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Community takes steps to kick canine cancer’s butt

Shhh! Don’t tell. We are having cake Tuesday. It seemed appropriate since we are celebrating. We even designed and ordered shirts: green shirts with a wiggly dog butt. The celebration is a tad bittersweet, but it is a celebration regardless.

Kick Cancer’s Butt

We put in our chemotherapy hood this fall and have taken our first two patients through their treatment.

While there are hospitals that administer chemotherapy without a chemo/fume hood, it is not safe for the employees nor in compliance with the law. I have stayed away from injectable chemotherapy because of the cost of a hood and safety concerns.

But when Roxy died of her cancer, because the owners could not travel the distance to chemo treatment, I decided I wanted to fight back. A super client (Max Duty) fighting her own medical problems, did some fundraising for us. The fundraising wasn’t very successful, but I did find a lot of community support for a chemo program. Sally worked on the regulations and set us up for the install. Lindsay took the chemo care lead and we staffed Tuesdays to be able to do chemo.

Why wait? Aspirate!

I signed up for Dr. Sue “Cancer Vet” Ettinger’s lectures at the Midwest Veterinary Conference. She was a dynamic speaker and made me believe that I could make a difference. (She was right.) I attended more of her lectures at the American Veterinary Medical Association Conference.

We started paying more attention to small masses and used her rule of doing more fine needle aspirates on masses. We set up a cytology station to do aspirates more efficiently. Any mass that is present for more than a month and is as big as a pencil eraser should be aspirated and checked.

You cannot tell by palpation (feeling) that a tumor is a fatty tumor or not. (Some of the dangerous tumors, you can tell they are definite tumors that need to be removed.)

See Something, Do Something

Many times, surgery is curative. We had hoped that was the case with Rusty. He had a large intestinal mast cell tumor that before surgery was affecting his quality of life. He was not eating and was sick. We removed a five-centimeter tumor which had several intestinal blood vessels wrapped around it.

After surgery, he felt better for a few weeks, but then was sick and not eating again. His owners chose chemo treatment because they had no other option to try to save him.

Chemo for the Win

Max is finishing up his 16 weeks of Madison Wisconsin chemotherapy protocol for lymphosarcoma. He had first come as a second opinion. His cancer had been diagnosed, but not staged.

He was blind and had a large raw patch on the side of his face. I suspect they were thinking euthanasia was their only option.

Max’s parents were pleased to know that there were options and scheduled him for treatments. At every visit, he had an exam, blood work and his tumors measured. He has had a combination of IV, injection and oral medicine. His last routine visit is Tuesday.

Live Longer, Live Well

Chemo in pets is not like chemotherapy in people. We do not have to get another 10 or 20 years from our protocols. We do not make the pets sick with the medications. We have a medicine kit that we send home with drugs for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. We try to anticipate any side effects and treat them before they happen.

Between the two dogs with 16 weeks each, they had five days of diarrhea and two days of vomiting. That is not bad. Rusty and Max both improved on their chemo. They both started eating and gained some weight. Max gained a little too much weight and had to be on a diet. Rusty started to nip at us again. Max’s fine needle aspirate cytology came back negative. We seem to be winning!

Sometimes, We Don’t Win

Rusty started to decline on the 15th week of treatment.

While I was at the Midwest Veterinary Conference last week, the owners called Lindsay and told her that he was not doing well.

I left my lecture and I called to personally speak with Dr. Duncan, who was covering my emergencies. Well-briefed on Rusty and his owners, Dr. Duncan was prepared to do whatever was needed.

Unfortunately, the best thing seemed to be euthanasia. We were all sad.

I have not been able to connect with the owners since he was euthanatized. I know they will be grieving. Actually, so are we. Still, his owners had an extra five to six months of good life that was important to them.

We are celebrating Max and Rusty. I made a word cloud paw print (Kick Cancer’s Butt; See Something Do Something; Why wait? Aspirate!; Chemo For The Win: and, Live Longer Live Well), but Lindsay’s wiggle butt dog with “Kick Cancer’s Butt” looked better.

We will mourn Rusty’s death, but realize that he had more life and better life than he would have.

We miss seeing his parents on Cancer Tuesdays.

It is too soon to tell if Max is in remission or will have to continue a maintenance therapy, but he is certainly doing well and we will pick up our shirts and then celebrate with cake from Dave’s Bakery.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566