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Canine Cancer and Insulinomas – Sharing the experience with other dog owners

October 12, 2015 16 comments

My view right now. #Daisy #sleepingdogI never expected that writing about Daisy’s insulinoma would lead to meeting others who had gone or were going through the same thing.

It’s such a scary thing to find out your dog has cancer, no matter what kind it is, but having to make a quick decision on whether or not to do surgery is also scary. Having someone else who has already been there can really help. I sure wish I had known other people who had been through the same situation back in February so they could have helped to ease my mind about what to expect.

Now that Daisy is on the other side of it, I am so glad that I am able to share our experience with others who are having to make the same difficult decisions.

Of course, it makes it easier that Daisy came through the surgery and is still doing well today. I think it would be much harder to answer questions and respond to emails if she were not.

Med notes on Daisy's insulinomaI had completely forgotten about the notes I took on the day I received the phone call from Daisy’s consulting veterinarian at the University of Minnesota. Those notes recorded her confirmation of Daisy’s insulinoma and captured her recommendation that Daisy have surgery to remove it.

Today, I was cleaning out my work desk and came across them. It brought back a lot of the emotions I felt back then – worry, fear, uncertainty… fear. I imagine a lot of people feel that way when they find out their dog has cancer.

Going through Daisy’s diagnosis, surgery and aftercare has taught me a lot.

I have learned that…

  • You can seek input from those around you, but in the end you are the one who must make the decision about your dog’s care. No one else can,  or should, tell you what is the best decision.
  • Having someone else with you when you do speak to the vet about your pet’s illness (and the options) is helpful. What they say about people not hearing anything the doctor says beyond the word “cancer” is true. I sure wish I had someone else there who could have asked the questions I could not. In the end, I was able to write down my questions and ask them in person later on. It helped to be prepared in advance.
  • Know your monetary limit (or get pet insurance). You’d be surprised how quickly the costs can get out of control (they most certainly did in Daisy’s case). Plan for a dollar limit and then add another $1000. That way you give yourself some leeway when you go past your limit.
  • It’s okay to choose NOT to take an extraordinary measures to save your dog. Daisy’s insulinoma was caught early by chance (by her very awesome and alert vet), so we had options, but that is not the case for everyone. Opting to have the surgery or not, do chemo or not, is a personal decision. You know your own dog and what he/she can handle. Don’t be afraid to say no, if that is the right option for you and your pet.
  • Going forward with surgery or extraordinary life-saving measures is okay too. Just remember to check in with your pet to make sure the extraordinary measures are not because you can’t bear to say goodbye. Those first few days after surgery were tough. By the end of our ongoing list of recovery issues, I had come to the decision that I would not put Daisy through any more because it was traumatizing her (and me). Fortunately,she started to get better.
  • Veterinarians are just like doctors in that they want to save lives. They don’t want to give up any more than you do. They feel your pain and want to be able to give you the happy ending you seek. (Their big hearts are what led them to this profession after all.) Know that you may have to be the one who says “no more” at some point. The specialists who are caring for your pet may not be able to do so. I was fortunate enough to have a vet who helped me to be able to say “no more” in Daisy’s case. I am so grateful she did.

I am guessing many of you have been through a similar experience. What other tips or suggestions would you give to other pet owners going through a similar illness or diagnosis?

To the owners of Button, Scooter and Jack – our thoughts and prayers are with you as you go through this difficult time. Follow your heart in whatever you decide to do.

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Celebrating Daisy’s bonus time

August 12, 2015 12 comments

Back when we were kids, my dad had an old time movie projector on which he would play family movies he had taken throughout the years. I remember the flicking sound of the 8mm film running through the reels, and watching the images flash on the screen. We kids loved to watch those old movies, most of them featuring our young family interacting with one another or being goofy in front of the camera.

Whenever dad wanted to get to a good part on the film, he would turn a knob on the projector and fast forward through the boring stuff.  I would watch as fleeting images appear quickly on the screen, just little wisps of family and memories flying by at a rapid pace, until dad would stop the projector, pause, and then turn the knob and let the movie run at regular speed again.

To me, time is a lot like that film in the old movie projector. Sometimes it runs at regular speed and you sit back and soak in every little moment. At other times, it seems to go whipping by in fast forward mode and you only get the chance to see fleeting moments of days gone by. But every once in a while, the film stops, and in that moment something changes and you are forced to take stock.

Six months ago, I heard the words insulinoma and cancer and Daisy, and the film stopped. I was forced to take stock, and to take action. I remember those early days and the agonizing decision-making involved. So much happened so fast and yet, so much slowed down too. There is nothing like hearing your dog has cancer to make stop and take notice of all that is around you.

Looking back now, I am amazed at how much time has gone by. In fact, it wasn’t even until today that I realized six months had already passed since Daisy’s surgery to remove her insulinoma. I guess the film in the projector sped up again somewhere along the way huh?

Back in February, I had so many doubts about whether I was doing the right thing by going forward with the surgery. Today, I am grateful for the extra six months with my girl. I am hoping there will be even more.

We’ve made good use of our extra time together.

