When cancer steals your dog.

On July 27th, the day before my birthday, cancer stole my sweet pit bull, Mushroom, from me.

It was completely unexpected.

Sweet Mushroom boy

Sweet Mushroom boy.

He had started with a mild cough not long before and we were treating him with antibiotics and steroids with the thought that it was kennel cough. The obvious choice- he’d been to a dog event, he’d been in the company of a bunch of dogs.

But his cough got worse instead of better. And then his breathing started to be labored and faster. Maybe I should have taken him back in sooner but I had that sinking feeling in my stomach and I was afraid that it was going to be something awful. Finally, we xrayed him, and found what no dog owner ever ever wants to see in their dog’s chest.


And lots of it.

This is one of his xrays, taken with him lying on his side facing toward the left. His spine is at the top of the picture. His heart toward the lower right. On an xray, air is black. There should be lots of black in this picture– healthy lungs full of air. But no. Instead there are clusters of circles everywhere. Tumors.

Mushroom chest film

Ugly ugly chest xray.

I felt like the ceiling had collapsed on me.

Primary lung cancer is fairly uncommon in dogs, but cancer loves to spread from other places into the chest. I didn’t look further. We could have xrayed and ultrasounded his belly, but we would have just been looking for further badness. At this point, there was really nothing to do. We put him on cough suppressants and continued his steroids. The vet told me a couple of weeks.

I got a day.

We spent it at a flyball tournament. He looked miserable. He didn’t want to eat. He was so weak he was having trouble standing. He looked like he did not feel good at all. I couldn’t watch him suffer. I held him in my arms and said goodbye to him that evening. He went quietly. Euthanasia. A good death.

I work in a veterinary hospital with a doctor who has a strong interest in oncology. We usually have at least one dog (and the occasional cat) in the midst of a course of chemotherapy. Most of the time it’s for lymphoma, which is one of the most treatable cancers. Occasionally we have treated leukemia and hemangiosarcoma, once a dog with melanoma.

Being around it every day has drastically changed my impression of chemo in pets. Before I started working there, I never ever would have put my own pet through chemo. I had visions of vomiting and misery. I had visions of sick, bald children.

It’s not like that in veterinary medicine, though. We don’t treat to cure. We treat with the goal of remission. We treat with the goal of extending life. We treat for quality of life. And, generally speaking, they get quality of life. With one treatment, they usually feel so much better. And we treat with that good quality of life always, always at the forefront of what we’re doing. The doses are lower and so side-effects are not so severe. We pre-treat with anti-nausea drugs for the chemo agent that is most likely to cause sick bellies. We understand that dogs don’t understand the big picture, the longterm outlook. They understand now. They understand “I feel good” or “I don’t feel good”.

The most important thing is that they feel good.

Chemo is expensive and it is time-consuming, but I wish that I could open the minds of more people to it as a possibility, because many people have the same pre-conceived notions that I did– that it makes dogs sick. And above all, their hearts are crying out to prevent suffering at all costs. To prevent the suffering of a beloved dog, but to not have him taken from them so soon. If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, I believe with my whole heart that a consultation with an oncologist is one of the kindest things you can do both for your dog and for yourself.

Chemotherapy wasn’t an option for my boy, though. It was too late. There was no delaying. There was no going back.

I feel a little bit gipped.

I have seen dogs with cancer live good lives for years past diagnosis. But it was not to be for my guy.

Goodbye, Mushroom my sweet friend. You were one of those Good Dogs. An Easy Dog. A dog who wanted to please, a dog who really wanted nothing more than a soft piece of furniture, a stuffed toy, and a belly full of food. You were a dog with a gentle spirit. You were a dog who was taken too soon.

Rest easy. I miss you.


Siren’s Shiitake Happens, 11/02 – 7/27/13

37 thoughts on “When cancer steals your dog.

  1. I’m very sorry. We lost a beloved dog in a similar way a few years ago, found it in her lungs and the vet said then “whenever you’re ready.” We got a few days with her but it’s never enough. We were so heartbroken. It’s the worst thing about being a dog lover, that they have such short life spans but I do believe all the good outweighs that. Hang in there.

