To Treat or not to Treat
I originally intended to keep this blog more general than personal, but I ran into someone over the holidays who (unintentionally) persuaded me that my experiences with two of my dogs is worth relating. I met her at a party, and we drifted into chatting. Naturally, me being me, the conversation turned to dogs, and she commented that she had recently lost her little dog, her much loved companion. Of course I asked when (a few months ago) and how old was he (about six). That being young for a dog of that breed to die, I asked if it was an accident or a sudden illness that caused it, but she said not exactly. The dog had been diagnosed with cancer and the vet said the affected leg should be amputated, and “I just couldn’t do that to him.”
I had just that week taken Cruiser for his final chemo treatment, following a foreleg amputation three months earlier. Ten years ago a previous dog had lost a hind leg to cancer, and I had also chosen treatment for her. She was up and walking a few hours after the operation, and completed a series of chemotherapy following that. There were some problems with the chemo (loss of appetite for a couple of days after each dose) but she recovered, and even competed in a few UKC obedience trials. (They allow handicapped dogs to compete.) We had a couple of years together before the cancer seemed to be returning, and at that point, considering her age and history, we did not pursue treatment, and when her quality of life seemed to be deteriorating, we said good-bye.
Cruiser had seemed, depressed and “mopey”, but we couldn’t find a reason for it, and then he broke his leg. The quick trip to the vet and resulting x-rays showed a tumor, which had weakened the bone, and they strongly suspected cancer. I requested a “needle biopsy” for more information, and though that wasn’t complete enough for absolute proof, taken together with his obvious decline of joie de vivre, we decided amputation was definitely indicated. Like Meg, he was up and walking within hours of the surgery, and his recovery was quick and seemingly easy. (His biggest problem seems to be that he can’t figure out how to lift his leg to satisfactorily mark the local doggy landmarks.) The oncologist told me that the medicines had been improved in the past ten years, and fewer treatments were considered necessary. I have to say he really sailed through them. I brought him home from the first one prepared to fix him some “special” meals if necessary. He jumped out of the car, went out in the back yard to play fetch with his ”sister”, came in, and brought his dish out to the kitchen, his “subtle (?) indication that he was ready for dinner, and then brought me the indoor toys for some more play. And the rest of the treatments went the same way. He never refused a play time, and licked his dish clean after every meal. But the best part is my friends’ reaction. Several of them have commented, spontaneously and with some surprise, “He looks so happy!” And they’re right. Within a week or so after the surgery, his eyes were bright, his tail was wagging, and he was obviously enjoying life again. He’s actively pursuing all of his prior activities (well, maybe not “marking” as efficiently) and will probably compete in obedience and/or rally again. Post-treatment tests indicate no sign of cancer at this time. Could it come back? Certainly – it showed up for who-knows-what-reason in the first place. But he is happy and enjoying an active life – and I’m enjoying his enjoyment.
I realize that each situation is different. There are many things to consider – age, general health, and yes, finances. Cancer treatment isn’t cheap, and I’m thankful that my ”dog budget” allowed it. The vet told me the day of the initial diagnosis that at least 50% of the owners who heard similar news simply chose to euthanize the dog, which I admit, surprised me, but they probably had reasons for their decisions that didn’t apply in my situation. If I find myself in that position again, depending on the circumstances I might decide not to treat . But with the experiences I’ve had, I will definitely consider amputation as an option, something I can do for the dog, not to him, and I will make my decision accordingly – and be grateful for the days we have left together.
I hope you never face it, but Cruiser and I feel that this was the right choice for us.