Palliative Treatment, II

Madison’s Story

Continued from Part 1.

There was really no time for the shock of diagnosing Madison with terminal bone cancer to wear off. It was time to act as her veterinarian and guardian.

sick dog, how to tell if my dog is sick, ask a vet, online vet

First things first.

Amputation is currently a strong option for bone cancer, that is if the patient is a candidate for this major surgery. Most dogs function well as tripods, but there is a small group that are ill-suited for this category. Among those are pets whose joint problems are severe enough that dividing up the animal’s weight from four limbs to three puts too much added pressure on the remaining limbs. Some examples are dogs with hip dysplasia, or other causes of bone pain. Luckily, there is a mock test that gives you a rough idea of how your pet will fare sans one limb.

It was test time.

The hospital staff helped me wrap Madi’s cancerous leg up with gauze and vet wrap and gently secure it to her trunk. This is something best done by your vet, as the affected leg is very painful and wrapping in general can carry some risks, such as decreasing circulation if applied too tightly.

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of canine bone cancer.  It affects an estimated 8,000 dogs a year, but is rare in cats.  In 90% of the cases, cancer is already in the lungs by the time of diagnosis.

She managed to hobble around the hospital for a couple laps but then she was flat out. I unwrapped her, and allowed her to walk as normal, but now she was so painful she was limping now on her other front limb. Dr. Jed and I looked at each other, not wanting to be the first person to say it. This meant her elbow dysplasia was too painful.

Amputation was not an option.

If you can diagnose it, cancer cells have likely spread.  The lungs are the most often and first place affected.  Her chest x-rays were “clean,” but that did not mean that micro-metastases weren’t present and growing.  Knowing that time was crucial beyond words, Dr. Jed got on the phone with a former professor of his at the University of Pennsylvania. In about 15 minutes, we had an appointment for the following morning with the head of the oncology department. We could start radiation therapy at that point.

To make huge decisions such as this in a matter of minutes is not easy, even for two vets. I had never actually considered doing radiation therapy on my own pets. I wondered, “are we nuts? Are we those crazy pet owners that will never let go of their pet and in the meantime their pet suffers?”

We decided we weren’t. Madison was happy and the lesion was very small. We wanted to at least begin radiation therapy, as it provides great pain relief, and we could sleep on chemotherapy (you have to wait 1-2 weeks after radiation to start chemo regardless).

24/7 vet, online vet, canine osteosarcoma, dog limpingWe arrived at the hospital–after a night of no sleep–and Madison wasn’t even limping.  We made small talk with the other pet parents while waiting (not telling them we were vets of course; the last time you want to get question after question is when your own furkid’s health is weighing on your mind). I remember there was a doberman there with a horribly swollen leg. We began talking with the owner, and turned out the doberman had the same cancer Madi did.

I am not proud of this next emotion I had, and I truly felt sorry for the dog because it clearly was not getting timely treatment, but I had a glimmer of hope.  I thought, “Hey! We may defy the odds and actually beat this thing!  If the average treatment time was 6-8 months, and dogs like this are making up at least some of the statistics,  perhaps we would get a year since Madi’s cancer was so far less advanced.”  Again–not proud of those thoughts, especially as a vet, but it crossed my analytical (and human) mind as I was grasping for any hope that our Madi would be different and not succumb.

Our appointment with Dr. Duda went wonderfully. Yet another piece of me rejoiced inside when I showed her Madison’s x-rays and it took her a moment to locate the tumor. She told me it was the earliest she had EVER seen osteosarcoma diagnosed. She even consulted with the radiologists and they concurred.

Feeling confident that our decision to try and treat this tumor was the right one, I watched Madi trot away with the team of technicians, tail wagging of course. She was always a happy girl, and loved making new friends, if they were in a hospital or at a park. After all, she was our hospital mascot and was used to the “animal clinic” sights, sounds, and smells. It’s funny how you can be so proud of your pet, isn’t it?  It was in this waiting period I realized I was growing more and more desperate for this to work every second.

In a few hours, I was called back to be in the surgical recovery unit with her. Everything had gone well, she was still a little groggy, but we had made it through her first round of radiation therapy. How the radiation would affect her was yet to be learned.

Has your pet had radiation therapy or another major treatment?  How did you decide what road to take?

Dr. Laci


Dr. Laci Nash Schaible, DVM

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January 27, 2011 at 09:54

I wish you, Dr. Jed and most of all Madi the best of luck in fighting this awful disease.


January 27, 2011 at 12:54

Thanks George. We actually lost her almost one year ago.

We did treat aggressively (radiation and chemo) and just wanted to share our story. I think different lengths of treatment are appropriate for each unique pet and we did the best we could for her.

January 27, 2011 at 10:56

May the time you have – long or shor – be filled with love and joy.

Best wishes,
Founder and Team Leader
New England Pet Hospice

January 27, 2011 at 14:50

Thank you Heather. Our time together ended up not being very long (despite indications that she would fare better than the curve), but it was happy. We did focus on her comfort, and I am glad we did not drag it out further.

Thanks for commenting. We checked out your site–great services you provide! Hope you didn’t get plowed with walls of snow like we did today.

February 19, 2011 at 21:41

Thanks, Laci. Unfortunately, we did…

January 27, 2011 at 13:06

Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, dumb me. I’m kinda still in shock, we had to let our old funny Dexter go last Friday. Massive tumor in his spleen, no hope.


January 27, 2011 at 13:52

George, I’m so sorry to hear you lost Dexter last Friday. Sounds like it was a hemangiosarcoma–so sad.

January 27, 2011 at 21:48

Yet another tear-wrenching blog….Madison was THE BEST and I know you guys miss her everyday:-( It’s SUCH a difficult decision to make…and as long as their lives are good ones it makes it all worthwhile! It’s the QUALITY not the QUANTITY that counts when it all comes down to it…

January 28, 2011 at 12:40

Dr. Sarah,

Yes, it is sad to think about all our collectively lost pets in not too many years. :-(

You are right though, it is the quality, and though we didn’t get long with her after radiation + chemo, she was mostly happy. Plus I stopped worrying about her diet so she got as many treats as she wanted. That pretty much made her the happiest girl ever.

January 28, 2011 at 01:56

Making such decisions is always hard, I don’t think having more time helps much.

One has to make the best decision they can come up regarding the present situation.

Dr. Kay has great content on the topic on her book.

January 28, 2011 at 12:58

Making tough choices is certainly never easy for anyone, but we were fortunate that we were both vets and could bounce ideas off each other, having past experience and cases, as well as the knowledge of course.

It was shocking and overwhelming for us initially, so that experience really gave us an idea of how overwhelmed pet owners can feel by a diagnosis, or just a vet appointment in general even. So here we are!

January 29, 2011 at 18:53

Not sure this is an option. But Orthopetsdoes magical work with prosthetics….

February 3, 2011 at 17:00

Heather, that is an interesting idea. I have never had a client that expressed interest in that, but I will have to look into it. Thanks for commenting!

February 17, 2011 at 17:56

hi everyone!, First time poster and looking forward to being a part of the group!