Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What We Did on Our Christmas Break

What have we been doing, you may inquire, that could be so important as to keep us from blogging our little butts off during this Holiday season? Well, we thought you'd never ask!

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

During the night-time hours of December 13th, we were awakened by the sound of our sweet Kate throwing up. After checking on her (she seemed fine) and cleaning up what appeared to be "normal" vomit, we went back to sleep. The next morning, we found she was so week in her rear legs that she was unable to stand. We immediately gave all the other pets a quick pee break and raced her to our vet. Upon examining Katy, Dr. Brandi discovered her gums to be pale and her abdomen to be somewhat swollen. She recommended bloodwork and x-rays, to which we readily agreed. After waiting for what seemed like hours, even thought it was no more than 10 minutes, we were greeted by a grim-faced vet delivering bad and scary news:

"I suspect Katy has hemangiosarcoma, and a tumor has ruptured in her abdomen."

Well, shoot. First we had Shiva the Red Dog introduce us to the world of osteosarcoma, and now Katy was sharing with us an even lovelier member of the sarcoma family. It's like this: these tumors usually start on the spleen, though they can also originate on the liver, heart and lungs, and they grow quite quickly and like to involve as much of your dog's vascular network as possible. German Shepherd Dogs and Golden Retrievers have the dubious distinction of being the most common victims of this variety, although it can strike any dog at any age.

Dr. Brandi also performed an ultrasound due to the free blood in Katy's abdomen occluding the x-rays. The two views showed an ugly, if murky, picture. From the looks of it, she had a softball sized mass on her spleen as well as possible liver involvement. Because of this apparent metastasizing of the cancer, she was a poor candidate for surgery. She was also 12 and had a grade 3 heart murmur. This was bad. We did learn, however, that dogs have the ability to auto-transfuse their blood, and if her tumor stopped bleeding, this neat trick could prolong her survival. In fact, some dogs have been known to survive this situation several times before succumbing to the cancer. And really, what choice did we have?

Dr. Brandi encouraged us to get a second opinion, as the only way to confirm a diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma was through biopsy or removal, and she told us to keep Katy quiet and still in the meantime. To complicate matters further, she informed us that it was possible the tumors were benign hemangiomas that also would cause her to bleed to death but could be cured by removal. We began Healing Touch treatments on her as soon as my mom arrived in town, and we put her on Shiva's anticancer regimen of K-9 Immunity and Artemisinin. While unsure if this protocol would work for her, we were assured by several veterinarians familiar with it that it wouldn't hurt. We also added fish oil and prayer...lots and lots of prayer. Add in Christmas preparations along with a full roster of pet sitting, and you can imagine the fun in our house! Here's a pic of my mom working her voodoo Healing Touch magic on our girl (the shaved belly is from the ultrasound):

After encouragement from Dr. Pam (uber vet from California we met on tripawds.com) and our dear friend and shelter medicine/spay-neuter goddess Dr. Becky, we decided to schedule a consult with Shiva's surgeon Dr. Mitch for right after Christmas. If Katy was still with us, just maybe something could be done.

The following week, Daisy - Katy's daughter - began limping much in the way Shiva did almost two years ago...and on the same leg. We now had a potential disaster on our hands, as our immediate fear was osteosarcoma and amputation. To say that the ride to our vet's office was tense would be doing a disservice to the word. We were freaking out! Dr. Brandi performed a very thorough exam, and shot x-rays of the offending appendage. Fortunately for us, they came back clear, and she received a diagnosis of soft tissue damage (a sprain). She was placed on house arrest, and we're glad to say she seems to be doing better.

A few days later we piled Katy once more into the Element and headed west to see Dr. Mitch. We crossed our fingers that the improvement in attitude and appetite Katy showed over the previous week indicated stabilization of her condition. Dr. Mitch shot x-rays, and Dr. Brian provided his usual brilliant ultrasound work. The results were dramatically different from those of just a little more than a week prior. All the free blood was gone, and the only tumor evident was on her spleen. Just to give you some perspective on the size of this sucker, take a look at her x-ray (I circled the tumor):

Dr. Mitch informed us that since her tumor appeared to be localized to her spleen, we had a window of opportunity for removal. Although Katy presented higher risks due to her age and the presence of a heart murmur, he felt good about her chances. After some deliberation and prayer on the part of Shiva's Mom and myself, we decided to set surgery for the following Monday...three weeks to the day from discovery of her condition. Dr. Mitch also told us that Dr. Robert Paddleford, the man who literally wrote the book on small animal anesthesia, was going to be in the clinic that Monday consulting with him on another case, and would we like to see if he was willing to run anesthesia for Katy? Having heard this man spoken of in reverential tones by many vets over the years, I was ecstatic at the possibility, and I asked him to make it happen!

Then Christmas, ah Christmas. When everyone loses their minds, when your pet sitting schedule explodes, when your mother takes over your entire kitchen - including the oven - with a massive turkey, and you and your wife (Shiva's Mom) have to go to a neighbor's house to cook all the side dishes in their oven, and when poor Shiva's Mom is felled by the nastiest of intestinal viruses on Christmas night. Yeah, Christmas. Enough said.