  2. So very sorry to read this.

    I’m grateful for the insights into canine chemotherapy, though. I always thought that if my dogs were diagnosed, I wouldn’t put them through chemo, for exactly the reasons that you describe. But hearing that it’s not what I had imagined will definitely cause me to reconsider, when and if that day should ever come.

  3. This is a very touching story and I’m glad you shared it. I lost my angel (American bull dog) to a mass cell tumor that had spread to her brain I went through with surgery and got six happy weeks before euth. That was two years ago. Last week my Baylee (that I rescued in angels memory shortly after her passing) was diagnosed with a mass cell also cancerous on her chest but has not spread elsewhere yet. So we removed it and are praying for the best. God bless all our babies

  4. I lost my APBT 4 years ago this August 21st to Lymphoma Cancer. When diagnosed they forgot to check for what cell it was to know whether we could beat it or not. So I went in blindly and put over $4,000 in chemo treatments into her. It prolonged her life and gave us almost another full year, but the unevitable came that morning when she has puked 3 piles of bile and everytime she drank water she puked it up. It is never easy to say see you later, but I was not going to have her suffer either. I had her cremated and she is with me forever. After calling the oncologist that saw her at OSU here in Oregon, he informed me that they were very surprised that I got as much time with her as I did because her form of Lymphoma has a death sentence of 30-60 days after diagnosis no matter what treatments are tried. I miss her every single day. Mushroom is running free with her and they are romping together in bliss.

    • Do you know what kind of lymphoma it was? sounds very similar to our case, but Vera only lasted about 5 weeks after diagnosis. :(

  5. So sorry for your loss. I can feel the love you have for him. I lost my little girl way too early also; she had severe seizures. It’s an awful feeling when you can’t do anything to help them, or even truly understand what they feel. But they understand that you love them, and that is what matters.

  6. Same story, same ending. Troy left us on Tuesday morning. The last days were very hard and finally called a mobile vet at 7:30 that morning. We were all there with him and he went quickly and calmly. RIP Troy

  7. I lost a part of me when my angel, Vera, passed away July 23rd (also my boyfriend’s birthday). These are our babies, our lives, our souls…we shared 8 years together, & had been through it allwe did all we could for her, but 6 weeks passed and her lymphoma (skin) was too aggressive even for the fighter she always was. you are in my thoughts. maybe V & mushroom are buds now. ;)

  8. So sorry for your Mushroom. I don’t own a pit bull but I volunteer at our shelter with pits regularly. They are like any dog, and most—even the strays—are well-behaved, good dogs. My own little Sheltie (Aggie) just completed her 16th chemo treatment (in 25 weeks) for lymphoma. It went into remission immediately and has not come back. She is seven months in remission. It is supposedly a non-typical lymphoma and was termed “aggressive; malignant” but she is defying the odds. Chemo was pretty easy on her but she had a couple of “crashes” where she had to stay overnight for IV fluids and antibiotics. I highly recommend to all that you check into pet insurance. I did about two years ago and it literally saved me and allowed me to get her treated.

    • I think we’ve actually done a post on pet insurance here on the blog (if not, one is forthcoming). Lots of us swear by it.

      So glad to hear about Aggie!

  9. my pup frankie died on sunday, july 28th at 1:30pm. he was dx with a mast cell tumor 10 days prior and I opted for a palliative approach and to celebrate his life instead of taking him back and forth from to the vet’s. And celebrate we did – we had a party for him with all of his favorite people and canine friends; people dropped by during the ten days; he went swimming with his canine besties and his sister who only likes to wade in the water swam with him several times – swimming parallel to him and for as far and long as he did. Frankie was a wonderful breed ambassador, he changed lives every second of every day He’s received three commendations from the city of Providence, RI in terms of being a true pit bull advocate. He saved my life on a daily basis. His b’day is this Saturday, so I’m taking his ashes to all of his favorite places and scattering them. He was only five and a half and died much too young – I have no idea how I go on without him.

