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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Six Months Later...

Six months ago I posted about finding a bump on Brisbane's cheek, and that I hoped it was just a tooth abscess and not something really horrific like bone cancer. That was my worst case scenario. A month later we had confirmed it was cancer, but the needle biopsy indicated it was likely a hemangiosarcoma, and slow-growing localized tumor. That type of tumor generally comes back more aggressively when removed incompletely, and the location meant there was no good way to remove all of it. The vet and I decided to let it be for a while, and I planned to make decisions later based on Brisbane's quality of life.
posing on the summit, surveying the farmland

A little over a month after that, the tumor suddenly grew almost overnight. It interfered with Brisbane's teeth, he kept biting it and bleeding. A lot. I called the vet in tears and brought him in the next day, thinking it was the end. I told the universe over and over that I would do anything to have more time with him.

Brisbane was still in shockingly good spirits, rolling in the grass, sunbathing, chasing squirrels, herding sheep. I had even taken him to his first ever Barn Hunt class the day before his condition deteriorated, and he was so intensely focused and excited to play. I asked the vet about palliative surgery, just to keep him happy. She agreed, seeing how cheerful he was despite the huge tumor in his mouth.

I had been saving for our big move out of California, and to start my own business. To pay for Brisbane's cancer treatment, I ended up draining my savings account, starting a GoFundMe campaign, and ultimately making payments to my amazing vet. Brisbane recovered from surgery remarkably well.

We sent his whole giant nasty tumor off to the lab to find out what exactly it was. The results came back: osteosarcoma. Bone cancer. The worst possible thing.

Except...it wasn't the worst thing. It was just a thing. It was more information about what we were already dealing with as gracefully as possible. The thing about bone cancer is that it's a fairly common dog cancer, and humans get it too. This means there's quite a bit of research and some different treatments available. The type of tumor we thought it was, a hemangiosarcoma, doesn't respond very well to chemotherapy. Osteosarcoma does respond well to chemotherapy.

The most common type of bone cancer in dogs occurs in the limbs. This cancer tends to strike young, large-breed dogs, and rapidly spreads to the lungs in most cases. Often the cancer has already metastasized by the time it is detected. Osteosarcoma in the upper or lower jaw, like Brisbane has, is a bit less common and tends to run a different course. These tumors tend to be locally invasive, but unlikely to spread to other parts of the body. They also tend to be less painful than bone tumors in the limbs, and some are not painful at all.

I had thought that a diagnosis of bone cancer meant horrible pain and suffering followed by euthanasia far too soon. It turns out that osteosarcoma is not the same for every dog. We originally ruled out bone cancer simply because Brisbane was so darned happy and clearly not in unspeakable pain.

In the three months following his surgery, Brisbane's tumor has regrown quite a bit. Most of the swelling is actually blood rather than tumor, but when drained the thing just refills. He has been extremely happy and active up until the last week. Fortunately, our amazing vet has been doing lots of research and has acquired some chemotherapy beads. Tomorrow, Brisbane will be having a second surgery to debulk the tumor again, only this time the doctor will also implant several of the chemo beads at the site. These release chemotherapy drugs right at the site of the tumor itself, rather than putting them through his whole system via oral or IV drugs.

Just when I nearly had his vet bill paid off, I'm about to throw everything I've got into keeping my dog happy, again. I am extremely fortunate to be staying with my parents for the moment, allowing me to throw nearly everything I make into Brisbane's cancer treatment. I've put off my dreams of business ownership and moving for a year, and every time I look at my happy dog I think about how he is so totally worth it. When he stops being happy, I'll know it's time to let him go. For now, I'm taking him with me to both of my jobs and enjoying spending almost every hour of every day with him. I don't know how much time he has left, but even it's short I think this is a lovely way to spend it.

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