Dogs sniff out all kinds of hidden mysteries, hear at levels undetectable to humans, and reach deep, deep into human hearts to heal the hurt. They don’t know or care about issues that keep humans awake at night, dissolve us into tears, or drop humans to their knees in anguish. Like bone cancer in dogs. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month for people–breast cancer affects pets, too–and November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, but cancer strikes anytime. Even during a pandemic.
Many people today suffer through horrible situations with health and/or financial challenges. That also affects the pets they love. For many of us, our dogs and cats lift us up and support us through all the angst.
And I thank God for that.
Bravo Doesn’t Know He’s Sick: Early Signs of Bone Cancer
About six weeks ago, we noticed Bravo limping. Nothing serious, just a slight favoring of his right front leg especially after playing outside. The limp got better with rest, and he didn’t act tender. He let me check him out. But since he’s a giant breed (now 125 pounds), I worried about elbow dysplasia or a shoulder injury. So when the limp returned after a long day outside “helping” us in the garden, we had him examined by the veterinarian. With social distancing terms in place, Bravo got an escort to the clinic while I waited in my car in the parking lot.
Of course, he didn’t limp for the veterinarian, just licked everyone’s faces and pranced around. The doctor didn’t recommend X-rays since they don’t show sprains or other soft tissue injuries. The doctor prescribed rest and pain medicine—sort of a glorified aspirin designed for dogs—once to twice a day. Rimadyl tastes like treats, too, so value-added for Bravo-Dawg.
The meds helped, but the limp never completely went away, except when cursing squirrels invited chase games. Nope, he never limped when loping through the field after bunnies, tag-the-cat games, or playing keep-away with socks. But still, I worried.
Dogs don’t worry about what-ifs.
Annual Wellness Check: X-rays for Bone Cancer
A month later with the medicine nearly gone, and Bravo’s annual wellness check due, we returned for a follow-up. One of his favorite technicians escorted him into the clinic. He got his vaccination and a clean bill of health—other than he should drop a few pounds (oh, he won’t like that!). We refilled his prescription and scheduled radiographs. And I worried he’d need orthopedic surgery, a pretty big deal in a big boy like Bravo.
The veterinarian’s call came earlier than expected. He’d taken pictures of Bravo’s shoulders, legs, and even chest—why the chest? When nothing wrong could be found where expected, they looked further, and found a lesion on the medial aspect of his right humerus. Translation: a bone tumor in his shoulder. Bone cancer typically spreads to the lungs, hence the chest pictures.
Bravo doesn’t know. And he doesn’t care what it means. Bravo-Dawg feels good, loves his people, and only knows how he feels this moment, this hour, this day. And it’s our job to make sure that continues as long as possible. For weeks, for months. He may not have a year.
Praying For the What If? . . .
As a longtime pet journalist, I’ve written about this subject and interviewed pet owners as well as the top veterinary oncologists about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Sometimes it’s a curse to know just enough to understand the possibilities. Yet I still pray for the what if?…
You see, our veterinarian submitted the radiographs to a specialist. And it turns out, Bravo’s age and the location of the lesion are not typical for osteosarcoma (the most common and deadliest bone cancer). Therefore, the radiologist recommends a bone biopsy to rule out a bone infection—which might have the possibility of a cure. That’s the what if I’m praying for, even though my veterinarian cautions that’s a long shot. I have to believe in miracles. Bravo-Dawg gave us a miracle when he came to live with us.
This morning, the veterinary surgeon consulted with my doctor, and explained the location of Bravo’s lesion offers challenges to even getting a bone biopsy. The biopsy isn’t always conclusive, but has a 90% accuracy. So now, we’ve been offered options to figure out next steps. A bone biopsy? Or CT scan and fungal titers? Chemo to control the spread of the cancer? Amputation to manage his pain? Or will the next steps we choose mean other choices must be made?
Will we have Bravo for another 4-6 months? Can we keep him happy and pain-free for a year? We just don’t know. The unknowns create a special kind of hell. My family and friends have offered much-needed support via Facebook, phone calls, messages, and even Zoom meetings. For that we are incredibly grateful. During this horrific time for so many people around the world, all dealing with the unknowns, or the tragedy of knowns, my heart and prayers go out for all.
This is our own personal pandemic tragedy. I keep asking myself, would we have taken him earlier if not for the @#$%TY!! disrupting our world? Would that have made a difference? Probably not. But I remain grateful for this:
Bravo-Dawg doesn’t know he’s sick. There are squirrels to chase, a Karma-Kat to tease and snuggle, and human tears to clean away. And I thank God for that.
UPDATE: Consult with the surgeon yesterday, and bone biopsy scheduled for tomorrow morning (June 5, 2020). More details to come. THANK YOU to all for your prayers and support.
UPDATE JUNE 10: Bravo had his bone biopsy on Friday, June 5, and today we received the devastating diagnosis: sarcoma. He has a consult with an oncologist–the earliest appointment available is June 15th.
His cancer journey continues in this update.
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