Story told by Jeanne L.
Mercedes was a sweet golden girl, we picked her out at 4 weeks old and waited until she was old enough to take home. We planned and marked off the calendar until the day came. She then went to work with me everyday, I think she thought the clients who came in were there to see her, and as time went by, some did stop by to say hello to her.
She was 7 years old when I started to work at home, I think she liked it just as much because now she could have more time in the yard playing ball, barking at squirrels, digging after moles, she was always busy. I loved working at home too, I looked forward to my breaks and lunches, so that I could be outside to play with her (playing ball was a favorite game). As I think about her life, I don’t think she was ever alone, she was always with me or my husband or both of us. She lived her whole life always in a hurry. I describe the way she lived her life was fast and happy. Maybe, she knew she only had a limited time to do as much as she could, have as much fun as possible and touch as many lives as her time would allow.
At 4 years old she and I became registered Delta Society Pet Partners and began to visit people in the hospital and nursing homes, etc. She loved this, it was second nature to her. Many times when we went to the vet especially her last month we took her to many new places, including new vets, I swear she thought she was going to give them a therapy visit, and in a way I think she did. She had such a positive and happy contiguous personally.
Mercedes loved to play ball, she always had a ball in her mouth, even when she had her one litter of puppies, there was always a ball near by and in the whelping box.
She loved the water, like a child, she never wanted to get out of the water, she would stand there and watch us pack up the car, we would call her, we could get in the car, even start the car up. She would stand there and watch, probably thinking to herself, “I want to stay and play, let’s stay, I know they wouldn’t leave me here, right??” We would have to go back into the water and hook the leash to her collar, before she would budge. She also loved car rides, I could never trick her, she always knew when we were to go somewhere, and it didn’t matter where, she would grab her leash off the peg in the kitchen, run to the front door dragging it all the way. Then she would get there, she would then spin, and spin some more ( this was self taught, we didn’t teach her this), while she was spinning with her leash in her mouth, she would add a soft whine to it.. She was so cute. She gave us so much joy, we had so much fun with her.
Mercedes, had a real love for fruit, apples, mangos, kiwi, tomatoes and many others. The apples she would steal from my parents’ house that lived next to me, they had only one tree, and she would run full force to that tree and pick up as many that would fit in her mouth and run back to our house. I guess we were not supposed to see her do this, but we always would catch her. She looked like a little chipmunk with 3-4 apples in her mouth, she would then lie down and have herself a little feast. I could go on forever. The tomatoes were last summers favorite treat, it was my first attempt at a garden. She was so in love with the grape tomatoes. I could go on and on about the stories and adventures of Mercedes, that made her so very special to us.
It was November 2008 Mercedes 10th birthday (I was so happy for her to hit double digits). We went to the vet for her biannual check up. Our vet, Dr. M. ran all the usual tests and we also had any lumps checked (they were fatty tissue) everything I could think of except x-rays and ultra sound. Went home and got the results later in the week that she was as healthy as can be. I was very happy and started to think to myself, wow, maybe she can live to be a nice old girl of maybe 14-15 years old.
Christmas day, we had lots of family over, I noticed Mercedes had a slight limp, (her front left leg). I didn’t worry about it too much that day, she spent a lot of time running around and greeting people. That week my nephew, Glen stayed over for school vacation and we, (my husband, myself and Glen) spent most of the week outside in the snow, we had made a track with the snow and all the dogs, Mercedes included would chase the sled down the hill, so throughout the week she continued to limp, I would keep her in the house a bit so she would rest, but then I felt really bad about that, because she loved Glen so much, I knew she wanted to be out there with him. I didn’t worry too much I thought it could be Lyme because she has that before in the past, since she’s’ been 5 years old she’s has had a limp on and off on the other front leg (right one) we had that checked repeatedly through out her life, X-rays, and repeat x- rays even taking her to a chiropractor thinking it was in her spine or shoulder but results were always inconclusive.
