Dogs get cancer, too

In case you thought they didn’t, or just never thought about it before, animals get cancer just like humans. Cancer that develops in dogs is called “canine cancer.” It sucks just as much as regular cancer.

I was in the second group from above—I never even thought about animals, much less pets, getting cancer. It never crossed my mind. Until Dec. 2, 2010 when our dog was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Being a fairly heavy first-time experience, and being uncertain about the outcome, I’ve referenced but not gone into detail about this topic. However, eight months later, I’m finally feeling up for sharing the story. I scheduled  this post for today a few weeks ago and it turns out it’s impeccable timing.

This is our story…

Nov. 15, 2010: While blow drying Alaska’s belly after a bath, I felt two small egg-sized lumps in her abdomen where her body and back legs meet.

Nov. 22, 2010: I took Alaska to the vet to get explanation for large lumps. Vet says they are an allergic reaction to something (maybe fleas?). We leave with a steroid pack and a follow-up appointment.

Nov.   29, 2010: Follow-up appointment at the vet reveals the lumps had not diminished. Vet says she needs to aspirate (take fluid from) them and analyze it. Probably a severe allergy, it could be something worse but we’ll wait and see.

Dec. 2, 2010: Still no word from the vet office so I call to check in. The receptionist puts the doctor on the phone who says, “Oh yes. We did get those labs back. Alaska has lymphoma. You’ll need to make an appointment at the Southeast Veterinary Oncology (SEVO) office across town.”

Dec. 8, 2010: First appointment at SEVO with Dr. Tracy LaDue. She confirms it is Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and that without treatment we could expect her to survive 30 days or less. They offer chemotherapy at different ranges. The most effective one should buy her 6 months to 1 year and costs approximately $5,000. We leave to discuss our options. They give her a shot called L-asparaginase that kills all the cancer cells and put her in complete remission for a short while.

Belly rubs as we wait for the doctor.

Dec. 9, 2010: I calmly and scientifically tell my Mom over the phone that her granddog has the same cancer that took her father. She has trouble talking through being choked up. I’m immediately uneasy since I can count on one hand the times I’ve witnessed my Mom cry.

Dec.  10, 2010: Jeremy and I discuss our options and decide to pursue a mid-range option. A once-a-month oral chemotherapy called Lomustine. At a cost around $400 per visit, it is less stressful for Alaska and our bank accounts than the weekly IV treatments and should still buy her 3 – 6 months. Alaska remains in complete remission.

Jeremy giving some love as we wait for our discharge papers.

Dec.  10-17, 2010: Jeremy and I cry for the first time since getting the news. Together, on the floor. We cuddle and hold Alaska; she is confused. I then continue to cry in my cube, in my car and pretty much at the drop of a hat during everything from herpes medication commercials on TV to just laying in bed.

So happy to spend Christmas with her. We set up a special bed in front of the tree and made a paw print ornament.

Jan.  10, 2011: Second Lomustine treatment. Alaska’s anemic. We put her on a liquid vitamin called Pet-Tinic. SEVO also recommends putting Alaska on vitamins to help protect her liver from the chemo and steroids. Alaska remains in complete remission.


Feb.  7, 2011: Third lomustine treatment. We meet Dr. Locke for the first time. She is awesome. Despite daily doses of SAM-e and milk thistle, Alaska’s liver enzymes are too high and we switch her steroid from Prednisone to Predisolone. It’s supposedly easier on the liver…why weren’t we using that the whole time? Alaska remains in complete remission.

By now, we have a vitamin store in our house.

Mar. 7, 2011: Fourth Lomustine treatment. Liver enzymes are still elevated but under control. She looks and acts as if nothing is wrong. She done having to go to SEVO despite all the treats and attention, which she certainly doesn’t decline. She just adds growling at everyone (staff and other patients) and peeing on the nurse who takes her back for tests, like stool samples. Alaska remains in complete remission.

Please say we can leave. I don't want to pee on them, but I will.

Apr. 11, 2011: Fifth Lomustine treatment. Lots of praise from the doctors about her overall health, energy and trooperness (they are lovely and supportive even though she does not return the love). Alaska remains in complete remission.

Springtime at the beach and life is all sunshine and roses.

May 23, 2011: Exciting and scary final Lomustine treatment. Because her response has been best-case scenario, we decide to give her body a break from the chemo and just enjoy. Alaska remains in complete remission.

Yes! Open this door and I'm outta here.

May 24 – Aug. 3, 2011: Two and a half glorious free months for Alaska. I am terrified she will die with every cough, wheeze, refused food or snotty nose. I check her belly for lumps daily. We also celebrate her with way too many treats and couch time daily. Thankful she responded so wonderfully to treatment that we tease the whole thing was a sham to get our money because she is the healthiest, happiest dog ever.

Do I look sick to you?

Aug. 4, 2011: I feel like some little things, like snubbing regular food (not wet food or treats!) and occasionally weak back legs, are adding up and I’d be more comfortable with a general check-up for personal peace of mind. I make an appointment with SEVO.

