5 years in Remission! (So Far)
(ok, so it's now way longer!)
I found out about your site today from someone on the Shih-tzu list and paid Nicholas a visit. It is clear that he was a special, special boy.
My shih tzu, Gizmo, was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma just before his fourth birthday and has been in remission almost five years now. Yes, I know how very, very lucky we are to be beating the odds. I can't imagine how I would have even thought about coping if I'd lost him, but I'd like to think that I'd do what you have -- tried to share your experience and knowledge to help others. You are a very courageous woman, and Nicholas was obviously a brave soul too.
If anyone going through this contacts you and needs someone else to talk to, feel free to send them on to me. I think part of our luck was in having a wonderful vet who combined the chemo with chinese herbs to counteract the toxicity and boost the immune system. We also went to an organic food diet which we continue today, although I don't know if it helped much after he had cancer. I firmly believe that the crap they put in commercial dog food today causes a lot of the cancer we see in dogs.
Another thing to explore further is that since lymphsarcoma is a cancer of the immune system itself, do all the innoculations and vaccines dogs are given do something to trigger it? Vets who take the homeopathic and herbal points of view seem to think so.
Hang in there. We're thinking of you.
Vicki MacClements, Gizmo, Lady, Gracie, Sweetie
Mae, Perky Dan and Thomas
Used with permission of the Author [Editor's note: when we asked her for her permission on Dec. 16, 1998 she told us that Gizmo is still alive and well!]
UPDATE!!! July 4, 2001
Gizmo was treated with the COP protocol developed at the vet school in Raleigh, NC. I understand there is a newer, better protocol now that was developed at Wisconsin, and this is a link to some info. about it. http://www.vetinfo.com/dlymphoma.html
Also another treatment that is being used is monoclonal antibodies. That was just being started when Gizzy was first diagnosed, so I don't know much about it except that it's sort of like the same theory as a vaccination -- it uses the cancer to stimulate the body's immune system to fight it.
Seven years ago, all we knew about diet was to feed organic, preservative-free things, so I just don't know about the current anti-cancer diets with different ratios of protein, fat, carbs.
The herbs were used were 300 mg. Astragalus daily (Gizmo called it "astrogag"), to help support the immune system and counteract the toxic effects of the chemo. We used Tang Quai periodically when his liver enzymes were up -- 1/2 a human dose per day, no more than three weeks at a time!! This not for long term use!!!!! This is not the same herb as the Dong Quai you see commonly. He also took 500 mgs of vitamin c per day and sometimes 1000 mg. He was 14 pounds then (fatter now), so this was a really huge dose for such a little guy, but you can give Vitamin C to "bowel tolerance," -- meaning you'll know you've given too much if they get diarrhea. Now all my dogs share a capsule of CoEnzyme Q-10 scattered over their food each day.
As far as diet, we went completely natural -- I made his food with free range chicken, brown rice and organically grown vegetables. The basic recipes are in Dr. Pitcairn's book which you can find at Amazon.com.
(Anyway, this is the form letter I send to people that ask about him. You might want to put some kind of disclaimer on the site about me not being qualified to practice veterinary medicine. lol Vicki)
Tara is a nine year old, female shepherd/husky type mix, adopted from a shelter at the age of approximately 10 weeks. Aside from developing colitis and more than a few bouts with cystitis, she was generally considered to be in good health.
On June 17, 1996 I discovered a lump about the size of a grape, on either side of her neck. The next day I took her to the vet's for blood work and she was put on antiobiotics, hoping this was an infection. The blood work came back normal. A fine needle aspirate was then performed, which showed nothing abnormal. The second FNA showed nothing conclusive either, but possibly some abnormal cells. These tests are only 60% conclusive according to my vet. Two days later Tara had surgery to remove the left scapular lymph node for biopsy. After six horrifyingly long days, my vet called to tell me the biopsy showed lymphosarcoma (lymphoma). I was devastated as I had read that life expectancy after diagnosis is only about 2 months. My vet referred me to an oncologist for a consultation. Tara was scheduled to begin receiving chemotherapy treatments 4 days later. She had to stay overnight at the veterinary hospital to receive chest and abdominal x-rays, a bone marrow aspirate and mostly because the first treatment is a heavy duty combination of three drugs. I was told her liver and spleen were also enlarged.
