I want to share with you a story that I haven’t shared before…
It was nearly 6 years ago now, but it just seems like yesterday.
I remember it so vividly because it was a hot summer weekend in August 2002. We’d just moved back to the United States and been living in my parent’s in law’s house for a few months while they were away in Canada.
I remember seeing her lying there on the family room floor. She was breathing heavy and seemed exhausted. It thought it was just the heat so I cooled her down with some cool wet towels, but her huge muscular body still labored with every breath. Kuma (Japanese for “bear”) was our dog’s name. She was a ridgeback / mastiff cross with more muscles than I’ve ever seen in a dog. The muscles in the top of her head that moved her eyebrows were even defined and visible! She truly was a “bear” of a dog.
We originally were scheduled to move to California in 2001, but had to postpone our flight for a few months because in October 2001 Kuma was diagnosed with a form of cancer called osteo-sarcoma. Osteo-sarcoma is a very aggressive bone cancer most often found in the limbs of dogs. The only way to really treat it is amputation of the infected limb.
However, Kuma’s cancer was in her 4th rib. Suffice to say that we opted for surgery to save her life. After having 5 ribs removed and her diaphragm reattached to her 6th rib, she pulled through the surgery and recovered within 6 weeks. Following that she underwent 2 months of chemotherapy to wipeout any of the remaining cancer.
All looked good until 10 months later… Until that hot weekend in August 2002.
I remember, we tried to ring the vet but of course they were closed on the weekend, so for the next 2 days we cared for her as best we could. Again not thinking that it was anything other than it was probably the heat that was the reason for her lying about not doing much.
On the following Monday I went to the back door to call her, but she didn’t respond. I searched in the backyard and found her lying in a ditch next to the fence in the shade.
She raised her head and managed to wag her tail a little before putting her head back down in the dirt. I tried to get her up but she wouldn’t move, so I bent down using all my strength to lift her up and bring her inside. It was then I noticed how bloated she was, and I knew right then I something was up.
We put her in the car and rushed her to the vet. The vet looked her over, ran some blood work and sent the blood to the lab. As we weren’t going to find out the results until the next day, Dr. J kept her overnight and called us the next morning. We drove to the vet fearing the worst…
With a tear in his eye, Dr. J said, “Your dog is dying of cancer. She has acute lymphatic leukemia and her white cell count is over 100,000. The regular level for dog is about 17,000. She’s probably got less than 24 hours to live.”
It felt like someone just reached into our chests and ripped out hearts from us. We were shattered.
Dr. J said, “If you would like I can refer you to a specialist, though the chances of her pulling through this are slim.”
Of course we took the referral faster than you can say “thank you” and rushed with more urgency than I care to remember. I lifted Kuma into the back of our ’92 Sentra and just about blew the motor in that car as we flew down the 91 freeway to Fountain Valley.
Again I carried her into the waiting room, while Christina filled out the paperwork and we waited for what seemed to be an eternity for the specialist. As he called us into the room I remember Kuma couldn’t muster the strength to stand, so again I bent down and lifted her up. I still hear the laughter of a woman in that waiting room who thought the situation to be comical. I guess she didn’t understand the severity of what was really happening. She just thought the dog was being lazy I suppose…
The specialist told us our options and said he could give her a shot of something which would kill off the excessive white cells and pull them back into normal range. It was an expensive Band-Aid solution, but we said ok. And if it worked he thought that with some other drug treatment we would be able to manage her condition for the future. He also took some x-rays to check for any other abnormalities, and said that they would keep Kuma overnight to monitor her.
We said goodbye to Kuma and drove home.
The phone rang at 3:10am.
“This is Dr. M …. Your dog Kuma has just gone into cardiac arrest. Do we have your permission to attempt to revive her?”
“YES!” I yelled into the phone, “Of course.”
The doctor hung up.
The phone rang again 8 minutes later.
“This is Dr. M”
“I’m sorry to tell you but attempts to revive Kuma were unsuccessful. We’re very sorry.”
“Please come by tomorrow to arrange what you’d like to do from here…”
I put the phone back in the cradle and sat stunned.
She was dead.
The next day when we went back to the vet, I asked if her original osteo sarcoma had anything to do with her developing leukemia. He said no. But he also showed us that the x-rays showed a 3rd type of cancerous boney lesions on her spine.
It seems that cancer was destined to take her one way or another.
You might be wondering why I even told you this story? It’s not a happy one, and not one that I like to relive too often.
The reason is that cancer kills dogs and humans everyday. Often for reasons we still don’t know, and our dogs don’t understand.
This morning I heard about someone who is making a difference for the dogs out there who are suffering from cancer, and those who are yet to get it.
His name is Ted Schneck and he’s riding across America raising money for cancer research for canines. He’s 31 days into his 82 day ride and his aim is to raise $100,000. When I went to his web site this morning to make my donation, I saw that he was only up to raising less than 8% of his goal, yet he’s more than a third of the way into his ride.
At his web site you can read about his adventures… from avoiding convicted felons with guns, to hiding from tornados, to having love-fests with dog lovers everywhere. He’s posting videos on youtube about his ride and you can see it all at his web site. Check it out at:
And if you can find it in your heart to give a little to support Ted and help him raise some funds for canine cancer research I’m sure he’d appreciate it. And so will the owners of dogs all around the world.
In case you’re wondering I don’t know Ted from a bar of soap. I just think he’s doing a wonderful service and hope you can also let people know even if you can’t make a donation.