I called the vet for an appointment and took the first one they had, Monday Jan. 5, 2009 The vet took blood test and found she had a full blown case of Lyme disease (not the first time in her life even though we did yearly Lyme vaccine booster). He also felt her leg and foot thoroughly, my thought at that time was bone cancer, but he assured me it was not.
Jan. 12, one week later I brought her back to the vet, her limp was getting worse despite the Doxycycline. Dr. M felt her leg again, this time he felt a lump or mass way up inside her arm pit area. He said he didn’t like what he felt , bring her back on Wednesday, he would do a biopsy.
Jan. 14, we dropped Mercedes off at 9 am for the biopsy. We went back to get her later that day, Dr. M came out to talk to us. He said he saw a “plum size growth”, with a nerve wrapped around it or with a nerve that went through it, so he removed the whole growth and was sending it to a pathologist in Utah. He didn’t think there would be any nerve damage to her leg because he did not have to cut the nerve but, we would have to wait and see. We were hopeful that with him removing this “plum “ that he had gotten the reason for the limp and that there were no other cancer, and that he had gotten it all, and we would be done with this .
10 days later, the vet got the results back from the pathologist, this pathologist said he had never seen any thing like this in his 40 years he said it was either Histiocytosis or Liposarcoma, but there was a lymph node in this plum size growth, which meant there was cancer in her body, and we needed to find it, find out what kind to properly treat it. Since we had recently checked any lumps she had, it was unlikely to be liposarcoma but we could recheck them any way. Our vet said there was a special stain that could be done on the growth to see if it was Histio, but this test was done in Texas. So the growth was sent to Texas and we waited. Meanwhile, we had a physical therapist who came out to the house to work with Mercedes foot, after surgery she got around very well, sometimes using her foot and other times not so much, the second week after surgery she started to walk on the back (or top) of her foot, and sometimes she would hop. She was still going up the stairs and running around the yard, fast. You almost wouldn’t know there was a problem, but, we wanted her to get back the use of her foot. We were thinking that this was just a bump in the road and she would get her foot completely back and we were going to fight this cancer and we would still have a few more years with her. She definitely had a love for life. We hired a physical therapist (her name was Mary) who came out to the house every week to work with her foot. The first visit was 3 weeks after surgery, Mercedes was still little swollen and tender for much stretching so she did some massage with her and gave us some stretches to do with her over the next week. Each week there seemed to be improvement. That following Monday we made an appointment with a holistic vet, Dr. Amy, hoping to get the feeling back into her foot ( from her carpal to her toes) with acupuncture or what ever she could do.
Meanwhile the pathologist from Texas came back with a different finding, he thought it was a Plasma Cell type cancer. I understand that there are 3 different kinds of that. My vet, Dr. M told us to bring her in on Monday and he would do some X-rays and he would be able to start ruling out these cancers. He said we needed to find out what kind it was so we would know how to treat it. We brought her in on Monday. They kept her for most the day. When we returned for her, she greeted us with lots of love, but you knew she had gotten lots of love from everyone she wasn’t done visiting with everyone. Dr. M took 6-7 x-rays and showed us each of them He could not find any thing that was significant. He said the next step would be for a consult with an oncologist, Dr. Rau. Our vet had already been speaking with her on Mercedes’ case and suggested we go see her. The next morning I called Tufts University in Massachusetts and made an appointment with the oncologist that our vet recommended. We had to wait a week, but I took the first opening they had..
Feb. 19th was our visit to Tufts. It was supposed to be a consult and an ultrasound. They kept her for the day, they had found a swollen lymph node and asked to needle aspirate (FNA) it and I said yes. They later called me said they would like to do a punch biopsy on that lymph node with a little sedation. I said, okay. They did it all, ultrasound, more x-rays and the biopsies. The oncologist said she was certain it was Malignant Histiocytic Sarcoma, but not 100% sure. She would call us on Monday with the results. She said this when she first came in the exam room, and again when we were picking up Mercedes. She also said at both meetings that they could amputate her leg from the shoulder, if it was painful and for quality for life purpose, but later they all agreed, that it was not painful and I was still hoping she would get feeling back and this was not this bad cancer. I stood there crying, hoping she would give us some type of hope, a treatment, something, she had nothing to offer. She said she would only have 1-2 months to live and this cancer does not respond to chemo.
