G’day, Dr. Claire (Part 1)

4 Jun

Another week, another visit to the cancer doc. Lately whenever we visit the Small Animal Hospital at the University of Minnesota, I feel a bit like Norm from Cheers. “Todd!” “Jasper!” It’s really nice, but geez, not the best place to be a regular.

So, how did we get here? Jasper has had a long history of medical problems including ear infections, back pain from slipping on the ice, oh, and the time he ate some feta cheese and swelled up like a big red, bumpy golf ball.

Around the age of five the lumps started. In the beginning they were all fatty tissue, so we started affectionately calling him “Jasper the Fatty Lump Dog.” Good for a laugh because it reminded us of that song the “Humpty Dance” from the 90’s. Don’t ask.

Jasper chillin' at the University of Minnesota's Small Animal Hospital
Jasper chillin’ during a recent visit to the U of M’s Small Animal Hospital

Then in September 2009 we noticed a lump that was different. This one was harder and growing fast.

We took J to our regular vet at Como Park Animal Hospital where they did a needle biopsy. Results: Inconclusive. Next, they put him under, cut him open and took another sample. Results: Cancer.

I remember our regular veterinarian sounding so somber when she gave us the news. I kept thinking, “Why are you so serious? We’ll get through this.” Little did I know.

Next step, a visit to the canine cancer specialists at the U of M. Their recommendation was to get him in to surgery ASAP. “OK, now this is sounding a bit more serious,” I thought.

You know the saying “early detection is key”? I never really gave it any thought. I had a couple relatives who had died from cancer, but it just wasn’t something that was on my mind. Now, unfortunately, I was beginning to understand the saying all too well. The smaller the lump when it’s first detected, the easier to remove.

The veterinary surgeons came back and said, “The tumor has grown to a size that in order to remove it completely we’ll also have to take out parts of three ribs.”

“Did he just say ‘parts of three ribs’? That sounds pretty bad.” The gravity of the situation started to sink in.

We went through with the surgery. What choice did we have? We weren’t going to just sit by and let him die without a fight. Plus he was otherwise in great shape, so we were confident he could make it.

I remember seeing Jasper late that first night after his surgery in the hallway outside the doggy ICR. He was totally drugged up and had a wrap-around bandage covering the 8 inch incision where the ribs and cancer had been removed. It was heartbreaking to see him in such pain and with a dent in his side where the ribs had been. I felt horrible, but also like I would do anything to comfort him. If they would have let me sleep on the floor outside his hospital kennel that night I would have.

The weeks afterward were a long and slow period of recovery. He needed near constant attention and support. But he kept getting better and I kept thinking, “There’s a thing or two I could learn from this dog about strength during times of adversity.”

When the surgeon reported that they had removed all of the tumor, we felt a glimmer of hope. He did say at the end of the call, though, that they can never be 100 percent because of the microscopic nature of cancer cells.

During this time, I kept thinking how fortunate we were to have a world-class small animal hospital literally blocks from our house. It’s also come in handy over the years for those all-to-frequent ER runs – the chocolate bar he ate, the mysterious stomach ailments, the chewed off catheter spurting blood, etc.

University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital
Entrance to the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital

Following a long couple months, Jasper was nearly back to himself. Then came chemo.

The plan was for six injections over a four month period. He had the expected bouts of nausea and diarrhea, but overall it was going pretty well. Until month three. That’s when something started to grow on his side. The tumor was back – and with a vengeance.

It seemed to double in size daily. Surgery was out of the question because he couldn’t have any more ribs removed. Chemo obviously hadn’t worked. Radiation was our last hope.

(Continued in tomorrow’s post)

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