Give Cancer the Paw is a quarterly blog hop started by Jackie of Pooch Smooches and Peggy of Peggy’s Pet Place. This hop is for sharing information, personal experiences, support, or anything else related to pet cancer.
I have written about our dog Shelby before, but this story will be about her short battle with lymphoma, as best I can remember it…..Shelby has been gone almost 15 years now, and I’m sure some of my memories are not perfect.
Shelby was my very first dog, and she was also the first pet that my husband and I lost to cancer. She was a shelter dog who we adopted at about 3-4 months old. Shelby was a good dog, and a great first dog for someone to have. When she was just over 5 years old, I was petting her one day and felt a lump in her chest. I immediately made a vet appointment and the news was not good.
Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) was suspected and a needle aspiration was done and sent to the lab. The results unfortunately came back positive, and it was a particularly aggressive and fast moving strain of the disease. As it turns out, this was in a way good news….the fast moving cancer was sometimes more responsive to treatment than other forms.
By the time the lab results came back, Shelby’s bark had already gotten rough and we knew the disease was already progressing already. We were given different options for treatment if that was what we wanted to do. One option involved IV treatments once a week where Shelby would have to spend time at the vet’s office receiving it. The other involved a combination of pills and a shot once every two weeks or so. The IV treatment was the treatment most likely to give her the most time (and was also the most expensive). But there are no guarantees as to how much more time that would be.* I don’t think the financial factor really affected our decision to go with the shots and pills. Shelby hated going to the vet and we didn’t feel that she would handle having to spend extended time there well.
Once our decision was made, she was put on prednisone, and the results were almost immediate. The swelling in her lymph nodes went down very quickly, and her bark got back to normal. I should also mention that when she was first diagnosed, other than the swollen lymph nodes, and the barking, she did not feel any ill effects from the cancer. After a certain amount of time, another drug called Cytoxan was added to the prednisone.
As I recall, one of the drugs was going to make Shelby need to pee more often. My husband and I both worked 8 hours a day, and we were lucky that we had an elderly neighbor who was willing to help us by coming and letting Shelby out during the day. I believe we also had to have periodic blood tests to monitor for other side effects. I honestly do not remember what the name of the drug was that she had to go to the vet’s office to get a shot for, but that was also added in at some point.
Shelby seemed to feel great for 2-3 months and even though it was a bit stressful for us with worrying about her and monitoring everything, her quality of life was excellent. We went hiking during that time; Shelby loved the outdoors and hiking.
Eventually we noticed the lymph nodes swelling again. It happened very fast. It was like when the cancer came out of remission, it came back with a vengeance. I’d say within a week she started to not feel well and lose her appetite. Of course, this happened at a time when my hubby and I were set to go away for the weekend with my family, a trip that had been planned for quite some time. I left with my family, and he took Shelby to the vet with the plan of joining us later. At the vet’s office they gave her another kind of treatment which they felt confident would help, and we left her in the care of our neighbor.
I will never forget that Sunday morning at our condo when our neighbor called. It was dark and pouring rain, almost a harbinger of what was to come. Our neighbor told us we needed to get home because Shelby needed us. It was an endless drive home (really just over 2 hours), and when we arrived home, she had already passed away. We were devastated and heartbroken.
There are some very important things that I took out of this experience. We never regretted the decisions we made for Shelby as far as her treatment went….she had a good quality of life right up until that last week. I still live with the guilt of not being there for her when she died. We honestly had felt reassured by the vet that she was going to be okay. They were shocked when they found out she had died. We think it’s possible the cancer had spread further than we all realized. My family tells me that Shelby knew it was her time to go, and she wanted to spare us the agonizing decision of when that might happen. I suppose if we had been home we would have rushed her to the vet and maybe we would have tried to save her with more treatments that just weren’t going to work. We’ll never know for sure, but that thought is the only one that makes me able to forgive myself just a bit.
I like to think that very often in life something good comes out of something bad. When we first had Shelby, I was a very strict new dog parent. Shelby was not allowed on the furniture, and there were many other rules and regulations. When she was diagnosed with cancer, all of those rules went out the window. She had free run of the house, and she was spoiled rotten from that time on…..as is every dog we have had since. She paved the way, and she is the dog that made me fall completely in love with dogs. Her time with us was too short, but it was a wonderful time.
*My limited research turned up the fact that some of the treatment protocols for lymphoma might still be the same. I’ve read some personal cases though where the prognosis for lymphoma may be better than it was 15 years ago….I certainly hope so!*
Sand Spring Chesapeakes says
What a very touching story, thank you for sharing it with us. I am so sorry for your loss. I do believe things happen for a reason it Shelby passed before you got home to spare you the decision making. Cancer sucks but it does make us all better people and we can learn from it, that each day is a gift and to make the best of it. Hug and kiss your pets like there is no tomorrow. Hugs
Cancer is a horrific disease, and I hope they find a cure soon. I’m glad you have those precious times together though. It sounds like Shelby was a very special girl.
