When Your Best Friend is Diagnosed with Cancer...


Brian and I were packing our bags for our big anniversary trip when we noticed a firm, rapidly-growing lump on Chewy's back leg. We took him in immediately to see our local veterinary surgeon because it felt very different than the lipomas that had gradually been popping up over time.

Our fears were confirmed when the surgeon said that the mass was cancerous and should be removed as soon as possible. We were scheduled to leave the country in 5 days, but we wanted to get this taken care of quickly as the mass grew larger and larger every day.

Chewy had the mass removed and we were very lucky to have had a skilled surgeon that got good margins of tissue around the tumor. It was a soft tissue sarcoma and was localized to that spot with no signs of other masses or metastasis elsewhere. 

We felt so incredibly lucky. We had been able to remove the threat of cancer. Chewy did great post-operatively. And there was no reason to think that we would have to deal with this tumor again in the future. 

Flash forward two years later. Chewy was now 16 years old and our stomachs dropped when we felt another mass on his side. Again, we were packing to go out of the country and we rushed him to see his favorite surgeon yet again.

Chewy was taken to surgery that afternoon and we picked him up and, even though I knew in my head what getting good margins would look like, my heart hurt seeing him walk out of the surgical suite that night. He was wobbly and tired and had an enormous incision that extended from the top of his back to the bottom of his stomach. 

Again, he was a trooper. He healed beautifully and never complained once. We got good margins with that mass too, so there was no need to discuss further treatments at that time. 

One year later, Chewy was back to see his favorite surgeon because we thought he had a huge mass in his stomach. He had been throwing up off-and-on for a couple of weeks and we took him in to see our friend that is a veterinarian in town.

We did radiographs and saw what looked to be a stomach that was completely obscured by a tumor. And when we put the ultrasound probe on his abdomen and couldn't see any normal stomach architecture, I burst into tears. 

We made our way to our favorite surgeon to see what the next step would be. We had a consult with the oncologist and decided that we would take Chewy into surgery to see what kind of cancer we were dealing with.

I handed Chewy's leash to the surgeon and said, "...you know... this might seem crazy, but Chewy has always been a trash dog and there is a chance that he might've gotten into the trash...". The surgeon gave me a courtesy smile to placate me because the likelihood of that happening and him doing a foreign body removal on a 16-year-old dog vs a tumor biopsy was extremely low.

I received a call when the surgery was over and low and behold, Chewy had eaten a dishtowel. Naughty, naughty, Chewy. We were so relieved that our little guy didn't have a huge tumor in his stomach and we were still so worried about his condition because of the severity of the surgery.

 Chewy sadly had a more difficult time recovering from that surgery. He became weak and lost weight. He never really regained the strength that he had had just a few months before the surgery. 

A few months later, he had a particularly bad weekend where he was limping, had strange facial swelling, and just seemed to not feel well at all. Again, we took him to the surgeon for an evaluation and, sadly, we found what looked to be a mass in his chest. 

Chewy was 17 at this point. He was weaker and tired and it was summertime... we made the decision to not attempt to definitively diagnose this mass and to just make sure that Chewy had the best, most comfortable life possible with us. 

He continued to lose weight and ultimately became pretty weak. Watching the dog that had always been so strong and full of life start to fade like that was one of the hardest periods of time in our lives.

Ultimately, we didn't repeat the radiographs that showed us the mass in his chest because it wouldn't have changed the way that we wanted him to live out the end of his life. We knew in our hearts that he had been able and willing to fight before, but that this time was different. 

All this to say... Chewy was 14 years old when he had his first diagnosis of cancer. We were so lucky to have been able to have it surgically removed and not have it recur. If there was a question of needing chemotherapy and/or radiation, I know that we would've done whatever we could have to treat his disease. And the same could be said for the second mass. 

I hear many times that clients wouldn't want to put their dogs through cancer treatment, but we were able to have 3 more incredible years with our heart dog because we pursued treatment.

I know this course of treatment isn't for everyone, but I'm sharing our experience to show that just because a pet is older, it does not mean they shouldn't be considered treatable.

We knew it would be very tough for Chewy to manage treatments when the third tumor showed up. We did what we thought was best for our incredible dog. And we couldn't be more grateful for the extra time we had with his incredible spirit.

We would've been lost without our team of friends/veterinary professionals that helped us with Chewy's cancer treatments. We feel like it is so extremely important to have veterinarians that you know and trust to guide you along the way. Because, even though I am a veterinarian myself, when it comes down to making decisions about your own animal's health, sometimes that answers aren't so clear. Each cancer is different in it's behavior and response to treatment(s). We have many treatment options at our disposal in veterinary medicine like, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. During Chewy's treatment, he had a team of 4 veterinarians working on his case. We were very lucky to have our team here in Richmond and would've been honored to have our next interviewee, Dr. Lauren Smith, as part of Chewy's team of professionals. 

Our interview with Dr. Lauren Smith was so awesome. She is a radiation oncologist that helps people manage a diagnosis of cancer in their pets. We feel fortunate to have been able to speak with her and gain knowledge about the process of radiation therapy and cancer treatments in pets. Dr. Smith was not in Richmond when Chewy was alive and going through his cancer diagnoses, but if she had been, we would've absolutely sought out her services. 

Dr. Smith will be starting her next adventure in September at Texas A&M. We were so lucky to spend time with her here in Richmond and wish her the BEST of luck in her new venture!!! 

Thank you for watching her interview here!