My Dog Has Cancer

Alexander and Amadeus came to me when they were seven weeks old – part of a litter of 7 that were rescued from a neglectful situation. They were being fed cat food with whole milk poured over it. At seven weeks. After some vet care and fluids for Amadeus who was dehydrated, they spent weeks catching up nutrition wise with incredible quantities of puppy formula and lots of attention from my big dogs, Mona and Jack.

Nearly 13 years later, Jack and Mona have departed leaving “the boys” and their little sister, Ana who is literally 80 lbs smaller than either of them. They are elder gentleman dogs who still enjoy a good Kong filled with peanut butter, still try to sneak cat food at any opportunity and still like to bark at the world as it passes by.

Pet Portrait
Amadeus, Ana and Alexander in a rare moment of absolute stillness

Their health is fair. Both has some arthritis and smaller other issues, but they can walk, eat, drink, bark and enjoy life so we are appreciating every moment while we can.

Last month, Laura noticed a growth on Xander’s leg. It was a Saturday afternoon – too late to call the vet. I checked with the dog massage therapist (arthritis) and she confirmed it wasn’t there during her last visit. So I did what any normal dog owner would do – obsessively Googled after making sure he wasn’t in pain or discomfort or bleeding, etc. Monday I called the vet and were there in a few hours. We learned that he has a soft tissue carcinoma – it is a tumor that is cancerous but probably not mestatasized and probably not spreading (can’t be sure.) The bad news was that it had to be removed surgically and soon because it would continue to grow and eventually compromise his comfort and perhaps his ability to work.

We had previously sworn no extreme treatments for 13-year-old dogs. But … if he doesn’t have surgery, he’ll definitely end up with a poor quality of life, in days or weeks or months. So surgery it is … next week.  The odds are good.

The best case scenario is that they remove the tumor, stitch him up and he gets to come home that same night.  The pathology tests show no evidence of cancer cells.  He’s grumpy, but doesn’t need a cone. He can navigate the stairs and recuperates in front of our lovely Christmas tree atwinkle with the lights ushering him into his elder years.

The worst case scenario is that he needs radiation and has to wear a cone. This panics him, his brother and the Chihuahua. All trips to the bathroom include anxious dog, cone and that beeping sound when a 90 lb dog backs out of a narrow space (installed on the cone.) I have to make a million trips to Camp Horne Road for radiation. His dose of prozac increases (which does mean more pill pockets for him) and the Christmas tree falls victim to an “incident” involving the Siamese cat, an unexpected knock on the door and the cone of shame.

OK, so not the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is when cancer wins. Lymphoma won with our dog Mona – she lived nearly a year with chemo treatment. A good run because dogs tolerate chemo far better than humans. She was sick on the day she was diagnosed, began treatment and was back to normal quickly until her final day when it was clear that the cancer was back. We took her to the vet and she did not suffer. It was a terrible day and very sad, but I’m so glad we had options that didn’t involve her suffering.

Dog cancer
Mona in her final year battle with cancer.

I’m told radiation is also not hard on dogs, but I’m skeptical. And chemo for a dog that’s 8 and could live to be 15 or 16 is a different decision than radiation for a 13-year-old dog. The cancer wins if we make these decisions based on our needs, not his. He’s a dog and doesn’t have a voice. He does, however, have the capacity to communicate with us and he deserves not to suffer, not even a little bit.

Vet care isn’t cheap, I realize. I’ve been in situations where I could not afford surgery or post-operative care. I’m fortunate that we can make the sacrifices to cover these expenses now and that I’m at home during the day. I’m sure none of our three elderly animals would be alive much less have good qualities of life if I wasn’t here with them so much. Silver living in the cloud, I suppose.

I”m trying to focus on the potential humor in his recovery because two weeks of being with the dog 24/7 right before the holidays will be exasperating. We won’t be able to leave him alone because of his stitches. So most of our holiday plans have gone out the window although I will have plenty of time to bake cookies I suppose. Our lovely friend and pet massage therapist who is one of two people we can trust in this situation has offered to give us a little break so we can simply go out to dinner together. The benefits of pet massage will come in a future post (the City Paper is profiling Xander and Deus on this very topic in January!) but trust me that having these relationships does matter.

In the end, we made a commitment to our pets to take care of them in exchange for love, laughter and fierce barking when strangers knock on the door. They’ve upheld their end of the bargain so this is when we uphold ours.  I’m calling it Operation Marmaduke.

If you want to bring cookies and visit during Operation Marmaduke to say hello & help me avoid babbling too much – hurrah!


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  • Oh man….I feel for you. I’ve been there. How blessed your canine babies are to have you as a fur mom. I appreciate your sense of humor and perspective on the situation as well. Have a wonderful holiday season.

  • I lost my sweet Lucybee beagle to cancer last year. My hound dog, Max, just had a growth removed from his leg. I don’t know why they used staples instead of sutures, but they did. I don’t know why they told me he didn’t need a cone after the bandage was removed four days later, but they did. And he promptly (within an hour) removed every staple – left them in a neat pile on the family room floor. So, as bothersome as the cone is, use it. I’ve heard some pet stores sell a water-wingish inflatable thing that you can put around their neck instead of a cone. I haven’t checked it out yet, but you might want to.

    I hope you and Xander are blessed with the best case scenario.

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