Chemotherapy Doesn't Have to Hurt
I knelt by my dog's bed stroking and cuddling my beautiful Destiny. All I was able to offer for comfort was this besides the fluids the vet had told me to give her under her skin in hopes of just making her feel a bit better. She lay on her side, perfectly still. Her breathing was shallow. All I kept thinking was "What have I done to you? The time for MY help had been 2 weeks before when I allowed her veterinarian to give her chemotherapy without getting detailed information before hand. I had let her down, and now SHE was paying the price. What I did not know at that moment, could not know was that Destiny's suffering need never have happened. Chemotherapy doesn't have to hurt to cure. When done by a qualified cancer specialist, an oncologist, your cancer dog will not be wracked with nausea and uncontrollable vomiting, pain and weakness. I, like almost every other owner, had been overwhelmed by a diagnosis of cancer and I had not asked questions, had not done any research, did not know that only an oncologist is qualified to deal with a cancer dog.
Let me backup and explain to you what happened on November 18, 1999, the day Destiny, my black Lab/Brittany Spaniel mix was diagnosed with lymphoma, I want you to know Destiny's story because her story could easily be your dog's story, and there is no reason for that to happen if you "inform" yourself before allowing any treatment to be given to your cancer dog.
The large veterinary hospital I used at the time was in Northern New Jersey (BERGEN COUNTY). It does not have oncologists on staff, but Destiny's veterinarian assured me that though he could refer me to an oncologist, the oncologist would simply give her the same treatment she could receive from him. "We all follow standard protocols", he told me. I never questioned that statement. I didn't know that there are many protocols and that depending on the location, severity, etc. of the cancer, an oncologist would have had the knowledge to choose the best one for my girl.
All I needed to hear was, we hopefully could buy her some quality time.
I was grasping at anything I could get. I'd like to think that under other circumstances I would have questioned the veterinarian more closely, but standing in that clinical setting, hugging my dog, the only thing that ran through my mind over and over was, "Cancer; I'm losing her!!!" That’s what I thought because I didn't have the facts. I could hardly listen to what the vet was saying. I just knew that I was in a panic. I had to do something for Destiny NOW!!! I needed help, and her vet was offering it, saying we might be able to buy her 6 months maybe a year if we were lucky. I grabbed at a chance by using chemotherapy. That is how it happened that the very next day a non-cancer specialist was injecting my most precious dog with toxic chemicals, and I still had no idea of the consequences of making a decision about her health based on fear and panic instead of logic and facts. After all they even have a chemo room at this hospital, so they do this all the time!
The drugs used the first time were a combination of Vincristine and Elspar. They said they would keep her overnight for the 1st 24 hours since this was her 1st time and they wanted to monitor her for side effects. I felt encouraged by this as I thought, "Oh they must know what they are doing, and they are going to look after her".
I was told that she might feel a bit lethargic and nauseous and there could be some diarrhea and vomiting, so they wanted to monitor her before sending her home. She came home the next day, a bit lethargic and not much of an appetite but otherwise seemed OK.
The next week Destiny was given a drug called Cytoxan. It was given intravenously but at that time I had no idea that there were TWO ways this drug could be administered. I later learned, from an oncologist, that Cytoxan is more often given orally. There are some cases when it may be given via IV, but I was never told this and/or given a choice. I found out later that via IV it has a higher risk of causing the kidneys to bleed.
Destiny's adverse reaction to Cytoxan was swift and devastating. She was unable to eat for 3 days, could not sleep, was constantly restless, was nauseous, and had frequent vomiting. The vet did not caution me to check her stool for signs of bleeding, and when I noticed the black stools and reported these to the vet, I was told not to worry. I had no idea that black stools meant Destiny was bleeding high up inside her body. I did not know there was medicine he could have given her to protect her from the bleeding. I trusted my vet and that was a mistake. All I was told about the Cytoxan was to make sure she went out to empty her kidneys frequently as this drug could cause kidney problems if it lingers in the body too long. All I had been given to help her nausea were the Reglan tablets her vet dispensed. They did nothing. She ended up at the hospital weak and dehydrated. They kept her for 4 days, and when they sent her home she was STILL NOT EATING. They gave me bags of fluids to give to her under the skin to keep her hydrated. Every time I tried to show her food, she just turned her head as it made her sick to smell it. The veterinarian told me that if she did not improve, or if she had a reaction to any other chemo drugs they had yet to give, that they would have to stop the chemotherapy and that there was nothing else that would help her. If she was not a candidate for chemo then she would be dead in a few months or I would have to decide if I wanted to ‘put her to sleep’. That was a lie.
I realized at that point through the chaos of the situation that I had to rely on myself if I wanted my dog to survive. This vet was of no help, but I still didn't know that his lack of help was in actual fact a lack of knowledge. He was not a cancer specialist, and my dog needed a specialist to stay alive. I hit the internet determined to find something that could help my girl.
