WARNING: This is going to be a LONG post. My hope is that someone who is dealing with a lymphoma diagnosis for their dog can read this and feel hopeful and learn something they didn’t know before. There is a lot of information on treating your dog’s cancer online and it can feel overwhelming! This post is about our experience from start to finish.
Desmond was diagnosed with lymphoma just shy of his 6th birthday.
A dog can’t tell you when they aren’t feeling quite right and sadly by the time we knew something was wrong it was at a late stage. He had been having diarrhea on and off for the better part of a month and had lost a little bit of weight. I decided to take him to the ER after I noticed him panting all night – I was also able to get a sample of his urine which was dark red.
It was a blurry 3 days over the 4th of July weekend when they told us his liver and spleen were affected by what they believed was some type of cancer. We sat in disbelief and immediately thought we had days left with our sweet boy. We wouldn’t know the type of cancer until we could get him in to see the oncology dr. after the holiday weekend.
On Monday morning we got him over to the Oncology Vet and he was to receive a needle aspiration to confirm the type of cancer. This is when they sedate the dog so they can insert a needle to draw blood directly from the spleen. (or wherever cancer is present.)
They confirmed it was Lymphoma – possibly stage 4 or 5. In order to know it was stage 5 they would need to check his bone marrow which would cost a pretty penny. It wasn’t necessary to know the stage unless we wanted a more realistic timeline. (which we didn’t.)
Dr. Kaye told us that with treatment a dog could live up to a year or longer with this type of cancer. Unlike people, dogs remain themselves throughout the treatment with very little side effects.
I never thought I would be a person who would put their dog through chemotherapy, but after learning of the side effects and the success rate with this type of cancer, I knew we had to try it.
Chemotherapy is not cheap. We were fortunate enough to have dog insurance along with the help of friends and family. Pricing will vary by the type of chemo cocktail the doctor suggests, but expect to pay at least $1,000 a month.
I have Nationwide Dog Insurance and this helped alleviate the costs throughout Desmond’s treatments. You will have to come up with the money up front and will be reimbursed a portion of the cost about a month after submitting claim. Again, what you are paid back will depend on your plan.
Lymphoma is the type of cancer in dogs that responds extremely well to chemotherapy. There is an 80% success rate for dogs going into remission and this means the dog can live on average 9-12 months after diagnosis. I know, THAT’S IT? Well, after you get past the idea that your sweetie won’t be around for as long as you had hoped, you have to take into account that 1 year for a dog is a significant amount of time. Remember, all dogs are different. Tons of factors could attribute to how long the cancer can stay in remission. Try not to create a countdown clock in your head.
If you are not in a position to pay for chemo you can get 1-3 months with prednisone alone. Keep in mind, chemo does not work as well if you decide to start chemo after already putting your pup on prednisone.
Desmond was diagnosed on July 3rd and started the CHOP protocol on July 5th. (I won’t go into detail on the CHOP protocol, but click HERE to read more. ) He was in remission by mid August. Remission means there are no longer any signs of cancer in the patient. This is wonderful of course, it means the chemo is working, however dogs can come out of remission at any time. The side affects vary by dog and Desmond did have an episode after his first treatment. We don’t know if this was from the Chemo or the cancer, but he had vomiting and diarrhea so badly that we took him to the ER for fluids and anti nausea medication. He was better within a day and we made sure to have extra medication on hand for the future.
Do not let your dog suffer. Make sure you ask about anti nausea medications to have on hand at the first sign of discomfort.
Unfortunately, the chemo ($$$) was to continue until November whether he was in remission or not. This was to keep the cancer away for as long as possible. We were looking forward to the last chemo treatment as they were running us around $1400 a month. A few days before the last treatment we noticed Desmond’s lymph nodes were swollen under his neck. This was no good.
Falling out of Remission
The Dr. confirmed what we knew to be true, that this was the cancers way of popping back up. We would need to continue with a different chemotherapy treatment as the cancer was no longer responding to the CHOP protocol.
The rule of thumb is the amount of remission time is cut in half during the 2nd “rescue protocol” if you get the dog back into remission. Desmond had only been in remission from August until November. This was worrisome. We decided to try another chemo cocktail (CCNU) This was around the same cost as CHOP.
I would also like to mention that we were treating Desmond’s cancer with Chemo as well as Holistic treatments. (supplements + diet were a big part of his treatment. I will be writing another blog on this alone as there is a lot to take in!)
Dez went into remission around 3 weeks after starting this new chemo! AMAZING! He seemed to react much better to this cocktail and was looking and feeling like his healthy self. We continued this treatment from December through March. After his last treatment he was to see the Dr. 1x a month for an exam and blood work.
