An Update on Meg & Tips for Surviving Canine Chemo

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote, and a lot has changed … for the better!  🙂

First off, Meg seems to be doing really well.  She’s now only taking chemo every-other-week, and that will continue until almost Christmas.  We attribute the key in her turnaround to Dr. Joanna Pridgen at Wisdom Animal Clinic.  Dr. Pridgen put her on a different medicine with a probiotic in it and encouraged us to give Meg her upset tummy medicine at least once a day all the time.  (We were just giving it “as needed” — which was never dependable and always after she got sick — Dr. Pridgen’s recommendation makes a lot more sense).

Meg is back to herself.  She runs.  She plays with other dogs.  She is just a bundle of energy.  It’s been really refreshing to have her back.

Since the main reason I’m blogging about her fight against lymphoma is to help others whose dogs may be going through the same thing, I want to add a few things we’ve learned along the way…

1. Food
If you read my earlier blogs, you know we were originally feeding Meg a mixture of chicken and cabbage and broccoli and a lot of other stuff, using a recipe we’d found in a book called How to Help Your Dog Fight Cancer.  At first she seemed to like the homemade dog food, but by the 3rd time we made it, she stopped wanting to eat it all together.  Then we switched to just chicken, and eventually she stopped wanting to eat it, too.

We found that when she didn’t want to eat anything, we  could get her to eat meat baby food (turkey and chicken).  But that only was needed once.  (It did, however, come in handy when we took a long road trip back home to see my family.  It wasn’t really possible to pack all of her meat and transport it with us.  So we packed up the baby food.  We gave her 2 jars a meal, and she was happy).

After researching her not wanting to eat, I learned that different chemo puts a metallic taste to the food.  And the more times the dog goes through chemo, the more the metallic taste builds up.  This is why sometimes a food she loves turns into something she doesn’t want to touch.  For Meg, the only chemo that she doesn’t respond well to is Vencristine.  Unfortunately on the Madison Wisconsin Protocol, that’s used just about every other treatment.

What we’ve learned is Meg enjoys “stew meat” the most — no matter what.  We cook it with a little garlic powder.  At $4.38/pound, it’s made the food bill go up a bit.  We also learned she’s a big fan of turkey breakfast sausage links.  So this week we decided to do a meat mixture for her.  We boiled 3 pounds of chicken.  Cooked 3 pounds of stew meat.  And cooked 1 package of the breakfast sausage (about 2 pounds).  Then we mixed it all together, and we saved the beef broth.  Since chicken is only $1.99/pound, that really helps us stretch the dollars on her food bill.  And so far (she’s eaten it twice now), she loves it.  She’s a 24 pound dog, and this should last her 12 days (or 24 meals).

Since we’re no longer giving her the vegetables mixed in her food, we make sure she takes two multi-vitamins a day.  And she is still a fan of her frozen salmon fish pops (strips of frozen salmon we feed her raw from the freezer).  We also give her cheese slices and jerky (original flavor) for snacks from time to time (but those are more sparing).

2. Would We Do It Again?
We’ve debated this a lot.  Actually, I’ve debated it a lot.  There have been many many weeks that my answer would have been NO!

Meg has lost most of the hair on her face.  Everywhere else her hair is normal.  While you read that most dogs on chemo never lose their hair, Meg’s part poodle.  So her hair is always growing.  Hence the reason it’s also falling out.  We’re okay with that, and she doesn’t seem to mind.  But for a 5 year old dog, her face looks much older.

I think the biggest thing for us was learning how to get her at-home care right.  There truly isn’t a book out there on day-to-day dealing with canine lymphoma.  We’ve been lucky that Dr. Pridgen & Dr. Roof (VSNT in Dallas) have been so helpful in answering our phone calls and questions.  But still, at times, you just don’t know.  Our biggest lesson in all this has been learning that as long as Meg gets her nausea and diarrhea medicine every day (and at least twice a day for the first 3 days after treatment), she’s fine.

If I had it to do over again — knowing what I just wrote — yes, we’d do it over again.  This is the first week I can say that though.  There have been many many many days I’ve felt like the most selfish person on earth — watching Meg sick from chemo, knowing the chemo was only prolonging the inevitable.  I think that’s the biggest debate any pet owner who finds out their beloved friend has lymphoma goes through.  The debate to put them through treatment, knowing 6 months to a year more of a healthy dog is all it will bring on average.