The protocol included prednisone, Adriamycin (Doxorubicin), Cytoxin, Methotrexate and Vinchristine - all administered intravenously (except the prednisone). Blood was drawn before each treatment to check the white cells and hemoglobin.
All in all, Tara received 44 chemo treatments over a 2 year span - her final treatment was July 8th, 1998. Her oncologist said she is doing excellent. I thank God, the vets, and everyone and everything involved for the fact that I still have my beloved baby with me
(Editor's note: Tara is still doing well as of 9/99). Used with permission of the Author
A Note About Pet Foods
A new member joined the shih tzu list the other day and was talking about the loss of one of her dogs to lymphoma. She had some literature she shared with us and I asked her permission to pass it along to you. I also gave her your website on canine lymphoma--hope that was okay.
Here's here message:
I've heard from several of you after telling you about Gizmo's lymphoma, and although this is very controversial, I feel like I have to share it with other shih tzu (and dog and cat) lovers:
I a certainly no scientist, but I read and studied, and even spent a few days at the North Carolina vet school library trying to find out everything I could when Gizmo got sick, and I truly believe that commercial dog food has something to do with it. Those of you who show probably have heard the talk about preservatives and in particular, "ethoxoquin" . I read in a book called Natural Healing for Cats and Dogs that this is a product developed by Monsanto chemical company to be used as a rubber hardener in tires. It is a proven carcinogenic and is not allowed in human food.
Well, guess what? It is allowed in dog food and is used to hold the chunks of dry kibble together. I was horrified to find it in the Iams dry biscuits I was feeding Gizmo at the time, and then I saw it listed as an ingredient in my cats' dry Science Diet! So it is, or at least was, present in some of the premium brands as well as the grocery store brands. As a result of the controversy, Iams has now developed a natural line, Purina One has less preservatives, and more "all natural" brands are available. So then we have to worry about the d__n "by products." It's my understanding that by products are things simply not fit for human consumption that get rolled into pet food.
The Natural Healing book also pointed out that cats and dogs didn't have a lot of cancer before commercial pet food made its debut in the late 1950's. Before that they ate table scraps (and I guess all the food was a lot healthier, at least in terms of carcinogens). The pet food companies marketed to us by telling us that human food was bad for animals and thereby steered us to what we refer to as "cancer in a can" at my house. Now I'm not advocating feeding them cake and french fries and potted meat (and certainly not potato chip cookies (he he), but healthy, chemcial-free people food is not necessarily a bad thing. If anyone ventures into the idea further and should go off the deep end like me and start making their own babyfood, you have to be very careful with the nutritional balance - protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, etc. etc. There are some good recipes and nutrition guidelines in the Dr. Pitcairn book.
Now don't go thinking I'm some kind of goody two-shoes. I didn't say a thing about eating right myself, did I?
Vicki, Gizmo, Lady, et al.
Used with permission of the author.
[Editor's note: Here are Amazon.com links for the books she's referring to:
Natural Healing for Cats and Dogs By Diane Stein
Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats ]
(You might want to put some kind of disclaimer on the site about me not being qualified to practice veterinary medicine. lol Vicki)
nor speak of me with tears,
But laugh and talk of me
as if I were beside you...
I loved you so -
'twas Heaven here with you.
- Isla Pascshal Richardson
I am sure you get tons and tons of emails from people who were very moved by your website all about your precious Nicholas and I am going to be one of those people. My name is Beth and I live with my boyfriend Bob in New Jersey. We have no children, but had a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Dempsey. Dempsey was our child. He went everywhere with us and was our pride and joy. It sounds like you feel the same about your dogs and about Nicholas. We loved this special dog more than any Mother or Father could love their human baby as I am sure you can easily understand. I wanted to share with you my story because I am another woman who lost her "fur child" and knows exactly what you went through with that dreaded disease - cancer.
