My husband and I adopted our Golden Retriever in May of 2005 as a wedding gift to each other. He was just 5 months old at the time - we named him Beckham due to our love of Soccer. He is our first child, we love him more than words can say.
Beckham started showing signs of nausea after eating and short periods of lethargy back in April. He has always had minor back issues which make stairs and standing up from a lying down position difficult - we have managed this by monitoring his activity and making sure he doesn't over do it. After a couple visits to our vet it was decided that his back was bothering him and he was put on medication to dull the pain until his back could heal.
Later in April Beckham started coughing. We visited the vet and due to the nature of the cough and the fact that our clinic had seen many dogs with upper respiratory infections in the last few weeks our vet believed that is what was causing the cough. Beck was put on a course of antibiotics and a cough suppressant to help him sleep better at night.
In May we found a single lump on his back. It was hard and we thought at first he had a tick embedded in his skin but upon further inspection we decided it might be a mass of some sort and immediately made an appointment to see our vet. The lump was aspirated but the cells appeared normal under the microscope so we were told it was likely some sort of skin infection and sent home with antibiotics and some topical ointment for the area. In the next day and a half we discovered 4 more lumps, similar in size and density. We headed back to the vet but made the appointment for a different vet at the same clinic so that we could have a second opinion of what was going on. This vet was immediately concerned. He aspirated the largest of the lumps and asked if he could send it off to a pathologist. We agreed, wanting to find out what was going on as soon as we could. We discussed with this vet the fact that Beckham's cough from April had still not disappeared completely - it would come and go but at time was still bothering him it seemed. The vet suggested we do a chest x-ray and asked that we return the following morning.
The chest x-ray that was done the next day showed multiple masses in Beckham's lungs. Our vet explained that this along with the masses on his skin meant we were likely dealing with some kind of cancer. He was hopeful that the pathologist would be able to better identify which cancer and then we could discuss treatment. We were devastated.
The pathology report came back - definitely cancer but hard to tell what kind. We were directed to make an appointment with a veterinary oncologist at our local University. At that visit we were told that the diagnosis, although not definitive, was likely Histiocytic Sarcoma based upon the locations of Beckham's tumors and the pathology report. We were given our options:
1) Supportive care would give us anywhere from a week to 2 months.
2) Chemo may buy us up to a year but was not a cure and for some dogs no extension of life expectancy was seen
The oncologist added that Beckham had already beaten the odds by surviving this long considering the fact that he started showing symptoms of HS back in April.
We went home, depressed and heart broken. We gave ourselves the weekend to decide what to do and over the course of those two days we came up with every reason possible to support each option. I guess what it finally came down to was the fact that I looked at Beckham, not even 7 years old, and I knew that I would always question if we could have helped him to feel better for whatever amount of time possible. We agreed to start chemo immediately.
Beckham is on a four week cycle:
Week one - CCNU (chemo drug)
Week two - rest and run a CBC to check blood values
Week three - Adriamycin (chemo drug)
Week four - rest and run a CBC to check blood values
6 cycles are the most that will be done due to the chemo drugs side effects. It has been found that after 6 cycles the negative impact on the liver and heart out weigh the positive impact on the cancer. We have just started cycle #2 and Beckham's activity level is back - albeit in short spurts - he tires much more easily. Also, a repeat chest x-ray has shown that his lung tumors have decreased in size, some dramatically reduced. His skin masses have also either decreased in size or completely disappeared. The oncologist is happy with his response so far.
With all this good news we are forced to keep in mind that this is not a cure. We are simply buying Beckham some good months and also buying ourselves time to spend pampering him and saying our good byes. When that time comes, whether it's tomorrow or next year, we will honor Beckham by letting him go peacefully.
UPDATE July 5, 2011
Beckham is still trucking along... he has his good and bad moments each day. It seems the chemo is not shrinking the tumors like it originally did on the first cycle so I am going to try and arrange a consult with the oncologist to discuss if continuing with treatment is really in his best interest. As much as we cherish the additional time we are buying him I question whether it's selfish of us. I know he is still happy; playing with his squeaky toys, fetching his tennis balls, swimming in the kiddie pool... but I also see moments where I wonder if he is in pain or just wishing it would all stop.
UPDATE July 21, 2011
We made an appointment to discuss Beckham's progress with the chemo and the oncologist re-measured all masses. Though most had shrunk or disappeared completely after the first 4-week cycle of chemo we had noticed that some were beginning to grow back and we had found what seemed to be new masses as well. The oncologist agreed that although the chemo seemed to be working wonders at first, was no longer having an effect on the cancer. We made the decision to stop treatment and continue with supportive care after that appointment, which was on July 12th.
The following weekend it was apparent that Beckham was quickly becoming less active and more lethargic. He also seemed to be having moments where he was very weak and his breathing very heavy. On Monday we decided to make the appointment we had all dreaded making and I called our vet. That night I laid down next to Beckham and told him how much we would miss him and how much I wished there were more I could do for him.
Tuesday morning, July 21st, we did what we knew was best and we said goodbye to our best friend. I miss him immensely and still expect to see him at the door when I arrive home each day... I am not sure when the pain will lessen or when I will slowly start to heal but it helps to know that he is in a better place.
I don't regret anything that we did. We had two wonderful months with him after his diagnosis and he was happy and playful up until the last few days.
Beckham was adopted through Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota (RAGOM) and will appear in the 2011 RAGOM calendar - we are looking forward to having that as a keepsake. We also have begun plans for a memorial garden in our backyard which will be a place we can go to think of him, be at peace and remember all the good times.
Thank you all for your stories.
Kristin and family