Well, On the drive home I sat in the back of the car with Mercedes at my side, she was still pretty drugged for “a little sedation”. It was over an hour drive and I cried the whole way home, not ready to lose my little girl, and hoping the Oncologist was wrong after all she said, she wasn’t 100% sure, so we had to wait for Monday. My husband said we had to be positive, for her. He was right but, how?? We were going to lose our girl and she’s not ready to leave us, she’s still busy playing ball and digging after moles, she had a full agenda with lots of playing to live out.
Well, on Monday, Feb. 23, she the oncologist called and said “ I’m sorry but we were right where we started, I still think she has Histiocytic Sarcoma, but not 100% sure” we should treat it as Histiocytic Sarcoma. As it behaving that way she has lesions in her liver and (although, her spleen and other organs looked good) a swollen lymph node by her front chest. Again she mentions amputating the leg, why would we do that if she only has a month or two???? It would take longer then a month for her to heal and I’m still hoping she’s wrong.
On Feb. 25, we met with Dr. M. He said we should treat this cancer like HS, he recommended we do CCNU (Lomustine). He had used it before with his dog and it is well tolerated by dogs. We were sure we were not going to do any type of Chemo because we didn’t want her sick with the time she had left. But, after discussing it with the vet, he said there was no wrong decision and it may buy her an extra 4-6 months. So we went home to think. The next day we decided to go ahead with the CCNU. The holistic vet also said if she got nausea or vomited she could use the acupuncture to help her feel better. At that point we thought why not use conventional medicine with alternative medicine and have the best of both worlds for the best fight for this horrible cancer. We were to give 6 pills on Saturday this would be her first treatment, when Saturday came, Mercedes threw up, (only once) but, she never has thrown up in her life. We called the vet they said to wait a couple of days for her stomach time to settle.
On March 2, Monday, I was supposed to give the CCNU to Mercedes in the morning, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it (I felt like I was giving her poison). By the afternoon 4 PM I had to do it. I called a friend and asked her to talk me through it. I gave each of the pills to her one at a time in some canned dog food which she loved. On Tuesday morning (the next day) Mercedes threw up, I first thought it was the Chemo pills (CCNU), then thought no she threw up on Saturday, I called the vet and waited for them to call me back but, I had an appointment with Dr. Amy the holistic vet anyway a little later in the day. Now there was some other possible causes; we changed her food about a week ago, added antioxidants, added fish oil (omega 3 and 6) and added a tincture. The holistic vet treated Mercedes for her upset stomach, and said it was possible the tincture or the large quantity of fish oil could have upset her tummy. So we stopped them both for now.
On Wed. Mary came to work with Mercedes foot and for some massage, she also mentioned that some dogs don’t tolerate chicken very well and that’s what we had put her on, Wellness 95% chicken so we changed her to 95% turkey instead. She never threw up again, not really sure what did it.
The schedule was on Monday morning’s regular vet for blood work, and Monday afternoons was the holistic vet for acupuncture, chiropractic and Chinese meds. and on Wed. Mary for therapy and massage. Monday March 9, was her first blood work since the CCNU. It came back with her white blood cell count were low, so Dr. M put her on an antibiotic called tribressen. He said to try not to worry too much. Often times when battling cancer we will have some minor set backs and that next week the blood work could turn out to be fine. I did feel this was a set back but I tried to stay positive. My husband reminded me that we are being positive for Mercedes and for her quality of life no matter how much time she had, we had to remain happy for her. That’s what and how we approached every day. This was very difficult to do.
On Monday March 16, the blood work came back great. I was soooo happy, finally a turn for the better, we went for her usual holistic appointment. She was very happy to see Dr. Amy. We told her the good news, everything was great. Finally, I could take a breath.