Dempsey would have been 2 years old the day before yesterday, but he didn't see his 2nd birthday. But let me go back in time a bit.
Dempsey was our first Ridgeback and was our only dog. From the day we brought home our "bundle of Ridgeback joy" we couldn't stop talking about him, he was just THAT special. Dempsey was sweet, loving, curious, mischievous, incredibly smart and sensitive. He was wonderful with children and was happy to take day trips up to my parent's home and play with my 4 nieces and nephews. He was the hit of any family gathering and always managed to endear everyone by resting his big head on the dining room table hoping for a few bites of dinner. He always got them. He liked to go anywhere (including the vet) since he always saw it as an opportunity to meet new friends. He got very excited every time we visited our local dogpark where he had many four-legged friends due to his friendly disposition. He enjoyed taking walks in the Watchung mountains where he was photographed enjoying nature and its scenery. He loved to go "bye-bye in the car", lure coursing, eating, watching TV, and play dates with other dogs. He adored the Jersey shore. One of his favorite things to do first thing in the morning when his Dad let him out the back door, was run down the dock overlooking the lagoon. He would look up the lagoon and down the lagoon, and then out over the water sniffing all the wonderful scents only a hound can appreciate. This was one of life's greatest pleasures for Dempsey. He greeted many Summer visitors with boundless energy and a welcoming kiss or jump. Three days before he passed away we took him to the inlet and to the beach, for a walk. I will be forever grateful that we could still do that with him, and that he was able to see the beach one final time.
I have quite a few friends that all own Rhodesian Ridgebacks that I have met all due to Dempsey. Within this circle of friends I have quite a few friends who feed natural homeade diets. All of the dogs seem to thrive on this way of feeding and all of us see alternative homeopathic vets as well. I have every book on the subject, and am very well versed in feeding a natural raw diet. Dempsey was on a natural preserved kibble (Wysong) up until October of 1998, and then went to a completely raw diet. He was a very very healthy boy and completed his Junior Lure Coursing (JC) title on November 7, 1998. Then, the week of Thanksgiving we noticed that when he would jump out of our car or off the bed or couch, he would let out a tiny cry. We got him to the vet the day after Thanksgiving and thinking maybe he pulled a muscle or something told us to give him an aspirin and call him Monday with his progress. But he didn't get better, and it seemed to get a bit worse. I called Monday and my vet said he was going out of town but that I should get in to see someone else. I phoned another good vet in my area and got him in to see her. She did complete blood testing on him, nutritional analysis, etc etc. We thought maybe it was Lyme's Disease. THAT being the worse case scenario. I nonchalantly questioned if it could be "cancer" and she said "STOP!! Ofcourse not, he is not even 2 years old!" But I am the ever paranoid panicky Mother always worrying about my little boy.
We saw that vet on a Tuesday and by Wednesday night Dempsey's temperature was 105.2. At night his temperature would increase but this was the highest we had seen it. The next day I took him to a Veterinary Referral Hospital. Again, his temperature was back down and he was acting his normal self. Eating, drinking, playing. She asked us to leave him with her for a few hours and she would do some Xrays on his joints etc. No sooner did we get home when that phone call came in. We knew if she was calling so soon, it had to be horrible news. I will never forget the utter shock and terror of what she said to us on the other side of that phone. She said she did a chest Xray and Dempsey had an enormous tumor inside his chest. She wasn't certain of the origin but she did a little biopsy and she found cancer cellls. We drove right over and brought him home. We were given Prednisone which put an end to his fever and helped a bit with the acheyness in his limbs.
