On osteosarcoma and amputation

“You chose to amputate the leg,” the oncology resident nodded. “It’s not an easy decision but, I think, the right one.”

Frankly, for me, the decision wasn’t a difficult one: Without amputation, this insidious cancer, osteosarcoma, would take Lucas in only a few months, if not weeks. With amputation, his prognosis expanded to around four months. With amputation plus chemo (a topic for another day), 50 percent of dogs make it a year and 25 percent hit two years.

My handsome boy

Of course, we had an advantage. We were coming at this from an informed place. When Emmett had a nerve sheath tumor on his leg years ago, the oncologist recommended amputation. We dove into the research, spoke with vets, chatted on internet forums, and discovered a pretty resounding optimism: Dogs recover quickly from amputation and can live pretty-darn-awesome lives afterward. (Ultimately, the surgeon was able to excise the tumor with wide, clear margins, preserving Emmett’s leg.)

With Lucas, we found ourselves slogging and flying – all at once. We spotted a mild limp, a slight favoring of his front left, but he had been to doggy daycare that weekend. A sprain, perhaps? He limps often, so we thought we’d wait and see. We waited through the weekend, and it worsened. I called the vet, who saw him on Wednesday. She x-rayed it. Saw the cancer. The next Tuesday we were at the oncologist’s, and the following Wednesday the leg was gone.

Limp to amputation. Three weeks.

He came home after three days at the animal hospital. We had two bandage changes scheduled, then we needed to wait two weeks until his stitches came out. At the first change, she removed the fentanyl patch. What we didn’t know, and what we still didn’t know when I wrote the follow-up post, was that when the patch was removed, Lucas went into withdrawal. The frantic pacing, the wild eyes, the drooling, all of it, she chalked up to having that patch taken off. (Add this to the notebook-length list of Things I Wish I Would’ve Known.)

But, you know, all that research we did and all those anecdotes were correct: He bounced back. Quickly. He was on complete exercise restriction for those two weeks. Every time we looked away–after those horrible first few days, anyway–he was attempting to sneak off, climb up the couch, dig in the garden, anything he could get away with that he wasn’t supposed to be doing. The difficult part wasn’t the fact that he lost his leg. It wasn’t the fact that his movement was jerky and unstable and unbalanced. It wasn’t the fact that he went through moments of panic and pain and disorientation. Nope. The difficult part was keeping his fuzzy butt still for two straight weeks.

Thankfully, the stitches came out as scheduled, and the restriction was lifted. He had a few full days to be himself. He even started short walks up and down the block. Heck, a few times he dashed off in a run across the backyard to bark at something passing by our fence.

Throughout all of it, from spotting the initial limp until his first chemo treatment this week, we received one warning over and over again: Be prepared for behavioral changes.

Emmett, Cooper, Lucas

Initially, I was nervous about how it would go with Emmett and Cooper, but that was totally unfounded. From the first moment Lucas came home from the hospital, they were like, “Oh, alright.” No biggie. Except one night. Neither John nor I saw it start, but Emmett and Cooper got into a Fight. Yep, with a capital F. We had to pull them apart. There was some blood. There was some fur flying. Thankfully, neither got hurt, and they were over it instantaneously. There’s been no recurrence, but I suspect that all of it–the weird schedules, the stress, the managing Lucas, the paying all our attention to Lucas, all of it–contributed to that single incident.

The other BIG change is that Lucas has become clingy. Now, for those of you with velcro dogs, this might sound strange. Lucas has never been like Emmett and Cooper who desperately need to be, basically, on top of us at all times. No, Lucas has always been independent. He’ll sleep downstairs while everyone else is upstairs. He’ll play in the yard by himself. He’ll pick a toy out of the box and chew peacefully on his bed while Emmett and Cooper trail me from room to room.

Not anymore. He’s usually right about here:

Lucas hangs out under my desk

Or here:

You don't need to see those papers to grade them, right?

Since he came home with us in 2007, he never once slept in bed with us. He spent the last few weeks sleeping right up close and snuggled with us.

The last change of note is that he seems to have some phantom pain. He’ll be lounging peacefully, then all of a sudden he YELPS! and shoots up and dashes off, like he’s been stung by a bee. After that happens, he’s disoriented for a bit, standing and staring at us with his tail tucked. It happened last night, and he spent about two hours just standing, staring, drooling, all with his tail tucked under his belly. It’s odd. It’s on my list of things to discuss with his vet next week.

As far as osteosarcomo and amputation go, that’s been our experience. I think I covered most of it, but please don’t hesitate to leave any specific questions in the comments. I’m happy to share what we’ve been going through in the hopes that it helps someone else. There have been a few life-saving products, too, which I’ll also cover (with a giveaway of something AMAZING) next week. He’s past his first chemo treatment, and I’m going to cover that–and add to the Things I Wish I Would’ve Known notebook–next week, as well.

