Canine Cancer Scare

My dog is the apple of my eye. Her name is Sweet Tee, named so because of her gentle temperament. She is a charismatic creature. She has a look about her that makes people take interest and want to come up and pet her. Tee is a rather strange looking dog. She has the black and brown fur of a German Shepherd and the curled over tail of a husky. She is narrow and pointy looking on the front end but thickens up and widens out near the caboose. Thanks to the brown markings just above her eyes, she has a very expressive face and perpetually worried looking expression. As her facial muscles work, the brown marks mimic the rise and fall of eyebrows on a human face. Her ears also prick up and flatten in much the same way.

We estimate that Sweet Tee is roughly twelve years old. I got her from a pound and no one could really tell much about her exact history or her age. A vet put her at nine months to a year based on the condition of her teeth. This was back in 2005.

Two years ago, we found a big lump under the surface of Tee’s skin on her back. It was of a worrisome size so her vet wanted to operate. I remember that surgery because I decided to delay the surgery to coincide with my vacation week. I thought he’d remove the mass and I could spend the week taking care of her. Unfortunately, the vet told me after the surgery that he knew by sight that it wasn’t what he had hoped it was, a fat lump that older dogs tend to get. I would have to wait a week for biopsy results to come back from the labs. I spent the whole week miserable, wondering if my sweet dog was in the final weeks of her life. The results confirmed that the growth was cancerous but her margins were clean. The vet thought he got it all before it spread. This was April 2015.

Because dogs who have the cancer that Tee had, a cancer of the blood vessels that creates bumps and lumps on and under the skin, tend to have the growths reoccur it is recommended that the owners pat the dog down every few weeks. The key is finding any growths before the cancer cells spread to the surrounding tissue. I was happy Tee would live for a while more and I dutifully checked her skin for any evidence of reoccurrence.

That same year, a few days before Christmas, I happened to be rubbing her behind the ear when my finger found a raised bump. I spread her fur away to investigate and found a black bump. I was concerned but no terrified since this was above the skin instead of below it. After waiting until after the holiday and the bump showing no signs of healing over like a blemish might, I scheduled another appointment with the vet to examine the growth. He said that he could say if it was normal bump that aging dogs had or if he thought it was malignant. He wanted to remove to it though rather wait and see based on her history with cancer. I scheduled the surgery for early January 2016.

The doctor did say anything to alarm me this time following the surgery but I knew he suspected cancer again. During the examination visit, he’d talked about the procedure like it was doing to be like removing a skin tag. Just a little bit of minor cutting. The dog who was returned to me wasn’t cut on a little bit. The skin around her ear was completely bald and she had a huge Frankenstein incision on the side of her head. I waited for the biopsy results and once again it the same: the same type of cancer and clean margins indicating no evidence it spread.

This brings us the present. Last Friday I was feeling really good. I had finished a first draft several days ahead of my self-imposed deadline and decided to take a few days off from work while I awaited my current manuscript back from my editor with the first round of revisions. Saturday night, I decided to give Sweet Tee a pat down. I try to do this at least once a week after she settles down for the night. I feel her legs and the places where her legs meet her body. I run my hands over her flanks and sides, kneading into her loose skin, feeling for anything that feels solid. I try to part back the fur to see anything that might be hiding on the surface on the skin, too small to feel with her thick coat in the way. My great fear has always been that the lump that gets her will be like the tiny bump near her ear: small but deadly and found only by chance.

I said to myself as began my examination, “Please do not let today be the day I find a mass. Do not let my dog be sick.” I found a lump just over her front right leg. I didn’t want to believe what my fingertips were telling me as they closed over a springy mass under her skin. It felt like it was a few centimeters wide and I couldn’t believe that it could get so large and I had never felt it before. If I have any excuse, it that the lump was quite hard to find again even though I knew where to look. Apparently, it is easier to locate if she lying on her side versus any other position.

Today, I took her to the vet to examine the lump. I had a devil of a time finding it to show the vet’s assistant. She clipped a bit of hair around the spot it was but even after that the she and doctor had to fumble around to feel it again. I was fully expecting another surgery and round three with cancer but the doctor was optimistic. Based on Tee’s age and the location, he thought there was a good chance it was a deposit of fatty-tissue so he did a fine needle biopsy. Twenty minutes later he was able to tell us that the only danger that lump posed to Tee was if it got overly big, she might have trouble moving the leg normally. I was so relieved. My world had tilted but he had put it back to rights.

I learned last year, definitely the worst year in my life-time, how the rug can be ripped out from under you with no warning when a doctor told me that I had a huge lump on my thyroid. Yes, lumps are the bane of my existence. I know things can change on a dime intellectually, but it never fails to shock when it actually happens. Human beings want to believe that things will remain as they are until it slaps them in the face. It was a near miss but I am grateful that Tee and I will have a little more time together.

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