From that point forward I don't need to tell you what we did because you did the same. I got him in to the best Veterinary Hospital with the best Oncologist (who studied under one of the best Oncologists in the country) in NJ. I called the University of Colorado and spoke to Dr. Greg Ogilve. I did everything. I added fish oils to his diet and other cancer and tumor fighting supplements. I spoke to homeopathic people and conventional medicine people. I prayed, friends prayed, family prayed from all over the country. We went through Chemotherapy. I sat in a crate with him in the hospital all day long 4 days before Christmas while he got his first round of Cisplatin. Two days later he got Doxyrubicin. We spent over $4,000 getting other opinions, having sonograms done, and going to other surgeons to determine if this thing could be removed - we would have spent whatever it cost to save Dempsey. They told us it was a very very rare form of the bone cancer Osteosarcoma. They could not be certain if it originated from his rib or from his soft muscle tissue. They couldn't know for sure without opening him up. This is a genetic mutation that he probably was born with - and it had a coded date as to when it would make him ill. They said the tumor probably began growing a month or two prior to when he showed signs. It was an incredibly aggressive fast moving cancer. I also believe that his natural diet if anything helped fight off the cancer. Who knows, he could have died even sooner if he was being fed a food filled with chemical preservatives. They said at best he had 2 - 3 months. IF he had surgery, maybe 9-12 months but there were absolutely no guarantees. We were hoping the chemo would shrink the tumor but it did not, it was just too enormous. They estimated it at slightly smaller than a basketball but it wasn't round in shape. This type of cancer had all kinds of tenticals that reached out and spread throughout his body. Surgery would be very risky, and his recovery would be agony. Hearing that final conclusion, was when we realized it was time to give up. We had to let Dempsey go with dignity and as little pain as possible. The pain Dempsey would experience when jumping had nothing to do with the actual tumor. It had to do with the tumor pressing on certain nerves that actually affected his limbs and changed the density of his bones. Human lung cancer patients get this as well. After meeting with the final surgeon on a Saturday we took Dempsey to his favorite spot - the beach for his final romp. By Monday, his breathing had begun to change and we new it was already time. They were way off at their estimate of 2-3 months and I suppose deep in my heart I knew this all along because I cherished every second I had left with him from the minute I found out he had cancer. I took time off work and was with him all the time. From the time of diagnosis Dempsey lived 5 weeks. He died on January 12, 1999. I will never be able to look at Christmas and New Years the same again - because I will always think of those last final weeks of his life. The weight loss, the vomiting and diareaha from the chemo, and then when his exhaling became labored.
The trip to the vet on that Tuesday night was the worst experience I have ever had to endure in my entire 33 years of life. Dempsey ate a full meal that night and trotted into the vet's office tail wagging - which was always his way. He loved people, and loved other dogs. He had no idea what was about to happen, and I suppose that is just as well. Everyone always says better to soon then to late. He was cremated, and we now have the ashes and still have to select that special urn and that special place where he will reside. The evening after his death, we had tickets to see the Lion King on broadway. These were a gift from Bob from the previous Valentines Day. If you know anything about Ridgebacks you know they are African and that is where the Lion King takes place. It also is the story of the "Circle of Life" an appropriate plot for what we had just endured. We made it to the play, and somehow I managed to get through it and actually enjoy it. That night I was awoken in the middle of the night to windchimes - a sign I am quite sure was him saying "I'm okay Mom". Since then I have heard windchimes on several occasions and dreamt of him often. It has only been 6 weeks and the pain and grief I feel is incredible - it will take me a long long time to get over this loss. However, I promised myself that I would give Dempsey's life as much meaning as I possibly could.
I sent in donations to the Mid-Atlantic Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue in loving memory of our Dempsey. I sent out personal thank yous to all my friends along with a copy of the letter to rescue thanking those who so graciously sent us cards, emails, and donations in Dempsey's honor. It made it easier for us to begin to heal knowing so many cared. That letter will be published in an upcoming issue of the Ridgeback Register. He was the inspiration behind a donation to Ridgeback Rescue that I sent commemorating the life of my Grandmother last April, and now he was the reason behind the donation I send in today from Bob and I as well as others who loved him. He also is responsible for our adopting a 16-month old female Ridgeback named Izzy who needed a loving home with "parents" just like us. Izzy is a sweet sweet girl and she is giving us lots of love that we needed to get through this. But ofcourse, no one can ever replace Dempsey nor take away the pain of his loss.