In the meantime, please do let me know if you have any questions I can answer! And have a wonderful, fun-filled weekend with your pups! 

Finding a new normal

I’ve had this refrain, practically a mantra, that I’ve been repeating over and over. “When things get back to normal…”

When things get back to normal, I’ll restart my running/training plan with Cooper. When things get back to normal, I’ll finally sweep the melted snow and sand and ice out of the garage. When things get back to normal, I’ll buy real food at the grocery store, not just something I can stick in the microwave. When things get back to normal, I’ll answer all these emails. When things get back to normal…

I realize now: I need a new definition of “normal.”

Lucas at Purdue March 24

Lucas is okay. Our most terrifying fear was that the cancer was in his lungs. That there was nothing we can do. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. Unfortunately, though, his leg is far gone and will be amputated. Even more unfortunate is that they think it may have spread already but that the cells are too small to show up on x-ray. Because that’s usually the case. We’re waiting on the biopsy result from the lesion in his ankle to determine if he can take part in a clinical trial they’re conducting with a chemo drug. If so, he’ll have the amputation, then he’ll have a series of four IV chemo treatments spaced three weeks apart. The particular drug that is part of this study has some GI side effects – like loss of appetite and nausea – but they prescribe a medication with it to hopefully counter those. By all accounts, pets tolerate chemo far better than we humans do. Having been through it, I wouldn’t wish it on my baby, that’s for sure.

He is in a lot of pain and struggling to hobble around. We can’t schedule the amputation soon enough. He’s on a whole pile of pain meds until then, but it’s no fun – he oscillates between woozy and disoriented to crying and pacing as they wear off. As far as the amputation, I’ll write about that separately when we have more nailed down. We’re just awaiting the biopsy results…

In the meantime, I desperately need to create a new normal. For self-preservation and sanity.

For the last week, we’ve been sitting and sleeping in the living room, mourning his pain and the situation. Staying close. Watching. Crying. Our reality is that Emmett has survived long past his initial prognosis, for which we are immeasurably grateful. I cherish every single second with him and find myself just watching him be him. But, we’re also waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s around the corner – we just don’t know which corner. And it’s terrifying.

Now, we’re in the same situation with Lucas. Waiting. Waiting to see what happens and when – not if – when he worsens.

While that is our reality, I realize it doesn’t have to be our normal. Today’s post on one of my favorite blogs, oh melvin (and yo jake), nailed it so perfectly. Please go read that post. I’ll wait…

Beautiful, right?

Each day, I move forward a little bit , I gain clarity and strength while still maintaining the sadness and fear.  It’s odd how that is possible, to still be as frightened as day one but to feel as if I can absolutely see him through this. And then I realize, that is what love is.  It can break you, in the same moment that it lifts you up.

I’m taking her words to heart. I need to move forward, not just in monitoring their health and scheduling their tests and administering their medication, but with life and love and all the joy that comes with being so intensely bound to my sweet dogs.

Before Wednesday, I had some fun posts lined up. After Wednesday, they felt frivolous. Well, I’m going to dust them off and post them because I need to continue moving. Sure, I’m going to let a lot of things slide until we have a plan to take care of Lukey’s leg. I’m working ahead on some client stuff so that I can take those two weeks after his amputation off to do everything I can to help him recover.

But, I need to move forward. I need a new normal of balancing living with grief. I need a new normal of going and doing despite the fear.

Thank you so, so much for all your kind comments, messages, and emails. I can’t even tell you how much they lifted our spirits as we navigated the murky waters of this last week. I’m so touched and beyond grateful to be a part of such a supportive community. Please know that if I could hug every single one of you, I totally would right this minute. I’m so grateful for you. Thank you.

And so it goes…

It’s pointless to complain about life being unfair. It is the simple, unrelenting truth about life.

Over the past few days, Lucas developed a small limp on his front left leg. Lucas limps often because his back hips are so bad, so it was noteworthy that this was on the front. Of course, he had been to doggy daycare, so I assumed an injury. Yesterday he could barely walk and his ankle was swollen. I iced it and called the vet.

They got him in first thing this morning.

Lukey being so good at the vet

First of all, he behaved impeccably. The dog who, early on, would require a separate entrance to the vet sailed through the wait in the lobby, the exam, and then the x-rays. My heart was bursting with pride.

But as soon as the vet opened the door, I knew.

My big baby, the big yellow dog who stole my heart the moment our eyes locked all those years ago, has cancer.


His leg is spider-webbed. He must’ve been in pain for so long but only just started to show me.

I am shattered.

We’re waiting to hear from the oncologist at Purdue. They’ll do a full-body scan to determine if/how much it’s spread. If it hasn’t, they may be able to amputate his leg. If it has, his prognosis is grim. We won’t know until then, though.