I must admit she did start to slow down a bit. When she was outside, I think she tired quickly. She wasn’t running the whole yard like she used too. She seemed to stay closer to the house. She still did all the other stuff, such as play ball (we didn’t throw it out that far), and play with a stuffed animal and shake it when she got excited and bark at the neighbors dogs when they were playing outside. Inside she was still going up stairs at night to sleep in our room with us and she was still the first one up in the morning and race me down the stairs. As time went I was afraid she would fall on her face in morning going down on 3 good legs and one not so good. I put a baby gate at the top of the stairs and still then, I had to hold on to her collar as I would remove the gate because she would hurry down the stairs unless I held her back all the way down and when she got to the bottom, it was then a race to the back door as she did her whole life, always in a hurry. When she was young I thought she was in a hurry for her morning bathroom, but I later figured out, she was in a hurry, to play ball.
On Tuesday, my husband was working in the back yard, at the far end, at the back fence, where she would usually be at his side sniffing the ground, digging or keeping busy while he was busy. On this day she only went half way across the yard to a point where she could see and watch. Around lunch time, my brother in-law stopped over to visit with my husband, while they were eating some kiwi that he had brought with him. He asked to give one to Mercedes, as she was watching, waiting and hoping she was going to get to eat one, and yes, she did. She ate the whole thing and loved it. It seemed to give her some kind of energy burst. After eating the kiwi she ran (or hopped quickly) all the way to the back fence, where my husband was working earlier. Checking the area out to see what he had done. Then bolted back towards the house, half way back she stopped and ran out to the side fence, to chase a bird out of the yard, and then came back to the house.
Wednesday was Mary’s day (P.T.) and Mercedes always knew when it was Wednesday too. This day, Mercedes came in the house a little too early and jumped on to the sofa to look out the window for Mary to arrive, then fell asleep. Mary then arrived about 1/2 hour later and Mercedes raced to the front door to greet her. You almost wouldn’t know there was any thing wrong with her. Maybe you would notice she had a problem with her foot but, never cancer. This day therapy went great as always. Mary brought a big dinosaur egg shaped ball, to help Mercedes build her core muscles as she was starting to lose some muscle mass in her front leg and her shoulder. She was so cute. Mary had rolled her up on this ball (this was the first time doing this), and I couldn’t see her expression but that tail was so wagging hard. Then they (my husband and Mary) turned her side ways now I could see her face she looked so proud of herself, her expression said, “ Look at me mom”. I wish I could have stayed to watch, but I had to go to work, but I’ll always remember that day and how much she loved this and Mary.
I noticed on Thursday that Mercedes belly looked like it was a little swollen, my husband said that maybe she was putting on weight and they had given her a lot of cookies yesterday, not to worry. On Sunday I noticed her belly still looked swollen, I decided to go weigh her and found that was 3 lbs. heavier, this worried me, but I knew we had an vet appointment on Monday morning.
On Monday morning March 23, we went to the vet for our regular blood test, I asked if there was a vet who had time to take a look at her belly. Dr. R, an associate vet at the animal hospital, (our regular vet Dr. M. was on vacation) came out to the waiting room to see her and said that they should see her in the exam room. Dr. G. (another associate vet) took a look at her and said the radiologist was there doing ultrasounds and asked him if he had time to do another, he said, yes. We waited in the exam room while they took her in the back, I sat and cried I knew it wasn’t going to be good. As few minutes passed and the assistant came back with her, Mercedes was in a hurry pulling the assistant to the room as fast as she could back to us. I really admired her zest for life. Dr. G came in an said she was sorry, not good, I’m not really sure what she said, her body was filling up with fluid and something about her liver not filtering properly, there was no blood in her belly but, toxins were leaking through her liver?? We were sent home with some Lasix to hopefully help her body get rid of the fluid and aspirin twice a day in case there was a blood clot possibly near or at her shunt of her liver causing this fluid back up. We left and continued on our way to our usual holistic vet appointment hoping she could help. We got into the waiting room and Dr. Amy came out to say hello, and Mercedes was very happy to see her and in a hurry to get into the exam room. We then told her about the ultrasound and the bad news, she asked if they had aspirated fluid from her belly, we said no. She said that when they do that it can take a lot out of an animal losing a lot of fluid so quickly. I also thought it might be painful?? I was hoping the Lasix would work to get rid of this fluid. Dr. Amy said to go home and let her rest.
