But this blog does not have a sad ending. Because the extremely very good news is that Indy is still with us, happier than ever. Once again, today I would like to raise canine cancer awareness by making you aware that there are canine cancer treatments available, unlike only up to a few years ago. But before I do that, let me tell you how it all happened
It all happened very quickly
It all started back some seven weeks ago, when Indy started developing a little flap under his tail and right above his bottom. The little flat has grown steadily to the size of a walnut, and we started worrying. If you remember, Indy was found to have melanoma of his left anal sack last December, when he had the left anal gland removed along with a bit of anal wall. The post-operative treatment since then has been four melanoma vaccine jabs, followed by six-month booster of the same vaccine.
When all this started happening, we were puzzled, to be honest. Since surgery and the vaccine treatment, Indy had found a new lease of life. And he has been a very happy dog for the whole year. Indy is now 13 and has longer snoozes during the day, but he still enjoys his long walks – one or two a day – and his ‘zoomies’ attacks, that is running around the house like a pup. Indy is still playful and enjoys toys and treat alike. The perk of his advance age is that he has become mellower with other dogs, although he still enjoys barking like mad at ‘creatures’ hiding in the garden, such as squirrels or any other scattering animal.
And that’s why at first we could not interpret whether this lump could be anything benign or whether it may be related to Indy’s previous tumor. Indy was too well in himself, and was not showing any symptoms of cancer present in his bock, such as drinking more, lethargy or weight loss. His stools were also very ‘healthy’.
We had Indy checked at Dick White Referrals, which successfully operated on Indy last year, two weeks ago. It was decided: this lump could not stay there, even because it was keeping growing, and there was the risk it could affect internal parts of Indy.
However the lovely surgeon Georgia was optimistic as from her manual examination, she was quietly confident the lump was sitting externally to the anus.
The next step was surgery
There was no alternative, but to do surgery on Indy to remove the lump.
We left Indy at Dick White Referrals in Cambridgeshire last Wednesday. On that same afternoon, Indy was sedated and underwent ultrasounds, from which they assured us that there was no other primary cancer anywhere else in Indy’s body.
The following day, Indy was prepped for surgery. The surgical team run bloods and an x-ray on Indy, and operated on him at lunchtime.
Soon after the surgery – a couple of hours later – Georgia phoned to inform all had gone well. As planned and as discussed with me when I signed for consent, Georgia had removed the lump and a little bit more of anal wall where the lump was sitting. As it appears that Indy’s bottom is his delicate part, she also removed the right anal sack just in case. She had already explained to us that anal glands are not of much use in dogs, and felt this time it would be best for his healthy one to come out too.
We collected Indy on Saturday, primarily as before discharging him, they wanted to make sure he wasn’t suffering ill effects from the anesthesia, as well as ensuring he was eating and drinking and going to the toilet alright.
What’s gonna happen next
Indy’s lump was going to be sent for histology, to find out which type of tumor he has had.
The internal medicine team at the hospital had already aspired some cells from Indy’s lump when we went for the check up two weeks ago, and their pathology team had confirmed the lump was cancerous, but with a different type of cancer from the melanoma he had last year.
After surgery, Georgia suspected Indy’s lump may be an adenocarcinoma, which typically dogs can get under their tail or in the bottom region.
We are still waiting for histology to produce their results to confirm which type of cancer this second tumor of Indy’s was, so that we can then put in place a forward plan with the internal medicine team again.
How is Indy coping?
Before I tell you how Indy is doing, let me remind you all the medical ups and downs he has endured.
Since adopting Indy and moving him in our house and formally making him part of our household, Indy has had two dental surgeries, he was of course surgically neutered and had a couple of surgeries to remove odd lumps here, there and everywhere. In early 2016 Indy hurt his back, but no surgery was required as with immobility his inflamed disks slipped back into place. And then of course, the cancer last December.
We are extremely fortunate, I feel, as one of Indy’s strongest personality traits is that he doesn’t know how to feel sorry for himself. Oh yes, when he is unwell, you will know, especially as he will turn lethargic. But otherwise, regardless of whichever procedures he has had to go through, as far as he is concerned is business as usual.
This time Indy reacted exactly the same. Partly this was due to the fact that the surgical procedure this time was deemed less invasive. The matter of the fact is that, in spite of the epidural injection that Indy was given during surgery, on the same evening of the surgery he was back on all his four legs. And the hospital told us the next day he was quite happy to go for moderate walks. He never lost his appetite, nor his toilet functions.
The impressive thing about our Indy is that when we collected Indy and brought him home last Saturday, he would have been quite happy to go for walkies and to play with his toys, had we not been told to keep him on limited activities for the next few weeks.
This has only proven possible for the following couple of days, mostly as due to snow and really cold weather, we decided not to take Indy for a walk.
