It was the last diagnosis we expected to get for our dog, Luciano, who is only three and a half years old. I sat at home nervously while our vet performed the ultrasound, anxiously awaiting the results. Luciano had been so sick lately. I just wanted to know what was causing it and how we could fix it. But I was not prepared for the phone call I was about to receive. “Luciano has a tumor the size of a lemon in his descending colon. Some of his lymph nodes also appear to be affected.” The reality suddenly slapped me in the face: our dog has cancer.
I was in complete shock.
It all started when we noticed blood in his stool about a month prior. Over several weeks, he went through fecal tests, blood tests, x-rays and many “standard” medications for more common conditions. But none of the results were conclusive, and meanwhile, the bleeding only grew worse.
As time passed, his condition actually reminded me a lot of inflammatory bowel disease (the doggy version of what I have), and looking back, I wish desperately that was the case. IBD is not fun, but it can be manageable, and it’s not usually fatal. Under the guidance of our doggy-advocate friend, we finally ordered an ultrasound, and it was that ultrasound that changed everything for us.
The Diagnosis of Canine Cancer
It was believed that his tumor had probably been there for quite some time. Initially believing it was a carcinoma, we were urged to rush him into emergency surgery. From that moment, our life became a series of frantic phone calls, appointments, tests, and a roller coaster of revelations all with regard to Luciano. After various appointments and much speculation (his diagnosis changed several times), it was finally confirmed that Luciano has intestinal lymphoma, for which surgery is not an appropriate solution. In the beginning we were told it was an aggressive T-cell lymphoma, and that even chemotherapy probably wouldn’t be very effective. He was given a prognosis of three months. We were crushed. A more recent test has revealed that his prognosis might be slightly better, as it shows he has B-cell lymphoma instead. This is unusual for GI lymphoma, but a better case scenario. We are still waiting to find out exactly what this means in terms of a prognosis, but ultimately, it doesn’t change the painful fact that our sweet Luciano is not going to live out a full life, and we may be losing him soon.
To say we are devastated would be an understatement. In our eyes, Luciano is still just a puppy. He is our little baby and brings us such joy. He is an integral part of our family, and we can’t imagine life without him. He is also Spencer’s sidekick, his buddy, his best friend. The idea of losing our Luci is breaking my heart, and thinking about the loss Spencer will feel breaks my heart all over again. We, of course, know that dogs have much shorter lifespans than humans do, and we knew we’d have to face a situation like this someday. We just never imagined it would happen this soon.
Treatments for Canine Cancer
I spent the first several days after his diagnosis crying my eyes out. But now, when I feel the tears coming on, I try to refocus my energy on what we can do during the time we have left with Luciano. We did elect to start him on chemotherapy, but after just one treatment, we are realizing that it probably won’t be the best solution in the long run (at least not in its most aggressive form).
As a side note, I’ve learned that chemo in dogs is not the same as the treatment they give to humans. In humans, the goal of chemo is to completely kill the cancer, so the treatment is very aggressive. In dogs and other pets, the goal is to manage the condition, trying to give them a quality of life for as long as possible. Therefore, treatment in pets is less toxic, and pets tend to experience less side effects. Still, there are many downsides to consider, and in the end, it’s unlikely that canine cancer will be ever be cured with chemotherapy.
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We were are continuing to explore all our medical options at this point. We are also exploring holistic treatments that have been proven to fight cancer and/or improve quality of life. Meanwhile, I am working on putting together a completely home-cooked anti-cancer diet, as well as a supplement regimen. In addition to help from oncologists and experienced friends and family, I am finding a lot of great information in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but so far, it’s been immensely helpful. Whether or not we can extend Luciano’s life any longer remains to be seen. We know we don’t want him to suffer. But with proper treatment, we hope we can help him feel as good as he can so he can enjoy the time he has left.
In addition to treatment options, I have to remember that one of the most important parts of caring for a dog with cancer is maintaining a calm and loving energy, no matter what. This is what I’m trying to achieve, although it’s difficult. This is such a painful process, and I am struggling. I seem to go back and forth between feelings of deep sadness and then determination, as I feverishly search for promising healing treatments. Between being sad and amped up, I have to stop myself and remember that a calm and “normal” state is the best environment for Luciano and his healing.
What to Expect for our Dog with Cancer
Whatever lies in the days ahead remains to be seen. We will do every reasonable thing we can to treat Luciano’s cancer or at the very least, make him comfortable during this time. Luciano is a fighter: he survived being tossed off a bridge as a baby puppy, and then shortly after his rescue, he had to live in isolation as he fought off an intense and nearly-fatal case of parvo. We call him our “scrappy” one, and we hope he’ll continue to have this fighting spirit as the days progress. In the meanwhile, we have to weigh out which treatments make the most sense for his happiness, all while trying to spare him any suffering. Although we are heartbroken over this cancer diagnosis, we have to take comfort in the fact that we got to love this puppy for the precious time we’ve had so far. And if his time with us is running out, it just means we’ll have to love him twice as hard while he’s still here.
Hug your loved ones today, even the four-legged furry ones.