    I am sorry about Mushroom, but so happy he had both a good life and death.

  10. I’m so sorry for you. I just had to make that choice myself in April. My Golden Retriever Meg had a nasal tumor. I thought she just had a sinus infection until it didn’t resolve with antibiotics. We got a week. But it was filled with bloody noses and ice packs. I also couldn’t watch her suffer. It is a hard decision. I also had a diabetic dog with lymphoma and a cat with breast cancer. Neither of which were treatable. It is never easy – I miss them all.

  11. What a lucky dog to have had you, my maggie may passed on july 5, at 19 years of age, she was a longhaired dachshunds. I euth her after i realized she was no longer behind those sparkly eyes, stopped eating and didn’t really know where she was, it was the hardest and most loving thing i have ever done, we all miss her!

  12. My 13 year old mixed breed, Angel, was diagnosed with lymphoma 3 weeks ago and we are keeping her comfortable and enjoying every day we have with her. So sorry for your loss and the losses everyone else has shared. It does comfort to know we are not alone in these sad circumstances.

  13. I am so very sorry for your loss. Losing a pet, best friend, is never easy, and it is so unfair dogs live such shot lives. I think they are the best that could have happened to humans.

    I am lucky to still have my girl Sasha, even after her OSA has come back.


  14. October marks 3 years since Buddy’s diagnosis of Lymphoma. We had him treated with chemo and he’s been in remission since. We did check which cell of Lymphoma it is and while I can’t remember (think it’s B) we were told it is the worst of the two. We have been very lucky. Originally told chemo would allow him to be with us for another 9 months. His Oncologist calls him “Super Buddy” We treasure every day he is with us. At the time of his diagnosis we knew we were losing our sweet pittie, Phoebe to severe seizures and degenerative myalopathy. We couldn’t bear to lose 2 at once. While chemo is pricey and each dog is different, I would do it over again in a heartbeat.

  15. Im sorry for your loss. I also went through this. Back in 2004, my dog King was diagnosed with Lymphoma, we spoke with an oncologist and because King was healthy otherwise,we did the chemo treatments. He went into remission and was back to his old self.Then in September of 2010, King wouldn’t eat and lost 20 lbs, we took him to the vet and after xrays,he was diagnosed with cancer in his chest. We put him on steroids and on December 21st, we lost him. To this day, I cry, King was my constant companion for 12 yrs and I miss him every day. My thoughts are with you…

  16. I’m sorry for your loss. I just lost my Dandy to cancer on August 16th. She had a tumor in her bladder, in an inoperable place. We discovered it when she got a very nasty urinary infection, but in retrospect she’d been declining bit by bit for a month or two before that. She was 16 years and 11 months old, but the cancer progressed quickly after we spotted it and she didn’t make it to 17 years. I would not make her suffer another minute for such a meaningless milestone. She was showing signs of discomfort with occasional frightening bouts of bloody diarrhea on her last day, but she felt well enough to walk in the sunshine and have roast beef for her last meal. I know it was the right time to let her go: before she was hurting badly, but not too soon. She was tired, and all she wanted was to rest in my arms. So we took her to the vet, and I held her, and they let her sleep the long sleep.

    The long sleep is a peaceful thing. You did all you could for Mushroom… sometimes cancer creeps up like this, as it also crept up on Dandy. Thank you for sharing him with us, and thank you for the information about chemo. I wouldn’t have known how different it is for dogs and cats, except that our vet told us when Dandy was diagnosed… as not a good candidate for it.

  17. I am so sorry for your loss. Its hard losing a pet overall but to lose one to this horrible, awful disease. Its the worst. My boy had a fatty lump for a few weeks. This then turned into a hard patch around it. He was taken in to remove the lump and send away for diagnosis but we didn’t need to send it. The lump was connected to lots of blood vessels and once he was awake and walking into the room to come home, he bled out. To say we were devastated is an understatement. He was put to sleep as putting him back under would be no point. The vessels wouldn’t be stopped. So thinking he was coming home with mommy, I had to let my boy go to another place to wait for me. Truly awful. I love reading peoples stories of love for their pets. There’s too many horror stories out there. Nice to hear about a loved pet for a change. RIP gorgeous mushroom x x x

  18. I didn’t know that about dogs and cancer treatments. Thank you so very much for sharing the information, even in the midst of having lost Mushroom. I don’t know much about reading x-rays, but my heart dropped when I saw the picture you posted here.