We did not take this time for granted. We stuck with a semi strict diet of Halo dry food for breakfast and organic chicken, rice, and broccoli for dinner. I slow cooked bone broth for him and we continued with all the supplements. (Learn more about supplements from Dr. Dressler – we learned a lot from his dog cancer diet book.)
Falling out of Remission (Second time)
In late June Desmond’s tail started to hang low and not wag. He wouldn’t lift it and he was clearly uncomfortable. We thought he might have injured it or that the puppy (yes, we got another dog) bit it. He also began having bouts of diarrhea. We brought him in to be seen by the oncology team a few days later.
An ultra sound revealed the lymph nodes in his back were swollen which was most likely causing his tail to stay low. The rest of the ultra sound showed no other abnormalities, but his blood work had slightly changed.
We immediately started a heavy dose of prednisone (40 mg. a day) along with the same chemo treatment as last time. The Dr. was confident this would get him into remission again as it worked so well last time. (remission from December-June) Within 1 day of starting both drugs he was moving his tail better. Ah, the power of steroids! This worked out well as we had a planned trip to take the doggies to Cape Cod for the week. (see Cape Pictures below!)
Desmond was swimming and chasing balls all Summer long. He was completely himself, and it was easy to forget that this dog was ever sick. Friends and family would say how great he looked and it felt like the cancer could be gone forever. Of course, the chances of it never coming back are extremely rare. With each passing month I kept a tally of the time that had passed since diagnosis. I hated to be pessimistic, but I had to be realistic about the cancer returning.
Third Remission* (partial remission)
Desmond was doing well on the chemo, but after 3 treatments his liver values changed. The doctor was concerned the chemo was causing this to happen. We skipped a treatment and started Desmond on liver supplements to see what would happen.
The Dr. never said he was 100% in remission again, but the chemo seemed to be holding the cancer back. The liver numbers were troublesome and his diarrhea returned. He was still taking a small dose of prednisone a day.
It was now August. Desmond’s overall demeanor and personality stayed the same. He was a happy boy who wanted to chase the tennis ball the park. His weight was perfect and his appetite was great.
A few days before his next vet apt. I noticed his back leg moving awkwardly. It seemed like he didn’t want to put any weight on the right side. Desmond did not seem affected by this, he still wanted to run around the park, but it made me nervous. I didn’t want him to hurt himself by accident.
At Desmond’s next apt. they performed an ultra sound and blood work. Unfortunately his liver values had worsened and his blood work had changed for the worse. The ultra sound looked good and his organs had not changed in anyway. Based off of these findings, Dr. Kaye believed the chemo was no longer working.
When Is It Time?
There was another type of chemotherapy we could try, but the rate of success was low and side effects in dogs were higher. I did not want to take the risk of putting Desmond through rough side effects, especially with such low success rates.
The only other option was to up the dosage of prednisone and keep him comfortable for as long as possible. The dr. believed this was the best choice for Desmond, and many dogs can live healthy lives on prednisone alone for 1-3 months.
We decided this was for the best, and would also try whatever holistic options we could to work with the steroid.
Well – things don’t always work out as you hope they will.
Within a few days both of Desmond’s back legs were weakened. He seemed to be off balance and slept most of the day. He wasn’t very interested in eating or drinking and eventually had to be carried in and outside to go to the bathroom. This all happened over the course of 3 days!
We decided to take him to the ER vet.
Driving to the vet my husband and I both knew this was probably it. He was suffering. It all happened so fast. Yes, it had been 14 months since diagnosis – yes, we knew eventually the chemo would not work – yes, we thought we still had more time.
The ER vet let us know that Desmond had a high fever which could be caused by an infection or just the cancer taking over. We had the option to keep him overnight in the ER to have medications to try and lower the fever, but that would only do so much. We knew we didn’t want to continue putting him through this battle.
Making the decision to put Desmond to sleep was not easy in anyway, but it was also not hard. Does that make sense? We often asked the Dr. how we could tell when it was “time” and he assured us that Desmond would let us know. We knew Desmond was done fighting and he did in fact, let us know he was ready.
From his diagnosis and throughout his treatments I vowed to never let this sweet, wonderful dog suffer. Desmond was no longer himself, and I am so thankful that out of the 14 months we fought his cancer, he only felt crappy for the last 3 days.
I have no regrets on how we treated Desmond’s lymphoma. He lived an amazing life for 7 years and weeks before we said goodbye he was swimming laps in a pool! This dog lived life to the fullest, and we were so lucky to have him.
To anyone out there facing a cancer diagnosis for their dog – I am sorry you are going through this and I hope that this post gives you some information that is helpful. Be sure to also read my post on the supplements and diet we followed during Desmond’s fight.