A couple of weeks ago, I revealed the sad news that during a fairly routine visit to the vet for our beloved eight-year old black lab, Chatham, we identified a very large mass that was most likely cancerous. Positioned just behind her left hind leg, the vet encouraged us to have a biopsy done to see what we were dealing with. The initial signs they saw on their sample were troubling, to say the least.
So, that’s what we did – even though Andi and I had been trying (and somewhat failing) to mentally prepare ourselves for the hard decision we would have to make if things came back as dire as they seemed. Afterall – this dog had been across this bridge once before (two years ago) and now – at this stage – surgery and radiation of anything that isn’t a minor skin bump seems a lot more risky; not to mention prohibitively expensive.
So – on the only Tuesday this past January that didn’t see our region blanketed with a foot of snow, we packed up the pup and delivered her to the vet – who was going to perform the surgical biopsy and then provide the sample to the excellent Tufts Veterinary Hospital in Grafton, MA where their expert team of oncologists could perform further analysis. They knew her well and we had complete faith in them for the miracle they once performed.
As I mentioned, in the days that passed from the procedure, we steeled ourselves against what seemed a probable outcome. We’d been down this road before but it was two years prior and we had a little more cash in the coffers and Chats had only been on this orb and lighting up our lives for 6 years and change. It seemed like a no-brainer back then even if the sticker shock did negate our neural activity for the briefest of moments.
But times have changed and with our doctor advising that based on the location of the tumor and the complexity of the surgery – that we shouldn’t even entertain that option – the decision was sort of made for us even though it was the last thought we ever wanted to darken our minds. But, that’s life – you never can predict the sucker punch until you’re reeling on the ground.
The doctor feared this may be a mast cell tumor – a vile invader that is known for its ability to spread fast. When Chats first contracted cancer, it was a mast cell tumor, but one that we caught quickly. The moment we spied that raised bump on her hind leg, we had it removed and chased that with one month of concentrated radiation therapy. Even then, the doctor could not give us a 100% clean bill of health. Call it 98% and hope that the slight margin never expanded.
Well, we finally got the results and essentially received the best case version of the worst case scenario.
The large internal mass rooted on the upper, inside portion of her hind leg was ruled out as being mast cell. It is considered a neurofibrosarcoma – which is a soft tissue cancer that originates in the connective area around the nerves. This type of cancer, while locally aggressive, has a very low spread rate.
That last piece is what makes this the best case version of the worst case scenario.
The hard truth is our precious pup has cancer again and this time, there isn’t a damned thing we can do about it. This particular cancer has deeply entrenched roots that make it exceedingly difficult to remove fully. Based on its location (near a complex series of muscles and ligaments) – the matter is complicated greatly. So, surgery is off the table even if we could afford it.
In fact, our vet said the following – “If it were my dog, I’d leave it.”
But the bright side is that while it will likely grow and in time cause some discomfort beyond the slight limp that affects her gait, it is unlikely to spread throughout the body and compromise the rest of her shared systems. Meaning this dog may just have some life in her yet.
It helps that we’ve spoken to people whose animals have had the same diagnosis and have gone to live for a few more years. When just a few weeks back, we thought we had a week or so left – everything beyond that is now bonus time.
So, that’s where we are today. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring but what we do know is that for the time being, this pup is back to her playful self. Having switched her food to something softer, she’s eating again – and at the last vet appointment, she got a great bill of health. Her weight looked good – her spirit was up.
We’re two weeks removed since that procedure and she really does seem back to herself. Sure, this thing lingers and in time, it will likely be the cause of all our pain – but for now, we and she get busy living.
As all dog owners know – each dog is different. While the good ones all seem to offer up an unending fount of unconditional love, they all seem to have a different way of providing it. They have their own habits that make them all so unique and precious.
Chatham has one particular trait that I imagine will be difficult for any other dog to mirror.
Every night, as we get the kids ready for bed, we close out the chapter on the day by reading to Colin and Aria for a little while – alternating rooms every other evening.
No matter where she is in the house, the moment the four of us hit the carpet and crack the books, Chatham comes strolling in and lays down in the center of it all.
She’s never been one to miss hearing a good story. And I’ve never been one to miss telling one.
As her life’s tale continues to unfold, I’m hopeful that we’ve got plenty of pages ahead.