However, we allowed Indy to start playing with his toys a couple of days ago, and yesterday we went for our first walk – yes, only one week after surgery!
Indy’s bottom is looking much better, with the scar self-absorbing more and more every day. And Indy has now completed his course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drops.
We are still waiting patiently to hear from Dick White Referrals about the histology results.
Be prepared – 5 things to remember
Firstly, apologies for the rather descriptive pictures. I can imagine they may not be for the fainted hearted amongst us. But the reason why I wanted, once again, share Indy’s story about his latest cancer is in fact to give hope.
I’ve always believed, and I still stand by it, that knowledge is power. Even when my father was ill, the worst part I could not cope with was the not knowing. Once we were told what his illness was, I googled and googled to find out potential prognosis and … well, what to expect. My father passed away two years ago, and I found watching him fade away physically and in mind excruciatingly painful. But, I knew it was going to happen. I believe if I hadn’t known, the pain would have doubled up by the addition of fear.
With Indy, like with all my family, I have always been the same. Our vets, or the DWR consultants, now know to be prepared to answer a million questions when they see us, as I’ve always wanted to know where we stood with diagnosis and prognosis of any medical issue Indy has had.
I believe that, knowing what processes Indy went through may help you if you are told your dog needs surgery. Having such a bad news delivered to you is painful and inevitably will bring tears. And, rightfully so, medical staff will not reassure you unless they have evidence in hand that the news is not too bad after all. But there are steps to expect, which may be equally scary, if you are not prepared for them. So, here we go:
- Shaving: when operating on your dog, surgical teams normally shave the area they have to work on – again, this is pain free for your dog, but it might cause itchiness when the fur start growing back.
- Ultrasound & x-rays: ahead of surgery, your dog may have to undergo ultrasounds and x-rays, for which (s)he will be sedated – but this is not painful for your dog.
- Anesthesia: for virtually all surgical procedures, your dog will be anesthetised. General anesthesia is required to ensure your dog is fully still during the operation. This is the case even during dental surgeries. Your surgeon will however always ensure your dog can take the anesthetics, checking that the both heart and lungs are well functioning. Your surgeon will never put your dog through unnecessary risks, and especially when your dog is more advanced in age, your vet will weigh up the risks with you.
- The Cone of Shame: for nearly all surgical procedures, your dog will have to wear a plastic cone around his/her neck, to prevent them to reach out to the part affected to leak and sooth. Dogs normally do not like it. To make it less bad, we use on Indy the ‘Doughnut of Shame’, some sort of inflatable Elizabethan collar which is devised for the same purpose but at least it enables him to reach out to his food and water bowls.
- Take It Easy: after surgical procedures, your dog may have to take it easy. This is the more difficult when the dog is of younger age. The first couple of days after surgery, your dog might still feel sleepy – this will be due to general anesthetics, which is often required for most procedures to ensure your dog is still during the operation.
Canine Cancer Awareness
Veterinary science is developing at the same fast pace as human medical science and the more we move into Indy’s older years, the more we realise that there is so much that veterinarians are still prepared to do to keep Indy alive and well.
It is only of a few years ago that surgery was not even contemplated whenever a dog was diagnosed with cancer. The most dogs were put through was a painful chemo and radiotherapy sessions, in an effort to prolong dogs’ life.
Don’t get me wrong, we are aware that Indy is getting old and is likely to die through cancer. One day, we know, we might face up to the fact that cancer may have come back and be inoperable.
The way my family and I see it, with this new cancer Indy has just had removed, is this. For humans, the cut off point is the five-year mark: the aim for a cancer patient is to survive five years and over in order to be deemed to have defeated a specific type of cancer. But that does not mean that later in life that person may not get other types of cancer.
If it is true that one year in dog life is equivalent to five human years, then yes, Indy has survived his melanoma, he has defeated it. Unfortunately he has now come up with another type of cancer, as sometimes it happens with us humans.
With Indy’s fight against cancer I want to raise awareness that canine cancer does not necessarily lead to immediate death. Scientific development has moved on from that point. Yes, it is true that unfortunately dogs only live up to a certain age – an age that varies statistically with the breed and the size. And yes, it is also true that statistics are just that, they are not the absolute rule. Ten to fifteen or sixteen years is nothing in our lives, at the thought of loosing such an important ‘person’, our faithful dog who has been our most trusted, fun and loving companion for such a small part of our lives.
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But with the new research, dogs’ lives can be extended without compromising the quality of their lives. I have said this before and I am reiterating it now. Provided we can afford it, we will carry on fighting cancer for Indy, until that day comes that clinicians tell us we cannot go any further or that his well being will be compromised. We want Indy to be with us for as long as possible, but only provided he still enjoys his happy life.
If you would like to find out more about Indy’s new ordeal, or if you have concerns of a practical or ethical nature, by all means do leave your comment below. It is good to share views and experiences, and I am looking forward to your input!