In the past six months (what I now consider bonus time), Daisy has…

I'm watching you. #Daisy

Taken a vacation

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Awoken to the sound of loons calling across the lake

Exploring the woods. #Daisy

Sniffed lots of new smells

Up at the Cabin

Gone hiking in the woods of central Minnesota

Daisy's good friend, Kellie #dogpark

Gotten extra lovin’ from her friends

Daisy Paws a Moment

Taken lots of extra walks in the woods

The 3 Muskateers

Hung out with family

Daisy takes a break at Scharr's Bluff in #Hastings #mn #labradorretriever

Hiked Scharr’s Bluff in Hastings, MN

A smiling Daisy- May 25, 2015

Enjoyed a perfect spring and summer in Minnesota

Happy girl went swimming. #mississippiriver #Hastings #mn #labradorretriever

Swam in the Mississippi River (Twice!)

Seriously. #Daisy

Enjoyed a lot of extra cuddle time

Daisy sleeps 6/30/15

And even more cuddle time

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Bonded with the person who loves her most

Can I get six more please?

Post Insulinoma: A Daisy Update

May 3, 2015 16 comments

I need to apologize to all of you.

A couple of months ago I wrote about Daisy’s insulinoma and shared my worries and my fears about her recovery, but I never came back to give you an update on how she was doing. I am so sorry. I was so in the moment of what was going on that I never realized that I had left you hanging on what happened or how she was doing! Duh!

So how is Daisy doing? Well, I will let you see for yourself. In pictures, of course. 🙂

 

She is back to walking with us at the dog park and walking with new energy and vigor.

Walking Miss Daisy #dogpark

The kids

Jasper is back to harassing (I mean, herding) her and she is happy about that.

Jasper harassing his big sister. He obviously knows she is feeling better. #Jasper #Daisy #dogpark

She loves exploring and digging again.

Daisy smiles as she explores the old tree stump.

She and Cupcake are still looking for cheese in the oddest of places.

Looking for the cheese. (A little nosework game tonight.) #Cupcake #Daisy

Cuddling is still a priority (I will never tire of that).

Daisy from above 2

Recently, I took her with me on an extended weekend vacation at a cabin on a lake.

I'm watching you. #Daisy

While there, she enjoyed a couple dips in the lake.

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She also explored the beach.

So many new smells to explore! #Daisy

And, hunted for shells

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Hiked (Twice!)

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Explored the woods.

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Woke to the sound of loons every morning.

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DSCN0152

And, relaxed. A lot. 🙂

Daisy really hates being at the cabin.

Me and my dog

She’s looking good, isn’t she?

I rarely get a picture like this. It took cheese to get it.  #Daisy #Lab

Having come through to the other side of things, I can honestly say that I am glad she had the surgery. I had a lot of doubts in those early days immediately following it, but now I am so grateful that I get to enjoy a little extra time with my girl.

I think I would lying if I did not admit that I am also hyper vigilant about any changes in Daisy’s behavior. I know that insulinomas almost always come back. I know that my time with her may be as short as a year or as long as 18 months. That is the reality. But if they really did get it all, and it never comes back, then I have her for as long as she can outlive her aging body. I am hopeful it will be the latter. For now, Daisy is doing well and loving life, and that is the best outcome of all. 🙂

Thank you for caring and sending your prayers and good thoughts. Daisy and I are forever grateful. Truly grateful.

Daisy has an insulinoma

February 22, 2015 109 comments

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here at Casa del Mel. If you haven’t seen it on my Facebook page, Daisy had surgery to remove a tumor, called an Insulinoma, from her pancreas. A tumor, that up until February 6th, we knew nothing about. Now we know too much.

An insulinoma is almost always a malignant tumor that appears on the pancreas and starts messing with the insulin levels in a dog (or human). It causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), tiredness after exercise, collapse, seizures and sometimes brain damage. It is a progressive disease and will spread throughout the body, as all cancers do.

Spent the morning and afternoon with Daisy at the U of M. Hoping she comes home tonight. #Daisy

The day after surgery at the U of M.

On February 6, I took Daisy in to our regular vet to have her teeth cleaned and a lump (an benign outgrowth of a sebaceous cyst) removed. I expected to receive a call later in the day to be told all went well and she was ready to go home but instead, I received a call a few hours after I dropped her off to tell me that they could not perform the procedures because her blood sugar was really low, abnormally low (hers was in the 40s, normal is 80).

I knew it was serious, but I did not know how serious until Monday. That was when my vet informed me it was likely an insulinoma, and that she was referring Daisy to her teacher at the University of Minnesota. Within 30 minutes, I received a call from the U of M to schedule an appointment (yes, it really did happen that fast).

This was the moment when I got scared. A call within 30 minutes? An appointment two weeks out was not soon enough? Oh my God.

We went in on Thursday for a consult and a CT scan was scheduled for the next day. It would tell us whether or not it had spread and what course of action we would take.

The hardest thing I had ever done up until that point was to leave Daisy at her regular vet, with people she knew, but on that Friday, I had to drop her off with strangers (albeit, wonderfully nice strangers) and leave her there for the whole day. It killed me inside.