The irony was that I was paying a veterinarian to treat her, yet I was forced to do my own research if I wanted to make her well. And, I was very lucky. I found a canine cancer board called "Endless Love". The people there were caring and knowledgeable. Through their members, I found Dr. Rogers Fred at the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey. I did all this research while she was hospitalized. The day I got her home, I called Red Bank. I told them Destiny's story. They were shocked at so much and agreed to take her as a patient. Unfortunately they were solidly booked for the next 10 days. Dr. Fred's assistant, Bill, told me to contact Destiny’s current vet and get a drug called Compazine. He assured me that it would stop her nausea and vomiting. He explained that by law, Red Bank could not dispense the drug without examining the dog and because they had no appointments, the only alternative was to get the drug through the hospital that was treating her. He was surprised that they didn’t give that to her while she was there and that they didn’t give me tablets to take home to give her!
I drove back to the veterinary hospital and told the receptionist that I needed Compazine to stop Destiny's nausea. "After all it is a week now, and she hasn’t eaten a thing," I said. Her response to me was "Oh they can go without eating for a long time, as long as they get their fluids!" I was told that the vet was on a dinner break and would not come to talk with me. I told her I didn't need him to talk to me; I just needed some Compazine or a prescription for it. She reluctantly sauntered down the hallway and reappeared a few minutes later empty handed - no bottle of pills, no slip of prescription paper. She blithely informed me that the vet had refused my request. I was shocked I told her I wanted to know "WHY is he not giving me the drug. After all if there was something they hadn't tried that could help her, why not use it unless the vet had a valid reason for not using it? The receptionist retraced her steps. Eventually she came back and said, "the doctor says that he doesn't believe the drug is good for her. If you want to speak to him you would have to make an appointment or talk to him when you come in for chemo next". I had already spent so many $$$$ on her as a patient there, and he can’t TALK TO ME for 2 minutes?? I knew then and there, I was done with him. I told her to have the vet call me at home later as I just want to know what it is about the drug that he doesn’t like and what was the reason behind him not liking it or why would it not be good for her.
He never called!
Now I was not only frustrated, I was angry and more determined than ever to get the Compazine. I did some more research and found that it is also used to treat people. I started calling everyone I knew, and then moved on to everyone my mother knew. I lucked out. A friend of my mother's had it in her medicine cabinet for some recent surgery. She never needed it so still had it on hand!!!!! After my pleading she was willing to give it to me for Destiny. Red Bank had told me the amount that Destiny needed, so it was a simple matter of cutting up the tablet to the right dose to give it to her.
Within an hour of giving her the first pill, Destiny's nausea seemed to have stopped. By the following morning she actually got up and came into the kitchen looking for food!!!! In the afternoon she was eating better and drinking on her own. I was ecstatic!! She was getting better!!!!
The next hurdle was to get her through the next chemotherapy treatment. It consisted of Adriamycin AKA Doxorubicin, which had a record of having the "worst" side effects. Bill told me to keep her on the Compazine and not to worry, she will be fine. I was of course, nervous and still scared. But he was right about the compazine. All I had heard about him and Dr. Fred on the web gave me the courage to go ahead. Destiny had the treatment. She experienced NO SIDE EFFECTS!!!
Destiny became a patient of Dr. Fred's who helped us work in tandem with a new 'local vet' we were referred to. She enjoyed a happy, healthy 13th birthday on Christmas Eve, 1999. Dr. Fred tells me that with luck, we all must strive to buy QUALITY time and hopefully newer protocols will hit the market so there is always hope that we may go from remission to actual cure someday. I have already met several over 3-year remission patients of his while on Destiny's treatments. It gives me so much hope that someday we will see longer and longer remissions. I have met so many wonderful people there that have told me their personal inspiring stories and want to thank them for their support and for sharing.
Postscript: Destiny developed a secondary infection due to low resistance during chemo. She developed a blood staff infection and had to be put to sleep on August 4, 2000. The 9 months we gained with her were filled with so much quality time. Also 9 months is a long time in the life of a dog and we were happy we were able to have that extra time with her. We do believe chemo is not the right choice for all dogs. Holistic choices may be better for some. I would urge anyone going through this to once again see an ONCOLOGIST, not just a vet who deals with cancer. It's not the same and there are not the same choices. Also read about viable holistic alternatives before you decide which way you feel might be the best way to go. Remember there are no right or wrong choices. You can only be as informed as you can and make your decision on your individual situation. I would urge people to post on the message board here at CIC and also on the ENDLESS LOVE message board (link listed on LINKS page). The support and info you will receive on both these boards will get your through and give you invaluable info. Diet is major factor in preventing and treating cancer. Please feed your pets only HUMAN GRADE pet products and read the diet info and top 10 info on this site. It's your best measures to help you ill animal now and maybe prevent any other pets from getting sick in the future. Remember.....
Knowledge IS Power. GET SOME! Check the "Questions" section on this site.
Destiny's mom Tres' welcomes any questions you might have.
Also please visit Tres' myspace page where she has a blog on ANIMAL RESCUE as well as music clips from her albums. Profits from the sales of her music go to help shelters/rescues and animals in need.
We thank FURR-ANGELS for sharing Destiny's story on their site and honoring her as a HERO