I came home from Varsity one Wednesday pleased to be home and happy to be with Cajun once more. On greeting him I realised I could see an obvious pimple sized ‘lump’ on his right flank and try as I did I couldn’t recall having seen it before I set out that morning. I told myself it shouldn’t be anything to worry about. I reasoned that Cajun is 12 ½ and old dogs are prone to fatty cysts and their ilk of no significance at all. Nevertheless I made an appointment with the vet for the Friday afternoon; I think the motto “better safe than sorry” must be encoded in my genes.
By Friday the veterinarian was able to find some 10 small lumps. Aspirates of a representative few were taken. By the following Tuesday we knew it was not good news and a biopsy was performed so that a proper identification of the cancer could be made by outside experts. I can’t recall the name: all I heard was ‘rare’, ‘aggressive’, ‘cutaneous’ and ‘lymphoma’ and the prognosis, without intervention, was ‘death in 6-8 weeks’. I was hugely relieved to know that treatment was an option even though a positive outcome was never guaranteed. We were warned that the treatment would not be as fierce for the dog as it would be for a human which reduced the chances of a positive outcome at the outset but because it isn’t possible to make a dog understand why he is feeling so unwell and because it is about prolonging a good quality of life, such fierce treatment is seen as counter-productive. Even so, some dogs did not tolerate the chemicals used in treatment and required euthanasia and for others the chemotherapy simply didn’t succeed in killing the cancer, in other cases the remission was short-lived and the cancer came back stronger, chemotherapy could be tried only once as it was never as effective second time round and of course it requires a fairly serious investment of time and money (I was assured that if money were an issue a repayment arrangement could always be arrived at).
At 12 ½ many folk would say that Cajun had had a good run and it was only fair to let him go gently and not subject him to what could be an arduous (and potentially unsuccessful) process but to me it was never a question: Cajun was fit, otherwise well and (in his mind at least) in the prime of his life. I reasoned that every dog deserves the chance and if it didn’t work out then we’d do what we had to.
By the time treatment began some 2 weeks after the first vet visit (outside experts had to be consulted so that the best possible treatment plan could be arrived at and the chemicals ordered in especially) Cajun’s body was a lump of masses: I think his paws and muzzle were the only parts not affected. The next morning his body was completely lump free; I had only hoped to find some small reduction in the number or size after a couple of days at best. I was jubilant but of course a course of chemotherapy like a course of anti-biotics must be run in full so every Friday for the next six months Cajun and I headed to Total Vets: initially every Friday involved chemotherapy and blood samples but after three months the chemotherapy was fortnightly only. Cajun was allergic to one of the chemicals but a good many dogs are so we knew to look for it and had the anti-histamines on hand no problems. I kept a close eye on his appetite overfeeding him as much as he could cope with so that his body had a buffer for the chemo, noted the nature of his stools (colitis was an issue intermittently but again a reliable remedy was at hand) and general kept an eye on him. Cajun is a stoic little guy, completely unfazed by the needles and with the exception of only one brief period about six weeks in (at which time he showed a lack of tolerance toward a puppy completely uncharacteristic of him) I would say he never truly understood that he was seriously unwell.
Since completing the course of chemo Cajun has returned to Total Vets every 3 months for a blood test to check on the status of his remission (which to date remains full). The only downside of the whole saga was his initially impaired immune system which allowed the invasion of a rather nasty sinus infection which took a couple of courses of anti-biotics and a few pulled teeth to kill off (it was hiding in the tooth cavities where the roots had died away). Cajun is now a slightly over-weight but thoroughly content 14 years 1 month and 3 days of age. Time to go get him his dinner.
Would I do it again – yes, no question!