The inspiration for starting this website came after the death of my dog, Beanny. Although diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, he miraculously beat the disease and I wanted to share his story of hope.
I wish I could say this was my only experience with cancer in dogs I've shared my life with. Sadly, all but one of them received this diagnosis during their lifespan. Each had a unique story and circumstance, different cancers, an array of treatments, and varied outcomes.
I hope this site helps you in your quest to find the information and support you need to make the unwelcomed journey through canine cancer a bit easier.
Beanny was a 6 1/2 years old rottweiler in good health when he started limping on his right leg. He had been limping slightly on his left leg about 9 months earlier which was diagnosed as arthritis. Because of this, and because I didn't see that Beanny had sustained any trauma to the right leg, I was not overly concerned, thinking that the arthritis must have developed in the right leg as well. However, over the next couple weeks, the limp became progressively worse so off we went to the animal hospital.
After several tests were run, the terrible diagnosis was presented to me, osteosarcoma. The x-rays had looked suspicious and a bone biopsy had confirmed the cancer. A chest x-ray was performed and there was no evidence of metastases to the lungs so treatment was recommended. Fortunately I live near Boston which is home to two great animal hospitals. Both hospitals provide comprehensive oncology care but had different protocols for disease management of osteosarcoma including differing recommendations on the type of chemotherapy drug (carboplatin, adriamycin, cisplatin, experimental drugs) and type of amputation (total, partial with a prosthetic, or limb salvaging). It was heart wrenching having to make this life altering medical decision as to which course of treatment to pursue because you just don’t know which will produce the better outcome. Plus, the decision needed to be made quickly because Beanny's front leg was in danger of breaking due to the amount of bone deterioration present.
Complicating matters was that Beanny was a 135 lb. dog who had two previous surgical cruciate ligament (knee) repairs, one in each back leg. The front leg that would remain after the amputation, had some arthritis. With amputation, it is usually easier for a dog to adapt to three legs if they retain the front two because the front legs bear more of the body’s weight. Most dogs adapt very well to life on three legs but in Beanny's case it was a concern because his other limbs were compromised.
After several sleepless nights, consults with three vets, and hours of surfing the web desperately seeking an answer, I decided to bring Beanny to Tufts Veterinary Hospital in Grafton, MA. Tufts was working with a major pharmaceutical company to place dogs with bone cancer on an experimental oral drug after the usual course of chemotherapy.
The decision to amputate was made after carefully weighing all the options. The amputation of Beanny's front leg occurred in July 1999.
I thought I was prepared for how Beanny would appear after the surgery because I had been through this before with my previous rottweiler, Puma. Still, it was heartbreaking to see him. I’d estimate that 20% of his body was shaved and he had a massive stapled and raw looking incision stapled together. He was trying to run to me but kept falling on his face time after time. My first thought was that I had made a huge mistake and that how could I have been so selfish as to do this to him.
We took him home and undoubtedly the first two weeks were very difficult as Beanny learned to adapt to life as a tripod dog. The healing process was slow and there was a time when I didn't think he'd ever be able to walk more than a few feet on his own. During this time, he'd stumble often and look very embarrassed and frustrated, but we assured him he could do it and bribed him with food as encouragement (fortunately, he was a chow hound!). Gradually, the muscles in his legs grew stronger and he was able to walk and run in short distances.
Short distances grew boring so I started searching for some sort of wheelchair or stroller for Beanny. The Doggy Tote from Cycle Tote was the answer to my prayers. It's an extremely well crafted cart for dogs, even ones as large as Beanny. Once he got accustomed to getting in and out of his cart there was no stopping us. Beanny went everywhere and when he grew tired, he'd just jump in his cart and I'd push him the rest of the way. He loved it! At first, I got some pretty strange looks from people and it sure was a conversation starter. After I explained the reason for the cart, and they saw Beanny with only three legs, people understood and cheered for him.
Beanny's conventional cancer treatment included 5 doses of adriamycin (doxorubicin) every other week. Because his lungs were still clear after the 5th dose, he was put on the clinical trial for the experimental 'Drug J'. I don't know if Beanny actually received the experimental drug or a placebo because it was a double-blind study and half the dogs participating in the study got the real drug and the other half received a placebo.
While this was happening, I researched non-conventional cancer treatments as well as the nutritional needs of canine cancer patients. I worked with a holistic vet to formulate an all-natural, non-processed food diet to boost his immune system to help combat the cancer. I supplemented this diet with Essiac tea and a variety of vitamins and supplements. I stopped using fertilizer on my lawn to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals and I didn't give Beanny any vaccinations so his immune system could concentrate on battling the cancer instead of diseases he was very unlikely to contract.
