writing about these experiences, “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From A Miracle Dog,” I describe my feeling that after all the shame, pain and humiliation that defined my childhood, in this one, narrow regard, I feel like I hit the cosmic jackpot.  I cannot even imagine a more perfect, more complete love and mutual respect than the what Shayna and I enjoy, every day.  Yes, I realize that Shayna is “just a dog,” at least in the physical sense.  But in the spiritual and intellectual sense, she is bigger than life; people who meet her and a really tuned into where she is pick this up immediately – particularly senior citizens.  To validate this, I recently began doing events at the local senior center, and she got as much out of it as her audience.

I also remind myself to feel gratitude for all the people who have played such a positive role in our lives – many of whom I only met as a result of being with Shayna.  People such as my guardian angels, Gloria and Sarah; Shayna’s two sets of “godparents,” Harvey and Margaret, and Chuck and Adelle; our veterinarians Dr. Raab, Dr. Hay, and Shayna’s surgeon, Dr. Stiffler; our friend-vet Courtney; my cousin Eileen, Aunt Wink and other dear friends, the folks at Petsmart-Forest Lakes; and all the others who have enlightened and enriched our lives. Special thanks go to Howard Arnn, a social media techie consultant who helped get the “Save Shayna” campaign off the ground (in fact, he suggested the idea), and Rusty at Jawa Report, a popular group blog, who posted this brief article about Shayna.

Update: Sunday, Sept. 2

Later today, I will be driving to the Virginia Beach area with Shayna, so we can at least have a very mini-vacation before her surgery on Tuesday.  We’ve only been there once before, six years ago.  See the pics of our wonderful time there at the bottom of this page.  An excerpt:

Shayna at Virginia Beach, November 2006

And as it turns out, we only had one very brief camping trip since then; that’s been the extent of our “vacations,” I’m sorry to say.  Yes, we’ve been to Washington, DC several times, briefly, but I don’t consider that to be “vacations,” as they were work-related.  Yes, we had fun, but my time and attention were divided.  Today and tomorrow, all my attention will be on her.

As I was finishing up this article, it occurred to me that there’s another reason why I want to take Shayna to the beach, today – so she can see her first sunrise over the ocean, tomorrow.  If I remember correctly, we stayed out late the nights we spent at the ocean and got out only mid-morning.  What prompted this desire, was a memory of things I’d seen – and photographed – shortly after my recent ex-girlfriend, Patricia, passed away in Florida, shortly before 9/11.  As I describe in my upcoming book, I spent the last three weeks of her life with her in the Cleveland Clinic ICU, watching as incurable cancer ravaged her body, which only a few weeks earlier was that of a healthy 40 year old beauty.  I was the last holdout to authorize the discontinuation of life support, as her organs began failing.  Patricia passed away on my mother’s birthday – May 31.  I stood on the beach that night, weeping, hopeful that they would finally have a chance to meet, in heaven (my mom passed several years earlier). Several days later, her family and I spread Patricia’s ashes over the Atlantic Ocean from a charter boat, as she’d requested.  Learn more about Patricia, and the impact she had on my life, here.

And a few mornings later, I saw – and photographed – an amazing array of what I call my “Sunrays Series” of photographs.  They have never been published anywhere.  Here is one of them, highly compressed:

I want Shayna to see her first sunrise over the ocean, with me, tomorrow.

With any luck, it will be the first of many more to come.  If you are a praying person, please say one for her.  If you aren’t, please at least send positive thoughts to her, and to Dr. Stiffler, her surgeon.

Also, keep an eye on Shayna’s Facebook page for updates from the road.

Continued at “Our brief, pre-surgical trip to Virginia Beach”




Filed in: Life with Shayna, The Blog

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