When I got the call that she was done, the vet also confirmed it was an insulinoma (just as we thought). I was also informed that it was a single tumor and had not spread to her chest or other organs. There was some concern over a slightly odd-looking lymph node nearby, but it was small (2mm) and not as concerning as the insulinoma. The recommendation was surgical removal.

As the vet and surgeon both told me at our post CT scan meeting, they almost never see a dog with an insulinoma who has not shown any major symptoms (collapsing, seizures, etc.), and who has not already found to have multiple tumors or to have it spread throughout their body. By the time they see dogs with this type of tumor, they are pretty far gone. They were both pretty excited that Daisy had been caught early. They wanted to schedule the surgery for Tuesday, February 17.

She slept for almost an hour. I sat with her for an hour and a half. The vet said she does better when I am there. Wish I could stay the night. #Daisy

The second day after surgery. Hanging out in ICU.

To say I was completely overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was scared and freaked out and not sure what to do. I needed time to think. Should I do the surgery and get the cancer while it was early? Should I let the cancer spread and just maintain Daisy’s glucose levels as long as I could with drugs? What was fair to Daisy? What was best for her?The decision was agonizing.

I could not bear the thought of willingly letting the cancer, this insidious, awful curse of a disease, spread through Daisy’s body, but, I was also filled with doubts. What if she died in surgery or due to complications from surgery? What if her quality of life was better without surgery, even though it might mean an earlier death? What if I lost her in surgery when I could have had her for a few more months without it? Was it fair to put Daisy, my fearful girl, through this?

In the end, I decided to go ahead with the surgery, partly because it was already scheduled and partly because Daisy was the anomaly, the cancer had been caught early, and I couldn’t bear the thought of letting the cancer spread. Not if we could remove it and give her a good quality of life for a year or so to come. I wanted her to have a quality life, not a life slowly seeping away as the cancer ate through her body.

HOME #Daisy #recovery

Thursday night – Home at last.

The surgery went well. Daisy came out of to with the left half of her pancreas gone (due to the location of the tumor), but her glucose levels we’re closer to normal and she made it through. In addition to the tumor, Daisy had the lymph node removed and a biopsy of her liver done. Both the lymph node and the liver biopsy came back negative for cancer. The tumor was, of course, positive for cancer, but they got it all out. Luckily, she can still function with the remaining half of her pancreas and her glucose levels have been normal since the surgery. Her prognosis is good.

But, I am still plagued with doubts. Did I do the right thing? 

On Friday, Daisy started drooling, drinking water excessively, pacing, seemed restless, and suddenly developed a bloated stomach. I thought I was going to lose her. I thought she had bloat. Only another surgery would save her and I did not have the money for another surgery.

However, after an X-ray and a radiologist consultation, it was determined Daisy had food bloat. A very different type of bloat and much less scary that the stomach-twisting kind. Supposedly, she got into something and ate a lot of it – they can see lots of particles of something like dog food in her stomach. Unfortunately, she had very little opportunity to get into anything and I cannot find any missing items that would explain what she might have eaten, unless it was poop. So, I worry and wait for her to poop out whatever she supposedly ate.

The girls are back together again. #Daisy #maggie

Back to the usual stuff, like sleeping side by side with Maggie on the couch.

For me, it is concerning that her stomach is still bloated, but it appears to be less so than Friday evening. The good news is that she is still eating and drinking and she is also acting more like herself. She is more tired right now, but that is to be expected after major surgery (not to mention the visits to the ER).

Being a lifelong worrywart, I think I will continue to worry about Daisy, and my decision to put her through surgery, for some time to come. Maybe I will feel better when I see Daisy back at the dog park with her siblings, running through the woods and begging treats from her friends at the dog park. Until then, I wait and hope and pray that I made the right decision.

While I would not wish this experience on anyone (who wants their dog to have cancer or major surgery?), I have learned a lot.

 

What I have learned:

  • No one can make the decision for your dog’s healthcare except you. Others will weigh in and may even scoff at your choices, but in the end, the decision is yours. Also keep in mind what your pet would want.
  • Know how far you are willing to pursue saving your pet. Ask yourself: How much is too much? How long do I keep trying to save them? What kind of quality of life is my pet getting? Before the CT scan, I had already decided I would not do surgery of the tumor had spread, even a little bit.
  • Having a great vet who knows your dog, and knows when to be concerned, is a blessing. Find a good one. We have and we love her.
  • Blood work before surgery is a must for my vet, I am guessing it is for most medical procedures involving anesthesia, but ask your vet beforehand. If my vet had not run Daisy’s blood work, she could have had a seizure on the operating table and/or could have died.
  • The University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center is a great place and filled with amazing people. They are responsive and kind and always willing to help.
  • Be okay with saying “No” to a procedure if you feel it is not beneficial to your pet or will not extend their life. I had a hard time with this one at first. There is always one more procedure that can be performed, one more drug given, but in the end you have to decide if it is worth it.
  • Get pet insurance. I wish I had. The costs add up quickly. My costs went above the estimated price, by a lot. Be prepared for it to do so.

 

 

 

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