On Tuesday Dr. G. called with a results from the blood test. First she said that her liver was not healthy enough for her second treatment of CCNU. Then, I don’t know my husband took the call, I came in the house and the look on his face was so sad he couldn’t tell me what she said. But what I got out of him was her liver was failing and the vet told him that she only had 1-2 weeks left to live. If she stopped eating that was a sign to look for and we should consider euthanasia. I don’t think he could believe he was saying those words as much I could not believe I was hearing those words. I thought to myself maybe she’s wrong?? I hope, she’s wrong.
On Wednesday, Mary came over to work with Mercedes, we told her the news and asked her to only massage her and just spend time with her no therapy today. Mary said that if we wanted to take Mercedes swimming, today was the day. We had been saying that we wanted to do this for some time, but it was still March in New England, a little chilly. Mercedes loved water so much and we had hoped to help her get the use of her foot back by swimming. Now getting the use of the foot back was not as important, but quality of life was, so later that day, March 25, we took her swimming. OMG she looked like the pup, we had always known. I’ll never forget her expressions. When we drove into the lot she stood up with her ears perked, her face to the window as though she could not believe her eyes (“is this for me?”). She couldn’t wait to get out of the car. We parked the car as close as we could so she wouldn’t have to walk far. She was in the water in a flash. She loved it, and kept looking at us, like “ why aren’t you coming in?” My husband took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants, and went in to play with her. He couldn’t stay in, for long periods of time, because the water was so cold, but he kept going back, and Mercedes loved it. We thought we should get her out, because of the cold, and we didn’t want her to get to tired. As always, she didn’t want to come out of the water.
On Thursday March 26, Mercedes ate only half of her breakfast, this was a first. She always loved her food, she would always get excited and do a little dance while I prepared it her. I tried not to worry too much. Today was my birthday and I got out of work a little early and I spent the rest of the day outside with her. She loved apples, so we shared one and she ate that with her usual enthusiasm. At dinner time again she only ate half of her dinner. Yet, she watch me prepare it with her usual excitement. She didn’t do much for moving around during the day. We thought maybe she/we overdid it yesterday with the swimming? She was still going up the stairs at night to our bedroom to sleep but we thought that maybe this night, we would stay down stairs to sleep so she wouldn’t feel the need to climb the stairs.
On Friday morning, March 27, we went out but she didn’t really want to come back inside, but eventually did. This morning she didn’t eat any of her breakfast. I called the vet they told me not to give her the lasix if she doesn’t eat. I later tried her original kibble, (We had changed her food about a month ago when this started). She ate that. I gave her small handfuls throughout the day, and again throughout the night. This day I watched her and she did not move much at all. She moved a few feet at a time, yet I didn’t see her do this. I was working and had checked on her periodically. I knew this wasn’t good. When my husband came home I told him about her not eating and that night again we decided to sleep on the sofa with her. We also decided we should both take the next day off to spend quality time with her for whatever time we had, we didn’t know.
On Saturday, March 28, I continued to give her handfuls of her food throughout the day, we spent the day outside with her, having a picnic type day with her on her bed and us on a blanket next to her. It was one of the first sunny warm days since the winter, This day I thought about how do I let her go, how do I let her know we wanted to make her better, but with all our efforts nothing was working. What do mothers tell their children when this happens, do they understand, does it scare them? I didn’t want to scare her, how do I tell her we can’t make her better, and that she’s going to die???