Aug. 8, 2011: SEVO appointment with a just-out-of-surgery-Jeremy in tow. The happy-mainly-for-my-own-sake, routine check-up takes a turn when Dr. Locke comes in to tell us she felt a new lump. It is not in her abdominal nodes like before. Instead, she has a golf ball-sized lump filled with cancer cells in her prescapular lymph node (before/above the shoulder). I think it’s ironic it would show up there of all the lymph nodes since Jeremy just had his shoulder surgery. She gets the L-spar shot, which puts her in immediate remission again. We are back at square one–and leave with new prescriptions, chemotherapy pills, an hour and a half at the office and a $700 bill.

Not feeling so hot.

Just three days on steroids and after the L-Spar, you can tell she is feeling great—-prancing and scarfing down food like she is a puppy. She gets her chemo pills Friday (the 12th).

It's serious stuff...even the packaging is intense.

In a weird way, I’m happy to be at it again because at least it’s action that we have control over rather than just guessing week after week. I know it won’t be a permanent fix. I try not to think about it. Sometimes it hits me and I feel devastated even though she’s still here. Other times I’m embarrassed and think  “it’s just a dog;” I knew she wouldn’t be with me forever. Then I feel worse.

Since she did so well the first round, we’re very optimistic for the second round. It’s also nice (sort of) knowing what to expect. Unfortunately, this process is now a familiar one. But we will continue to be grateful for every day with her. Play and cuddle and try to act like nothing’s wrong.

I also can’t end this post without saying thank you to all our sweet friends and family who have sent prayers, hugs and support.

Also, to the Greenies company…

I'll do anything you want, just gimme the pocket!

We give Alaska so many pills on a regular basis (three, daily, to be exact) that we go through two packages of Pill Pockets per month. We’ve tried lots of other ways to hide them (and have just tossed them down her throat). But Pill Pockets are the best. Clean and easy pill administration, and no hold-her-snout-and-rub-her-throat-until-she-swallows mess either.  And she gets a treat out of it, which we can’t help but give her anyways. She’s sick…and did you see the pictures above? Can’t turn down that face. 🙂


7 responses to “Dogs get cancer, too

  1. So touched my heart with your post, I’m all chocked up. Alaska is such a part of your family, she has been there with you guys and gives you so much joy and love. Hands down its worth it to try anything that will keep her with you longer, as long as you can afford it. Of course reguardless none of us lasts forever, whether dog or person, and one day we all will say goodbye. Go day to day and enjoy her company and love.

    • Thank you Penny! We adopted Alaska (not planned BTW) from the pound three days before she was to be euthanized after being thrown over the fence with her sister one night. She was six weeks old. That was 2003, just 5 or so months after Jeremy and I started dating. We’ve always been a trio. I appreciate your perspective, too. It was easy for me to stress and feel like I was just waiting for her to die. It was a horrible feeling. Then I had a morbid realization. We’re all on a countdown…we just so happen to know her most-likely cause and timing. So I stopped looking at it like waiting and saved myself the eggshell walking. It will be hard one day, but it shouldn’t be now!

  2. I am so sorry to hear about Alaska. I remember when she was just a little pup. She was one of the happiest dogs I’ve ever met. Losing Syd was one of the hardest moments, because he really was like my baby. I am praying for Alaska, and I hope she continues to do well.

    • Oh my goodness, Jess. Just the other day Jeremy and I were watching a black lab bring a toy to his owner and growl like it was the worst fight ever before the owner ever touched it. I said, “He’s just like Syd!” LOL! Such a sweetheart and I my heart felt for you when I heard he passed. I’m so glad we have those memories with him and you. Can you believe that was 8 years ago?! Thank you for the sweet thoughts.

  3. Thank you for writing this! I did not realize that dogs got cancer as well until our family dog Daisy was diagnosed this past Thanksgiving. We probably spent close to the same amount of money on her as the vet proceeded to make incorrect diagnosis time and time again while Daisy slowly got sicker. By the time that they realized she had cancer, we were also in the 30-day range but without the option of chemotherapy. We were told not to expect her to survive through Christmas, but she was able to, which was the biggest blessing. We put her down on December 30 (her 10th birthday) and it was the hardest thing to do. I remember spending basically that entire 30 day period crying like there was no tomorrow. Just because our pets are animals does not make them any less a part of our immediate families. My two dogs ARE my children, and I completely understand where you are coming from. I am so glad that Alaska has prevailed as well as she has and I hope that she continues to thrive with these medications. Never feel bad about the attachment you have to Alaska. TRUE dog people completely understand how much she means to you.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your dog Daisy! I’m so glad you shared your experience as well, I can’t believe how similar the timing was. It’s not a happy chat but I think sticking together and talking to people who ‘get it’ really helps.

  4. Pingback: A hard goodbye | Greenhorn Living

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