Sunday, March 1, 2009
So this is Seamus. And this photo was taken on the day I found out he had cancer. November 7, 2005. Yeah, another great holiday season for me.
Seamus's groomer (mobile groomer, he has people you know, they come to him) Nancy found a bump on his rear end. She said she noticed it the prior time too, so I took Seamus to see Dr. Davis. Dr. Davis did the biopsy and then boarded Seamus for a few days to keep an eye on him while Chris and I went to Cabo San Lucas on a previously planned trip (Seamus still holds this over our heads; usually when he wants steak. Or toast. Which is always.) When I came back and picked him up, Dr. Schrader had to tell me it was cancer and they referred me to a specialist in Tustin. Seamus was just about maybe 2 years old (he's a "rescue" dog, so we don't know exactly) and I'd adopted him just one year prior after going through a divorce, moving and losing two other beagles within 4 months of each other. Did I mention I cried a lot then? Yeah, not so much over my own cancer now, but over Seamus's cancer then? Complete basket case. Seamus was however, stoic. As dignified as a beagle can be. Especially one who has had surgery on his butt.
As occurred with my own health care, I had trouble getting Seamus to a specialist right away. He too needed to see a surgeon and all the local ones (and by local I mean Orange County) were booked up. I ended up driving him to Culver City for a consultation with Dr. Fahie at Veterinary Cancer Group on November 15th. Dr. Fahie plays the role of the great and good Dr. Karam in Seamus's story. She instantly took to Seamus and said he reminded her of one of the great dogs of her life (I didn't think to ask Dr. Karam if I remind him of one of his childhood pets. I don't think want to know. I probably remind him of a semi-crazy aunt or something). Seamus's surgeon also had to excise the tumor with "clear margins"--and in Seamus's case this was going to be difficult because of the location. There are just certain areas you can't cut into. Also, that area is very, ah, sensitive. (Seamus will still sit immediately if he even thinks someone is going to touch him where his bathing suit would go if he ever wore a bathing suit.)
Surgery was November 23, 2005 (and cost $1,944.30; mine was about 10 times that...although I'm not sure all the bills have rolled in yet for me. But I have insurance. Seamus did not. And now he's uninsurable. And priceless. He wanted me to add that.). Dr. Fahie did get clean margins around Seamus's tumor and they ran all the same pathology tests with all the same confusing grading, marking, measuring and scary statistics. Seamus had a Mast Cell Tumor of intermediate grade II.
Like me, Seamus had about a month to recover from the surgery and then it was on to the oncologist. And yes, there are veterinarian oncologists and yes, at first, it appeared that they are not unlike oncologist for people (i.e. scientists with no bedside manner). Remember when the first one I saw said "100% hair loss" to me and didn't even pause? Seamus's first oncologist said "he'll live maybe a year if we give him chemo, less without it" and didn't even pause. (Did I mention crying?). I won't even tell you her name. I'll just tell you eventually I demanded a new doctor. Oh, and I'll tell you over and over and over again: SHE WAS SO FREAKIN' WRONG!!!! WRONG!!! WRONG!!! And she said it like there was no other outcome possible.
Seamus started chemotherapy on December 16th (oh yeah, more Christmas carols. Hate. The. Holidays. Hate. Them.). And I get asked this all the time, so here's how it goes for a dog--sometimes it's intravenously, and sometimes it's a pill. As I recall, that changed over time--as they switched types of chemo. It's much smaller doses than humans get (of course; at the time Seamus weighed 30 pounds--steroids eventually got him up to 36 pounds; he's back to a svelte--for a beagle--30 pounds) and dogs don't really have "hair" they have "fur" and no, they don't lose it. What I was told to expect is that he might have less of an appetite and he might have less energy. He's a beagle. Less appetite would mean two beams would be leftover after he ate your house, and less energy would mean he acted like he swallowed an Energizer bunny instead of swallowing two. In fact, with only one exception, I didn't really notice any change in Seamus's behavior...until he was off all medications and bouncing off the walls, climbing furniture and stealing food from anywhere and everywhere. Then I realized he had been a bit subdued during it all. A bit.
Seamus had chemo weekly. So in December, I took him to Tustin (an affiliate office of the Culver City group) each Friday for chemo--again, I'll do that math for you while you sing "Dashing Through the Snow": December 16th, December 23rd, December 30th. Now think of this past December of 2008--I first went to the doctor on December 18th, I was told "highly suspcious of malignancy" on December 23rd and on December 30th I had my first meeting with a surgeon (the local one; not the fantastically fabulous Dr. Karam). I kid you not.
Chemo for Seamus went on through January also, and then on January 20th they switched the chemo regimen and by February 1st Seamus's white blood cell count dropped to almost nothing. He was barely lifting his head. I rushed him to Tustin and he spent the weekend in doggie ICU. Another $1,734 later and one harsh conversation about the "bad" oncologist (she never even checked on him or returned any of my phone calls all weekend; she left him in the care of the brand new doctor) with the owner of the facility, and Seamus was back home, fully recovered and had himself a new doctor--the wise and wonderful Dr. Autumn Dutelle--Seamus became her very first "official" patient. For awhile his picture was her screen saver and I like to think it still is. She was very kind, caring and patient and she loved on Seamus like he was her own dog. The kind of doctor you want caring for your dog.
Seamus's chemo continued through June, 2006 with Dr. Dutelle. He was re-checked monthly for awhile, then every two months, then every 3 and we still go in every 6 months to see Dr. Dutelle and get Seamus checked out. He thinks of the Veterinary Cancer Group as "the place with the cookies" because everybody there hands him a dog treat (he prefers the green ones) when they see him. And believe me, he works this. But the point is, he's cured. He beat it.
I'll be doing the same thing--far more regular check-ups and a lot more doctor's appointments than I've ever dealt with before. So maybe I should take that page out of Seamus's book too--learn to think of the holiday decor and snacks as the reason I'm going to the doctor's office, not for the injections, and blood draws, and mammograms and what not. I'm just going in for food and attention. Hey, it worked for the beagle.
And if you are wondering how I can recall all of this, it's because I still have the 2" thick file with all his records in it. Should he have had a recurrence, I'd have been all over it. So from reviewing the file I now also know that Seamus had Cytoxan chemo just like me. In his file is all the same stuff (for the most part) about side effects, chances of recurrence, diet and exercise and taking care of the patient. I was fascinated to read it all again and realize I was oddly prepared for all of this. By a 30 pound beagle.
So there you have it. The Dog Lived. And so will I.
Posted by Teresa at 6:01 PM