Saving Cody… The Beginning

My name is Michelle and Cody is my five year old Labrador Retriever. He is beautiful, healthy, lean, happy and sweet. He is actually the sweetest. His temperament is so mild mannered that although i have a “BEWARE OF DOG” sign in the window by my front door, Cody would actually lick someone to death while wagging his tail rather than scare anyone off. He is a big dog so he definitely looks the part to the average delivery person. He is 67lbs and red. Not yellow like a lighter Lab, certainly not Chocolate or Black… He is red. Totally unique and beautiful. I have had him since he was 12 weeks old. He is the man, boyfriend, husband i have always wanted. He listens to me with no judgment in all my moods and always kisses and cuddles with me whenever i need it. I love this dog more than anything in my life.

On Sunday September 19, 2010 I felt some strange lumps under my five year old Labrador Retrievers neck. Cody is the healthiest of specimen of a dog. He is lean, well exercised, fed top of the line diet, no table food, very little treats, and is happy and well taken care of. He has never even had a cold in his short lifespan. So we just assumed the lumps were fatty benign tumors that Labs are known for.

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Monday September 20 I started to really worry about these lumps as they are pretty large and on both sides of his neck. The one on his right side was much larger than the left and this made me think it was not fatty tumors. I was pretty worried so i emailed my friend Kevin, who is a Vet in NY to ask if Labradors had large neck glands, and what it could be. He told me to take the dog in to the Vet as soon as possible.

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Tuesday September 21 I took Cody to Clint Moore Animal Hospital first thing in the morning. I saw Dr Delatorre who raved about what a great looking, healthy, great eyes and coat and teeth and sweet dog he is. He felt Cody’s neck and the rest of his lymph nodes which he said were ALL swollen. My heart sank and i could feel my throat swell… i was trying so hard to hold back tears that i could feel my face getting red. I know what this means. He let me feel all the nodes myself and they were indeed swollen. We decided to do needle aspirations / biopsies of two nodes, the one in his neck and one on his hind leg behind his knee. I would have the results Friday. This visit cost me $225.53. On my way home with him in the car I cried my eyes out. As soon as i got him home i took him to run with the tennis ball across the street with the ChuckIt… He loves this game more than anything, it is his favorite thing on earth and he looked and acted fine. You would never know he was sick at all.

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The week from Hell. Even though i had no info on what this prognosis would be i was a complete mess. I find this latest episode to be one to be the cruelest of jokes thus far in my long tragic year. My beloved dog. My baby. The baby I will never have. I have seriously been in tears on and off for the last week, but these last 24 hours have been the most emotional I can recall. This dog is my life… My whole world revolves around him… When i come home to feed him, take him out, run him with the tennis ball, i swim with him, he sleeps next to me every night, my house is filled with his toys…. I feel an emptiness approaching that is just inconsolable right now and i can’t seem to shake it. I so want to be mad at something… To blame something… I feel like screaming “how dare you take my dog from me!” … At who or what i don’t know…

I looked all over the internet. I called many holistic vets who are not forthcoming unless I pay them. I call many companies specializing in Canine Cancer Care. One company told me that because i live in Florida, take the dog OFF TAP WATER IMMEDIATELY. I was shocked. Why? Florida is one of the highest states with dog cancer rates and they believe it is from all of the prescription drug remnant in the tap water. The elderly which are the majority in Florida, are known to flush their prescriptions down the toilet to get rid of them once they are expired. This is impossible to filter out. This hit me like a ton of bricks. It is common at least once a year, maybe more, for my county to issue a water alert that they are “sanitizing” the lines with BLEACH. My tap water comes out for a week at least WREAKING of chlorine… worse than a public pool.

Cody is on bottled SPRING WATER for the duration. So are the rest of the animals.

