(Behr’s mom writing) Wow, what an emotional roller coaster we’ve been on for the last few weeks with Behr!! 

After a routine vet visit in December for accupunture for Behr’s spine, I was finished and waiting for some paperwork in order to leave. I sat down in the waiting room with Behr standing around in front of me while I happily chatted with other dog owners.

As usual, when people find out how old Behr is, they ask how I’ve managed to to help her have such a long and healthy life, I start telling them things I’ve learned through my researching medical literature. Well, in the middle of this conversation, my world suddenly came crashing down with a sickening thud!! Behr just happened to look at me (her head eye level since I was sitting)…and then she yawned. That’s when I saw the TUMOR in her mouth, hidden by her tongue. I was stunned.

Having lost my prior dane (and other animals as well) to cancer, I suddenly felt like a cold dark cloud of fear had enveloped me. I couldn’t even see out of it and was struggling to remain calm. We were rushed back in to see the vet again. The only good news she had at the time was that at least it didn’t look like melanoma, but only a biopsy would tell us for sure what this was.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, while the vet had been doing acupuncture on Behr only minutes before, we were discussing some neurological symptoms Behr was having. We decided that I should take her to the neurologist and ask if he saw anything serious enough to need an MRI (under anesthesia.) She (Behr’s vet) warned me that this would be really risky for Behr, however, and she advised against it if not necessary. Now here we were discussing a biopsy under anesthesia….the very thing we were trying to avoid!!

That started a whole round of vet visits to the neurologist, dental surgeon (because the tumor was in her mouth), and other veterinarians to decide what to do. The neuro didn’t think her neurological symptoms were worth the risk of 45 minutes under anesthesia for an MRI.  He did, however, caution about the high risk of death due to her age and other factors, as well as the risk of permanent paralysis if her neck wasn’t properly supported during and after the surgery.  All of the vets suggested full removal of the tumor under anesthesia. The dental surgeon even said she might need a large portion of her lower jaw removed. Ugh! That broke my heart even more.

What made this whole thing like torture for me was that Behr seemed oblivious to what was going on. She was totally happy and playful. She literally wants to play A.L.L. day long! She still gets zoomie runs, still goes for hikes, and otherwise has a good quality of life. I just couldn’t risk her becoming paralyzed or dying for something that might possibly not even be life threatening. We did not know for a FACT that this was cancer yet. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if that happened. Obviously, the risk is valid if it’s the only way to try to save her life. I have had animals need emergency surgery and I took that risk. Interestingly, twice in my life I made a decision against all medical advice that ended up saving lives. Once was for a prized horse of mine, once for my son. Cancer is frightening, for sure, but it’s usually NOT an extreme emergency. You can pause briefly to make a clear decision and often go with your gut instinct. (I worked for a while in cancer research…) 

So, after a TON of research about options, I decided that maybe cryosurgery was the way to go, IF I could find a vet willing to try it.

I learned some VERY interesting things about cryosurgery and cancer. I had to keep in mind how very TRICKY cancer can be. It kind of fools the body into thinking it’s harmless so the immune system won’t fight it. “No problem here, immune system. You can leave us alone now.” 

However, more than one report suggested that cryo might stimulate the immune system to fight the tumor. For example, one human study showed that cryo killed tumor tissue and the immune system would finally attack it.

I’m not a veterinarian OR an oncologist, but from what I was reading it sounded like having cryosurgery would be far less risky and if it ended up being cancer, cryo might trigger the immune system to fight it. That seemed like a good plan for Behr, and I decided to pursue it.

The main veterinary surgeon using cryo for tumors was Dr. Martin (Marty) Goldstein in New York. He is the vet that many famous celebrities like Martha Stewart and Oprah take their dogs to for serious issues.

But, it wasn’t really reasonable  for us to go all the way across the country, so I searched for a vet closer than New York. FINALLY, after much searching and even help from other vets searching, I found the option we would choose. Dr. Betsey Hershey, and integrative veterinary oncologist (cancer doc) was only about a 5 – 6 hour drive away. She is integrative, which means she ALSO uses hyperbaric chambers, herbs, and other more natural forms of healing in addition to surgery and chemo. While she was in a neighboring state, this was more practical and affordable for us to attempt. Every conversation I had with her staff before we drove there was simply amazing!! They are incredibly helpful and compassionate.

The plan was a consult on Monday with possible cryosurgery on Tuesday, hopefully done with only a mild sedative. When Dr. Hershey walked into the (beautiful!!) exam room, she came over to Behr, sat down on the rug next to her and took her time petting her and putting her at ease. I’ve NEVER seen a vet do that! Wow!

Unfortunately, she told us the tumor was too big for just cryo, but that she might be able to cut it down to a smaller size and then cryo the base of it. We were sad, but figured it was still the way to go.

Then she had an idea! Since Behr was being pretty co-operative, she offered to squeeze us in sometime THAT day if we could wait. She would attempt a biopsy WITHOUT ANY anesthesia!!! Before you panic (like we did), she said the tumor had very little nerves anyhow. SO, if Behr would co-operate, she would reach in and slice off a chunk for a biopsy…with no risks!

It worked!!!!  Behr came bouncing back from the minutes long procedure happy and acting as if nothing had happened, even though her mouth was a bloody mess. We were amazed!!

Here’s what it looked like AFTER the biopsy. You can’t see the whole thing, but it arises from the bottom of her lower jaw and extends upward toward her teeth. AFTER Behr's biopsy

 

I could’ve danced out of Dr. Hershey’s office I was so relieved!!  What an amazing, kind, gentle, and considerate doctor she had been! Her staff couldn’t have been more understanding. She did a great job hiring such a compassionate team. No wonder all of the people in her waiting room raved about her. There was a large table in the foyer covered with recent thank you cards that said a lot about her as well. I kept reading things like, “The other vets said our dog only had a few weeks/months to live, but you gave him/her YEARS more, and they were happy dogs until the end” Same with the Yelp reviews. (NOTE: I get absolutely NO financial or other compensation for this review. It is purely written out of gratitude)

The result of the biopsy has now come in. GOOD NEWS! Not cancer! We have the option of leaving what is left of her tumor there and see how fast it grows and if it eventually is a problem for her to eat. Then we would have to talk about surgery. 

After weeks of crying about the possibility of losing Behr when she was still so happy and playful, we were done. Now I could cry for joy. There is still sand left in the hourglass.

Again, I do understand what it’s like to walk an animal through cancer. I’ve done that with my prior dane, a cat, horses, and even some birds. I’ve been there, and it’s a VERY crummy place to be.

For anyone currently going through a cancer ordeal with their pet, my heart breaks for you. It’s simply not right that our dogs are now getting cancer at super alarming rates. They are the canaries in the coal mine, telling us that something is very, very wrong with our environment (food, water, air, etc) and that we need to make some serious changes. 

So, for now, we have some more time left to enjoy our little Behr Behr. We value those moments and are grateful for every one of them. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our day to day lives and forget how SHORT our dogs’ lives usually are. We don’t know how many “tomorrows” we have left with them. I know I’m trying to remember to do as much as I can with Behr TODAY, instead of telling her “Maybe tomorrow I can___”  (take you for a long walk, play with you, let you just enjoy sniffing everything, etc.)  Lets, as a group, start celebrating today with our pups, while we have them.

Remember the hourglass. Once the sand is gone, it’s not coming back.

 

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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