Photos by Linnell Chang
Cancer does not discriminate. It strikes the young and the old, the tall and the short, males and females, and even Cockapoos. When my dog Romeo developed chondrosarcoma, I became an involuntary member of a group of owners whose pets have cancer. Within that group, I joined a subgroup, whose members have opted to try to save their pets. We are the ones who stubbornly maintain hope, who cannot bear the thought of euthanizing our beloved “family member,” and who are willing to sacrifice much in order to save our pets.
By the end of this week, I will have driven Romeo, for 19 days straight, to a veterinary hospital half-an-hour away from home, waited one to two hours each day during his treatment, and then returned home. While sitting and waiting for Romeo, I often chat with the parents of some of the other cancer “regulars.” There’s a certain camaraderie in this group, because we relate to the tough decisions we each had to make — the kinds of decisions that make us look crazy to other people. Look at the faces of these dogs. Look into their soulful eyes and then put yourself in the shoes of their owners. What would you do?
Shadow is a bright-eyed 12-year-old Rat Terrier. Looking at him you would never guess that he has an inoperable brain tumor. Unlike my Romeo, who has a good prognosis, Shadow has no prognosis. With or without treatment he may only have 6-8 weeks to live. Shadow sits on his dad’s lap in the waiting room. As Laurie, the radiation therapist, walks up to Shadow, he turns around and licks his dad’s face as if to say goodbye. Laurie takes Shadow away, but not before his dad can give her a plastic bag filled with Shadow’s favorite treats. One morning Shadow’s dad and I were discussing the high cost of cancer treatment and he told me how guilty he would feel, if he spent the money that could save his dog on on anything else. “I couldn’t sit on a beach somewhere, knowing that the money could have been spent trying to save my best friend.”
Joey, a rambunctious 4-year-old Black Lab, walks happily into the waiting room. Oozing charm, he’s a popular guy as he greets everyone he passes along the way. Joey wears a double barrier, a large cushioned “donut” and a flexible “cone of shame” around his neck, to prevent him from reaching a shaved and sutured area on his hip. Joey had an aggressive soft tissue sarcoma removed from that area and is undergoing radiation treatment. Chemotherapy may loom in his future, as well. Without any treatment, Joey was given a prognosis of 3 to 6 months. Whenever Laurie comes to take him back, Joey stands on his hind legs and puts his front paws squarely on her shoulders, so they can “dance.”
Rocky, an 8½-year-old Bullmastiff lies on the floor panting. He’s clearly not enjoying the hot day and his demeanor shows it. He knows what’s important, though, because sometimes in the middle of a pant, he stops to lick the floor. This big cuddly guy has insulinoma, a malignant neoplasm that grows on the pancreas. Ever since the surgery to remove a tumor-infested portion of Rocky’s pancreas, his dad has struggled with the serious issues of Rocky’s fluctuating insulin levels.
Everyone who sees Molly’s sweet grey and white face, wants to approach and pet her. This 15-year-old poodle mix had surgery to remove a cancerous mammary tumor and is now undergoing chemotherapy. Even though Molly’s mom has a brand new grandbaby and a 92-year-old father in need of surgery, Molly is still getting the best care possible.
Sophie, a 9½-year-old flat-coated retriever mix, hobbles into the waiting room. After having her right front leg amputated, Sophie is learning to walk again. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma, one of the deadliest bone cancers, Sophie is undergoing chemotherapy and will have additional diagnostic tests to see if the cancer has spread. Sophie’s mom rescued her once before and is now trying to rescue her again.
Wearing a pink harness and a scarf adorned with pink cancer ribbons, little Lillie snuggles in her mom’s arms. This shy 10-year-old Miniature Dachsund is here for a post-treatment check-up. Her parents live far away, so during her three-week radiation treatment for thyroid cancer, she stayed at the hospital. Her parents missed her so much that they drove for hours to pick her up every weekend. Everyone had big smiles on their faces today as Lillie left the hospital, 1-year cancer free.
As sad as it’s been to see these dogs fight cancer, I feel a sense of hope. The amount of hope, love, and trust in the waiting room is palpable. Here, I know I am not alone. There are other pet parents sacrificing more than me to give their pets the necessary treatment. No matter what happens to Romeo and the other dogs, I know that all who are involved — the devoted owners and the hospital’s caring and highly-trained staff — have done all that we could do.
May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about cancer in pets and to learn how you can help, check out these sites:
Morris Animal Foundation
Veterinary Cancer Society
Pet Cancer Awareness
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