Had we not done chemo, more than likely, Meg would have left us at the end of August with just the Predisone treatment.  But it’s now October 7th, and she’s doing really well.  It’s been a rough road, but I think she’s doing just fine now.  She cuddles more.  She loves us more.  And she still begs for food (she just doesn’t get it anymore — haha)!  🙂  Then again, maybe she doesn’t do any of those things “more” — I just appreciate them a lot “more” now.  🙂

3. Don’t use Ortho Max Fire Ant Killer
I can’t prove that OrthoMax Fire Ant Killer is what gave Meg lymphoma.  In fact, it may not be the case at all.  But just three weeks before she was diagnosed with lymphoma, I had put Ortho Max out on the ant hills in the yard and near the house.  The stuff kills fire ants — and I hate fire ants.  I’d never seemed to have a problem with Meg messing with it in the past. Luckily my mom was here and saw Meg when she reached down to get a bite of the bright yellow granules atop the ant hill.  We washed her mouth out quickly and made her drink lots of water and eat lots and lots of goodies to try and flush her system.

I didn’t think much of it until today.  We’ve had two stray and starving dogs show up at our house within the last two weeks.  We know we can’t afford to take care of them (especially not with $500 a month vet bills for Meg, and $150 a month on Meg’s new food and treats), but we do give them two bowls of food a day (when they show up just to eat).  Two nights ago I put out the Ortho Max again on the ant hills all over the yard.  Today, the little brown dog was chomping on an ant mound after the poison.  We got him quickly away, and got the poison buried in all the mounds.

Again, no proof that Ortho Max Fire Ant Killer causes lymphoma in dogs.  But I do have proof that it smells good enough for dogs to want to eat it.  If you have pets, just don’t use it.  It’s not worth the risk.  It may kill the fire ants — but if your dog eats it, it may kill your dog.  Just not worth it.

4. Take Lots of Photos
We have started taking photos and videos of Meg.  🙂  Actually, as I look back over my Facebook account, I think photos of Meg are really all I’ve posted the last few months.  She’s my little girl though — so I have a right to post them!

5. Don’t Stop Living YOUR Life
I think the other hard part for me was learning that I had to keep living my life — I couldn’t just coddle over Meg all the time.  For a long time I felt guilty about leaving her at home to go to work.  I felt guilty if I didn’t rush home right after work.  I felt guilty if I was doing something for me, instead of playing with her and her toys.  I’ve realized I don’t have to feel guilty about living my life.  I leave tomorrow morning for a 3 day trip to Chicago.  It’ll be hard, but I know she’ll be okay.  We’ve been so blessed that Brandon’s parents are willing to watch her and help transport her to her treatments when we can’t.  That’s another thing — don’t be afraid to ask for help!  🙂  Turns out, those who love you, love your pets, too!

6. Medication & Treatment Costs
It’s expensive.  Meg’s first treatment and visit to VSNT in Dallas cost us $1200, plus a day off work, and $60 in gas.
Meg’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th treatments we had done locally in Texarkana.  They cost us about $80 each, plus medication.  As I mentioned in a prior blog — we are so fortunate to have a friend who owns a pharmacy, who was able to get us all of her chemo at his cost.  (If you have a friend who owns a pharmacy — use the connection.  Kyle has been a life saver to us through all of this).  Meg’s 5th treatment was again in Dallas.  We paid almost $600 for the visit, plus a day off work, and $60 in gas.

We had to make the hard decision to stop taking Meg every 4th week to her oncologist in Dallas.  While we LOVE Dr. Roof and the staff at VSNT, our budget just can’t afford those visits.  Again, we are very fortunate that Dr. Pridgen and the staff at Wisdom Animal Clinic in Texarkana are willing to do all of the treatments — and that they keep the weekly lab work and treatment cost to minimal.  We are also lucky that Dr. Roof has helped as a consult for them, even when we told her we weren’t able to afford coming to see her anymore.

The moral of this tip is that while I think it’s important to have an oncologist on your team — if you can find a local vet (with a wonderful reputation) who has experience in chemo too, and who isn’t afraid to ask for advice from others when needed, go local.  There is no way we could have afforded $600 a week and a weekly trip to Dallas for Meg to get treatments at VSNT.  Words cannot express how grateful we are to the staff at Wisdom Animal Clinic for how they’ve helped us financially … and for how they’ve done such a fabulous job of taking care of Meg.

And to everyone who I scared away last month by saying PLEASE DON’T ASK HOW MEG IS … now you know!  🙂  Meg is doing just fine.  Which leads me to my last tip…

7. People Care
Allow people to care.  Don’t push them away.
I always felt guilty when people asked me “How’s Meg?”
I felt I had to give them the positive up-beat answer of, “She’s great!”
Turns out … most of the people who were asking, they truly wanted the truth.  They care.  They’re your friends, your family, and if they’re asking, they’re asking out of love.

Thank you to each and every person who has taken the time to truly follow Meg’s progress, ask about her, send us your love and support, and most importantly, keep us in your thoughts and prayers!!

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