Lakeshore Cottage

A reno blog for a cottage just outside of Toronto
 
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Hemangiosarcoma in dogs, aka so much sadness

Friday, June 16th, 2017

This isn’t a cottage post but I don’t have anywhere else to put it and Rosie was very much a huge part of my life in building this cottage. I’m writing this in hopes that it helps someone looking for answers or support when faced with a diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma in their beloved dog. I lost my best friend of 14 years this past Sunday and I read anything and everything I could on this awful disease. I hope this helps someone.

We first realized something was not right when we were woken up at 6am to the noise of bottles crashing – Rosie had collapsed into our kitchen cart. She was disoriented and couldn’t walk properly. Blood results showed high white blood cell counts and low red blood cells. Our vet said it pointed to anemia and kept asking if we had noticed blood loss anywhere. There wasn’t, and we hadn’t, so after she showed signs of improvement two weeks later we didn’t think anything of it until she showed signs of getting worse the next weekend. We took her back to the vet where further bloodwork showed a near non-existent red blood cell count. We were sent to an emergency clinic for an appointment with a specialist.

This is where I first heard the word ‘hermangiosarcoma’ (an extremely aggressive cancer of blood vessel cells) and was told that she had at most 3 months to live. An ultrasound and xray showed that she had 2-3 tumors in her spleen and one had most likely ruptured, causing the collapse. They had also done another round of blood work and her numbers had improved over the last test, so they told me that if I wanted to go ahead with her only option – a splenectomy, the removal of her spleen – today was the day.

At the time I didn’t understand how choosing the surgery route would only get us 3 months. How could something that would ‘fix’ the situation mean such a low life expectancy? But that was only because I didn’t yet understand that it meant that if I didn’t go forward with the surgery, she would be at risk of dying at any moment because of another tumor rupture. That’s what had caused the collapse in the first place. I left her for the surgery and was able to pick her up again three days later.

Recovery was really bad. She already hadn’t been eating leading up to the specialist visit but didn’t want to eat after the surgery either. I wish I had paid more attention to this because I think it was a big indicator that something was wrong in the first place. She lost a crazy amount of weight from both the cancer but also because she had stopped eating her regular food leading up to the diagnosis and surgery. We went into overdrive trying to find anything she would eat and cooked endless homemade dog food (all human grade) recipes. She’d eat it for a couple days and then switch and not want anything to do with it. I also saw that there had been a UPenn study using the Turkey Tail mushroom and tracked it down online to sneak in her food. (As of this posting date, it looks like they are continuing research into hemangiosarcoma and might be worth checking out if you find yourself needing more info/options.)

We took her to follow-up checkups and on the second one we were told that if we wanted to do anything further to try to prolong her life, chemo was the only method. We decided to go with it as we were told it could typically extend the life expectancy to 4-8 months. After the first round of chemo we were convinced we had made a mistake with choosing it. She had a seriously difficult time with it – wasn’t able to walk well for the first few days, didn’t at all seem herself, was falling over again. We opted to do the second round three weeks later (instead of the usual 2 weeks) and took a reduced dosage.

The idea with chemo for dogs is to find the balance of quality of life essentially knowing that they’re going to die anyway. With humans the goal is to kill the cancer at all costs, with the person being able to deal with (and understand) the end goals that make quality of life temporarily unbearable. During the time between her first and second round of chemo she was able to fully recover from the surgery and chemo and found her appetite again. We felt pretty good (albeit cautious) going into the second round. Surprisingly she had no issue with it and actually showed great signs of improvement. She was back to her old self, chasing our other dog Pickles around the yard and fetching her ball – something she hadn’t done in months. The third round two weeks later also went well. Somewhere between the third and fourth though, I noticed a slight decline.

I don’t know if it was something in the bloodwork for the fourth that prompted the specialist to ask if we wanted to do the ultrasound before her fourth round or wait until the fifth, when they normally would do it, but I said yes. Good news was that her abdomen was clear, but there was possibly something starting in her lungs. It was too difficult to tell so we decided to do another ultrasound two weeks after her fifth chemo session.

In the time between her final session and the scheduled ultrasound, she started to show signs of something more serious going on. She had become more picky with her appetite again and was ‘squatting’ on her back legs instead of standing straight on them. She seemed to be more dazed and was sleeping more. I said to Molly a few times that I thought she was sick again but we kept holding out for the ultrasound to tell us if anything was going on. This past weekend we spent it at the cottage and she was walking around, playing with Pickles, hanging out in the sunshine and even went swimming twice. We were all with each other the entire time. When we came back Sunday night we left for two hours and when we came back into the house, she didn’t greet us. I found her lying on her side in the bathroom. From her bodily reactions at that point, we had probably missed her final hemorrhage by a few minutes. Heartbreaking.

I really can’t for the life of me understand how a dog who was totally healthy, still very active despite being a senior dog, could just up and get this cancer. I will never understand why she, a short terrier mix mutt, got a disease that mostly affects large breed male dogs like labs, boxers and danes. But there is website after website talking about this awful cancer and there are so many stories about how an owner never had any indication that their dog was sick until they collapsed and died from an internal bleed. I feel fortunate that we had the extra time with her but at the same time it was filled with a mix of dread, sadness and a small bit of hope that she’d beat the odds. I lost count of the times that I would look in on her sleeping in her bed long enough to make sure she was still breathing.

She died two days before her scheduled ultrasound, almost 2 weeks after her fifth chemo session. We’ve had conversations since about whether we would have chosen to put her down had they found something after the ultrasound. There was nothing in this past weekend that would have made us choose that, though. She had a good weekend and did things she loved doing, namely, swimming. We wouldn’t have picked that for her because she still seemed healthy and happy, despite being slower. I have read comments on pages where people say they regretted doing the surgery and chemo. I want to add my voice to say that we didn’t regret doing either. She was at her highest in this whole ordeal after the surgery and second chemo session. She was actually her old self and we were so happy for her. If we hadn’t gone this route, she would have missed out on that. We just wanted her to have some nicer weather to be able to do things she enjoyed, understanding that the odds were against her seeing the end of the summer.

This little dog was an amazing dog. She was with me for pretty much all of my adult life and went everywhere with me. She’s outlasted every relationship I’ve been in and been the faithful friend through everything good and bad. I would have done everything for her and I believe that we did. I just really hate that she died alone. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt such sadness. I have a hole in my heart that I don’t think is going to be filled any time soon.

Rosie - hemangiosarcoma

Rosie
May 27, 2003 – June 11, 2017