Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Our Maddy Has Cancer

Healthy Dog LegEarlier this week, I took our beloved eight-year-old (she just turned nine yesterday) Dalmatian, Maddy, to the veterinarian. She has a swelling on her right front leg that would rise and fall, and suddenly quit falling, swelling up more than ever. I posted the bad news on Twitter after delivering it to my wife: the dog who was our first child has cancer.

Canine Osteosarcoma, to be exact. From Wikipedia:
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone tumor in dogs and typically afflicts middle-age large and giant breed dogs such as Irish Wolfhounds, Greyhounds, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes. It has a ten times greater incidence in dogs than humans. A hereditary base has been shown in St. Bernard dogs. Spayed/neutered dogs have twice the risk of intact ones to develop osteosarcoma.
Cancerous Dog LegThe picture above is an X-ray of a healthy dog leg. The picture to the right is our Maddy's X-ray. In the far right of the picture of the healthy dog leg, you can see the large bone that is missing in Maddy's leg -- literally eaten away from the inside out by the cancer cells. The two bones in the healthy X-ray are the ulna and radius, though I couldn't tell you which is which. In Maddy's leg, one is completely eaten away and the other is very, very deteriorated. The large swelling, I understand, is a result of her body trying to fight the cancer.

The vet, who we have used for the first time but who came highly recommended, prescribed prednisone for her, to fight the inflammation and help relieve the pain. I'm not convinced yet that it is doing either, though all that I have read about it says that it takes several days of continuous use to have the desired effect. So far, it seems to have only succeeded in causing her to be more thirsty and urinate more.

We haven't yet decided what course of treatment to take. The doctor mentioned three options: amputation of the leg plus chemotherapy; amputation alone; pain management only. He seemed to believe that her case was too far progressed for amputation and chemotherapy to do much to prolong her life or improve the quality of what time she has left, which he says may be as little as three months or as many as six.

Again, studying the situation seems to suggest that amputation would greatly relieve her pain and improve the quality of the time she has remaining. It also seems that amputation plus chemotherapy might give her as many as four to ten months more life. However, all of the studying in the world doesn't necessarily apply to Maddy's case.

My wife and I are currently struggling with watching our Maddy. We keep hoping that she will just get better. It's hard not to do that. And we struggle with whether to try to just help her manage the pain, amputate the leg, or amputate and treat with chemotherapy. The struggle for me is that my own mother lost her fight with cancer several years ago. She started chemotherapy and ended it shortly thereafter, convinced that the treatment only made her feel worse and wouldn't prolong her life or add any quality to it. Reports suggest that chemotherapy in dogs does not have the same dramatic side effects as it has in people. I just don't know.

What I do know is that we love our dog, and we don't want to lose her. But we also have faith in God, and know that everything that happens is for His purpose. Sometimes, though, it's hard to accept that His purpose might mean taking away a loved one, like our Maddy.

Maddy's BirthdayYesterday was her ninth birthday. She's been with us since she was six weeks old, long before either of our children were born. We had a birthday party for her today, and pampered and spoiled her. She had a hot dog to eat, plus two new hot dog squeaky toys. She had several doggie cookies, and one real cupcake, which she absolutely loved.

Tomorrow, I'll be speaking with the vet again about his thoughts on amputation, chemotherapy, or just pain management. I just need to make sure that whatever decision we make, we are making as informed a decision as possible. I need to make sure that we aren't making a selfish decision. I don't want to prolong her life just to keep her with us longer if it will be a miserable life for her. But I don't want to just manage the pain if more aggressive treatment might add some quality months or years to her life. It won't be an easy decision to make, whatever we decide. I just wish Maddy could tell us what she would choose.

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Maddy's Cancer Battle

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