I promised him I would not let him suffer so that i may have more time with him… I just will not do that. He will go with dignity and grace, he deserves that. And as I know you know, and everyone says this about their animals… But my dog is the best. He is beautiful and happy and loving and so well trained, he listens, swims, catches tennis balls in mid air, swims with me, sleeps by my side, snores loudly and contentedly and I just can not imagine my life without him. My heart is just absolutely broken and there is no consolation right now… It all seems so unfair… And i have absolutely had enough this year. It is tough to stay positive…I feel pretty downtrodden right now… We were so upset all week long talking theoretically about what we would do.
I emailed Kevin and told him about the lymph nodes and biopsies. He told me about Canine Lymphoma. It is a very aggressive cancer that is ridiculously common in dogs, and moves very fast. If left untreated the dog has a little over a month and will decline very fast. If treated with prednisone alone it could give him a few more weeks. If treated with chemotherapy he could potentially have a year or more. We will cross that bridge………….

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Friday comes and first thing in the morning i call the vet to find out his prognosis. It is the worst news I could possibly imagine and I am devastated. It is lymphoma. The lab reports states they took 14 slides. :

“The aspirated cells are characterized by a large number of neoplasticism lymphocytes. They are intermediate to large, 2-3 times the size of a red cell.they have a small to increased amount of deeply basophilic cytoplasm. The nuclei are round to reniform or oval and eccentric and occasionally display a faint nucleolus. Small numbers of mitotic figures are identified. A variable amount of peripheral blood and free nuclear material are seen. Microscopic findings are LYMPHOMA. The preparations contain an almost monomorphic population of intermediate to large atypical lymphocytes consistent with a neoplasticism population. The lymphoma appears to be of a high grade malignancy. Average survival time without therapy is 30-50 days. Aggressive chemotherapeutic protocols may result in 10-14 months maybe longer. ”

I call Kevin when i hang up with the vet and he walks me very methodically through all my options, what they mean, how they work, possible prices and side effects. Again:

Do nothing: maybe a month, month and a half with a very quick decline.

Prednisone only: maybe four months or more depending on how he does with side effects like high thirst, diarrhea, increased urination. Reduces the lymph nodes in about 48 hours and basically eases his comfort level. It is very affordable ($13 for a months worth) but just treats symptoms and not the actual cancer. Once the nodes start to come back it is a slippery slope downhill and he will get very lethargic, no appetite, start vomiting and the cancer will start to kill his organs and him. Prednisone is a one way street as well… Once you start this option chemotherapy is less likely to be as effective…

Chemotherapy: maybe a year survival time, maybe more depending on the dog and his health. Cody is a good candidate because he is so young and healthy and in such great shape. Dogs do phenomenally well on chemotherapy, no baldness and some show no outward signs of sickness. It is a combination of three to four to five drugs given over the course of months in various combinations so the cancer does not have the opportunity to become immune to one. It is very expensive and varies from $5k to 12k depending on the protocol and the doctor. It is a combination of pills, shots and IV drips, along with blood tests to monitor his white cell count and again, depending on the doctor other tests like MRIs, CT scans, liver tests etc.

This is so much to absorb. Kevin told me to supplement his diet with Omega 3 fish oil and a multiple-vitamin. He has been getting those every day since. I also took Cody off tap water since especially in Florida there is such an elderly population that flush their prescriptions medications down the toilet they end up in our tap water, along with fluoride and chlorine. This can not simply be filtered out. No more tap water for the animals.

After talking it through with Tim we decided to put Cody on prednisone because we just could not fathom affording chemotherapy. I picked up a prescription for the prednisone around 4pm on Friday which cost me $12.78, and started him on it at mealtime. 30mg a day, every day at 6:30pm. It seemed to have an immediate effect of lethargy on him.

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Saturday September 25. We wake up in the morning with heavy hearts. We take Cody together over to run with the ball and he is kind of lethargic but still plays. He has diarrhea. It is pretty bad, very liquid and bright yellow. He is almost pissing out of his ass. Knowing my dog i know that this makes him feel awful. He has never been sick and when he does get any kind of diarrhea (like after taking him swimming in the ocean and him swallowing sea water) he gets mortified and depressed. He is now mortified and depressed and the frequency of his needing to go out to relieve himself is getting worse. He also seems to be breathing very heavy and panting a lot which i know is also a side effect of the prednisone. I am forcing him to drink water and giving him ice cubes. We baby him all night and watch him like a hawk. I am getting pretty upset and sad simply because he is showing signs of sickness and i am trying to keep it in perspective that this is the meds and not the cancer. Sleeping Saturday night was restless and we were up most of the night taking him out a lot. He slept on the bed with us, a 67 lb dog in the middle of a queen size bed with two adults. Needless to say we were exhausted on Sunday morning.