  19. I think about ShroomDog all the time. He was such a good, sweet boy. He touched a lot of people and I know there are people all over the world who miss him like one of their own.

  20. I’m so sorry for your loss. Back in May my 9 year old Pug, Tortellini, was diagnosed with lymphoma. I brought him to the vet because his back seemed to be bothering him. Took an x-ray and the vet said he had some swelling on his spine so he was given anti-inflammatories and steroids. He got better. Then I noticed his breathing was not right so I brought him back. They took another x-ray and found a spot on his lung. I brought him to a specialist and they aspirated and found lymphoma. I started chemotherapy immediately, I didn’t have to think twice, but unfortunately, the steroids he was on for the back problem masked the onset of the lymphoma and by the time it was caught, the chemo could not do its job and I lost him a week later. A few days before he passed, I knew the end was near and I took him to his favorite park and we just sat there and took it all in together. I still miss him terribly. Two months later as I was walking through the kennels of the shelter I volunteer at, I came upon an 8 year old pug that was surrendered because his family was moving. How sad. He wasn’t up for adoption yet because of his ear infection but the way he looked at me through those kennel bars broke my heart. I couldn’t leave him there. He’s now home with me and my other 4 dogs and it’s as if he’s been here all his life. I truly believe Tortellini sent him to me and that Tortellini is back home, through my new baby, Moxie.

  21. I’m so sorry about Mushroom. He had a great life with you though, he was lucky that you picked him.

    I really hadn’t thought much about Chemo until we were fostering a dog that was diagnosed with Lymphoma (after healing from a broken hip…) but the lymph nodes in her throat got so big, so fast and didn’t respond well to steroids. I had a month to make the decision but chose euthanasia instead. To this day I question it, but I remind myself that I cannot. It is what it is, and like you said, the whole decision was based on the prevention of suffering. Cancer sucks.

  22. Sending LOVE to Mushroom…

    Thanks for sharing this story and thank you for making it easier for me to be strong and a bit more comfortable as my dog Zeus began Chemotherapy last Tuesday for Lymphoma (blast that dirty word!!)…

    That being said, his energy is still great and his breathing has gotten MUCH better.

    His X rays and symptoms were almost identical to the ones you described from yours with Mushroom.

    I had 3 prayers last week:

    1. Please let him have the chance to be treated.

    2. Please send the cancer into a deep remission.

    3. Please make my little Zeus that ‘miracle dog’ that somehow lives out the rest of his life cancer free.

    So far, the 1st one was answered and has made a world of difference…
    We now embark the journey towards prayer #2.

    Bless you again for sharing and my serious condolences for your loss.

    Our beloved dogs deserve nothing but long, healthy and happy lives.



  23. Even though I already knew this from when it happened, I read this with tears in my eyes all over again. I’m so sorry you lost him. I never knew him except through your journal, but I always had a soft spot for him. ::hugs:: for you, and hopes for the softest of couches and the fullest of bowls for Mushroom forever.

  24. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on chemo. I had the same ideas you used to have prior to reading this. I will definitely keep this in mind for the future. Rest in peace, sweet Mushroom.

  25. I’m so sorry. Mine went the same way. We thought she was just “getting too excited” when she would cough, infrequently, when riled up. Then it became more common. And more common. Xrays showed the same thing as yours. Thankfully, I had about a month with her before I took her back to put her to sleep. It’s been almost a year, and it surely isn’t any easier now than it was the day after. I feel your pain.