She really didn’t move much, she got up to do her business and laid right back down again. We ate turkey bacon and egg sandwiches and I was going to let her eat anything she wanted. We later brought her into the house, carrying her on her bed (like a stretcher), so she wouldn’t have to get up. She seemed to like this (like she was royalty). We told her that she was special and she was a princess. She wagged her tail and looked very proud. We spent the afternoon on the floor with her watching basketball games. She enjoyed this as much as we did. This night we slept on the sofas again. We had noticed her breathing had changed. It was not labored, but more short and rapid. She couldn’t seem to put her head down to sleep. Each time she would try to get comfortable she would quickly pick her head up. My husband felt something in her chest, he thought it was fluid. I felt it and felt some type of lump or mass in her chest. We placed a pillow under her chin to help her, but it only helped a little. She was like this most of the night, sleeping only a little. We wondered if she were going to make it through the night or if she would go on her own. I thought if she can’t sleep comfortably, how is she going to pass peacefully? Yet, how do we know if it will be peaceful or if she will be in pain or suffer. We told ourselves she was too good, and we could not let her suffer, not even for a second. Dr. G. said when she stopped eating that would be the time, she was still eating, and it was her breathing that seems to be a problem.
On Sunday morning March 29, we took her outside and I noticed her one of back legs swollen completely, I think it had filled with fluid. I watched her from the kitchen window. This time she couldn’t get up, I saw her crawl. I know that she was an active girl her whole life and she would not want to live that way or she would not want anyone to see her that way, she had dignity. At 8:00 am we met Dr. G. at the animal hospital. Again we carried her out on her bed. She wagged her tail and held her head up high as we walked to the car, she loved cars rides too. When we got to the hospital, again she couldn’t get in there fast enough always in a hurry. We carried her in on her bed and she was looking around my husband to see where she was going, wagging her tail, thinking what I don’t know. Maybe that she had been here a hundred times before and got lots of attention and cookies. Dr. G. had been there waiting for us, she had soft music playing and the lights were dimmed, I think she wanted to make this as peaceful as possible for Mercedes. We talked a little about, her swollen leg and about her breathing, I didn’t want to do this, yet, I couldn’t let her be in any pain. How do I know if maybe she already was in pain and hiding it, they say dogs can hide their pain. I know she didn’t want to leave us, and we didn’t want to disappoint her. I told the vet I didn’t want to do this if the time wasn’t right, she seemed so happy, she was still eating the vet gave her a chocolate chip cookie, she was wagging her tail hard, watching the vet walk around and very alert. She assured me, the time was right. She gave her the first shot and nothing really seemed to happen. We sat with her for about 30 to 45 minutes, the vet said the shot was to relax her, she did relax but I could see she didn’t want to sleep she wanted to stay here with us. I know she loved her life and I know she loved us. She continued to wag her tail, rest her head on my lap, then my husbands when the final shot was given, that was it, it was instantaneous, she stopped breathing and that was it. The vet let us stay with her as long as we wanted but we had to leave sometime, I didn’t want to and couldn’t believe the turns our lives had taken in the past month, it has been like a bad dream.
There are so many things I wonder about, could I have caused this, possibly through her life time. I have always been careful with vaccines and did titers, did grain-free diet, didn’t use any pesticides for fleas and ticks on her, or in the house I used natural products if needed, never used any pesticides or fertilizer in the yard. In the winter we used only pet friendly products on the ice and snow. The only things I have come up with is I didn’t use bottled water, we have well water. We drink that and have had it tested on a couple of occasions, for good measure. But who says bottled water is safe? The other possibility is our back deck when we moved here, Mercedes was 4 years old, the deck was pressure treated wood and we did stain it, but it was about 3 years later, so I don’t know if that could have caused this. I worry that I could have failed her or disappointed her or gave up on her too soon. I hope if this is true, she forgives me.
Dr. M says it’s genetic and doesn’t seem to think we did anything to cause this.
Mercedes is sadly missed by both my husband and I. Not a day goes by I don’t wish she were here, not a day goes by, I don’t shed a tear.
Jeanne and Colin Ladd