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