My best girl, Rio (aka, The Woo), is almost 11. I adopted her from the Humane Society when she was just 6 weeks old. From the very beginning, we were soulmates, best buddies, inseparable.
We were told she was German Shepherd/Lab mix when we got her, but according to a recent DNA test, Rio is a German Shepherd/Whippet/Harrier/Pug/Mix.
When she was 7, she was diagnosed for the first time with Mast Cell Tumors (MCT). She underwent surgery in July of ’07, and, based on margins, tumor grading, etc., we believed we’d gotten lucky. Within a few months, I found another tumor in the same area — her left front “armpit.” She underwent a second surgery, and a few months later, a third. Because the cancer kept aggressively recurring in same area, her oncologist recommended radiation treatment on that site. She made it through her course of treatment like a trooper! I made her cute little shirts to cover her rad site so she wouldn’t lick. She loved wearing them, and loved all the attention she got when she did!
A year later, I found another small mass. It was on the same side of her body as before, but in front of the leg, along her neckline. Her oncologist recommended immediate surgery followed by chemotherapy. Again, she went through the surgery and following treatment with flying colors, and her prognosis was really good. Even with such close proximity, there didn’t appear to be any lymph node involvement.
Here we are 3-1/2 year after the initial diagnosis and 2 years after her last treatment. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that her MCT is back, and this time it’s on the back of her rear leg (again, same side of the body), a spot that makes a simple excision impossible. The oncologist’s recommendation is amputation followed by another course of chemotherapy. Without treatment, the doctor thinks her survival potential is 6 weeks to 3 months.
The news has hit me like a punch to the solar plexis. There has to be some sort of mistake. Not my Rio! But denial isn’t enough to change the facts. So with my heart breaking, I am reading and trying to find out everything I can to help make this difficult decision. None of the additional tests we’ve run have suggested that it has metastasized…yet…. so that’s good news. But to complicate matters, Rio’s also been recently diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. And although it may not be something that complicates her treatment, I still am worried that it could affect her quality of life.
In all of the blogs I’ve read on this site, I’ve mostly found stories of dogs that have had bone cancer or traumatic injury requiring amputation. I think that if Rio wasn’t using her leg and it was causing visible pain, it would be a little easier decision for me. But, for all intents and purposes, she gets around just fine. The tumor does hamper her mobility a little because it’s right in the joint, and so going downstairs is a little awkward. But no apparent pain.
So, as I struggle to make the best decision for my Rio, I’m looking at all the angles: She’s already been through 4 surgeries, plus chemo and radiation. Not to mention the $20,000+ in vet bills, and that’s with veterinary insurance! And even assuming money was no object (I only wish I was that rich), I’m not sure that putting her through more of the same is going to give her more quality of life. I would keep her with me forever if I could, but I want to do what’s best for my girl.
So do we lose the leg, and perhaps still have only 6 weeks to 3 months (not to mention that she’ll be going through amputation recovery and chemotherapy for a good portion of this short time)? Do we opt for no surgery and do everything we can to ensure that her end days are happy and pain-free? Or does the answer lie somewhere in the middle? Any thoughts?
On a side note, I’m completely freaked out by the thought of my girl being “not whole.” I’m trying my best not to let my fears make this decision for me, so I’m focusing on the rational, logical, statistical stuff. But I could really use some words of wisdom on this angle as well.
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