Harmony was such a smart girl, sometimes a little too smart. It was difficult to stay two steps ahead to keep her from obsessing over things like licking her paws. Sometimes she would lick them so much she would limp because her pads were so irritated. At least that’s what we (and the vets) thought. Little did we know the reason she had been limping was because of a growing mass in her arm pit.
Each visit with the vet (over a couple of years) resulted in perfect blood work, great joints, clear eyes and a personality that was eager to please. They would always inspect her paws but could never find anything. The mass growing in her arm pit was inward bound, not outward for easy discovery.
Her “OCD” seemed to be getting worse. She started licking a place on her flank that eventually became an open wound. Through the years of caring for her and Melody, I’ll confess many hours of Googling to find the best course of action for itchy paws and hot spots. But everything I tried didn’t keep her from licking. Earlier this year during her annual exam, the vet decided they would remove the hot spot while they had her sedated for her first teeth cleaning.
Days later we got the dreaded call. The hot spot had been identified as a Stage III Mast Cell Tumor.
Mast Cell Tumor, cancer, MTC for short; Google, here I come!
When getting her stitches out, the vet tried to explain her thoughts and feelings about Harmony’s diagnosis. She said that although the lab reports came back as stage III, she felt it wasn’t an “angry” mass and wasn’t anywhere else in her body. To confirm, she did an ultra sound on her abdomen and found no abnormalities. And still, her blood work was perfect. However, it was left to us whether we wanted to consult a specialist for a second opinion. In the meantime we added Benadryl to her daily meds.
As the hub-a-dub and I were digesting all the info, we ended back at the vet’s for another Harmony visit. This time she was seen by her regular vet, he didn’t perform her surgery. He discussed the diagnosis with us the same as the other vet. What struck us was no one, not a single person could give us exact information. It wasn’t ‘til later when I understood the true MO of MCT and realized the vast range of this deceitful disease.
Seems to me, vets (or doctors) have a way of telling you everything, but nothing at all. One minute you think you’ve got it figured out, the next, a curve ball. We’ve been using this vet for 5 years and his directions have always been concise; until now. We probably should have known we were in trouble when he couldn’t tell us what we needed to do for Harmony. It was like he was trying to get us to read between the lines.
I want to say, he said Harmony wasn’t at the point where she needed chemo. I want to say he encouraged us to do right by her by making sure she ate right, continue with Benadryl and add high doses of vitamin C to her supplements.
So we did.
All was right in our world . . . for 4 months.
Insert quote here, “You create what you fear.”
One of my biggest fears was that Harmony or Melody would get deathly ill while the hub-a-dub was gone on business. I imagined myself trying to get a 60 lb. rag dog to the vet by myself. Harmony’s hotspot surgery was in May. It was now the first week of October and the hub-a-dub was in Toledo on business. He left Sunday morning, Harmony got very sick Sunday night.
She woke me pacing. She would rest for seconds and then up again. We live in rural Tennessee and 24 hour vet ERs are nowhere close. I noticed her right paw twitching when she’d try to relax. That’s when I thought maybe she had hurt herself playing with Mel.
So I went to the doggie medicine cabinet and found some liver flavored (bleh) doggie aspirin. The vet didn’t like them, but in a pinch he said they would be okay. Within 45 minutes she was able to lay down and rest.
That night was the beginning of a very, very long journey; short in time, but long in emotion and energy.
The next morning the vet checked her leg and shoulder. Viewing her x-rays he told me he had good news and he had bad. The good; he couldn’t find anything wrong with her leg or shoulder. The bad; he couldn’t find anything wrong with her leg or shoulder. He said he thought she had probably strained it and needed to rest and take an anti-inflammatory. So that’s what we did. She immediately got better and was back to all her normal activities.
Then her RX ran out 10 days later on Sunday. This time was different. This time she lost her appetite and became lethargic. Again, the vet checked her shoulder again. However, this time he spent more time looking over the x-rays and feeling of her leg. He said he thought she had a mass in her arm pit and felt we needed to go ahead and see an oncologist.
Our hearts sank. I think that was the day we started to grieve. We already knew where this journey was going and had no say-so of the destination.
We drove an hour to see the specialist with Harmony in tow. Actually he was a surgeon. And the first words out of his mouth, “Are you familiar with cancer?” The discussion progressed with, “We need to amputate the leg.”
The hub-a-dub and I were prepared for the “C” talk. But never in a million years did we expect to hear the word “amputation”. We were in shock. This was something new added to the equation. But, then again, we were talking about relieving Harmony’s pain and right now she could barely stand on that leg. On the flip side, we thought he wouldn’t have suggested drastic surgery if he thought she didn’t have a chance of living longer without it.
Stalling, we decided to have the lump biopsied under sedation. We left her there under his care for a few hours. In a daze, we walked out of the pet hospital and got into the car where we sat and wept for the next 30 minutes. Overcome with grief and shock, we couldn’t bear being responsible for such a horrible decision. At that moment, we both agreed we couldn’t take her leg.
A couple of hours later when we picked her up, she was the happy-go-lucky girl we knew, but visualizing her with only three legs was more than we could stand.
The next few days were heart wrenching as we watched her become more miserable. Then she stopped eating, again. Harmony NEVER stops eating for an extended amount of time. We knew this was a sign her pain was getting worse.
We contacted the surgeon and asked could he do an ultra sound on her abdomen (another stall) to make sure the cancer had not spread. If it had, there was no use in taking her leg. Quality over quantity was our top priority. The surgeon agreed, so we dropped her off on our way to work.
Looking back on that day, I think I was secretly wishing he would tell me that it had spread and her time was short. I did not want her to suffer and was ready to help her go out with the biggest party ever. But that’s not what happened. He said the cancer had spread to her spleen and that it, along with the leg, needed to be removed. He said she was in good health and could live a perfectly good life without a spleen and only on three legs.
I’m losing my beloved Harmony a piece at a time. It was unsettling. I asked him if there was ever a time when he started surgery only to immediately closed them up. He side-stepped the query as if to confirm, We create that which we fear.
It was at that moment we decided to give Harmony the chance of a better, pain-free life, albeit minus a spleen and leg, that was our baggage not hers. The hub-a-dub was distraught because he didn’t get a chance to say good-bye if, God forbid, Harmony didn’t make it through surgery. But make it through she did and, to the surgeon’s (and ours) relief, woke with her tail wagging.
Thank God, that was the day I found Tripawds.