31st July 2023

Tuesday 18 July | I’ve started this post in my head so many times, but never quite figured out how to put the words down. And before you think, what’s happened?? Don’t worry, we’re okay. We’re okay now.

But June was awful, and I don’t want to write it all here. If you follow the lads on Instagram you’ll already know that Harris was very ill indeed, and I wrote about this in such detail there that I don’t want to go into this journey again here. But those days, between Wednesday 7 June, when the large mass was first discovered in Harris’s chest, and Sunday 11 June, when he had major surgery, and Friday 16 June, when he came home from the Dick Vet hospital, were the most traumatic days of our lives. I don’t say that lightly. They were.

And then there was the recovery, as Harris gained strength and as his lungs – previously compressed by the mass to the point where he was struggling to breathe and could no longer breathe without oxygen prior to surgery – were slowly healing. Every step of that. All the fears. Waiting to hear back from the oncology vet, Charlie Hawkes, to determine whether there were signs of metastasis. There weren’t. The relief of this.

And then more healing, and a repeat CT scan on Monday 17 July, back at the Dick Vet with Charlie, to check whether Harris’s chest was still clear five weeks after surgery. It was, and his lungs had recovered, which felt remarkable to us. The discharge instructions read: ‘Respiratory rate 24, effort normal, chest auscultation clear in all lung fields …’ Chest auscultation clear in all lung fields: a sentence I’d never even seen before but there it was, this important fact.

Also, in the ‘further information’ section Charlie had written: ‘His CT showed resolution of the previous thymoma. This is fantastic news.’ It is fantastic news, it’s the very best news, and while Harris will be getting a follow-up CT scan of his chest and abdomen every three months now (Monday’s scan was the ‘baseline’ to measure against future scans), and while the worries are ongoing, I need to keep clarifying this in my mind: don’t let the worry overwhelm the fantastic bit. Because I worry every single day now. Richard does too. We watch and we worry.

A friend said to me: “Live between check-ups because they can’t rule your lives.” And that’s what we’re determined to do.

Which brings me back to this walk, and to this Tuesday night on July 18, the day following Harris’s CT scan. He’d been too woozy and tired from the sedation to go anywhere on the Monday evening, but by Tuesday night we were all ready for a walk. And not just any walk. While Harris’s thoracic incision was healing we’d stayed away from the beach – and from the sandy paths at John Muir. In the discharge instructions from hospital, when Harris returned home after 10 days in ICU, sand was highlighted as being a surface to avoid, particularly given the incision site and the fact that Harris’s chest is in the sand on beach walks. We were very, very careful on those early days and weeks of recovery.

Charlie checked the incision site and told us it was fully healed, so Harris could return to normal walks. “There’s no reason that he can’t do what he was doing six months ago,” he said. We knew that our first beach walk had to be back here, at Yellowcraig. I can’t put into words how good this felt. A simple walk we’ve done hundreds of times over the years, but being back here together, winding alongside the dunes before spilling down onto this wide expanse of sand at low tide, and watching the lads run and sniff and run; watching Harris not just relaxed but joyful, joyful as he ran and as he paused to look up, completely engaged, his eyes bright and eager – this was everything to us.

I mean, look at him!

I didn’t take many photos on this walk as I was mostly shooting video for Insta stories and reels, which tends to be my default mode now. Video first, photos second. I shared a short(ish) reel from this walk here, from the moments when we first walked down onto the beach together.

I can’t end this post without mentioning the people who got us here. The people who saved Harris’s life, both in the crucial days in ICU before surgery, during surgery, and in the equally crucial days in ICU after surgery when Harris was still struggling to breathe. I wish I knew everyone’s names.

So this is dedicated to the surgical team, including the anaesthetist (we were told before surgery that the impact of the mass, specifically on Harris’s lungs, might have meant that he couldn’t cope with anaesthesia) and the two surgeons, Tim Menghini and Christos Dorlis, who spent hours removing this mass from Harris’s tiny chest.

And it is dedicated to the ICU veterinary team, including Chris Ray, who was our first point of contact and who called with our daily updates. Chris’s calm, concise, intuitive and compassionate manner guided us through those awful days. Also Marta Garcia, who released Harris home to our care on that Friday, along with Daria Starybrat and Johanna Wolf. To the entire ICU team who looked after our boy 24/7, through the hours of sleep and the hours of struggle.

We’re grateful for everything. We’re grateful for the days together, and the adventures. For all the simple things that we can still experience together, as a family. As I said on Instagram, Harris made me a Mum, he made Richard a Dad. So yes, this means everything.

Yellowcraig, East Lothian, July 2023.