Making the special diet (click here to view this anti-cancer diet) was time consuming and somewhat expensive but I was willing to do anything to try to help Beanny. I was boiling chicken and cooking rice every couple of days and brewing Essiac tea weekly. After all I had read, it made sense that by giving the body the resources necessary to boost the immune system, it would be better able to fight the cancer itself. Since chemo depletes the immune system, I felt it was my job to build it back up. Beanny tolerated the chemotherapy relatively well.
Many people wonder if dogs lose their hair during chemo, but they don't. Chemotherapy also has a cumulative effect so the last chemo might be harder on the dog than the first. Beanny was scheduled for chemo every other week and always on a Thursday. He'd show no symptoms until Sunday when he would lose his appetite and become lethargic. This lasted for 2-3 days and then he'd feel better and resume eating. He would occasionally get diarrhea, which is a common side effect. After 5 chemotherapy treatments, a chest x-ray was done to see if the cancer had spread to the lung. Fortunately it had not, so we didn't have to return for three months unless a problem developed.
Every three months Beanny returned to Tufts for a chest x-ray and blood tests to determine if the cancer had spread. With osteosarcoma, the most common place for the cancer to metastasize is the lungs so a clear chest x-ray was important. Each time we'd go to Tufts I'd pray that we'd get good news but knowing that the odds were stacked against us, I braced myself for the worst. Each time, the report was the same - Beanny looks great and no indication of cancer. Tears welled in my eyes and I couldn't believe how lucky we were. The oncologist pulled us aside on the second to last visit to say how surprised they were at Beanny's success because this form of cancer is aggressive and quick to spread, especially in Rottweilers for some reason that was not clear to them.
Through February 2001, it had been 19 months since the amputation and Beanny was doing great. He spent his days taking long naps, going for rides in his specially engineered 'wheel chair', swimming, and brightening my life. He loved his special diet which benefited him immensely. His eyes were bright, his coat was shiny and he was the picture of good health. He was clearly enjoying life as a pampered pooch.
The winter of 2001 was snowy in Massachusetts and in late February, Beanny slipped on a patch of ice and was unable to walk unassisted. After consulting numerous veterinarians, including oncologists, neurologists, and orthopedist to diagnose why Beanny was unable to walk, a decision was made to perform knee surgery on one of his hind legs. A bone scan had ruled out the spread of cancer and a mylogram had ruled out neurological problems. I was told the surgery went well and he was recovering nicely. However, just as I was going to pick up Beanny to bring home, he collapsed while being walked at the animal hospital. After stabilizing him and running various tests, an orthopedic surgeon determined the screws and plate put in Beanny's knee were 'functionally not adequate' and that at least one of the screws was bent or broken and become infected.
To correct the previous surgical error, Beanny went through surgery again to replace the knee plate and to flush out the infection that had developed. The surgeon was cautiously optimistic but days later, a chest x-ray revealed the infection had invaded the entire lung cavity, and it was thought that Beanny would not survive. The infection was most likely systemic at this point which is a terminal condition.
Beanny had been placed in an oxygen tent to assist him with breathing. I was able to visit with him briefly but did not want to stay long in the oxygen cage because he needed the air. I sat on a stool outside of the glass walls so he could see me. I sat there for hours just watching him, hoping for a sign that he would live, searching for a reason to keep him alive because maybe he could pull through after all. I could barely contain myself I was so grief stricken at seeing my sweet boy in that condition.
In the few hours that I was there with him, I could see he was deteriorating. I met with his veterinarian and we discussed all the possible options of which there were few. He was kind and patient and told me that whatever I decided, he'd give it 110%. However, he advised me that there was really no hope for recovery with an infection that was systemic and to keep him alive for a few days would only be postponing the inevitable and would result in a painful death. I knew that it was time to let Beanny go, as heartbreaking as that was. The vet administered the drugs to euthanize Beanny, and he died quietly and peacefully in my arms on March 30th.
One of the conditions of the clinical trial that Beanny was on, was that after he died, they required an autopsy to study the cancer. The autopsy results indicated that there was no cancer in his system. He had beaten the odds. Was it pure luck, the Essiac tea, the special diet, the chemotherapy or Drug J? We’ll never know, but I do know that my father also has been battling cancer (Lymphoma) for which conventional chemotherapy was not effective. He was put on a clinical trial for an experimental drug for a short time, and has drank Essiac tea each day for the past 5 years. He remains cancer free to this day, much to the surprise of his physicians.
I was lucky to have had Beanny for as long as I did, but it never seems long enough. Until we meet again, rest in peace, Beanny. I love you.