The words you never want to hear

“Your Dog has Cancer. Lymphoma to be precise.”

My world fell apart!! What do I do? Where do I start? My soul-dog was just diagnosed with a TERMINAL cancer, and I was scared shitless…

When you first start to research a topic like canine lymphoma, you discover that there is soooooo much information out there. Waaaaaay too much information! Where the heck do you start…? It’s all so confusing.

WARNING – long post

 

The Beginning

But first, let me go back to the beginning of HOW we found out he had lymphoma.

During 2018, Oscar got quite sick and was diagnosed by the team at SASH in Sydney with IMPA (Immune Mediated Poly Arthritis), along with IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease). Since then, Oscar has been on a homemade diet, various supplements, along with regular acupuncture sessions with Rae from Acupet, in conjunction with his vet prescribed corticosteroid, Prednisolone, and Vitamin B12 injections.

To say that I keep a very close eye on Oscar is an understatement. We are very in tune with each other. So when Oscar started seeming just a little “off”, I thought it was time for a check-in with his specialist, Dr Phil Brain from SASH to make sure that his IMPA was behaving. During this check-up, Dr Phil found a teeny tiny lump on Oscar’s rear leg. The wisest thing to do was to get a fine needle aspiration of the lump for testing, we also opted to increase his Prednisolone for a week to attempt to shrink the possible inflammation in the lump, and reassess at the end of the week.

 

Negative Results

The results of the test came back NEGATIVE – thank god, it’s not cancer!!!! Okay, onto the next course of treatment then.

During that week, the lump had not reduced in size AS IT SHOULD HAVE. The next “usual” step would have been to put Oscar onto anti-biotics. The logic being that the lump came from some sort of infection… where? no idea! The anti-biotics however, were likely to disrupt his immune system, which would not have been ideal.

We were then left with a choice of biopsying the lump (which we now knew was his lymph node), or to remove it. This was a tough one and most folks would go for the biopsy, as it is faaaaaaar cheaper and less invasive. However, I had a niggly feeling in my gut that this was NOT the right choice. I was vaguely remembering something I had read somewhere at sometime that when it comes to cancerous cells (yes, I know, the lump had already been cleared of cancer), it’s better to keep the lymph node whole and remove it entirely, rather than cut into it and take a slice out, potentially spilling cancerous cells that will then spread throughout the body. Hey, I know, it may seem extreme, but this was where my head was at.

So, we opted for the waaaaaay more expensive option and had the entire lymph node removed, and then sent off for testing. I felt so much better when it was out.

 

Not so Negative – Canine Lymphoma

The next day we got the phone call with the preliminary results. “Helen, I am so sorry, The test results are POSTIVE for Lymphoma. We have more tests to do to confirm which type. Can you come for an Oncology appointment tomorrow to discuss options?”

How was this possible….? The needle aspiration was NEGATIVE…

All I could think was “thank god, I trusted my gut, at least the lymph node is out, perhaps now we have a chance.”

Before the Oncology appointment the next day, I set to googling all I could to ready myself…. well holy crap, did my brain almost explode!!

There’s so much information on the internet. So much good stuff, and so much very very very bad stuff. It’s exhausting trying to mull through all of it.

 

Oncology

We attended the Oncology appointment with our brains ready to explode and our eyes overflowing with tears.

I had been reading and reading and reading and reading the night before… and it was all pretty shitty! We were prepared for the worst and expected the worst, and given Oscar’s current health conditions, it wasn’t looking great.

The lovely oncologist was gentle and understanding as she delivered the final results. Oscar’s diagnosis was “stage 1 intermediate B cell lymphoma”.

WOW! From what I had read, most dogs were diagnosed at stage 4 or 5, which means ALL of their lymph nodes are involved and tumours are in other organs. This wasn’t the case with Oscar – perhaps there was hope after all…?

Then she explained that Oscar had some things going against him if we were to choose to go ahead with chemotherapy.

1) He was already on prednisolone when he developed lymphoma, and since prednisolone is part of the chemo treatment, the cancer would likely be more resistant to the chemo meds. Also, if he did respond, he may not respond for as long.

2) Oscar showed early signs of kidney disease, which means the chemo meds may further impact his kidney function.

3) Since Oscar’s affected lymph node was removed, he would be harder to “monitor” for remission.

4) With his IBD making his gut overly sensitive, he may not be able to tolerate the side effects of the chemo meds.

Poor Oscar! He’s already been through so much. How much more could be possibly deal with?

 

“The” Decision

How do you make “the” decision? Chemo or no chemo?

OR… Kill your dog with drugs and side effects, or let your dog die…? That’s what the decision felt like at the time.

The facts, or at least the “averages”:

  • Depending on where you get your numbers, 1 in 3 dogs will get cancer, and 1 in 2 over the age of 10 will die from it – that is STAGGERING!!
  • WITH FULL CHEMO, the “average” survival time is around 12 months
  • WITHOUT CHEMO, the “average” survival time is around 1-2 months – whaaaaat?
  • While the oncologists say that 80-90% of patients with lymphoma will go into complete remission with chemotherapy, remission does not last and occasionally several rounds of chemo may be required. See point 2…
  • A full round of chemo is around 6 months long. See point 2…
  • When it comes to canine lymphoma, it is terminal, it will kill your dog, it’s just a matter of time.

OUCH! Dog cancer SUCKS!!

Bear in mind that these are the averages, some dogs are “stayers” and others, not so much… When you go looking, you’ll find extraordinary stories of miraculous dogs who outlive their prognosis by many years and also stories that will rip your heart out.

