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Being 4-legged is so overrated…

After graduating from college armed with my bachelors of science degree, I was looking forward to living with my dog again during the summer at home.  Those first two weeks were wonderful, long walks, runs, playing fetch, but it all changed on that June day at our city dog park. My dad and I had met up with one of my long time friends and her two dogs. We all stood as watchful parents of our 4 dogs exploring the surroundings and fellow 4 legged fur balls. It wasn’t until my dog Chloe was trotting away from me to smell a curious piece of grass that I noticed her two back legs didn’t match in shape. Her left leg had a noticeable bump the size of a flattened tennis ball (protruding from her “calf”), which to my knowledge didn’t exist a few months ago when I was home for spring break. I immediately had a sinking feeling in my stomach and knew something was wrong…but not how very serious it actually was.

Chloe with tumor under knee (brown lump).

Two days later Chloe and I were at the vet for a physical, blood test, and aspirate (fluid sample of the tumor) to determine 1. her overall health and 2. a basic idea of whether the tumor was benign or cancerous. The vet could not give a definitive answer without the test results, so I would just have to wait almost a week to find out the prognosis.  This did not stop me from exploring the possibilities myself, being a curious person. Therefore, I set off to browse the most accessible source for knowledge…Google. What I learned was that the most common possibilites for tumors on the leg included benign things like fat accumulations (lypomas), inflammation from an injury (hematoma), cysts, to more serious things like skin cancer and bone cancer. I tried to convince myself that since the pictures of skin cancer and bone cancer tumors online did not resemble Chloe’s tumor, there were more options for benign tumors, that it was most likely nothing to worry about. However, no matter what I read, I still had that sinking feeling about her condition.

It wasn’t until after a wonderful afternoon of reconnecting with old friends that I went home to find my mom had been notified about Chloe. It was cancer. The paradox to this news was that her blood tests revealed she was in near perfect health otherwise. A healthy 9 yr old dog with a cancerous tumor…I guess we caught it early. What type of cancer you ask? A rare type known as spindle cell sarcoma. It took me forever to find information on this because it is very uncommon for dogs to develop. This was the best and most informative site I eventually found Basically a soft tissue sarcoma affects the layer under the skin called the “mesoderm” including connective tissues and smooth muscle.  After more research, I found they are pretty much impossible to remove from the leg since a “clean margin” of non cancerous tissue was needed.   The information I read also said that even though that type of cancer grew slowly, there was always the possibility it would become painful if a joint became compromised.  My thoughts: So if excising the tumor wasn’t a viable option and letting the tumor grow would potentially compromise the use of that leg (either in a matter of months or years) or possibly metastisize elsewhere that it didn’t leave many options for treatment. Being on her back left bony “calf” (close to at a joint) I felt she most likely needed to lose the leg.  A few days after the news, the vet wanted to see Chloe again to do a biopsy of the tumor, take a chest xray, and take a sample from the lymphnodes in the knee in order to confirm the prognosis and to determine whether it had spread. Again, the vet said that type of cancer grew slowly and therefore was most likely confined to that area.

During the next few days while we waited yet again for confirmation, I started to contemplate what would be best for Chloe. We had a dog Bonnie who over a decade ago was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymphnodes) and my mom went the whole 9 yards: numerous chemo sessions to fight the cancer. In the end even after months in remission, the cancer had spread to her lungs and we had to put her down. Not only that, but the treatment was pricey… I didn’t want to put her through that if it wasn’t necessary. I had already come to the conclusion that it would be better to have a healthy 3 legged dog than a terminally ill 4 legged dog. However, I wanted to wait to hear from the vet before I made my decision final.

While on my trip to central cal to visit my grad school and townhouse, the vet called with news that confirmed my thoughts. First he outlined the different options Chloe would have: radiation, chemo or amputation. He further explained that she was a great candidate for any of the above because she was in such good health. I waited patiently for him to explain in full what the pros and cons were for each treatment type when I simply asked, “So basically the cancer could spread with radiation or chemo?”. The answer, yes. Then I inquired about the cost, “So in the long run is amputation cheaper and a better option?”. Another yes followed by an explanation that while chemo or radiaiton would help to preserve the leg, it would not a guarantee that the cancer would ever “go away”. In addition, if her condition worsened she would probably need an amputation anyway. As I stated before I had already got it in my head that amputation would be best for her considering what we went through with our other dog… If I decided to let the cancer take its course, she would only be suffering once it started compromising her mobility.  But if she had an amputation, not only would her quantity of life be extended but that her quality of life would as well. Being the loving and complete animal person I was, I had come to my decision. The leg HAD to go.

After talking with my parents and telling them that I would like to go ahead with the amputation even though it would be expensive (I argued not as expensive as the other options), I would be willing to use money in my savings to pay for at least half of her procedure. I then arranged for her surgery to take place the day after I got back from my previously booked vacation, a mere 2.5 weeks away. I could have had my dad take her and pick her up after her surgery, but I learned that the first two weeks are critical in her recovery and I decided it was important that I be there.  Because I had the summer off, I knew I would be abile to stay home with her all day to monitor her recovery. So waiting was the best yet most nerve racking option. The vet did caution that owners sometimes got emotional over the loss of their pets limb, but in all honesty I did not feel there was another adequate option to completely “solve” the problem. For me it was a no brainer, leg gone cancer gone. Other people also asked about Chloe losing her limb and I joked “Well I am not the one attatched to her limb”.   Certainly I am not physically attatched to her limb as I joked, but looking at the big picture of her future I wasn’t super emotionally attached either.   For some reason, I never had any doubt or concern about whether or not this was the right decision.  Yes she might be ‘disabled’ for a short time, but eventually she would be her regular goofy and playful self once she recovered. I know that it would be a struggle for her to “get back on her feet” but I was there every step of the way. My dad seemed more emotionally attatched to her limb than I was about this, but I kept reminding him that she would recover and she would be healthy again. And its been two years since that day.


2 Responses to “Chloe’s ampawtee story”
  1. 1
      FortisDad says:

    That was beautifully written! Chloe is one lucky pup to have a mom like you. The sacrifices are many but the reward is unmeasurable! I’m with your dad, I was a bit emotionally attached to Fortis’ leg. But once the decision was made, we have never looked back. We have been blessed with 6 great months and that’s far more than I could have imagined. I pray Chloe continues to do well.