Katy lived through it (and so did we), and on the morning of the 27th we took her to the clinic for possible surgery. If x-rays of her heart and lungs showed no signs of cancer, Katy was going to be under the care of an all-star team of veterinary professionals. If anyone could pull her through, it would be them.

Once the x-rays showed "all clear," things got moving. Dr. Mitch happily allowed my mom to perform pre- and post-operative Healing Touch treatments on Katy, and he remarked that it sure seemed to work with Shiva when Brenda Rasch treated her all those months ago. He called her a "record-breaking, fast-healing osteo surviving Golden," and that's enough for us. Dr. Paddleford proved to be sincere, sympathetic and kind, and his expertise - and hugs - were greatly appreciated. A little less than 90 minutes later, it was over. Look at what they found (sorry of you're squeamish):

The one on the left is the alien beast emerging from our sweet girl's abdomen, and the one on the right is after it's been "killed" and placed on a tray. The flat parts are spleen, the big dude is tumor. The little bumps are tumor nodules spreading into other parts of the spleen. Isn't science fun?

One thing we're good at in our house is managing post-op recovery...we've elevated it to an art form. Since we needed to keep Katy still and quiet for two weeks, that's good. Her first 36 hours were spent in the clinic, and then it was time to come home. Here are her first pictures after returning home. The omnipresent red camera hog makes her appearance, as you knew she would. We hope you like her snazzy t-shirt and "I can't chew on my stitches" collar:

So, where were we? Oh yes...Katy's recovery. It's going well, but an interesting thing happened along the way since her surgery. Last Friday, I found this between the toes of Shiva's remaining front foot:

What could it possibly be? Why, another tumor of course! So...back to Dr. Brandi's clinic we went, where Sarah aspirated it (Dr. Brandi was gone at the time) and we discovered the meaning of the term "vascular." We then took the results to Dr. Becky, who spent considerable time over her New Year's weekend researching different types of interdigital masses. Because of the blood in the slide, diagnosis wasn't possible. The two things she told us were: 1. it might be benign, but 2. it needs to come off asap. On Monday we took the slide and the Red Dog to Dr. Brandi, who concurred with Dr. Becky. On Tuesday (today), we took her to - you guessed it - Dr. Mitch for a consult and possible removal. He agreed with our other vets, took x-rays of her foot and chest to make sure nothing had spread and recommended removal within the next week or two.

Due to our recent experience, we decided not to wait, and Dr. Mitch agreed that the mass could be removed immediately. Thanks to Shiva's stupendous disposition, he even was willing to lightly sedate her and remove it using local anesthetic only, rather than subject her to the rigors and risks of general anesthesia. Here is what it looked like before removal:

Twenty minutes later, take a look at the result of the efforts of Dr. Mitch and his AWESOME staff (another squeamish alert...sorry):

Less than half-an-hour after that, the Red Dog walked out of the clinic under her own power...with a little help from her Ruff Wear harness (yay!). Right now she's asleep at my feet. In a few days, we'll know what it was. Until then, thank you to all the vets, to all our family and friends who care about these ridiculous dogs of ours and to my mom for her tireless work during her "vacation." And finally, a special thank you to Jesus for inspiring us to pray. The Miracle Maker, indeed.


  1. wow- what a story. So glad that everybody is doing fine. Prayers for all of you and certainly a very happy and healthy 2011.

  2. Holy MOLY I can't believe what you guys have been through. WOW!

    Your dogs are amazing, truly amazing. How thankful we are that they made it through so well.

    The Power of Dog, the Power of Prayer. The two go hand-in-paw.

    Now, it's time for you guys to take a vacation or something, dog knows you deserve it!

  3. Thanks for the kind words, friends. It truly was an ordeal, a test of faith. That faith, along with prayers, were all that kept us going.

    These dogs have given so much, have taught us so much about life and love, that we had to do whatever we could for them. They're family, after all!

    The funniest part of it is this: We did not even include in the narrative my brother's wedding or the funeral of a close friend that both occurred during that period, because we knew nobody would believe us!!

    Thanks for the "pawsitive" thoughts and good wishes...we'll keep you informed as things continue to improve!

  4. I truly hope your Beloved Golden is doing OK. We love our Golden Princess more than any words could ever say. Pasha, Beth and Jim

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  6. Hi there, I'm doing some research. My 11-year-old yellow Labrador was just "diagnosed" with a dermal melanoma right between his dewclaw and his large foot pad. It looks remarkably similar to Shiva's toe mass/tumor. Our next step is to get X-rays of the lungs and abdomen to see if it has spread (we should also get more "local" ones of the leg/foot too) and then removal of the mass, evaluating everything at each step. My dog is otherwise in perfect health, has a wonderful disposition. Your post is very comforting--especially the local anesthesia part. I am trying not to think the worst. ;) Do you have any updates on Shiva (and her recovery too)? Would love to hear. Thanks again so much. -Jenna