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Sunday September 26. Took Cody for a walk in the morning and he still had terrible diarrhea. Trying to stay positive is hard when it is so obvious he is not feeling well. I bought some Immodium as i remember giving him something similar once before and it helping although i believe it was pepto bismal. I give him one tablet recommended for a child of under 70lbs. In the afternoon our friend came over to see him and brought his little dog, Cody’s girlfriend we like to joke.

Cody seemed pretty tired and was panting a lot. I am trying to force him to drink more water as I am worried that he is getting dehydrated. He is very excited when his girlfriend is here and he ends up squirting diarrhea all over the living room carpet. Again he is mortified and simply could not control himself. We clean it up and he is going with a lot more frequency even since the day before. After the other dog leaves he sleeps quite a bit. I am very worried about his dehydration and clearly the Immodium is not working. I give him another dose. I send Kevin an email asking about diarrhea. He gets back to me saying Immodium is not good for him. Great. Now I feel horrible. We have yet another terrible night with no sleep and being awaken at 3am from the stench of diarrhea in the living room. A huge pile. We are both up all night again. I am so worried.

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Monday September 27 I wake up and call the vet asking for a prescription of Flagyl or something to stop his diarrhea. Dr Delatorre says to bring him in for a shot to stop it and make some adjustments to his prednisone and to pick up some Flagyl. I take him in and he gets a shot of Centrine, some Endosorb tablets and some Flagyl to take home. The Dr says that he is not dehydrated and that a good test is if you lift the skin up on his back, if it goes right back down he is ok, if it is slow in going back down he is dehydrated. They give him some Endosorb tablets as well and cut his nails for me. We decide to skip his prednisone for the day and start him again tomorrow on a lesser dosage of 20mg since it is having such a bad effect, but he says that 30mg is not a high dose regardless. Clearly he is sensitive to it. They are constantly telling me how good he is, and how good he looks. The Dr asks if i considered chemotherapy since he is so young and healthy and i say “I would love to do it for him if I could afford 10k” and he looks at me shocked. He says “you know Dr Butzer does it here and it is only $3000 for the full course elf treatment”. I had no idea. I ask for some literature on it and they give it to me. It is very basic info but it is a small light at the end of my dark sad tunnel right now. This visit cost with all the prescriptions and shot, $137.80. I take Cody home and call Tim to tell him about this. He is excited like i am but kind of skeptical. Discount chemotherapy? Huh?

So i start to call around. I call the oncologist I had the number for and she tells me that they do the University of Wisconsin Protocol which I have read a lot about all over the internet. It is a good protocol with a high success rate of remission. She however, charges about $6k for the treatment, plus an initial consultation appointment to do more tests on him to stage him, check his liver and other organs etc. This seems a waste to me because if i do the chemotherapy I could care less where else it is I just want to kill the cancer. I call another vet to get an opinion on doing chemotherapy with an oncologist as opposed to a regular vet. She says go with the oncologist. Then i call Kevin. He says he used to give dogs chemotherapy and it is not rocket science. It is basically just administering drugs and watching white cells. It does not take an oncologist to do this unless they are trying some new cutting edge treatment on him. Straight forward chemo has been proven and is standard so anyone can do it. BINGO! That was the answer i was looking for. We decide we are going with the discount chemotherapy. So strange that the most expensive animal hospital I have ever been to offers the most affordable chemotherapy i have ever heard of.

Cody seems to be doing ok with the diarrhea that night although his gas is horrid, which we think is funny of course. He has a very sleepy but good night, no accidents and no anxiety. I get a decent nights sleep. Tomorrow we start Chemo….

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~ by Michelle Sammartino-Zeto on November 4, 2010.

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