2 brown dawgs says
Thanks for sharing Shelby’s story. Lymphoma is a terrible disease. My mother passed from it some 20 years ago. I think treatments and survival rates are better for humans now than they were back then. I hope it is true for doggies. 🙂
Big brother Simba passed away from Lymphoma toowoo. It went very fast.
Eloise Bright says
Thank you for this post, it was a thoughtful review of a diagnosis that I think all pet owners and Vets dread. As a vet, helping pets through a terminal illness is one of the hardest parts of my job. It sounds like you did the very best for your Shelby, and one of the tricky things about lymphoma is that when it comes back like it did with Shelby, it can be very aggressive.
As you say lymphoma treatment protocols have changed over the years, we now get 25% of dogs living over 2 years with chemotherapy. And as you found, chemotherapy in pets is not like human chemo. We ensure that medications are at low enough doses to avoid all those horrible side effects such as nausea and hair loss, since our pets can’t make a choice to put up with those side effects for a chance at remission. It also means that we are not aiming for a ‘cure’ so much as in human cancer treatment. I think many people shy away from chemo in pets, but as with Shelby, chemo can be fairly benign and give some extra quality time.
Thanks again for posting about such a difficult topic.
What a wonderfully sweet face she had! Our experiences with canine cancer have been varied and I still could never predict what would happen with each case. I’m so glad you were able to have that extra quality time with her!
Thank you! She really was such a sweetie. We have also had other experiences with cancer that were different, where we didn’t get any extra time so we were actually very blessed with Shelby.
Shelby was a beautiful dog, and very sweet. I too know the guilt of not being there when a pet passes… 🙁 but you gave her a wonderful life and she was a happy dog…and to be adopted from a shelter was wonderful of you & Tom. They all take a huge piece of our heart when they pass, and it sounds cliche, but we are always better off for having them in our lives. xoxo
Thank you, Sheryl, and you are so right. It is always worth the pain of losing them to have them to enjoy while they are here. I know how sad you felt to not be there for Zoey, but she knew she was loved and she was not alone. xxoo
cryin now, with those memories of Shelby’s passing, Jan, and I remember it all well. But the tears will dry, and once again, we will remember Shelby so fondly, and all that she gave you and Tom, your first doggie together! So glad you have some great pictures of your wonderful times together.
You would think after 15 years, there would be no tears left, wouldn’t you? But of course, there are, but at least most all of the memories are happy. Shelby will be waiting to meet Kobi when he joins her, Maggie & Bear, and Moses in heaven, and that will be a happy thought also.
Love her look! Kind of a face like mine actually. I’m sure it was terrible not being there for her last moments. We lost our kitty Boo suddenly when we first moved back the the USA. She was fine, Mom spent extra time snuggling with her that morning for some reason. We went to work and a couple hours later Gramma called Mom to tell her Boo had had a heart attack and died instantly. She was only 8 1/2 which is young for a house cat. Mom felt terrible she wasn’t there but she was also happy that she did not suffer and Mom didn’t have to make any tough decisions. Cancer and other illnesses are scary which is why we have to treasure every day as if it is the last because you never know. Great story, but sad.
Thank you, Emma. You are so right, we just never know, do we? I am sorry about your cat Boo too, a similar thing happened to a friend of mine recently with one of her cat and she also felt bad for not being home. But I think all of our animals all know that they are loved and that we would be there if we could, if we only knew, which we just can’t.
Jackie Bouchard says
What a beautiful tribute to your Shelby. She was gorgeous! That face! I’m so glad she paved the way for spoiling your other dogs rotten. I’m sure that is a legacy that she is super proud of.
I know they say that sometimes with people, they pass away when their loved ones step out of the room, or finally go home to rest after a long vigil. It’s said that maybe they want to spare their loved ones from being there – maybe that’s what Shelby wanted to do too. I’m sorry you feel guilty about not being there – I know i would too, but guilt is such a wasted thing, isn’t it? Big hugs to you!
Thank you, Jackie. You are right, guilt is a wasted thing. Shelby knew how much we loved her no matter what.
Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady says
Wow……thanks for sharing your very touching story.
I have never experienced that with my pets yet, thank goodness, so I can only imagine what you went through….
Very powerful story
((Husky hugz frum our pack))
I hope you never have to experience it, and I hope we never have to again either. It was tough to write….15 years later and I can still cry over her. But mostly it’s happy memories that I dwell on!