I am very fortunate to be in the position that I am, as a veterinarian, with a sick pet. I know I have more access than most to specialized care. I am very grateful to my colleague and boss, one of my clinic’s owners, who also works at an internal medicine facility and is both a very confident diagnostician and very good to his friends and colleagues.
On Friday at 4:30 pm, the lab faxed over the pathology results: DIAGNOSIS: LYMPHOSARCOMA. There’s never a good time to get that result, but of all the times to get it, 4:30 on a Friday afternoon is just about the worst time, since it leaves you with a whole weekend to stew over it, unable to do anything, picturing the malignant cells replicating by the millions as you sit there watching the clock until Monday when the specialists are back from the weekend.
But I am lucky, because my boss was at work when I sent him the text message on Friday, and on Saturday morning, Emmett got his first dose of chemotherapy. On Tuesday, he was good old sturdy Emmett, laying next to me in bed as I fought through that nasty virus we got last week, helping me get better. By Saturday, he was Emmett, chemo patient, fragile creature that must be fed rotisserie chicken and Greenies on demand.
Chemotherapy in dogs is different than it is in people. When a human gets cancer, you treat it like a leprosy-ridden home invader; you attack it with everything you’ve got, a knock down drag out battle that costs the patient almost as much as it gains, but with the goal of complete eradication.
With pets, cancer is treated more like an unwanted houseguest that won’t go away; try to make things an unpleasant as possible for the interloper, try to sequester them away and minimize their effect on your day to day life, but you accept with some resignation that they are indeed here to stay. It’s about quality of life, not quantity; making a pet miserable with chemotherapy completely misses the point.
Lymphoma is one of the most chemotherapy-responsive cancers; unlike the other cancers I’ve been unfortunate enough to experience firsthand (Nuke had hemangiosarcoma, and Mulan, of course, had melanoma). It has a 90% remission rate with an average first remission of about 8 months, and a median life expectancy of 12 months after diagnosis. Half do better, half do worse. Without treatment, dogs have on average 30 days.
12 months is a lot of walks, a lot of trips to the dog park, a lot of time to make up for my inattention while my kids were babies. Knowing what is coming is both a blessing and a curse, but one of the great joys of being a dog is that he is of course oblivious to the whole situation. All he knows is that he gets to come to work with me a whole lot more and everyone makes a big fuss over him, so what’s not to like? For him, I mean.