  26. Pingback: An Embarrassment of Riches: Hambone’s Story | Team Unruly

  27. So very sorry for your loss. I had a similar course with my Willie, and a devastating failure to diagnose. I had found a tick on him and noticed swollen nodes; I kept an eye on them and thne one day they were hard as walnuts. We saw the vet who wanted to perform every single test possible- I asked if he were treated for lyme (snap test came back negative and false negatives are very possible with the snap) would the lymph nodes shrink? I was told no, and agreed that if the nodes hasn’t responded after the weekend (2 days!!) we would come in for lymphoma screening. Well, they did shrink- almost 80%. THe Dr’s at the practice ruled out lymphoma and didn’t recommend testing for it. 4 weeks, many antibiotics, x-ray and likely pneumonia, and we were at a big university vet hospital and he did not have pneumonia- he had lymphoma, and I watched him die , starving, while the incompetent vets couldn’t figure it out- a call to a vet oncologist would have clarified to them that lymphoma CAN respond to antibiotic treatment- my vets were too arrogant to reach out and find answers. WHo know what amount of time Willie would have had if he’d been treated 4 weeks before- he died after his first chemo- his lungs were infiltrated at that point and he was too compromised. DOn’t let it happen to you or your furbabies, or those of friends.

  28. I just saw your post. I had the same experience with my dog.
    I lost him 2 days ago to lung cancer.

    Like you, I noticed Tobey, my shih Tzu, had been coughing about a year before. But it seemed nothing more than a case of kennel cough. He looked fine and enjoyed our long walks. When the coughing got worse, the vet suspected heart worm. I had his blood tested for heart worm. It was negative, I was relieved. He was given some antibiotics and some medicine for anemia. He got better. For a bit. Then the coughing came back, and got worse.

    From a lively dog just a week ago who kept following me around the house, he became a bit weak this past weekend. I didn’t think much of it because he had moments like that. I thought he just needed some rest, he’s old (10years old) and he’ll bounce back like he always does. Then 2 days ago, I noticed his breathing was labored and he was lethargic, looking like he was about to pass out any second. I took him to the vet. We got that xray.

    I was met with the worse news ever. My dog had advanced lung cancer and there was nothing to be done. The vet was telling me my option: euthanasia. But everything came crashing like a ton of bricks and was a blur to me after getting the dreaded news. I couldn’t decide right then and there. So I took him home to take care of him, to make preparations…and to condition myself.

    Little did I know that I only had 1 hour left with him. :(

    When we got home, we relaxed. We had some moments just staring at each other, not saying anything. Then by some miracle, he got all lively and started wagging his tail. He walked up to me. I went to him and rubbed his neck like the way he wants. And he was looking at me so lovingly and when I looked in his eyes, he looked happy like saying “Thank you.” And I asked him, “Are you going away already, Tobey?” and he was just sitting there. I got up to get him some water.

    When I came back, he was collapsing, and still was struggling to get back up. He was losing muscle control first of his hind legs. Then he started falling on his face as he lost control of his front legs. Then finally, his face slumped down. I went over to him, I picked him up, I said “Tobey! Get up! here’s your water!” But he slumped on his side. I was panicking, but I was well aware of what was happening. I gave up trying to get him back up on his legs, and just held him as he breathed his last.

    He died in my arms right there.

    Here I am thinking, like you, that I should have taken him to get his x-ray a year earlier. I don’t know why I didn’t do that… maybe deep inside I was afraid that they would tell me some bad news. The vet told me that even if his cancer was detected last year, there was nothing that could be done. Yet I feel that I should have taken the time. And I should have done more for him.

    I feel like a bad person for being so neglectful of Tobey that it had to come to this point, and yet he loved me. That’s where my guilt lies. I wish I was more playful with him, more patient, given him more treats, took him to more places, gave him all the fried chicken he wants. I had so many shortcomings when it came to him. :(

    On hindsight, I wish I had told the vet just a few hours earlier to euthanize my Tobey. I feel so bad seeing him struggle. And yet, on the other hand, I feel thankful that I spend the entire day with him, us two. I am thankful that I had that last sweet moment with Tobey when he went up to me, it was as if he was saying good bye.

    I hope he knows that despite my shortcomings, I love him dearly.

    I’m so heartbroken. I miss him so much.

Leave a Reply