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Celebrating a survivor

FredA day I once thought we might not make has come after all:  Fred has turned 13. What a day to celebrate! About year and a half ago Fred finished treatment for cancer; adenocarcinoma of the apocrine gland of the anal sac, to be specific. The whole kit and kaboodle, referred to in medical circles as multi-modality treatment, consisted of surgery to remove the anal sac, radiation for three weeks, and chemo. I live 10 minutes away from one of the best veterinary oncology departments in the country, the School of Veterinary Medicine at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

I didn't think I'd ever treat a dog for cancer. But it was Fred, my baby, my therapy dog who visits the Childrens Hospital. He's tolerant, we caught it early during a monthly anal gland express, and I was working a lot at that point. I didn't even think about a decision, so I can't say I made one. I treated him, despite the gloom and doom from the oncology resident.

Dogs are supposed to handle chemo better than people do. That's what everyone said. It's easier on them than it is on us. Everyone I talked to who had given their dog chemo said it wasn't that bad.

Except for some very, very rare dogs.

Like Fred.

A sensitive soul, Fred is also sensitive to chemo. His first dose of adriamyacin - the "Red Death" - caused horrible bloody diarhhea and bone marrow suppression. He ended up in ICU for a couple of days. I cried endlessly, my tears streaming with his blood.

He got a few days off from radiation, and I nursed him at home. Second dose of chemo was a different drug, which he didn't get until after the 15 treatments of radiation. He did fine on mitoxantrone. At least, he did fine the first dose. The second dose also caused a terrifying bone marrow suppression episode, which required another ICU stay. I was ill with worry, berating myself for my painfully drawn out decision to continue with chemo, a decision based on multiple second opinions from veterinary oncologists around the country. Each of them said if it was their dog, they'd continue. Two bad reactions is something most veterinary oncologists only hear about but don't experience in their careers.

Several of them experienced it with Fred. That's probably it for their career. One veterinarian said it was the kind of luck people have winning a $90 million lottery, but the luck was in reverse.

Fred did not get the fourth and last scheduled dose of chemo. I would no more have given it to him than I would have taken a sledgehammer to his head. I have no doubt another dose would have killed him. The oncologists had no doubt either.

So after surgery, he received all the radiation appropriate for his condition, and three of four chemotherapeutic doses. As a bichon/westie mix, he does not shed, so he lost most of his hair on chemo, not to mention the permanent loss from the radiation. At least the hair has grown over his hind end so he no longer looks like a baboon butt. But he did, especially when it was red like a blazing sunburn.

His treatment was horrible, painful, expensive, and successful. Studies show a 2.5 year median survival rate after treatment. Hopefully, that means I should have him until his next birthday, his 14th. But I'm not betting on it. I've learned my luck with the lottery. A few months ago I had to interview a veterinary oncologist for an article about some other type of cancer, and he said that he wasn't sure Fred's treatment was the right approach. "He must have felt like he was shitting fire," said the academic.

So we celebrate. He has a Pet Pals shift in the afternoon, where the kids at the local children's hospital rub his belly for an hour. Because of this shift, he will, sadly, have to have a bath on his birthday, but such is life. Then after the hospital, I think he and I will take a quick trip to the "magic window" for a hamburger. Then we'll go to the dog park with some friends and I'll bring biscuits and we'll party under the warm sun and the fall colors.

I love my boy so much...he is my joy, my love, my heart dog. My survivor. Happy Birthday, Fred. May God let you share one more with me. -- Phyllis DeGioia, editor, VeterinaryPartner.com

November 4, 2005 in Dogs and science | Permalink


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Thank you so much for writing about Fred's battle with cancer. Right now I need to hear success stories like this! My 7 year old dog Lydia was diagnosed with the same cancer in early July. Like you, I caught it when I tried to express her anal glands. It appears, at this point, that we caught it early enough that she has a good chance but, of course, time will tell. She's going through chemo (has had 2 rounds so far) and we're hoping the chemo is doing it's job. We'll find out in a few weeks when they do an ultrasound. So, anyway...thank you for the post. Every story I hear like this helps give me more hope my girl will be with me for a few more years.

Posted by: Therese | Aug 21, 2008 1:51:33 PM

fred is lucky to have you in his life. such an amazing story.

Posted by: mb | Nov 12, 2005 7:03:47 PM

I am glad that you had the fortitude to continue with Fred's treatment. From his photo, I think you might just get that extra year or more. Happy birthday, Fred. Keep enjoying one day at a time.

Posted by: Jay Wootten | Nov 7, 2005 12:07:13 PM

How wonderful!!!! I am so happy for you and Fred!

Posted by: Stephanie | Nov 6, 2005 10:54:54 AM

Fred looks absolutely wonderful. He is so lucky that he has a mom who has stood by him through thick and thin.

Posted by: Deb | Nov 5, 2005 9:46:11 PM

Happy, happy birthday Fred! What a sweet face you have. Thank goodness your mom loves you so much to help you through your ordeal. I think that calls for a burger AND a cone at the magic window...

Posted by: Pam | Nov 5, 2005 9:07:58 PM

I can only try, and fail, to imagine the heart-pain you have felt. I hope that Fred amazes everybody by living a long time more.

Posted by: John McKown | Nov 5, 2005 2:42:29 PM

Happiest of Birthdays sweet peanut !! Fred, we told your Mommy that we are so proud of you and so very happy for you too and we enjoyed meeting you in "paw-son". Your Mommy is a terrific, and loving person with a heart the size of Texas. Her writing expresses such deep love for all creatures, great and small. Have a wonderful, happy birthday and celebrate!! Give your Mommy, along with Ginger, Bella and Clint sweet smooches for us. Wish we could be there to celebrate with you but we are with you in spirit. I will light Grizz's candle in celebration of this special day. Hugs and love, Jo,Barry, Sarge, Kodi and Grizz in shining spirit

Posted by: Jo Helms | Nov 4, 2005 8:12:13 PM

Fred is such a sweet boy. I know you'll treasure however much time you have left together.

Posted by: PhyllisG | Nov 4, 2005 7:02:36 PM

What a darling picture! Such a brave, well-loved soul!

Posted by: KCC | Nov 4, 2005 4:53:59 PM

What a heartwarming story. It makes me rethink what I would do in such a situation. How wonderful that Fred not only survived his ordeal, but is doing so well.

Posted by: Penny | Nov 4, 2005 3:32:52 PM

This is an amazing story. I"m glad that Fred is doing well, and I hope you both have many more good times together for many years in good health.

Posted by: Diane | Nov 4, 2005 1:36:41 PM

How wonderful that he is doing so well! Such a little trooper, and such a heartwarming story.

Posted by: Natalie | Nov 4, 2005 1:22:52 PM

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