Oscar had already been through so much, he has immune system issues, serious gut issues and the start of kidney disease. We decided that we couldn’t ask Oscar to go through anymore for us… we thought if we put him through chemo it would only be for us, not for him. It was a very hard and tough decision as we weren’t ready to let him go yet, and we’d been advised (based on the “averages”) he’d be probably be gone in 1-2 months without chemo.

 

Research and more research

and trust your gut…

I kept reading and researching, joining Facebook groups, reading comments by morons, laughing at idiotic opinions, and crying at gut-wrenching stories.

It was exhausting!

While most people will simply say “trust your vet”, or something similar, I have learned many times to trust my own gut. I don’t always agree with my vet, and my vet does not always agree with me… and that’s okay! I value their opinion, but I do believe that they have gaps in their knowledge and they often do not have a holistic or “functional” approach to my dog’s health.

I am my dog’s best advocate, so I will try to do my best to heal my dog as a whole being.

Resources that I have found useful in different ways:

Dog Cancer Survival Guide – A “Full-spectrum” approach to dog cancer care, a book written by Dr Dressler & Dr Ettinger. This covers traditional treatments for various cancers, supplements, diet, plus also mindset for YOU as the dog owner. I would consider this a great starting point. Note – he does push his own supplements, however, there’s a lot of great information nonetheless.

K9 Health Support – An Australian-based website providing research, products and information regarding dog cancer. Some supplements mentioned in the book above (which is US based) can be purchased here.

Greenpet Animal Naturopathy – An Australian-based online company providing natural therapies and products. You can also “ask their naturopath”.

Dogs Naturally Magazine – Articles on nutrition, health, natural remedies from Holistic Vets and Dog Professionals.

Planet Paws – Pet Health and Tips, and Recipes for longevity.

The Dog Cancer Series – Ground Breaking research from oncologists, cancer researchers and vets.

 

Dog Cancer Diet

We have always fed Oscar a RAW diet, believing it to be the most natural and most nutritious diet for him. However, with his gut issues, we have found that we have had to adapt to what his gut can deal with, and at the moment, that is a home-cooked diet.

When he was really struggling last year, we had a lot of trouble settling his gut issues. We went to single protein diets, we even gave into the Vet’s suggestion and trialled a hydrolysed protein kibble, which just made it even worse.

We ended up opting for a food sensitivity test from the US called Nutriscan. This tested over 100 ingredients and his reaction to them. From the results of this test, we were able to select the least reactive protein for him and remove everything else.

Oscar now gets a meal based on human-grade grass-fed beef mince, slowly cooked with liver and kidney. He also gets vegetables such as steamed broccoli blitzed with baby spinach and red capsicum. To this meal base, he also gets garlic (do not tell me a small amount is poisonous), ginger, coconut oil, turmeric paste, bone broth, blueberries, parsley and cottage cheese.

We tried goat’s milk kefir, but Oscar’s gut wasn’t very happy with that. Everything is trial and error, and we had to introduce things one by one and very slowly.

 

SUPPLEMENTS:

  • Probiotic
  • Digestive Enzymes
  • Luteolin
  • Krill Oil
  • Milk Thistle (Silymarin)
  • Mushroom Complex
  • Artemisinin
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D

CANNABIS (CBD & THC) for Dog Cancer

Stay with me here…!

Do I mean that Oscar is kicking back on the couch smoking a doobie and getting high as a kite? No, I mean he gets full-spectrum organic cannabis oil that has medicinal benefits for him.

Cannabis contains a number of different chemicals, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), phytocannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids. Both humans and dogs have specific cannabinoid receptor sites., which are primarily in the brain and central nervous system, and in peripheral organs, especially immune cells. They make up what’s called the endocannabinoid system.

There are many studies that show cannabis is beneficial in both pain management as well as treating cancers, specifically in slowing the growth of cancer cells and tumours, so you know what, I’m absolutely all for it!

Again, you can get bogged down with the overload of information and MIS-information that is out there, just like there are reputable suppliers and not so reputable.

Note – when you are sourcing Cannabis oil, please ensure that you only source a truly organic product and that your supplier gets their product third party lab tested for authenticity.

Be aware, however, that in NSW Australia, Cannabis is still a “prohibited drug”, meaning it is an offence to possess, use, supply or cultivate it.

 

Acupuncture

You may wonder why acupuncture, but I have found it to be an invaluable part of Oscar’s ongoing treatment plan. Rae, from Acupet, comes to us, so Oscar doesn’t get anxious about “another” clinic visit. We initially started acupuncture as a way to ease the arthritis pain that Oscar was feeling with his IMPA. Rae has also provided great nutrition advice and been a balanced holistic and philosophical ear when required.

I now believe that the symptoms of Oscar’s gut issues are being assisted, as well as his immune disorder, anxiety and overall wellbeing are all benefiting from his weekly sessions. I also believe that keeping all of his health issues “balanced” go a long way to keeping his lymphoma in check as well.

 

In closing, I know it’s super easy to become overwhelmed with information, and everyone will have different opinions. You have to be able to sort through it all and follow your instincts. Trust your gut, and surround yourself with a support team that you trust. I am beyond thankful for Oscar’s caregivers, for the love and advice that we both receive on an ongoing basis.

We are currently FOUR months post-diagnosis, and Oscar is showing no further signs of the lymphoma. His remaining lymph nodes have remained their normal size and they get checked at his weekly Vitamin B12 injection Vet appointment.

Some days he does get a bit more tired and wants a sleep in, or goes off his food for a little while, but we are so thankful for every day that we still have our scruffy little doofus with us.

If you’d like to discuss anything from this post with me, please feel free to reach out, I’m happy to chat.

Note – These are just my personal opinions, based on the reading that I have done so far. I am not a medical expert. Please consult with your team of pet caregivers regarding the treatment of your pets.