Cancer is a funny thing. No one wants to mention it, and everyone wants to know. As many of you know if you have been following my blog, a few months ago, John’s dog Friday was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Technically it is a CarcinoSarcoma in the mammary tissue. To treat this, she had 3 of 5 of the mammary glands on one side removed, and then underwent chemotherapy. The day that the vet gave us the bad news, he told us that the average life expectancy was about 4 months for a dog with Friday’s diagnosis. That didn’t mean a lot of time for her! Our best hope to help her out was chemotherapy, and rest and lots of love. Luckily, Friday is well loved.
The day we got her diagnosis, we started the chemo. John and I went out to a restaurant, had lunch and worked on our laptops. John was very sad and distracted. I was annoyed and intense. That is just how we dealt with that particular stress. A few hours later we went back to the Ontario Veterinary College and picked Friday up. The staff were wonderful and complimented us on how well trained Friday was, and how easy she was to handle and treat. Her sound genetics, early socialization, and great training made what could have been a rodeo a very easy time for her. If for no other reason, train your dog so that medical procedures are easier.
We came home to some hard realities. No class for a week. No long walks. Keep her quiet. She could die. We handled this the way we often do; with some humour. Friday is not usually allowed in bed with us, but now, when she looked to John to see if she could come up, and John looked at me, I took her voice and said “I’m dying you know. If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.” John laughed and thus began a joke between the three of us anytime that Friday looked at us and obviously asked for something. “I’m dying you know. If you really loved me, you would take me to get the mail with you. If you really loved me you would share your venison with me. If you really loved me you would stuff a kong for me. If you really loved me, you would take me for a drive in the car.” The thing about cancer is that in some ways it can be very freeing. You can absolutely justify any fun thing at all. And we did.
Friday had chemo every three weeks, which really gave us a rhythm to follow. Right after chemo, there was really no difference in her behaviour for about 24 hours. Sometimes she would develop a bit of nausea, but we had good medication to control that so she was quite comfortable most of the time in that regard. She did lose some weight, but generally she ate normally post chemo; it was just that chemo takes a lot out of the dog, so she got a little thin. During that first week, she would be very tired and she would sleep a lot.
In the second week, she would recover quite a bit, and slowly, by the third week she would begin to bounce back to near normal energy levels. What she really lost was stamina though. Although she enjoyed going to classes in her second and third weeks, she would tire quickly and about half way through a class she just wanted to sleep. Life as a demo dog in a school means that she has a crate of her own with her own bed and water in it, and she is really accustomed to being there, so once she had enough, she would just go to her bed. She also lost some strength and oomph. Throughout her chemo, we used a ramp to help her in and out of the dog training truck. Again, her training really helped her because we were able to teach her how to use the ramp in one 60 second training session.
Friday was shedding her winter coat when she had chemo, and so she didn’t grow any normal undercoat this summer. That makes her feel kind of funny when you pet her! The veterinary oncologist, Dr. Hocker, assures us it will grow in normally during her next shed this fall. Otherwise, we don’t notice any real physical changes with her.
At the end of five rounds of chemo, Friday was discharged from treatment. We could have anesthetized her and done radiographs and an ultrasound to find out if there is any more cancer left in her, however, we really didn’t want to put her through more stress when the diagnostics would not direct her next step in treatment. In veterinary medicine we learned, chemo is not intended to cure cancer, but rather to make an animal more comfortable. Friday is not considered cured, but we don’t have to go back for more treatment either. If she gets sick and we think she has more cancer, we will do the minimum amount of diagnostics to find out what is going on and then we will make her comfortable and allow her to have the best quality of life until the end.
We know that Friday likely has less than another year to live; the record for a dog with her type of cancer was one full year post diagnosis to death. This is a bit hard, but living with a dog whose days are numbered actually has an upside. When we start to forget to have fun with her, to spoil her a bit, or to bend the rules “just because”, one of us will look at the other and say “I am dying you know. You should throw the frisbee.” For the most part, Friday is bright, active and alert as they like to say, and she is very engaged again in going for walks, meditating every day with John (he meditates; she lays her head on his lap, and if it is cold he wraps her in his meditation shall with him), going to training classes and being the awesome demo dog she has been for the school for the past 7 years. She behaves a little older now than her actual age, but in general she is herself and that is wonderful.
So Friday is done with cancer treatment for the time being, and she and John are beginning to get fit for their annual fall trip to Algonquin. Now you know, but please, ask! We love telling people about Friday’s journey with cancer and even when it is hard, we appreciate knowing that she is in your thoughts!
If you would like to know about the beginning of this journey, please read https://mrsbehaviour.com/2018/03/27/it-will-be-alright/ .