I didn't realize until Dempsey was gone how much I depended on him and his wonderful spirit. We always appreciated him and we made every single moment count while he was on this earth - but I didn't fully comprehend how much I relied on him nor could I ever imagine the enormous void that would be left behind - until he was gone. He was there to greet us, cuddle and play with us, keep us company when home alone, and due to his incredible sense of humor make us laugh endlessly. He was the reason why we met many friends who also own dogs, and he got us out walking and enjoying many facets of the outdoors.
Trying to put into words the tremendous amount of love we had for this exceptionally amazing creature and the unforgettable impact he made on our lives is almost impossible. But I know you feel the same for your dogs, so I am confident that you will understand just how much we loved him and what he meant to us.
We know you his at peace, and spreading happiness to those around him and now I am sure he is running around with Nicholas as well!
I wanted to share with you a poem our vet sent to us after Dempsey's passing and I also want to thank you for your wonderful story and website.
When I am Gone
When I am gone release me and let me go.
I have too many things to see and do.
You must not tie yourself to me with tears.
Be thankful for our wonderful years.
I gave to you my love, you can only guess . .
how much you gave to me in happiness.
I thank you for the love you have shown,
but now it's time I traveled on alone.
So grieve a while for me if grieve you must.
Then let your grief be comforted by trust.
It's only for a time that we must part,
so bless the memories within your heart.
I won't be far away, for life goes on.
So if you need me call, and I will come.
Though you can't see or touch me, I'll be near.
And if you listen with your heart, you'll hear.
All my love around you soft and clear.
And then when you must pass this way alone,
I'll greet you with a wag and say "Welcome Home!"
Additional Info from Beth about Osteosarcoma:
Robin, I do have some additional information on Dempsey's form of cancer. Some of it is very detailed - not sure if you would be interested or not -
The following info on the molecular origins of osteosarcoma in canines parallels that as it's currently understood in humans (the basic research is often done by the same investigators).
Cancer in Dogs
DETERMINING THE PATHOGENESIS OF OSTEOSARCOMA
Bone cancer, or osteosarcoma, is a highly aggressive form of cancer, and in dogs it occurs primarily in large and giant breeds. Although osteosarcoma typically occurs in older dogs, young animals can also develop the disease, and the outcome is usually fatal. Unfortunately, little is known about the origin of osteosarcoma in dogs and therefore diagnosis and treatment methods are limited.
To learn more about the progression of canine osteosarcoma, Roy A. Levine, PhD, is conducting the 2-year study, "Molecular Pathogenesis of Canine Osteosarcoma" at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. This study aims to gain a better understanding of canine osteosarcoma by identifying the molecular defects responsible for the disease. By understanding which genes are defective in canine osteosarcoma, it may be possible to develop improved diagnostic and treatment methods for dogs.
Recent advances in the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer have led investigators to develop new and exciting experimental molecular techniques and therapies to diagnose and treat cancer. Eventually these techniques and therapies will be applied to dogs as well, but first a clear understanding of canine osteosarcoma at the molecular level is necessary.
Scientists believe that the progression of canine osteosarcoma is dependent on specific mutations that convert a normal cell into a cancerous one, allowing it to grow in an uncontrolled manner and into a life-threatening tumor. Whereas mutations in certain cancer causing genes may be common to many different types of tumors, mutations in other genes may be specific to canine osteosarcoma. Dr. Levine is investigating the expression of known tumor promoting (oncogenes) and tumor suppressing genes in affected dogs to determine whether they are abnormally expressed in canine osteosarcoma. Dr. Levine hopes that the identification of abnormally expressed osteosarcoma-specific genes will facilitate the development of diagnostic tests for early detection, allow veterinarians to provide more accurate prognosis, and enable investigators to develop novel therapies to treat the disease.
Morris Animal Foundation is funding this canine osteosarcoma study, with cosponsorship support from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
Please, once again, let me express my condolences to you.
I understand your feelings of guilt and regret. Please, please do not do this to yourself. I just emerged from a 8 month run guilt and depression.
