For the past year we have been fighting leg tumors on Gus. In November 2014 we did the first surgery to remove the mass. After a few months, it returned. A second surgery was scheduled in June 2015. Within a few months, the tumor came back. Within weeks, as quickly as it came on, it disappeared. A miracle of sorts–good!
A couple months later, it returned, more gnarly than ever bringing along a few new friends. Four tumors, that I could identify. Surgery was obviously not the solution. Our vet gave us a referral to a canine oncologist in Middleton.
We expected that we would be moving forward with amputation as the tumors seemed localized, but we needed to rule out other concerns.
We met with the oncologist in early December 2015. The conversation did not go as I expected. Yes, amputation was a reasonable solution, but his concern was the fact that we had been battling the tumors for more than a year and that these have a habit of eventually attacking organs, namely the spleen and liver. This was news to me. I thought we were dealing with a benign form of cancer that was concentrated in the leg.
In his expert opinion, he would be surprised if Gus didn’t have masses elsewhere. Before we could think of amputation seriously, scans, imaging and blood work needed to be done. While they prepped Gus for ultrasounds and x-rays I went to a friend’s to wait for the call. More unexpected conversation came with that call.
Imaging revealed that Gus had a nodule on his spleen and a mass in his lung. The good news was that the aspiration of the spleen and his lymph nodes came back negative for mast cells. They wanted to start chemotherapy right away. I gave the go-ahead. How could I say no?
He was to receive chemotherapy via IV every week for six weeks. During our visit on week two, his white cell count was too low for treatment. They needed to give him more time and reduce the dose. Week three, another treatment. Week four again delivered labs that showed his count was too low. Again, more time and dose adjustment. Week five another treatment. Week six was another, however I asked for scans so we could see if the treatments were doing anything to the lung mass.
It’s hard to explain, but I felt blind and lost through this process. I love my dog, I want him to be healthy and happy. But I also want to know the long range plan and prognosis. I wasn’t sure of that and felt like it was just one appointment after another. We had to get him into Middleton every week and fork out hundreds to thousands of dollars with each visit. The tumors on his leg were diminishing, but what about the others? And how long were were treating? And was this the solution to end it all? And….?
During last week’s treatment they did a scan of the lung. To the amazement of the oncologist, the lung mass was gone. Awesome! So let’s talk long-term…
He wanted to do three more chemo treatments to be sure they got everything they could: lung, spleen, legs. However, the type of tumors on his leg were not going to be eradicated with the remaining chemo doses. Once the chemo was done, Gus would still need amputation or oral chemo administered for the rest of his life.
Gus is a great dog. Everyone who meets him falls for him. He is so laid back and a big lover. And that face….
But when is enough, enough? I can’t explain to him why he feels wore out. Aside from being tired and not having the desire to wrestle with Nora, he has had no ill side effects to the treatment, for which I am very glad. The steroids to cause thirst which means a potty break in the middle of the night, but I am up with Miss Connie anyway. He also did not have any symptoms with the tumors. We could visibly see them, but he did not show any indication that they bothered him. I simply started all of this out of concern for the growth on his leg.
Last week he tried to resist going with the vet tech. That was a first. Whether it is to drop him off for a vet visit or for boarding, he never resists. He goes willingly and is fine being handed off to someone else, ready for the adventure ahead. Last week he pulled and tried to stay with me, almost slipping his collar. He’d never done that before and it broke my heart.
After two surgeries, three chemotherapy injections, and numerous medications, we have more than $5,000 in this battle. With no clear knowledge of what exactly we are fighting or if we can win. Amputation would be another $3500+. Oral chemo runs approximately $500 per month.
I decided not to go back this week. To stop chemo. And just see where it goes from here.
Gus is somewhere between eight and ten years old. As a rescue, we do not know his exact age, only the estimate given years ago based on his teeth and gums. Boxer lifespans are usually cut short because the breed is prone to cancer. Summer 2016 will mark 5 years that we have had Gus and Nora in our home.
If anything happens to him, I don’t know what Nora would do. She has anxiety and is pretty reliant on his steady demeanor and confidence. He is her brother (not biologically), her friend, her playmate, and her source of comfort. I worry more for her that I do for Gus. He takes everything in stride. Think of him as Eeyore, without the depression.
I pray the treatments he has received so far zapped the lung mass completely and stole the strength of the leg tumors. I’ve lost too many dogs too soon. I’d really love the rest to grow old with me.