The crazy thing is that there are still all these normal things I need to do: run to pick up his medicine, finish work deadlines, go to Chicago for Pinups for Pitbulls, walk Cooper, wash the dishes, and on and on. But, for now, I’m just sitting on the floor with my babies. The stress of the vet took it out of him, and Lucas is zonked, snoring away peacefully.

I’m going to take a break from blogging. If I miss replying to comments or updating or reading your blog, please forgive me for at least a short while. I’m not sure how to maintain normalcy right now, so I’m not going to. I promise to update when we know more – I suspect we won’t be able to get him into Purdue until next week, so it might not be before then.

All I keep thinking is how to handle two dogs with terminal cancer. I’m not sure I can. At least not now.


The trouble with table food

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I wanted to throw it out there and see what you guys think. It’s often-repeated advice, “Don’t feed your dog table food.”

Sure, there’s a list of stuff that dogs should never eat. But what’s really wrong with feeding your dog table food?

The trouble with table food
“The trouble with table food? I think the trouble with table food is that yogurt containers are too small to fit my whole face!”

I think there are two different issues:

First, there’s a legitimate concern that dogs might not get all their needs met from a diet of scraps. And I agree. If you’re feeding your dog “table food,” it’s needs to be healthy, nutritious food. Little bites here and there are fine as treats, in my opinion. Discounting Cooper whose food is 100% home cooked “table food,” the big boys are eating Petcurean, a commercial dog food, but also get lots of bits of veggies, some meat, scrambled eggs, the last bite of pretty much any sandwich I eat, and fruit – oh, how they love blueberries.

Second, there’s a big difference between feeding your dog table food and feeding your dog from the table. The latter results in unwanted begging behavior. The first, though, I’d argue isn’t that big of a deal. Table food is just… food. Right? And commercial dog food should just be food, too. All the ingredients in a bag of dog food should be whole foods (aka table foods). Commercial dog food is just processed “table food” ingredients made bite-size for convenience.

I suppose if someone’s table food consists of, I don’t know, Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, then feeding that to your dogs probably isn’t a good idea. (Of course, as much as I love brown sugar Pop Tarts, it’s not a good idea for me to eat them, either…) But if your diet consists of whole foods and you skip the stuff that’s on the toxic list, I guess I don’t get the hubbub about not feeding table food.

What do you guys think?? This isn’t a right or wrong, in my opinion, but I’d love to know your experience, ideas, and opinions on this!

Cooper’s gut

Who was well-behaved at the vet today? This guy!

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Which is rare, though I was grateful. I was already stressed enough! We’ve been cooking for him for months now and have his formula down to a science (I’ve gotten requests for those deets, so I’ll share that in another post). He hasn’t yet put any of the weight back on from his bouts of sickness, so he’s still almost 20% underweight. But his “business” has been stellar, something that wasn’t true for the first nearly four years of his life. We were thrilled. Thrilled enough we actually debated if it would be weird to snap a cell phone pic of his good poops. (We decided it would be.)

Then, it started up again (skip to the next paragraph if this stuff grosses you out): bloody, mucus poop. Plus, he was straining a ton just trying to go. And having accidents in the house again because he just couldn’t hold it for more than a couple hours.

We were still feeding him the same recipe that worked so well, so this felt like a major setback. I got him into the vet today, and she suspects inflammatory bowel disease in addition to his food allergies and intolerances. We’re starting him on a course of Metronidazole to settle his gut. And, turns out, there’s been a major outbreak of girardia at one of the doggy daycares in town – not the one he goes to, but the dogs who go to that one probably walk in the same park and such. So, they’re running a test for that but suggested we start treating anyway.

So, the real issue: Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is common, from what I understand. Or, at least, it’s not uncommon. She thinks this treatment will get his business back on track by Friday and to continue with his regular diet at that point. (Until then, we’re just feeding him boiled potatoes and a bit of quinoa.) It sounds like this is perhaps a “flare up” of the IBD, so if the treatment works and if this ever happens again, we’ll have a go-to solution.

Lastly, once all this is cleared up, we’re going to look into getting him on a probiotic. He can NOT eat yogurt, and I guess dogs need a different type of culture anyway. There seems to be imbalance in his microbiome, so the probiotics may help get his gut working again. {{Would LOVE any suggestions for brands/types that have worked for your dogs!!}}

I will say that it was wise of me to wait to write this post until after his appointment. Whooo, boy. I was a nervous wreck last night and all morning. I had convinced myself via googling (I know, I know) of all kinds of horrible scenarios. This, if the medicine works, is actually a relief. If I had written last night or this morning, this would’ve been a tear-soaked panic attack. So. You’re welcome for that. 😉

Have any of you experienced an IBD diagnosis? I’d love to hear what’s worked/not worked! And bonus points if anyone has suggestions for a probiotic!

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