I don't know if you know my story, here goes:
I'm now thirty years old. For the most part I have been well taken care of my entire life. My parents loved me and spoiled me and my husband continues to do so. As much as I love everyone wanting to take care of me, it kept me in a state of immaturity, so to speak. I had never lost anyone really close to me, nothing ever just taken away.
I had a seven year old Chihuahua named Twinkie. She was my baby and my best friend. We don't have human babies. Twink was it, I don't think she ever knew she was not human. Bless her heart.
On July 30, 1997 she was diagnosed with Lymphoma, the same terrible disease that took Poochini's Nicholas. The Vets gave us a month or two at the most. I found this unacceptable. I could not comprehend the fact that Twinkie was going to die and there was damn little I or anyone else could do to stop it. We have a little saying in our family, "anything can be accomplished, all it takes is money." Well, all the money in the world could not save my baby. Believe me, I checked into it.
With the help of diet, drugs, vitamins and lots and lots of love, I had a miraculous thirteen months with her. This was ultimately the best and the worst year of my life. While appreciating every minute I had with her I also was scared to death that it could be the last minute with her. I was afraid to leave her or even fall asleep, I didn't want to miss a second with her.
I realize now that part of me was dying with her. I didn't get my hair cut, stopped wearing make-up, doing my nails, even getting prettied up for my husband was a chore to attempt. I knew better than this, my mother had breast cancer and I had skin cancer. The first thing the cancer survivor books teach you is to get out of bed everyday and do your hair and make-up. Look like a million bucks. If you look like it you will feel like it. Well, I guess I never thought applied to my case as the mommy of a terminal patient. I committed every part of my heart, soul and being into taking care of Twinkie.
On September 8, 1998 at 1:30 am Twinkie died in our arms. Knowing nothing but love.
With the help of prescription tranquilizers and a bottle of sherry I slept for about the first week after she died. I was completely exhausted. When I did finally get out of bed and looked in the mirror I was horrified at what was looking back at me. What happened to "ME"? I had aged a good 5-10 years. I saw my mothers and grandmothers faces looking back at me. This wasn't me, it couldn't be, not yet.
I made feeble attempts to move on with my life. A haircut here a manicure there. An evening out with my husband. Nothing could really jump start me back into living. I was extremely bitter and angry. I was angry with myself that I couldn't save her. I let her down. I let my husband down. I was really angry with God. How dare he do this to my baby. Just an innocent puppy, never hurt anyone, why did she have to suffer so? We got another puppy, Cookie. I love her to death but I resented the fact that I didn't have the same bond with her that I did with Twinkie.
I was completely blocked by anger. I couldn't think straight until....about a month ago I was writing a thesis to complete my degree. It was going to be about Twinkie's remarkable will to live and fight for each day. It ended up being about me. BAM.... it hit me like a thunderbolt....I realized her memory shouldn't anger me. That love is not about hurt and hatred or suffering. I was not letting her soul rest because I couldn't accept what had happened. There was a lesson in her life and death. She taught me about unconditional love, that it doesn't die with the body and that I had another purpose in life besides being the best mommy a Chihuahua could have. I had to stop concentrating on her death and celebrate her life.
I try to do this everyday. I have established a website. I try to educate about puppy mills, pet shops and back yard breeders. I have vowed that Twinkie's disease and death would not be in vain. Some good will come of this, it has to.
After this "epiphany" everything made sense. Everything felt right. I could feel Twinkie around me, I can feel her love. My relationship with Cookie is growing everyday, our bond is getting stronger and stronger. I feel better and look a lot better. Everyone that asks for my secret, I just say "maturity".
I don't know if this helped you much but I hope it may comfort your a little. You did all you could for Ebbie. Please look at what she brought into your life, what she has taught you. Go out and tell the world about her life and death. It will take time to get over your anger and guilt but please don't waste as much time as I did.
Also, do not regret not taking her picture before she died. You did the right thing. My mother in law sent me a picture taken the day before Twinkie died. I still cannot look at it. That is not my baby, not the Twinkie I want to remember. She was a beautiful lovely strong creature. I will not remember the sickly weak one.
I will send you prayers for strength to get through this. Please feel free to write me anytime.