(Written on Monday, November 10, 2008)
Nova and I made the hour-plus trek south to Canton to see Dr. Obradovich at her Animal Cancer and Imaging Center. I had stopped early at the vet to pick up her x-rays and various test results. I was feeling good and positive. I had tears in my eyes as I saw Nova once again thunder out of the house and leap up into the van, tail at full speed. She always relishes each and every car ride, even those to the vet. You would think we were going to the dog park or a cross country meet.
When we got there the staff was very pleasant and friendly. Nova is generally a big lover, but she quickly decided she wanted nothing to do with the place and started softly whining (more like complaining, she is so verbal it was like a conversation). Every time the door opened and another patient came in she would make a run for the door. It's so hard to hold it together when you see that. We stopped at the scale for a weight (125 lbs, up 3 lbs from the previous week) and went in to the exam room. It took awhile for Dr. Obradovich to come in, but she did spend a lot of time with me.
There was no beating around the bush. She reviewed the films and put the one of Nova's leg up on the wall. She said it was extremely urgent to do an amputation, since Nova's leg had a fracture in the bone already (this was on an x-ray taken nearly 2 weeks ago!). I was alarmed that Dr. Kern had not noticed the fracture, and I immediately felt a rush of guilt for making Nova walk around on a broken leg for the past 2 weeks. I also felt a sense of relief that I had made the right decision in coming to Dr. Obradovich for her opinion.
Obviously I had to make some quick decisions about Nova. After the doctors there reviewed the x-rays and test results, they quickly agreed that it was osteosarcoma, or at least SOME type of sarcoma (which they can’t tell the type without another biopsy). I was a wreck. We are going to Arizona for my husband Paul’s Ironman triathlon next Thursday, and there was no way that I could cancel the trip. Paul has been working way too hard for this. I asked Dr. O if she thought it could wait until I returned. I felt like a selfish loser even asking, but we have a few thousand dollars invested in this trip, much of it non-refundable. She shook her head. The bone was very, very weak and she felt that Nova could at any time suffer a more severe, painful break that would require an emergency amputation. The last thing I would want to happen would be for it to occur at the kennel when we were in Arizona. I arranged the surgery immediately.
Regardless of whether it is cancer or not, Dr. O says that amputation is the first, most important thing to do to improve her quality of life. So, that’s what I have decided to do. Last night I had already learned that through browsing through a site called www.tripawds.com, and reading a few stories about 3-legged dogs affected by cancer. Dr. O did more chest x-rays and said that Nova's chest was still clear, so they have a very good chance at stopping the spread throughout the body with a combination of amputation followed by 4 chemo treatments. She will have her first chemo treatment 2 weeks after the surgery (if the tumor is found to be malignant - they will send it to the lab after the amputation). If it is benign (very, very slim chance) then they will not have to do the chemo. Chemo apparently does not make dogs sick the way it does people. It was a tremendous relief to hear that.
Doctor O said survival rates are about 50% in the first year (with amputation and chemo) and 85% in the second year. This is for dogs who have clear chest x-rays. Of course it is much less for those that have already started to spread. It seems like a lot of money to pay for the chance to have my dog around for another year or two, but when you think that’s like ¼ of her ENTIRE LIFE, it seems to make sense. I just can’t rationalize putting her down right now (although I am sure some people would) because she is so very happy and otherwise healthy. If she were in a bunch of pain and it had already spread then I would decide differently. It’s hard to make this decision being married, because guys don’t always feel the same way about their pets, it’s easy for them to be more detached. The financial part is hard. Paul has been supportive throughout all of Nova’s ordeals, but I am sure he would rather have a new fishing boat than chemo and an amputation for a dog who is going to die someday anyway. (He’d never say that, but I’m sure he’s thinking it). Oh well, my Visa card is going to take a beating. The economy is so bad and I have been making next to nothing in Real Estate. Time for a “Car Wash or Spaghetti Dinner to Benefit Nova’s Cancer Treatment” :)
So I will be taking her in tomorrow morning at 9 and the surgery will be tomorrow. It will be done at the cancer center, they are much better equipped to handle 24-hour care than my regular vet. For a second I considered having Dr. Kern do the surgery, to save a little money. But then I got worried about complications and thought that the surgeon at Animal Cancer Center is a better choice to do the surgery. She will remain there until late Wednesday or some time on Thursday. We are leaving for Arizona next Thursday, so she will have about a week at home. The vet seemed to think that it would be fine to board her, I am so worried about that. The kennel I use is very one-on-one, just a guy with a kennel building in his backyard, he only boards 5-6 dogs at a time, but he is very attentive. She and Emmy usually share a run.
One positive note, Dr. O said that she felt that Nova was a “perfect” candidate for a front leg amputation since she is so lean and fit. She also said that females generally have a harder time with rear leg amputations because it’s so much harder to squat to pee. I never thought of that.
Right now my head is spinning. I am not second guessing my decision, really I know in my heart that it is the ONLY decision. I know we are embarking on an unknown journey, with lots of ups and downs for sure.