Last week, I took the piggies in for a routine vet visit. It was time for their annual exam. The vet checked their eyes & ears, teeth & paws, then did a body exam. Gia got a clean bill of health. “Perfect! A little overweight, but overall, perfect,” the vet said.
Next up, Molly. Again the vet checked her eyes & ears, teeth & paws, then the body exam. “Hmm...” she said. After a few minutes of lots more gentle-but-firm prodding, she inquired about their diet. The quantities and types of food they were eating were all within the healthy range. “Molly is definitely overweight, too, but guinea pigs are prone to weight gain so that doesn’t concern me as much. What concerns me are her lymph nodes.”
Apparently all of Molly’s lymph nodes were severely enlarged. The vet let me feel and it was like little gum balls were stuck under her fur. She told me it could possibly just be an infection, so she was sending Molly home with some antibiotics just in case, but she wanted to do an aspiration because there was a much greater chance it was something more serious. Lymphoma. Molly showed no other signs of being sick - her eyes were clear and bright, her coat is shiny, and she still has lots of energy and a very hearty appetite (as the scale proved). I knew in my gut it wasn’t just an infection, so I cuddled my little piggy and handed her over to the vet to take her back for the aspiration. While waiting those long fifteen minutes in the reception area for her to return, I just kept repeating in my head, “It’s just an infection. It’s just an infection.”
After what felt like hours, the vet finally returned with Molly in her carrier. Gia had been waiting patiently, too, so I rewarded them both with a blueberry. Overweight-ness be damned. We went up to the counter to pay our bill and Molly immediately charmed the vet techs and staff. They all ooh’ed and ah’ed over her cute little white tuft of hair, her chipper squeaks and sweet little piggy kisses (Molly will lick the hand of just about anyone who pets her). I opened her carrier so they could get a better glimpse at my little piggy love and they just couldn’t stop petting her. Molly reveled in the attention, while Gia, true to her shy self, just laid down in the back of the carrier waiting patiently till it was time to go home.
We came home and started Molly on the antibiotics as the vet instructed. “It’s just an infection. It’s just an infection.” Molly, ever the model patient, gulped down her meds like a pro and went on to play with Gia and munch on some hay. We instituted a ‘no more fruit’ diet for the two of them to hopefully get them back to normal weight. Just veggies, pellets, and hay for these two fatties. The next day, the vet called to check in on them. “The lab results won’t be back in until Tuesday or Wednesday but I just wanted to see how Molly was doing.” She said we could try feeling her lymph nodes in another day or two to see if the swelling went down. If so, that would be a sure sign it was just an infection.
Tuesday rolled around and Molly & Gia seemed to have more energy than normal, so I let them come out for a little bit of play time while I took a lunch break from work. I gently felt for Molly’s lymph nodes in her neck and they felt exactly the same, despite four days of antibiotics. My stomach knotted up. “Maybe it’s just a really severe infection,” I told myself. “Maybe she’ll just need a few extra days of antibiotics to clear it up and that’s why the swelling hasn’t gone down yet.” But still, I feared the worst.
About an hour or so after lunch, the phone rang. It was the vet. My heart started pounding and I almost didn’t answer because I was afraid of the news she’d deliver. “The lab results are back. Unfortunately ...” I started to cry as soon as she said that word. “Unfortunately, it’s lymphoma. It’s at an intermediate stage, which is fairly advanced. For guinea pigs, this is untreatable.” She said in some other animals, dogs and cats for example, chemotherapy is sometimes an option. But the chemo meds just don’t work the same in guinea pigs. Their already-sensitive digestive systems shut down and often they die sooner from complications than they would if the lymphoma were just left alone. “So what can we do for her?” I stammered out through tears. “Keep her comfortable, give her all her favorite foods, and shower her with love.”
She said the disease progresses rapidly and Molly most likely only has about 2-5 weeks, but some guinea pigs have lived up to two months with it. Either way, that’s not nearly enough time. I’ve been crying off and on ever since hearing the news. In fact, it’s a good thing this is a typed blog post rather than handwritten because it’d hardly be legible for all the tear stains. Molly has been my little buddy, my little companion for almost four full years now. She was my roommate when I lived alone for the first time in my life in Sacramento. She kept me company and gave me something to look forward to at the end of each day. She got me through a rough year at my old firm and let me start everyday with a smile, just by greeting me with her happy squeaks and purrs each morning. When I moved to San Francisco and started working from home, she was my little sidekick through long days alone in the apartment, resting in my lap while I edited photos or playing under my desk as I answered emails and scheduled consultations. To say I’m attached to her would be an understatement. And I want more time. Four years is not nearly enough. She still so active and vibrant, loving and intelligent, and it’s unfair that she won’t get to be here to enjoy life the way she has the last few years.
And I think she’s a bit attached to us, too. When she’s out playing with Gia, she’ll often come over and stand on her hind legs, reaching her front little paws up my leg begging to be held, much like a child lifts their arms to you when they want to be picked up. She naps in my lap, using my arm as her own personal pillow. Or she’ll crawl up my chest and snuggle into my neck, giving me little guinea pig kisses before she dozes off. She loves cuddling with The Husband, too, but sometimes she’ll hop out of his lap, waddle across the couch, and climb into mine. She’s our little baby and it breaks my heart to know she won’t be here much longer. It breaks my heart to know she won’t get to meet her first human sibling, too. She loves when we get down on the floor to play with her and I’m convinced she would make tummy time and learning to crawl loads more fun for any baby. It breaks my heart to know Gia, who’s as attached to Molly as I am, if not more so, won’t have her best friend and piggy sister to play with much longer, either. Gia was such a scared, shy little thing when we first brought her home and Molly has helped her come out of her shell and blossom into a quirky, playful (but still a bit shy) little guinea pig. Gia bonded to Molly the first day they met, following her wherever she went. They chase each other around the living room and play tug-of-war with their chew toys. Even though Molly has a bad habit of stealing Gia’s food, Gia doesn’t seem to mind. She happily shares with her pig sister, knowing mom or dad will always give her a little more.
|Top: Molly & Gia, meeting for the first time|
Molly still seems to be feeling well. In fact, if not for the lab results you’d never guess she was sick. She bolts out of her pigloo in the mornings, eager for her pellets-and-blueberries breakfast. She purrs loudly when I call her name or pet her while she munches on fresh hay. She’s still active with her toys and enjoys her play time outside of her cage. But we know that won’t last long. “When you see a decline in her quality of life, -loss of appetite, lethargy, weight loss- call me and we can discuss your options for euthanasia at that point.” Right now, I can’t bear the thought. I’m still in denial, I think, convinced that Molly will somehow prove to be the one guinea pig that lives for years with this disease. She’s proven to be quite a unique little critter up to this point, why shouldn’t she defy the odds in this, too? But I also know deep down inside that’s unrealistic and the last thing I want is for her to suffer. She’s brought so much joy and happiness to our lives and she deserves the same in return. So in the mean time, we’ll continue to give her all her favorite foods (diet be damned) and shower her with the attention she so loves. She’s our baby and we love her deeply, and we want her to know it right up until the end. However soon that may be.